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29: A Novel [NOOK Book]


What if you closed your eyes, blew out the candles, and your wish came true?

Ellie Jerome is a young-at-heart seventy-five-year-old who feels she has more in common with her twenty-nine-year-old granddaughter, Lucy, than her fifty-five-year-old daughter, Barbara. Ellie’s done everything she can to stay young, and the last thing she wants is to celebrate another birthday. So when she finds herself confronted with a cake full of candles, Ellie ...
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29: A Novel

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What if you closed your eyes, blew out the candles, and your wish came true?

Ellie Jerome is a young-at-heart seventy-five-year-old who feels she has more in common with her twenty-nine-year-old granddaughter, Lucy, than her fifty-five-year-old daughter, Barbara. Ellie’s done everything she can to stay young, and the last thing she wants is to celebrate another birthday. So when she finds herself confronted with a cake full of candles, Ellie wishes more than anything that she could be twenty-nine again, just for one day. But who expects a wish like that to come true?


29 is the story of three generations of women and how one magical day shakes up everything they know about each other. While Ellie finds that the life of a twenty-something is not as carefree as she expected, the sheer joy of being young again prompts her to consider living her life all over. Does she dare stay young for more than this day, even if it means leaving everyone she loves behind?

Fresh, funny, and delightful, 29 is an enchanting adventure about families, love, and the real lessons of youth.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The proverbial search for youth's fountain manifests itself in Ellie Jerome, a 75-year-old woman who has employed every available artifice to remain young. Identifying more with her stylish young granddaughter, Lucy, than with her abrasive middle-aged daughter, Barbara, Ellie's 75th birthday wish is to be 29 again, for just one day. When her wish comes true, hilarious problems arise, as the young Ellie must create a new persona in order to enter and leave her apartment in a neighborhood where everyone knows the old Ellie. Choosing to let Lucy in on her secret, Ellie persuades her to be her guide on a youthful adventure in pursuit of stylish looks and a trendy life. While the dynamic duo romp through Ellie's magical day, Ellie's daughter and her dearest friend, Frida, a 75-year-old worry wart, having decided that Ellie was kidnapped, embark upon their own misguided adventure before the old (now wiser) Ellie returns at the end of her big day. With this rollicking, if familiar, offering, Halpern (whose earlier novel, The Ten Best Days of My Life, is being adapted into a film) sets out to prove that you're only young twice. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
From Halpern (The Ten Best Days of My Life, 2008, etc.), the story of a wealthy Philadelphia widow nostalgic for her youth who finds her wish granted after her 75th birthday. Elegant, independent and devoted to her family, Ellie Jerome has much to be thankful for in her life. Still, she cannot shake the nagging feeling that she missed out on something by marrying so young. Her husband Howard was a prominent lawyer who kept his emotions-and his infidelities-under wraps. Also, by living a few blocks away from her adored 25-year-old granddaughter, Lucy, Ellie is curious and a bit envious of the seemingly boundless opportunities modern young women enjoy. So when she wakes up the day after her birthday to find herself in her supple 29-year-old body, she takes it as a sign to do everything that she has long denied herself. She then sets off for a day of adventure with Lucy, who takes very little convincing that the strange lady in her grandmother's apartment is indeed her grandmother. Knowing that her daughter Barbara and best friend Frida would be harder sells (and killjoys), she ignores their increasingly alarmed phone messages and passes herself off as Lucy's cousin. She gets a cool haircut, buys a sexy dress and helps Lucy land a big sale for her fashion designs. She also meets a cute guy, Zachary, who asks her out for the evening. She agrees, thrilled, not really sure what the boys these days expect on a first date. Meanwhile, timid Frida and bossy Barbara experience a series of misfortunes while combing the streets in search of Ellie. That gives the two a chance to bond as well, and come to terms with their own regrets. Of course, Ellie cannot hide out for long, and all good things must end, even if they inconveniently end in a young man's bed. A breezy, unremarkable comic romp with a comforting message of self-acceptance, offering a few poignant moments that underscore how far women have come in the past 50 years. Agent: Brian DeFiore/DeFiore and Company
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439171134
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 6/15/2010
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 384,267
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Adena Halpern
Adena Halpern is the author of the novels 29 and THE TEN BEST DAYS OF MY LIFE and TARGET UNDERWEAR AND A VERA WANG GOWN- NOTES FROM A SINGLE GIRL'S CLOSET, a memoir which was based on her popular "Haute Life" essays for the back page of Marie Claire magazine. In addition to Marie Claire, Adena has written for Daily Variety and The New York Times. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in dramatic writing from New York University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in screenwriting from The American Film Institute. A proud Philadelphia native, she resides in Los Angeles with her husband, television and screenwriter Jonathan Goldstein.
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Read an Excerpt


I’m jealous of my granddaughter.

I would never, ever tell anyone that.

Everyone says the older you get, the wiser you get. I don’t feel wise at all.

I’m supposed to feel so blessed to be seventy-five years old. Hell, I tell people that myself, but that’s mostly to make myself feel better. I tell people that the best part of being older is the wisdom that comes with it. Truthfully, that’s bullshit. What else can you say, though, unless you want to completely depress people? Let them find out for themselves when they get here. If someone had told me how much I would truly hate being seventy-five, I would have been out of here a long time ago. Not killed myself. Oh, no, God forbid. I just would have moved to a deserted island and spent the rest of my days away from the harsh reality of a mirror.

