The Blind Faith Hotelby Pamela Todd
Surrounded by strangers and a sea of prairie grass, she loses
When her family falls apart, fourteen-year-old Zoe feels like her whole world is going to pieces. Zoe's mother takes her kids away from their father, a fisherman who ships out to Alaska, and moves them to a run-down farmhouse she's inherited in the Midwest. Zoe's stuck -- in more ways than one.
Surrounded by strangers and a sea of prairie grass, she loses her bearings. A brush with the law lands Zoe in a work program at a local nature preserve. But the work starts to ground and steady her. When she meets a wild boy who shares her love of untamed places, it seems he might help Zoe find her way. Or is he too lost, too damaged himself?
Funny and poignant, sharp-eyed and real, this is a portrait of a girl looking for her own true self and a place she can call home.
Zoe, 14, is used to moving, following her father's Alaskan fishing jobs or whatever work her mom can find. This coming move is different, though: her mother, sister, and brother are leaving the Northwest coast for the Midwestern prairie, and their father isn't coming with them. Amid construction on the ramshackle house that her mother has inherited, Zoe feels lost and angry, and blames her mom exclusively for the upheaval. After a minor shoplifting charge, she is sentenced to work for a gruff old man trying desperately to save the prairie he loves. The rippling grass is no substitute for the ocean she left behind, but from pulling out the invasive brush, she begins to understand what Hub says about everything needing space to grow. Gradually, grudgingly, she comes to terms with her new surroundings and finds her place in her family. Zoe's anger is realistic, but readers will lose sympathy for her when it turns to brattiness, and a subplot involving her falling for a boy feels extraneous. Conversations with adults are loaded with metaphors about love, loss, and starting over; they range from poignant to annoyingly forced. Still, though, the novel pushes all the right emotional buttons: family discord, cross-country moves, minor criminal activity, puberty, environmentalism, first love. Despite its flaws, this novel will find an audience with teen girls, particularly those dealing with one (or more) of Zoe's issues.-Brandy Danner, Wilmington Memorial Library, MA
Fourteen-year-old Zoe is furious when her mom leaves her alcoholic, fisherman husband in the Pacific Northwest and moves the family back to Minnesota, where she has inherited an old house she intends to turn into a bed-and-breakfast. While trying to adjust to her new environment, Zoe argues vehemently with her mother and siblings, struggles through outdoor community service for a shoplifting incident and endures the fatherly overtures of a local contractor who has a romantic interest in her mom. Her relationships with a half-wild prairie boy who loves nature as much as she does, her curmudgeonly community-service coach and a wild chicken hawk help her begin to accept what she calls "the blind faith hotel" as home. The slow pace and occasionally sentimental dialogue may deter some readers, but the detailed descriptions of the prairie ecosystem and Zoe's unique bond with the hawk help temper the homespun tone. Permeated with themes of home, family, memory and loss, this title should appeal to fans of Han Nolan and Kimberly Willis Holt. (Fiction. 12 & up)
Read an Excerpt
The last time Zoe saw her father, he was out on the water, drifting away.
The last time. Was it? Things were uncertain. She could never be sure.
This is what she knew for a fact: She'd been lying awake, staring out her window at the moonless dark, when her father came to tell her it was time to go. She pulled on a fleece jacket over the T-shirt and sweatpants she'd worn to bed and went down the hall to throw cold water on her face. They were waiting for her, all of them, outside in the car with the motor running, white smoke rising like a ghost in the blue-black sky.
They drove the curving road along the bay in silence. Her mother and father were in the front seat of their old red Subaru station wagon. Zoe sat in the middle in back, where she always sat, with her seventeen-year-old sister, Nelia, and six-year-old brother, Oliver, on either side of her. She looked past them, peering through the mist-soaked windows at the blurry world, trying to drown out her thoughts by listening to the creak and moan of the windshield wipers. The lights from the cars that passed them on the road were like eyes that searched the darkness.
When they reached the terminal, they turned off and took their place behind a line of cars waiting at the ticket booth. It was too foggy to see the boat coming in, but they could hear its mournful horn sounding as they drove down the hill to the dock.
