Rachel Kramer Bussel
February 27, 2008
Author Jessica Blank‘s debut young adult novel Almost Home brings the topic of teen homelessness to life in vivid, heartbreaking detail. Her tale of seven teens starts with 12-year-old Elly, who runs away from home after being bullied at school, not to mention getting raped by her stepbrother. She’s soon befriended by tough girl Tracy, who christens her Eeyore and teaches her to dumpster dive. Touching on sexual abuse, homosexuality, and the violence, hunger, and danger these teens face, Blank movingly presents these characters in all their vulnerability.
Almost Home has been optioned by Jon Bon Jovi’s film production company, with Blank and her husband Erik Jensen writing the screenplay. This spring, Blank will do several readings, peer outreach and book giveaways with shelters in Southern California. Her publisher, Hyperion Books has donated several hundred books to National Safe Place to distribute to teens through their shelters. Blank also offers a resource guide at the end of the book, including Roaddawgz, an online community by and for homeless youth, and Covenant House, which provides youth shelter and services. Wiretap spoke with Jessica Blank about her new novel and her thoughts on teen homelessness.
WireTap: Where did you get the idea for Almost Home?
Jessica Blank: In college, I worked at an anarchist vegetarian café. We used to give away whatever food we didn’t use. There was a group of homeless gutterpunk kids I saw every night; those kids must have stuck in my head. Six years later, my husband and I were directing The Exonerated at the Actors Gang Theater in Hollywood. It’s an interesting place: you look up at the billboards, and it’s all the gloss people associate with Hollywood, and down on street level things are very, very gritty. That juxtaposition is really telling. Somehow those kids in Minneapolis came together with the place where I was working and I started writing the book.
Eeyore’s story was one of the most interesting because we see her at home, and then very shortly after living on the street. You showed how that process can happen very quickly.
JB: There’s a cultural mythology about teen runaways–that they run away because they’re rebellious and want freedom. The vast majority [1.5 million teens per year according to Blank] are running away from horrifying circumstances–severe abuse or being abandoned by their parents or their parents have alcohol or drug addiction problems. Some are going through the foster care system. A lot of kids get placed and replaced [in foster homes] over and over again; sometimes if they’ve been through that for a very long time, they tend to go out on their own.