I had lunch with Lynn E. Hazen at last Saturday’s blogging conference, and later we traded novels. I just finished Shifty, her first book for young adults, and I am here to say that it is wonderful! The book is narrated by Soli, a fifteen-year-old kid who’s been in and out of foster care all his life. What I love about this book is how Hazen lets Soli make the bad choices he makes without commenting on them, creating the kind of worry in the reader’s mind that’s usually only felt for a real person. I kept thinking, don’t do that. Don’t you see—” The compulsion to keep turning the pages felt a lot like waiting up for a teenage son or daughter who’s out way after curfew.
The other thing I love is how so many of Soli’s bad decisions are the kind made by many "normal" adolescents: driving without a license, parking in no-parking zones, telling white lies that play out in unfortunate ways. It’s just that Soli’s bad decisions have much greater consequences because his life is in the hands of a social service system that doesn’t know or care about him.
Actually, there’s a whole lot I love about this book. I love Soli’s foster mother, Martha, who's like so many moms in dire financial straits—loving, but often overwhelmed,and sometimes even a little negligent. I love Soli’s foster sister, Sissy, whose childlike traits are already becoming corrupted by the fears and insecurities bred by foster care. I love how caring for Sissy makes Soli grow and how he talks to the crack-baby, Chance, when no one’s listening, telling him what he’ll need to know about life.
Shifty will ring true for any kid who’s lived through foster care and make him feel less alone. It should be required reading for the social workers who hold the lives of children in their hands.
So bravo, Lynn! I wish I’d read Shifty before we had lunch together so we could have talked about it.