So at seventy-five, if I’ve got all this wisdom, why can’t I cure cancer? If I’m so smart, why don’t people trust me to swoop in and save the world from utter destruction? Let my seventy-five-year-old girlfriends and me attend United Nations sessions so we can let them know how to make this world a better place. Since we’re so smart, let us give our opinions. No one ever asks. You know why? No one else really believes we’re so wise. If they did, maybe they’d listen to us more.

I hate being seventy-five. I really do. And I did not want this birthday party tonight, but my daughter, Barbara, insisted on it. Barbara can be a royal pain in the ass sometimes.

After reading what I’ve said so far you probably think that I’m one of those mean, cranky old ladies who complains about drafts that aren’t there, or returns one peach to the supermarket if it’s a little bruised, or steals Sweet’N Low packets from coffee shops. I’m not. I don’t even like Sweet’N Low. My granddaughter always says, “My grandmother is cool.” I think I am cool. I keep up-to-date on things—what’s happening in the news, reality shows (though I hate them)—and I always try to dress fashionably.


I am so goddamned old.

(And by the way, I rarely curse. That’s just the best way I can find to express myself right now.)

My girlfriends and I keep telling one another that age is just a number.

“I don’t feel seventy-five,” my lifelong dearest friend, Frida, says.

“I don’t, either,” I lie, knowing she’s lying, too. Frida looks and acts more like she’s eighty-five, but far be it from me to ever say that.

“My mother is a young seventy-five,” my daughter tells people in front of me. I hate when she does that. Why does she have to do that?

“I do it because you look so good, and I want to brag,” Barbara says. Let me say, it’s fine if I admit my age, but not when my daughter does. It’s no one’s business.

“My daughter is fifty-five,” I tell them, smiling.

“What did you do that for?” Barbara will ask when we’re out of hearing range of the person we’ve just inundated with unasked-for age information.

“What?” I ask defensively. “You look good, too!” I tell her, trying to act stupid. My daughter would never accuse me of throwing it back in her face. She doesn’t think I’m smart enough to do that.

Truthfully, the thing that’s pissing me off right now is that if I really stop and reflect, I’ve still got about twenty years max to stew about all the things I really should have done with my life. That makes me sad. Angry and sad.

First things first: I would never have sat in the sun for all those years. In those days, though, no one knew the damage it could do. I guess that’s the wisdom I’ve gained from getting older. Thanks. When I think of the years I sat by the pool bathed in oil without any protection . . . We didn’t have sunblock then. We were supposed to sit in the sun back then; it was good for us. We let our children play in the sun all day because they told us we should. If they burned, we put cold washcloths on them. They didn’t have skin cancer back then; at least I never heard of anyone getting it. Now it’s one of the main topics I discuss with my girlfriends. One of us sees a dark spot on our arm and it’s an all-day episode of House until the doctor tells us it’s nothing. Sadly, it wasn’t nothing for poor Harriet Langarten. That’s why we’re all so scared. I’ve become that old lady on the street who walks around with an umbrella on a sunny day. Through the years I’ve tried every cream on the market to get rid of sunspots and wrinkles. I’ve had chemical peels and let doctors scrape my face in the hope of undoing the damage I did trying to look tanned and sexy for a cocktail party in 1972.

Second, I wish I had exercised more. We didn’t work out when we were younger. We played tennis or golf, but mostly we played bridge at the country club while our husbands golfed. And since most of them are dead, they obviously didn’t get enough exercise, either. I joined a gym with Frida a couple of years ago, but we were the oldest people there by thirty years so I gave it up and bought a treadmill. I walked so many miles on that thing I could have walked to China and back by now. Even though I tell people I feel so much better since I started exercising, it’s a lie. My feet hurt, my joints hurt, my boobs hurt. They say that beauty must suffer. I feel I’ve suffered enough, so I rarely get on that thing anymore.

So I went the plastic-surgery route. I’ve used Botox and Restylane, had one face-lift (talk about PAIN) and a brow lift (waste of money and pain), and electrolysis to make me look younger. I can’t say that I look all bad, but I definitely don’t look fifty, like the doctor told me I would. Quack.

Aside from taking care of my looks more, if I could go back and do it all again, there are a couple of major things I would have done differently.

First, I would have gotten a better education.

In my day, the 1950s to be exact, it wasn’t important for a woman to get an education. I know that sounds crazy, but it couldn’t be more true. Your parents (at least my parents, and all my girlfriends’ parents) discouraged higher education. “You need a good husband,” my mother said to me when I told her I wanted to be an English literature major at the University of Pennsylvania. She handed me the application to secretarial school and drove me there on my first day with a sack lunch consisting of two hard-boiled eggs, some crackers, and a nickel for the milk machine. So I learned how to type. I figured I’d read the classics on my own, plotting as if it was devious and underhanded to sneak James Joyce and Dylan Thomas into my home to read when no one was around. Sadly, though, I never did. Who had the time?

Instead, I met my husband.

That’s the second thing I would have done differently. I never would have married my husband.

Again, please don’t tell anyone I ever said that.

