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Baby Blue

Baby Blue

5.0 4
by Michelle D. Kwasney, Christy Ottaviano (Editor)

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We sat at the kitchen table, across from each other. In the same spots we sat for dinner up till a month ago. The shadows on the table looked like prison bars again. This time it was Star being caged. Star, who thought leaving made her free. That life would be all hunky-dory shampooing heads and sweeping floors while Mama got slapped around-far enough away so


We sat at the kitchen table, across from each other. In the same spots we sat for dinner up till a month ago. The shadows on the table looked like prison bars again. This time it was Star being caged. Star, who thought leaving made her free. That life would be all hunky-dory shampooing heads and sweeping floors while Mama got slapped around-far enough away so she wouldn't have to hear the screams.

That's when I knew for sure-I couldn't leave Mama. And Star couldn't make me any more than I could make her stay.

A painfully beautiful novel that exposes the haunting world of spousal abuse

Blue's family is coming apart at the seams. After Pa drowned in the river, Mama up and married Jinx, whom Blue and Star know is big trouble. And now Star has run away, leaving Blue behind. It was hard enough to watch Mama get knocked around when Jinx was in one of his "moods," but now, with Star gone, Jinx has spun out of control. It's up to Blue to find Star and get help for Mama, to piece the family back together again. But Blue is running out of time.

With biting realism and poignancy, this compelling young-adult novel explores Blue's struggle to protect her family and stand up against what she knows is wrong.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A sensitive and realistic coming-of-age story about personal loss, love, abuse and complex family relationships." —School Library Journal

"Kawnsey's debut novel sensitively and perceptively takes a familiar YA theme and gives it heart." —Publishers Weekly

"[T]houghtful and affecting."—Kirkus Reviews

"This plot-driven novel is a fast read for middle and junior high girls." —Voice of Youth Advocates

"[T]he book doesn't shirk from the fact that the capacity for uncontrolled rage lies within us all. . . .readers will nonetheless relate to the compelling account of a girl trying to fight her family's destruction from within." —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Publishers Weekly
Kwasney's debut novel sensitively and perceptively takes a familiar YA theme and gives it heart: a spunky but frightened preadolescent girl must gather enough courage to help save her mother from an abusive husband. It's a hot and humid summer in rural Massachusetts in 1976, a time of tie-dyed skirts and Frye boots, and 12-year-old Blue, the narrator, is coping with her naively hopeful mother, Ceil, a waitress, and her temperamental and violent stepfather, Jinx. Blue misses her Pa, who drowned when he tried to save a boy, and blames herself for begging Pa to have a picnic along the river that day. Now she has also lost her older sister, Star, who refuses to live in the same house as Jinx. Blue first schemes to get Star back, then, in a tense climax, breaks down a door and jumps on Jinx to stop him from beating Ceil, imagining herself to have the strength of a "lion on the edge." The author's eye for detail and sense of place firmly ground the story. Blue's refusal to accept her mother's deluded rationalizations for Jinx's behavior doesn't dent Blue's fierce love for her mother, marking her as a tough, winning heroine who will earn readers' sympathy and respect. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
After her gambling-addicted father drowns trying to save a small boy, soon-to-be-thirteen Baby Blue must adjust both to her mother's remarriage to the verbally and physically abusive Jinx and to her older sister Star's leaving home. Baby Blue confronts her mother about her routine forgiveness of Jinx, but she declares that her husband needs and loves her. Home alone when her mother and stepfather go to Cape Cod for their first anniversary, Blue receives a call from Star. Blue uses part of their deceased father's final gambling win to find Star and bring her home. Beaten and abandoned by Jinx, their mother returns early. The unplanned reunion reveals that all three harbor unwarranted guilt for the father's death. When Jinx returns and starts to beat their mother, the emotionally strengthened girls defend her. Blue attacks Jinx. He attacks Blue. A neighbor calls the police who witness the assault and arrest Jinx. The three women then move and plan new lives. Set in 1976 Massachusetts, the story explores a time when police needed to witness domestic violence in order to arrest the attacker. This plot-driven novel is a fast read for middle and junior high girls. Older readers familiar with books such as You Don't Know Me by David Klass (Frances Foster Books/Farrar Straus Giroux, 2001/VOYA June 2001) and Alex Flinn's Breathing Underwater (Harper Collins, 2001/VOYA June 2001) will want more fully developed characters, question how Blue's starting menstruation would lure an unscathed Star back, and doubt the mother's quick transformation after choosing two husbands with major emotional problems. VOYA Codes: 3Q 4P M J (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School,defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2004, Henry Holt, 202p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Lucy Schall
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-A sensitive and realistic coming-of-age story about personal loss, love, abuse, and complex family relationships. Blue, 12, must grow up in a hurry after Pa dies; Mama marries the abusive Jinx; and her older sister, Star, runs away. Pa, a hapless but harmless gambler, haunts Blue's memory-she's convinced that if she hadn't insisted on going to the river that day, he might not have drowned trying to save a small boy. Kwasney's poignant story of love and broken dreams features a tough, sensitive, and frightened heroine with more sense and gumption than those around her. Readers are vividly transported to 1976, to poor, rural Massachusetts, complete with scratchy AM pop tunes on transistor radios, flowered peasant blouses and gauzy skirts, and the oppressive heat of summer with air conditioning that never works. Blue sees through Jinx's false promises of reform and seesaws between support and frustration at her mother's helplessness. Her pluck and fear, her resistance to Jinx's taunting, and her resolve to find Star propel this novel into a tense climax that will either shatter the family forever or give them the chance to heal and rebuild their lives together.-Roxanne Myers Spencer, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a poignant and poetic voice, 12-year-old Blue tells the story of her family. They used to be four: Blue, her older sister Star, their mother, and their imperfect but adored father. Then Pa drowned in the local river, and Mama married Jinx. Jinx moves them out of their house and into his, and he hits their mother, something she refuses to deal with: "Mama's eyes begged me to come along on the magic carpet ride." Star runs away and Blue fears everyone will desert her. The sisters' relationship is tender and fiercely loyal but also full of barbs and fury. Can Blue force Star to come home? Hope arrives at the end when Mama finally realizes she needs to leave Jinx. Mama, Star, and Blue become closer and calmer by releasing old burdens of guilt about Pa's drowning. Blue's art hangs in their new house and a peaceful future is believable. Thoughtful and affecting. (Fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.64(w) x 8.64(h) x 0.94(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Baby Blue

