House Arrest: An American Story


In House Arrest, by K. A. Holt, twelve-year-old Timothy Davidson faces the consequences of stealing a wallet to pay for his baby brother’s medicine, which costs $1,445.32 for one month. Whatever insurance Timothy’s family has — there are references to “the state” paying for some medical services  — it does not cover all of this child’s serious medical needs. The family is desperate, not that Timothy’s mother wants to admit it. “She never wants to ask for help,” Timothy explains.

Written in verse, the novel consists of Timothy’s entries into a journal the juvenile court requires him to keep during his house arrest. It’s a middle grade book, ideal for children around Timothy’s age, but its content also appeals to adults. The anguish Timothy’s family feels over Levi’s medical challenges is vivid and relatable, probably because the novel is drawn at least in part from the author’s experience.

I read the novel in one sitting with a lump in my throat and tears stinging at the corners of my eyes because this story stirred memories of my twins’ fragile beginnings. My daughters did not have Levi’s diagnosis, but they received expensive medical care and faced heart-wrenching mortality and morbidity odds.

“So many things for such a little baby,” Timothy recalls a nurse saying about the child’s medical supplies. I remember hearing similar words when my tiny former-26 weekers came home after 78 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with oxygen tanks as big as I am and apnea monitors that had a tendency to go off whenever we were in elevators.

One of my former 26-weekers, who is now 9-years-old, read House Arrest after I did. She teared up too, but for different reasons. She couldn’t understand why Timothy’s family couldn’t afford the medical care Levi needed. There’s no good explanation for why anyone in the United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, should struggle to pay for medically necessary care (or forgo it altogether).

Our system of private and public insurance leaves too many families without the coverage they need — a reality that may get far worse thanks to Congress. In many cases, families have to rely on the kindness of acquaintances to survive.

These days, in a time of rising medical costs and inadequate government support, there is nothing more American than asking for help to pay for medical expenses on crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe. Sadly, though, research has shown that the majority of these campaigns do not reach their financial targets. People with greater means, such as having extensive social networks, technological skills, and higher education levels, are more likely to succeed, and these are not necessarily the people with the greatest needs.

Rest assured, though, House Arrest portrays a more optimistic outcome for Timothy’s family. That’s part of what makes it such a satisfying novel.


  1. The meanness of the whole healthcare debate and the proposals coming out of both the house and the senate are astonishing and heartbreaking and frightening. The book sounds great but sad for so many reasons, though I am glad to hear there is a happy outcome. I was wondering what your daughters might think of it so thank you for sharing that!

  2. The issue of health care in the US is frightening. I know health authorities across the globe are stretched but in the UK, Ireland, here in the Channel Islands and most of Europe (I believe) no one is denied medical treatment. It is free to those that are not in a position to pay, albeit there may be a long wait in non-urgent cases. Certainly the family of a child – as in the book you mention – would never be put under such financial stress.

    Of course, with medical advances, everyone expects to be treated and cured these days. That puts a huge strain on resources. Not so many years ago nature just had to take its course.

    Your girls are a true gift after their precarious start, aren’t they?

  3. There’s this strange paradox: Americans love benefits, but hate taxes. If I had a nickle for every fundraiser or benefit I’ve been invited to to help cover someone’s medical costs, I’d be rolling in nickles. But ask those same charitable people if they would be willing to pay more in taxes or some other type of money pooling that would benefit all Americans and their healthcare, the answer is a firm NO.

    1. I can’t believe how much people complain about taxes, while demanding an increasing number of services from the government. We can’t have it both ways! I am happy to pay higher taxes to make sure others have a decent education, access to health care, and so much more. We ALL benefit from the stability that comes when take care of each other.

      1. A lack of resources to children is RIDICULOUSLY expensive in the long run. Uneducated, unhealthy adults don’t just change their situation through will power. My husband and I were talking about this last night. Our city has a large homeless population, and because the city isn’t huge like Chicago or New York, they’re an incredibly visible population.

  4. That Americans have to resort to begging online to pay hospital bills is terribly sad and also makes me angry. People might not be aware of it, but Medicare no longer covers everything. Over the years, politicians, after being lobbied by insurance and drug companies, have chipped away at it to the point where gap insurance is required if they want to be 100% covered. It also doesn’t cover vision or dental. I don’t have the money for that, so I do without. In other words, I still can’t afford to be sick.

    1. I’m sorry, Fen. Everyone should be able to afford the medical services they need. I have decent medical insurance, but I don’t have dental insurance, and it’s been extremely expensive to get the dental care I need.

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