Poverty & Homelessness Fiction

Allie and Bea : a Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Call# Fiction Hyde

Bea has barely been scraping by since her husband died. After falling for a telephone scam, she loses everything and is forced to abandon her trailer. With only two-thirds of a tank in her old van, she heads toward the Pacific Ocean with her cat—on a mission to reclaim what’s rightfully hers, even if it means making others pay for what she lost.

When fifteen-year-old Allie’s parents are jailed for tax fraud, she’s sent to a group home. But when her life is threatened by another resident, she knows she has to get out. She escapes only to find she has nowhere to go—until fate throws Allie in Bea’s path.

Reluctant to trust each other, much less become friends, the two warily make their way up the Pacific Coast. Yet as their hearts open to friendship and love from the strangers they meet on their journey, they find the courage to forge their own unique family—and begin to see an imperfect world with new eyes.

The Book of Lost Friends : a Novel by Lisa Wingate

Call# Inspirational Wingate

"Louisiana, 1875: In the tumultuous aftermath of Reconstruction, three young women set off as unwilling companions on a perilous quest: Lavinia, the pampered heir to a now-destitute plantation; Juneau Jane, her illegitimate free-born Creole half-sister; and Hannie, Lavinia's former slave. Each carries private wounds and powerful secrets as they head for Texas, following dangerous roads rife with ruthless vigilantes and soldiers still fighting a war lost a decade before. For Lavinia and Juneau Jane, the journey is one of inheritance and financial desperation, but for Hannie, torn from her mother and eight siblings before slavery's end, the pilgrimage westward reignites an agonizing question: Could her long-lost family still be out there? Beyond the swamps lie the seemingly limitless frontiers of Texas and, improbably, hope. Louisiana, 1987: For first-year teacher Benedetta Silva, a subsidized job at a poor rural school seems like the ticket to canceling her hefty student debt--until she lands in a tiny, out-of-step Mississippi River town. Augustine, Louisiana, seems suspicious of new ideas and new people, and Benny can scarcely comprehend the lives of her poverty-stricken students. But amid the gnarled live oaks and run-down plantation homes lies the century-old history of three young women, a long-ago journey, and a hidden book that could change everything"--

The Butterfly Girl : a Novel by Rene Denfeld

Call# Fiction Denfeld

A year ago, Naomi, the investigator with an uncanny ability for finding missing children, made a promise that she would not take another case until she finds the younger sister who has been missing for years. Naomi has no picture, not even a name. All she has is a vague memory of a strawberry field at night, black dirt under her bare feet as she ran for her life. The search takes her to Portland, Oregon, where scores of homeless children wander the streets like ghosts, searching for money, food, and companionship. The sharp-eyed investigator soon discovers that young girls have been going missing for months, many later found in the dirty waters of the river. Though she does not want to get involved, Naomi is unable to resist the pull of children in need---and the fear she sees in the eyes of a twelve-year old girl named Celia. Running from an abusive stepfather and an addict mother, Celia has nothing but hope in the butterflies---her guides and guardians on the dangerous streets. She sees them all around her, tiny iridescent wisps of hope that soften the edges of this hard world and illuminate a cherished memory from her childhood--the Butterfly Museum, a place where everything is safe and nothing can hurt her.

Inhabited by Charlie Quimby

Call# Fiction Quimby

Meg Mogrin sells pricey houses, belongs to the mayor’s inner circle, and knows more than she’s letting on about her sister’s death. Isaac Samson lives in a tent and believes Thomas Edison invented the Reagan presidency. When their town attracts a game–changing development, Isaac is displaced by the town’s crackdown on vagrancy. As Isaac struggles to regain stability, Meg contends with conflicting roles of assisting the developer while serving on the homeless coalition. Isaac’s quest to return a lost artifact soon intrudes into Meg’s tidy world, digging up a part of her past she’d rather remained buried.

Lawn Boy : a Novel by Jonathan Evison

Call# Fiction Evison

"Mike Muñoz is a young Mexican American not too many years out of high school--and just fired from his latest gig as a lawn boy on a landscaping crew. Though he tries time and again to get his foot on the first rung of that ladder to success, he can't seem to get a break. But then things start to change for Mike, and after a raucous, jarring, and challenging trip, he finds he can finally see the future and his place in it"--

Marilou Is Everywhere by Sarah Smith

Call# Fiction Smith

Enduring impossible hardships stemming from her mother's frequent disappearances, 14-year-old Cindy runs away and assumes the identity of a glamorous missing teen from an affluent community, where she struggles with her first encounters with maternal love.

