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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


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)

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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Born Blue 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 77 reviews.
Ivaskov More than 1 year ago
i read this book so long ago and i LOVED it. I dont know it made me cry and made me connect with the character.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book several years ago, and enjoyed it very much. You might not always like the bahavior of Lashaya (Janie) but you'll root for her in the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nolan creates Janie, a character that lives day to day without knowing where she will be next. Her voice is her salvation in a world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The language and content is definitely for older teens, and her dialect is something to get used to...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At first when i read it, i mostly thought that the girl was a jerk and had a serious probelm- which she did. It was the kind of book that you read and wish that you could just go and yell at the character. I was dissappointed by the lack of change in the character and the overall sad story. But eventually i realized that she did show some kind of change. Although it wasnt a big thing probably to us, right at he end, she had to make a decision, and her responce did show some sort of change. For someone like her, i think that kind of desicion was a major turning point and that changed my opinion of the book. It still wasnt the best, but i think everybody should read it once they get old enough to realize what is going on and what she should have done.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the best book ive read!!:D
tkhswims More than 1 year ago
I love this book. I would definitely recommend this. Fast and gripping read. I found it to have a few inappropriate parts and story line. Overall one of my favorite books. One of the books you wish had a sequel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the best book i have read i love the meaning of the book and how true it is. I read this book when i was in high school and as an adult now i still love reading this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book i read this book years ago the plot of the story seems so real to what can happen with bad influence as a child
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every time i started reading i couldnt stop... it was great
demiana More than 1 year ago
definate page turner
Volleyball3RS More than 1 year ago
Born Blue is a great book and for very mature 7th grade readers. It's about a girl with a tough life, but gets through it all with one thing, Singing. She's terrific at it, and one day plans to be famous with her given talent. Janie, or who calls herself Leshaya,has been borninto the life of a drug-addict mother, many foster homes, run-aways, the losing of best friends,unwanted memories, and no-turning-back-mistakes. I love the way the author makes Leshaya talk, and it makes her unique, beside from her life. Over all it was a very interesting and well ploted book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
monika18 More than 1 year ago
Born Blue was a book about a girl overcoming many obstacles. Her mother had abandoned her because drugs were more important to her. Janie was passed around from one foster home to another. She eventually changed her name to Leshaya, because Janie was a white girl's name, this reminded her of her mother. Leshaya had a passion for singing. Her ispirations were Odetta and Aretha. She never felt wanted or loved by anyone. Leshaya was doing drugs and got pregnant. She did fall back in the shadow of her mother because of her drug use and abandoning her child. This was the one person that she never wanted to be like. It was pretty much inevitable because of her rough childhood. She has never had people to giude her and show her right from wrong. At the end of the book, Leshaya sees her mother on her death bed. She finds out about her mother's past, and that she wasn't an addict all her life. Finding her mom again, and learning something about her was a way that gave her a little part of herself back. Many people would be able to relate to this story, who have gone through a lot in their life. It's not just about loneliness or finding yourself, but also about the passions you have that keep you going.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
_aimee More than 1 year ago
In Born Blue, Han Nolan takes us on an adventure of a little girl name Janie who grows up to be Leshaya, a young lady with big dreams. The story begins with Janie 7, living with her music lover best friend Harmon in a foster home with Patsy and Pete near Mobile, Alabama. She almost drowns at the age of four because of her mother's negligence. Her mother, Mama Linda, is a heroin addict. Janie receives a sweet social worker name Doris, who goes to church. Janie and Harmon loved the tapes of blue and jazz female artists like Etta James and Billie Holiday. Etta James was Janie's absolute favorite. She loved and wanted to be her when she was older. When she went to church with Doris, she was able found her voice. And after Harmon got adopted, singing became her passion, the only thing no one could ever take from her. Mama Linda kidnaps her from the Patsy and Pete's when Janie was seven. Mama Linda traded her off to Mitch and Shell, a drug dealing couple, for as much heroin as she wanted. When she was with Mitch and Shell in Birmingham was when she took on the name of Leshaya. And then after that, a series of events happened that took her on a eye opening heart felt journey. Her drug-dealing guardians gave her a nice home and a pretty good education. But they got arrested. She then steals money from the home and runs away to Tuscaloosa to reunite with Harmon. Harmon and his adoptive parents take her in. But things go bad with them and she steals some of their prize possessions. Then she falls in love with a band member and loses her virginity to a stranger and get pregnant. Haves the baby and then pushes the baby on Harmon. Then she runs away again and lives with a songwriter/guitarist and records an album. Things don't turn out good again and she runs away. But back to Mama Linda, who is now dying of AIDS. That's when she starts to become more humble and more thoughtful of what had happened in both her's and her's mother life. Then she tries to go back and 'save' her daughter from the cycle of her and her mother's history. But she leaves her with Harmon, thinking that her life would be better with him instead of her. I liked this book for many reasons. As a young adult, it's nice to read about other young adult's experiences. I recommend this book to readers of the age 14 and older. Even though the book was fiction, it told a story with painful events but still quite enjoyable at the end. Many lesson were taught in this book, such as hanging around the wrong crowds, breaking away and learning from the past, burning bridges, trust, and love. I think most of it all helped with finding herself. At the end she was able to put her daughter's best interest first and find her own personal identity. She learned that in the past she brunt many bridges with people. She hurt people who cared about her the most and used them. She hung out with the wrong crowds and became a heroin addict herself. But she became meek after staying with her mother and when she passed and made a decision to leave her daughter. Then was when she was able to move on and strive to become the famous singer she was born to be.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How would you feel if your mother gave you away to drug dealers for drugs? Or if you got pregnant by someone you don¿t even know? Or even being in foster homes, experiencing physical abuse? Just think how you would feel. Well Janie feels that way, in Born Blue by Han Nolan.