It’s not that I didn’t love my husband; I did love him. I loved him very much. He was a fine man. If I really had to be honest, though, really, really honest, I’d have to say I do not think he was the man for me.

Howard Jerome was a prominent Philadelphia lawyer. I met him when he was a young attorney just starting out and I was one of the secretaries at the firm. He wasn’t the most handsome attorney at the law office, but he was the one who wanted me. Howard was short, bald, and fat, even back then. I was actually smitten with another lawyer there, Burt Elliot, but he had eyes for a different secretary and married her.

“You’ll marry Howard,” my mother said after our second date. “He’s safe.”

So I did.

“Thank God,” my mother said. “I was afraid you were becoming an old maid.”

I was nineteen years old. Nineteen!

Howard was ten years older than I was. We met in September and married in June. That was what we did back then. It was time to get married, so we did. I moved from my parents’ house to my husband’s house, and I never knew what it was like to live on my own. Once—once—before Barbara was born, Howard went on a business trip for two days. That was the extent of my living on my own when I was younger. I smoked a half a pack of cigarettes—the last time I ever smoked—and went to a movie by myself. (And I hope you don’t smoke, by the way; it’s bad for you. I lost a lot of friends along the way because of it.) That was the craziest I ever got. How I would love to get really crazy, just once.

Barbara also followed my route. She married young—her husband, Larry, is a dentist—and had Lucy. I told her to get a job and wait. But did she listen to me? No. I should have insisted she get an occupation as stubbornly as my mother insisted I shouldn’t. I regret I didn’t show her that working was important, not just for money’s sake, but to do something for yourself. I loved having my daughter, don’t get me wrong, but I wish I had done other things first. By the time I was twenty-five, I had a child and a house in the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia.

Two years ago, Howard dropped dead while eating a corned-beef sandwich at the Nate n’ Al deli in Los Angeles. It was completely out of the blue. He’d had some heart issues—a bypass here, a bypass there—but no one thought this would ever happen. Heart surgery is so common among my age group that you start to treat it like it’s just another thing you have to do. (“How about dinner Saturday night?” I’d ask a friend. “Oh, Alan is having a bypass on Friday. How about the following Saturday?” she’d reply. Same thing with the prostate operations.)

Anyway, it was the most horrible thing that’s ever happened to me. We were in Los Angeles for my friend Thelma Punchick’s daughter’s second wedding, to an architect. One second we were sitting there having a conversation about whether to go to the Getty Museum or the LACMA, and the next he’s keeled over in his coleslaw. I said: “Howard?”

He didn’t answer, so I said it louder: “Howard?”

Again, he said nothing.

I knew he was dead, with his face on the table like that, but I was so shaken-up that I thought for a second that maybe he really liked the coleslaw. It was very good coleslaw. I don’t know where my mind was. The third time I screamed really loudly: “HOWARD!”

That’s when the whole restaurant went silent and I jumped up out of my seat. Two nice-looking men in their thirties were sitting at the next table. I had noticed them earlier, how handsome they were in their T-shirts and khaki pants, and I wondered if they were in the movies. It was lovely how quickly they reacted. One of the men propped Howard up and laid him down in the booth (thank goodness Howard insisted on a booth or he would have been on the filthy dirty floor at this point) and the other gentleman called the paramedics. The waitress held on to me like she was my sister, and I buried my face in her chest. I should have written her a thank-you note, or at least given her a good tip. Anyway, by the time the paramedics came, poor Howard was already gone, and I had to make plans to get him back to Philadelphia. I don’t even want to tell you what goes into transferring a body. Howard was in a casket down in the cargo hold, and I had my purse on the seat where he should have been sitting. I sort of wondered if maybe I shouldn’t have put my purse there, you know, as kind of a memorial for Howard, but I kept crying and needed my bag handy for my tissues.

The reason I was crying, aside from the fact that my husband had just died and I did love him even though I probably never should have married him, was that Howard always handled everything. I allowed Howard to handle everything, like my mother taught me I should. I was a woman of leisure, while he worried about all the behind-the-scenes stuff. How was I going to get along without him? That was the first time I really started to regret the way I’d lived my life, and every time I thought about it the tears kept coming. Thank God for Barbara. Thank God Barbara knew to call a funeral home to get the body transferred back to Philadelphia. Even though I’d never tell her (Barbara is the type of person who would take a compliment like that and use it as a weapon later), thank God Barbara is there when I need her.

I do miss Howard a lot, more than I thought I would (again, mum’s the word). We were married for more than fifty years. I married a man whom I had nothing in common with, but in those days you had to find someone and start a life. And we did build a life. It wasn’t perfect, but what is? Was he the love of my life? No. Who was the love of my life? Sadly, it’s too late for me to ever find out. Barbara thinks I should date, but who am I going to date? Hershel Neal has had a thing for me since I moved into this building. He’s always asking me to come up to his place to listen to his Chopin records, but I just shoo him away. I should find some other old man with health problems and let him drop dead in front of me again? No, thanks.

Howard worked hard. He played hard, too, though he didn’t think I knew it. Howard had affairs through the years. Did he think I was too stupid not to smell the perfume on his shirt? Did he really think I believed him when he told me he had to work late on Friday nights?

