DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Lionel and Anisa are the best of friends and have seen each other through some pretty tough times–Anisa’s dad died and Lionel’s dad left, which is like a death for Lionel. They stick together no matter what. So when Lionel suggests a detour through a local construction site on their way home one day, Anisa doesn’t say no. And that’s where Lionel and Anisa make a startling discovery–a baby abandoned in a Porta-Potti. Anisa and Lionel spring into action. And in Saving Baby Doe, they end up saving so much more.
MY TWO CENTS: Danette Vigilante pulls the reader right into this novel from the opening scene of a scared young woman is giving birth to her child in a Porta-Potti on a construction site. Soon after, Lionel and Anisa discover the baby, after playing in the closed-off site, and they decide to save “Baby Doe.” This is a middle grade novel that addresses some tough issues. In addition to the abandoned baby, the author explores the effects on children of absentee fathers and drug dealing. At the heart of it all is Lionel, who tries to do the right thing in the worst of situations.
While the issues are serious, Lionel responds to them as only a middle-schooler would. The real possibility of severe consequences doesn’t prevent him from launching into an ill-conceived plan to retrieve the baby from the hospital so that she doesn’t end up in foster care. While reading, I caught myself thinking, “Lionel, what are you doing? This is a bad idea!” Of course, he knows this, too, but he goes ahead anyway. In this way, Vigilante perfectly captures the middle school mind and creates tension through the narrative.
Then, there’s the end of Chapter 10, which I totally did not see coming. I probably should have, but I was wrapped up in Lionel’s plan to steal the baby and sell drugs to support her and then…chapter 10! Whoa! Well played! I’m not going to spoil it, but the story takes an important turn. That’s all I’ll say about that.
One of the many things I loved about this novel was the diversity within Lionel’s community. They all struggle financially, but they’re all individually-drawn people. Some work hard at “regular” jobs, while others choose quick money. Some are ultra-religious, while others are not. Some of the kids go to public school, while others go to the “genius” private school. Characters vary in terms of age, race, ethnicity, and experience, all of which creates a rich, real setting for Lionel and Anisa story to unfold.
TEACHING TIPS: In addition to all of the expected language arts lessons, this novel would work well in a health class since it deals with sex education (a lecture given by Lionel’s mom), child birth, the possible results of not seeking medical care, and the Safe Haven laws. Fiction is often reserved for language arts classes, but this type of realistic novel is ideal for blending fiction and nonfiction in health, where teachers and students tackle these serious issues.
AUTHOR: Danette Vigilante grew up in the Red Hook Houses in Brooklyn, New York. She now resides in Staten Island with her husband, two daughters, two puppies and a cat with a bad attitude. Danette is the author of THE TROUBLE WITH HALF A MOON, a 2012-2013 Sunshine State Young Readers award nominee, and SAVING BABY DOE.