In her fourteen years living in a Chicago housing project, Cashay has never ridden in a taxi cab, seen the city lit up at night, or set foot in a museum. She’s not pretty, or graceful, or bubbly like her little sister, Sashay. She gets her family by on a couple of dollars and food stamps every week.

No, Cashay has never felt much like a treasure. “Your name doesn’t signify who you are,” Cashay tells her sister.

But that was before Sashay was killed. Before her mother started using again. Before her mentor, Allison, showed Cashay a bigger piece of the world, and encouraged her to finally, finally step into it.

A name may not signify who you are, but in this poignant coming of age story by acclaimed writer Margaret McMullan, readers will find that indeed, Cashay is an exception to her own rule.



  • Nominated an American Library Association 2009 Best Book for Young Adults
  • A Spring 2009 Teen Book Pick for the Chicago Public Library
  • A Flamingnet TOP CHOICE book

Praise for Cashay

Along with the street-lit–style plot (if not language), Cashay’s spirited voice and non-frothy prose will draw both confirmed and newer fans of inner-city drama.  

– Kirkus Reviews

Growing up in Chicago's Cabrini-Green housing projects, fourteen-year-old Cashay's purpose has always been watching out for her younger sister, Sashay, and every week somehow coming up with a way for her family to make due on a couple of dollars and food stamps. But when Sashay is killed, and their mother begins using drugs again, Cashay has little desire to go on, even if she knew how. When she is paired with a mentor, Allison, however, who introduces Cashay to a bigger world outside the projects, will Cashay find the courage to try for a better life for herself? This novel manages to be both gritty, and inspirational.

– The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

On the streets of Chicago, one stray bullet changes Cashay's life forever. Walking home from school Cashay and her little sister Sashay hear gunfire, they both drop to the ground, but it's too late for Sashay, and she dies on the sidewalk. Swallowed up by grief, Cashay's mom turns to drugs, and Cashay turns to anger. Day after day things fall apart a little more, until Cashay meets Allison, a stockbroker who becomes her mentor. Cashay doesn't think this skinny white woman can teach her much, but Allison shows her a world outside of the projects where she lives, and Cashay starts to imagine an amazing future for herself. A beautifully written, touching and powerful story you won't be able to put down.

– Christina Lewis,

Cashay is a very good book and many people should definitely read it. This book talks about some of the scariest things that could happen to a girl, she looses her best friend and sister... Also, the author uses great words that help you feel like you're right there in the book feeling what Cashay is feeling... Cashay is a very good book and should be read by many.

– Flamingnet Student Book Reviewer

Age: 13, Milwaukee , WI

Her mother uses drugs. She lives in a neighborhood where errant bullets are so common that when children hear gunfire, they reflexively "lie down on the cement the way we've been taught." Then her sister is fatally shot, and Cashay's world implodes. Slowly, she reconstructs her life, hitting as many hurdles as she clears in a story that pulls no punches. Age 12 and up.

– Claire Martin, The Denver Post

Using a metaphor that's as topical as it is unusual, 13-year-old Cashay compares the ups and (mostly) downs in her life in Chicago's Cabrini Green projects to those in the stock market. She makes that connection after Allison, a big-hearted stockbroker, comes into her life as a mentor in the wake of several devastating events--including but not limited to the relapse of her mother into drug addiction and the shooting of younger sister Sashay, to whom she was so close that she deliberately flunked seventh grade to stay in the same school. Happily, Cashay is not only gifted with epic resilience, but surrounded by supportive adults. So by the end she's on the way to coming to terms with her grief and anger; earned acceptance to a challenging magnet school; moved in with an aunt after her mom gives birth to an addicted preemie; and even helped to nab the local hoodlum who killed her sister. Along with the street-lit-style plot (if not language), Cashay's spirited voice and non-frothy prose will draw both confirmed and newer fans of inner-city drama.

– Kirkus Reviews

The poetic voice balances the bleakness, and the reader senses throughout that Cashay is a survivor; she only has to locate that power within herself. Read full review.

– The News Observer, North Carolina

Margaret McMullen gives Cashay such a compelling voice that readers will find this young girl irresistible. With poignant realism and memorable characters, Margaret McMullen gives her readers an honest message of hope. Read full review.

– Looking Glass Review

In 'Cashay,' author Margaret McMullan writes with grace and emotion about a girl struggling to recover from the tragic shooting death of her beloved younger sister.

