About Like Home:
Fans of Netflix’s On My Block and readers of Elizabeth Acevedo and Angie Thomas will love this debut novel about a girl whose life is turned upside down after one local act of vandalism throws both her relationships and neighborhood into turmoil.
Chinelo, or Nelo as her best friend Kate calls her, is all about her neighborhood Ginger East. She loves its chill vibe, ride-or-die sense of community, and the memories she has growing up there with her friends. Ginger East isn’t what it used to be though. After a deadly incident at the local arcade, most of her friends’ families moved away. Kate, whose family owns the local corner store, is still there and as long as that stays constant, Nelo’s good.
When Kate’s parent’s store is vandalized and the vandal still at large, Nelo is shaken to her core. And then the police and the media get involved and more of the outside world descends upon Ginger East with promises to “fix the neighborhood.” Suddenly, Nelo finds herself in the middle of a drama unfolding on a national scale.
Worse yet, Kate is acting strange. She’s pushing Nelo away at the exact moment they need each other most. Now Nelo’s entire world is morphing into something she hates and she must figure out how to get things back on track or risk losing everything–and everyone–she loves.
Jagged pieces of glass litter the ground in front and on the inside of the shop. I can’t stop looking at the glass. It’s everywhere. I’ve never seen the ground shimmer like this before. Never heard the sound of the wind whistling through the storefront like this. “Shit . . .” I breathe out, letting my eyes wash over the scene. I don’t have it in me to struggle anymore. All I can do is watch.
“Kate?” I call again. My voice doesn’t carry. I whip out my phone and dial her number. She’s really not answering at a time like this? Where is she? I get on my tiptoes and try to peer around the officers, but they’re steadily watching me. One has his eyes so focused on my every move that I feel crippled under his gaze, tripping over my feet and stumbling until I give up. It’s not worth it. I’ll never be able to get around him.
I try Kate’s phone again. It’s ringing and ringing before it goes to voice mail. My heart is beating quickly, and a whimper escapes my lips. Is Kate okay? Why’s the window like that? Who would do such a thing? Everyone in the neighborhood knows the Trans. We’re all cool with each other. Ginger East isn’t this kind of place anymore.
Another officer emerges from the storefront talking quickly with Mr. Tran. My heart pounds in my chest as I take another step forward—only to be nudged back by the officer in front of me. “I know him,” I plead, pointing to their retreating figures, but the officer isn’t budging. “Mr. Tran!” I call, pushing away from the officer. “Mr. Tran, is everyone okay? Where—where is everyone?”
Mr. Tran looks as somber as I’ve ever seen him. His lips don’t even turn up at the sound of my voice. He just looks at me, spent and tired, and shakes his head like Not now, not now. It hurts to see, and I don’t know what to do. I call his name again, but he’s walking away, his head low, nodding, timid, at the officer’s words. I’ve never seen Mr. Tran act like that in my life. He’s never had to. He is much bigger than I am, but he seems so small now.
Someone bumps me from behind, and I turn around as Paco Velez utters an apology. He’s four years older than me, but I remember him because he used to run these makeshift summer camps for neighborhood kids when we were eight. Really, it was just a glorified hangout. He once taught us how
to tie a figure-eight knot, and I’ll never forget when Kate cried out “This is useless!” in the middle of the lesson. God,
where is she?
When Paco and I lock eyes, all he can do is frown and sigh, nodding toward the wreckage. The wreckage. He opens his mouth as if he has something to say, but his resigned sigh takes the place of stilted words. I still understand.
“It’s . . .” His eyes are boring into the building as though he’s searching it for answers.
“I don’t know,” I utter. I feel like I have to say something, but the words aren’t there.
“It’s getting worse,” he blurts out. “You know what I mean?”
Ginger East isn’t supposed to be getting worse; it’s supposed to be getting better. It is getting better.
“Something like this could happen to Ginger Store, of all places, you know?” he goes on, glancing around the crowd. “Nothing is sacred. Not even the store is as safe as it used to be.”
“It’s just as safe as it used to be,” I tell him, my voice sounding firmer than I want it to.
Paco frowns. “No disrespect, Nelo. Ginger East is my hood too, but even you have to admit that things are unsafe around here.”
“But this c-could’ve been an accident,” I stutter out, my eyes darting back to the building. The more I look at it, the less I’m sure I even believe it.
Paco sighs. His resignation makes me itch with anger. “Come on. You really think that? Nelo—”
I can’t even listen to him anymore. My heart is beating faster as I duck away, swerving through the crowd until I am safe from his—his lies. Or whatever that was. I can’t take it today. Him too? My mom first, and now him? Paco always believed in this place; he cared so much about making sure us kids had something to do during the summer, even though he was just a kid himself. And now he thinks it’s not safe? Now suddenly it’s different?
“Holy shit . . .”
I stop walking when I come across a group of neighborhood kids, crowding around, phones up and filming, snapping pictures, everything. I recognize one of them immediately, a seventh grader named Mikey whose mom used to own a Caribbean Chinese restaurant on the main road. He gasps again, letting his phone’s camera take in the scene. “What the fuuuuuu—”
“Yo, don’t swear,” one of his friends hisses at him. “Can’t you see the Feds are everywhere?”
“They’re just local cops,” I utter, my voice tired. The officer near me glares, but I shrug because I didn’t stutter.
