Greetings from Witness Protection

Cindy: Here’s an adoption story with a new twist: an orphan gets placed with a family headed into the Federal Witness Protection Program. Told ya!

Nicki isn’t really an orphan, you see—her father is in prison—but she feels like one since her caregiver grandmother died. Her foster-care placements never last, since Nicki copes with her issues through a kleptomania habit. It’s not a stretch to say she is surprised to learn that the U.S. Marshals want to place her with a family that needs to go into hiding. Nicki’s street smarts just might be of help, so the three-person family will be a little more hidden as a four-person family.

Does this sound crazy? Greetings from Witness Protection (2017), a debut book by Jake Burt, is crazy, but by calling it so, I’m not doing it justice. Trust me when I tell you that Nicki, now renamed Charlotte, will become one of your new favorite characters. Her wit, spunk, and vulnerability roll together into a girl that you want to root for. She not only knows just how to deal with her sulky new brother, who is not happy about the wholesale change to his life, but she’s pretty good with the mean girls at her new school—and the really bad mob guys as well.

She’s been raised for this role, and yet she’s not quite prepared for what it will be like to have real parents: parents who care, who punish, who make mistakes (but not the kind of mistakes that land them in jail). The family dynamics are wonderful, creating much of the heart of this book, but Charlotte will steal your heart. I thought that maybe I was being overly enthusiastic about her, but then I read this interview with Jake Burt. It seems he was more than a bit anxious about who would narrate the audio book and if Charlotte would sound like he imagined in his head, but narrator Tara Sands made him quite happy. (Take a listen.)


Lynn: I loved the audio clip. Tara Sands sounds perfect for Charlotte, a character who completely stole my heart, too. Charlotte’s commentary on WITSAC and its regulations, her new town, the social life of her new school, and her unquenchable propensity to come to the aid of underdogs everywhere made me laugh out loud. Charlotte understands that she and her new family have to fly under the radar for their safety. She is not supposed to stand out in any way, but being a B- student, an indifferent athlete, and a casual friend is the hardest assignment she has ever undertaken—even if it comes with a shiny new taser!

Burt does an outstanding job with all the characters in this funny and touching story, from the WITSAC agents to Tara’s new family to the friends Charlotte gathers around her. As a fifth-grade teacher, Burt truly gets kids, their social scene, and what it takes to navigate the world of mean girls, bullies, “End of Grade” tests, and little brothers.

There is a real streak of scariness in this story that is a sharp contrast to the funny, sweet side of the book. Some truly bad people are on the trail of the family, and chapter-ending inserts documenting their narrowing search reinforce the sense of danger. Never fear: Charlotte is more than up to the task. A fight scene that would make the Home Alone scriptwriters happy is one of my favorite sections.

My only regret with this book was coming to the end and leaving these great characters. I can’t wait to see what Mr. Burt comes up with next!

Cindy: I hope what he comes up with next is a sequel featuring more Charlotte! Please hurry!



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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