part one


The air conditioner was broken in Beau Silver's Silverspoon Diner. Even the red YOU ARE HERE dot on the Massachusetts map by the front door was sweating.

I followed Jinx to the old part, near the grill. The air was sticky, thick with the smell of bacon grease and sweat. The red, white, and blue crepe-paper streamers Beau'd hung for the Bicentennial Parade rippled below the ceiling fans.

Jinx picked a booth beside the jukebox. He dropped a quarter in the slot, and we sat down, him on one side, me on the other. I kept seeing that red YOU ARE HERE dot. Like the light that stays after a camera flash pops.

The grill hissed behind me. "Order up!" Beau Silver yelled.

Mama zipped past, four Tuesday specials balanced down the length of her arm. You would never catch me attempting such a feat! I was the klutz who alwaysmanaged to kick over the orange cones during relay races on field day. "Ours are up next," she said, flashing us a smile.

I smiled back. Jinx didn't bother. He hummed along to the jukebox, staring at the rig parked outside the window. A rig like Pa used to drive.

Mama returned with our plates.

It was Tuesday, Meat Loaf Night. All you can eat for $1.79. Jinx ordered fries, so just to be different, I asked for mashed potatoes. Mama had her usual: a tossed salad with blue-cheese dressing and a Pepsi Light. Mama didn't eat meat. She claimed it was on account of my being born in the meat department of Frank's Hometown Market. There she was, smack-dab in the middle of ordering a pound of cube steak when she went into labor. Frank himself brought me into the world, kicking and sliding on the cold gray tile in the back room, a leg of lamb swaying on a hook over our heads. That's the story I was told, anyway.

Mama undid her apron but left the HI! I'M CECILIA! pin on her uniform. She slid in beside me, her heavy pockets drooping to the sides like ears on a puppy dog. A lump of change pressed against my hip. "You're early," she said.

Jinx shot Mama a lopsided grin. "Afternoon foreman shut us down." He tapped a cigarette on the table and litit, blowing smoke rings that floated straight up and didn't dissolve till the ceiling fan got ahold of them. "Moron's got wood chips for brains. I'll be glad when I'm on nights again, away from his sorry ..." His eyes wandered back outside.

I felt a string on the hem of the shorts I'd made in Home Ec. I pulled and pulled till it snapped loose. "So, Mama," I said, "was it busy today?"

I stared at Mama staring at Jinx staring at whatever he was staring at. I got a good look at her face. I was on the side with the eye that got hit. Mama'd gobbed skin-colored cream on the bruise, then powder over that, but the bump still showed.

Mama rubbed her neck. "That it was, Blue. That it was."

A man who looked something like our real pa hopped in the rig parked by the window. I watched him start it up. Its rhythm rumbled, deep in my ribs. The truck pulled out, slapping a square of sun on our table.

I dug a green bean loose from the sticky mashedpotato lump. I worked my food into three separate piles and stared at the center of the plate where nothing touched anymore.

I felt Mama watching. "Anybody hungry?"

I didn't get to answer. Jinx did. "Now that you mention it, Ceil, I'm really not all that hungry. But I sure amthirsty as the devil." He signaled Beau Silver, pointing toward the middle handle on the beer tap.

"Lyle," Mama said—Lyle is Jinx's real name—"I thought you were working on your truck tonight." His old Ford pickup needed a muffler bad.

Jinx snuffed out his cigarette in the silver spoon-shaped ashtray and gulped down half the mug of beer Beau brought him. The frost melted where his fingers had been. "Don't start on me, Ceil."

Mama looked away. She poured dressing on her salad, sliding the lettuce and tomato and cucumber round and round in the fake wood bowl.

