The Double Life of Zoe Flynn

( 2 )


Zoe Flynn has a secret.

She used to live in California, in a big old house ? the best house in the world really ? at 18 Hawk Road. It rambled and creaked and was full of good hiding places. She used to have a best friend named Kellen who lived right down the road, and a dog named Merlin who loved to play with her. But now she lives in a little town in Oregon, and everything has changed.

Now, Zoe has to be careful. Careful that she doesn't tell ...

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The Double Life of Zoe Flynn

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Zoe Flynn has a secret.

She used to live in California, in a big old house — the best house in the world really — at 18 Hawk Road. It rambled and creaked and was full of good hiding places. She used to have a best friend named Kellen who lived right down the road, and a dog named Merlin who loved to play with her. But now she lives in a little town in Oregon, and everything has changed.

Now, Zoe has to be careful. Careful that she doesn't tell anyone, not her friends or her teacher or especially that cop who's been watching her, that she doesn't live at 18 Hawk Road anymore. That now her family lives in an old green van that's cramped and dirty and doesn't even work all the time. Zoe's always hoping that someday she'll find her way back home....

Lyrically written by Janet Lee Carey, The Double Life of Zoe Flynn is a moving novel about hope, family, friendship, and the true definition of a home.

When Zoe's family has to live in their van for months after moving from California to Oregon so her father can find work, Zoe tries to keep her sixth-grade classmates from discovering that she is homeless.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Plenty of Americans are just a paycheck or two away from homelessness, a point hammered home by this engrossing young-adult novel. Zoe's family sets out in search of greener pastures, but wind up underemployed and living in a van. Carey showcases the nitty-gritty details of the situation, such as having to do homework in a van crowded with four people, or having to pay $4 to take a shower. Zoe is terrified that her classmates will find out she has nowhere to live. When she makes friends (albeit with another misfit), her double life becomes almost unbearable. The author paints Zoe as smart and brave, but she's no superhero: more than anything, she just wants to be normal. 2004, Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, Ages 11 up.
—Donna Freedman
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-At the end of fifth grade, Zoe's parents announce that they will have to pack up the van and leave their small California town so that Dad can look for work. He finally finds a teaching job in Oregon, but they haven't saved enough money for rent, so they're still living in the van when school starts. Zoe is mortified and desperate to keep anyone from suspecting their plight, but it's hard to keep up a good front. She struggles to maintain a friendship with Aliya, who soon wonders why she is never invited to Zoe's house and even intimates that anti-Muslim bigotry might be the reason. Magical thinking-that she can win enough money to buy a house, that the glass doorknob she's pilfered from her old home will someday open the door to a new "dreamroom"-keeps Zoe from utter despair. After she saves enough money from doing odd jobs, she takes the bus back home and discovers that nothing there is the same. A near-tragic event leads to a reunion with her family. By book's end, Zoe has come to terms with living in a mobile trailer park and has reconciled with Aliya. The struggles of this middle-class family to keep their heads above water are realistically and sympathetically presented. As a topic for discussion or a comfort to those in similar situations, Carey's book should be widely appreciated.-Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Zoe learns to cope with change, friendship, and homelessness in this poignant tale. Zoe's family hasn't been doing too well since her dad's bookstore went under and he was laid off from his teaching job at the local college. When they lose their apartment's lease, her parents resolve to leave Zoe's beloved town of Tillerman while her father looks for work-after all, "What good was a Ph.D. in English literature when you couldn't make the rent?" Despite Zoe's protests, the family leaves, driving north to Oregon and living in a van. In their new town, the Flynns stay illegally in their van while they try to save up enough money for the first and last month's rent in some apartment. The need to keep their secret comes between Zoe and her new friend Aliya, and heartbroken Zoe wonders if she will ever make it home to Tillerman, or be able to keep a friend in her new town. Thought-provoking, despite occasional lapses into social-studies lessons about Islam. (Fiction. 9-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416967545
  • Publisher: Aladdin
  • Publication date: 10/29/2007
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 832,482
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

JANET LEE CAREY grew up in Marin County California surrounded by whispering redwoods. Sunlight cut through ocean mist and fingered through the branches. It was in this magical place that she first dreamed of writing books. Her award-winning teen fantasy novels are translated into many languages. Some include: The Dragons of Noor, which won a Teens Read Too Gold Star Award for Excellence, Stealing Death, which received a School Library Journal starred review, Dragon’s Keep, an ALA Best Books for Young Adults, and Wenny Has Wings, a Mark Twain Award recipient and a Sony Feature Film Japan, 2008. Janet lives with her family, dusty book stacks, and imperious cat near Phantom Lake in Washington. Visit Janet online at

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It wasn't like an earthquake hit on that hot July day in Tillerman, but the world might as well have leaped up like a crazed bull and tried to buck Zoe off its back. If Zoe had known what was coming, she wouldn't have stuck around to help her mom with dinner. She would have gone to Kellen's house, eaten macaroni and cheese, and spent one more night as a regular kid.

