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8 November 2002 KEESHA'S HOUSE by Helen Frost, FSG/Frances Foster Books, April 2003


my choice..........KATIE


"I sleep in my sleeping bag in a room

with a lock in the basement of the place

on Jackson Street. And I feel safe.

If Keesha wants to talk to me, she knocks

first, and if I want to let her in, I do.

If I don't, I don't. It's my choice.


There's not too much I really have a choice

about. Mom would say I chose to leave my room

at home, but that's not something anyone would do

without a real good reason. There's no place

for me there since she got married. Like, one time, I knocked

her husband's trophy off his gun safe,


and he twisted my arm--hard. I never feel safe

when he's around. I finally asked my mom to make a choice:

him or me. She went, Oh, Katie, he'll be fine. Then she knocked

on our wooden table. I blew up. I stormed out of the room

and started thinking hard. In the first place,

I know he won't be fine. I didn't tell her what he tries to do


to me when she works late. In a way, I want to, but even if I do,

she won't believe me. She thinks we're safe

in that so-called nice neighborhood. Finally, Katie, a place

of our own. And since she took a vow, she thinks she has no choice

but to see her marriage through. No room

for me, no vow to protect me if he comes knocking


on my door late at night. He knocks

and then walks in when I don't answer. Or even when I do

answer: Stay out! This is my room

and you can't come in! I could never be safe

there, with him in the house. So, sure, I made a choice.

I left home and found my way to this place,


where I've been these past two weeks. And I found a place

to work, thirty hours a week. Today Mom knocked

on the door here. She wanted to talk. I told her, You made your choice;

I made mine. She wondered what she could do

to get me to come home. But when I said, It's not safe

for me as long as he's there, she left the room.


My choice is to be safe.

This room is dark and musty, but it's one place

I do know I can answer no when someone knocks."


The use of those words over and over in a sestina--safe, knock, choice, room--I feel like I can really step into Katie's skin after reading the piece. Throughout this awesome verse novel we are able to step into the skin of a variety of kids--kids who all have problems that cause them to leave their "real" homes. What we find is that these young people are caring of each other and that they care about the future. You will like these kids. You'll like it at Keesha's house.


In this next piece--a sonnet instead of a sestina--we are shown why all these young people have been able to go to a safe place and stay there for free:


i know the value..........JOE


"I know the value of a house like this.

Old and solid, hardwood stairs and floor.

But when I showed up at Aunt Annie's door

when I was twelve--bruised, scared, clenched fists--

all I knew was: I could stay.

As long as you need to, Joe, was what she kept

on saying, right up till she died and left

the house to me. So now that's what I say

when kids show up and I know they can't ask

for what they shouldn't have to ask for. They need

more than I can give them. I know I'm

no Aunt Annie. I ain't up to the task

of tryin' to be their legal foster dad.

But I can give them space--and space is time."


Keesha is the girl living there who has put out the word about Joe's/Aunt Annie's house. Now everyone calls it Keesha's House and the new arrivals are surprised to meet Joe. In the long run some of these kids are able to come to terms with the adults who've raised them. They choose to go home. Others don't:


up to us..........HARRIS


"There's light ahead of me as I walk on

into my senior year. I wasn't sure

about going back, but Katie said, If you're

about to quit, The Jerks will think they won.

She calls them that--The Jerks--like Dontay calls me son

when he gives me fake advice:Stay pure,

son, in thought word and deed. We'll find a cure

for you someday. I laugh. It's all in fun.

If people we're supposed to count on can't

(or don't) support us, it's up to us to find

the friends who can and do. Of course

we want to be with both our parents in the kind

of home where we'd be loved. But why rant

on about all that? Home is in your mind."


Readers will find KEESHA'S HOUSE a great place to spend some quality time. You'll find me back there again soon.


Richie Partington




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