“Far From the Tree” by Robin Benway

“Far From the Tree” (HarperTeen 2017) by Robin Benway is a story of biological teen siblings, living separate lives, who find each other.

The book opens with Grace, 16 years old, who is giving up her own baby for adoption, just as her mother had given her up. Grace has gone through an agency and carefully chosen the family who will give Peach—as she calls the baby—a good life. Still she’s left with a painful, hollow spot in her body and psyche. Her adoptive parents to whom she’s an only child are terrific—warm and smart. Grace steels herself to return to school after the birth and is met by merciless taunts. She decides she will find her siblings, and maybe her mother.

Grace finds Maya who was adopted by parents who, classically, got pregnant once they cared for their adopted infant. So Maya has a sister, Lauren, 13 months younger than she with red hair like both her parents. Maya looks like the odd man out with black hair.

She is gay, which is a badge of honor to her liberal parents, which amazes the other siblings once they discover this. The bad news is, Maya’s parents are splitting up. In her confusion, Maya sabotages her relationship with girlfriend Claire. Maya protects herself with sarcasm, but she is also wise. “Maya had never realized how much power there was in loving someone. At first, she thought it was a source of strength, but she was realizing that, in the wrong hands, on the wrong day, that power was strong enough to destroy the very thing that had built it.”

Joaquin – the oldest at 17 has been in the foster system since his mother gave him up as a toddler. Twice he’d been adopted, but each adoption was short-lived, which of course is devastating.

When Maya reports that her parents put a rainbow sticker on their car, “Joaquin couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to swing with that kind of net waiting to catch you.” One foster mom found out Joaquin’s foster sister was gay and kicked her out. “Bio always trumps foster.” In another home the bio son decided which fosters would stay. Joaquin was out in a month.

Joaquin has good foster parents now, in fact they want to adopt him, but it’s his decision and he’s saying no. “To call Linda and Mark Mom and Dad on purpose would mean that Joaquin’s heart would form into something much more fragile, something impossible to put back together if it broke, and he could not—would not—do that to himself again.”

He breaks up with his girlfriend Birdie. She is confident, has life-plans and expects the world. And he’ll never be able to give it to her. No discussion, he just ends it. She’s furious, hurt, confused. But Joaquin is shamed by a violent act he committed years ago. We wait till the end to find out what he’d done.

This beautiful story of family and love is the National Book Award Winner for Young Readers—a wonderful read for adults as well as young adults.


Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker   talesforallages.com

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“What Girls Are Made Of” by Elana K. Arnold

By its name, “What Girls Are Made Of” (Carolrhoda Lab 2017) by Elana K. Arnold might be a women’s health book like “Our Body, Ourselves.” But it’s a novel. However, it could serve as a woman’s health guide. In no-nonsense prose we watch Nina with her first period, first gynecological exam, intercourse, abortion, and heartbreak.

What makes this book important? It’s a story about the erasure of women.

Nina watches her mother endure yearly miscarriages, marking each when her glass of vodka reappears on the dining table. Her mother says there’s no such thing as unconditional love—not even for mother and child. Mother is a beautiful rich iceberg, and a non-working art historian. Her father supplies his family with a luxurious (cold) house and all the trimmings. That’s his role.

Nina, 16 years old, knows that her boyfriend Seth’s love is conditional. Those conditions include: she may not call him (he’s rude) and they must have sex. Nina and her best friend have been in love with Seth since fourth grade, but Nina won him and dropped her friend to be with him.

Seth calls the shots—what they’ll do, where they’ll do it, and the music they’ll listen to. The reader knows that Seth is a jerk and Nina has a self-esteem issue.

Is the issue Nina’s background? Her not being unconditionally loved? But there are plenty of teenaged girls who are unconditionally loved by a parent, and yet their major job is pleasing boys. After all these years, how can this be true?

The very fact that this title has been short-listed for the National Book Award says this is an important work—a necessary read.

Before high school, when her parents attempted to break-up, her mother took Nina to Italy—a trip meant for the parents. Mother and daughter visited endless museums in Rome, Florence, and small villages. They viewed thousands of tortured virgin saints—her mother’s specialty. Nina sees paintings of women on the rack and suffering the pear. (Read the book). Nina sees sculpted virgins in a state of ecstasy visited by Angels.

