Amber Appleton is living in a school bus in the middle of winter with her mother and her dog in a creepy parking lot just outside town, struggling to stay warm—and to keep their homeless existence a secret from her teachers and her friends.
“The truth is that I don’t want anyone to know that I am living out of Hello Yellow—that my mom’s last boyfriend, A-hole Oliver, threw us the hell out of his apartment, and that my mom has to save up some dough before we can get four walls of our own,” Amber tells readers in “Sorta Like a Rock Star,” the award-winning debut young adult novel by Matthew Quick. (Learn more about the author.)
Amber’s angry with her mother for the bad choices in men that got them into this mess, and for leaving Amber hungry and alone at night in a cold, empty school bus while she trolls the bars for men and gets her drink on. “She sucks at being a mom. Emphatically,” Amber says.
But Amber refuses to let the bad turns in her life break her spirit—or keep her from being a “rock star of hope.”
Outside school, she’s not a freak who wears clothes she stores in a compartment in a school bus and has to sniff to make sure they don’t stink too badly to wear.
Instead, she’s the girl who teaches the Korean Divas for Christ how to speak English and sing Motown.
She’s a goddess to the boys of The Fab Five, a group of misfits she’s protected and loved like brothers since they were in fifth grade together.
She’s a warrior of hope for the nursing home residents who gather in the dining hall to watch her battle Joan of Old, the self-proclaimed nihilist “who once faked a heart attack because she thought we were having too much fun at last year’s Christmas party.”
And she’s a hope spreader for her autistic friend, Ricky, and his mother, Donna, the high-powered attorney and single mother who pays Amber to keep an eye on Ricky after school, as well as for Private Jackson, the haiku-writing Vietnam war veteran who has cut himself off from the rest of the world.
But when something happens that tears Amber’s life apart and makes her doubt the goodness she’s always been able to find in the world, will Amber lose her optimism forever?
A Heartbreaking Story of Hope and Despair
“Sorta Like a Rock Star” shines for its voice—the almost eternally upbeat, snappy dialogue of its 16-year-old narrator, Amber, when she’s at her highest points, and the grim, spare-no-feelings responses she hurls into the world when all that she has known crashes around her.
“I can’t keep living the way I used to live—swinging for the fences, believing that things are going to work out, that everything is worth fighting for, and that I am brave and strong enough to change my reality, because I’m not and I can’t,” Amber insists when those who love her fight to restore her hope.
In “Sorta Like a Rock Star,” Quick takes readers on an emotional journey that will make them laugh and cry—sometimes at the same time. It’s a book that will leave readers feeling breathless at the end of the journey—and rooting for this unlikely princess of optimism.
As much as Amber hates that her mother continually puts the men in her life above Amber until there is no one left to turn to, Amber also can’t help but love her. There are seven Amber-and-her-mom moments she plays in her head when she’s feeling down—“all documenting the mom I knew before she sorta gave up on life, before Oliver broke Mom’s spirit and got her drinking so heavily.”
And she basks in the love and pride that Donna, Ricky’s mother and the woman Amber would most like to be, has for her. “I see something in you that I like very much, Amber,” Donna says. “You’re not like most people. You are going to do something very special with your life … because it’s what you were born to do.”
Find It Locally
Find “Sorta Like a Rock Star” across Chicagoland at The Book Cellar in Chicago,The Book Stall in Winnetka, Anderson’s Bookshop in Downers Grove and Naperville, and Barbara’s Bookstore in Chicago.