My Name Is Lucy Barton : a Novel by Elizabeth Strout

Call# Fiction Strout

Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.

Sing, Unburied, Sing : a Novel by Jesmyn Ward

Call# Fiction Ward

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she's high. Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie's children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy

Call# Fiction Healy

"A gripping novel about two sisters who are left homeless by their mother's death and the lengths the fierce older sister will go to protect her beloved young charge. The hardscrabble Chase women--Mary, Hannah, and their mother Diane--have been eking out a living running a tiny seaside motel that has been in the family for generations, inviting trouble into their lives for just as long.Eighteen-year-old Mary Chase is a force of nature: passionate, beautiful, and free-spirited. Her much younger sister, Hannah, whom Mary affectionately calls "Bunny," is imaginative, her head full of the stories of princesses and adventures that Mary tells to give her a safe emotional place in the middle of their troubled world. But when Diane dies in a car accident, Mary discovers the motel is worth less than the back taxes they owe. With few options, Mary's finely tuned instincts for survival kick in. As the sisters begin a cross-country journey in search of a better life, she will stop at nothing to protect Hannah. But Mary wants to protect herself, too, for the secrets she promised she would never tell--but now may be forced to reveal--hold the weight of unbearable loss. Vivid and suspenseful, The Sisters Chase is a whirlwind page-turner about the extreme lengths one family will go to find--and hold onto--love"--

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

Call# Fiction Mathis

In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother's monumental courage and the journey of a nation.

Poverty & Homelessness Nonfiction

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Call# 305.569 Boo

The dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century's great, unequal cities. In this fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human. Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees fortune in the recyclable garbage of richer people. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a rural childhood, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to good times. But then, as the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed.--From publisher description.

Evicted : Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Call# 339.46 Des

"[The author] takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the 20 dollars a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind. The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, "Love don't pay the bills." She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas. Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America's vast inequality-- and to people's determination and intelligence in the face of hardship. Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible"--Amazon.com.

Heartland : a Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh

Call# 978.184 Sma

During Smarsh's turbulent childhood in Kansas in the '80s and '90s, the forces of cyclical poverty and the country's changing economic policies solidified her family's place among the working poor. Her personal history affirms the corrosive impact intergenerational poverty can have on individuals, families, and communities. Combining memoir with powerful analysis and cultural commentary, this is an uncompromising look at class, identity, and the particular perils of having less in a country known for its excess.
"During Sarah Smarsh's turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, the country's changing economic policies solidified her family's place among the working poor. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves, Smarsh challenges us to examine the class divide in our country and the myths about people thought to be less because they earn less. Her personal history affirms the corrosive impact intergenerational poverty can have on individuals, families, and communities, and she explores this idea as lived experience, metaphor, and level of consciousness. Born a fifth-generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side and the product of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side, Smarsh grew up in a family of laborers trapped in a cycle of poverty. Whether working the wheat harvest, helping on her dad's construction sites, or visiting her grandma's courthouse job, she learned about hard work. She also absorbed painful lessons about economic inequality. Through her experience growing up as the child of a dissatisfied teenage mother--and being raised predominantly by her grandmother on a farm thirty miles west of Wichita--she gives us a unique, essential look into the lives of poor and working-class Americans living in the middle of our country. Combining memoir with powerful analysis and cultural commentary, Heartland is an uncompromising look at class, identity, and the particular perils of having less in a country known for its excess. "--Dust jacket.

Hillbilly Elegy : a Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

Call# 305.562 Van

Shares the story of the author's family and upbringing, describing how they moved from poverty to an upwardly mobile clan that included the author, a Yale Law School graduate, while navigating the demands of middle class life and the collective demons of the past.

