17 year old Abby Lunde lead a comfortable life, she was a cheerleader and happy high school senior. Her mother Claire was a teacher at her school and her stepfather Nick worked at the local garage/mechanic shop. Until the day someone sent a Snapchat to her entire school that lead to her mothers fall from grace. Slowly her life has fallen apart up to this point.
Abby Lunde is now homeless, living in the back of her mothers rusty old van with her younger sister Amber, her stepdad and mum inside its tiny cabin. They are down to their last dollars and are heading into Minnesota winter. Determined to give them a sense of normality, her parents send her and her sister to the local school. The problem is, they now live in an affluent suburb and Abby has nothing. A tale of inner strength and the power of community, Roam tackles the issue of teen homelessness and just how hard it is to keep up appearances when you have nothing but the clothes on your back.
Abby just wants to feel normal in a world where she could not possibly fit in. She has endured so much heart ache and change in the past six months, any other teen would throw in the towel. Instead she is determined to help provide for her family, especially her baby sister. Despite Nick being her stepfather, she has a greater connection to him than her own blood. Towards her mother Claire, she is angst and hatred, refusing to forgive her for her misdemeanours that lead to her loss of lifestyle. She has endured ridicule, bullying, loss of friends, eviction and now homelessness. This girl just keeps on keeping on because what other choice does she have. I absolutely loved her and her resilience, just waiting for the day she would break.
At one point they are down to their final dollars when she asks to go to a football game, one of the most normal things an American teen can do. I cried like a baby when her stepfather handed over the cash and told her she could go (this book shattered my cold dead icicle of a heart and I just can’t deal with that fact. Let me Grinch in peace!). There’s a Homecoming dance which is the sweetest thing without her friends realising. Basically when it comes to Abby, everything is emotionally charged and plays out exactly how I imagine my niece would deal with things (Miss J is a little more explosive though).
Now I mentioned earlier the presence of Nick and Claire. Claire made a large mistake and knows she has done the wrong thing. Nick is eternally her rock and the kids, even though he could have up and left a long time ago. The pair are so contradictory to begin with, constantly at odds with each other as to how to deal with the situation. Once the family gets into a bit of a routine, using Walmart to bathe and figuring out where to get food, they begin to become more of a cohesive unit. Although she was initially the villain of the piece, Armstrong writes Claire such a masterful manner, one can only feel pity for her and her plight. Also Nick is husband/stepdad/Dad/emotional sounding board goals. I wanted to reach through the pages and just hug the absolute shit out of him and weep while telling him its all OK.
Here is where I have to mention Amber, the ever present 6 year old with the attitude of an adult about all things. She is just so freaking cute and provides a little ray of sunshine through an otherwise bleak novel. From her endless string of boyfriends to the fact that she is a tiny tyrant, demanding things be done her way, she is just adorable.
Other characters such as Trish (the bully), Josh (the best friend), Zach (the boyfriend with all the cash) and Tink & Jasmine all manage to carry the story in times when the family is not the central goal. It is after all, a narrative about a teenager at school. I kept waiting for the plot twist where a certain someone turned out to be two faced but I feel like that may just be my love of intrigue intruding on a novel which could be one of those daytime Hallmark movies that you see at midday on Free To Air TV.
Now if you have stuck with me through the rambling here is the point where I tell you, this novel is emotionally heavy. It speaks of homelessness, crippling debt, substance abuse and unconditional love while also throwing in all the usual teenage angst. Through the course of Roam, I found myself updating my Instagram stories as I tend to do through books I am really enjoying. At the beginning, there was hope. By the final recap video, my face was red and streaked with tears, my hair dishevelled from the constant changing of position so I could just keep going and my voice was wavering like a boy who has just hit puberty. It hit me hard. I imagine being hit by a train going full speed would hurt less.
Coming in at just over 300 pages, this novel covers a lot of ground. The pacing didn’t feel rushed but I realised at the end just how much had happened. It is full of ups and downs but by the end, there is sweet release from the pain in the final scenes. It’s kind of like that Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness but instead of a dad trying to keep his son alive, its a teenage girl trying to help out her family. Yes, it was a little predictable but the sheer expertise with which Armstrong has spun this narrative is a credit to her talent. Therefore for the second time this year, I am giving a perfect rating to this masterpiece.
Roam released on the 5th of February 2019 and is Armstrong’s second full length novel following the 2016 release of The Edge of Nowhere.