Maya is having a tough year. Fifth grade is hard enough, especially at the private school she attends in San Francisco. But recently, school has become increasingly difficult because Maya has a secret.

She and her family are homeless.

Maya doesn’t even want to tell her best friend, Abby. She’s not sure why. Abby knows Maya has moved. She knows that Maya’s dad is in the hospital in a medically-induced coma after being hit by a car.

But Maya isn’t ready to tell Abby that she, her mom and her little sister Gabby live in a homeless shelter.

Shelter by Christie Matheson tells one day in Maya’s life, from the time she wakes up in the morning and takes the bus across town to her school, throughout her school day, and ends when Maya meets her mom and sister after the school day ends.

Overall, I think this story is an important one to tell – to help children consider their blessings, and consider other people’s experiences. However, I wish Shelter were better written.

What do I mean by that? First, Matheson mostly focuses on what’s going on in Maya’s head – she tells, and rarely shows the reader what’s happening. Not the worst flaw, but also leaves the story in the mediocre middle of children’s books.

Second, Matheson feels a need to preach at the reader several times in the book about social issues, telling the readers how to think about climate change, food scarcity, gender roles, etc. It feels over the top to read this coming from the mind of a fifth-grader.

The most important lesson Maya learns, I think, is that even the bully who seems out to get her has a story. And that helps Maya realize that even in the midst of a very difficult time, she has blessings to count as well.

I will say this for Matheson. She doesn’t wrap the story up in a neat little bow, which I do appreciate – and she ends Shelter with Maya and her family experiencing hope and gratitude.

A mediocre read for ages 8 – 12.

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