Brenda Rufener color author photo Carolyn Scott Photography.jpg

Author Brenda Rufener

What’s on the mind of a teenage girl?

Boys, friends, clothes, school work, sports, extracurriculars, the next weekend or party, maybe a part-time job, college or whatever will follow high school …

The plight of homeless people is usually far down the list, if it makes the list at all.

The homeless are people to be pitied, maybe avoided if they are panhandling on a street corner or pushing a stolen shopping cart down a sidewalk.

In “Where I Live,” Brenda Rufener’s moving new novel for young adults, Linden Rose thinks about all the things a typical teenage girl does. But homelessness is also very much on her mind — because she is homeless, and she doesn’t want anyone, not even her two best friends, to know it.

Telling her story in first person, Linden will capture your heart. She’s had more than her share of hard knocks, but she’s a survivor, not a whiner. She deals as pragmatically as she can with her problems. Left alone and homeless in Portland by her mother’s murder, she fled rather than go into the care of the state. When we meet her, she’s made a life for herself in a rural Oregon town.

The few dollars her mother had stashed away are dwindling fast, and Linden survives by working at a part-time job or two, using her wits and accepting — but keeping a tally of — help from her few friends. She lives in her high school, in a few well-chosen nooks when she manages to steal inside the building at night, in the baseball dugout when she’s not so lucky. She’s figured out the best time to sneak a shower, the best way to keep her few belongings stowed.

She’s trained herself to avoid attracting unwanted attention. She tries to be clean, not to fall asleep in class and not to let people see the contents of her backpack. She’s a good student. She writes for the school’s blog, and she hopes to reach 18 without being put into foster care. She hopes to earn her way to college with her two best friends, Ham and Seung.

But, careful as she may be, Linden can’t control what goes on around her. When Bea, a girl who seems to have everything Linden lacks, has unexplained bruises and a bloody lip, Linden can’t get memories of her mother’s death out of her head. Her relationship with Seung becomes a lot more complicated when they realize they are more than just friends. Ham is dealing with his own problems, not always in the best way.

Circumstances make Linden feel that if she’s not going to lose everything she’s worked for, if she’s going to be true to her beliefs and aspirations, she may have to tell her story after all.

Rufener packs several contemporary issues into this deceptively simple story: homelessness, domestic violence, bullying and questions of sexual orientation. But she manages to do so in a believable way. Her portrayal of teen life and interactions at a small high school also rings true. With everything else swirling around, Linden and her friends go to class, deal with the interplay of the cool kids and the not-so-cool, and make plans for the homecoming football game and dance,

Some readers will be skeptical that a student could keep her high school from knowing she has no parents, or that an orphaned teen could elude the system so successfully. But Linden’s voice is compelling. Young-adult readers should be caught up in her story, and in the process, they’ll be inspired and even learn a thing or two.

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