Published by B&H Publishing, B&H Kids on June 6, 2023
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Home isn’t always what we dream it will be.
Eleven-year-old Sierra just wants a normal life. After her military mother returns from the war overseas, the two hop from home to homelessness while Sierra tries to help her mom through the throes of PTSD.
When they end up at a shelter for women and children, Sierra is even more aware of what her life is not. The kind couple who run the shelter, Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin, attempt to show her parental love as she faces the uncertainties of her mom’s emotional health and the challenges of being the brand-new poor kid in middle school. The longer she stays at the shelter, the more Sierra realizes she may have to face an impossible choice as she redefines home.
This middle-grade novel offers a compassionate look at poverty, homelessness, and hope. Readers walk alongside brave Sierra as she holds on to a promise she believes God gave her: that one day she will have a real home. But what if that promise looks far different than she has ever dreamed?
In this middle grade novel, Sierra longs for a place to call home, but she faces continued upheaval due to her mother’s wartime PTSD and struggles holding down a job. This story tackles a lot of tough issues, and it does so with grace and grit, telling the truth about how hard life can be without turning struggling people into villains or oversimplifying complex issues. Linda MacKillop portrays her young and grown-up characters with genuine complexity, good and bad days, and different ways of relating to people. They all feel authentic, and Sierra’s first-person narrative voice rings true throughout the entire book. Adults can easily overdo a child’s voice in fiction, but Sierra feels like a real person, showing a mixture of childlike innocence and bitter experience as she navigates her challenging life.
Hotel Oscar Mike Echo takes place in contemporary Richmond, Virginia, and the author gives a sense of how many Southerners talk without overdoing dialect in the narration or dialogue. She also handled racial themes in a sensitive way. For example, as Sierra learns hard things about Richmond’s history, she relates ideas about justice and resilience to her own struggles, growing as a character based on the legacy of African American lament and perseverance. This doesn’t feel like a preachy add-on, or like the author is just using Black suffering to prop up a white character’s development. It’s subtle and fits well with the unfolding story, as Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin minister to Sierra through their homeless shelter and invest in her life.
I don’t want to say much about the plot itself, because I don’t want to give things away, but I really admire how MacKillop handled the story. The ending is realistically open-ended, and even though many things remain unresolved, the story still feels complete because of the emotional journey Sierra has taken. Some Christian children’s novels have rushed, pat endings, but this one embraces complexity and shows kids how someone can relate to God even while they are continuing to suffer. Also, because the faith themes feel like an authentic representation of people’s lives instead of an author’s soapbox, this book can also appeal to non-Christian readers who are interested in the social themes. This isn’t just for fellow believers.
I would recommend Hotel Oscar Mike Echo to older elementary school students and up. Some more sensitive readers might benefit from reading this alongside a parent, especially if they or someone they love has gone through similar trials, but the book is age-appropriate throughout, with lots of great messages. This book can help and encourage kids who have experienced homelessness and/or have mentally unstable caregivers, and it can help other kids grow in compassion and awareness of what other people their age are going through. This book would make a great read-aloud or book club selection, and the book includes prepared book club questions in the back. I would recommend this to kids, teens, and adults, since the story is so well-written and touching that anyone can enjoy it.