A Piece Of Heaven

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Haley’s excited about turning 13, but her teenage years start off with a thud when, shortly after her birthday, her mother checks herself into the hospital for severe depression. Her older brother, Otis, is busy with his job, and Haley tries to keep her mind off the family problems with her own job, helping a music teacher clean up his backyard garden. As Haley’s family life becomes more and unstable, it’s her work and her growing friendship with her employer that sustain her. When Otis gets arrested for selling ...
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Overview

Haley’s excited about turning 13, but her teenage years start off with a thud when, shortly after her birthday, her mother checks herself into the hospital for severe depression. Her older brother, Otis, is busy with his job, and Haley tries to keep her mind off the family problems with her own job, helping a music teacher clean up his backyard garden. As Haley’s family life becomes more and unstable, it’s her work and her growing friendship with her employer that sustain her. When Otis gets arrested for selling stolen goods and a social worker takes Haley into a group home, it’s her employer she turns to to help her pick up the pieces.

Thirteen-year-old Haley holds her life together with the help of good people after her mother suffers a nervous breakdown and her brother is arrested.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Wyeth (Something Beautiful; Once on This River) paints a vivid picture of inner-city life but compromises character development to emphasize the downward slide of the heroine's dysfunctional family. The novel opens on the eve of Mahalia Moon's 13th birthday. The cause of Mrs. Moon's chronic depression (which leads to her admission to a hospital on Mahalia's big day) is as vaguely sketched as Mahalia's brother Otis's subsequent involvement in a crime, for which he is arrested. Mahalia fares better than her kin and finds stability in her afternoon job doing yard work for a kindly music teacher. Unfortunately, Mahalia's single working mother and sassy older brother come across as two-dimensional victims. The heroine's relationship with her employer, Mr. Jackson, proves to be the most convincing and moving aspect of the novel, as her effort to clear Mr. Jackson's yard of clutter reflects her desire to create order out of her chaotic home environment. Rather than providing a pat resolution, the author invites readers to experience how Mahalia comes to terms with hardships, lets go of what she cannot change and holds onto dreams of a better life. Those who can get past the overplayed dramas sprinkled throughout the book will find inspiration in Mahalia's personal triumphs. Ages 9-12. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, January 2001: On one level, this is a grim story of a 13-year-old girl whose world is falling apart. On another level, it is an optimistic story of a girl whose world is expanding. Mahalia (Haley) opens the narrative with her birthday, when her mother goes on a shopping spree and fills their little apartment with groceries, gives Haley some lovely pajamas, and temporarily pulls back from her endless nagging of Haley's older brother Otis. That same night, Haley's mother can't stop crying and admits herself to a mental ward at the hospital where she works. Haley and her brother are left on their own, with a neighbor looking in occasionally, and Otis soon is embroiled in illegal activities, telling lies all the while. Haley gets a job cleaning out the yard and shed of a music teacher named Jackson. This is Haley's "piece of heaven," from the title, because she throws her physical and creative energy into making this space beautiful while she listens to Jackson's music students singing. The mother doesn't get better quickly and life at home deteriorates; but when a social worker comes to take Haley to a foster home, Haley responds with anger and resistance. Her new supporters, however, prove to be on her side, and the end is a happy party, even though all problems are not resolved. The details of the mother's depression, the brother's arrest, and the deterioration of their home life sound fully realistic, and for the most part, Haley survives these difficulties with intelligence and grace. The helpful adults who come to support her sometimes seem too good to be true; we could only wish all children in Haley's plight would find such lovinghelpers. The cover pictures Haley, a young African American girl, painting the rocks in her new garden. Category: Paperback Fiction. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2001, Random House, Dell, Yearling, 200p.,
— Claire Rosser; KLIATT
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-A little "piece of heaven" is found in a swept-dirt backyard in New York City. Mahalia Moon lives with her mother and her 15-year-old brother, Otis. On her 13th birthday, she is presented with a thesaurus, a treasured gift from her mother. She answers an ad for a yard helper and meets Jackson, a music teacher, who is hesitant to hire her because he needs someone considerably stronger to clean up his yard in time for his adult daughter's visit. When Haley returns home, she finds her birthday cake burned to a crisp and her mother sobbing uncontrollably. Mrs. Moon is having a nervous breakdown and hospitalizes herself. Haley returns to Jackson's house the next day and sets about proving that she can complete the job, and a close relationship between a fatherless girl and a father missing his daughter develops. Wyeth's story provides insight into the reality of the tough issues faced by single parents in an urban setting, and the normal anger of Haley and Otis at events over which they have no control. Haley seems mature beyond her 13 years, while Otis, arrested for his involvement in selling stolen property, demonstrates his need to show the world he can succeed at getting rich quick, after failing at school. A bit of a slow starter, the story picks up somewhat as Jackson and Haley's friendship grows. Although the child wishes for a fairy-tale ending to her story, she resigns herself to a small piece of heaven.-Kit Vaughan, Midlothian Middle School, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679985358
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 1/9/2001
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 208
  • Age range: 8 - 11 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.78 (w) x 8.61 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Sharon Dennis Wyeth drew on her memories as a family counselor on New York City’s Lower East Side while writing A Piece of Heaven. She is also the author of Something Beautiful.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It was the last day of school and the day before my thirteenth birthday. The temperature that afternoon had hit one hundred. After dinner, in our one-room apartment, it felt like one hundred and ten. I sat perched on the side of my bed near the fire-escape window, trying to catch some air. Sweat collected along the edges of my scalp, crisscrossing my face and dripping into my eyes. My big brother, Otis, lay sprawled on the red pullout couch with his mouth hanging open. Ma, already in her pajamas, sat motionless at the table in the center of the room, staring at the bills. I could hear kids' laughter and the cracking sound of a stick whacking a ball in the street below. In the projects across the way, a boom box pumped out a bass beat with too much reverb and a barrage of words sharp as bullets. Wailing in the distance was a siren. The world was going about its business in spite of the heat. But Ma had kept us in. Ma believed that the city wasn't safe for a girl in the evening. Otis she usually let roam. But tonight Otis was cooped up inside, too, on account of his report card. I glanced at my brother's face. He glared at me.

