"The four Pearls live in a one-room apartment in South Side Chicago, rejoicing in their love for reading and celebrating words and poetic rhythms while keeping their eye on the dream of a house of their own. Dash, the father, works at the library, quotes Langston Hughes, and takes on some extra work for a dealer of old books, hoping to build up the family nest egg. When he disappears, and a violent break-in forces Early; her mother, Sum; and her younger brother, Jubilation, to escape to a homeless shelter, they are sure that their father will show up soon and they will be together again. But Dash’s strange disappearance and the police’s refusal to believe that there is more to the story cause Early to summon her strength and follow the clues herself. Balliett paints a vivid picture, a literary composition reminiscent of an Impressionist painting, and the landscape of life as a child within the social-services system comes into focus through the eyes of an 11-year-old. Early’s interactions with the other kids at the shelter and at school help her devise a letter-writing campaign about housing for the homeless that one hopes might gain a foothold in the real world. This is an engaging mystery in which books are both the problem and the solution, and the author shows that the fight to hold fast to your dreams rewards those who persevere. Excellent." – Cheryl Ashton, School Library Journal starred review
"Eleven-year-old Early Pearl holds fast to her family’s dream of a home of their own even after her father disappears, their apartment is ransacked, and she and her brother and mother are forced to move to a shelter.
Taking her title from a Langston Hughes poem, the author of Chasing Vermeer (2004)weaves a moving story of homelessness, family, and the love of words and books. This mystery opens promisingly with a wintertime bike accident, a man’s disappearance and a series of numerical coincidences. A warm family circle of four is broken; there’s a violent burglary; the three remaining flee to Helping Hand. Early and her 4-year-old brother, Jubilation, play at being spies, but the fifth grader does real detective work, researching in the Chicago Public Library, where her father worked, and enlisting the help of some sympathetic adults. Gradually she, and readers, come to realize that her dad has been caught up in an international crime operation and that all of them are in danger. Early’s family reads; her father is such an admirer of Langston Hughes that the poet’s TheFirst Book of Rhythms is a family treasure and plays a vital role in the solution of this intricate tale. Chapters are identified by word definitions (possible clues) and line patterns reminiscent of those in Hughes’ book." - Kirkus starred review