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“A faithful friend is a sure shelter”
With only one day left for a chance to win copies of free books for and about gifted teens, it seems the perfect time to write about Tell Us We’re Home, a novel by Marina Budhos for readers ages 12 and up that will also win the hearts of many not-so-young adults.
The first three chapters of Tell Us We’re Home introduces us, in turn, to the story’s trio of eighth-grade protagonists: Jaya, Lola, and Maria. Their friendship is strengthened by the commonality that their mothers are all maids and nannies who clean the homes and care for the children of families of classmates in Meadowbrook, New Jersey.
As if middle school weren’t hard enough.
In addition to cultural divides and economic disadvantages, each of the girls struggles with her own internal space where she needs to grow. While the book opens with Jaya, and it is her family and story that are at the center of the event upon which the mystery of the novel turns, I found myself most drawn to Lola Svetloski, described at one point as” just, so, well, too much”:
“[Lola] always blurted what came into her head, telling someone exactly what she thought, walking them through each and every one of their deficiencies. To her, a personality was something that could be rearranged and fixed. Like Nadia—Lola once told her sister that she shouldn’t spend so much time primping in front of the mirror before Lon arrived, since it made her look desperate. But then her sister’s face had crumpled, and Lola’s first gush of satisfaction vanished. The old loneliness knocked through her. She was more apart than ever.”
That “old loneliness” and the feeling of being apart from rather than a part of the Meadowbrook community is at the heart of the novel. For Lola, the sense of isolation is complicated by her obvious intellectual giftedness and, as the passage above shows, emotional sensitivity.
Deirdre Lovecky, in “Highly Gifted Children and Peer Relationships,” describes children like Lola who struggle with peer relationships and friendships:
“They had little idea of how to approach others to initiate an activity, or to join in an activity in progress. They also lacked the idea of reciprocity in relationships when peers were already starting to manage relationships more mutually. Many exhibited inappropriate social skills for their age such as substituting monologues for conversations, interrupting peers, insistence of their own agenda versus going along with a group goal or sharing ideas with another, asking irrelevant and fact-oriented questions, and wanting everyone else to observe the exact rules they have decided are the right ones. They also often needed to win, and had little idea of sharing time, attention or materials.”
These social-emotional challenges make Lola’s friendship with Jaya and Maria all the more valuable, what Miraca Gross calls the “sure shelter” of a “faithful friend.” When that friendship is threatened, readers will ache for the “old loneliness” each of the girls feels as accusations fly and the shelter they have so carefully built for themselves is in danger of being torn down.