Maid : Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

Call# 921 Land

"At 28, Stephanie Land's plans of breaking free from the roots of her hometown in the Pacific Northwest to chase her dreams of attending a university and becoming a writer, were cut short when a summer fling turned into an unplanned pregnancy. She turned to housekeeping to make ends meet, and, with a tenacious grip on her dream to provide her daughter the very best life possible, Stephanie worked days and took classes online to earn a college degree, and began to write relentlessly. She wrote the true stories that weren't being told: the stories of overworked and underpaid Americans. Of living on food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) coupons to eat. Of the government programs that provided her housing, but that doubled as halfway houses. The aloof government employees who called her lucky for receiving assistance while she didn't feel lucky at all. She wrote to remember the fight, to eventually cut through the deep-rooted stigmas of the working poor. [This book] explores the secret underbelly of upper middle class Americans and the reality of what it's like to be in service to them. 'I'd become a nameless ghost,' Stephanie writes about her relationship with her clients, many of whom do not know her from any other cleaner, but who she learns plenty about. As she begins to discover more about her clients' lives--their sadness and love, too--she begins to find hope in her own path. Her compassionate, unflinching writing as a journalist gives voice to the 'servant' worker, and those pursuing the American Dream from below the poverty line. Maid is Stephanie's story, but it's not hers alone. It is an inspiring testament to the strength, determination, and ultimate triumph of the human spirit."--Dust jacket.

Nomadland : Surviving America in the Twenty-first Century by Jessica Bruder

Call# 331.398 Bru

From North Dakota beet fields to California campgrounds to Amazon’s Texas CamperForce program, employers have found a new cheap labor pool: transient older Americans. Casualties of the Great Recession, they’ve taken to the road by the tens of thousands in a growing migrant labor community of “workampers.” Jessica Bruder hit the road to tell their eye-opening tale.

The Price of Inequality : How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph E. Stiglitz

Call# 330.905 Sti

The top 1 percent of Americans control some 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. But as Joseph E. Stiglitz explains in this best-selling critique of the economic status quo, this level of inequality is not inevitable. Rather, in recent years well-heeled interests have compounded their wealth by stifling true, dynamic capitalism and making America no longer the land of opportunity that it once was. They have made America the most unequal advanced industrial country while crippling growth, distorting key policy debates, and fomenting a divided society. Stiglitz not only shows how and why America’s inequality is bad for our economy but also exposes the effects of inequality on our democracy and on our system of justice while examining how monetary policy, budgetary policy, and globalization have contributed to its growth. With characteristic insight, he diagnoses our weakened state while offering a vision for a more just and prosperous future.

The Rich and the Rest of Us : a Poverty Manifesto by Tavis Smiley

Call# 339.22 Smi

Record unemployment and rampant corporate avarice, empty houses but homeless families, dwindling opportunities in an increasingly paralyzed nation—these are the realities of 21st-century America, land of the free and home of the new middle class poor. Award-winning broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, one of the nation’s leading democratic intellectuals, co-hosts of Public Radio’s Smiley & West , now take on the “P” word—poverty.The Rich and the Rest of Us is the next step in the journey that began with “The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience.” Smiley and West’s 18-city bus tour gave voice to the plight of impoverished Americans of all races, colors, and creeds. With 150 million Americans persistently poor or near poor, the highest numbers in over five decades, Smiley and West argue that now is the time to confront the underlying conditions of systemic poverty in America before it’s too late.By placing the eradication of poverty in the context of the nation’s greatest moments of social transformation— such as the abolition of slavery, woman’s suffrage, and the labor and civil rights movements—ending poverty is sure to emerge as America’s 21st -century civil rights struggle.

Tightrope : Americans Reaching for Hope by Nicholas D. Kristof

Call# 306.097 Kri

Nicholas Kristof grew up, in rural Yamhill, Oregon, an area that prospered for much of the twentieth century but has been devastated in the last few decades as blue-collar jobs disappeared. About one-quarter of the children on Kristof's old school bus died in adulthood from drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents. And while these particular stories unfolded in one corner of the country, they are representative of many places the authors write about, ranging from the Dakotas and Oklahoma to New York and Virginia. But here too are stories about resurgence, among them: Annette Dove, who has devoted her life to helping the teenagers of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, as they navigate the chaotic reality of growing up poor; Daniel McDowell, of Baltimore, whose tale of opioid addiction and recovery suggests that there are viable ways to solve our nation's drug epidemic. These accounts provide a picture of working-class families needlessly but profoundly damaged as a result of decades of policy mistakes.

The Working Poor : Invisible in America by David K. Shipler

Call# 305.569 Shi

As David K. Shipler makes clear in this powerful, humane study, the invisible poor are engaged in the activity most respected in American ideology—hard, honest work. But their version of the American Dream is a nightmare: low-paying, dead-end jobs; the profound failure of government to improve upon decaying housing, health care, and education; the failure of families to break the patterns of child abuse and substance abuse. Shipler exposes the interlocking problems by taking us into the sorrowful, infuriating, courageous lives of the poor—white and black, Asian and Latino, citizens and immigrants. We encounter them every day, for they do jobs essential to the American economy.