The man in the booth leaned out the window, grinning behind a thick gray beard, as their station wagon pulled up. "Going back up to Alaska, Daniel?"
Zoe's father pulled out his wallet and handed the man a stack of bills. "Yep. Bundle of crabs up there this year, Jim."
"Well, I hope you get your share before they close the season down." Jim counted the bills, snapping them down on the counter. "Just one, then?"
"Just one," her father said, "unless you kids want to come along and freeze your tails off too." He tossed the words over his shoulder, but did not look back at them.
Jim slapped a ticket into Zoe's father's rough palm. Jim glanced over at Zoe's mother. "Annie, you call if you need any help."
She turned her face to him and nodded. Her smile was as fragile as blown glass.
"You don't deserve her. You know that, don't you?"
"I know it, Jim." Her father put the car into gear.
"You kids mind your mother, you hear?" the man called out to the solemn faces in the backseat.
Zoe's father parked the car, and they walked to the end of the ramp with their father and a line of other foot passengers waiting to board, hoods pulled up over their heads, their shoulders hunched against the damp chill. Waiting: This was the part Zoe knew how to do, the part played over and over by the one left behind. "Good-bye" was the first word she'd learned. For as long as she could remember, her father would leave their home in the San Juan Islands several times each year and make the long journey up to Alaska to catch crabs or halibut or salmon.
They never knew for certain when he would come back. If the fishing was poor, the boats might stay out for months at a time, until they'd earned their wages. A good catch, and he would be home sooner, happy, laughing, and with plenty of money to spend on them.
But this time was different. This time, when he finally came back, his face tanned and polished as a stone, tired, lonesome, and ready to sleep, they would be gone.
They stood together on the pier, seagulls wailing and diving down around them. Oliver ran after the birds, and Zoe reached out to pull him back to the safe center.
"Watch out," Zoe said, reeling him in. "You're too near the edge."
Oliver swooped in the other direction as soon as she let go of him.
Her father wrapped an arm around Zoe and she leaned into him, trying to memorize his face. It was an old habit, something she fell into every time he left, as though she could keep him safe by burning his image into her mind. He had a boy's face, wind-burned and weathered like all the fishermen, but with an easy smile and keen blue eyes. He was slight, but with surprising strength in the muscled arm that held her. When she was little, she thought he was a giant who could do anything. Now she saw that he was a man of ordinary height, his face lined with worry.
Nelia sat down on a wooden bench, facing the water, hugging herself. It was so cold you could see her breath puffing out under the hood of her blue Windbreaker. Their mother stood off to the side.
The ferrymen waved the last of the cars into position on the back of the boat, then made a final call for passengers. Oliver sailed over, and his father encircled him with a rough hug. "Be good, Liver," he said.
Oliver threw his arms around his father's neck and held on until he had to be gently pried loose.
"I don't want you to go." His voice wobbled at the edge of tears.
"Got a job to do, Ollie. Some big ole granddaddy crabs out there are just waiting to crawl into my net." Their father made his hands into pincers and pretended to nip off Oliver's nose.
"You could change your mind," Zoe said. She squared her body at him. "You could come with us."
Her father's eyes hooked hers. "Don't make this harder than it has to be, Zo."
She turned her face away and stared out at the water.
Her mother stepped between them and took hold of Ollie's hand. "She's not the one making this hard, Daniel." Ollie leaned away from her, reaching his other arm out toward his father, but he couldn't span the distance between them.
"It's my fault, isn't it, Annie? It's always me," her father said. "Well, I'm not the one who's taking off and not coming back."
"I'm not going to stand by and let them be hurt by you."
"And you don't think there's a world of hurt in what you're doing to them?" He kicked at an empty bottle, sending it rolling and twisting away. "Damn it, Annie. I'm their father."
Her mother's face tightened.
"Stop!" Nelia got up from the bench as though someone had yanked her. "I can't stand you two doing this any longer."
