Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Bad Houses by Sara Ryan, illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil

Lewis' works with his mother, Cate, running estate sales; sorting through dead people's belongings and getting them ready to sell.  Anne lives with her mother, Danica, and a house stuffed full of all the things Danica is unable to part with.  Lewis and Anne get to know each other after meeting at an estate sale.  Anne is trying to understand why people keep things and leave things, and what makes something important.

Such an interesting story.  I liked the juxtaposition of Lewis and his mother running the estate sales, and Anne and her mother, who live in such disorder.  One family whose job it is to clean up and arrange and get rid of things, and another incapable of getting rid of things.

I found myself strongly empathizing with both Anne and Lewis, but Anne is particular.  Maybe because I like to keep thing pretty neat and clean.  I felt her shock, horror and betrayal when she found her mother and filled her room with junk in order to clear out the living room so she could invite her new boyfriend over.  Anne's room was her one safe space, where there was no clutter or mess.  Now her safe haven had been infiltrated and there wasn't any place left for her.

I was frustrated at both Lewis and Anne's parents for their selfishness, even though I knew that there was a lot more going on than selfishness.  I wanted to shake them and say, "Can't you see what this is doing to your kid?  Don't you care?!"  Of course they cared, but they had their own issues to deal with as well.

We have two stories going on.  We have the story of Lewis and Anne, who meet and start dating and fall in love, and struggle with their own personal problems, and we have the story of Cate and Danica, or in particular, their back story, and how what happened in the past is effecting what is happening to Lewis and Anne today.


Anne's mother was so trapped by her hording, it prevented her from making rational decisions.  During the fire, she was trying to get things out of the house rather than people.  When all her things were gone, she completely broke down, unable to start over.  I sympathized with  Danica, but I was also glad that Anne got away.  I was worried she was going to be trapped, forever tied to her mother and helping her, unable to have a life of her own.  Maybe that's heartless of me, but I was glad she got an apartment of her own with Lewis.  Seemed a little fast to be moving in together, but hey.  Maybe it will all work out for them.

The illustrations are in black and white.  I kind of wish there had been more full color pictures, like the ones on the cover.  I liked the illustrative style though.  Carla Speed McNeil is the author and illustrator, of course, of the Finder series, and this was done in her typical style.

It's a really intricate, thoughtful story, much better than I think I'm describing it.  Read it.

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