Kate Messner has been writing lots of books with lots of heart, and her newest, “The Exact Location of Home,” is no different. This extremely touching story will cause readers to think about appearances and stereotypes, friendship and family.
In this story, Kirby “Zig” Zigonski is excited to finally get to see his dad after months of delays and excuses. He’s devastated when his dad yet again cancels their weekend together. While garage-sale shopping, he scores a box of electronics and finds a GPS unit. With it, he finds a new hobby — geocaching.
When he finds a geocacher whose handle is “Senior Searcher,” he decides that his father is the one leaving messages and clues all over town. His father was called “Senior” since he and Zig have the same name. Zig is determined to find his father and talk to him about why his father has been absent for so long.
When Zig’s mother has trouble paying the rent on their apartment and seems to be hiding something, Zig’s behavior goes downhill. He’s frustrated and angry, and when they are evicted from their apartment, he’s embarrassed.
Messner uses her skill and artistry to bring Zig’s story to life. Readers will feel Zig’s pain when he enters the homeless shelter that had seemed so frightening to him and where he learns that everyone has a story. Readers will feel his aunt’s pain as her husband abuses her physically and emotionally. Readers will feel his anguish when his class is going to visit the homeless shelter with donations, and Zig’s terrified that his secret will come out.
Some complain that the ending is too neat and tidy, but for middle grade readers, that works. There is still time for young readers to learn that life doesn’t always have happy endings, and this book has heartache to spare in spite of the happy ending. Great for teaching students that things (and people) aren’t always what they appear to be, and that home is where the heart is, and many more extremely important and truthful themes/morals that are totally worth reading about and learning about.
Teachers should check out other Messner titles, like “The Seventh Wish” and “All the Answers” for more heartfelt books that kids will enjoy that also have lessons to teach. All are must-haves for libraries and classroom bookshelves, as well as for holiday gifts for avid middle grade readers.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Bloomsbury, the publisher, for review purposes.