Zoe glanced nervously at the ferry crouched under the gray sky and the dwindling line of passengers. She didn't want her father to go. But she wanted the pain to leave. She wanted to go back and start over, and she wanted all of this to end. She didn't know what she wanted anymore.
They were closing the gates and getting ready to pull up the ropes. Zoe thought her mother was going to say something, but instead she took Ollie's hand, wheeled around, and walked toward the row of cars on the other side of the terminal.
Nelia sighed and pulled the zipper on her coat up tighter. She went over and kissed her father on the cheek. "I'll miss you," she said. Then she turned and walked back toward the car, leaving only Zoe and her father, standing like sentinels on the line between the past and the future.
"Zoe?" Her father said her name as though there were a question attached to it. But she did not answer him. She stared at the ground, unable to lift her eyes for the weight they carried.
She could feel her father looking at her. They were connected like that. He was the one person who would always listen to her, the one she could go to with all of her questions. Some people gave you answers the way doctors passed out suckers, just to keep you quiet. But her father wasn't like that. She knew she could ask him anything.
Anything. Even the question that was wearing away at the inside of her skull: "Why are you letting her take us away from you?"
"Hey, McKenna." One of the ferrymen called down to them from the deck as he hauled in the ropes. "You going to Alaska or not?" The horn sounded again.
Zoe's father kissed her on the forehead. Then he picked up the heavy bag at his feet and slung it over his shoulder. "I love you, Zo. That's yours to keep. No matter what."
She wanted to say, "I love you, too. Don't die. Come back to us." She wanted to say, "You don't love us. Not really. Not enough." But she said nothing.
Her father walked slowly up the ramp and onto the boat. Zoe remembered something. She bolted for the parking lot, fumbled with the car door, and reached into the backseat for the sign she had made the night before.
Then she ran, breathless, nearly slipping on the wet slats, all the way to the end of the pier. The boat was pulling away. She stood in the mist, holding her hand-lettered sign up, hoping her father could see it. There was a deafening noise as the engines fired up, churning the water and spitting sludge.
Zoe stood alone on the dock, watching the space grow between them. Her father was on the top deck now looking back at her. She saw him lean out over the rail, cup his hand over his mouth, and call something out to her, but she couldn't hear him because of the rumbling of the boat and the wind.
"Wait." She heard Oliver's voice, and looked back to see him scrambling toward the end of the pier. His eyes were set on the ferry. He would have run right off the edge of the dock if a workman in an orange reflector vest hadn't reached out with one arm to block him, and now he struggled to get loose.
Zoe dropped the sign and threw her arms around Ollie. The workman looked down at them. His eyes were full of pity, and she resented it.
"What's the matter, Ollie?"
He was crying and had to sputter out the words. "Booda's gone."
"No, he's not, Ollie. He's in the way back. I saw him there."
"I put him in Daddy's bag. So he wouldn't be lonely."
"I want him."
The air was so thick, Zoe felt as though she were choking on it. "It's too late," she said.
"Make the boat come back."
"We'll get you another bear."
"I only love Booda." He buried his face in Zoe's shoulder, and she held him close.
Nelia and her mother came striding across the pier.
Zoe turned on Nelia. "You were supposed to watch him."
"I don't see why you're making such a big deal out of it. He's all right, isn't he?"
"Like you would care."
"Shut up, Zoe."
"You shut up."
Her mother bent down and held Ollie by the shoulders. "What's wrong?" she asked.
Ollie tried to answer her, but his words were smothered by sobs.
"It's Booda," Zoe said over the top of her brother's head. "Ollie put him in Dad's bag."
"Oh, Oliver," their mother sighed.
They stood together at the end of the pier, watching the disappearing boat. Ollie's weeping faded into a quiet sniffling. He wiped his moist, red face on his sleeve. Their mother put an arm around him and guided him back toward the car.
Zoe went over to pick up her sign and hugged it to her chest.
Nelia tipped the sign back so she could read it. "You spelled it wrong," she said.
"What?" Zoe looked at the letters on the front of her sign. The black ink was running in the rain.