Mikey and his friends turn to me and nod a quick hello. They take pictures of everything as if someone’s about to ask them for evidence. Another of his friends who steadies his phone as if he’s filming turns to me. “What happened to the store?”
“I don’t . . . I was waiting for Kate, and . . .” My eyes are
drifting back to the shattered window. Mr. Tran nodding at the police officer. Everyone speaking in hushed tones. Crowds growing, trying to see what happened here. And what did happen here?
“Was it a gang?” he asks.
I frown and sniff, trying to hold back tears. No way—no way could it have been a gang. Ginger East isn’t known for that anymore. “Don’t even ask that out loud. Someone will get the wrong idea,” I say. My voice is shaking even though I really don’t want it to. I’m so scared that I might be wrong.
“Yeah,” Mikey says. “But someone from here couldn’t do
“Exactly,” I go on. My words come out jumbled and dis- organized, but there’s a fire behind them that burns as I talk. “Everyone knows everyone, and I swear, shit like this only happens in places where . . . I mean, no offense, but rent has been going up because of all those new stores. Who else would it be if not someone who isn’t from here? I swear—I swear people who don’t know anything about what it’s like to live here will come in, do whatever they want, and then leave, pretending they did us any favors—pretending we need them.”
Mikey’s friend groans behind his phone. “Yeah, eh? It’s messed up.”
“Yeah, it is,” I grunt, crossing my arms. “You know, honestly, and don’t tell anyone I said this, but this is exactly the kind of thing that the Feds would do.”
Mikey cackles, staggering back as if his body can’t contain his laughter. It’s such a crass sound in the hollow sadness of the sidewalk, and I wish he would stop. “That’s what I’m saying!” he says.
“I see people talk about it online all the time. Feds show up, vandalize property, send in local cops like it’s a local problem,” I say. “These people won’t ever leave places like this alone because they hate seeing when . . . uh . . .” Wait. It takes me longer than normal to realize Mikey’s friend’s phone is still focused on me, still stuck in my face like he’s a reporter and I’m giving an interview. I swallow my words and let my eyes lock on to his. In a second, he knows he screwed up. He drops the phone, stuffs it back into his pocket. “What are you doing?”
He stutters, “I w-was just filming the window . . .”
I am standing between him and the storefront, so he could be telling the whole truth. Still, that phone was way too focused on me to even get a decent shot of the building.
Before I can say anything, Jake appears through the crowd. He purposefully gets in the way of one of Mikey’s friends who’s trying to take a picture of the store, and glares at us. “What are you doing here? Don’t you have school?” he growls.
Mikey and his friends disperse in all different directions, cutting through the crowd to get to their bus stop. Jake turns his attention on me. He’s hunched over, his jacket zipped up to his chin. He looks as tired as Mr. Tran. “You’re going to be late too,” he grunts.
“Are you okay?” I ask, trying to catch his gaze. “A-and your mom? And Kate? Where is she?”
He sighs this time, his shoulders stiff as they rise and fall. “You should go to school, okay? She’s probably not coming today.”
There’s something about his voice when he says it, but it reminds me of when we were younger, when he would try to calm me down after I lost my house key or forgot my dad’s work number. It reminds me of home, and it makes me want to cry. He doesn’t look at me, and I want to believe it’s because he might start crying too, even though I know that probably won’t happen.
The police officer who was blocking my view before shifts away when a man in a long coat comes parading through. The man says all of two words to the officer, and then he’s climbing under the tape toward the shattered glass. The crime scene. The officer with Mr. Tran cuts their conversation short and sweeps over to the long-coat man. He brings out a see-through bag, practically shoves it into the man’s hands. The officer was holding it this entire time, and I didn’t even notice, this see-through bag with a brick inside.
Another “holy shit” falls past my lips. Someone bricked the store? Someone bricked the store.
Jake’s voice cuts through the fog in my head. “You’re going to miss the bus,” he says, and nods toward the bus stop. It’s seven-twenty-eight, and the bus is making its way down the road, mad slow. The driver must be watching all the commotion. I don’t want to go—I don’t want to tear myself away from the scene—but I have to because I can’t look anymore. I cross the road impatiently and wait for the driver to stop.
“What happened here?” he asks aloud. He might be talking to me, but I don’t have the energy, so I skip up the stairs and make my way to a seat in the middle. There’s no one on the bus. I’m the only one, aside from the driver, who can hear my whimpers and almost-sobs. I’m mad that I’m sitting here on a bus crying before school.
The bus lurches forward, stops, and starts again as the driver cranes his neck, trying to get a good look at the scene in front of Ginger Store. I know what he must be thinking: Stuff like this always happens here. Well, it doesn’t.
I can see the store better from my seat, but I try not to look. If I see any more of it—if I see Kate, or Mr. Tran, or Jake—I might cry even harder. I have five minutes before we hit the next stop and more kids get on. I need to get it together.
It takes one stop for the tears to dry and two stops to fully compose myself. I still feel hollow and drained. Can’t stop thinking about the store and that huge hole.
We drive up to Rafa’s stop. I hate that I even remember
that this is where he gets on. It isn’t as if I’m making a mental note of it. In fact, once I realize that it’s his stop, I direct my attention away from the aisle. If he looks at me or anything, I don’t know. I’m too busy thinking about the store, Kate, and all that broken glass. I’m too busy thinking about my home.
About the Author:
Connect with Louisa:
Louisa’s website: http://louisaonome.com/