42 Miles

( 2 )

Overview

JoEllen’s parents divorced when she was very young, so she was used to splitting her time between them, shuttling four blocks from one Cincinnati apartment to another. But when her dad moved to the old family farm last year, her life was suddenly divided. Now on weekdays she’s a city girl, called Ellen, who hangs out with her friends, plays the sax, and loves old movies. And on weekends she’s a country girl, nicknamed Joey, who rides horseback with her cousin, Hayden, goes fishing, and listens to bluegrass. So ...

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Overview

JoEllen’s parents divorced when she was very young, so she was used to splitting her time between them, shuttling four blocks from one Cincinnati apartment to another. But when her dad moved to the old family farm last year, her life was suddenly divided. Now on weekdays she’s a city girl, called Ellen, who hangs out with her friends, plays the sax, and loves old movies. And on weekends she’s a country girl, nicknamed Joey, who rides horseback with her cousin, Hayden, goes fishing, and listens to bluegrass. So where do her loyalties lie? Who is the real JoEllen? Linked free-verse poems, illustrated with a quirky array of found objects and mementos, create the vivid, realistic portrait of a young girl at a defining moment in her life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Caught between her divorced parents' rural and city worlds, JoEllen approaches her 13th birthday with a growing definition and assurance of her personal identity. Half of her name is from her father, Joseph, who calls her Joey; the other half is from her mother, Eleanor, who calls her Ellen. "Now my days-/divided between them-/are as different as my names." The girl's life, however, at each end of the 42 miles that separate her parents, is rich and complicated, and the author subtly develops JoEllen's awareness: "The apple trees/share secrets./The ducks endlessly discuss/the quality of rain" ("Farm Nights"). "An ambulance wailing/cars cussing/cats calling/dogs delivering the news" ("Cincinnati Nights"). The poems meld together into a smooth story that ends with this invitation: "My favorite poems/hold a wooden spoon of words/and whisper:/Taste" ("The Poems I Like Best"). Mixed-media collage illustrations complement the subject of each poem and reinforce the complicated and changing moods of the story. Young people will appreciate this easy-to-read, empowering story."—School Library Journal
 
"Living separate lives to please her divorced parents, a young girl struggles to define herself. JoEllen's mother lives in a city apartment while her father lives 42 miles away in a farmhouse. JoEllen (named for both parents) admits "my days . . . are as different as my names." She spends schooldays with Mom, who calls her "Ellen," and weekends with Dad, who calls her "Joey." JoEllen and Mom love takeout. JoEllen and Dad invent their own recipes. In the city, JoEllen plays the sax, watches old movies, wears vintage clothing and works at a secondhand shop with her best friends. At the farm, she trail rides with her cousin, listens to bluegrass, wears work boots and slops out the stable. Split "like an apple's pale heart / on either side of the blade," JoEllen decides her two lives need to meet-just in time for her 13th birthday. Embellished with Clayton's scrapbook-like black-and-white illustrations, the free-verse text traces the hopes and fears of a thoughtful teen who optimistically merges the best of her two lives into an even better "new me."—Kirkus Reviews
 
"The forty-two miles that separate JoEllen's mother's house from her father's house also divide JoEllen into a city girl named Ellen, with friends Annie and Tamika, and a country girl named Joey, who hangs out in the orchard with her cousin Hayden.  In each place, she has bits of herself that she loves and bits that she could do without, but what she is mostly tired of is trying to maintain the split to make each parent happy and comfortable.  An assignment to write an autobiography, the finding of a memory box that proved her parents really were together and happy once, an encounter with a bully, and her thirteenth birthday converge to force a new JoEllen to surface out of her two halves.  JoEllen's empowerment seems so sudden an all-inclusive as to require a full orchestral soundtrack, but it's definitely the kind of change puberty inspires in some girls, and many readers will thus empathize with her assertion of a unified but still multifaceted self.  The real star here, however, is the form: JoEllen's split identity and her transformation emerge in image-rich, thoughtful, and often arresting poems that convey the separate lives she leads and the pain that causes, and in collage art that aptly portrays her patched-together sense of who she is.  JoEllen's poetry paints a moving, triumphant portrait of the vicissitudes of contemporary coming of age."—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Children's Literature - Kathryn Erskine
This slim volume tells the tale of a girl on the verge of becoming a teen and declaring who she is. At times immature, at times self-aware, and at time prescient, JoEllen's voice accurately captures a girl on the brink of adolescence. JoEllen's friends and her development of her own identity are becoming more important to the girl than her parents' expectations. Although her parents are divorced, she has always enjoyed her time spent with each of them. While she is starting to show the telltale signs of annoyance with her parents, it's clear that her strong relationship with both will help her through her teen years. It is fitting that by the end she starts to integrate the people from her two separate homes, thereby creating a new, blended life for herself. This is an easy, approachable book of free verse poems, and middle grade readers will likely feel comfortable with both the format and the sentiments presented. The scrapbook-style illustrations are familiar, comforting, and fun. Reviewer: Kathryn Erskine
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8- Caught between her divorced parents' rural and city worlds, JoEllen approaches her 13th birthday with a growing definition and assurance of her personal identity. Half of her name is from her father, Joseph, who calls her Joey; the other half is from her mother, Eleanor, who calls her Ellen. "Now my days-/divided between them-/are as different as my names." The girl's life, however, at each end of the 42 miles that separate her parents, is rich and complicated, and the author subtly develops JoEllen's awareness: "The apple trees/share secrets./The ducks endlessly discuss/the quality of rain" ("Farm Nights"). "An ambulance wailing/cars cussing/cats calling/dogs delivering the news" ("Cincinnati Nights"). The poems meld together into a smooth story that ends with this invitation: "My favorite poems/hold a wooden spoon of words/and whisper:/Taste" ("The Poems I Like Best"). Mixed-media collage illustrations complement the subject of each poem and reinforce the complicated and changing moods of the story. Young people will appreciate this easy-to-read, empowering story.-Lee Bock, Glenbrook Elementary School, Pulaski, WI