"Bon voyage," Nelia said. "It's b-o-n, not b-o-n-e."
Nelia thought she knew everything.
Copyright © 2008 by Pamela Todd
Meet the Author
Pamela Todd was awarded the Green Earth Book Award and the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award for The Blind Faith Hotel. She has also received grants from the Ragdale Foundation and a grant from the Illinois Arts Council to teach journal writing in a women’s prison. She lives outside of Chicago, Illinois, with her husband and their children, and is an avid prairie gardener. To learn more, visit her website at www.pamelatodd.com.
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Zoe has always had a love affair with nature. Growing up on the Northwest coast and spending all her free time with her father on his fishing boat, practically made her one with the sea. When her mother and father separate and her mother drags her halfway across the country to the Midwestern plains, Zoe thinks her world has come to an end.
Why do they have to move? They've moved a lot in the past several years, but that's been moving to keep up with work. Having her father gone for months at a time on fishing boats is just part of life for Zoe, her older sister, Nelia, and her younger brother, Ollie. They seem to take it in stride. Why can't their mother do the same?
This time is different for some reason. Zoe's mother packs them and all their belongings up in a U-haul and they head east. They're going to the town where their mother grew up. The old family house is now hers and she insists it is just the place for a bed-and-breakfast. Just what does her mother know about running a business, anyway - and how can she take them away from their father?
After a grueling trip where nothing goes right, they finally arrive. The house that supposedly holds so many memories for her mother turns out to be a rundown mess. Just about everything needs replacing, so workmen are soon swarming all over the place. With her mother knee-deep in renovations and her sister and brother busy with newfound friends, Zoe finds herself feeling like she usually does - out of place. She makes one new friend, but that hardly makes up for the fact that she hates school and misses her father more than she could have ever imagined.
Zoe gets more attention than she bargained for when she makes the stupid mistake of shoplifting some bust-enhancing cream. When she tries to return it and right her mistake, she is taken to the police station and later appears in court. Her sentence is a list of strict guidelines and community service work at a nearby nature preserve.
It may not be the saltwater sea she is used to, but the sea of prairie grass where she spends her Saturdays soon becomes a fascinating and magical place. That, along with a mysterious boy named Ivy, might make this new place a home Zoe can learn to love and appreciate.
Author Pamela Todd takes readers on a journey not only across the country, but also into the life of a young girl forced to leave behind the father she loves and the only place she's ever felt at home. Todd gives readers a feeling for Zoe's pain and loneliness, and at the same time, artfully describes the Midwest prairie as nature's ultimate garden.
THE BLIND FAITH HOTEL is not a book filled with rock em' sock em' action, but anyone who appreciates a story with emotion, feeling, and the beauty of nature is sure to enjoy this one.
All of her life, Zoe has never had a real home. One year after the other, her family packs up their things and moves on. Her father had always been her role model by being a fisherman. He knew and explained things differently then others did, but when the family is separated by divorce, Zoe starts doubting everyone. Zoe, her older sister, younger brother, and mother move away once again, to a run down house they plan to fix up to become a bed-n-breakfast. While there, Zoe goes through puberty and becomes self-conscious of her body. She tries to live up to her age and as a result, gets in trouble by the police. As punishment, she has to work at a nature preserve. While she is there, she falls in love with a boy working by her side. Throughout her new life and surroundings, Zoe becomes aware that she has a real home¿ with her family.
The Blind Faith Hotel was anything but normal. It had a meaning. It was wild, exotic, and explained life and home differently than other books. Everything was laid out clearly among the pages. I don¿t know any other book that had such a vivid description as to what family really is. I am very impressed. Yes, it was more than I bargained for, but I certainly needed it. This book will rub off on anyone who reads it, I am certain, for it did for me. It made me want to get my Bible out from my dresser drawer and start reading once more. I sound quite dramatic at the moment, but you will surely understand once you get a copy of the book in your own hands. Girls who are in their teenage years will appreciate everything that Author Pamela Todd has to offer through this one-of-a-kind read.