Cover Image: The Wrong Way Home

The Wrong Way Home

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For the past six years, Fern and her mom have been living on an off-the-grid farm in New York. Dr Ben, the ill-tempered leader wants Fern to take the next step in her journey of faith. Wanting to save her daughter, Fern’s mom tricks her into moving to San Francisco. Initially, Fern is furious and wants to go back to the farm. Living in the motel where her mom works, Fern makes friends Eddie and Babs. Fern begins to realize that she likes everything she was afraid of. Will Fern choose to stay with her mom? Will she adjust to her new home?

This moving, endearing plot brings Fern’s world to life. Fern is authentic and likable. Fern’s struggles with thinking for herself and her struggles with belonging will resonate with readers. Readers who like books of self-discovery, realistic fiction, and books about moving to a new town will want to pick this one up. Recommended for middle grade collections where such books are popular. Grades 3-8.

Please note: This was a review copy given to us by NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No financial compensation was received.

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At one point in my life I thought off-the-grid living sounded not only cool but like something I’d be willing to give a try. Eventually, I realized that I like frozen pizza and other conveniences that the modern world offers too much to live without them and tossed the idea, though the subject and the people who do make that move still interests me. Reading The Wrong Way Home made me reminisce a bit about that old idea and gave me a peek at what living a simpler life might look like for a young girl, and although the story is fictional, I think it most likely gives a pretty accurate depiction of what living in a small sustainable community might look like.

Right off the bat the narrator, Fern, struck me as a headstrong young woman who loves to explore and learn. The further I read into the story and the more I learned about Fern and her values and thoughts, the more I loved her as a character. She and her mom have lived at the Ranch for almost as long as she can remember, though she does sometimes refer to life before, and she can vaguely recall watching movies and living in a modern town. The Ranch is portrayed as an off-the-grid community that offers a place for those who would like to live their lives in a simpler way and a place to work and live with other like-minded people. Fern has never really questioned their way of life–she believes that the morals and environmentally friendly ideals that the community and their leader, Dr. Ben, hold line up with the beliefs she has; she and her mom seem to fit in pretty well with everyone they share their home with.

Of course, as with any community that is led by someone else’s rules, Fern and her mom do sometimes run into occurrences that they don’t feel the greatest about. For example: a ceremony called “The Rite” that all adolescents go through at some point at the Ranch. No one ever reveals all of the details of what it entails, but Fern is nervous about her upcoming Rite and knows that some young adults have been injured during theirs, and one even died as a result of something that happened during his. Despite uncertainty about some aspects of their community, Fern and her mom seem to believe that the good far outweighs the bad and are dedicated to living a life free of the many toxins the conventional world has to offer.

Fern trusts that Dr. Ben will keep the whole community safe and only tests them to help them realize their strengths, but one night out of nowhere her mom wakes her and they rush out of the Ranch in the dead of night. At first, Fern doesn’t know what to think, and her mom is dodging her questions and acting very nervous and unlike herself. Eventually, she catches on to the fact that they’re not just on some secret mission or adventure that was planned by Dr. Ben and her mom.

Fern might be a bit naïve to the ways of the big world outside of the Ranch, but now that she knows something weird is going on, she determined to find out why she and her mom left their home and what their plans are for the future, even if her mom won’t tell her what’s going on. Seemingly out of nowhere they’ve settled in at a small town and her mom secures a job, giving Fern time to herself to ruminate and scheme over how she can get back to the only home she’s ever really known.

I loved Fern as a character, and it was easy to imagine myself at her age, confused and missing home, just wanting answers and the comfort of routine and the safety the Ranch seemingly offered. I think readers of all ages could pick up this book and find a bit of themselves in Fern’s story, whether they see themselves reflected in Fern, or her mom, who is just trying to be strong and do the right thing for herself and her daughter. This is a quick read that deals with some tough subjects, but in a way that is easy to relate to and digest.

Review of a Digital Advance Reading Copy from Random House Children’s Books

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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the e-ARC of this middle grade novel.

This book does a great job discussing cults in an age appropriate way. It's easy to see how Fern is so devoted, and especially as an adult, hard to watch as she tries to figure out how to return. I think this was really well done, and look forward to seeing it on shelves.

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I had to sit with this one for a bit after I finished. O'Shaughnessy is gifted with "found family" stories -- the settings and characters in The Wrong Way Home are fantastic and so realistic. This story will lead to many fantastic conversations, but be careful with sensitive readers (several peripheral characters pass away off screen and there is one kidnapping attempt that might scare some kids).

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The Wrong Way Home by Kate O’Shaughnessy is a great story about escaping a cult. Fern, who is 12, has been living in an off-the-grid community for 6 years. The community is called the Ranch and the leader is Dr. Ben, whom Fern strongly admires. During those 6 years, Fern and her mom never go outside of the community. Then one night, Fern’s mom takes her away from the Ranch. While driving to the other side of the country, her mom explains that Dr. Ben is evil. After they arrive at their new home, Fern wants to go back to the Ranch. She does not like the regular world which Dr. Ben says it is full of toxins. Fern begins to come up with a plan to contact Dr. Ben so that she can get back to the Ranch. However, she begins to realize that the regular world is not so bad after all.

