One day in her apartment in Reno, Bernadette heard a pitiful sound in the hallway. She opened the door a crack and saw a young woman standing there in her raincoat, her bare legs spattered with dried mud, holding a crying baby wrapped in a blanket. The baby was Heidi, and they had come from the almost-empty apartment next door for help. Heidi's Mama can't tend her week-old child because she has, as Heidi later says, "a bum brain," so Bernadette steps in and cares for them both tenderly. Mama says her name is "So Be It," but with her twenty-three-word vocabulary, this is all the information she can give Bernadette.
Twelve years later this strange but loving household is still together. Heidi does the shopping because Bernadette has "angora phobia," and pays for it with money she wins at the laundromat; Bernadette teaches her at the kitchen table while Mama is happily occupied with her coloring books, and the rent and utilities are always mysteriously paid. But Heidi wonders who she is, where she and Mama came from, why they were alone, and most of all, she wants to know the meaning of Mama's word "soof." When she finds some old photos in a cupboard, she knows where to go to find out, and as she sets out on a long cross-country bus journey, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into surprising places in this intriguing and heartwarming mystery. (Ages 10 to 14) --Patty Campbell
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From School Library Journal
Grade 6-9–Heidi and her mother have lived in an apartment that adjoins with their neighbor, Bernadette, since the 12-year-old was probably no more than a week old. Bernadette accepted and loved them from the moment they arrived at her door but could never ask questions since Heidi's mentally challenged mother simply "didn't have the words to answer them." Bernadette's agoraphobia further isolates the child. Heidi struggles with knowing nothing about her father or her family history, and never having a real last name. Then she finds an old camera, which prompts her quest to learn the identity of the people in the photographs it holds and to discover her past. While traveling by bus from Nevada to Liberty, NY, the girl relies on her luck, instinct, and the people she meets on the way to learn the truth about her mother and her own background. Readers will pull for and empathize with the likable characters, especially Heidi as she struggles for self-knowledge. The almost melodramatic story has fantasy elements such as Heidi's lucky streak; hitting a slot machine enables her to buy the bus ticket to New York. Heidi's naive voice, however, creates a willing suspension of disbelief as she learns what she set out to and matures along the way.–Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library
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