Her mother says. “When people don’t have words to describe what they’re experiencing, they think it’s magic. Or mystical. Or God.” She explains, in this case, “It’s an orgasm.”

All of the Renaissance and medieval art is executed by men, of course.

It would be difficult for me to like Nina if it weren’t for her wildly imagined—though dark—stories. In one, a bird-girl lived in a nest. She “pulled a feather from her side . . .dipped its quill end in ink, and . . . began to write.” This marks the beginning of Nina’s path to empowerment.

It helps that Nina works in a dog rescue center, doing service that was once penance for a cruel school misdeed that we don’t discover until the end of the story. But that is depressing, too, as it is a high-kill shelter. A lot of realism here.

Give this book to the girl who needs to be empowered. Is that all girls?


Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker   talesforallages.com



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“You Bring the Distant Near” by Mitali Perkins

Starting with the matriarch, Ranee Das in the 1960s, we experience three generations of Bengali women as they assimilate, having moved from India to Ghana to London to New York and beyond, in Mitali Perkins’ “You Bring the Distant Near” (2017). The novel includes fathers and spouses, but the story centers on each of the five complex, flawed, interesting women and her narration. Sister love is a strong component, but there’s also mother/daughter relationships, father/daughter relationships, and romances.

At the outset, we meet Ranee’s teenaged daughters, Tara and Sonia. In 1970s London Tara samples identities, first as the super model Twiggy, but when the family moves to New York she chooses an American persona. Sonia who craves reading and writing, becomes a feminist. It’s beautiful the way the sisters, who are so different from one another, act as a team as they navigate a new world together. We see each grow to womanhood and find a spouse. Their choices are vastly different leading to vastly different lives. Sonia falls in love with African American, Louis—another great character.

Tara’s marriage is a surprise to the reader, but I won’t spoil it here. Tara and Sonia each has a daughter which brings us to the present day. Marriages for the five happen outside and inside their culture, giving special views into Bengali and Bengali/American customs and food.

The situations and personalities feel so authentic you wonder how autobiographical the novel is. It turns out—pretty autobiographical. The author calls it a “memoir on steroids, with freedom to fabricate.” I’m pretty sure she’s Sonia in the novel.

In the story, Sonia has a daughter, Chantal, with Louis. Chantal is smart and athletic. Tara has a daughter, Anna, who is somewhat threatened by her older cousin, but as Anna comes into her own, the cousin relationship becomes a warm supportive sister-like relationship.

Fortunately we readers can refer to the family tree drawn in the opening pages, to ground ourselves as we read about the five “hyphenated” Americans.

Each character struggles with how she fits into the framework of assimilating from one culture to another; or Chantal’s experience of being bi-racial and of mixed cultures. Always the strength of the family serves as solid ground for the individual issues that each woman experiences. There is much more peace and harmony than conflict in this story, yet I was drawn to find out how things unfold, rather than what unfolds.

The character most transformed from beginning to end is the matriarch, Ranee Das. She is one of five great characters, but the secondary characters are also deftly drawn. I’d particularly liked to have known Baba, Sonia and Tara’s father and Ranee’s husband.


Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker   talesforallages.com

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“American Dream” by Ibi Zoboi

Ibi Zoboi does not shy away from the ecstasy of first love or the horrific violence of Detroit’s west side in “American Street” (Balzer & Bray 2017).

Teenager Fabiola Toussaint is on her way to Detroit from Haiti to find a better life, when her mother is detained by U.S. immigration on their New York stop. Fabiola, on her mother’s insistence, continues on to the home of her loud Detroit cousins known at school as the “Three Bees: Donna (slut); Pri (tough dyke); Chantal,” the wise one. Will innocent Fab become the Fourth Bee? Smart Chantal says, “If these girls think you’re scared and that you’re not gonna fight back, they will mess with you.”

Fabiola falls for the loveable Kasim. How you root for these two! But what might be best about this book is the turn of phrase. What great writing. What great insights, beautifully stated.

Here’s one about dancing. “A song I know comes on and my body obeys the familiar rhythm.” So right.