The Wrong Way Home is a very suspenseful story and one of the best children’s books that I have read in the past year. Kate O’Shaughnessy created a wonderful story about how difficult it is for someone to enter society after being in a cult for a long time. The Wrong Way Home would be a great book to give to children/and or adults who have just recently escaped from a cult.

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This book tugged at my heart strings. Fern spent six years of her life at an off-grid community called the Ranch run by Dr. Ben, who she deeply admired. Her mom took her away suddenly in the middle of the night and Fern was furious. She soon was dubbed ignorant by a classmate when she found she was lacking in the worldliness her other classmates possessed. She was shocked by decisions peers made from eating sugar, to watching tv, to lying to their parents, or cleaning with chemical-laden products. So many things she was taught were wrong were normal for others her age. She spent months earning money for a private investigator to help her find Dr. Ben as her grand plan was to return there as soon as possible. As she got closer and closer to her goal, the world opened up to her and secrets unfolded. This was a fascinating look i to cults through the eyes of a pre-teen.

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This was a cool idea and well executed. The character development of Fern/Frankie was great, and I like how she had some agency in the circumstances and learned ways to solve her own problems. Will definitely recommend.

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When you’re 12 years old, how do you know who to believe?

In this middle grade fiction novel, Fern’s mom sneaks her away from The Ranch – an off-the-grid, sustainable community in upstate New York – and travels to California to begin a new life.

This is nothing new for Fern – or is it Frankie? – who remembers living in numerous places until they found The Ranch, where she was led to believe the outside world was toxic, full of poisons, and dangerous. The only real home she had ever known or found consistency, Fern wants to return.

As she makes new friends and reconnects with her mom, will she abandon her vision of life with Dr. Ben on The Ranch and return to New York, or will she trust her new community and friends?

An intriguing subplot includes a mystery at the lighthouse in the beach town to which she moves.

Recommended for middle grade readers who are fans of mysteries or cults and enjoy themes of fitting in, family and friend relationships, and coming-of-age.

Thank you #NetGalley and Random House Children’s for the ARC of this novel set to release on April 2, 2024.

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**Some spoilers.**

Fern has lived with her mother on The Ranch, which is run by Dr. Ben, ever since she was young. She's twelve now, and excited about undergoing The Rite that will make her an adult member of the community. She knows there are risks, since fellow community member Rain died undergoing his. Still, Dr. Ben knows that the outside world, where Fern and her mother are not allowed to go, is even more dangerous, with its modern medicine, food, and chemicals as well as evil influences like television and cell phones. Before she can undergo The Rite, her mother wakes her up in the middle of the night, and the two travel by taxi to pick up a car and travel to Driftaway Beach, California. There, her mother tells her that they can't live on The Ranch anymore, and will be staying in a hotel while the mother works as a housekeeper there. Their journey has been made possible by another former member, who also escaped. Fern is distraught; this new world is dangerous, and she even has to go to school. Her mother even wants to call her Frankie, her birth name, that she changed in order to be part of The Ranch. The only thing that makes the idea of school better is that there are computers there, and she hopes she can use one to find the address of her former home and send a letter there. After an initial rough meeting, Fern and her mother get a lot of help from Babs, a friend of Fern's late grandmother, who runs a local tea room and pastry shop. Babs is glad to help out; she's still mourning the drowning death of her wife, Birdie. When Fern finds out that she can't find her former home, she contacts a local private detective, who says he will charge her $300 to help. Babs offers her ten dollars an hour to help clean out the other rooms in the house where the tea shop operates. With the help of Eddie, her school partner on a science project and the daughter of another local merchant couple, continues investigating. The two also put a lot of thought into their project, which Eddie is convinced will debunk the local legend of the Spirit of the Sea. Eddie's parents have moved her all over after the drowning death of her older sister, Skye, and their shop feeds into the local interest in this myth. They have a falling out when Eddie mentions that The Ranch might have, in fact, been a cult, but when her friend is injured looking for the Spirit of the Sea, Fern desperately wants to make up with her. *Highlight for spoiler:*Unfortunately, a letter she has sent to Dr. Ben was received, and he comes to California along with Fern's friend Meadowlark to take her home. Fern, who started to have doubts even before she mailed the letter, has the presence of mind to seek help from a waitress, and she is able to make it home to her mother. Babs has a surprise admission about the Spirit of the Sea, as well as about where Fern and her mother should live.
Strengths: The middle schooler in me was enthralled by the concept of a modern cult, since this was a HUGE concern in my 1970s childhood after the Jim Jones Peoples Temple disaster (If you don't know it, don't look it up. It was bad. It's where the idiom "Drink the Kool Aid" comes from. Just don't.). The depiction of The Ranch is so well done, and it's fairly brief; we know just enough that it's good the two escape. It was lovely that they had somewhere to go with people who cared about them, but it was also realistic that Fern wanted to go "home", not matter how bad it was. Even her efforts at using a private detective seemed completely plausible, and ended up having a REALLY hair raising consequence! The mother is shown trying to get her GED, being stressed by it, and almost making more bad choices, but doesn't. The father is never mentioned, which is a reality for many of my students. Babs is fantastic, and Eddie is dealing with her own insecurities. There's a wonderful feeling of community, and a great happy ending!
Weaknesses: Like this author's Lasagna Means I Love You, this is very long. I loved that one, but it's hard to get students to check it out due to the length. This books is 336 pages. I would have cut out all of the Spirit of the Sea portion; while it does play a role in the book, it could easily have been excised. I'm just never a fan of parents grieving so much over a lost child that they don't serve the needs of remaining children. I wanted to know more about The Ranch, and the hair raising part could have been drawn out more, because students will LOVE that!
What I really think: This is a great title for readers who like stories about found families. I'll buy it for the cult extraction process, and will be able to find enough readers to justify its purchase. A really good book; just on the long side for my students.

