Summary: Chapter 7

Bud heads to the library. Once inside, he takes a deep breath, and imagines that people fall asleep in the library because of the hypnotizing, “soft, powdery, drowsy smell” of the books. Bud looks for Miss Hill and asks about her at the lending desk. The librarian tells him that Miss Hill is now Mrs. Rollins and is living in Chicago. She pulls out a large, leather atlas and shows Bud where Chicago is. Three books later, they’ve determined that Chicago is 270 miles from Flint, where Bud is now, and it would take fifty-four hours to walk there.

Bud exits the library. As the door closes, he wonders if this is the sort of door-closing Momma was talking about. He goes back under his tree and falls asleep. 

Summary: Chapter 8

Bud wakes up to eyes staring at him. It’s Bugs, from the Home. He had heard that Bud had “whupped” Todd Amos and was “on the lam,” so he, too, had decided to leave. Bugs tells Bud he is going back to riding the rails. Bud agrees to join him. They can jump the train in Hooperville, a city outside of Flint.

The two boys make their way to Hooperville by following a trail along Thread Crick. As they approach, they see a big fire burning with people gathered around it watching pots of food cook. At another fire, a man stirs a big pot and pulls clothes from it to hang on a line to dry. A third fire is small and set apart from the others. Around it, five white people sit—a man, two children, and a woman holding a sickly baby. Bud later learns that this family has refused help from the others, saying “Thank you very much, but we’re white people. We ain’t in need of a handout.” 

Bud and Bugs discover that this cardboard jungle is Flint’s version of Hooverville. Hoovervilles are make-shift tent cities scattered across the country. Bud notices the many people sitting around are from every race—Black, white, brown. But, by the firelight, everyone looks orange, though different shades of orange depending on how close to the fire they are. These people, a man tells Bud and Bugs, are tired, hungry, and unsure about the future. “We’re all in the same boat,” he says, “And you boys are nearer to home than you’ll ever get.”

Soon the boys find themselves settling in, eating muskrat stew, and pulling KP, dish duty. Bud reluctantly leaves his suitcase with a woman, and they carry dishes down to Thread Crick. Deza Malone, a girl who seems to be in charge, directs the dishwashing operation. Bud explains his situation to Deza—that he’s going to ride the rails, hoping to find his father who he thinks lives in Grand Rapids. Deza thinks Bud is different and asks if he’s the sort who carries his family inside of him. “Inside my suitcase, too,” Bud tells her.

Deza says she can’t blame Bud for wanting to ride the rails. She asks him if he’s ever kissed a girl at the orphanage. When she leans in toward him, they kiss. She tells him she’ll never forget this night.

Bud retrieves his suitcase and opens it to make sure everything’s still there. He takes out his pouch of five rocks that had been in Momma’s drawer. All five have something written on them, in code, Bud thinks. The last one says, “flint m. 8.11.11.” He lies under his blanket, thinking about his momma’s voice and the stories she’d tell him, how she’d read to him every night until he went to sleep, how if he was still awake, she’d ruin the fun of the story by telling him about its deeper meaning. Then, Bud falls asleep, into a dream about a man with a giant fiddle, Herman E. Calloway. 

In the morning, cops prevent men from boarding the train. The boys run and Bugs hops onto one of the train’s cars. Bud throws his suitcase up to Bugs, but he slows down when a blue flyer comes out of the suitcase. Bud retrieves it, but now he’s too far from the train to catch up. As the train pulls away, Bugs throws Bud’s suitcase back to him. 

Bud can’t go back to the shanty town. The cops are going to bust it up. He looks at the blue flyer again and realizes the similarities in the names Caldwell and Calloway. He starts walking back to the mission, hopefully in time for breakfast.

Analysis: Chapters 7–8

Smells have a way of evoking memories of past experiences. When Bud enters the library, the reader gets the sense that he’s been there before—in this special place, in a place safe enough to give in to the “soft, powdery, drowsy smell” and fall asleep. Bud learns that Miss Hill, the person to whom he was sure he could turn for help, is no longer there, which disappoints him. Once again Bud recalls and leans on his Momma’s wisdom about closing doors and opening doors, hoping that this obstacle is an example of what she meant.

The appearance of Bugs puts the spotlight on the importance of his and Bud’s friendship. The two boys, whose friendship, the reader surmises, has been forged and solidified by the adversity they’ve faced, swap stories. Bugs wants to know the details of Bud’s escape from the Amoses, and Bud wants to hear about Bug’s experiences “on the lam.” Both boys are in the same situation: They are both homeless and must use their resourcefulness to take care of themselves. Their back-and-forth banter is enough evidence to convince the reader that they’re blood brothers. Aside from Bud’s mother, Bugs is likely the closest “family” Bud has experienced. They make a pact to stay together to ride the rails west, which is a better idea than going back to the Home or to the Amoses.

The boys’ experience of Hooperville highlights Curtis’ themes of race and economic inequality. When they reach Hooperville, they are surprised to find what Bugs describes as a “cardboard jungle” with tired, hungry people living in horrible living conditions. The poverty and economic hardship of the Great Depression—as epitomized in the Hoovervilles, or make-shift tent cities, scattered all over the country—was in some regards the great equalizer. The racial desegregation of this Hooverville that Bud and Bugs come upon is significant given that racial segregation was the norm across the country during this time period. In the country’s many Hoovervilles, financial misfortune had brought people together in their collective misery and effort to survive. Even so, racial differences and status are apparent in the demographics on display, as evidenced by the family who, because they are white, insist they “ain’t in need of a handout.”

The character of Deza Malone, who Bud meets in Hooverville, serves to further the reader’s understanding of Bud’s deep connection to family. Bud seems to feel safe with her, safe enough to talk about his family. In their conversation, Bud reveals that his father is in Grand Rapids, and it is evident that Bud places his confidence and trust in Deza when he admits that he carries his family inside of him, and in his suitcase as well.

Bud’s memories of his momma continue to be a constant presence. That night, after his conversation with Deza, Bud’s thoughts are intently fixed on his momma. The reader learns about the rocks he keeps in his suitcase, and specifically the one that says “flint m. 8.11.11” on it, yet neither Bud nor the readers yet know its significance. As Bud lies down to sleep, he’s overcome with a flood of memories and thoughts of family. The next day, when Bud is making a mad dash to board the train, the blue flyer slips from his suitcase and he has to make a choice between retrieving it and getting on the train. The flyer connects him to family and family is the most important thing, so he chooses to go after the flyer.