Monday, May 14, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Where I Live by Brenda Rufener

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Title: Where I Live
Author: Brenda Rufener
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 352
Pub Date: February 28, 2018
Publisher: HarperTeen
Book Source: publisher via edelweiss
My Rating: 3 of 5 stars



**POSSIBLE SPOILERS**

Synopsis:  LINDEN ROSE HAS RULES FOR SURVIVAL.

1. Prevent the in-class nap.
2. Never carry too many belongings.
3. Avoid looking the part.

Her rules guarantee no one discovers her secret–that she’s homeless and living in the halls of her small-town high school. Her best friends, Ham and Seung, have formed a makeshift family, and writing for her school’s blog prevents downtime. When you’re homeless, free time sucks. Despite everything Linden’s burdened with, she holds on to hope for a future and a maybe romance with Seung.

But when cool-girl Bea comes to school with a bloody lip, the damage hits too close to home. Linden begins looking at Bea’s life, and soon her investigation prompts people to pay attention. And attention is the last thing Linden needs.

To put a stop to the violence, Linden must tell the story. Even if it breaks her rules for survival and jeopardizes the secrets she’s worked so hard to keep.
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Yet another "on the fence" book for me. Sigh. This is the year for ON THE FENCERS with me.

Alright, let's start with a quick rundown of the story. Basically Linden is a homeless teen. She is in hiding, sort of, right in front of everyone's eyes. She sleeps in her high school or outside of it in the dugout on the baseball field. She gets food from friends or she doesn't really eat. She bathes in the school bathroom/locker room. She carries her life in her backpack. This book is not only about her struggle with homelessness and trying to stay in school and make something of herself, but also the everyday struggles of high school and life as a teen.

Let me start with the bad:

• The plot was everywhere! I think I got whiplash from this book. I honestly think the messiness is due to the fact that there are too many themes in this book. It's like the author had so many great ideas, but instead of doing a couple books, she goes and puts ALL THE THINGS in one book. So, we not only deal with Linden and her struggles with being homeless, but we also have a reporter (?) at the school asking random questions, a gay-best-friend with WAY too many issues, a crush on the other-best-friend, who happens to be Korean-American and struggles with Korean/Asian stereotypes, and abusive relationship, possible love triangle, family drama, bullying, and on and on and on. It is just TOO MUCH. I feel like having too many things mushed together just made the book messy and it felt like no single thing got enough attention, you know? If anything, I felt that this book was MORE about the abusive relationship sidestory than the actual main plot, which was supposed to be Linden dealing with her homeless situation and being an orphan.

• As I mentioned before, this book does cover a lot of bullying issues. Racism, sexism, homophobia. Linden's gay friend (I can't remember his name) was bullied for being gay. He also had this weird obsession with the female student that was IN the above mentioned abusive relationship. Between this and the bullying, he was an angry guy. He wanted revenge and decided to take a really negative approach and get "revenge"... well, this is never a good thing. It didn't turn out well, but mostly my issue is with the fact that he countered bullying WITH bullying—not average bullying either, it got physical and not in a fist-fight type of way. It was just wrong and made him a completely unlikable character. I dealt with bullying in school, big time, so don't take this the wrong way, but I had ZERO sympathy for him by the time the book was over.

*** SPOILERS BELOW! ***

• There was a part in the book where Linden thought one of her friends was dead. Without going into too much detail, I will explain why this event bothered me. Alright, so, there was a school event. One of her friends was "attacked" and injured and was unconscious, yeah? SHE THINKS HE IS DEAD! Well she decides to run away instead of doing something about it. You aren't the one who hurt him, but you witnessed what happened, yet you run off? I get it, she was scared because of the police possibly finding out she was homeless. Buuut, as far as I am concerned DEATH IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HOMELESSNESS! Hello?! I just didn't get it. On top of that, the fact that she even thought he was dead was VERY unrealistic. The situation was so unbelievable it was almost comical. Very very eyeroll worthy, to be honest.

Moving on to the good:

• No one talks about homeless teens. It's rare in YA fiction. I think I've read only one other book in YA where this issue was highlighted ( Don't Breathe a Word by Holly Cupala), but that is LITERALLY it. So, obviously I admire this author for even going there. Poverty is a real, never-ending issue, for adults and teens alike. Following Linden through her day-to-day struggles is humbling. Will she have enough to eat? Will she have to steal food? Will she have to sleep outside on the ground or can she break into the school that night to stay warm and dry? Will she be able to bathe before classes? Will she have time to clean her meager clothing in the bathroom sinks at school? Will she be able to dodge police and a possible-social-worker at school? Will someone find out? Literally, any moment someone can find out. 

“If I want my life to matter, these eyes can't see who I really am.
Who I'm striving hard not to be.
The homeless girl hiding in front of them.”
These are things the average teen NEVER has to worry over.

• I honestly really admired Linden as a character. I think her personality was great and, although she was going through something not ALL teens do, she was very relatable. I felt a lot of sympathy for her while reading through her story. Even though she had to do questionable things—like steal food from friends—she never forgot any of the things she did. She always kept a mental tally of what she "owed" people, whether it be a tangible thing or an intangible thing.

• The romance was important. I think a lot of people didn't like that a romance was present in a book with more serious themes, but I feel differently. I think that Linden deserved to have a romance! Seung was a wonderful love interest for her! He was sweet, caring, but also put his foot down when it mattered in the friendship as well as the romantic relationship. Their dynamic was great and I felt that the falling in love aspect was realistic and sweet. I was extremely happy with the way things were wrapped up.

Overall, I think this book is important and I did enjoy it for the most part. It definitely had A LOT going on, but while this is so, the issues covered are relevant and they were mostly well done. I recommend it if you enjoy a book with diversity and important themes PLUS a little fun and romance to boot.
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