Janie grew up in a foster home with her best friend Harmon. Then one day Mama Linda (Janie¿s mom) came to visit Janie. Mama Linda told her that she¿s been sick with amnesia and couldn¿t take care of her since she¿s been in the rehabilitation center. Now Janie did not understand, so Mama Linda came by once a week, then one time she took Janie out and told her to sing for her because Doris (Janie¿s social worker) told Mama Linda she can sing well. Then Mr. James and Mrs. James came and adopted Harmon. That really made Janie sad and depressed. She gets `kidnapped¿ by the drug dealers and has a good life until she finds out her mom had given Janie to her for drugs. She runs away with this boy and gets pregnant at a party where they were drinking and taking drugs. Janie was a part of all that was happening at the party. She then has the baby and gives it to Harmon so the baby can have a good life. She visits her mom and stays with her until her mom dies of AIDs. Then she goes see her daughter contemplating on taking her but is better off leaving her with Harmon. I think Janie needs counseling to get over what her mother has done to her. Harmon needs to carry on with his life and his new daughter and not worry about Janie. The impact this book gave on me is to not do drugs, drink, smoke, and not get pregnant during my teenage years.

I would recommend this book to people that like real teenage world conflicts. Also if you like books about getting over drugs and what they can do to you, and what unannounced pregnancies can do to you if you¿re only a teenager.

Rating~ * * * * *
Sarah Patrick
1st period
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really liked it but it was hard to get use to the slang or the accent she used...the girl was actually really rude in my eyes but it was great to see her percpective...it was very different than most of the books i've read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I borrowed this book from a friend and read the first paragraph and could not put it down... it is truely an amazing book, especially for one of who also has rockstar dreams.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lisa has had a very hard life. Her mother traded her off for heroin. Lisa wants to meet Etta James and she wants to be a big singer like Etta James. But, as they say, you can¿t have your cake and eat it too. She begins singing. she also gets mixed up with drugs herself. She does not want to be this person but she does not know what to do. She never really had that kind of life style, she always had people that she lived with, but did not care what she did. Although there was one family¿ but she does not know how to be good. They tried, but she just did not want their help. She thought that want she was doing is ok. This book was a very good book I think that if you don¿t like to read, and you pick up this book, start reading it, you would not be able to put it down. and The chapters are short, so if you are like me and you don¿t like long chapters, this book would be so good for you.