It is 1933, the depth of the Great Depression and the low point of 15-year-old Robert’s life. His father has died and his mother seeks ways to feed her five children. They lose their home and move into a tiny house.
In The Only Way Home, Jeanette Minniti describes how Robert, like many other older children of the times, makes decisions adults would find daunting.
Robert, a sensitive, vulnerable, strong-willed kid, leaves home with his friend Johnny to find work so they can bring home money to their families. They leave Illinois and head south, jumping into freight cars on trains that claimed the lives of many during the difficult times. Their luck is slim and Johnny returns home, leaving Robert to endure hunger, danger, and law enforcement. He meets 17-year-old Tucker and they quickly bond while scraping together small jobs and inventing ways to find enough food to get by. But not enough to return home.
They ride trains, even atop a passenger car, and warily meet hobos. Meanwhile, Robert’s mom longs to know his whereabouts and if he is still alive. Robert realizes his mom must be worried, but he won’t quit until he earns enough money to make a difference for his family.
His resilience, a violin, and his musical talent play roles in this moving story. So do several programs, including the Civilian Conservation Corps, created during the Franklin Roosevelt administration.
This is Minniti’s debut novel and I eagerly anticipate her next book. The Only Way Home captivated me. Being a child of poverty and raised by an immigrant mother who cleaned homes and hospital rooms to keep food on our table, I can relate to the family’s struggles, but I never faced the challenges Robert tackled. As a young adult, my mom had lived through the Depression, which raised the bar of desperation and hardship.
Question is, does Robert ever find his way home?