The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather Smith
Penguin Teen/Penguin Random House
Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Fourteen-year-old Bun O’Keefe lives in isolation with her neglectful hoarder mother in rural Newfoundland, Canada, until one day her mother tells her to get out, and so she does. Bun leaves their overstuffed, suffocating house and hitchhikes to St. John’s, the nearest city. Once there, she is lucky to run into Busker Boy, a young man who recognizes her vulnerable naivete and offers to take her in to his “temporary accomodations”, a rented room in a house he shares with a loveable ragtag group of young people, from drag queen Cher to Chef to Big Eyes, a former Catholic schoolgirl rebelling against her strict upbringing. Surrounded by a semblance of family for the first time in her life, Bun slowly adjusts to the feeling of being loved and cared for; but with every step she takes forward towards acceptance into her new makeshift family, the ugliness of life threatens to pull her a step backwards. Weighty issues such as sexual abuse, parental neglect, racism, homophobia, and suicide feature in this story but never overwhelm it, as the warmth of the characters and the love they share for one another ultimately lifts them up each time despair threatens to overwhelm them in turn.