I’ve been slowly reading a very long book and along the way have stopped to read a couple fast paced books that caught my interest. This was one of them and I plowed through it quite quickly since I couldn’t put it down. In fact, the end found me reading it in the bathroom while my kids took their bath and having to leave the bathroom because I was crying. Yep, this one’s a tear jerker.
Amber Appleton is homeless, poor, sleeping on a school bus, a misfit, daughter of an alcoholic loser, but she is a “hope spreader”-that rare person who can cheer others on seemingly tirelessly, who champions good causes, who is truly through and through a good person with a great heart. Because her mother is really just a terrible mother Amber has turned (for years) to her friend Ricky’s mother, Donna. Ricky is autistic and one of the “Franks Freaks”-the name for the group of misfit friends Amber has. Donna is everything Amber wants to be–smart, sexy, successful, a wonderful mother and role model. It is thanks to Donna that Amber has clothes, food, and any sort of support at all. However, even Donna doesn’t know that Amber has been reduced to sleeping on a freezing cold school bus.
There are just so many great parts to this story and I really admired the way the story built upon itself. We meet Amber and see what her daily life is like, and then we start to see all the people’s lives she touches and there is a story in each of them: Private Jackson-the quiet Vietnam Vet who drinks green tea and writes haiku and teaches Amber about silence and peace and coping; the senior citizens at the Methodist home-old folks forgotten by their own families who love Amber’s youthful outlook (all except Joan of Old-a bitter old nasty); the Korean Divas for Christ-a group of Korean ladies whom Amber is teaching English to via songs by The Supremes. It turns out that Amber is quite a devout Catholic. Her faith in Jesus, JC as she calls him, is incredible. Life has handed her an incredible amount of disappointment, but she still prays to JC all the time to be the person she needs to be at that moment, and she gets comfort from her faith.
As you can imagine, though, despite her faith and cheerful outlook, she is a girl with heart and feelings and she does hurt and know pain. And when a terrible tragedy occurs it seems to strip away all the hope she ever had.
I just loved this book. Amber was a fantastic character-reminded me a bit of Stargirl, what with her willingness to be different and her commitment to doing good. I loved all the other characters too (the parts with Private Jackson were particularly exceptional), and if some of it was unbelievable, well then so what. Consider it a story to get you thinking about how you might live your own life a bit more thoughtfully, considerately, optimistically. I would also add that besides being a great story, I thought this was really well written.