Review: Roam by C.H. Armstrong

A situation no one ever expects to find themselves in. A situation no child should ever have to face.

Abby Lunde is facing life as a homeless teen. She and her family are living in her step-father’s minivan, following a mistake that spiraled and forced them to the streets. Will she be able to find some semblance of normal as she figures out how to keep warm, get enough to eat, keep clean, all while attending classes and trying to graduate?

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Published: 5 February 2019

Publisher: Central Avenue Publishing

Category: Young Adult/Contemporary

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 are exposed 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?

Rating: 2 Stars

CW: slut shaming, bullying, use of a racist term, alcoholism, possible drug abuse

I want to say that C.H. Armstrong did write about some good points. When her main character Abby was riding through town and reflecting upon the things she saw outside in an early scene, she saw things that showed how there’s more than one way for wealth to be evident. It can be clothes or someone’s car, but it can also be something you might not think of right away, like the state of their lawn.

Everywhere I look screams wealth and privilege—from the carefully manicured lawns to the kids in the car next to us. The cost of their clothing alone would probably eat up Nick’s whole paycheck—if he still had one. But he doesn’t, and neither does Mom.

There were several moments when Armstrong really infused her writing with what must have been the sheer amount of emotions that Abby and her family were feeling, from anxiety to terror and so on. Abby recounts the moment when her parents tell her that they will need to leave their apartment because they can no longer afford it:

We left Omaha this afternoon, just one step ahead of eviction. The landlord visited two days ago, warning us we had seventy-two hours to pay the current and last month’s rent or she’d return with a police escort and a locksmith. There was no point in fighting it, Nick said, so we spent all day yesterday packing only our absolute necessities. We left everything else behind—there just wasn’t enough room.

How do you make that kind of decision? What to take, what to leave? When you know you have to leave and there’s no other choice, how do you keep from curling up in a corner and refusing to deal with it?

That being said, the strengths (what I talked about and others) being what they were, there were more minuses that outweighed them and made the book such a disappointment that I was thoroughly uncomfortable.

There were times when certain conversations came up that felt wholly unnecessary, such as this one between Abby and Josh, a boy she meets at her new school:

“But how? I mean—you don’t look gay!” I blurt out.

Josh lifts an eyebrow. “What is gay supposed to look like?”

“I—I don’t know. I’ve never really known anyone who’s gay.”

Oh boy…there’s a lot to unpack there, but I couldn’t fathom a few things, such as why how Abby thought that a) she knew she hadn’t met someone who was gay before, and b) why this kind of conversation was even here to begin with? You can’t tell someone’s sexuality based on their appearance.  😒

Then there is Josh’s behavior in regards to his friends, particularly with naming his female friends his “harem” and renaming them by Disney princess names, even when they ask him not to and especially with there being a girl of Middle Eastern descent in this group (want to bet which princess name he used for her?). Then his Fruit Loops level “humor” (quote “who peed in your Fruit Loops?” unquote)…I really couldn’t stand him after that.

There’s was also the relationship between Abby and Zack that didn’t make sense to me. It was one of the things that made me uncomfortable, more confused. The accelerated development, the intensity, Abby’s reactions to Zack’s familial benefits, it all didn’t really track as the makings of a healthy relationship from start to finish.

Regarding another uncomfortable moment, it was when Abby, at a football game with her friends, used a racist term in her internal narration which meant it could never be challenged:

When the buzzer signals game over, I celebrate along with my tribe as Rochester South brings home a hard-won victory of 28-27.

I do not remember ever seen Native American representation in this book. This just seemed so weird and out of place, so wrong, that I felt uncomfortable, when “group” could easily have been substituted.

To sum it up, while there were some strong points in the realm of the homeless representation, I thought there were essential problems with the characters, relationships, and offensive material that made this a very difficult book to enjoy and nigh on impossible to finish.

 

 

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media (pictures, quotes, etc.) belong to the respective owners and are used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

 

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