Comfort by Carolee Dean, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble


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by Carolee Dean

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Nothing ever happened here. Nothing ever would.
Fifteen-year-old Kenny Wilson wants nothing more than to get out of Comfort, Texas—fast. Only three things stand in his way: getting enough money together, convincing Cindy Blackwell to go with him, and escaping the clawlike grip of his mother.

Amidst these problems, Kenny must also contend with


Nothing ever happened here. Nothing ever would.
Fifteen-year-old Kenny Wilson wants nothing more than to get out of Comfort, Texas—fast. Only three things stand in his way: getting enough money together, convincing Cindy Blackwell to go with him, and escaping the clawlike grip of his mother.

Amidst these problems, Kenny must also contend with tumultuous feelings about his alcoholic father (newly released from prison) and his growing guilt over leaving his baby brother behind in a wake of dysfunction. But as life at home becomes even more unbearable and threatens to destroy his plans, he is determined not to lose his dreams to a lifetime of waiting tables in his mama's rundown café. Propelled by desire and despair, Kenny discovers the power of words and how they can change lives in ways he never dared to hope for. He comes to realize that there's a time to stop running and take a stand.

Editorial Reviews

The theme of a likeable teenager with impossible parents has near-universal YA appeal, and Kenny is just such a person. He is from a small town in Texas named Comfort, and he wants to escape as soon as possible. He's a good student, a good writer, but his parents' lives are chaotic and he is smothered by their problems. His mother is trying to make a go of a small café, where she features her husband, Kenny's alcoholic, ex-con father, as the nightly country singer. This father manages to sabotage his own life every chance he gets, and can't take care of anyone else even if he means well. Kenny's mother is strong and obsessed. She insists that Kenny quit the football team and expects him to quit school as soon as he can when he turns 16 in order to work full-time at the café. Kenny works hard, takes care of his little brother, tries to help his father, and falls in love with Cindy, a senior who shares his love of writing, and his dreams of getting away from Comfort. There is a lot of action here: armed robbery; the abuse Cindy endures from both her father and her boyfriend; unwanted pregnancy (not Kenny's child!); and the competition and promise of Texas's University Interscholastic League. Kenny and Cindy go from local UIL writing and poetry reading competitions to the state finals, with dramatic contests at every stage. Kenny is desperate for the prize money, which would enable his escape; Cindy wants the scholarships for the same reason. Events change both their lives in a climactic ending. Kenny's world fortunately is a different world than most YAs experience, but they will understand his feelings of helplessness and his courage to change his circumstances. (Theauthor's note at the end of the novel explains how the UIL works in Texas and how the scholarship she won changed her own life.) Category: Hardcover Fiction. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2002, Houghton Mifflin, 230p., $15.00. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; KLIATT SOURCE: KLIATT, March 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 2)
Children's Literature
Fifteen-year-old Kenny Wilson has dreams. And none of them include slaving for his domineering mama at her café or chauffeuring around his ex-con drunk of a daddy. As soon as his freshman year is over and he has enough money to get a decent start, Kenny plans to leave the stifling town of Comfort, Texas, and begin again in Dallas. A key to his financial plans is to place well in the University Interscholastic League, a real program that has aided young adults in Texas for years, including the author herself. Reading poetry with Cindy, a senior at Kenny's school, is just about the only thing that gives Kenny comfort in Comfort. Meanwhile, his mama is determined to forge Daddy into the best country and western singer who's ever lived, at the same time keeping him off the bottle. All Daddy wants is to get a job and to recover some of the respect he's lost. In this well-thought-out first novel, however, one has the feeling that everyone's plans and expectations will come to naught. Heartbreak and violence lie just over the horizon. This well-paced story stays on track for the most part. Its excellent thematic message could be exactly what many young readers need to hear: Don't be afraid to jump out of your comfort zone in order to chase your dreams. 2002, Houghton Mifflin,
— Christopher Moning
