McMullan, Margaret. Cashay. Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
I keep reading books that begin with the death of someone important – a lover, a sister – and it’s hard to get through them, because I’m living that grief and I don’t especially want to live someone else’s grief at the same time. But there’s no denying that bereavement is a compelling story, and I haven’t yet put a book down because I couldn’t handle it.
Cashay is 14, and her sister’s been fatally shot while the two walk home to their apartment in Cabrini Green. This book is the story of Cashay’s struggle to wade through her grief and overcome her circumstances.
While some story elements are predictable – a crucial after-school program and an unlikely mentor, for example – Cashay’s voice is fresh and true. I believe what she says, and I care what happens to her (and not just because her little sister died). This is a great urban novel for teenage readers, offering glimpses of life in Chicago’s slums without being overly gritty. It’s realistic about poverty and drugs and danger, but it features a heroine who shows that hope can grow anywhere.
I like this book for grades 7-10 because of the narrator’s youth, but I think older readers would enjoy it as well if they could be convinced to pick it up.