Twelve-year-old Belle “Hush” Cantrell lives a ragged life. Her mom tells her she’s ugly and useless and, when her low-life thug boyfriend is around, sends her off on errands to get her out of the way. Belle tells people she’s homeschooled but in fact her mom just doesn’t care whether or not she goes. Keeping a low profile in the town and around nosy people is Belle’s main project. She has no friends, and the one adult who offers to give her private lessons to bring her education up to par is roundly told off by her mom and never seen again. Being for all purposes invisible in the community facilitates Belle’s penchant for “borrowing” or “sneak thieving” whatever strikes her fancy, and she hoards her finds in various stashes inside and around her mom’s RV in the trailer park where they live.
Belle’s thieving is fueled by what she calls her loco, a crazy impulse to steal that is compellingly addictive. There is no predicting what or where she will pocket things she suddenly sees and wants. By the time she has accumulated over $1000 worth of items, her run of luck ends and the local sheriff, instead of sending her to juvie, arranges for her to stay with a local gardener friend to work off her debts and learn a better way of living. She does this through hard work and practice. Along the way she makes good friends, gains some understanding of herself and others, and discovers she has a magical gift of “pain lifting” that, used judiciously, changes the lives of people around her.
What sounds like a depressing book about abuse, addiction and the concomitant twelve-step recovery program, crime and punishment turns out to be not that at all. Instead it is (at various times) humorous, thoughtful, moving, uplifting and . . . enchanting. Its depiction of the southern town of Sass, Georgia, and the mysterious “shining” powers of some of its inhabitants is a nice twist to that ageless story of burgeoning self-awareness, repentance, forgiveness and growth.
“Ugly ass” was the only semi-objectionable phrase found in the whole book. There was no sex mentioned. Violence was flagged on several pages.