Synopses & Reviews
"You never know where this life will take you," Henry Olsen tells Laker Wyatt when he finds the boy could, penniless, and sleeping on the street. Raised by his hapless, childlike mother, Laker has often had to act more like a caretaker than a son. It's become easy for him to soothe her with a cup of tea or fake a phone call to her boss on a bad day. But when stepfather number two, Rick the Prick, comes on the scene, everything changes. After Laker fights with Rick, his mother, Audrey, does the unimaginable: She kicks her son out. Drifting aimlessly, Laker meets Henry, eighty-three, a widower with family troubles of his own. Being with Henry brings its own challenges, as well as surprises. How these two disparate souls -- an angry, homeless teenager and a lonely, crotchety old man -- come to know and care for each other makes a sometimes funny, often poignant, and ultimately moving novel about truth and family and the courage it takes to search for these in unexpected places.
The well-rounded, essentially human characters... prove that the closest ties that one can form are not necessarily blood ties, but are those based on mutual love and respect. (School Library Journal)
Moving, heartfelt and courageous, Brooks' entertaining read should hook reluctant and passionate readers above 12. (Copley News Service)
... a sometimes funny, often poignant, and ultimately moving novel about truth and family and the courage it takes to search for these in unexpected places. (African Sun Times)
Laker, age 16, has always looked after his vulnerable mother, and when Rick the Prick becomes his second stepfather, Laker is resentful and angry at the way Rick picks on her. He attacks Rick physically--and is shocked when his mother tells him to leave. Laker takes a bus from Duluth to a nearby town and lives in the streets until Henry, a lonely old man, takes him in and finds him work, and eventually steers him back to school. Henry isn't a saint--he's fussy and cranky, and he has family problems of his own. One of the reasons he takes Henry in is to annoy his bossy daughter, who disapproves of Laker. Sad and sullen at first, Laker gradually comes to care for Henry, and he falls in love with Henry's granddaughter. When the three of them take a trip up to Henry's summer cottage in Manitoba, Laker meets an old woman who turns out to have played a role in his past, throwing light on his mother's reaction to his violent behavior. He goes to see his mother and they are reconciled, but Laker realizes that he belongs with Henry. This is a moving story about families and belonging, based on a short story called 'The Kindness of Strangers' in Brook's collection 'Traveling on into the Light and Other Stories'. The coincidence of meeting the old woman might be a bit much to swallow, but otherwise this is a sad and powerful tale, beautifully told, with characters readers will believe in. (KLIATT)
When a confrontation with his latest stepfather turns violent, 16-year-old Laker is kicked out of the house, boards the first bus bound for anywhere else, and ends up panhandling on the street. There he meets Henry, an 83-year-old widower who can't adjust to life alone. The two strike up an uneasy relationship when Henry offers the young man a place to stay in exchange for yard work. In this expansion of a short story from her collection TRAVELING ON INTO THE LIGHT (1994), Brooks turns a coming-of-age plot into a fresh discovery. The interplay between the two characters is both brittle and caring, the most casual gestures layered with a quiet affection. readers who like their fiction strictly realistic may balk at Henry's overly patient manner and at the almost magical coincidences that lead Laker to the truth about his biological father. But by this time, most of them will already have fallen under the spell of this bittersweet depiction of a powerful male friendship that reaches across generations. (Booklist)
This coming-of-age tale expands upon a short story in the author's collection, Traveling on into the Light, as it explores the life of an Iowa boy whose flighty mother makes poor choices when it comes to men. Seventeen-year-old Laker despises the boyfriends who move in and out of his mother's life, and things come to a head when an abusive man becomes his stepfather. After a brutal fight between the two, Laker, not the interloper, is thrown out. He catches the first but out of town and winds up in Wisconsin where, after a few days on the streets, he meets Henry, an old man who senses his desperation. Pressured by his strong-willed daughter to move into a nursing home, Henry has other plans and hires Laker as his assistant. As time goes by the man and boy learn about each other and form a parent/child bond. Laker decides to finish high school and cultivates a blossoming relationship with Henry's granddaughter while struggling with a disturbing childhood dream that comes back more vividly than ever. When an old woman who appears in his dream coincidentally turns out to be a real-life acquaintance of Henry's, she unravels the mystery of Laker's father's identity and of why his mother is the way she is. As Henry's health fails, Laker rebuilds a relationship with his mother and must decide what to do next. The characters here are poignant and believable, and the writing is poetic and moving, emphasizing Laker's sensitive nature. Mature teens who enjoy reading about family relationships will admire Laker's strength, be touched by his heartache, and respect his ability to overcome his adversity. (VOYA, Starred Review)
Born from the short story 'The Kindness of Strangers' in her collection "Traveling on into the Light and Other Stories" (1994) Brooks builds a delicately tuned novel in three parts that pays homage to Capote in its treatment of characters, but stands strongly on its own. Good-looking Laker is an introspective teenager who's grown up with his mostly-single mom Audrey. Her new marriage and pregnancy drives a wedge into their close relationship, and Laker starts to stay away from home, drinking, punishing himself and his mom, until in a rage he physically attacks his stepfather, and then catches a bus out of town. Act two: enter Henry, an octogenarian still grieving for his wife, who takes in Laker mostly to spite his own daughter. Laker does some work for Henry in exchange for room and board, but by the time the two can both admit they're using each other, they've become attached. In the final section, Henry and Laker take a trip together that returns each to his own past, and is intended to set them each on his own way. Laker's voice is moody, melancholy, and intelligent. He reads plays voraciously--especially, of course 'A Streetcar Named Desire', and his inner landscape is portrayed metaphorically in the outer one that Brooks details. She seems to employ an entirely different vocabulary than the rest of us, as her completely ordinary turns of phrase swell with the extraordinary. She has a keen eye for people, as Capote did, and every minor character comes alive instantly and fully. Laker's story is at once pedestrian and miraculous. Brooks deals with universal adolescent themes of home, self, and romance with a fresh hand, creating a memorable story that begs repeating. (Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review)
A teenage outcast, a grieving old man, and an untold story come together in unexpected ways in this moving novel about losing family--and finding it.
About the Author
Martha Brooks is an award-winning playwright, novelist, and author of short fictions. Being with Henry takes its genesis from "The Kindness of Strangers," one of the most popular short stories in her collection Traveling on into the Lights and Other Stories. School Library Journal praised the collection in a starred review, saying, "Each story creates a single emotional impression, which is hiding like a pearl at its center. . . YA's are likely to find their friends and classmates in these pages." Traveling on into the Light was chosen a Hungry Mind Review Book of Distinction, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Ms. Brooks lives in Winnipeg, Canada.