I thought about leaving him when Barbara was little. I thought about just packing up one night and taking Barbara someplace where no one would know us. I fantasized about that a lot when Barbara was young and Howard was having his affairs. It just wasn’t something you did back then—leave your husband.

You know what you did? You kept your mouth shut.

Believe it or not, it was almost accepted for a man to have an affair, but oh, no, never a woman. I remember saying to my mother: “He’s got a girl on the side.”

She shrugged her shoulders and said, “He works hard and he provides for you. Subject closed.” And it was. In those days, you listened to your mother and respected her opinion. Not like now—yes, I’m talking to you, Barbara.

After all, was my life so horrible? No, it was not. Howard never put me on a budget, never once. I had all the money I could ever hope to spend. My child was well provided for. We took trips, wonderful trips, all over the world. I’ve seen everything from the Eiffel Tower to the Great Wall of China. With all the jewelry Howard bought me over the years I could cover myself in diamonds from head to toe. Barbara never wanted for anything. She went to the best schools, and in summer she went to camp and then to the Jersey Shore. In those respects, Howard was a wonderful husband and father. If I had left him, what would have been the alternative? That would have been the stupidest thing I ever did. It wasn’t the time to do that. Today, it’s different; a woman can make a lot of money and be on her own. In those days, do you know that you couldn’t even get a credit card unless your husband opened the account for you? It’s true! Your husband was the one who had to fill out the credit card application, and even then, when you got the card, it never said your first name. All of my credit cards read mrs. howard jerome.

So I kept my mouth shut.

Even now, two years after Howard died, I never have to worry about money. I’ve got all that I need. Howard made sure I would always be taken care of, and I will always be grateful to him for that.

Still, what I wouldn’t have given for a little romance myself in those times.

If there’s any wisdom I’ve gained from reaching seventy-five, sadly, that’s it.

Sex with Howard was fine. At least I think it was fine; I never knew it with anyone else. Howard was the only man I ever had sex with in my entire life. We never had crazy sex—just plain old Howard-on-top or me-on-top sex, three times a week, sometimes four if Howard felt like it, never me. I was never much for sex. I wonder, if I had ever been with anyone else would I have liked it more? Believe me, I was a pretty woman back then, with a cute figure. I could have gotten a lot of men in my time if that was my thing. How wonderful it would have been to have someone in my life who wrote me love letters. Howard never wrote anything. His secretary even signed his name on my birthday cards. How marvelous it would have been to just have that thrill of someone else finding me attractive.

You know, it did almost happen once. I’m not saying I would have actually gone and had the affair, but once at a benefit for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Russell Minden took me aside and told me he thought I was one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen. He asked to take me to lunch. This was 1962, and I got scared out of my mind. I was sure that everyone at the benefit could hear my conversation with Russell. So I just laughed demurely, and then regretted not doing anything about it for the rest of my life. Russell died a few years back (the C-word, pancreas). I saw the obit in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I sent a donation to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in his memory, to thank him in my own way. I hadn’t seen him for about twenty years, but I never forgot how beautiful he made me feel that night.

That’s another thing I’m angry about. I never knew how attractive I was. When I look at pictures of myself back then, God I was beautiful. Everyone always said so, but I never believed it myself. I wish I had taken more advantage of my looks. In those days I looked good for Howard. I did my hair and ate right for fat-bald-run-around-with-other-women-behind-my-back Howard. If I bought a new dress or a new perfume, it was for Howard to compliment. I should have been doing it for me. I only wish I had taken the time to feel good about myself.

So in a nutshell, take all that—no education, sex with one man, not knowing that the sun was bad for me, and not realizing how gorgeous I was—and that’s why I’m jealous of my granddaughter, Lucy. She’s got her whole life ahead of her, and she lives in the perfect time in history. That’s what I was thinking through my whole seventy-fifth birthday party: I was born at the wrong time. I wish I was Lucy.

You should have seen my Lucy sitting there at the party. She’s got this mini e-mail contraption that she was using to talk to her friends the whole night about where they were going to go after she left my birthday celebration. “Texting,” was what Barbara kept saying, as in, “Lucy, it’s Gram’s birthday. Can you stop texting for two seconds to toast your grandmother?” I winked at Lucy. It was okay with me.

All I wanted to know was who she was talking to and where she was going.

And the way she was dressed! Barbara kept saying all night, “She looks like a streetwalker.” She had on a tiny minidress with platform heels and a jean jacket over it. I thought she looked like a movie star, and I wished I could wear something like that. Lucy has such a figure! She is so trim, not like her mother. Barbara takes after Howard’s side of the family, with their big hips and ample bosoms. Barbara is constantly on a diet. (Ha! I think she cheats more than she diets.) Lucy and I don’t diet. Sure, I watch my figure, but because of my metabolism I can afford to cheat, and so can Lucy. Sometimes Lucy and I have ice cream for dinner. Just last week we got a big tub of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and went hog wild. Lucy looks like I did when I was her age. I always had great legs, and a great tush like Lucy’s. Everyone said so. I don’t know what happened—my body just . . . sagged. It looks like . . . oh, you know when you put too much paint on a wall and it starts to drip down? That’s what my body looks like. I’m thin, but saggy. But, oh, did I have a great behind! God I miss my cute rear end. I lost my tush somewhere between my forties and my sixties and I’m still looking for it. (And by the way, if you’re reading this and you’re much younger than I am, I have one word for you: moisturize. You’ll still sag like a wet washcloth at seventy-five, but at least you’ll look better than your girlfriends at the same age. At least I do. Oy, if you could only see Frida.)

