Title: Almost Paradise
Author: Corabel Shofner. Read by Eileen Stevens
Publication Info: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017. 288 pages in hardback. Audio edition by Blackstone Audio, 2017.
Source: Library digital resources
Twelve-year-old Ruby Clyde Henderson’s life turns upside down the day her mother’s boyfriend holds up a convenience store, and her mother is wrongly imprisoned for assisting with the crime. Ruby and her pet pig, Bunny, find their way to her estranged Aunt Eleanor's home. Aunt Eleanor is a nun who lives on a peach orchard called Paradise, and had turned away from their family long ago. With a little patience, she and Ruby begin to get along―but Eleanor has secrets of her own, secrets that might mean more hard times for Ruby.
Ruby believes that she's the only one who can find a way to help heal her loved ones, save her mother, and bring her family back together again. But being in a family means that everyone has to work together to support each other, and being home doesn't always mean going back to where you came from.
Ruby Clyde is one of those characters who captures your heart from the opening lines. Her life has been challenging from the get-go, but waking up in the back seat of the car on her way to who knows where tells her things have just gotten worse. Building from event to event the author creates a story that shows the adults in Ruby Clyde’s life both failing spectacularly to do right by her—and going above and beyond to be sure she is okay.
After a lifetime of being the adult to her mother’s inability to function, Ruby Clyde meets up with something too big for her to handle. Her successes—rescuing Bunny, reaching out to her aunt—come from a combination of her own gumption and adult help, and don’t always work quite as planned. There is no illusion here: Ruby can’t go it alone. But neither can she sit back and do nothing in hopes that the adults will take care of matters.
The ending took me a bit by surprise, and I’m still not sure what I think of it. The book does leave the reader all too aware that the criminal justice system sometimes fails spectacularly, and sometimes drastic measures are necessary to fix it (more than that I won’t say, lest it be a spoiler).
The narrator is superb, capturing Ruby Clyde’s voice perfectly. As I listened I could see the whole thing, the result of a lovely combination of good writing and good reading.
I’d save this one for somewhat older kids, who are ready for the idea that “the system” is broken. Be prepared to discuss the ending with your young reader. I’ll say 10-12 years old for this, though aside from the difficult issues, the writing is quite accessible without talking down to the reader at all.
Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of Almost Paradise from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."