Fourteen-year-old Kenny's life as a student turns grim after his mother, Maggie, makes him quit football and band to work at the family café. When his dad comes home from prison determined to make amends, things get worse because of Maggie's cruel and abusive treatment of Kenny and his little brother and her obsession that her husband become a successful country singer. While Kenny struggles to survive the nightmare of his home life, he writes poetry, dreams of winning a scholarship, and falls in love with Cindy, an older girl who is dating football hero Todd. When Cindy gets pregnant, Todd borrows Kenny's getaway money, telling him it is for an abortion, but the couple gets married instead and uses the money for Cindy's wedding ring. Kenny's dad starts drinking again, and while fleeing his wife's grandiose plans, he is shot and killed in an attempted robbery. A survivor, Kenny makes responsible choices and wins a state competition by reading a poem about his miserable life. As the next school year starts, Kenny's mother has hired help at the café, Kenny is back in the band and on the team, and he develops a close friendship with another survivor, Cindy's younger sister, Suzie. Reminiscent of S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders, this novel poignantly portrays the life of a good kid with rotten parents who are so engrossed in their own problems that their children become emotional orphans. The small-town setting of Comfort, Texas, is depicted effectively, characters are complex and believable, and the concept of comfort weaves through this outstanding, realistic, and hopeful first novel. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School,defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Houghton Mifflin, 240p,
— Sherry York
The small town of Comfort, Texas, does not confine the dreams of high school freshman Kenny Williams, but his family's lifestyle threatens those dreams daily. His alcoholic, ex-prisoner father and desperate scheming mother provide little support even though they do care about Kenny, and three-year-old Roy, Jr. in their own ways. Kenny works like an unpaid servant in the family's truck stop café to fulfill his mother's dream of making Roy Dan Willson, Sr., a guitar singing star. Remarkably, Kenny finds his own talent in the University Interscholastic League Poetry Contest for high school students. Memorable characters are revealed against a fast-paced film-like setting. This author's first novel contains tragicomic elements, and mature subject matter related to physical abuse, alcohol, guns, robbery, and abortion. And to elevate the read, there are references to renowned poets Robert Frost and Maya Angelou, among others. 2002, Houghton Mifflin, 230 pp.,
— Mary Annelle Baker
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-Set in Comfort, TX, this tightly written coming-of-age story begins with Kenny Roy Willson applying for a hardship driver's license. He's only 14, but his mother has doctored his birth certificate to make him 15, the legal age. She needs Kenny to drive his daddy, soon to be home from the penitentiary, to AA meetings since he had 23 DWIs before he robbed the liquor store. Kenny is a good kid, talented in band and football, but his mother makes him give up both. He is also a gifted writer. Mama has plans for her son-to slave away at their 24-hour family caf , to quit school at 16, and to unconditionally support her dream for her husband to become a country-and-western singer. But the teen has his own dream-to leave home. As the bookkeeper, he collects the pay that Mama never gives him and adds it to his "Dallas Fund." Plus, he enters the poetry-interpretation and newswriting segments of the University Interscholastic League competition with the hope of adding to his stash. Kenny is a strong, insightful character who maintains his gentle sense of humor in the most desperate circumstances and gains some understanding of his parents' struggles. Even though he is dealt some hard blows, readers know that he is a survivor. Dean has superbly woven poets and poetry into the teen's story. Outstanding writing, strong characterization and plot development, and good background information make this title rise above many other recent genre entries.-Lynn Bryant, Great Bridge Middle School, Chesapeake, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Freshman Kenny Willson' s alcoholic father is coming home from prison just as Kenny has been saving money to leave small-town Comfort, Texas, where his verbally and physically abusive Mama runs a dive cafe and dreams of turning Kenny's father into a country singing star. Already forced to give up two of his loves-football and band-to slave away in the restaurant, Kenny's only chance of earning enough money is through writing and interpretative oral poetry competitions in the University Interscholastic League. Even this opportunity is shattered when his mother demands that he quit school to work full time in the cafe. This becomes one of many broken dreams within his dysfunctional family. But when Kenny finds the power of words, particularly in poetry, and stands up to Mama, he may have a shot at a more normal teenage life. First-time author Dean offers a realistic milieu in which Kenny teeters back and forth in loving and loathing his family, though the plot edges toward soap opera. Kenny's crude grammar full of "ain'ts" in his dialogue seems at odds with the proper speech of his narrating voice, but he does acknowledge the difference. Although the ending is too pat, readers who crave independence and a way to break destructive family cycles will take interest, as will fans of poetry and poetry slams. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
"Dean has superbly woven poets and poetry into the teen's story. Outstanding writing, strong characterization and plot development, and good background information make this title rise above many other recent genre entries."—School Library Journal, starred School Library Journal, Starred

