By Sonya Sones
Place a hold.
In order to complete her school’s community service requirement, Molly has to take part in her city’s annual homeless count. As she walks around on a cold December night counting people who appear to be homeless, she sees a red-haired girl only a few years older than herself. Molly becomes determined to reunite this girl with her family. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Molly’s mission to “save” Red has more to do with Molly’s own painful past than with Red’s needs.
While I admire Molly’s compassion, I find her methods problematic. Molly brings Red food and clothes and rents her a hotel room so Red can bathe, but she never asks Red what *she* actually wants. She assumes that she knows what’s best for Red and goes so far as to lie to her in order to gain Red’s compliance.
Molly never asks why Red is living on the street. Perhaps, Red had run away from home to avoid physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Perhaps, there are reasons she doesn’t want to call her family. Red has her own reasons for doing things, but we don’t learn about them until the end of the book because Molly never asks.
I give Molly props for not believing all the negative stereotypes of homeless people and those with mental disabilities, but she falls for the idea that they are helpless and incapable of making choices for themselves. While it is true that many homeless and mentally ill people need and appreciate help, it is important to recognize their individuality, integrity, and agency.
Saving Red attempts to humanize the homeless but falls a little short of the mark.