Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd. (Grades 8+)
Originally published in the UK. Released in America by David Fickling Books (Random House), October 2009.
ARC provided by publisher.
Holly's a foster kid in London, but when a couple wants to foster her everything begins to change. Holly has to leave her friends and her favorite social worker. She has to get used to her potential foster parents and start at a new school. And Holly's not really sure it's for her. When she finds a fabulous blond wig, Holly puts it on and feels transformed. With the wig, she feels like Solace, a fabulous lady who's fearless and ready for anything. So she plunks that wig on her head and sets off to hitchhike to Ireland and find her mom. But Holly's physical journey across the country will also require a mental and emotional journey as she deals with her feelings about being a foster kid.
Siobhan Dowd has created an incredibly real sense of place in Solace of the Road. I've never been to England, but I felt like I was traveling beside Holly every step of the way. Part of what made the story feel so real was the British slang used heavily throughout. Some readers might find it a bit tough to wade through, but I'm glad they kept it because it made Holly feel authentic to me.
Maybe it's because I just listened to the audiobook of The Great Gilly Hopkins, but I kept thinking of Holly as an older, British Gilly. You know, if she hadn't stayed with Trotter and known such kindness. That put me on Holly's side right away and I was rooting for her throughout. I like, too, that Holly has doubts as she's going through her journey. She feels tired and hungry and worn down and she considers calling foster mom Fiona and going back to London, but the thought of her mom waiting for her in Ireland keeps her going. Holly's doubts were another thing that made her feel real to me.
I feel the plot lagged in spots and I occasionally wondered where the story was going, but the ending quieted my doubts and wrapped things up in a satisfying way. I'd recommend Solace of the Road to older fans of The Great Gilly Hopkins (and other foster kid tales) as well as fans of Siobhan Dowd's other works (particularly Bog Child because it evokes the same immersion in place).
Read more reviews at Crossover, Bookwitch, and Melody's Reading Corner.