In this compelling novel, the author tackles the complex problems of the foster care system through the story of Nia and her family.
Nia is taken from her drug-addicted mother at birth and placed with a loving foster mother. At age 6, however, the courts decide Nia should be “reunited” with her birth family. With Nia’s birth mother still unfit to parent, she is placed with her Grandmother Vern, who is happy to receive money from the state for her care. Grandma Vern is also caring for Nia’s cousins, Tiffany and Tyron. Tyron becomes her protector against their abusive grandmother. Nia never adjusts to losing her foster mother, however, and as the years pass and tragedy consumes the family, Nia begins a quest to find her foster mother again.
The writing here is spot-on, capturing the characters’ plight in a way that is both touching and heartbreaking. In one scene, 7-year-old Tyron is comforting Nia by showing her pictures in a book when Grandma Vern interrupts. “ ‘You kids put down that book and come on and eat your lunch.’ Nia began to cry. ‘What you crying for now? Shut up that crying,’ Grandma Vern roughly commanded…Tyron looked at (Nia) ‘..You scared of Grandma? Don’t be scared. She won’t bother you if you don’t do nothing wrong. Come on.’” The dialogue feels natural, the situations layered and convincing.
Still, the book is not without flaws. The author overextends herself with a secondary storyline about Nia’s friend/cousin Tonai and a third storyline about Grandma Vern’s family in the South. The stories serve a purpose—conveying a strong sense of the characters’ survival instincts—but readers will find it frustrating to keep track of all the family members.
In the end, however, the book delivers a satisfying read. Both Nia and Tonai find salvation through separate paths, and the author leaves readers with a thought-provoking viewpoint: Sometimes children do know best.
Also available in hardcover.