Here’s a couple about the magical realism. (Afterall, the protagonist comes from Haiti where vudu prevails). Papa Legba is known as a crack addict. He lives outside the family’s west Detroit house, which by the way, is situated at the corner of American Street and Joy Road. Fabiola, who sees Papa Legba as a conduit to God, describes him by saying, “something about the way he grins and that eye patch makes him look like he’s been to the underworld and back.” And: “His voice sounds as if it’s coming from the depths of dark, broken places. I can feel it in my bones.”

About her unformed thoughts, she says, “I open my mouth to say something, but my mind has not formed the words yet.”

About her life as it progresses in Detroit: “Creole and Haiti stick to my insides like glue—it’s like my bones and muscles. But America is my skin, my eyes, and my breath.”

About the rough life in Detroit: “I try to walk a path that’s perfectly in between. On one side are the book and everything I have to do to make myself legit, and on the other side are the streets and everything I have to do to stay alive out here.”

Dray is just one of the villains—and he’s rough and powerful.

About Haitian dictator Claude Duvalier: “This dictator was the heavy boot on our skinny necks.”

Back in Haiti, there was an abusive boss of teenage girls: “ . . . He would watch us while we worked. We let him look. Eyes are only dull blades, but hands are as sharp as broken glass.”

You get the idea. Fabiola is in love, trying to stay alive in a violent setting. At the same time she is working to get her mother out of the prison system. Why was her mother incarcerated? Her links to voodoo.

This heart-breaker is a National Book Award Finalist for 2017 and it should be widely read. Please do.


Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker   talesforallages.com

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“Genuine Fraud” by E. Lockhart

Two girls—two orphans. Both are pretty. They kind of look alike. One is an heiress. One is a liar. The book starts with Chapter Eighteen. “Begin here:” you’re instructed. The book works from the end to the beginning in E. Lockhart’s thriller “Genuine Fraud” (Delacorte 2017).

Imogen, the heiress is the kind of girl who everyone wants as a friend—or so “everyone” thinks. She’s generous, until she’s not. When friends annoy her in some way—if they take her generosity for granted or become boring—she drops those “friends” like scorching hotcakes. Imogen refuses to be the girl that “everyone” wants her to be.

As a reader, I think we try to find our own experience in the stories we read. I know no one like Imogen. Or like Jule, for that matter. Are they out there? At Vassar or Stanford—the schools the two girls drop out of? It doesn’t bother me that I don’t know these girls. It makes me wonder about them all the more.

On Imogen’s dollar, the girls live in a posh flat in St. John’s Wood, London, then a sprawling house that Imogen purchases on Martha’s Vineyard. When they want to ditch Imogen’s boyfriend, Forrest, they jet to Culebra, a Puerto Rican island. On Imogen’s dollar they wear expensive dresses and sports wear. Jule is penniless. Class status is a feature of the story.

There are other friends, but Jule doesn’t want them around. She wants the irresistible Imogen to herself. Does Imogen prefer Jule to her boyfriend Forrest or is that just what Jule wants? It’s hard to know.

Jule begins calling herself Imogen, stays at five star hotels on Mexico’s coast, then she’s in San Francisco, then hiking in the wilderness. The settings are fabulous and the adventures are enviable—to a point. Jule’s mysterious past is revealed little by little. She’s fabulously agile, strong, able—she can fight. She imagines herself an action hero. Insecure, but proud of her athleticism, she can take care of herself.

            Jule is an unreliable narrator. Do you like her? And who is this Imogen? Part way through you’re pretty sure that you know how it’s going to turn out, or something about how it’s going to turn out, but how will we get there? I turned the pages at a rate, in spite of the violence, which I normally shy from.

Lockart’s book has been likened to Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley and the author acknowledges the influence of that story in her endnotes. Some readers even consider Lockhart’s story a rip-off. Even if she used one book as a model, I’m in awe of her

plotting and pacing. This is Lockhart’s story.

For me “Genuine Fraud” is not as successful as Lockhart’s “We Were Liars,” but few books are. “Liars” kept me spellbound and its end shocked me. For the record, Lockhart also writes picture books under the name Emily Jenkins. And those are pretty marvelous—and at times controversial.



Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker   talesforallages.com

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“Forest World” by Margarita Engle

Cuban-American poet, Margarita Engle, tells the story of a pre-teen sister and brother, reunited in Cuba in “Forest World” (Atheneum 2017).

