Twelve-year-old Macey (aka "Niner," due to the fact that she lost a thumb as an infant) obsesses over her lack of resemblance to her adoptive family and believes that her "bad genes" caused her mother to leave home a year ago. When she finds a broken locket on the lawn, she believes it's a sign from her missing mother and refuses to relinquish it to a threatening drug dealer. What follows is a complicated story of mistaken identity in which the dealer, who never wanted the locket, stalks Macey because he erroneously believes she stole money he hid on her property. In trying to evade him, Macey encounters a number of emotional and physical obstacles until a frightening final confrontation gives her the strength to let go of the fiction that her mother will return. The working-class Philadelphia setting comes to life, and the turmoil of children struggling to understand adult issues rings true. But an overstuffed plot, including the plight of a local runaway, detracts from Macey's compelling internal emotional journey.
Twelve-year-old Macey has lost many things: her birth parents, two foster mothers, and now her adoptive mother, who left a year ago. Nicknamed Niner because she only has nine fingers, Macey wonders if she has a badness in her blood that drives people away. After she discovers a broken locket in her yard, she is convinced it is a clue to the whereabouts of her adoptive mother, and with her younger sister, Deena, she sets out to solve the mystery, encountering scary thugs, the neighborhood bully, and a strange boy along the way. Golding takes on a little too much, addressing everything from asthma to homelessness to racial prejudice. The depiction of a bewildered youngster struggling to make sense of life’s incomprehensive events is effectively nuanced, though, and Macey’s guilt-laden voice is just right. The characterizations are distinctive, including Macey’s loving father, who tries to do his best. Foreshadowing ratchets up the tension, and readers will race to the conclusion, which solves the mystery but avoids pat answers.
"Darkness overshadows this coming-of-age story. Niner is the nickname Macey’s classmates have given to her because she is missing a thumb. She has been with her adoptive family since she was six months old; before that she had two foster mothers. Macey eventually learns that her birth mother left her in a trash bag. She thinks that her sister, Deena, has all the advantages she lacks; she is blond and blue-eyed, smart, and the biological daughter in the family. Her attributes are in marked contrast to Macey’s dark skin, wiry hair, and slow understanding. Still, they are very close. The family lives in a run-down part of Philadelphia that has the typical urban problems with drug dealers and gangs. Their mom has been gone for 10 months, and Macey worries that the woman left because of her. She befriends a new kid in town, Eugene, who is homeless, morbidly obese, and has no one to turn to. The sisters keep an incident involving a scary, menacing stranger who has been threatening them a secret from their father. They also have to deal with a racist grandmother. There are too many events here for one juvenile novel. The only positive message to emerge from all the pain is that Macey’s dad finally convinces her that genes only determine outward appearances and that her feelings and heart are her own.
—School Library Journal
‘I'm the only person I know who's had four mothers, and not one of them is left.’ So says twelve-year-old Macey, known as "Niner" on account of her missing thumb, who was adopted at the age of six months after two stints in foster homes. Now her adoptive mother has left the family abruptly and her communications have dwindled away to nothing in the intervening months, leaving Macey oppressed by the conviction that something about her drives mothers away. When she finds a locket inscribed with her mother's birthday next to their Philadelphia front step, she's sure it's some kind of message, but it ends up entangling her in a dangerous drama that involves a homeless boy named Eugene, Macey's mean, slightly addled grandmother, a bullying classmate, and drug money. Macey's longing for her mother is compelling and understandable, and her relationship with her stroppy, willful, and yet beloved younger sister is tenderly depicted. Overall, though, the events are contrived for maximum drama rather than believability, with obese Eugene a martyred cipher rather than a dimensional character, and Macy's various anguishes the result of her family's convenient tendencies to leak out only the most hurtful information and keep the truth secret until reveal impact would be maximal. Readers with a taste for the family dramas of Kimberly Willis Holt or Audrey Couloumbis, however, may nonetheless be drawn by the strong yet vulnerable heroine caught in a tough situation.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Twelve-year-old Macey, nicknamed Niner because of her missing thumb, carries a heavy burden. Abandoned by her birth mother and rejected by two foster mothers, Macey’s adoptive mother is now mysteriously absent. Macey feels left behind and questions what it is about her that drives people away. She and her sister, Deena, do their best to take care of themselves while their father works. When a sinister man starts threatening them, Macey and Deena stay quiet. Afraid of worrying their father and of spending the summer locked inside their house, the girls deal with his threats with the help of their friend, Ty, and Eugene, a new boy who carries his own secrets and pains. As the action unfolds, Macey’s feelings of responsibility compound—not only does she now feel responsible for driving away all of her mothers, but she also fears everything that happens is her fault. Golding’s characters are heartbreakingly independent and mature beyond their modest years. As they reveal secrets, lies, and fears, it quickly becomes clear that these youth are troubled by more things than just one strange man. Readers may grow frustrated as events become more frightening and yet Macey and her friends keep their secrets, but the reasons behind their choices are convincing and well thought out. Although the novel is terribly bleak and at times tragic, Golding ends on a hopeful note as Macey finally begins to let go of some of her guilt and be grateful for the wonderful family she now has.
—Voice of Youth Advocates
[A] compelling read... Recommended.
—Library Media Connection