Born Blue

Born Blue

4.6 77
by Han Nolan

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Leshaya is a survivor. Rescued from the brink of death, this child of a heroin addict has seen it all: revolving foster homes, physical abuse, an unwanted pregnancy. Now, as her tumultuous childhood is coming to an end, she is determined to make a life for herself by doing the only thing that makes her feel whole . . . singing.
Han Nolan pulls no punches in

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Leshaya is a survivor. Rescued from the brink of death, this child of a heroin addict has seen it all: revolving foster homes, physical abuse, an unwanted pregnancy. Now, as her tumultuous childhood is coming to an end, she is determined to make a life for herself by doing the only thing that makes her feel whole . . . singing.
Han Nolan pulls no punches in this hard-hitting story of a girl at the bottom who dreams of nothing but the top.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
star "Raw, rough, and riveting . . . The writing is superb; like the blues, it bores through the soul. . . . Readers will be absorbed in this intimate and painful voyage."—School Library Journal (starred review)

"Absolutely riveting . . . Leshaya captivates with her strength and determination."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Publishers Weekly
Nolan (Dancing on the Edge) uses boldly honest first-person narrative to recount the saga of an emotionally disturbed teen, whose life-affirming passion for music constantly conflicts with her self-destructive tendencies. Abandoned by her mother, neglected by her foster parents and later kidnapped and sold by her mother to a drug dealer, Janie finds her only source of happiness when she hears "the ladies" Etta James, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan sing. Janie is lily-white, but she identifies more with the music, culture and rhythms of her African-American foster brother, Harmon. When, at a young age, she discovers her own remarkable singing voice, Janie (who changes her name to Leshaya) begins getting the attention she so desperately craves. Her talent proves to be both a blessing and a curse, however, bringing her opportunities and, at the same time, magnetically pulling her into a world where fellow musicians use drugs and sex to heighten their performance. The protagonist's serpentine narration often picks up characters then drops them just as abruptly, mirroring Janie's treatment of others. Some of the developing relationships her reunion with Harmon and her interest in a gifted songwriter, especially demonstrate Janie's inability to connect with others to chilling effect. But other examples feel gratuitous once her pattern of behavior is established. By the time readers reach the novel's conclusion, they will have gained an understanding of the tragic heroine's fears, desires and warped perception of family, but Janie herself remains hauntingly elusive, adding to the impact of the book. The question of whether or not Janie will break her cycle of abuse remainsunanswered, yet young adults mature enough to bear the story's intensity will also likely recognize the characteristics of this deeply troubled girl from their own communities. Ages 14-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, November 2001: Nolan, winner of the National Book Award for Dancing on the Edge and author of other highly praised books for YAs, often writes about disturbed children. Born Blue is about Janie, whose life is a terrible mess. It brings to mind White Oleander, a novel about another girl recovering from a horrible mother and dreadful foster care. Janie's mother left her to drown when Janie was four years old, and from then on Janie was in foster homes. Mama Linda occasionally makes an appearance, and is a crucial element in the final pages of the novel. She is a heroin addict who sells Janie to her dealer and his wife, kidnapping her from a foster home that was dreadful but provided some stability. When Janie becomes an adolescent, she tries to satisfy her endless hunger with drugs and sex, sabotaging every promising relationship, abandoning her own newborn baby. This is grim. The comfort and joy of Janie's life is her collection of tapes of the "ladies" singing: Etta James is her favorite, but she also knows the songs of Aretha, Billie, and the other great soul singers. An African American social worker comes to the foster home to take a little boy to church; Janie pleads to go along, and there the little white girl learns even more about wonderful music. She insists she is black and she changes her name to Leshaya, all the while learning to use her own marvelous voice. Her talent and her dream of being a famous singer help her to endure the rejection of her mother and the other adults in her life. As a young teenage runaway who looks older than she is, she can join bands and earn money by lying about her age and performing. This is alengthy book, the size of an adult novel, which is necessary for developing the complexities of Janie's (Leshaya's) dysfunctional personality, taking her through some crises, including the death of her mother, who is afflicted with AIDS, until she is at a place where we think perhaps she will be able to survive. Nolan tells this entire story in Janie's voice, using a kind of rural, Southern African American dialect (Janie-Leshaya is trying very hard to be black), which occasionally is difficult for the reader. The details about drugs certainly don't glamorize them; and there is nothing appealing about the entire runaway situation for Janie, including her partying with the bands, singing, dancing, and sleeping around—it seems a bleak life, especially since she is so talented but so needy. She does meet some musicians who take music seriously and teach her quite a bit, but at the time she is incapable of sustaining her relationship with them because of her own desperation. Nolan has given us a memorable portrait of a talented young woman. She captures the pathos of a child neglected and abused in a way we won't forget. An ALA Best Book for YAs. KLIATT Codes: S*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students. 2001, Harcourt, 284p.,
— Claire Rosser
