Jake and his sister Shoshona have been under foster care since their single mother was arrested for possession and trafficking three years before. Both have found their own ways to cope: Shoshona has
Jake and his sister Shoshona have been under foster care since their single mother was arrested for possession and trafficking three years before. Both have found their own ways to cope: Shoshona has become a bossy mother figure; Jake, who is a budding comic book artist, has created an alter ego named Jakeman. And unbeknownst to his sister, Jake continues his one-man letter-writing campaign to the Governor, pleading for clemency for their mom.
Along with an assortment of nervous, angry, and damaged kids, Jake and Shoshona take a community-provided school bus four times a year on the long overnight journey through New York State to visit their mother in jail.
This time will be like no other trip they've ever taken. Their adult chaperones contract food poisoning on the way back and must be dropped off at a hospital. And their driver, refusing to wait for another adult to replace their chaperones, sets off again with only the kids and a hidden bottle of booze in tow. In no time they are off the main highway and lost. And their driver, now staggering drunk, abandons the kids and walks off, leaving them in the middle of nowhere.
Angry and sick to death of a system that has deserted them at every turn, Shoshana takes the wheel. And through a series of crazy side trips, Jake and the others hatch a plan to visit the Governor's mother. And when the old lady sees that her son has dismissed Jake's appeals and refused to even reply, she helps them face off with the Governor himself. Jake and the others find themselves at a photo opportunity that ends in tragedy even as it gives the long-abandoned kids a forum to be heard at long last.
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Diamond Willow Award nominee, 2008
Silver Birch Fiction shortlist, 2007
CLA Children's Book of the Year Award 2008 shortlist
VOYA's Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers list, 2007
Hackmatack Children's Choice Book Award nominee, 2008-2009
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— CM Magazine
"Ellis explores important, often uncomfortable questions. Is a child's future predetermined by his circumstance? What can, and should, society do? The author's approach to this difficult topic is sensitive and age-appropriate. These are children society calls "damaged," but each youngster is resilient, full of potential, and still hopeful. Readers won't soon forget them."
— School Library Journal
"This remarkable book centers on a bus load of inner city black and latino kids traveling by bus to spend Mother's Day visiting their moms, an aunt, and a grandmother who are in prison. Gives a taste of the real thing. Chilling."
— The Midwest Book Review
"Ellis tackles some big issues - the interactions between the jailed mothers and the children are poignantly, heartbreakingly described - and the characters' feelings of fear, anger, and despair won't be lost on readers. . . Ellis's generally light touch makes the characters relatable; unexpected plot twists keep the action moving; and the current of sadness running through the book is realistic.
— Horn Book
"In her customary way, Ellis addresses unpleasant realities most people ignore. . . But Ellis adds a spirit of creativity and steely hardiness that Jake and his friends have developed to survive and stay emotionally whole. The story takes a refreshingly comic, nicely improbable turn as the kids make off with the bus, pillage a church lunch, dodge police and finally, through their own ingenuity, find a way to bring their plight to the attention of the state governor. Ellis doesn't bow to an easy ending, but celebrates kids' resourcefulness and resilience in a story that's both sad and comic."
— The Toronto Star
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is the internationally acclaimed author of a number of award-winning titles for children, including the Breadwinner trilogy, A Company of Fools, The Heaven Shop, and Our Stories, Our Songs. A peace activist and humanitarian field worker, Deborah has traveled the world to meet with and hear the stories of children marginalized by poverty, war, and illness.