Thursday, June 27, 2019

Book Review: The Echo Park Castaways

I feel like I don't read enough middle grade books, which is a shame because there are some real gems in there that even adults would like, and this is one of them.

The Echo Park Castaways - M.G. Hennessey

Nevaeh, Vic, and Mara are veterans of the Los Angeles foster care system. For over a year they’ve been staying with Mrs. K in Echo Park. Vic spends most of his time living in a dream world, Mara barely speaks, and Nevaeh is forced to act as a back-up parent. Though their situation isn’t ideal, it’s still their best home yet.

Then Child Protective Services places Quentin in the house, and everything is turned upside down. Nevaeh really can’t handle watching over anyone else, especially a boy on the autism spectrum. Meanwhile, Quentin is having trouble adjusting and attempts to run away.

So when Vic realizes Quentin just wants to see his mom again, he plans an “epic quest” to reunite them. It could result in the foster siblings getting sent to different group homes. But isn’t family always worth the risk? 

Let me start by saying that if you are in charge of purchasing for your library (public or school) or classroom, this is a really fantastic read that you need to strongly consider. It raises a lot of really good discussion points that could also be tied into kindness and even anti-bullying. I'm not kidding when I say that this book can cover so much which is astounding because it is only 200 pages plus a couple of pages for a very nice Author's Note (also worth reading).

In this book we follow Vic (who thinks he's a super spy), Mara (who speaks mostly Spanish with very little English so she's mostly quiet), Nevaeh (who is almost to high school and has plans to make it someday as a doctor), and later Quentin (who Asperger's and doesn't understand what it means to be in the foster care system because he's new). We swap between points of view (except Mara) as we go on a "quest" to find Quentin's mother.

The ending is really sad (I thought) but also kind of nice because it turns out they all have something key in common and while on this quest they learn a lot about each other and the way they feel about each other, but they also learn what it's like to have a family. We also get to see a really sad glimpse into the reality of the foster care system but we also see how sometimes a case worker's hands are tied and they have to make quick choices and don't always have time to think the long term ramifications through. We see mental illness, we see deportation, we see illnesses, and we see these children brave their way through it but also their vulnerability at the end of the day.

As a mom this really broke my heart because I can't imagine how any of my four kids would fare in the foster care system, and I really have a greater appreciation for the good foster parents out there who do their best with kids with all kinds of backgrounds. This is a real testament to never knowing what someone else is struggling with concept.

I'm so glad I got to read this one, it's a really wonderful book and if your child(ren) need something to do to get them off of Fortnite, this is a good one to give them. It's geared toward ages 8-12/grades 3-7, but it's a thoughtful book for any age.

I received an ARC for this courtesy of HarperCollins and MB Communications (thank  you!) but all thoughts are my own. This post also contains affiliate links which help keep this blog going. 


Deanna Reads Books said...

I don't read a lot of MG either, this seems good, but I get the sense it might be too sad for me.

Isabelle (the Book Dutchesses) said...

This book sounds amazing and I love this stunning cover. Middle grade books have been dealing with a lot of important subjects and I love that.

Sara Strand said...

It really wasn’t. It kind of tugs at you but ultimately it’s a good ending for all of them!

Sara Strand said...

I agree! I love that authors are taking tough subjects and talking about them in a way that kids can relate and empathize with other kids they know. It’s really great.