When the siblings were quite young, their mother fled Cuba to America by raft with her infant son Edver, leaving behind Luza with her father in their Cuban rainforest home. Now she’s sent Edver to Cuba to meet relatives he doesn’t know. He didn’t even know he had a sister. Luza, a year older remembers the dramatic exodus and has suffered, wondering why her mother deserted her.

Luza, with her father and grandfather, protect a patch of endangered rainforest against poachers and destroyers. Her spoiled American brother, without his customary internet hookup is bereft. Here is an eco-adventure with a juxtaposition of technologies and cultures along with the reuniting of a family divided by 90 miles of ocean and laws that have kept them apart.

Luza’s voice is Latina and lyrical. She has a familiar Cuban need to make art. Having visited Cuba three years ago, I observed this in the people and so much more about the culture which is clarified in Engle’s book. Luza makes sculptures “ . . . shapes molded from mud, trash, junk,/ all sorts of wasteful ugliness turning beautiful/ simply by contact with creative human hands,/ my fingers and palms hungry for meaning,/especially when this ordinary world makes no sense.”

Edver, like his scientist mother, thinks like a scientist. He’s smitten with wonderfully gross oddities in nature. “The wasp injects poison into a roach’s brain,/ turning the bigger insect into a zombie,/ that can be ridden like a horse/ using the antennae as reins,/ until they reach the wasp’s nest,/ where guess what, the obedient roach/ is slowly, grossly/ eaten by squirming/ larvae.” The siblings’ love of nature will draw them together, in spite of their vastly different cultures and economic status.

Edver has strict orders from Mom not to show off, eat too much, or compare American grocery stores to the meager rations that Cubans are allowed.

Luza speaks of Cuban resourcefulness—“Vanishing Wilderness?/ Appoint yourself guardian of a forest, patrol/ on your horse, carve a rifle from wood,/ frighten poachers into thinking/ you have bullets.” Or “ . . .no soap? Trade part of your rice rations with a neighbor who receives gifts from Miami.” Or “Not enough food? Grow bananas and avocados on the sidewalk.”

Luza explains “convergent evolution.” “Octopus eyes and human ones, separately developed, yet eventually/ becoming similar.” She continues, “Is that how Edver and I ended up/ so much alike/ yet also completely different?”

Edver remarks, “Time/ is so much slower/ here.” And as time goes on, he is influenced by the lyricism of Cuban culture and rainforest. “. . . so many green parrots wildly clacking from the feathery fronds of a towering palm tree!”

Oh yeah, and the siblings set into motion an eco-disaster, in their attempt to draw their mother to the island. And now they must solve the crisis or more species and habitat will vanish.

Read this insightful verse novel by this year’s Young People’s Poet Laureate.


Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker   talesforallages.com

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“If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo

Eighteen-year-old Amanda moves away from Georgia where she’s been living with her mother, to Lambertville, Tennessee to live with her father. She needs a new start. Why? In Georgia, having been born a boy, she was Andrew, called “faggot” and had repeatedly been beaten up. Life was unbearable. And dangerous.

At her old school, when she was transitioning to being a girl, a stranger tells Amanda that she doesn;t deserve a black eye, assuming she’d gotten it from her boyfriend. Amanda tells us, “What I deserved and what I could expect in life were two different things.”

But now that Amanda has had psychological and hormone therapy, is fully transitioned, she’d love a normal life—or as normal as possible. Her alcoholic father is not altogether comfortable with his son-turned-daughter, but Amanda is his only child and she deserves a chance in “If I Was Your Girl” (Flat Iron 2016). Author Meredith Russo, a trans woman tells the story that is inspired by her life.

Amanda is tall and slim and very pretty. Both Grant and Parker, on the football team at the new school, are attracted to her. Parker is clearly a pig, but Grant is a lovely guy with a lot of his own secrets. Timid Amanda is acting very boldly. You’re terrified for her. Amanda knows she should lie low, get her high school diploma then move to New York City where she might be accepted, but Grant is so lovely—“open and honest and kind.” Amanda has never been touched this way before and it’s so wonderful to feel a degree of normalcy.

