Release Day: The Paper Wolf


Happily ever after doesn’t exist for kids like Gracie—or does it? 

Gracie Anderson may only be eleven, but five years in foster care has taught her that happy endings don’t exist in the real world, not for kids like her anyway. And she’s convinced this next foster home will be just as bad as all the others.  

Except… it’s not.  

The Barkmans are completely different from any family she’s ever known—and she doesn’t trust them one bit because no one is that understanding and compassionate. But no matter how hard Gracie pushes against them, how rude, rebellious, and disrespectful she is toward them, they consistently come back at her with faith, love, and acceptance. And when Gracie’s mom decides not to come back for her, the Barkmans welcome her as one of their own, proving that even someone as damaged as Gracie deserves the love of God and a family.  



Chrissy M. Dennis lives in Saskatchewan, Canada with her foster daughters and calico kitty.  She is a full-time mom and a part-time administrative assistant for Renovaré Canada. Chrissy also loves to read, crochet and, of course, write, trusting the Lord will use her books for the glory of God and the growth of His kingdom through the healing work of the Gospel.  

She carries a Masters of Divinity in Youth and Family Ministry. She loves working with teens, and has felt the call of God to minister to the needs of youth in this culture. She hopes to continue writing, specifically regarding issues relevant to today’s teens, offering a message of salvation and hope. Her first novel, The Lion Cubs, received positive reviews and deals with themes of abuse and abandonment. |  |



Counting cars was a boring way to kill time, but what could she do without a phone?

Yup, they had taken that from her, too.

“Bad girls deserve to be punished!”  they told her.

Losing her phone was on the tamer side of their discipline scale.

Gracie never bothered telling her social worker that Len and Val locked kids in dark closets and beat them so the bruises wouldn’t show. No, Gracie’s track record for lying was too long. Nobody believed her anymore.

One hundred and four…one hundred and five…one hundred and six…

At least she was outside. The scent of dandelions tickled her nostrils instead of the heavy smoke that hovered like fog inside the small bungalow. Her lungs were probably blacker than soot after six months in this dungeon. Out here she could breathe. Still, she was bored. She wasn’t the kind of kid who needed her phone for entertainment. She could always escape into a good book, but she only owned one of those.

At least her phone would have kept her busy.

Oh well. Any second now, the familiar ancient station wagon would roll up the driveway and Larry, her social worker, would whisk her off to some new adventure.

He was an optimist. What Larry called ‘adventure’ was nothing like the adventures Gracie read about.

Whatever. Len and Val wanted her gone and that was fine by her.

Gracie wouldn’t be sorry to leave them behind. Good riddance.

They’d better give me my phone back!

They’d already packed up the rest of her stuff and tossed it out on the lawn. Nothing but a black garbage bag rolled over on its side. They’d taken out all the trash, including Gracie, and kicked it to the curb.

The air was chilly, but they’d banished her from the house. She knew better than to go back inside.

“I don’t even want to look at you right now,”  Len said. “Go wait for your worker outside!”

The feeling was mutual. Gracie never wanted to lay eyes on Len or Val for the rest of her life. She’d shiver out here until Larry showed up.

Was it really only 45 minutes ago that Val had called Larry and told him Gracie had  to be gone within the hour?

“What did she do? She cut up all of our clothes with a pair of scissors! This child is a psychopath!”

A thin smile touched Gracie’s lips. Maybe destroying their clothes wasn’t the nicest thing to do, but they’d locked her out of the house all day yesterday with no food on the coldest day this month. They got what they deserved.

Kicking her out wasn’t their final word. That would have been too easy. Her backside still throbbed from where Len whacked her with an extension cord.

Yes, she would be happy to see the last of them.

She was almost twelve, now saying goodbye to her eleventh foster home. That had to be some kind of record. Maybe she’d even go down in the foster home hall of fame, like it was something to be proud of.

What would Larry have in mind for #12?

At eighteen, she would “age out.” That’s what they called it when social services finally let you out. She’d finally be on her own. No more moving around. No more false hope. For every new home, Larry fervently believed they would be the ones to keep her. “Let’s keep hoping.”

Hope was for kids who lived in a fantasy world. Gracie had been in foster care since she was six—just enough time to give her a healthy dose of perspective.

Car number one-hundred-and-ninety-eight was the rickety station wagon. Larry’s hairy arm waved from the window as his car clunked into the driveway. Gracie kept her face stone as her social worker approached her with that crooked grin.

“Gracie, Gracie, Gracie. Always good to see ya, darlin’.” He shook her hand.


He might be rescuing her from these morons, but he was also the guy bringing her somewhere new.

Gracie hated new. New never meant good, no matter how delusional Larry’s hopes were.

“Last day of spring break! Did you have a good…?”

Larry didn’t finish. Gracie sitting out on the lawn with nothing but a trash bag and an eviction notice was evidence enough of how awful her spring break had been.

“Right. So, where are—”

“They took a trip to Spain.” Sarcasm rolled off her tongue so easily when she was in a bad mood.

Larry lifted a bushy eyebrow.

“In the house,” Gracie said.

“Alright, well, I’ll just run inside.” Larry paused. “You want to come say goodbye?”


Larry sighed. He’d never been a fan of her one-word answers.

Whatever. She didn’t care. He didn’t really know her.

Nobody did.

As Larry ducked into the bungalow, Gracie snatched her garbage bag and dragged it to the car. Larry left it unlocked, so Gracie hauled her trash into the back seat before crawling into the front. She gazed down the cul-de-sac, taking it all in for the last time.

Goodbye strange old man who watered his grass every morning for an hour while humming the national anthem. Goodbye crazy cat lady who took her three cats for walks in harnesses every evening, cooing at them like babies. Goodbye Natalie down the street, who turned out to be a good friend. They’d never climb that giant maple tree and hang off its branches together again.

That was part of being a foster kid. Goodbyes came with the package.

And the more she said them, the less she cared.

“You sure you don’t want to say bye to them?” Larry asked when he sank into the car.

“Did they want to say bye to me?” Gracie asked.

Larry didn’t answer.

Big surprise.

“Oh, they gave me this.” Larry handed Gracie her phone. “You know, you’re probably too young to have that anyway.”

Gracie sighed. “Whatever.”

Larry turned his keys in the ignition. “Well, let’s get this show on the road. You ready?”

Gracie shrugged. “Where’re we going?”

“This was kind of last-minute. I haven’t had the chance to find you a decent placement. For now, I’m taking you to Grumont. I hate the idea of leaving you at a group home again, but you’ve been there before. I’ll be working hard to find another family for you.”

“Can’t I just stay at Grumont?”

There was something about getting lost in a crowd of kids that was appealing. Sure, group homes were rough. She’d have to watch her back everywhere she went, but at least she wouldn’t be shuffled off to strangers.

“Why would you want to stay there? Don’t you want a family?” Larry asked.

He always asked and always got the same response.


Silence was the best way to avoid what was really going on inside.

Gracie was a professional, and her past had been her teacher.

Sure, maybe she was only eleven, but she’d seen horrors she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy. She’d seen firsthand the ravaging wars inside the secret places of what was supposed to be a safe home.

Home, even the word itself was acid on her tongue. Home is where the heart is, right? Could she really call something shriveled and blackened by the ghosts of her past a heart? Her heart was in limbo, held close, wrapped tightly in a protective cocoon. There wasn’t much of her heart left to begin with; Gracie would have to guard it if she wanted to survive.

That was what life was all about: survival.

It was the only thing she knew how to do.

Like what you see?

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