Anyway, Lucy and I are very close. She only lives about four blocks from me in the city. I’m so happy we live close to each other. After Howard passed on, I had no desire to stay in that big house in the suburbs anymore. A few months after he died, I noticed that the water heater was leaking—just a little puddle, nothing dramatic. The water heater was located in the basement, just a few feet away from the washing machine. I only noticed the leak when I went to grab a new box of detergent. I always bought extra boxes of detergent and kept them right beside the heater. That’s when I noticed the leak. I remember thinking to myself how funny it was that I never noticed that water leaked from the heater. I didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to leak. (Gladys, our dear housekeeper who died last year, was the one who always did the laundry.)

So when I went to take a bath a week later, there was no hot water. They had been doing some construction on Mrs. Lewis’s house next door and I figured that had something to do with it. What can I say? It all seemed logical at the time. Later that day I went downstairs to throw some towels in the washing machine and the whole basement was flooded. Because I had those extra boxes of detergent by the water heater, there were soapsuds everywhere. Everywhere! It looked like a Turkish bath!

I was in such panic that I called Barbara, who came right over. When she saw the mess, she berated me for not having the sense to call a plumber. (Okay, berated is a harsh word, but she treated me like a child. So shoot me. I didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to leak.)

Anyway, that was it for me. I got a new hot water heater and put the house on the market the same day. I moved into a lovely apartment on Rittenhouse Square and I sold my car (word to the wise: when that “service” light that comes up on your dashboard, it is not there for decoration); and I’m so much happier as a result. My days are spent playing bridge or going to concerts at the Kimmel Center. At night I go out to restaurants with my friend Frida or other girlfriends who’ve lost their husbands. I bought in the same building where Frida lives and so we’re always in each other’s apartments. It’s fun actually, and it’s good that we can check on each other. My apartment faces Rittenhouse Square Park and nothing makes me happier than to go down there on a nice day and sit on a bench under a tree and read the newspaper.

Barbara didn’t want me to move into the city. “It’s too far from me,” she said at the time. “Why don’t you get something in the suburbs?” I’ll tell you, I’m even happier that Barbara still lives in the suburbs. Barbara and I are close, too, but not in the way that Lucy and I are close. Lucy and I understand each other better. Barbara and I could never have that kind of closeness. Honestly, I don’t think that’s entirely my fault.

When Barbara and I talk, it sounds like an argument, but it’s really a conversation. With Lucy, it’s a plain old conversation. My daughter keeps tabs on me like I used to keep tabs on her when she was a teenager. I tell her, “For Christ’s sake, Barbara, I’m a grown woman, and I can take care of myself!” She doesn’t listen, though.

“Who is going to look after you if I don’t?” she asks me.

“I can take care of myself,” I tell her, even though I’m not quite sure that’s true.

Lucy comes over about twice a week, sometimes more. She doesn’t have laundry facilities in her apartment so she does it here. Those nights I’ll make us a brisket and we’ll eat and watch her reality shows while she does her laundry. Sometimes we’ll leave the laundry and go to one of the quaint BYOs in the neighborhood. Lucy tells me all about her love life and her job designing clothing, and I listen. I listen to all her gripes about the boy of the week she thinks she’s in love with. At twenty-five, Lucy has yet to have a serious boyfriend, and I’m so happy she hasn’t. She has mentioned this boy Johnny lately, but I don’t think there’s anything serious to that. Who could take a person seriously when his name is Johnny, and not John or Jonathan? Barbara begs her to meet someone and settle down already, but I always pipe up and tell her she’s got a lot of years ahead of her for that. I listen to her stories about work and who she’s met and who she sold her clothing to and how much they bought. I love every minute of it. I always wanted to work with clothes like Lucy does. I used to know the inventory of Saks Fifth Avenue better than some of the women who worked there. My mother’s best friend, Hester Abromowitz, worked there until she died. Hester outlived my mother and her friends by twenty-five years, and she always said it was because she worked. I loved Hester very much and think of her often. Before Hester’s funeral, her daughter Diane, who was much younger than me, asked if I would say a few words about Hester, so I spoke about her time at Saks, since that was where I saw her most. I talked about how she took such great care of her clients, most of whom were at the funeral, and about her great style. People always said I had great style, and I thought so, too, and always attributed it to Hester. Over the years I thought about taking a job sometimes, but I had Howard and Barbara to look after, and even though we had full-time help—Gladys—I still had my role. Also, in my time, you were looked down on if you had a job. I brought it up to Howard a few times over the years, and he laughed.

“What are we, poor?” he’d say and smirk.

A lot of times, Lucy will go out after she visits me. She’ll go to meet her friends in a bar in the neighborhood, and I can hardly keep myself from telling her I want to go with her. Sometimes I joke to her that I’m coming along, and she eggs me on, saying, “You’d be the coolest woman there! Let’s get you dressed!” Once, just once, I’d love to go with her and see what her nights are all about.