Kirkus Reviews
Living separate lives to please her divorced parents, a young girl struggles to define herself. JoEllen's mother lives in a city apartment while her father lives 42 miles away in a farmhouse. JoEllen (named for both parents) admits "my days . . . are as different as my names." She spends schooldays with Mom, who calls her "Ellen," and weekends with Dad, who calls her "Joey." JoEllen and Mom love takeout. JoEllen and Dad invent their own recipes. In the city, JoEllen plays the sax, watches old movies, wears vintage clothing and works at a secondhand shop with her best friends. At the farm, she trail rides with her cousin, listens to bluegrass, wears work boots and slops out the stable. Split "like an apple's pale heart / on either side of the blade," JoEllen decides her two lives need to meet-just in time for her 13th birthday. Embellished with Clayton's scrapbook-like black-and-white illustrations, the free-verse text traces the hopes and fears of a thoughtful teen who optimistically merges the best of her two lives into an even better "new me." (Fiction/poetry. 9-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618618675
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/18/2008
  • Pages: 73
  • Sales rank: 427,736
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, a former middle-school teacher, is the author of three books, including Sketches from a Spy Tree, published by Clarion. She and her family live near Charlotte, North Carolina. For more information visit www.tracievaughnzimmer.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Changes Until this year my parents lived four blocks apart in Cincinnati

Until this year I went to Liberty Elementary

Until this year I was average height had clear skin and didn't need glasses to see the blackboard

Everything was easier until this year

Bargains I looked just like Mom—brown eyes straight black hair.
Even my dimples match hers.
But I'm long and lean like Dad, the fifth generation Courtney kid to weave around the apple orchard on this rolling Ohio farm.

The story goes that Mom and Dad couldn't agree on a name (and a lot else, I guess) since they divorced when I was in diapers).

So I got half of Dad's name: Joseph and part of Mom's too: Eleanor.
But no one calls me by my real name: JoEllen.

Mom (and my city friends) call me Ellen, and to Dad (and his family) I've always been Joey.

Now my days—divided between them—are as different as my names.

Best Friends Tamika dreams of living in Milan, designing the latest fashions or modeling them in the pages of Vogue.
She likes the four styles of dance her mom insists she learn, and she holds herself so elegantly, as if a spotlight follows her every move.
Only Annie and I see her silly side: the impersonations she does of our teachers and parents and the way she snorts when she's cracking up

Annie's afraid of everything Lyme disease the speed of the bus the additives in cafeteria food.
She wears her worry in chewed fingernails and eyes that flit around searching out danger.
But she can take down a two-hundred pound man in judo class and wants to open her own dojo someday.

Friday Nights Mom hovers in the doorway as I stuff my backpack with homework and music.
Don't need clothes; there are plenty of worn ones tucked in the painted dresser under the attic eaves at Dad's house.

No sleeping over with Annie and Tamika.
("Try to have fun in Hicktown," they say No long Saturday afternoons spent planning outfits comparing quizzes in teen magazines painting each other's nails the same shade of green.

On the drive to the farm quiet falls like the darkness the closer we get to Dad.

Soon I'll climb out of Mom's crumbless black sedan, and she'll call from the cracked-open window "See you Sunday, Ellen."

I'll walk in the house without knocking and Dad will be standing over the sink, eating one of his odd concoctions—meatball tacos or eggplant pizza.
"I tried to wait for ya, Joey," he'll say between bites.
Then he'll hand me a plate, and my other life will begin.

Hayden My cousin Hayden lives with his parents, my Uncle Tilman and Aunt Shirley, and two collies, Rebel and Kate, on the other side of the apple orchard in a double-wide trailer.

Hayden and I spend weekends exploring the woods trail riding on Old Bess and Brownie or catching sunfish with worms from the garden.
(Can't do this in the city," he says.

Sometimes, as we head down to the pond in the last few minutes of slanting light.
Hayden grabs Papa's old five-string or pluck a harmonica from his pocket to harmonize with the tunes of twilight.
The lightning bugs begin to waltz in the darkening woods, and we stay until the stars slice holes in the night.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 29, 2010

    A quick, yet fulfilling read

    Great "coming of age" tale told in prose. As a teacher I plan to use this for character studies. Heartwarming and touching, even for an adult.

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  • Posted October 25, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Sally Kruger aka "Readingjunky" for TeensReadToo.com

    JoEllen leads a double life. It's a bit like the old fable about the country mouse and the city mouse. Since her parents divorced long ago, JoEllen has divided her time between her father, who lives in the country, and 42 miles away in the city, where her mother lives. <BR/><BR/>It isn't just the living arrangements that divide JoEllen's life. She explains that even back when her parents named her they couldn't agree. Her name became part Joseph and part Eleanor - a piece of her father and a part of her mother. The city half of her life consists of girl friends, shopping, and movies while the country half involves horseback riding, fishing, and listening to bluegrass music. Even her friends get confused and can't understand how JoEllen copes. <BR/><BR/>It's the only life JoEllen has ever really known, but now that she's almost thirteen, she is wondering which life is truly hers. Maybe she isn't either one but perhaps someone completely different. <BR/><BR/>This short novel written in verse tells of a young girl's struggle to find herself. Surrounded by two loving parents, albeit 42 miles apart, she realizes that neither life truly reflects the person she is inside. Any reader searching for their personal identity will be able to relate to this touching tale.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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