The “popular” girls at school befriend Amanda, as does an outsider bi-girl, Bea, who happens to have had a secret fling with one of the popular girls. Another of the “popular” girls is from a fundamentalist Baptist family. This all plays into the complicated plot. As a reader, you live in fear as to when and how Amanda’s secret will be discovered—because you know it will. She’s so lovely. At one point she says “I wondered if joy could ever be felt by itself without being tainted with fear and confusion.”

I had found the book insightful—about loneliness and fitting in—when I’d read it last year, but I didn’t remember it well enough to review it. So I listened to it. You know how when you listen to a book you have to first appreciate the reader and some times you’ll tolerate a reader who is not quite doing it for you. But listening to Samia Mounts read this book (Macmillan Audio)—wow! Fabulous. There are no bio notes about Samia on the CD cover. When I look on line I find she’s an actor/singer/writer/podcast creator—and I’m a fan already.

This is a brave and important book. Read it. Or listen to it.


Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. talesforallages.com


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“Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers” by Deborah Heiligman

People—maybe young adults in particular—are inherently fascinated with relationship. Which makes Deborah Heiligman’s choice of subject so compelling even before you start reading “Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers” (Holt 2017).

The Van Gogh brothers from the Netherlands come from a strong family, where the parents coddle their children in a way that looks familiar in middle class society nowadays. The senior Van Goghs are proud of their younger son Theo who has become a successful art dealer. They look askance at Vincent who first is an atheist, then an evangelical preacher, then vagabond, in search of a life path.

Theo financially and emotionally supports his older brother, then champions him as a late blooming artist. The brothers left 658 letters behind, showing their profound love, their fights, their reconciliations—their paths together and apart. Vincent is particularly eloquent. Once he starts making art, he says, “I keep on making what I can’t do yet in order to learn to be able to do it.”

Heiligman uses elements of art as metaphors for the relationship. She writes, “Sometimes in a painting, negative space is intentional; sometimes it is an accident of composition. Empty space can create a meaningful image, or it can just be empty . . .” when she describes Vincent’s “darkness and despair”—his longing for his younger brother Theo.

We know more about Vincent as a child than Theo, for whom we only have a rare glimpse. Heiligman creates these glimpses, then likens each to a “croquis”—or a quick sketch in the making of a larger piece—a study of the arm throwing a ball, another for the hand grasping a fishing pole. These studies are used to build the full picture. Theo is the good boy, the middle child to Vincent’s tumultuous behavior as a bad boy. Maybe Theo’s eventual depression started in his childhood. Maybe he shouldn’t have been ignored.

Vincent has a particularly difficult time with perspective in his drawings. He uses a perspective frame, crisscrossed with strings to view a scene of field and windmill in order to observe the size and placement of people, windmills, clouds. “The view depends on the perspective.” How does Vincent’s life look from Theo’s perspective?

Theo works in an art gallery, selling conventional art to wealthy individuals. Vincent is still developing his art which is not only unconventional but not ready to be sold. But Theo knows that Vincent is working toward greatness.

It is difficult for Theo to live with Vincent in Paris, but “Vincent brings to Theo social and intellectual stimulation—and that family connection . . . For Vincent, living with Theo is necessary.”

The small color reproductions and the larger black and white drawings help the reader understand this eloquent story. I’m not sure why it is marketed as young adult. Every artist, art enthusiast, every person interested in relationship should read it. Is that everyone?


Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. talesforallages.com


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“The Bitter Side of Sweet” by Tara Sullivan

Ever wonder where your chocolate comes from? Cocoa, Hersey bars, brownie mix—you name it—chocolate. I wasn’t sure why I was buying “fair trade” chocolate. That changed when I read Tara Sullivan’s young adult novel “The Bitter Side of Sweet” (Putnam 2017).

Fifteen-year-old Amadou chops cacao pods alongside his eight-year-old brother, Seydou, in Ivory Coast. The two are from Mali, where boys leave home, due to severe drought, and work elsewhere, to send money home to their families. But these boys have been kidnapped and forced to work alongside other slave boys, being told that they can earn back the price of their keep and be freed. However, they’ve been working there two years already, and no freedom is in sight.

