Just before Ari and her older brother Gage’s mother died, she made them promise to stick together, no matter what. So four years later, when Gage announces that he’s gotten an apartment and will no longer live with Janna, their prickly guardian, eleven-year-old Ari follows.
It’s only when they’ve packed their things and left Janna’s house that Ari learns the truth: Gage hasn’t found an apartment yet. He doesn’t have a job, either. Until he can find steady work and a place to live, they’ll have to sleep at friend’s houses, and occasionally the homeless shelter. Gage promises that it’s temporary, but as the weeks go by, Ari begins to feel as if her entire world is crumbling. It’s all but impossible to manage schoolwork, friendships, and activities when you don’t even know where you’re staying on any given night.
Whenever it all feels like too much, Ari plays with her Paper Things—pictures of people, furniture, and houses cut out of magazines and catalogs that form a land of paper dolls. When she’s surrounded by Paper Things, all the problems of the real world fall away and she’s part of a happy family, with parents and a house and even some dogs. In those precious moments, Ari pretends that she’s just a normal girl. And hopes with all her heart that someday, she will be.
I listened to this book with my family, and we all enjoyed it. The characters are believable, trying to do the right thing, but also flawed and vulnerable. It’s one of those books which reminds you not to make assumptions, because everyone is facing problems that you don’t even know about. Although older readers might consider the ending a little too perfect, it’s a great book for kids and parents to read and discuss together—although it deals directly with homelessness, giving a glimpse into the lives of many children and teens today, it stays solidly middle-grade and never gets dark or inappropriate. It’s also an excellent choice for book groups. Poignant and thought-provoking, I would recommend Paper Things for readers ages nine and up.