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.