I took a bite of my meat loaf.

Jinx sucked down the rest of his beer, then waved to Beau Silver for another. Beau wiped his hands on his greasy apron and the mug disappeared.

I kept wishing Star'd walk in. It didn't seem to matter that she'd been gone a month almost. 'Cause every time the door swung open, I watched for her, hair wet from swim practice, smelling of chlorine, sunglasses resting low on her nose.

Beau brought Jinx a second beer. This time the glass wasn't frosty. The top didn't have any foam. The beer looked like pee. I pictured Star and me in the girls' bathroom on the other end of the diner, hooting at thethought of Jinx gulping down somebody's pee. Beau Silver's pee, maybe.

Jinx raised the mug. The bump in his throat bobbed up and down while he swallowed. Four big gulps.

Mama plunged her fork through a thick pile of lettuce. "How was your class party?" she asked me. We'd had our end-of-the-year picnic at Riverside Park that day.

"It was fun," I answered. "Bonnie Price and me went on the roller coaster nine times. Eddie Cumberland threw up on the Scrambler."

Mama smiled. "Sounds exciting. Was five dollars enough?"

"Plenty. I even had money left for games. Bonnie and me won matching mood rings." I flashed the stone at her. Pure black.

"Hey, Blue"—Jinx stuck a giant wedge of meat loaf in his mouth, talking and chewing at the same time—"seventh grade's been quite a drain on the old economy, hasn't it?"

My stomach grabbed hard on the meat loaf. "What do you mean?"

He stuck a handful of French fries in his mouth, smashing them into a pocket on the side of his face. "Well, seems you just needed five bucks a few weeks ago for some book fair"—the lump in his cheek bounced tothe other side—"and five more, right after, for some dumb present—"

"It wasn't dumb," I said. My voice was calm but tight.

Mama's hand was on my knee under the table. I knew the squeeze meant stop, but I didn't.

"It was for our English teacher, Mrs. Fitzhugh. She's retiring." A truck pulled in where the other one had been. A huge, cool shadow fell over Mama and me. "We got her an engraved watch. All of us did—I mean, we all chipped in."

Jinx's fork slammed the table. "Don't you mean your parents all chipped in?"

The people in the next booth turned to look.

Mama squeezed my knee again. Harder. See, she hadn't learned yet what Star and me figured out a long time ago—if Jinx was looking to start a fire, he'd start a fire. And he'd find kindling anywhere he could.

Mama reached to touch Jinx's arm. He pulled it back so hard the seat on his side reared up then fell forward.

The people in the next booth got up to leave.

"Lyle," Mama whispered. "Let's not argue here. Please. I've got to work with these people."

Jinx glared at her.

I heard the grill hiss behind me. I heard Beau Silver yell "Order up!" Then I felt the sudden cold splash ofMama's Pepsi Light as Jinx leapt up and the table tipped toward us.

Beau Silver darted through the small swinging door at the end of the counter.

Jinx tore down the aisle.

Mama's eyes got red. Then wet. Her cakey makeup started to run, and her bruise—a secret she thought she'd buried—floated into view.

Beau lifted the table off our legs. He used his rag to dab a blob of blue cheese off Mama's shoulder. Ketchup was smeared on her chest.

I watched out the window as Jinx jumped into his rusty black pickup, gunning the gas pedal hard. A cloud of thick, smelly smoke clung close on all sides.

Mama avoided the eyes staring her down. "Come on, Blue," she said. "Let's go wash up in the little girls' room."

Jinx's truck coughed exhaust as it roared across the parking lot.

I brushed his French fries off the vinyl seat and slid out, relishing the loud clanging noise his muffler made dropping loose in a giant pothole.

Copyright © 2004 by Michelle D. Kwasney

Meet the Author

Michelle D. Kwasney has worked as an elementary art educator for close to twenty years. The setting details in Baby Blue were inspired by Ms. Kwasney's vivid memories of her childhood home on the banks of the Chemung River in upstate New York. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with her partner and their nineteen-year-old cat, Samantha. This is her first novel for young adults.

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Baby Blue 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok so i havent read the story but ive heard about it. Also there is this thing where you stand in a mirror and say baby blue once and then count to twelve.you have hold your arms as if you have a baby in them.then you have to run to the toilet drop the baby and flush.........................but if you drop the baby then the mirror will crack and you will here screams or something like that.im not exactly sure because i havent tried it but most of my friends have done before
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read this book several times and have enjoyed it more each time! Michelle has a way of capturing the reader in a way that you can not put the book down. The characters in this book are so convincing as they are going through their journey. You will not be disappointed!
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I say I loved this book I'm not saying this because she was my teacher.her book brings you in to Blue's life. You easily understand the characters after a while, and grow to love and hate some. I really reccomend it to teens and older!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Told from twelve-year-old Blue's perspective very effectively. 'Baby Blue' exposes this young woman's inner struggles, and entwined relationships in a way that deeply moved me. Dealing with domestic abuse; physical or mental abuse is real. Young adults will be able to relate to Blue and her very different sister Star- and the way they both cope with their family difficulties.