The boys are beaten if they don’t make their daily quota, and they frequently don’t, because Amadou is chopping for himself and his little brother all the while working to protect his little brother from getting injured from swinging machetes. Amadou takes Seydou’s beatings, so he’s kind of a mess. He obsessively counts his pods to make quota and to forget the pain. Counting. Counting.

Then a girl around Amadou’s age, Khadija, arrives—the first girl the boys have seen in two years. The “wildcat” attempts escape over and over. She tricks Seydou into untying her. She runs, is apprehended and Amadou takes Seydou’s punishment. Amadou and Khadija are locked in the herbicide shed after being beaten.

So Amadou is not out in the forest chopping and protecting Seydou. The first day Seydou is successful in making quota, but the second day on his own, a terrible accident occurs. In the meantime Khadija has been raped by the managers who aren’t terribly much older than Amadou. The word “rape” is never used, so the younger reader might be protected from that particular violence, but a savvier reader will understand what happened.

The managers, particularly Moussa, might be sympathetic. We can’t quite tell. It turns out he’s in a hard position, too, trying to make his farm quota, and he seems to have bought into the desperate system. Eventually, Amadou uses the herbicide in an act of heroism, and we follow the escape or Khadija, Amadou, and the severely injured Seydou.

Along the way you learn the cacao trade, how the boys husk the seeds, ferment them, wait for the middlemen to drive in to haul them to the towns where they’re further processed. These trucks might be a route out of slavery. Or maybe not.

It happens that Khadija’s mother, a journalist, had been writing an article about the corrupt chocolate trade. Khadija had been kidnapped in order to silence her mother.

Khadija’s mother might be able to save Khadija from the corrupt cacao lords, but can she do anything for the two Malian boys? There are waves of tension due to loyalties and class distinctions among the well-drawn and realistic protagonists. So interesting!



Patricia Hruby Powell is author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker   talesforallages.com


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“Exit, Pursued by a Bear” by E.K. Johnston

In “Exit Pursued by a Bear” (Dutton 2016) by E.K. Johnston, high school senior Hermione Winters is captain of the cheerleading squad. Polly, her best friend, is co-captain and the friend that everyone on earth needs. The championship cheerleading squad is the gem of the town—more so than the teams for whom it cheers. That’s cool.

Senior year should be Hermione’s best year to date, but at the end of summer cheer camp, at the dance party, an unknown boy drugs her punch and rapes her at lakeside. Hermione is left unconscious, half in the water, with no memory of what happened. But once in the hospital she knows it’s awful—whatever it was, and she can guess. But who did it?

The author breaks that arch writing-rule that states: heap problems on your protagonist. Hermione is a confident, witty, talented, intelligent force at school. Polly is a miracle of a best friend. Her parents and her pastor are supportive. Everything is great, except—Hermione was raped. (Well, her boyfriend, Leo, is a douchebag). But all this good happening for and by Hermione lets us focus on one issue—rape—and how Hermione refuses to be a victim.

Hermione will not let this tragic event make her hide away and request home schooling or put up emotional walls—in spite of the fact that she has plenty of reason to do so.

She doesn’t care for the way people are treating her—as if she’s broken—or how they’re looking at her at the grocery store. She says to her pastor that she has a presumptuous favor to ask: “Please don’t ask people to pray for me.” She doesn’t want to be known as the girl-who-was-raped.

When Leo, her jealous boyfriend—actually, ex-boyfriend—suggests maybe Hermione was flirting and deserved what she got, she lays into him, saying, “If you think I’m going to apologize for being drugged and raped, you have another thing coming.”

Polly’s betters that. She says, “So let me get this straight . . . You’re okay with asking a girl who was wearing a pretty dress and had nice hair, who went to the dance with her cabin mates, who drank from the same punch bowl as everyone else—you’re okay with asking that girl what mistake she made, and you wouldn’t think to ask the boy how he would avoid raping someone?”

There are more twists and turns to the story, but those would spoil your reading of the book.

Every girl who has ever been sexually assaulted or known someone who has, should read this book. So should every boy who has ever raped or known one who has. Every reader might try to be a friend like Polly. E.K. Johnston writes so well, showing a dark reality highlighted by compassion. And it’s a fast read at only 242 pages.


Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia (2017) and Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (2014). talesforallages.com


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