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
(w) x (h) x 0.82(d)
670L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 3
I wiped down the counter while Mama busied herself off in the back with the tapes returned from record producers in Nashville. So far not one of them had recognized the vocal talents of Roy Dan Willson, and it was driving Mama crazy. It had only been two weeks and already everything Mama had sent out had been returned. I wondered if anybody ever listened to the tapes or if they just sent them back as soon as they arrived.
Mama muttered under her breath as she put new mailing labels on the brown envelopes and got ready to send them out again. 'No ear for talent,' she said half a dozen times. 'I don't understand it,' Mama droned as she hid the extra tapes behind the dishwashing soap. It was a place Daddy was sure never to look. 'They come back so fast. It just ain't logistical.'
'Do you mean it ain't 'logical'?' I said, doubting that she was talking about the logistics of mailing items between Nashville and Comfort.
Mama shoved a mop bucket at me. 'I meant whatever I said, and I said whatever I meant. Now go clean the floor in the dining room.'
I carried the bucket out front and started mopping from one side of the dining room to the other, wondering how I'd ever find the time to prepare for the poetry competition.
Mrs. Peterson says words have power. If that's true then the most potent thing in my life during that time when Daddy first got home was the word 'Dallas.'
That's where I was going. I wasn't stupid about it, though. I watched the news and Sixty Minutes. I knew what happened to runaways out on the streets. I wasn't going to be out on the streets. I had a plan. And I wasn't running away. I was merely going to relocate prematurely. The mistakemost kids make is that they fly off the handle and get scared or mad at their parents and just take off from home without thinking about it ahead of time. Not me. I'd been thinking about leaving for a long time.

Meet the Author

Carolee Dean has crafted a tough and knotty story about life in a small, southern town where poetry slams, country music, and family conflicts coil in a tangle of tragedy and hope. Carolee Dean is a speech pathologist who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband and three children. This is her first novel.

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Comfort 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
arodriguezf More than 1 year ago
Ive never read a more grasping novel like Comfort which provides that in the end after roller coasters of emotional distress & realistic scenarios like abortion, armed robbery, choiceless decisions that seem to lead to the feared dead end people face like the protagonist in this novel. Really captures the Texas scenery well
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Comfort by Carolee Dean
Publication Date: March 2002
3.5 out of 5 stars
PG-13 Sexual References, Alcohol Abuse, Brief Profanity, and Violence

High school student Kenny is forced by his selfish mother to help at their family owned café. He is a member of the family so he helps out, but when his mother who has already taken away football and band declares he is not allowed to enter the one contest that may help him escape his mama, she goes to far. With the return of his alcoholic father who was just released from prison, Kenny realizes the time for escape from his lying father and abusive mother is shortening. All he has to do is come up with 300 more dollars and a way to get Cindy Blackwell to run away with him. But his prison guard-like mother isn¿t the only thing holding him back, it¿s the guilt and knowledge that he is leaving his toddler brother in the very same unloving conditions he¿s trying to escape.

Comfort was an okay novel that explored a high school boy¿s actions and thoughts while living in an abusive environment.

The main character, Kenny, was realistic though a little blind-sighted to life`s joys. He had hopes and dreams of escape that appeared more tantalizing after every demeaning humiliation. Kenny was a caring person when he chose to be, but could also be hard and stubborn. He was a human being barely enduring the stress and torment. A character who I wanted to pity but knew he had a lesson to learn first.

The twists in the plot are what kept the novel moving. If this book hadn¿t served the occasional slap to the unsuspecting face, I could have easily joined Kenny in his hurting world with little hope of escaping.

I enjoyed the insightful ¿lesson¿ the author centered the book around. From page 171, ¿ Your words have power, Kenny. They can give people hope, and courage, and confidence. And they need that.¿ The fact that something you say can effect other people around you is an uncommonly shared, but true actuality. Words have power, we just need to know how to use them.

I recommend Comfort for teens who wish to read a book that¿s more than a ¿light-read¿.

Date Reviewed: December 23rd, 2008

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Guest More than 1 year ago
Comfort is one of the most interesting books I have ever read. Carolee Dean did a fantastic job in writing this book. If you like books with a lot of drama, this is the perfect book for you! A++!!!