Lucy is also much smarter than Barbara gives her credit for. Barbara wanted Lucy to go to law school, like Howard, but I know that’s not my Lucy. Lucy went to the Parsons School of Design in New York City to learn how to design clothes. She worked for Donna Karan herself for two years as her personal assistant, and then she moved back to Philadelphia last year to pursue designing clothing on her own. Oh, and you want to know what else she did? She took my last name! Okay, Lucy Jerome looks a lot better on a design label than Lucy Sustamorn. How horrible is the last name Sustamorn? When Barbara first brought Lucy’s father home and he said his name was Larry Sustamorn, I thought, Oh, that’s just pathetic. It sounds like “such a moron” if you say it quickly. Try it—say the word Sustamorn ten times fast and see what you get. Anyway, Lucy Sustamorn became Lucy Jerome, and although her mother was a little hurt by it, she came around. After all, my Lucy has her dresses in some of the best shops in Philadelphia—Plage Tahiti and Knit Wit and Joan Shepp—and the new Barneys CO-OP on Rittenhouse Square is interested in her dresses. Barneys!

I know. I’m such a proud grandmother.

One of Lucy’s favorite things to do is go through my closet and pick out styles she can copy. I’ve saved everything through the years, and boy do I have a closet to show for it. By the time I moved from the house in the suburbs, I had filled every closet in the house. Barbara’s childhood closet held my Chanel and Halston suits from the sixties and seventies. The guest room closet held all of my beautiful gowns. My furs (when fur was acceptable to wear, and you weren’t in danger of having those people throw paint on you) and other winter coats were downstairs. I had my own closet for all my shoes and the clothes I wear now.

“You could put this stuff up for auction!” Barbara told me when I started to pack up the house.

There was no way I would do that, though. My clothes contain my memories of all the good times. I don’t have scrapbooks full of pictures of old memories; instead, I’ve got the closet of a lifetime. My Oscar de la Renta pale blue taffeta suit from Barbara’s wedding; my gorgeous James Galanos white sequined one-shoulder gown that I bought for a black-tie affair Howard and I went to in New York once in the 1980s—Howard said he’d never seen me look more beautiful. I would never give up any of it. No siree, bob.

So I bought a three-bedroom apartment and turned one room into a closet. It took more than three months for the contractors to get it right, but when they did it became my favorite room in the world. Barbara doesn’t understand it. Lucy does.

Lucy and I could spend hours in there together. She makes sketches of some of my dresses. She even copied a bright pink Lilly Pulitzer shift I bought on a trip to Palm Beach, Florida, in the 1960s, before Lilly Pulitzer was anyone in the fashion world.

Lucy calls it “the Ellie Jerome dress.”

She named it for her grandmother.

When I think of my granddaughter, I glow.

And that’s exactly why I’m jealous of her.

So tonight at my seventy-fifth birthday party at The Prime Rib, all I could think of was how much I wished I could go back in time and do it all over again in this day and age. Even for just one day. I wished that for one day I had my firm tush again, and my smooth, tanned skin. I wished that I could make mad passionate love to someone who only wanted to pleasure me. I wasn’t asking for a lifetime; I didn’t want to be piggish about it. I just wanted to have one day out of my miserable old-fogey life to experience the things that I missed out on and gain some appreciation for the things I took for granted. Do you know that I’ve lived for exactly 27,394 days? I figured that out on my calculator this morning. Out of all those days, would it really be a big deal to take one day off and really go crazy? What a wonderful wish! I thought it was highly creative. I would have shared the idea with someone, but of course you’re never supposed to tell your wish or it won’t come true. Ha!

So that’s what I wished for when Barbara and Lucy came walking in with that big birthday cake.

“I could only fit twenty-nine candles on it,” Barbara told everyone and laughed. Barbara can get on my last nerve sometimes.

So I wished on my twenty-nine birthday candles.

I wished to be twenty-nine again for one day.

If I had that one day, I would change everything.

This time, I would do it the right way.

And I would never regret again.

© 2010 Adena Halpern

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 24 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2012

    So good i shared it

    I read the whole book in one night and laughed and cried the whole time. It made me miss my Grandmothers and value all the things they always told me to do. I made my best friend read it the next day! Very fun read!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 5, 2012

    This is such a sweet, fun and adorable story about a seventy-fiv

    This is such a sweet, fun and adorable story about a seventy-five year old grandmother who wishes to be 29 again... Ellie is young at heart and no one can tell her that she isn't. Although she does realize that it is struggle to keep that bounce in her step. So when her wish to be 29 again comes true! She is over the moon about it and she can't wait to live it up.

    But times have changed and her feelings are all askew, she is at a loss as to what to do.
    While trying to figure out to do and seeking out her granddaughter for help, Ellie begins to question and evaluate her past and present relationships - was her deceased husband her true love? Why is she not close with her own daughter? Why was her daughter so angry and strict all the time? Why was her best friend so content in settling and growing older?

    It was so heartwarming and endearing to see Ellie's reaction. Having to depend on her own granddaughter to not only help her how to dress appropriately, but also, how to behave and what the new rules are to meeting and talking to boys. They both run around the whole city trying to cover up who Ellie really is while also trying to be sure that Ellie gets to experience being 29 again.

