The homeless teenagers in Todd Strasser's gritty new novel Can't Get There from Here are named Maybe, 2Moro, Country Club, Maggot, Rainbow and Tears. They have a glorified vision of street life: they are not walled in, they are free to go wherever they please. The working stiffs they hustle and rob are robots, "prisoners of the system," who follow all the rules until they die and are replaced by more robots. But of course this vision isn't reality, and the world Strasser creates in his book is a bleak one. As in his previous novel, Give a Boy a Gun, he writes with vividness and humanity in order to portray the real people behind the headlines and social issues.
Members of Maybe's asphalt tribe live by their wits and survive by luck. Their story opens on New Year's Eve on the streets of New York. Maybe and her friends hang out in front of the Good Life Deli as they always do. They decide to jump a drunk guy with a flashy wristwatch, but he fights back, beating up Maggot and grabbing 2Moro. "Just a bunch of punks out to roll some drunks on New Year's Eve," he says in disgust. Fortunately, as the novel progresses, Maybe comes to realize that "You couldn't live on the streets. You could only die there," starve to death or freeze, or die of alcohol poisoning. The hardness, despair and filth that frame her life are sometimes balanced by acts of hope. Strasser, in fact, ends the novel in just such a way. A man named Anthony is trying to help the kids, and they decide he is one adult they can trust. Anthony helps Tears to get where she needs to be, and he gives Maybe the kind of straight talk she needs to start heading down the right road to the Youth Housing Project. It's a hint of redemption in a true-to-life novel that should hold strong appeal for teen readers and help keep them off the streets.