Zoe thought about it later, trying to figure out the exact moment when she heard the first rumblings of her own personal earthquake. And she decided it began with hide-and-seek. Her house on 18 Hawk Road was a great place to play because it was big and old and there were tons of places to hide.

"Fifty-five. Fifty-six." Her brother, Juke, was counting in the kitchen. Kellen had already raced down the hall, but Zoe was still circling. Where to this time? Behind the ancient piano? The storage nook under the stairs? Juke knew too many of her hiding spots, so she'd have to pull off a good disappearing act to win. She peered under the couch. Too easy.

"Seventy-eight." Smack. Crunch. "Seventy-nine." Juke was downing saltines while he counted. Zoe ran around the corner and made a dash for Dad's stuffed chair in the sunroom.

"Taken," whispered Kellen. She sucked on a strand of honey brown hair, and her green eyes said everything. She wasn't going to budge.

"Ninety-seven. Ninety-eight. Ninety-nine!"

Zoe flew into her parents' room, usually off-limits, but this was an emergency.

"Ready or not. Here I come!"

Zoe dove under the double bed. She was deep inside the musty dark, blowing away dust bunnies, when she saw Juke's bare feet just outside the bedroom door, his toes iced in brown dirt. He turned slowly and brushed against Grandma Nell's rocking chair. The chair rocked back and forth as if a ghost were settling in. Tension grew in her chest as Juke passed the bedroom door and headed for the dining room.

She should make a dash to the base soon, but Juke was still too close by. Better to kill a little more time under the bed. She slid on her belly just far enough to eye the photographs on the bedroom wall. Dad and Juke standing with Max outside Horizon Books before it went under. Mom with her prizewinning roses at the garden fair. Then there were those stupid baby pictures. Shots of her in a tie-dyed T-shirt and sagging diapers rocking out at a Jam for Breakfast concert. Another shot taken when she was three, sitting next to the band's drum set, eating a chocolate brownie, her round cheeks so brown, it looked like she was maybe pigging out on a hunk of mud. She'd ripped those two shots off the wall one time last year, but Dad had put them back.

Zoe licked her dry lips. What was the deal with those photos, anyway? So they captured the days when Dad took the family on tour with Jam for Breakfast. That was history. They'd put down roots here in Tillerman when she was four, and this was home now.

She listened for Juke and was considering a brave dash for home base when the phone rang. By the third ring her mom's slender feet appeared in tattered sandals and crossed the floor. "Oh, hi, honey." The bed dipped suddenly as Mom sat down, the springs catching a strand of Zoe's hair.

Zoe bit her lip and worked to untangle the brown strand as Mom talked to Dad. "Oh," said Mom, her voice low and disappointed. "Okay, Hap." There was a long pause. A sort of throaty sound. "Did you speak to Mr. Sallenger? Uh-huh. A deal already?"

Zoe listened closer. Dad had made a deal with the landlord, but then Mom didn't sound happy about it.

"No," said Mom, "it doesn't surprise me. He's been talking about that for a long time." Another low sound, like wind through a pipe. "No," said Mom. "I'm not crying. I'm not blaming you. Stop being so paranoid.

Yes, I know we have to do this!" Zoe's fingers froze, midtangle.

"I told you I can handle it!" Mom stood up suddenly, and Zoe squealed as a hunk of hair pulled away from her scalp.

"Just a minute, Hap." A pale face with long black hair appeared under the bed. "Zoe, get out from under there. Now!"

Zoe's T-shirt gathered dust as she scooted out from under the bed. "Hide-and-seek," whispered Zoe, but Mom looked stern, as if Zoe had been purposefully spying on her.

"It's nothing, Hap," said Mom as Zoe fled the room. "Just a game the kids are playing."

Zoe's legs felt heavy as she started for home base in the kitchen. She didn't care so much about being caught now. She wanted to be caught. She stood in the living room feeling the white heat zap through the front window. It fell across her bare feet and lit up the red-gold pattern in the Persian carpet.

Merlin trotted up the stairs and licked her hand. She rubbed his soft golden fur.

"Hey!" shouted Juke as he rounded the corner. "One two three on Zoe!"

"Yeah, sure," said Zoe. "You got me." She tipped her head, trying to hear more of the conversation in the next room. Was Mom crying? Juke shrugged and ran off to find Kellen, and the room was quiet again.

Outside in the front yard the trees were still, not even a whisper of wind in the branches. Then there was a familiar rattling sound as the old pipes under the floorboards pumped water to the master bathroom. The toilet flushed, gurgled, and Mom raced out of her bedroom. "Zoe? Run and get the plunger, quick. The toilet's stopped up again!"

