From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 8 Up—Surreptitiously living in Hello Yellow, the school bus her mother drives as a part-time job, Amber Appleton is an upbeat Catholic who spreads joy and happiness while keeping her own difficulties at home very quiet. Her dog, Billy Big Boy, is her companion whenever possible. Routinely, Amber teaches ESL to the KDFC, dubbed the Korean Divas for Christ, with Father Chee on the piano; visits Private Jackson, a Vietnam veteran and haiku specialist; and regularly stops at a nursing home where Old Man Linder backs her corner in her ongoing war of insults with Joan of Old, a Nietzschean cantankerous grump who inevitably smiles in the face of Amber's upbeat humor. The teen and her friends comprise the Franks Freaks Force Federation, ostensibly a school marketing club, but really a place for them to gather. AA's unending optimism in the face of difficult circumstances is well depicted with snappy dialogue and inner musings. When real tragedy hits and Amber is unable to cope, the stark difference between the Amber of the past and the present is delivered in extensive white space and short paragraphs. Amber feels blank. Her reemergence is abrupt, but like a musical, it provides the feel-good ending that rolls on until every bow is tied, every bad guy is given a dose of the Amber spirit, and all of the people in her life are brought together. This book is the answer to all those angst-ridden and painfully grim novels in the shortcut lingo of short attention-span theater. Hugely enjoyable.—Carol A. Edwards, Denver Public Library, CO
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Although Amber and her single alcoholic mother are currently homeless and have been secretly crashing in a school bus, the 17-year-old remains a self-proclaimed princess of hope. And why not, when she has an adorable rescued dog and fellow socially challenged friends in the Franks Freak Force Federation? She is teaching English after school to Catholic Korean women, the Korean Divas for Christ, through classic R & B music; she is learning the art of haiku from a once-reclusive Vietnam vet; she is the reigning champion in a weekly word battle against a Nietzsche-loving senior at the Methodist Retirement Home; and she lives according to her tremendous faith. Her world and faith shatter, however, when her mother suffers a violent tragedy, and afterward, Amber struggles to reclaim her belief in God. This memorable teen’s fresh voice and uplifting spirit will endear readers (word!), while a bring-down-the-house ending will inspire them to find the best in humanity (true!). Sure, Amber may be a little over the top at times, but aren’t all rock stars? Grades 9-12. --Angela Leeper
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