Jayce has locked her heart up tight, only allowing room for her little sister and their overworked mom. When her mom is diagnosed with cancer, the tenuous balancing act that keeps their lives together is endangered and it looks like everything is going to fall apart – unless Jayce can find her long-lost father and piece together a new kind of family.
If This is Home carries with it a visceral hurt that gives the story a feeling of urgency. When Jayce suffers, we feel it in the details: the panic of not having enough food on the shelves, the free-fall of impending loss, the pained reluctance to trust people who want to help. The story is bold enough to opt out of an exaggerated parade of loss and grief, and instead offer up something more subtle – the beginning of a journey rather than the end of one.
Unfortunately, there are places where the narrative falls short. The inclusion of a nascent friendship between Jayce and a mysterious boy feels forced, and the role he plays in the story is so superficial, he could easily be a figment of Jayce’s imagination. His presence exists to lure us with a promise of romance, though it’s not necessary and leads to rather contrived developments with their living arrangements at the end of the book. Likewise, Jayce’s relationship with her best friend never moves beyond the surface, and fails to give readers a believable picture of the harm that painful family secrets can do to friendships.
If This is Home isn’t a YA pick that would work for older teens or adult readers, but it is a quick read that offers realistic drama without wallowing in misery. It will appeal to younger teens who like their stories with a bit of hardship to dig their teeth into.