Rufener, Barbara. Where I Live. HarperTeen, 2018. 416p. ISBN: 9780062571090. HT OT ****
Linden lives on the streets, a secret she spends nearly all her resources trying to hide from her two best friends and everyone else at school. She sometimes sleeps in the dugout of the school baseball field, other times she is able to sleep behind the curtains in the school theater by propping a door open and sneaking back in before the overnight custodians come in and close it. She is just trying to get to 18 and freedom without being found out. But secrets are hard to keep in rural Oregon and when one of the girls at her school is assaulted, Linden is determined to protect her by making sure the story is told…even if it means stepping out of the shadows into the spotlight where her secret could be revealed.
There are two big plot engines in this book: Linden’s experience of homelessness and the violence perpetrated against women that Linden knows. These are heavy topics and at times their pervasiveness can feel heavy-handed. But it is more likely that they underplay the importance and impact on the life of a teenager trying to cope with such serious traumas. The drama levels are sky high, but this feels right for how life might be in the brain and body of an unhoused teen. But it is not all bleak – Linden has a supportive best friend who happens to be gay, and another best friend who is half-Asian which makes him stand out in their town. He also happens to be her love interest. There is light romance including some kissing and petting, as well as references to alcohol and cigarette smoking and some swearing. The most intense things are incidents of bullying and the actual violence perpetrated against women, as well as Linden’s homelessness. The book acknowledges how hard it is for victims and survivors and why so many do not speak up. But as a book that showcases a protagonist who is experiencing homelessness as they find their voice and learn to advocate for themselves and others, it is in the end a hopeful book.
Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library