Janie came into the world amid shouts from the midwife and a seventeen-year old mother not emotionally ready to undertake the responsibility of parenting. Looking for a way out from Janie's grandmother's rules and the job she wants her to take as a fish cleaner, Irene grabs her newborn and heads to her brother Frankie. Frankie is unable to host his sister and new niece. The young mother heads to a boarding house where she meets Tony Hogan.
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A brute of a man, Tony is an abusive alcoholic. After he abuses Irene he buys Janie an ice-cream float to make up for his abuse. Irene's self-esteem crumbles yet she is too proud to return to her mother's house and abide by the rules by getting a job like the other women in her family. Although the family is Scottish, Janie's father is American a guy that Irene met while living in London and partying. He is not interested in knowing her beyond the times they shared partying and having sex.
Irene keeps the fantasy in her head that they will reunite and believes she is better than other women because of (1) her time spent in London, (2) her relationship with an American. She believed that he would marry her and take care of her and her baby.
After Tony breaks Irene's nose and a few ribs, social services is alerted and a frightened Janie is admitted into care. Being away from her daughter for two weeks gives Irene a new perspective. She comes to understand that Tony will kill her if she goes back to him. She is given state assistance for a depressing apartment in a rough part of town.
Janie grows use to living in the group home for abused and abandoned kids and adjusts to being there when Irene returns to retrieve her and fills her head with dreams of a new life. One that doesn't include Tony Hogan.
When Janie returns from school one day, Tony is sitting with her mother drinking as if he'd never left. The fighting and put downs pick back up and when he hits Irene with Janie sitting there tells Irene that if Janie doesn't throw her pizza slice and hit her mother, he's going to beat Janie this time around.in
At a short term cheapie bread and breakfast, Irene meets Doug. He is unlike Tony in that he treats her nicely and they are married within two weeks of meeting. Doug is a nice guy but he does not have a strong work ethic and the young couple depends on the welfare system for food and housing.
Irene drinks heavily to avoid her situation and although Doug doesn't hit her, he leaves spending most days and evenings at the local pub. Soon the young couple is pregnant and there are now two children with undependable adults as parents.
Doug can't hack Irene's potty mouth and temper and leaves taking the few dollars from Irene's purse following a bad argument. Homeless again, since there is no money at all coming in, Irene heads back to social services where she gets another pass. A small one room apartment for her and her girls.
Janie learns to read and enjoys the escape books offer. She is dirt poor and other kids tease her about her cast off clothing and free lunch vouchers. She fights with other kids but never loses hope that her “ma” will pull things together.
When Doug sends word that he has found housing for the family and apologizes for leaving with the few dollars Irene had in her purse, she takes him back. The family moves to another space that is still pretty crummy.
By the time Janie is in high school she is drinking and experimenting with drugs. She wants to fit in badly having been treated like an outsider with each move her family makes. She gets raped and becomes pregnant. She never tells her mother and has an abortion.
Through junior high and high school Janie escapes through the stories in books. She decides she is going to have a better life in spite of her circumstances. Although the guidance counselor looks down on kids from the housing project where Janie lives she knows what she wants.
She begs her mother's forgiveness for wanting to go away, but determines this is what is best for her. Janie and Irene love each other dearly, but being raised in poverty takes its toll. With savings from her summer jobs where she worked as waitress Janie heads off for London. With the move may come the opportunity to earn a college education. Janie is determined to find out and leaves her complicated relationship with her mother and her beloved baby sister Tiny behind.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked that Janie left for London to give herself a chance at a better life.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was Janie and Beth sharing stories and helping each other. Janie deserved a real friend.
Opinion about the main character:
I disliked Irene for not getting help for alchoholism and marrying anyone who asked. She and her children deserved better.