A PONTIAC IN THE WOODS


In Misurella’s YA novel, a homeless girl narrates the trials of growing up on her own.

Fourteen-year-old Jamie Sasso isn’t living the life of most high schoolers. After the death of her parents, two years apart, and an unsuccessful trip through the foster care system, she finds herself living alone in an abandoned Pontiac Bonneville in the woods outside her suburban town. She manages to get a daily shower by joining the boys’ cross-country team, but she’s forced to put up with sexual harassment by her male teammates and by her adult coach, Mr. Span. Every other week, she goes to talk to her social worker, Dominic Santa, who does what he can give her life a semblance of normalcy. She finally finds a bit of security when she meets high school junior Misha Alto, a loner and dancing enthusiast who takes Jamie under his wing and helps her understand how the rest of the community views her. Jamie begins to spend a lot of time at Misha’s house, where his parents—a professor and an artist—give them the freedom to act like normal teens. Jamie’s relationship with Misha helps her develop a sense of trust and stability, but her outsider status in the community still threatens her well-being. It comes to a head when her Pontiac is destroyed, leaving her without a home. Can Jamie sort through the losses and betrayals of her past and present to figure out a way forward—at least to high school graduation, and maybe to college and whatever lies beyond?

The story is narrated by a slightly more mature, 19-year-old Jamie, and Misurella’s prose is plainspoken but elegant while depicting her thoughts and feelings: “The moon glowed in the water, with one of the two planets and a couple stars accompanying it now, an occasional ripple from the breeze warping the reflected sky.” Jamie is a complex character with a difficult story, and readers are certain to sympathize with her plights. The author largely avoids easy fixes or neat solutions, which adds to the novel’s  sense of verisimilitude. The plot is a bit shapeless and overlong, and there are a few moments in which Jamie’s actions or reactions feel a bit unrealistic. Overall, though, Misurella manages to paint a portrait of teen homelessness that likely won’t be what readers expect, featuring a girl who’s very much a presence in a community, although very few of its members bother to help her out: “As Misha would tell me later, I just looked unattached, maybe a little wild, as if I didn’t belong anywhere, or didn’t want to, certainly not with upscale suburban high school kids from streets that used to be fields of corn.” Jamie’s story combines many of the everyday anxieties and experiences of growing up with others that are specific to her situation, and Misurella manages to find a compelling tale in the tension between the two.

A rich, if slightly rambling, study of a troubled teen’s life on the margins.

Pub Date: today

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2020





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