Nolan presents the story of a young girl desperately trying to make her own mark in the world yet unwittingly following in her mother's tragic footsteps. Janie's first memory is of almost drowning at the hands of her mother, instilling in her a deep mistrust of all people, especially authority figures. Bounced around from one foster situation to another, Janie grows up with no discipline and little love. Convinced that the people in her life are evil because they are white, Janie yearns to be black. She fantasizes that her birth father is African American so that she can be half-black herself. She surrounds herself with African American influences, even changes her name to Leshaya after her black social worker's dead daughter. Despite Leshaya's attempt to be different from her mother, she repeats her mother's mistakes, becoming using drugs and getting pregnant at age thirteen. There is a glimmer of hope, however, as sixteen-year-old Leshaya makes the ultimate sacrifice for her daughter and breaks the dysfunctional cycle of her family. Nolan creates a believable character in Janie/Leshaya, providing ample psychological foundation to why she eschews her heritage and clings to the African American culture. Nolan manages to show Janie/Leshaya's obsession with blackness without being racist or stereotypical. Using strong and effective language, Nolan has written an engaging novel sure to appeal to older teens of all backgrounds. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Harcourt, 288p, $17. Ages 15 to 18. Reviewer: Jennifer Rice
Children's Literature
This mesmerizing book details the turbulent childhood of Janie, a.k.a Leshaya. Rescued from the brink of death from a drug-addicted mother, this girl has seen it all—foster homes, physical abuse and teenage pregnancy. This childhood damages Janie and prevents her from bonding with anyone around her, even her own child. The only thing that keeps Janie sane is her desire to sing the blues. Learning to feel compassion and empathy are difficult for her. Written from Janie's perspective, this book makes us struggle with her and feel her internal pain from the years of abandonment and abuse. This book is painful, yet important to read because it reveals the tremendous burden placed on many innocent young children. The book includes profanity and sexually explicit scenes. 2001, Harcourt, $17.00. Ages 14 up. Reviewer: Rebecca Joseph
This is the story of Janie (who changes her name to Leshaya when she decides to become a blues singer), a girl with a gruesome history of abuse and survival. Born nearly dead to a herion addict, incredibly, Janie survives the first few years of her life but not easily. Shuffled from foster home to foster home where she is witness to, as well as a victim of, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, drug addictions, and unwanted pregnancy. In the story we meet Leshaya (aka Janie) as she is leaving her childhood behind and trying to make it big by pursuing her dream as a singer. This story asks if a girl like Leshaya/Janie can leave behind the terrible past she has had and find the strength and courage to complete her dream. This book is definitely for older teens, as it is explicit and graphic in its description of various types of abuse. 2003, Harcourt Inc, 300 pp., Ages young adult.
—Samantha Woods
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Janie's Mama Linda abandoned her when she was four, but the heroin-addicted woman shows up at odd times, plucking the child out of her foster home but always dropping her back. Janie's dearest friend is a fellow foster child who also lives at the "stink house." Harmon, an African American, has a collection of blues tapes that he and Janie listen to over and over again. Janie clings to him and to "the ladies," whose music churns through her soul, and, despite her blond hair and blue eyes, she decides she is black. She has been gifted with a magnificent voice that pours out the beauty she craves and the pain she is too young to know. When Harmon is adopted into a loving, well-to-do family, she is heartsick. Mama Linda comes to visit and this time sells her daughter to a couple in exchange for drugs. Janie changes her name to Leshaya and grows into a wild young woman, carelessly using her talent. She recklessly slams shut any of the doors it opens for her. She destroys every healthy relationship she has and while she thirsts for goodness, she lashes out and shatters it. This novel is raw, rough, and riveting. The writing is superb; like the blues, it bores down through the soul, probing at unpleasant truths and wringing out compassion. Leshaya tells her own story-in a bold voice that is rich with unique dialect and fired by desire, rhythm, and longing-and Nolan never interferes. Readers will be absorbed in this intimate and painful voyage.-Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Absolutely riveting and incredibly painful is the story of Janie, unable to connect emotionally with anyone, and clutching her incredible talent to sing as all else fails. Neglected by her addict mother, four-year-old Janie survives drowning to find herself in a foster home she calls "stink house." Despite her blond hair and blue eyes, Janie decides to be black and names herself Leshaya after finding a brother in Harmon, a fellow foster child and comfort from her social worker Doris, both African-American. One day Mama Linda shows up and delivers her nonchalantly to a couple who turn out to be drug dealers who have always wanted a child. Leshaya's marvelous voice and love of the ladies, Sarah Vaughn, Odetta, Billie Holiday, and especially Etta James convince her that she can skip regular life and become a star. Conning help out of kind strangers and lowlifes who intend to use her, time after time Leshaya's twisted logic and "me" philosophy ruin things. Incapable of understanding love or compassion, Leshaya pushes away those who try to help her, and moves on, leaving wreckage behind. Nolan's ability to tell the story from Janie's point of view without excusing her make the disasters even more affecting. Janie's singing lets out her pain in the blues, pain she'll not admit even to herself. Powerful and gut-wrenching, the effect of each succeeding event is like a pile driver pounding all hope into the ground. And yet Leshaya captivates with her strength and determination to succeed even as she shows that she has no idea how to help herself. Writing with an astonishing clarity of voice, National Book Award-winner Nolan (Dancing on the Edge, 1997) has created another fiercely real characterwho elbows herself off the page. Unforgettable. (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.75(d)
920L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
star "Raw, rough, and riveting . . . The writing is superb; like the blues, it bores through the soul. . . . Readers will be absorbed in this intimate and painful voyage."—School Library Journal

"Absolutely riveting . . . Leshaya captivates with her strength and determination."—Kirkus Reviews

Meet the Author

HAN NOLAN has won many awards for her teen fiction, including the National Book Award for Dancing on the Edge. She lives in New England.

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