by Cathy Cassidy
Realistic Fiction
Caudill 2011 Nominee
* * * Stars

Scarlett’s on her last, last chance after she gets thrown out of Greenhall Academy (she starts what amounts to a riot in the cafeteria when she shares her radical vegetarian agenda with her fellow students). Her mom sends her to live with her father, whom Scarlett hasn’t seen or spoken to in several years (Scarlett has already been sent to live with her Nan and her Uncle, and neither of those situations has worked out for her either) and Scarlett is angry, angry, angry. She feels like nobody wants or understands her and she still blames her dad for leaving them and breaking up their family. Dad has remarried and moved to Ireland with his new wife, Clare, her 9 year old daughter, Holly, and there’s a new baby on the way. They live in a cottage that’s a bit outside of town (which is pretty small) and Scarlett is supposed to attend school with Holly – a one-room, all-grades together primary school. On her first day she has an episode (the teacher is going over a lesson in Gaelic about family and it triggers some unpleasant feelings in Scarlett). Scarlett tries to run away, but ends up twisting her ankle and being rescued by a mysterious boy riding a black horse. Kian becomes Scarlett’s friend, confidante, and best-kept secret. They spend all of their time together that summer by the lake, as Scarlett works on her project (Clare and her father decide that she should be home-schooled for the time being), learning about her new home and its history. She winds up in trouble again when Holly blackmails her into piercing her nose, and then Scarlett has to work hard to convince everyone that she’s not *that* girl anymore, she’s changed.

It’s probably Kian more than anyone else who helps Scarlett come to terms with her anger and resentment. He’s this bright spot of joy in her life, and he’s got this fey, otherworldly aura about him (we find out later that he’s a gypsy). Her schoolwork, too, allows her to explore her interests – pulling her out of her angry place. Most of the adults in this book are trying to do the right thing for/by Scarlett, who is not a bad kid – just one who’s been hurt – and it’s hard for them to find the time and energy to give her what she wants and needs. Scarlett’s mom really comes through in the end – flying out to her daughter and her ex-husbands new family to give them a hand when they really need it, but mostly just being there for Scarlett. That’s when Scarlett realizes that she also needs to be there for her mom. This falls somewhere in between juvenile and teen fiction – some of the things Scarlett does are pretty adult (staying out all night, sneaking out, her style of dress, her tongue piercing), and she’s only 12, but she’s not completely wild (no drugs, drinking, wild parties or sex), and her friendship with Kian has a rosy glow, but that’s all. I liked this – it was fair to Scarlett and her parents, and the characters and situations were believable and realistic.

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Reviewed by YA Librarian