– Karen Macpherson, Scripps Howard

'Cashay' has a startling beginning. Quickly the author brings us up to speed on Cashay's life. The 13-year-old lives in the harsh world of Chicago's Cabrini Green, where she shields her younger sister, Sashay, from drugs and guns, purposely flunking seventh grade to guide her through middle school. But at the end of the first chapter, Sashay is hit by a stray gang bullet. Sashay worries about swallowing her gum as Cashay sees "a line of blood the color of nail polish move from somewhere under Sashay," puddling into a pool as Sashay's eyes close. For the rest of the book, readers witness Cashay's struggles and resilience as her mother begins a disastrous love affair that leads her back to drugs and the birth of an addicted preemie. Cashay deals with her anger and grief and learns to accept and trust the supporting adults who mean her well. What keeps this book from being an utter reality horror story? The poetic voice balances the bleakness, and the reader senses throughout that Cashay is a survivor; she only has to locate that power within herself.

– Susie Wilde, Charlotte-Observer, NC

Walking home one day from school on the violent streets of Chicago, 14-year-old Cashay loses her beloved younger sister to a stray bullet. She would have done anything for her sister - she even purposefully flunked a grade so they could be in the same class. She wishes she could have taken the shot instead. But now Sashay is dead, and Cashay is lost, holding on to the shoes that soaked up Sashay's blood, that marked the battered sidewalk with the bloody footsteps that took here away from Cashay forever. Their mother gives herself over to drug-filled, grieving oblivion. A school counselor recognizes that Cashay, too, might disappear and sends her to an after-school program where she meets Allison, a woman who lives just blocks away but has a life so completely different from anything Cashay has ever experienced. Little by little, the two forge a tentative bond that grows ever deeper as each teaches the other about unfamiliar lives. Read full review.

– BookDragon

Cashay is just thirteen going on fourteen, but she's growing up way too fast. When she's not taking care of her younger sister Sashay, she's dodging thugs in her inner-city Chicago neighborhood and trying to figure out how to feed their family when her mom doesn't seem to care about anything except doing drugs with her seedy boyfriend. And then, when Sashay is shot and killed, Cashay's own hopes of surviving the projects seem to dwindle away to nothing. Her mother's drug problems continue to worsen, and Cashay is forced to attend counseling and an after-school mentor program full of angry inner-city kids and successful white folks who couldn't possibly have a clue what she's going through. But sometimes it's not just about having a clue. It's about finding a kindred spirit despite appearances and backgrounds, about letting yourself open up enough to find that person. When Cashay meets Allison, they seem to be polar opposites, but they find common ground in their loneliness, and forge a real bond. Allison tells Cashay she's smart enough to apply to the charter school opening up in the new housing development nearby, and for the first time, Cashay allows herself to feel hope. Above all, this IS a novel about hope, despite the gritty subject matter and the difficulty of reading about what is, for many young people, a grim reality. The development of the relationship between Cashay and Allison is handled with delicacy, turning what could have been simply an "urban problem novel" into a story about an unusual but life-saving friendship. Read full review.

– Finding Wonderland

This was a quick read, gripping all the way through.

– Fresno County Public Library (Fresno, CA)

This book is breath-taking. You'll just fall in love with it from the first chapter you read.

– Brana, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

McMullan departs from her usual genre of historical fiction in this street-lit title--set in what's left of Chicago's Cabrini Green projects--which achieves gripping authenticity without profanity. Fourteen-year-old Cashay and her younger sister, Sashay, have always been extremely close, but their bond breaks tragically when Sashay is killed in a neighborhood shooting. In the weeks that follow, Cashay's mother descends into drug addiction, and Cashay is overwhelmed by grief and fury, prompting her counselor to send her to an after-school program, where she is paired with Allison, a volunteer mentor. Allison's genuine concern gradually helps Cashay begin to heal and imagine a life beyond the projects. The understated style and strong first-person voice highlight Cashay's distinctive character. An economic metaphor, both timely and unique, works nicely with Cashay's growing trust that she can remain connected to her sister through memory. After an exciting climax, the book ends abruptly but with a heartening sense of optimism. This slim book packs an emotional punch and is sure to win new fans to the genre.

– Lynn Rutan, Booklist

Allison and Cashay come from two different worlds, but they become friends. Not only does Allison give Cashay the encouragement she needs to grieve for her sister, but she also helps the teenager to find a way out of the situation she has found herself in and to realize that she does have a future. Through Allison, Cashay finds the strength to know that she can do more and that even though Sashay is no longer with her, she doesn't "have to be dead and gone." McMullan has written a touching story that follows Cashay as she tries to cope with a tragedy and make a future for herself.

