Early Pearl is very much her father’s daughter, an 11-year-old fascinated with words and puzzles. That interest might help her unravel the mystery of her father’s disappearance and reunite their family of four.

Early’s father, Dash, worked in the Chicago Public Library. Hoping to provide a better home for his family, he began working after hours, cataloguing books for resale. It all seemed innocent, but things aren’t always what they seem. After Dash vanishes from a wintry Chicago steet, people break into the family’s apartment, stealing everything they have left: every book, every dollar, every feeling of safety. With no place to go, mom Summer takes Early and her brother Jubie to a shelter.

Living in a shelter is scary at first; there’s no privacy and there are lines for everything from brushing your teeth to using the telephone. Jubie gets sick, Early has to go to a new school where she is singled out as a shelter kid, and her father is still missing. Things are looking bleak until Early sets her mind to figuring out what happened to Dash by deciphering the clues in his notebook.

Using text from Langston Hughes’ The Book of Rhythms, best-selling author Blue Balliett orchestrates a captivating mystery. Woven into the story are bits of history and philosophy, mathematical puzzles and most importantly, compassion for others.

Dash taught his family to hold fast to dreams; Balliett shows readers that shelters are full of people who need a dream to hold fast to, just like the rest of us.

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