"What are you looking at?"

I lowered my eyes. "Nothing." It would be just like my brother to get three D's and an F, and then try to take it out on me.

"You'd better not be looking at me," he grumbled. "You scrawny little roach."

"You've got the face of a roach," I said, not skipping a beat. We enjoyed insulting each other.

Otis smirked and rubbed his chin. "Well, if you ask me, your growth is stunted."

"So is your brain."

Hestretched his legs. "You've been reading too many books," he said. "You're beginning to smell like a worm."

"That's ridiculous," I snorted. "Worms don't even have a smell."

"Look at this six-pack," he bragged, baring his stomach. "I'm made of iron! Go ahead, hit me!"

I rolled my eyes. "You're pathetic."

He shot up from the couch. "Midget!"

"Mental midget!" I shot up from the bed.

"You think you're such a smart-ass!"

"At least I don't eat my toenails!" I zinged him.

The hint of a smile curled at the edges of his mouth. He towered over me. "You do pick your nose."

"That's a lie!"

"You're so short, I could cook potatoes and eat them off your wimpy little head!" he said, flicking me on the forehead.

"Oh yeah?" I jumped back. "Well, you couldn't cook a potato if you tried. Know why? Because you couldn't read the cookbook!" I got up in his face. "Dumbbell!"

Otis's brown eyes bugged out. I'd hit a nerve. He pulled a cushion off the couch and held it up threateningly.

"What are you going to do?" I taunted. "Smother me?"

He whacked me over the head!

"He hit me!" I cried.

