Sixteen-year-old Alice Winburrow has lost count of how many foster homes she has lived in since she was 8. Dozens, probably. Not that she cares. She hasn’t wanted to live in any of them, and she’s made that quite clear to “the system” by leaving them, not always voluntarily.
Some parents have simply driven her back to David, her long-suffering social worker. Once, she had to call him at 3 am because the foster parents with whom she’d had “an argument” couldn’t wait until business hours to get rid of her. She explains that her departures have not always been her fault – some of her ex-foster parents are in jail because of what they’ve done to her. But she admits (and David knows) that she has a huge attitude problem that makes difficult situations dangerous. And David is running out of options for her. In fact, as he drives her out of Providence to Little Campton, Delaware, this the last foster home he can try before she’s consigned to a group home.
And so, Alice meets Jessica Greene, an artist who lives alone in a country cottage not too far from the beach. Jessica seems overly enthusiastic (is she on drugs?). She drives a yellow VW beetle with eyelashes (is she a circus act?). Alice considers sprinting into the fields. Then, listening to the pleading note in David’s introduction, she waits for Jessica to say “no” and shut the door in her face. But Jessica welcomes her and takes her on a tour of the cottage, ignoring the hostile comments Alice has learned to make so foster parents will know how tough she is. The comments stop when she sees her bedroom, which is by far the most beautiful one she has ever seen. But she isn’t willing to relax yet; even as she sinks luxuriously into the memory foam mattress, she reflects that Jessica is probably just softening her up so she won’t expect an attack. But miraculously, Jessica seems to be kind. Hearing that Alice has no friends, she finds her one: Sunny, a pit bull puppy. She buys Alice the first new clothes she has ever had. But then she reveals something about herself that makes Alice completely lose faith in her – and this time, Alice decides to strike out on her own without calling David. She walks out into the countryside at night, hitches a ride with an old man … and realizes too late that she has walked into a full-fledged disaster from which no amount of “attitude” can save her.
“Think Twice” is a first novel, not a debut novel – the distinction being that a big-press debut novel is commonly a writer’s second or third full-length work of fiction. Like all first novels, it has awkward moments of style and pacing. But it’s a delightful read, not only for what it is, but – at least to somebody like me, a reader of some 200 YA books a year – for what it isn’t. Not derivative. Not written in “teen speak,” the voice adult YA writers adopt in an effort to sound young and rebellious, characterized mainly by the tendency to sprinkle obscenities on every page. Not obsessed with sex and violence, though both are present offstage. Not an “issue” book designed to make teen readers consider the plight of foster home kids.
“Think Twice” is the work of an 18-year-old author whose main character has become her best friend, a fictitious puppy she deeply cares for, and a situation she understands with real maturity. Every page of it is genuine. Read it and cheer for local talent. Living in our valley is a young writer of exceptional talent and determination, looking forward to a promising career.
Readsboro author McBurney presented “Think Twice” at Bartleby’s Books on March 18.
Laura Stevenson lives in Wilmington and her most recent novels, “Return in Kind” and “Liar from Vermont,” are both set on Boyd Hill Road.