Mel and her mother Cecily have left Craig, drug dealer and all round creep, in the middle of the night. They threw what belongings they could find into the pinto and headed toward Cecily’s hometown, where they hope to stay with Gladys, Cecily’s mother until they can get back on their feet.
But things don’t go the way they planned. Gladys won’t open her door to them. The pinto breaks down under an overpass. They are forced to live out of their car, while Cecily looks for work. When that fails, they sing on the street for money. When Cecily ends up in jail, Mel must go live with Gladys. To her surprise, she finds a home where she least expected it.
Tinfoil Sky is a simple story about how it is to be homeless and how it must feel to be the child of an unstable adult. Cecily is flighty, has big dreams but no practical skills and gives up very easily. Although she loves her daughter, she does not provide any stability or guidance.
Sand-Eveland’s skill at tackling hard issues for young readers is evident in the slim offering. The characters are well-rounded. Mel’s actions and reactions seem very plausible and never too overwrought (I think the danger with books about hard issues is a tendency to over-dramatize the emotions of the protagonist). Cecily, is flawed and sympathetic at the same time. The author also does a good job at building tension in the story without going overboard. What will happen to Mel when Cecily doesn’t come back to the overpass? Was that Craig she saw in the distance? Did he follow them? What about her new friend Paul? Although simple and economic, I could not stop reading Tinfoil Sky.
There were a few threads I felt could have been better developed, however: Gladys for instance. She is bitter, uncommunicative and rude. She begins to thaw eventually, but the extent of her bitterness is never quite addressed. The reader is given hints that Cecily stole from her and her husband and then left in the middle of the night. She hasn’t heard anything for over 9 years. But this is just sketched in and her eventual warming up to Mel feels abrupt and unexplained. As is her habit of plastering tinfoil over the windows. Although I assume it is a symbol for shutting herself off from life, something as weird as tinfoil on windows should be at least cursorily explained. But Sand-Eveland gives us no clue as to why Gladys decided to live like a frozen dinner.
Having said that, this is still a solid story to give to a middle school girl (you could try a boy but in my experience they don’t love simple stories about girls- why is it that girls can enjoy either and boys can’t?). In fact, I am thinking of suggesting it to my English department for a Grade 7 book circle read.