    A fast, relatable and adventurous read to be shared with all the girls in your life!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2011

    Recommended to read

    This book was interesting and funny to read. It had advice as how to live life not to regret it later in life. It gave simple advice such as not to sit out in the sun or to moisturize daily. Also, it gave complex advice about not having regrets in your life and trying to find the real person within. The story is written in a three-person point of view which helps you better understand each character. Each character had their own set off problems, but all due to the main character Elie. While trying to physically find their friend and family member, Elie, two of the characters discover things about themselves that they had not known before causing their lives to further change. The story gives a good idea about how certain 75 year old think since the author had interviewed a few 75-year-old women.
    Many of the advice in the story probably came from these women. The author chooses the setting to take place in Philadelphia which is a major city with which many people may relate to or have an easier time imagining this truly taking place. This is a good book for 20 year olds to read so they can understand or see what mistakes they should try and avoid throughout life. Also, it gives people a chance to better understand the opinions of a certain 75 year olds. This book also shows how much a person can consider family in their life choices, even though they may not quite know it. I believe that the writing style of the author is easy to read and understand. I believe this book falls into the category of identification of oneself. The character in the book tries to discover who they truly are. Most definitely recommended to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2010

    Read This Book!!!

    I am in love with this book! I never share books with my mom but after I read this one I passed it off to her insisting she read it too. It appeals to all age older lady at my work enjoyed it too. I laughed out loud and cried at certain parts. You must read this book.

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  • Posted August 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by hoopsielv for

    On her seventy-fifth birthday, Ellie takes the time to reflect on her life. She realizes that to the average onlooker, she's had it pretty good. She married a prominent lawyer and spent her days playing bridge at the country club and raising their daughter, Barbara.

    Her husband passed away a few years ago and now Ellie lives in an apartment on her own. She goes out with friends and enjoys sitting on her porch. Yet Ellie longs for the life she never had, a life like her granddaughter, Lucy, has now. Lucy is a free-spirited fashion designer who's constantly on the go.

    Barbara could only fit twenty-nine candles on Ellie's birthday cake, so it's only appropriate that Ellie wishes to be that age again just for a day. Wishes do come true! She wakes up in the body of a much younger woman! She lets Lucy in on her amazing transformation and together they hit the bustling streets of Philadelphia.

    Naturally, she needs a hip new wardrobe to accent her figure, a makeover, and a sleek, modern haircut. She uses the alias of Lucy's cousin and meets many of Lucy's friends throughout the day. The evening would not be complete without meeting a wonderful man who takes her home for a night of passion! What a wonderful time!

    Meanwhile, Barbara is extremely worried when she can't reach her mother and enlists Frida's help. Frida is a sensible old woman and together they hunt for Ellie. Where could she be?

    What happens when the clock strikes midnight? Will Ellie be able to keep the happiness that she's longed for, or is it too late?

    This is a terrific book full of laughs, thoughtful moments, and reflections. I found it inspiring in the sense that we all have the opportunity to make moments worth living for. I highly recommend this novel!

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  • Posted July 24, 2010

    Good Read

    This was a heartfelt book, made me reflect on alot of things going on in my life! What a fun read and tear jerker!!!

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  • Posted July 22, 2010

    Close your eyes and make a wish

    Adena Halpern has written a warm and delightful book. I have not read any of her other books. This one captured me from the very beginning. Really, when we were 10 we wanted to be 13. At 13 we wanted to be 18 and at 18 we dreamed of being 21. But who at 29 dreamed of being 75??? SO it is not hard to believe Ellie on her 75th birthday might want a "do over". Who hasn't wondered if only we had chosen a different path? I liked the family dynamics and felt the characters were genuine, funny and touching.

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  • Posted July 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    To be young again

    Ellie Jerome has regrets. Moments before blowing out the candles on her birthday cake, she realizes she has regrets. And not small, trivial regrets. No, they're big. Did she marry the right man? Was she a good mother? What if she made different choices? What would her life be like now as she's celebrating her 75th birthday?

    If only she could go back in time. To her younger self.when she was full of life and the whole world was at her feet. Yes, if only she could rewrite her past. These are her last thoughts prior to blowing out her candles.

    The morning after her party, Ellie wakes up and feels different. She can't put her finger on it, but she knows something is a bit off. Imagine her surprise when she sees herself-her 29 year old self-in the bathroom mirror. And so begins 29 by Adena Halpern.

    Ellie is delighted her birthday wish came true. She's 29 again and can make a new life for herself. She's having the time of her life and a bit leery when her granddaughter Lucy finds out the truth. Lucy is initially stunned to see her grandmother as a young, vivacious woman. She quickly recovers and together the women decide to have a girls' fun-filled day.

    Problems arise when Barbara, Ellie's daughter, and Frida, Ellie's best friend, become suspicious of Ellie's whereabouts. The two women team up to find the missing Ellie, both with concerns about what may have happened to her.

    I absolutely loved this book! Ellie is a cute, delightful character as a young woman and at 75. Readers can't help but to love her. I did feel for Ellie as she's among family and friends and all she can think about is the life she could have had. Many of us would like to turn back time and choose a different path, but instead of looking back, we continue to move forward vowing to make better decisions in order to have the life we still dream of.

