“I want to paint my whole life over in tangerine.” That metaphor is apropos for Sugar Mae Cole, who could use some brightness in her life right about now.

She has seen a lot in her 12 years. She has a deadbeat, absentee (and unfortunately reappearing) father—Mr. Leeland, who promises much more than he delivers. And her mother, Reba, keeps believing he’ll keep his word, someday, and that they’ll become a family.

When hard times hit, Sugar and Reba are left homeless and must head to a shelter. When Reba can’t find work, clinical depression sets in—and Sugar is sent to foster care while Reba undergoes treatment.

Thanks to her strong wit and will, her love of writing (inspired by her favorite teacher Mr. B) and her cuddly canine companion Shush, Sugar quickly sets forth on her own quest to find the meaning of “home.” Is it a place? A person? A feeling?

Newbery Honor-winner Bauer (Hope Was Here) masterfully crafts a well-paced story with realistically drawn characters. The narrative is full of details (Salvation Army shirts, scamming for free dog food and painting her neighbor’s door bright purple) that vibrantly illuminate Sugar’s new world—one in which she learns how to trust, how to make friends and how to bring her mother a “sweeter” life.

While it may be cliché to say “home is where the heart is,” Bauer takes that phrase and eloquently illustrates it. Her skill in bringing Sugar and Reba to life creates a gentle tale of hope, of heart and of a heroine simply not willing to give up searching for her place in the world.

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