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Strasser, Todd. Can't Get There from Here.

STRASSER, Todd. Can't get there from here. Simon & Schuster, Pulse. 208p. c2004. 0-68984170-1. $5.99. JS

Maybe, a homeless "throwaway" teen who narrates this short novel, lives with her tribe of fellow street kids in Manhattan, sleeping under bridges and in abandoned buildings; spanging (begging for spare change), washing windshields and running various street schemes, from dealing to juggling, for money; dumpster diving and grabbing rare meals from soup kitchens when they can. The grimness of these generally short lives is rendered in unsparing detail--many characters die, and Strasser opens several chapters with staccato, police report-like profiles listing names, ages, backgrounds and cause of death--yet there are moments of unexpected and ironic glamour. The teens' age allows them entree into the city's club scene, where, in stolen makeup and borrowed party clothes, they mingle with upper middle class suburban kids looking for thrills. Jewel, a cross-dressing teen with a stolen cell phone, constructs a fantasy life for himself: "Another TV? Oh, sure, we've got lots of them, but that means going to a whole other floor and this house is just too big."

Other characters, like Maybe's friend Rainbow, a fragile junkie, escape through alcohol and drugs. Strasser has clearly done extensive research into the lives of homeless teens, and the pain of homelessness is made vividly real: not only being cold and hungry, but also scratching bedbug bites, not being able to afford medicine when you get sick, worrying about falling prey to stalkers, and being humiliated by people who consider homeless kids scum, like the sadistic security guard who forces Maybe and Rainbow to clean a public library bathroom naked after catching them washing up there.

Also realistic are the back stories given to the tribe: while one character, whose graffiti tag is "Class War," is a rebel from a middle class family, most of the street kids are running from physical or sexual abuse or neglect. The resolution of Can't Get There from Here centers on the efforts of Maybe and Anthony, a caring adult, to find a home for Tears, at 12 the youngest member of the tribe, with her grandparents. While there's no such easy resolution for Maybe, the novel still ends on a hopeful note, making this a powerful story of survival against heavy odds. Kathryn Kulpa, Libn., UMass Dartmouth Lib., Dartmouth, MA
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Author:Kulpa, Kathryn
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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