In Home Away From Home, Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord returns to some of her signature storytelling themes: displacement, friendship, families, animals and summer. Fans of Rules, A Touch of Blue and Because of the Rabbit will enjoy learning about the intriguing animal at the novel’s center, a white gyrfalcon typically seen in the Arctic.
Eleven-year-old Mia loves visiting her grandmother in coastal Maine every summer, but things are different this year, because Mia’s mother isn’t joining her. She’ll be back in Ohio, getting their old house ready to sell, as she’s buying a new home with her boyfriend, Scott. Mia worries about leaving the only house she’s ever lived in and the possibility of having to change schools, even though her mom has promised she won’t have to.
Mia also isn’t sure she likes Cayman, the know-it-all neighbor boy who spends so much time with Grandma. Mia already must share Mom with Scott, and Dad has his new wife and baby, so “Grandma was the only person [Mia] didn’t have to share with anyone else.” But as Mia and Cayman’s friendship begins to gel, she realizes that he has problems of his own, including an absent father and a mother navigating alcoholism and depression.
When Mia and Cayman spot the magnificent gyrfalcon near an eagle nest, the novel’s action quickly ramps up. Mia posts a picture on a birding website, and soon numerous eager birdwatchers arrive, leading to disaster. Lord adeptly handles Mia’s parents’ concerns about her screen time and online activity, and the birding plotline excellently illustrates how a seemingly innocuous post can gain a life of its own. Mia feels horribly guilty about the ramifications of her post, and she identifies with the gyrfalcon, realizing that “she was young and a long way from home and maybe things would never be the same for her. And I knew exactly how that felt.”
Lord’s fluid prose and Mia’s lively, likable narration make Home Away From Home a riveting middle grade novel. Descriptions of the gyrfalcon as it soars near nesting eaglets transport readers to Maine’s rocky coast. Mia’s interactions with birdwatchers and a game warden add to the experience, while Mia’s, Grandma’s and Cayman’s attentions to a stray cat nicely bolster the displacement theme. Readers will be left feeling reassured, like Mia, who concludes: “This trip hadn’t been what I expected—and it kept surprising me. But even though change is scary, it brings new things, too.”