I scrambled past the table where Ma was sitting. Otis tore after me. We zigzagged through the one-room apartment, running past the painted dresser and Ma's bed in the alcove. We circled the bathtub, which stood on four legs, and skidded by the sink filled with dishes. Then, lurching past the red couch, I lunged toward the fire escape. Otis grabbed me by the hair. We were half angry, half laughing.

"Ouch!" I screamed.

"Take it back!" Otis said, yanking my ponytail.

"Take what back?" I said, digging my fingernails into his hands.

"You called me a dummy!" he said, tightening his grip.

"I called you a dumbbell!" I screeched. "Not a dummy! Anyway, it's not my fault that you got a bad report card!" He pulled my hair even harder and I let out a bloodcurdling scream.

"That hurts! I'm not playing!"

From the center of the room, Ma's voice came thundering. "LET HER GO, OTIS MOON!" Otis let go and I dropped to my knees. We glanced at each other and then at Ma. I'd never heard her yell that loud in my life.

"I can't hear myself think!" Ma barked. "That scream almost split my eardrums!"

"It's not my fault," I whimpered, rubbing the back of my head where my hair had been pulled. "Otis was trying to scalp me. Degenerate fool!" I muttered under my breath.

Ma slammed her fist on the table. "That's enough, Mahalia!"

"Yes, Ma," I said obediently.

"And get up off the floor," she ordered. "I didn't pay an arm and a leg for those jeans you're wearing in order for you to tear them up roughhousing."

Otis gave me a hand and I clambered up onto my knees.

"We're sorry, Ma," he said nervously. "Please don't snap out on us."

"Snap out on you?" she shot back. "You two behave like three-year-olds!" She stood up. My mother is short, like I am. "You listen here, Otis. Your sister is right. You are a degenerate. Because only a degenerate would disappoint his mother the way you did with that lousy report card. Three D's and an F! Only a degenerate would say he's going to get a job to help out around here and then spend all his durn nights playing basketball across the street in that durn playground in the project!"

Otis and I stole a look at each other. Ma really hated cussing. Using the word durn was a big deal for our mother.

"See this mess!" She pointed to the jumble of bills. "I have to take care of this, nobody else. Your father isn't around asking about the rent increase, or the camp that Mahalia can't go to because we don't have the money, or the trip we want to make to Disney World! Or those size-twelve sneakers we couldn't afford, either, but just had to buy for you, Otis. Instead of helping me out, all you two can do is Edisturb the durn peace!" She scrunched her face up like she was going to cry. She was so bent out of shape, she'd even mentioned Dad, whom we hadn't seen in years and never talked about.

"We didn't mean to upset you, Ma," I ventured timidly. "We didn't mean to disturb the durn peace."

"Nobody ever means anything!" she sobbed, collapsing at the table. "My boss at the hospital didn't mean it when she promised me the day off and then went back on her word! The landlord didn't mean it when he forgot for the umpteenth time to fix that cracked ceiling that any day is going to fall down and kill us! The president of the United States doesn't mean it, either!" She threw up her hands. "Give me a break, Lord!"

I stood there dumbfounded.

"Give us a break, Ma," my brother dared grumble. He slinked across the room and slammed his body down onto the couch, making the springs screech. "This is the last day of school," declared Otis. "We don't need no cryin' jag."

"And I don't need your disrespect," Ma countered, wiping her tears. "Nor do I need you to break the couch. So, if you don't mind, please don't throw yourself down on it next time. Please sit down on it properly. And while you're at it, you can locate the cushion that you hit your sister on the head with," she added, catching her breath.

"It's my couch," Otis muttered defiantly. "I'll do what I want with it. I'm the one who sleeps on it."

Ma's eyes watered. Otis was definitely taking advantage.

"Here's the cushion," I volunteered quickly. I picked it up, scurried across the room, and put it back into place. Ma had decided to ignore Otis's last remark. She blew her nose on a napkin.

"Someone could do the dinner dishes," she said with a little sniff.

Otis and I pointed at each other.

"Your turn!"

Ma's head dropped. "See what I mean?"

Copyright 2002 by Sharon Dennis Wyeth
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