– Multicultural Review

Margaret McMullan's new novel for young readers is about a girl named Cashay Thomas ("not black and not white, either") who is nearly 14 and wishes she weren't: "When you're fourteen everybody starts to notice you," she says. All Cashay wants to do is "press the pause button and then wait for the rest of [her] to catch up." She and her 12-year-old sister, Sashay, are different from the other girls in their neighborhood, and Cashay can name why: "because we got each other." With their mother, a life in Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project is bearable for now. Togetherness is all they have. Pressing the pause button would guarantee a little peace in a scary world, but, of course, there's no such thing--and soon enough, an adult life comes hard and fast for Cashay. One afternoon while the sisters walk home from school, trying to avoid the local thugs loitering near the playground, shots ring through the crowded street. The girls lie down on the sidewalk, "the way [they've] been taught," and the sequence that follows echoes the riddling gunfire. "Dang," I say. "Oh, no." she says. Sashay looks real scared. "What?" "I swallowed my gum." "Somebody shot Big Buddha," I say. "That gum will clog up my insides," Sashay says. "What are you talking about?" "Don't be mad," Sashay says. Seconds later, "a line of blood the color of nail polish moves from somewhere under Sashay." From this moment, Cashay stomps fiercely through the novel. "Nothing is right at all anymore." Her sister is dead. Her mother, in grief, quits her job and retreats into a hazy world of drugs, taking up with a junkie called Mr. Giggles. Even Cashay's neighborhood seems to desert her: the very bricks and mortar where she has lived all thirteen years are steadily turned to dust by the wrecking ball, and deluxe "Village" apartments, Starbuckses, and Blockbusters built in their place, "the bulldozers out screaming early in the morning." At Freemont Middle School, the guidance counselor makes Cashay's anger even more aggressive. She curses at the only teacher who ever cared for her. She attacks a classmate in rage. Soon she is sent to an after-school program run by nuns, and all the while Sashay haunts her dreams and waking hours. She can feel her there in the double bed they shared. She sees her waving and laughing from the girls' bedroom window ledge. Her days become zombielike: eat, sleep, school, repeat. And when her mother is arrested after giving birth to Cashay's drug-addicted baby brother, Cashay even quits attending school altogether, for fear of social workers who might try and send her to foster care. Cashay yearns for "Before. Back when Sashay was not dead Sashay. Back when we thought getting pregnant was the worst thing that could happen to us--that and getting bit by a West Nile mosquito." Eventually, at the Catholic center, Cashay is paired with an adult mentor, Allison, a youngish white stockbroker "too much red stuff on her cheeks and she's wobbling on a pair of high heels and her short suit skirt is riding up and she can't stop smiling." At first, Cashay isn't interested in Allison's help. She thinks she's just volunteering to meet men. But Allison treats Cashay as an equal, and Cashay, in turn, focuses on school again. The two form an alliance much like a sisterhood, though Cashay is careful not to define it as such, with Allison's understanding. All this happiness comes at a cost, however, when the man responsible for Sashay's murder slinks back into the picture. What happens then is startling, and we are reminded how fragile Cashay's existence in Cabrini Green really is. Cashay survives, despite all her loss, and we readers, by the end, see more than a spark of hope. We see a real fire. Margaret McMullan has crafted a thrilling, page-turning plot about an incredibly gifted, bright teenaged girl facing unspeakable horrors. Not only has she entered adolescence, which is certainly difficult for any young person, she has entered it virtually alone, her family blown apart by violence, drugs, and poverty. McMullan's writing is downright beautiful. Cashay's voice is strong and true and sassy, and life in Cabrini Green is documented with the respect it deserves. As Cashay's aunt tells reporters after Sashay's murder, "Yeah, we've got a lot of gangs. And yeah, we've got a lot of drugs. But it's still home." In the end, Cashay doesn't let Cabrini Green disappear from her life altogether, although she is given the option of letting it. She returns, despite the ugliness and danger. After all, it will always be home.

– Sally Cassady Lyon, Center for the Study of Southern Culture

In this story told from the viewpoint of a young middle school black student living in Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project illustrates the power of adult role models. Cashay struggles to deal with the terrible events that have happened to her. A younger sister has just been killed in a drive by shooting, and her pregnant mother addresses her grief by going back on drugs. Eventually she is paired up with a volunteer tutor who is as different from her as can be - a white, wealthy stock broker with issues of her own. Together they help each other come to see themselves in new ways.


The protagonist becomes in this story. She rises above. She survives. She "comes of age" with grit and brutal determination to live and be more than what her circumstances dictate. This book should be made widely available in American schools, both in urban and rural areas. In Cashay, McMullan has laid bare the story of millions of teenagers walking the streets of modern America.

– Elizabeth Mitchell, New Madrid