Sasha Bloom never really fit in at school, preferring to interact with her classmates from behind the safety of her camera lens. Mostly, Sasha spent time with her single mom; it had been just the two of them for a long time. But then came the massive earthquake and her mom’s death. With nowhere else to go, Sasha is taken in by grandparents she barely knows and brought home to their wealthy town of Bayport.
After spending her summer in a blur of grief, Sasha starts junior year at Baycrest High and feels like she’s in a new world. For one thing, the popular kids are also great students, loading up their schedules with honors classes and tightly focused on the college application process. The school has tons of extracurriculars, like Art Club, that her old school didn’t—never mind that Sasha hasn’t picked up her camera since the earthquake. Her classmates seem eager to befriend her, but is that just because their families belong to the same country club as her grandparents? Despite her new surroundings, Sasha still feels pressure, judgment and insecurity as she navigates her conflicted emotions about her seemingly ready-made friends, her grandparents’ determination to set her on a more conventional path in life than her mother’s and her intense interest in a beautiful classmate, Lily. But how much of Sasha’s difficult feelings are the result of external influence, and how much are they the result of pressure she puts on herself?
YA author Robyn Schneider’s fourth novel is anchored by Sasha’s experiences of loss and confusion, but the wry wit and artistic sensibility of Sasha’s narrative voice make You Don’t Live Here shine. Schneider absolutely nails the way that making new friends can be full of awkward hopefulness and fear. Some of the assumptions that Sasha makes about other people, particularly with regard to her grandparents, are unfounded, while others, including her anxiety about revealing her bisexuality to her conservative family, will ring true for teen readers. You Don’t Live Here is at its most affecting when Sasha gains the courage to put her feelings about her sexuality into words, even if just to herself. Sasha’s journey to understand who she is and express it to others makes for a moving and authentic read.