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3.5. This is a hard one to rate. I love the premise of this story, and the settings are excellent. I felt like I could see it all in my head. However, the exposition of this story is overly long. It took me forever to get into the character, and my feelings about her didn’t change much. She’s just so naive that it might be hard for the tween crowd to relate to her. If the book was shorter, it might pick up some readers. I think the way this book is paced and the multiple storylines pretty much rule it out for struggling readers or English learners. Some students will be curious enough about the absolute strangeness of Fern’s experiences that’ll they’ll keep reading, and they’re in for a good tale, about choices, and what family is. Strong ideas that are worth reading about. I’d say it’s best for 7-8th grade girls who like reading.

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I loved this book; if I taught middle school would definitely be on my list to buy. Great characters who were easy to connect with.

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Oooh, I liked this one. Main character Frankie's growth from prissy, pompous know-it-all into a kid who has the abstract thinking skills to question what she's told is needed in middle grade fiction.

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Kate O'Shaughnessy does it again, this worked well overall and had a great concept overall. The characters were everything that I was hoping for. The plot has a great overall feel and I was invested in what was going on in Fern. It left me wanting to read more in this world and I’m glad to have read this book.

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This book was so good! It had such a twist in the plot, Mr. Ben and all of the other stuff surprised me. Babs, one of the main characters, is so sweet! But then she’s the spirit of the sea! That surprised me too!😱This book rocks, what a twist, I’d love a second wrong way home book!

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This is a big-hearted middle-grade novel about Fern, a young girl who has grown up in a commune-like community in New York called the Ranch until her mother rejects the teachings of the leader and takes them away to California. All Fern wants to do is go back to the most stable home she's ever known, but there are things about the Ranch that she wasn't aware of. At the same time, Fern is learning more about the outside world, making friends, and learning to trust herself.

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After living at a self-sustaining community, the Ranch, mom sneaks Frankie and herself off site. Mom says we’re not going back because I’m trying to protect you. When they arrive in California, Frankie finds mom has a job and a place to stay. Fern will do anything to go back to the ranch and Dr. Ben. After research Frankie hires an investigator to find where the Ranch is so she can get in touch. In the meantime, Frankie does some things she finds she likes and makes some new friends, but she still wants to go back to the Ranch. When Dr. Ben shows up when mom isn’t around, what does Frankie do?

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Fern has spent half her life in the cozy all-natural community called the Ranch, and the leader, Dr Ben, is even talking about giving her special privileges. That all changes when Fern's mom starts rejecting Dr Ben's teachings and whisks them away to some random town on the opposite side of the country. Fern is desperate to go home, but since no one on the Ranch uses phones or computers, and Fern herself doesn't know how to use them, it takes quite a while to figure out how to even contact her erstwhile family. Meanwhile, the allure of the outside world is seeping in, forcing Fern to decide between two opposing lives, each of which is feeling like home.

Well, I can't say I've read a book like this one before, at least, not a children's book. As an adult, I empathize more with Mom than with Fern, but at the same time, I love seeing Fern grow and make up her mind for herself. The ending didn't really surprise me, but the way all the threads worked together made it satisfying nonetheless. Overall, a thoughtful and unique perspective and one that I hope will inspire compassion in young readers.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC. All opinions are my own.

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This title fits the book very well, and will lead to meaningful discussion. In fact, this would be a great book for a book club/literature circle as it would lead to rich discussion about home, family, truth, questioning, strength, and information literacy. The characters are interesting and their storyline keeps you turning the pages. Like Kate’s other works, this one has such beauty in its wording and I found myself highlighting passages and quotes that speak volumes about life. Readers will surely get a lot out of reading this one.

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Frankie/ Fern has to make sense of what she’s been taught at Dr Ben’s Ranch, vs what she hears now out in the real world. Which way is right? Where is home? Poignant and thought-provoking.

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