The focus of this gritty work is an "asphalt tribe" of homeless young people trying to survive the winter on the streets of New York City. Almost without exception, the "kids" have been driven to their situation by home lives so harrowing that anything seems better by comparison. Victims of lifelong abuse, their alienation is compounded by a fierce attitude of rebellion, and although it takes time for them to fully accept the hopelessness of their circumstances, the harsh reality is that their chances of survival are slim at best. The tribe members live hand-to-mouth, trying to make enough money to sustain themselves by washing windshields, providing improvised street entertainment, dealing drugs, and selling themselves as prostitutes. None of them have any sense of the future; for the most part, they cannot imagine living past the age of eighteen.
The kids are known only by their street names. The story is told through the eyes of Maybe, a teenager rendered homeless by an alcoholic mother who had one too many mouths to feed. In addition to Maybe, the group includes Maggot, the only character who has run away from an apparently stable home out of sheer rebellion; two "older" boys, Country Club and OG, 2Moro, who is HIV positive and sexually precocious after long years of molestation and abuse; Rainbow, a junkie whose mother sold her for drugs; Jewel, who has been rejected by his family because of his ambiguous gender orientation; and Tears, at twelve the youngest member of the tribe. As the weather gets colder, the kids are one by one overcome by the obstacles stacked against them. Maybe and Tears are soon the only ones left, and as the realization that "you (can't) live on the streets...you can only die there" dawns on Maybe, she determines to find a way to save the still-innocent and childlike Tears from the demise that surely awaits her if she remains on the run.
Published in 2004, Can't Get There From Here is a Junior Library Guild selection and has been named to the list of "Young Adult Choices of 2006." The book offers a sensitive and realistic examination of an important social issue, the plight of homeless youth, the ones about whom no one cares. In keeping with its true-to-life approach, the story is grim throughout, and although there is a small element of hope provided at the end, it is an optimism that is qualified. Youth homelessness remains a tragic and difficult societal reality, a problem to which there are no easy answers.
It is New Years' Eve on the streets of New York City. Maggot, Maybe, Rainbow, and 2Moro are hanging out by the Deli, when Maggot and 2Moro decide to roll a drunk. To their surprise, their intended victim gets the better of them in a short but nasty confrontation. Later, Maybe, Maggot, and the youngest of the group, Tears, discover Country Club lying in Piss Alley, dead of chronic alcohol poisoning. His best friend OG is devastated. Police officers come to retrieve the body; one of them, a woman named Ryan, is new and seems kind. The other officer is a regular, who roughly tells the kids to go home, observing, "As long as you're out here...you don't have a chance." A man drives by, eyeing 2Moro, who goes with him. The tribe gathers in a derelict building, where Jewel, whose gender is ambiguous, fantasizes about a life of privilege and sophistication. Workers from the Youth Housing Project discover the group and encourage them to take advantage of the facilities they offer, but the kids are scornful of the rules they would have to follow and express their preference to remain "free (to) come and go as (they) please."
The weather is getting colder, and Maybe tries to make money juggling eggs, encouraging people to bet on which egg she will drop first and sharing in the winnings. Maggot sells aspirin as Ecstasy, then takes his earnings and buys real drugs which he will resell at a profit. Rainbow and 2Moro go to the clinic to get their medications; Rainbow has ADD and OCD, and 2Moro is HIV positive. Rainbow and Maybe go to the library and try to wash up in the restroom, making a mess. A security guard sadistically forces them to clean up the room before allowing them to put their clothes back on, then throws them bodily into the street.
OG finds a puppy that he names "Pest." Searching for Rainbow, who has disappeared, Maybe is greeted as she passes the library by a man with blotchy skin like hers. The man, Anthony, asks Maybe if she has always had the condition, and gives it a name, vitiligo. Anthony is there to set up for a holiday celebration. He invites Maybe inside to warm up, and although she does not really trust him, her need is too great, and she takes a chance, following him into the building. Treating Maybe with utmost dignity, Anthony gives her punch and donuts and some warm clothes; when she leaves he tells her she can come back anytime, and he will help her if he can.
At a club, Maybe spots Rainbow, obviously drugged, hanging onto an older man. The man hurts Maybe when she tries to speak to Rainbow. Later, Maybe spots Jewel, who has just learned that the government will no longer support him because he is too old; he does not know what to do. Back at the building, the two discover construction workers cleaning the place out. Maggot tells them they have resettled under the bridge, and the group is reunited in a makeshift shelter made of a tarp tied to a wall. OG tries to make money by washing windshields, but it is so cold the water in his bucket freezes. No one knows...
(The entire section is 1233 words.)