Can't Get There From Here

by Todd Strasser
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1033

There are eight members of the street "family" highlighted in the narrative; all but one of them are fleeing from untenable family situations. The main character, Maybe, has been with the tribe since her mother, an alcoholic with four children who used Maybe as a convenient babysitter, finally told her to leave because she was the oldest, and there would then be one less mouth to feed. Maybe has a skin condition which marks her skin with spots of uneven pigmentation, and a scar on her back in the shape of an iron, the result of one of her mother's drunken rages. Although the idea of a stable, secure environment appeals to her, Maybe shuns offers of group home placement, preferring to retain the freedom to determine her own destiny. Maybe is exceptional in that she retains the capacity to care about others. It is she who recognizes the value of Tears' innocence, and maneuvers to get her off the streets.

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Country Club and OG are, at twenty-two, the oldest in the group. Country Club's body is discovered in the opening chapters of the book; he is dead of chronic alcohol poisoning. OG, seriously ill himself with a bone-jarring cough which produces blood, adopts a stray puppy to fill the void of his friend's passing.  OG keeps to himself, but makes some of the most astute observations concerning the kids' situation, voicing the sentiment underlying the title of the book, "You can't get there from here." By the end of the story, the puppy has died of malnutrition, and OG, near death from sickness, is taken away by emergency vehicles summoned by Maybe.

Rainbow, with her beautiful features, long blond hair, and arms covered with self-inflicted cuts and scabs, is a junkie who spends most of her days sitting cross-legged against a wall, her head nodding over into her lap.  Rainbow's mother, an alcoholic and an addict, actually sold her daughter for drugs multiple times. In a foster home, Rainbow was diagnosed with a variety of psychological abnormalities, and medicated. She is an incorrigible runaway, and commits suicide at the age of sixteen.

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Feisty 2Moro has short, dyed red hair and wears a trademark red and orange patchwork jacket. She is HIV positive, and sells her body to get money. 2Moro's mother died of AIDS, and the identity of her father is unknown. Shuttled among relatives, she was molested and abused; at age eleven she was placed in foster care but was subsequently kicked out because of "precocious sexual behavior." Upon release from Juvenile Corrections, 2Moro took to the streets. At the age of fifteen, she is found semi-nude in a park, strangled.

Jewel is a boy with feminine characteristics who dreams of living the good life with a loving family. His parents, uncomfortable with his ambiguous sexuality, told him "to get out and never come back," and when he is deemed too old to be supported by the system, he is left completely without recourse. Jewel longs for someone "who'll love and take care of (him)." By the end of the story, his psychological state has deteriorated to the point that he is completely out of touch with reality.

Maggot is the only member of the tribe who comes from a stable, middle-class home. Scornful of authority and conformity, he has chosen to live on the streets out of sheer rebellion. Maggot is a leader, and it is clear that he is different from the others; he speaks grammatically, understands concepts like wind-chill factor, and is familiar with books such as The Lord of the Flies. OG calls Maggot a "postcard punk," a kid who acts like he is homeless but sends postcards home to give his parents just enough clues as to his whereabouts so they can find him. Indeed, when things get desperate, Maggot's parents do show up, and despite his bravado, he goes with them and does not return.

Tears, who has "big round brown eyes" almost hidden by straight black bangs, says she is sixteen but is really only twelve. She was molested by her stepfather, and left home when her mother would not believe her. Tears is the newest of the group and completely naive as to what it takes to survive on the streets; Maybe, recognizing that there is still hope for Tears because she is just a child, determines to help her get into a stable environment when things are most grim. Tears' story ends on a hopeful note, when kind relatives are found who are willing to take her in.

Of the adults in the narrative, two of them have a significant influence on the members of the tribe. One, a woman named Ryan, is a police officer who does what she can to reach the children, in contrast to her more cynical partner, Johnson. The other, Anthony, is a librarian who befriends Maybe and earns her trust, becoming the one adult she has ever known who has no ulterior motives and upon whom she can depend. Anthony gives Maybe food when she is hungry, and makes sure she can take advantage of the warmth and safety of the library. When Maybe needs help to get Tears off the street, it is Anthony who locates the younger girl's grandparents and takes her to West Virginia to live with them. Anthony has the same skin condition that Maybe has, and, when Maybe is trying to figure out why he cares about her and her friends when no one else in the world does, she wonders if it is because he knows what it is like to be different. When the other members of the tribe are gone and Maybe alone remains, she asks Anthony if she can come to live with him, but he declines, explaining honestly that, in addition to the fact that he is a bachelor and set in his ways, it would not be appropriate. Instead, he gently persuades Maybe to consider her most realistic option, temporary placement in a group home. Through Anthony, Maybe discovers for the first time a sense of her own value and power, and it is this awareness that just might see her through to better times.

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