I first saw this book in the YA section of a hole-in-the-wall mystery store. I started asking questions about it, and got an excited "isn't it just darling. I'm not sure if it's a mystery, but just look at it. It's darling." Brent, if you are reading this, don't worry. I'll set the record straight for you.
It is not "darling." It isn't quite "gritty" either, (too much warmth for that) but it is much closer to gritty. The title "Last Chance Texaco" refers to a group home for troubled orphans that is the last stop before a prison-style group home. Lucy, the main character, moves in and instantly sees all the types she's known from group homes in the past -- the mole, the scheming alpha female, the rude alpha male, the prey. The book is worth reading just for the dynamics within the group home, but the story goes farther than that. And yes it is a mystery.
The book also has great, tell-it-like-it-is details. Example: love over a happy meal. Here's one fantastic passage: "I knew that I had bigger problems than just starting school in the middle of the year. Almost everyone was white. It's not like I'm racist or anything. It's just that the only time kids in a public school are almost all white is when they're mostly rich. And believe me when I say that it's rich kids, and the parents of rich kids, who have the biggest problem with a kid from a group home going to the same school they do."
My real rating for this is 4 1/2 stars. The last 1/2 I'm holding back, because there were some times I wish Hartinger had pushed his narrative a little farther, or where I wanted more of the great details that are in other parts of the book. Definitely worth reading.