    Despite the lightheartedness and humorous plot, Ms. Halpern does a great job with character growth and reflection regarding Lucy, Ellie, Barbara and Frida. Themes include mother and daughter relationships, being true to oneself, living your life without holding on so tightly and accepting that you're where you're supposed to be.

    29 is a great way to spend a day at the pool or reading outside on the deck. I highly recommend this novel.

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  • Posted June 28, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I thought it was just ok.

    It was entertaining and easy to read. Very quick to read since it is not very long or challenging. Most of the characters are pretty likeable but not always believable.

    The grand-daughter character should be one of the main supporting characters but is not very fleshed out. You want to fall in love with her but end up falling short. You will find her mildly pleasant at best.

    The daughter character is the villainess of story. She is bossy and mean and no one seems to like her not even her mother and daughter. She is the only main supporting character completely left out of the loop as to what is going on in the story. She was really the only character I felt much sympathy for.

    The best friend character is not very likeable. She is rather pitiful though allowing me to forgive her for saying to always tip the hired help so they feel guilty when they are stealing.

    The husband character is the only main supporting character who is dead before the story begins. At the beginning of the story we are supposed to feel sorry for Ellie because she married him even though she did not love him because he was rich. By the end of the story she realizes she loves him even though he cheated on her. We don't really know why. This realization is enforced by the finding of a stash of cards and letters from Ellie. I guess adultry is forgivable as long as men save the Hallmarks and buy expensive gifts.

    The young boyfriend character is completely unreal. A good looking, rich and successful man in his late 20's who is ready to fall head over heels in love with a women he knows nothing about and get married and settle down after a couple hour long date. He pines for weeks if he has no further contact with a girl he has a one night stand with. Ri-ight. Hey, girls! That's not a guy, it's a girl.

    Finally the main character. I did like Ellie and even though the plot was hard for me to buy her story was entertaining. I was really rooting for her to stay young even though you are never really sure it's an option. I do not buy her reasons for going back to her life. Her husband is dead, her grand-daughter and her best friend know who she is and her daughter could be convinced if they can. Who would rather be old and worn out than young and beautiful?
    I also totally knew she was going to end up at a guys house in the moring, back to being old with no clothes that fit to put on. I think it would have been really funny if the guy had woken and found himself in bed with the old woman instead of the young hottie.

    Overall I found the book fluffy and silly but harmless. I can see it being made into an ABC family movie. I did not hate it but if I had never read it I would not be missing anything.

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  • Posted June 18, 2010

    Fun and Meaningful Book

    29 is a quick and fun book to read. Hard to put down and quite funny at times. I think that all ages of women can relate to this story. I mean who hasn't wished that they could go back in time and change things that have happened or at least do some things over again.
    Ellie, Barbara and Lucy are the prime example of 3 generations of a family, with Frida's funny antics making 29 a great read.
    I finished 29 in less than 2 days!
    I will definitely look for other Adena Halpern's books.

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  • Posted June 18, 2010

    You only live twice - if you're lucky

    What woman of a certain age hasn't wondered what it would be like to be young again, knowing what we know now? That is the premise of Adena Halpern's delightful book "29". Ellie Jerome makes a wish as she blows out the candles at her 75th birthday party - that for 24 hours she is 29 again. When she wakes up the next morning, she is astounded to see that her wish has come true. She is 29 and beautiful and eager to make up for all that she has missed in living her predictable cautious life. Her companion on this adventure is her young granddaughter Lucy, whose life Ellie has often admired. Meanwhile, Ellie's 55-year-old daughter Barbara and Ellie's best friend Frida are having an adventure of their own, trying to find out why Ellie is missing... Ellie, Barbara and Frida's lives are changed irrevocably by the events of this one day; as Ms. Halpern puts it "It took that one day away from her normal life for her to realize what was truly important". A great vacation read or book club summer book, this book is alternately funny, clever, touching and thought-provoking but always enjoyable, and as hard to put down as a delicious dessert."

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  • Posted May 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    a profound character driven tale

    In Philadelphia, fifty-five years old Barbara Sustamon and her husband Larry the dentist host a birthday party for her widowed mom Ellie Jerome. The cake from the Swiss Pastry Shop contains twenty-nine candles. Ellie wishes to be that age again for one day, as she is jealous of her twenty-five years old fashion designer granddaughter Lucy and has a lifetime of regrets as well as a closet filled with clothing provided by her decade older late husband Howard.

    The next morning Ellie awakens to find her wish came true. She persuades Lucy that she is Ellie and they begin to make her day happen even as Barbara and Ellie's BFF septuagenarian widow Frida Freedberg worry about her strange phone calls to each of them. As Barbara and Frida search for Ellie, Lucy and her grandma begin an odyssey that will have more meaning for the four of them and others.

    The four females make for a profound character driven tale as each has regrets except the youngest. Ellie is superb as she learns she is not jealous of her granddaughter's opportunities but of her era allowing women chances her generation never had as marriage was the only goal. Barbara just wishes to prove her worth to her mother. Frida prays she can finally move on passed her late mom who haunts her every decision. Ironically Lucy as the under thirty is the wisest. 29 is a deep tale with some humor provided by the searchers.

    Harriet Klausner

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    Posted August 22, 2010

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    Posted July 8, 2010

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    Posted December 6, 2010

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