Hollis Woods is an 11-year-old orphan who loves to draw. She yearns for a real family but has run away from several barren foster homes. Hollis finds a new foster home living with Josie, a retired art teacher who carves statues from tree branches in her Long Island backyard. Alternating chapters move forward and backward from when Hollis meets Josie. Hollis says she wrecked everything with her preceding foster family, the Regans, the summer before. She clearly liked them, so the suspense builds as readers wonder what went wrong.
Hollis thinks Josie is “movie-star beautiful” despite her myriad tiny facial wrinkles, and she likes her whimsical style of dress. Josie is kind, matter-of-fact and gently humorous. Her slightly younger cousin and closest friend, Beatrice, is also an artist, and Hollis is fascinated when they coach her in drawing.
However, Hollis notices that Josie is somewhat frail and becoming confused. Sometimes Hollis has to “untangle [Josie’s] words…like balls of knotted string,” but she likes and trusts Josie and knows that the older woman needs her. When a social worker decides that Josie is too forgetful to be a suitable foster parent, Hollis persuades Josie to run away with her so they can stay together. They drive through a snowstorm to the Regans’ empty summer house in upstate New York. Hollis knows it’s an escape that can’t last, that the police are looking for them. Josie enjoys the adventure with childlike innocence but is sometimes sad and bewildered, once asking plaintively, “But why aren’t we home?”
This book is a sensitive portrayal of an older woman who is not Superwoman, whose alloy of frailty and wisdom is a catalyst to heal a child’s exaggerated guilt and low self-esteem. Josie may be confused enough to take Hollis to the beach on a school day, but the older woman is perceptive enough to see through the tough-kid defenses and help her believe in her own warm, giving heart.