The Boy Who Steals Houses

Some time ago, I heard/read that what defines YA apart from adult fiction is the notion of ‘hope’. (I need to research where this was…). And having just finished ‘The Boy Who Steals Houses’ I have a clear example of this idea.

How can a child from an abusive or negligent family relationship develop any hope for the future? If your basic needs of food shelter and love are not being met, what impact does that have on your life?

C.G.Drews does not shy away from difficult family relationships. Her previous book, ‘A Thousand Perfect Notes‘ dealt with an abusive mother of a talented musician, as he struggles to find his place in the world – while pressured to meet his mother’s expectations. In ‘The Boy Who Steals Houses’, Sam has to deal with responsibility for his older autistic brother in the absence of parental care. (Note, in ATPN Beck also looks after his younger sister…).

There are many things Sam has to deal with – an abusive father, an absent mother, an autistic brother, his own anger issues – but all he longs for is a normal family. But what is that? And who can you trust?

Avery seems to think Vi is trustworthy. Sam isn’t so sure.

Moxie trusts Sam, even though he is secretly living in her mother’s study. And her family doesn’t know.

Sam doesn’t trust Mr De Lainey enough to think he will not turn him into the police. But where else can he go?

Where do you go, when all your options are running out, and your past is catching up with you?

With an intriguing title and characters with quirky natures, ‘The Boy Who Steal Houses’ IS a hopeful tale. The contrasts between Sam’s and Moxie’s families are great, but they each face their own difficulties. There are some playful characters to be enjoyed, along with instances where poor decisions are made – will things work out in the end for Sam and his brother? And is Moxie’s life as idyllic as Sam seems to think? How do you deal with not only being a *glass child, but also one who is homeless?

‘The Boy Who Steal Houses’ is one of the YA books on the 2020 CBCA Shortlist – a worthy nominee. If you want to know what inspired the story, read from the C.G. Drew’s Author Q&A where she gives some really playful and insightful answers. Lots of advice too for budding writers!

# Should all YA books have an element of hope?

## Do you always expect a happy ending?

### Who is your favourite character in this story? (Then read what C.G. Drews says herself!)


*Glass child – “… Glass children are children who are growing up in a home with a sibling who takes up a disproportionate amount of parental energy.” (See Urban dictionary definition for more detail.)

Edit: ‘the Boy who Steals Houses’ is an Honour Book in this year’s CBCA Awards. Congrats!

A thousand perfect notes

Beck’s life has always been routine – music practice – school – music practice – nothing more – nothing less. No time for friends or other activities – the Maestro wouldn’t allow it.

His only other ‘allowed’ distraction is taking his little sister to and from day-care, as his mother is too distracted to deal with anyone outside the family.

Things come to a head as the Maestro prepares Beck for a major performance, at the same time as Beck becomes reluctant friends with August, who takes an interest in Beck. As Beck tries to deal with the violence of the Maestro, and her expectations to make a music prodigy, he struggles to work out his own needs and where his ability truly lies.

Beck closes his eyes. Forgets. Zones out so far he reaches the place deep inside where his own music lies. Little notes clamouring to be free. His own notes. His own creations. His fingers tap a tattoo against his other clammy palm. If people cut him open, they’d never accuse him of being empty. He’s not a shell of a pianist – he’s a composer. Cut his chest and see his heart beat with a song all his own.

‘A Thousand Perfect Notes’ portrays Beck’s struggle with his own ability, the expectations of others, the fulfillment of dreams and the conflicts of family loyalty. At what point did he have the right to stand up against the Maestro? And what would be the consequences for his family? Who’s dreams should he follow? 

# What would you do in this situation? Who’s dreams and aspirations do you want to follow?

## How do you think this compares to ‘Everything I never told you’ – in terms of meeting the expectations of others?

Guest post : the Minnow

minnowThe Minnow, by Diana Sweeney, tells of a young girl’s difficult journey of growth through early adolescence into a new way of being.

Our storyteller, Tom (Holly), is orphaned at the age of fourteen when her parents and sibling (Sarah) are killed during a flood which affects many residents of a small lakeside town.  Tom’s ability to both perceive, and also speak to, family members who have died is at first somewhat confusing to the reader. But the most poignant introduction occurs with the voice of “the minnow”. When Tom survives the flood and takes up residence with Bill, a family friend, her first sexual encounter is the result of his abuse. Although she escapes his daily influence, moving in with close friend Jonah, Tom becomes aware that the child she carries (the minnow) will connect her to Bill and his predatory behaviour. And, although she has adult friends who would help her, Tom remains silent.

In the character of Tom (Holly), Diana Sweeney’s first novel sensitively conveys how difficult it is to report sexual predation. Tom’s fear must first be acknowledged and she must be sure of a safe passage for herself, and for her child (the minnow). Sweeney also exposes a dislocation, imaged by the flood event, whereby Tom’s life experiences separate her from school friends and the normal priorities of adolescence. This isolation is evident within the absences that Sweeney embeds in her narration. Tom’s voice consistently grounds the novel in the viewpoint of a fourteen year old and avoids adult perspectives. Even as water imagery infuses the telling and is accompanied by the voices of underwater creatures, the reader must rely on this perspective to link events with consequences. Ultimately Tom accepts her new life as Holly, and her child (the minnow) emerges to a life and voice of her own.

Although Sweeney tells of an adolescence that is experienced through loss and predation, Holly’s emergence unfolds with grace: a deep sense of renewed hope, a capacity to trust, and a connection with life’s possibilities convey images of survival that remain in the mind of the reader long after turning the last page.

Review written by Dr Yvonne Hammer.

# Note: this is one of the shortlisted books in this year’s CBCA Young Adult section.