Told from David’s point of view, the book recounts his experiences and emotions as his world is shattered. David’s parents sell off the family’s possessions, including David’s, triggering the beginning of his understanding of his privilege—and how an unexpected misfortune such as job loss can remove that privilege.
When the family is evicted and their belongings put out on the street, David’s horror and shame are believable. Mr. Levin does not sugar coat what follows next: David confronts life sleeping with his family in a small, borrowed car, relying on the kindness of a church for access to bathrooms, and a night sleeping unsheltered in the woods, before finding refuge in an extended stay, low cost “inn.”
David also experiences hunger, including its impact on his own ability to concentrate in school as well as on his younger sister’s health. He confronts the shame he feels at his poverty and the bullying of some of his peers, and to accept and appreciate the eventual support of his friends. He also experiences the impact of his situation on his own and his family’s mental health, including his father’s alcoholism, violence and depression, as well as his mother’s unexpected anger.
David has a hard time keeping up in school and sports while trying to cope with homelessness and hunger; his grades plummet and he is removed from his beloved basketball team. By skillfully including these and and other hard but realistic challenges, the book avoids sugar coating the experience of homelessness. By presenting them through David’s eyes, it evokes empathy and understanding.
The book also includes some unusually fortunate circumstances, often not available people who lose their homes. For example, David and his family have a network of economically comfortable friends who provide a safety net of sorts; they also have access to an “inn” that offers shelter, seemingly without conditions or time limits. Still, this also highlights the importance of this networks and resources, and does not detract from the significance of the book and its potential to raise awareness for young readers.
Well written and engaging, In the Hole offers a much needed perspective on an urgent social issue that is critical for young people understand. By painting a portrait of a likable, relatable boy who nonetheless loses his home, it counters many of the harmful myths about homelessness, how and why it happens, and whom it affects. By showing David’s ultimate exit from the crisis, as well as his later commitment to helping others, it also lays out a path for active engagement by other young people.