Book Review – ‘Roam’ by C.H. Armstrong ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Being a homeless teen is hard.

Keeping it a secret is even harder.

Seventeen year-old Abby Lunde and her family are living on the streets. They had a normal life back in Omaha, but thanks to her mother’s awful mistake, they had to leave what little they had behind for a new start in Rochester. Abby tries to be an average teenager – fitting into school, buoyed by dreams of a boyfriend, college, and a career in music.

But Minnesota winters are unforgiving, and so are many teenagers. Her stepdad promises to put a roof over their heads, but times are tough for everyone and Abby is doing everything she can to keep her shameful secret from her new friends. The divide between rich and poor in high school is painfully obvious, and the stress of never knowing where they’re sleeping or where they’ll find their next meal is taking its toll on the whole family.

As secrets and the hope for a home fades, Abby knows she must trust those around her to help.  But will her friends let her down the same way they did back home, or will they rise to the challenge to help them find a normal life?

Thank you to Central Avenue Publishing, Netgalley and C.H Armstrong for the chance to read and review this book.

“There are countless things I never imagined about being homeless – so  many things I’d taken for granted.”

Roam is a story about a normal family going through familiar problems, and a normal teenager with normal teenage problems. But there’s one thing that isn’t normal: they’re also homeless and currently sleeping in the back of their van and eating free meals at the soup kitchen, all whilst trying to settle into a new town. Living this way makes every little thing that much harder as they’re cramped in this small space with no escape or privacy, they have no washing facilities for themselves or their clothes and very little money for food. It also means they have to think about things most of us don’t give a second thought: can they afford to turn on the heat in the car, can they afford breakfast or do they need to skip it, getting the kids to school early so they can have a wash and brush their teeth and hair before anyone else turns up, and how are they going to wash their clothes and bodies?  It also makes starting a new school even more daunting as Abby is worried she’ll be bullied if people find out about her family’s situation.

“There wasn’t anyone who could help you?”

As soon as I read the description of this book I was intrigued. While reading I realised that part of my attraction to this book, and the affinity I was feeling with Abby, was because of my experiences with homeless people. A few months before I turned 13 my Dad got a job after almost three years out of work.  The job saw us move from the north of the country to the south, and while we weren’t homeless, we did live amongst people who were or had been. My Dad’s new job was at the YMCA and we lived in the staff flat on the premises. Over the years I saw many things, heard people’s heartbreaking stories and saw teenagers who were homeless for a multitude of reasons. It taught me it can happen to anyone, that we never know why someone is on the street and to be thankful for all I have. I also learned that once you’re homeless it isn’t easy to pull yourself out of that situation and how vital things such as homeless shelters and soup kitchens really are. I think these things all made the book resonate with me in a unique way.

“..the best part isn’t the food – it’s how we’re treated: like real people..”

So many times in this novel we’re reminded of how dismal Abby’s situation is and how heartbreaking and demoralising it must be. Who wouldn’t feel that way queuing for hours just to make sure you’re first in line at the soup kitchen for dinner or sneaking into the toilets at Wal-Mart so you can wash your hair and have a sponge wash in the sink?  But then there are the heartwarming times such as the first time they go to Saturday Community Kitchen and are served as guests instead of lining up like at the soup kitchen, and in the many acts of kindness that take place in this story.

“How can I ever forgive her?”

At first we don’t know exactly why they had to leave Omaha for Rochester or what it is that Abby’s Mom did to make her so angry at her, but over time we learn the stories and are able to empathise with some of Abby’s feelings towards her mother. I thought that their relationship was well written: full of the usual teenage angst and complexities between a parent and child but with the added anger, guilt and frustration the pair feel.

“It’s easy to forget you’re worthy when you’re trying so hard just to make it through each day, but always remember: you are worthy.”

I really enjoyed this book.  It had a good story, was well written and had great characters. I connected with Abby and thought the writer captured teenage friendships and relationships well. I particularly liked Abby’s relationship with her little sister, Amber. It offered some of the more light-hearted moments, and also some of the most emotional ones. It also gave Abby a person who mattered more to her than she did that she could focus on. I loved how she’d sing to her little sister to get her to fall asleep, distract her or cheer her up.  I also liked how instead of the stereotypical evil stepdad we had a stepdad in this book who was adored, and loved his stepchild like he did his own. I liked how the book ended, though I’m not saying more as I don’t want to give anything away. Roam is a great novel that I would recommend, and not just to lovers of the Young Adult genre.

Out February 5th 2019

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