A journalist follows a young mother as she navigates the labyrinth of poverty and homelessness in New York City. In her attempts to secure a safe place to raise her son and find a measure of freedom in her life, Camila—one of 45 million Americans living below the poverty line—copes with dashed dreams, failed relationships, the desolation of abandonment, and miles of red tape with grit, humor, and uncanny resilience.
Camila’s story feels like a warning: If in prosperous times this is the best our government can do to assist those struggling to get by, then in these coming difficult times we will be able to do very little ... a remarkable feat of reporting. Sandler seems to be always at her side ... Sandler’s such a keen observer, her writing so cleareyed ... a testament to the bigness of the small story, to the power of intimate narratives to speak to something much larger. Sandler wisely lets Camila’s story stand on its own without lecturing us. Not to sound clichéd, but we walk in Camila’s shoes. We come to understand what Sandler recognized early on: If Camila can’t navigate the dearth of housing, how can others?
... [an] engaging and moving new book ... Sandler deftly includes context, history and clearheaded explanations of the public welfare system and its dysfunctions in her detailed account of Camila’s life ... The 'system,' ostensibly there to help Camila, who became a ward of the state at age 15, almost becomes a character in the book ... Ultimately, the story of her first year of motherhood is heartbreaking, inspiring and infuriating, all at once.
Sandler is frank from the start that it became difficult to maintain journalistic distance from a woman who became her friend. But even with this tangle, their collaboration leads to a rich, sociologically valuable work that’s more gripping, and more devastating, than fiction. Readers will be struck by both the sheer impossibility of what Camila faces while navigating inadequate social services—hairpin switchbacks of requirements, paperwork, and appointments that would send most people careening into an abyss—and her ability to maintain hope as she does so. Sandler frequently juxtaposes Camila’s struggles with tableaux of New York’s encroaching wealth, with stunning statistics, giving readers an unusually personal view of an inarguably failing system.