Thirteen-year-old Jewel has been holding her life together ever since her older sister, Charmaine, suddenly left home with no forwarding address. She tried to find Charmaine once, but that only brought her family to the attention of the police. Now Jewel keeps her head down at school, looks after her special-needs brother as well as she can, tries to steer clear of her parents and their shady friends.
Until one of her father’s friends comes into her bedroom at night, and finally Jewel understands why Charmaine had to leave home. Soon she is on the run herself, hiding out in a cabin in the country, terrified of being found, afraid that social services will force her to return to her family. When her food runs out, she returns to town where she chances upon a new place to live — the cupboard of the art room at school.
Jewel carefully eases into her new life, avoiding the eye of teachers and caretakers, babysitting in the afternoons for extra cash. It turns out to be surprisingly easy to live under the radar when you have perfected the art of being almost invisible.
That is, until Jewel’s classmates, Maya and Lily, discover her washing her hair in the girls’ washroom at school and making breakfast in the lunchroom. They are eager to help her, and they take her on as their project, sort of like the Barbie dolls that they rescue from yard sales and restore to sell on the internet. They find her places to sleep, fix her hair and wardrobe — even as they can’t quite understand her terror, or why she is so afraid of seeking adult help. But the girls help keep Jewel and her secret safe — until they no longer can.
Told in the alternating voices of Maya and Jewel, this is a thought-provoking and moving story about loyalty, privilege, keeping secrets, and what it means to be a good friend.