MTYT: The Dollar Kids

By Michele Ebersole, University of Hawaii, Hilo, HI, and
Yoo Kyung Sung, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM

Continuing on the theme of “sense of belonging” in books for young people, Michele Ebersole and Yoo Kyung Sung look to stories that capture community dynamics and reflect young people’s lives within a community as space. Sense of belonging is a process of making sense of who you are and where you are. This theme unfolds in The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson and illustrated by Ryan Andrews.

MTYT Header with The Dollar Kids bibliographic info, which is also listed at the end of the post.

MICHELE: This is a powerful book to process as a reader. Almost all of the 400+ pages in the story are written as traditional narrative text; however, the first three pages are presented in comic book form where a tragic and unfortunate event is revealed. I was not prepared for this emotionally shocking event at the beginning, and it took me a while to regain my reading momentum and fully move into the story.

I felt a great deal of empathy for Logan, the main character, who must find a way to deal with the painful suffering that goes with the guilt of feeling responsible or blaming oneself for the death of a close friend. For me as a reader, the logic behind the idea of moving locations to heal or running from the truth makes sense; but the idea of purchasing a home for a dollar is puzzling.

After the tragic event, Logan needs to find a new place to feel safe or belong in the world. He thinks his problem will be solved by convincing his family to move to a new place. He finds an incredible opportunity for his family to purchase a house for a dollar in a small town that is struggling to survive after the mill closed down. When they move, life isn’t as easy as it seems. The house must be fixed up, and their success in living there seems stacked against them. Some of the townspeople treat them as if they don’t belong there.

The complexity of the seemingly simple act of purchasing a house for a dollar comes together for me at the end of the story. Like the characters, I imposed my own values at the beginning of the story and didn’t want to believe that it is possible to purchase a house for a dollar. This particular circumstance creates a whole layer of inequity that manifests in subtle resentments toward “the Dollar Families.” They aren’t perceived by everyone in town as having earned the same right as those who originally worked for the mill and purchased homes. At first, they are labeled, mistreated and not given a chance. It shows that through creative problem solving, help of open-minded people, persistence, not overreacting to unpleasant mistreatment and showing small gestures of trust, the “Dollar Kids” gain the respect of the townspeople. I genuinely appreciate how the community comes together to help each other succeed and establish a collective sense of pride and belonging.

Throughout the story, I also thought that Logan discovers a personal sense of belonging. He develops new friendships and finds peace for himself. He learns to let go of his guilt through facing his fears instead of trying to bury Abe’s memory. He acknowledges his presence and lets him live through his comics.

Many questions related to belonging can be discussed: What does it mean to belong? What does it take to belong somewhere? Who or does someone determines what it means to belong? What happens when you lose your sense of belonging? How do you establish a sense of belonging? How do you create a collective sense of belonging? How do you establish a personal sense of belonging?

YOO KYUNG: The Dollar Kids is a story of the struggle to feel belonging to a new community. This is the only book in our list that has a “perfect” family among the books we read for MTYT this month. The parents get along and the siblings have a strong relationship even though they have typical sibling dynamics. Compared to other books, this family’s existence sounds happy enough (relatively speaking). When a family is together, and altogether new to a town, they are expected to fight harder to be accepted as community members. Long-term residents do not open their minds or easily accept the new residents any time soon. Mostly they watch Logan’s family and talk behind them. Though Logan slowly gets over Abe’s memory as he adjusts to the new town, the new house and the new fact of a dollar house, he experiences different dynamics, problems and people that allow room for him (like a meditation space). In this way, he can unpack what happened to Abe and how Logan himself rethinks it.

Mum’s small eatery business appears to be a metaphor of the Logan family’s struggle to adjust and settle down in the new town. Mum’s pasty (meat pie) reminds an old lady of Tortilla pies her mother made that she hadn’t thought of for ages. The baseball coach admits he likes Mum’s pasty so much that he promises to stop by their restaurant to eat pasty three times a week with the condition Logan plays baseball. Opening a new business takes new construction, menu, staff, decoration, furniture, etc. It also takes time to let people try this restaurant and decide what to think of the food, as do people need time to consider whether to accept Logan’s family or not. I appreciate how The Dollar Kids illustrates a sense of belonging that cannot be ready quickly like a pot-pocket in a microwave.

Title: The Dollar Kids
Author: Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Illustrator: Ryan Andrews
ISBN: 9780763694746
Publisher: Candlewick
Date Published: Aug 07, 2018

Throughout August 2019, Michele and Yoo Kyung give their takes on books on the theme of a sense of belonging. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!

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