In fifth grade, I was more likely to be found reading The Baby-Sitters Club than anything remotely “literary.” I was a strong reader, but I was in it for entertainment. (To be honest, that’s probably still true.) So back in fifth grade, when my friends were all raving about some book they’d just read, the eleven-year-old me was interested but apparently not interested enough to get beyond a chapter of Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt. It landed squarely in the “did not finish” pile, and I went back to reading comfortable formulaic series novels.
I’m happy to report that eventually my reading tastes up-leveled to more challenging choices–like Homecoming. To my surprise, the novel I had once dismissed as boring was anything but. It was an epic search for a home and exploration of family. Even as an adult, I am still drawn to novels, notably by Joyce Carol Oates and Elizabeth Strout, that take on themes of home and family.
However, one thing I learned doing reader’s advisory on the front lines of a public library is that kids and teens who ask for read-alikes are usually looking for books with similar situations. Read-alikes for adults may focus on writing style or literary themes, but for young people, it’s all about the main plot element.
In the case of Homecoming, it’s actually pretty easy. Kids-on-their-own is quite common in children’s literature. You might direct readers to Runaway by Wendelin Van Draanen or Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker for examples of kids making it on their own. They are both excellent books that I recommend often.
But the book that I would reach for is Keeping Safe the Stars by Sheila O’Connor. I would choose it for the kids-on-their-own plot and the Northern Minnesota setting, but mostly I would choose it for the family. The Stars, much like the Tillermans in Homecoming, are a family that will stick with you. And, really, that’s what I’m looking for in a Homecoming read-alike. Highly recommended.
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