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Book review: ‘Strays’ taps into foster care topics

“Strays” by Ron Koertge. (Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewyck Press, June 2007).

Teenager Teddy O’Connor’s parents die in a car accident.

Not that they were the greatest mom and dad ever; his dad obsessed about his pet store, and his mom paid more attention to rescuing strays than she did to feeding, clothing or nurturing Teddy and his dad.

But now that they are gone, he’s in a foster home, and he has to figure out a whole new way to live.

His foster parents seem odd. His two new foster brothers are better. C.W. is black, hip and 16 like Teddy. He has lived in the foster system most of his life, and has low expectations of it. Astin is about to age out of foster care, and is cool. Teddy is neither hip nor cool.

Teddy grieves for his parents and feels completely at sea in this new environment. Having been a total nerd and outcast in his last smaller high school, Teddy expects to be battered and mistreated at this new large urban high school. When things get too weird at his foster home, Teddy takes the light rail to the Los Angeles zoo and communes with the giraffes and lions.

Ron Koertge has written several solid young adult novels, and usually centers his books around two unlikely teens who team up. This one focuses on one character: A smart but lonely only child with with some strange abilities. Teddy moves from early grief to the end of his first year in a new school, still working through the changes in his life, still coping with teenage peers and sympathetic but untrustworthy adults.

He narrates his own story, which gives the reader the chance to eavesdrop on his widely swinging emotions. I suspect most foster care children don’t fall into the kind of support net Teddy finds with his peers, but readers will like Teddy, C.J. and

Astin, and will find their relationships interesting and their ways of dealing with what life hands them satisfying.

Mary Mackintosh is the head librarian at DeVry University in Federal Way and can be reached at marymackintosh@gmail.com. She contributes book reviews once a month to The Mirror.

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