“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” So says Robert Frost in his poem Death of the Hired Man. But what if there is no one left to take you in? These are the central puzzles in Catherine Ryan Hyde’s Walk Me Home: Where do you go when there’s no place to go? And what exactly makes a place a home?
Sixteen year old Carly and her eleven year old sister, Jen, find themselves alone in the world after the untimely death of their mother, the only parent they’ve known. To avoid landing in the child protection system, the girls set out to find Teddy, their mother’s previous boyfriend. To do this, they must travel across New Mexico and Arizona and into California. The journey is by bike, by thumb, by train and by bus, but mostly by foot, and also includes a lengthy stay among the fictitious Wakapi tribe along the way.
The story is told in the first person present — though this present is broken into two distinct time frames of “Now” and “Long Ago” — through the eyes of Carly as she tries valiantly to be the adult in the family to her younger sister. Sometimes first person present narratives can feel gimmicky, but Ryan Hyde mostly avoids the pitfalls. She does a compelling job of stepping into the character and allowing us to live Carly’s world as it happens.
Ryan Hyde also avoids the problems of inauthentically rendering the Native Americans that assist the girls by inventing the Wakapi, a supposed small tribe in Arizona. The workaround is a convenient one, but is done respectfully. In any case, it is certainly preferable to a parade of stereotypes. The tension between Carly and the old woman they stay with make up some of the best parts of the story.
The last act is a bit contrived, but it is worth the payoff in the end as we discover along with Carly that things are not always how we wish them to be, that relying on others is not always a bad thing, and sometimes, the best thing you can do is say “thank you.”
Overall, it will have a familiar feel to Ryan Hyde fans. There is bitter-sweetness galore, but not really in a bad way. On a scale of Eminently Re-Readable to Quick-Buy-All-The-Copies-You-Can-So-None-Of-Your-Friends-Accidentally-Read-It, Walk Me Home falls somewhere between a pillow pre-warmed by your dog on a cold night, and an evening watching your favorite tear-jerker on Netflix. It is predictable, comfortable (if a little sappy), and ultimately satisfying.