Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis is a wonderful book about life, family, friendship with two very different perspectives on both.
Hope is used to the revolving door of foster kids that go through her family's home. It's often hard on her because she wants to care for and protect those kids, but then they always have to leave. Dessa's presence in her house is hard on Hope for different reasons. This is first time her parents' have taken in a foster kid the same age as her. They share a bathroom, go to the same school, and Hope is supposed to stick by her and befriend her. But Hope and Dessa are like oil and water. Dessa is only there to make sure her younger half brother is being properly cared for. She's not there to make friends. She certainly isn't there to find a sister and a home. Her motto is if you don't own anything, they can't take it away from you. Dessa thinks Hope is spoiled, naive, and soft. If Hope is completely honest, she's a little resentful of Dessa who is blonde, pretty, breezily confident, and smart. But living together slowly brings Hope and Dessa closer, and shows them both their strengths, weaknesses, and that they might need each other more than they could have imagined.
Peas and Carrots is one of those books I enjoy for how realistic it is and how true to life the characters are. Hope leads a fairly privileged life. Her parents are do-gooders who have ingrained in her that they need to share their blessings in life with others. For the most part Hope is on board with this. She's a good, if fairly naive and oblivious, teen. Despite the revolving door of foster kids, she's still pretty sheltered about how truly terrible people can be and life can get. As most teens in her situation would be, at times she is resentful of the attention the other kids take away from her. But she genuinely loves the younger siblings that are in her home. I've worked with several foster siblings and this is a perfect picture of their complicated inner lives. Dessa, being the same age as Hope, brings her resentments out more. Dessa isn't cute and little. Dessa is competition in pretty much every area of Hope's life. For her part, Dessa is exactly as prickly and aloof as you would imagine a kid who spent several years in a group home would be. Her attitude toward her foster family is mockingly scathing. Dessa is also incredibly smart. She realizes how important school is so she does well. She often has an attitude, but she also knows how to adjust her personality to survive the situation she is in. She is always thinking ahead to the plans for when everything changes on her again. She is a talented designer as well.
This is a fast paced quick read that focuses on the two girls and their relationships with each other and the rest of the family. There is no drama for the sake of the dramatic. Dessa has a fair amount of legitimate fear about her felon father and what will happen to her family. There is also some typical school drama. What is important here is how the relationship between the girls changes over the course of the weeks the book takes place. It's a book that has a lot of really fantastic adult characters too, and I appreciated how they were portrayed. (Most especially Hope's parents. Yay for seeing upper middle class black families in a book!) The girls often think the adults are clueless to their true feelings. At times they are, but more often than not they are standing back and only intervening when necessary. Both Dessa and Hope have a lot of support when they need it.
I really liked how the book resolved too. Since the major conflict in the book was relational, I was wondering how Davis was going to bring it to a satisfying conclusion. I ended up really enjoying they route she took to get there.
Peas and Carrots is a YA book, but it's one that works well for upper MG too.