Poverty & Homelessness Young Adult

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey (Stacey Heather) Lee

Call# Y Lee

"1890, Atlanta. By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady's maid for the cruel Caroline Payne, the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for 'the genteel Southern lady'"--

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Call# Y Thomas

When sixteen-year-old Bri, an aspiring rapper, pours her anger and frustration into her first song, she finds herself at the center of a controversy.

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Call# Y Watson

Tired of being singled out at her mostly-white private school as someone who needs support, high school junior Jade would rather participate in the school's amazing Study Abroad program than join Women to Women, a mentorship program for at-risk girls.

Words We Don't Say by K. J. (Writer of young adult fiction) Reilly

Call# Y Reilly

"High school junior Joel Higgins grapples with the aftermath of a tragic loss as he tries to make sense of the problems he sees all around him with the help of banned books, Winnie-the-Pooh, a field of asparagus, and many pairs of socks"--

Poverty & Homelessness DVD Recommendations

East Lake Meadows : a Public Housing Story

Call# DVD 363.585 Eas

Ken Burns presents and follows the transformation of a single struggling, impoverished Atlanta neighborhood over several years as community members apply a radical holistic revitalization program to improve the lives of every resident.

Exodus : the Journey Continues

Call# DVD 305.906 Exo

Follows a number of refugees from war-torn and impoverished locations in the Middle East (Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq) as they try to create new lives in Europe (Serbia, Greece, Germany) as well as the United States (Lincoln, Nebraska), places that, due to the current political climate, are becoming increasingly inhospitable to them.

The Lady in the Van

Call# DVD Drama Lad

The film tells the true story of the relationship between Alan Bennett and the singular Miss Shepherd, a woman of uncertain origins who 'temporarily' parked her van in Bennett's London driveway and proceeded to live there for fifteen years.

Leave No Trace

Call# DVD Drama Lea

Will and his teenage daughter, Tom, have lived off the grid for years in the forests of Portland, Oregon. When their idyllic life is shattered, both are put into social services. After clashing with their new surroundings, Will and Tom set off on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland.

MBF: Man's Best Friend

Call# DVD Drama Mbf

A moving story that touches upon an array of social issues. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder life-changing physical wounds suffered by many of our military heroes; poverty and homelessness endured by veterans; abuse and mistreatment of animals; disrespectful, self-entitled attitudes of many of our teens; and, the arrogance of 'perceived privilege' by those in positions of power, even in small town America.

Mully : Changing the World One Child at a Time

Call# DVD 921 Mully

A homeless orphan in Kenya becomes a lucrative businessman, only to give it all up and open an orphanage that today serves over 2,000 Kenyan children.

The Public

Call# DVD Drama Pub

When a brutal blast of cold hits Cincinnati, the public library transforms from a safe haven for the homeless into a potential war zone. Those who have no place of retreat to evade the cold stage a sit-in in the library where they are tended by members of the library's staff. Soon the police arrive and a stand-off threatens to bring tragedy to the homeless individuals and those who care about their well-being. An eye-opening exploration of the basic values of humanity plays out as the cold rages outside.

A Street Cat Named Bob

Call# DVD Comedy Str

Busker and drug addict James is living hand to mouth in London when he adopts a sickly cat. James names the cat Bob and soon they are inseparable.

More Poverty & Homelessness Recommendations

Resources

Extras

On Tuesday November 17, 2020, Gleaner’s Bridget Brown discussed Mission Nutrition Livingston, a school food security collaborative with the goal of increasing access to healthy food for all Livingston County students and their families. The recording is available on our YouTube channel.

Podcasts

  • Busted: America’s Poverty Myths — On the Media’s series on poverty is grounded in the Talmudic notion that “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” Brooke Gladstone traveled to Ohio to learn from people living the varied reality of poverty today, and to unpack the myths that shape our private presumptions as well as our policy decisions. Each episode features the voices and complex stories of individuals, as well as essential context from scholars, to lay open the tales we tell ourselves. 

  • Poverty Policy Podcast — Each month, join a staff member from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council as they talk to expert guests to explore the connection between structural and social policy issues and poverty.

  • TalkPoverty.org — A project of the Center for American Progress that is dedicated to covering poverty in America by lifting up the voices of advocates, policymakers, and people struggling to make ends meet.

  • Unsheltered — A podcast from Hear Arizona discussing the issues surrounding homelessness.