Sunday, June 30, 2019
Books: "The Echo Park Castaways"
The Echo Park Castaways
By M.G. Hennessey
HarperCollins; hardcover; ages 8-12; grades 3-7; $16.99; available Tuesday, July 2
The Echo Park Castaways shines a powerful light on the Los Angeles foster care system, while telling a poignant and optimistic story suitable for middle grade readers. It tells the story of four vastly different kids who are housed together and the connection they forge that helps them overcome obstacles and create their own family.
This is a deeply personal novel for author M.G. Hennessey, who works as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in the Los Angeles foster care system and as a youth mentor for Lifeworks, the youth development and mentoring program of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, has seen firsthand the strengths and weaknesses of the system responsible for society's most vulnerable children. There are 30,000 children in Los Angeles' child welfare system, which is the largest in the nation.
The Echo Park Castaways presents characters based on case stories that illustrate the very real challenges and obstacles foster kids face every day. The story is told from the children's points of view. Nevaeh, Vic, and little Mara are foster care veterans, currently living in Echo Park with reluctant caregiver Mrs. K.
Vic lives in a fantasy world to escape the cruel truth that his father was deported to El Salvador, Mara barely speaks English, and and Nevaeh is forced to parent the younger kids while holding dreams of earning a scholarship so she can escape the generational cycle of foster care.
When Mrs. K takes in Quentin, an almost completely non-verbal boy on the autism spectrum, it upsets their status quo. After Quentin attempts to run away, Vic discovers that he's just trying to find his real mother. An "epic quest" to reunite them is just the challenge that Vic has been waiting for.
The kids embark on a journey from Echo Park to Torrance, even though they are at risk of getting caught being sent to separate group homes. Adventures and challenges along the way demonstrate their resilience, loyalty, and bravery, while teaching them how much they mean to each other.
The Echo Park Castaways is a story meant for these times, and teaches valuable life lessons to all children.