Books with young female characters who love books make my heart smile. Home Free by Sharon Jennings made my heart shine with a full-faced grin.
Meet Leanna Mets. She loves books, aspires to be a writer, and is trying to figure out what life means. This alone is no easy task, but it’s especially hard as she’s trying to navigate her blossoming life under the strict and watchful eye of her conservative mother. Leanna just wants to feel free. Some of her classmates tease her and make life hard, so she escapes into the world of fiction—specifically stories about orphans, her favorite being Anne of Green Gables.
In Leanna’s mind, and with her own experience with harsh maternal unit who thinks that girls should be quiet and submissive, she wonders who wouldn’t want to be an orphan? For an aspiring writer like eleven-year-old Leanna, it’s hard to find the words to describe your desires when your mother thinks writing is pointless and she practically forbids you to do it. Being parentless just might be the answer to her happiness.
When an orphan named Cassandra moves in next door to Leanna, her perspective shifts through their friendship. Our word-loving narrator starts to find her own voice as she begins to sort through her conflicting emotions toward her mother. The two girls become friends and eventually find their way to personal freedom—but not without some heartache, fights, emotional growth, and learned life lessons along the way.
Told in Leanna’s voice (the whole book is her attempt to write a memoir), we learn along with her the definition of words that will eventually start to set Leanna’s spirit free—from the sanctuary she goes to in her backyard to escape her mother and gaze up at the stars, to understanding that rebirth doesn’t mean you’re born again, but that your personality changes to make you a better person. This eleven-year-old girl is striving for and finding the elements of life that I’m doing now at twenty-six.
What ultimately what makes Sharon Jennings’s young adult novel so great is that women of all ages can be inspired by Leanna’s desire for freedom. Her struggles to find her way and feel free are life-long struggles. But Home Free reminds us all that books and words can be saviors, and that life struggles can be manageable (and sometimes even fun) with the help of words, friends, and a place to sit back and look up at the stars.