This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 17.3.
When I read the back cover of Cyndi Sand-Eveland’s Tinfoil Sky, I thought to myself “Oh dear, another story about a homeless child and parental neglect.” It seems that since Jean Little’s fabulous Willow and Twig (2000), there has been an overabundance of novels for young readers that begin with worst-case scenarios, and too often the resolution is neither believable nor empowering. And then I read on.
Tinfoil Sky succeeds where so many other novels have not. It is neither maudlin nor overly traumatic. The characters are completely believable in the effective integration of both positive and negative characteristics, as well as their ability to change.
The scene opens on 12-year-old Mel and her mother running from the mother’s abusive boyfriend. Mel’s one regret is that in their haste she has left her prized possessions—a boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia, and her journal—behind. She is sure that Craig will find them and read what she has written about him… Their life goes from bad to worse when Mel’s grandmother refuses to let her daughter into the apartment, and they end up on the street. Through not-unexpected mechanisms, Mel is eventually placed in her crotchety grandmother’s care while her mother serves out a short jail term. But this is just the set-up: the real story is how Mel copes with a grandmother she is sure hates her, conflicted emotions regarding her mother, and a burning need to discover her past in order to determine who she is in the present. The adults who help Mel on her journey share a believable combination of distance and involvement. There is no white knight who takes over and solves all Mel’s problems. Perhaps her landing a 2-hour per week student job at the library is a bit fortuitous, but it still remains within the realm of realistic possibility. Even Mel’s friendship with the librarian’s son, visiting for the summer, presents both solace and confusion: Mel is both attracted to him and embarrassed about her situation, wanting friendship but afraid that when her mother is free they will just be leaving again. In the end, Mel’s own strength allows her to hold on to the life she has made for herself, and readers will cheer her final decision.