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House Arrest is a realistic fiction told in verse. 12-year-old Timothy is desperate. His baby brother, Levi, is really sick. He has subglottic stenosis meaning that he has to have a trachea tube to help him breath. It gets germed up and clogged and could make him sick and often he chokes until his brother or mom help him. Timothy’s father left the family without saying goodbye shortly after Levi was born. Now the family is low on money and Timothy often has to stay home alone with Levi while his mom works. One day, Timothy steals a man’s wallet and uses the credit card to buy his brother’s medicine. One month of his medicine was over $1000! His family could never afford to keep up. Timothy gets caught eventually and is sentenced to a year of house arrest and he has to keep a journal for the judge, his caseworker, and his juvenile probation officer. It’s that or go to real juvie. Timothy writes in verse about his feelings about what he did, his family, and his best friend Jose and Jose’s close-knit family that also cares for Timothy.

Holt is a master at taking complex situations and feelings and explaining them succinctly and in a moving manner. Her verse has humor but also exposes the seriousness of Timothy’s situation and the strength Timothy gets from the adults in his life, even if he doesn’t like them at first. Holt obviously likes to write about characters that could seem like they are bad people, but clearly have good hearts and intentions when you get to know them (see also, Rhyme Schemer). She discusses issues such as children being left unsupervised, mothers who need a break from all the work they do, fathers who run away from problems, nosy neighbors that mean well, how friendships changed when hardship happens, how you can mean well but do things that have unintended consequences, and the reality of having seriously sick family members, just to think of a few.

Levi’s health problems are also realistic because Holt’s own child had to have many surgeries to rebuild his trachea.

This book is also great for reluctant readers because it’s a serious topic but told concisely and with snark. It’s character based which is usually a snooze fest for reluctant readers, but in verse it moves quickly, and like I said, the teenager acts like a teenager (score!).