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Friday, February 25, 2011

Dark, Difficult Compromised Won't Get Outta My Head

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When 15-year-old Maya Sorenson comes home from school to find repo men carting out her belongings, she's not really surprised. Things have been too good for too long. Obviously, it wasn't going to last. If there's one thing she's learned from her con man father it's not to get too attached to anyone or anywhere. She's followed his advice so well that leaving Reno behind won't be a big deal. Maya and her dad will pick up the pieces and move on. Just like they always do.

Only that's not how it goes this time. This time, Maya's father is sent to prison. And she ends up at Kids Place, a temporary shelter for wards of the state. It's a bleak place, where newbies - especially those prone to spouting random science facts when nervous - become unwitting targets for the older, tougher residents. According to the others at Kids Place, foster homes aren't much safer. Maya knows she has to get out of there, even though she hasn't the vaguest idea where to go. It's not until her dad points her to an old shoebox full of letters from an aunt Maya never knew she had, that she's finally able to make a plan.

As Maya flees the orphanage, setting out on the 400-mile journey from Reno, Nevada to Boise, Idaho, she finds herself with an unlikely travel companion. Together, the two girls hitchhike, steal food, fight off predators, sleep on the streets, battle hypothermia, and even protect a little boy as they slowly make their way north. It's a journey that will open Maya's eyes to the cruelty of the world, forcing her to rely on the last person on Earth she thought capable of saving anybody - herself.

Compromised by Heidi Ayarbe is a bleak, but (unfortunately) realistic portrayal of a girl failed by both her parents and the system designed to protect her. It's also a desperate, depressing story about troubled kids just trying to survive in a world that seems designed to keep them down. I kept waiting for a Good Samaritan to come along and save them all, but that never really happened. Instead, Ayarbe shows the kids fighting their own battles, finding their own solutions, and making their own futures. Like I said, it's realistic. And depressing. It's also a very compelling story and, although ultimately hopeful, a sad one. The book is so harsh, so grim, that I can't say I liked it. It's thought-provoking, for sure; it's also a dark and difficult read, one that I wasn't sorry to bid farewell. I'm sure the author intended for the story to get under the reader's skin, to make us all aware of the plights of abandoned kids, but it was a little much for me to digest. Now, I need to read one of those nice, cheesy fantasy novels that bear no semblance whatsoever to real life just to get this one out of my head ...

(Readalikes: I can't really think of anything. Can you?)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language, violence and some sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Compromised from the generous folks at Harper Teen. Thank you!

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