Ten minutes later Mom was still cursing and plunging the toilet. Kellen was on her way home, and Zoe was told to set the table.

Game over.

It was the last game Zoe ever played at 18 Hawk Road.

Steam rose from the soup pot, filling the air with the odor of cooked onions. It was too hot for soup, but food had been scarce since Horizon Books went under and onions were cheap. Plates and bowls were already on the table. Zoe slid open a drawer and pulled out four spoons. Mom came in, paused, and blew upward, her bangs fluttering like startled blackbirds.

"Toilet okay?" asked Zoe.

"Doesn't matter," said Mom.

"What do you mean?"

Mom didn't answer. That wasn't like Mom, but then, she'd been pretty uptight ever since Dad lost his teaching job and the bookstore, too. Zoe grabbed the napkins and left her in the kitchen, leaning over the counter, tossing the lettuce and tomatoes fiercely, as if they were in the way of something she wanted at the bottom of the bowl.

Half an hour later the family gathered for dinner. Dad set the soup pot on the hot pad and took his seat at the head of the table. Onion soup and corn bread in July. Heat on heat. The soup steamed. The corn bread bent the air above the pan like a mirage. The damp air glued Dad's gray-blond hair to his forehead. He pulled it back and adjusted his ponytail before opening his napkin.

Mom's lip quivered as Dad served the soup. No one mentioned today's job interview, even though the no hung over all of them and wrung sweat from their skin like the soup steam. Zoe stared out the cracked old window to the backyard. Twilight. The acacia branches moved slowly in the wind, as if they were under water. The tree looked cool and inviting. She decided to eat fast, run outside, leap onto the tire swing, and fly over the ravine. She'd swing till the moon and stars came out. All she had to do was finish her soup and corn bread.

After dinner Dad passed around a plate of Oreos for dessert. A real treat like they hadn't seen in months. Zoe wanted to say What gives? but then she lost her mouth to the crisp chocolate and sweet cream filling. She was dunking her second cookie when Dad leaned back in his chair and said he didn't get the job. No surprise there.

Juke licked the creamy center of his Oreo and told Dad to find another job in town.

"The trouble is, we're living in such a small town. And with the economy the way it is..." Dad crossed his arms. "I've tried for months now. I've looked in Tillerman and hunted for work a couple of hours' drive in all directions. Too many places going out of business around here. There just aren't any job openings."

Mom cleared her throat and toyed with her water glass. Dad leaned forward. "Mom and I have talked it over. We've tried everything, and it's just's time to move on and look for work elsewhere."

"Move on?" whispered Zoe.

"To where, Dad?" asked Juke.

"We'll head north," said Mom, trying to smile. She reached for Dad's hand. "Some of the college towns up there will probably have work."

"It'll be an adventure," said Dad.

"Like the years you toured with Jam for Breakfast?" said Juke.

"Not exactly," said Dad.

"No," said Zoe.

Dad leaned back in his chair. "It's not like we have much choice, honey."

"What about Merlin?"

"Max and June said they'll keep Merlin for us until we find a place to — "

"You guys go ahead," said Zoe. "I'll stay here."

"Honey, you can't stay. We have to be out by the end of the week. Mr. Sallenger's got a buyer."

Zoe leaped up. "18 Hawk Road? For sale? When did he do that?"

"He's had an interested family ready to buy for a while now, and it looks like the deal's going to go through."

So this was "the deal" with Mr. Sallenger that Mom had mentioned in the phone call. "But he can't kick us out! This is our home! "

"Zoe, we can't go on living here," said Dad. "I know you're upset, but we have to move on."

Zoe steadied herself against the chair. The rumblings she'd felt earlier had accelerated, and the quake was definitely hitting her now. "Who'd want to buy this old place?" she yelled. "With stains on the wood floors, leaky pipes, the furnace that conks out every winter, the backed-up toilets that have to be flushed three times, the — "

"Zoe, sit down," said Dad, pressing his index finger on the table. But Zoe turned and raced from the dining room with Merlin at her heels. Downstairs she closed her bedroom door and turned the lock.

Her heart splashed down like some stupid stone in some stupid river. She went cold all over. This was her house. The whole crazy, crooked place. The sunroom with its sloping floors you could roll your marbles down. The wide, bright living room. The walls with sagging wallpaper. The sinks that coughed and spat when you turned them on. She knew every creak and crack and cranky sound of the place.

Merlin wagged his tail and licked her bare feet. "Cut it out, Mer." She stepped into the center of her room, feeling the cool linoleum floor on the soles of her feet. She'd stay here. They couldn't make her move. Not if the door was locked.

Outside the sky was turning deep blue. Her toys and stacks of games turned into blue shadows as the room filled with twilight. Even the glass knob on her closet door was blue, as if a secret ocean were slowly flooding her room.

From the hall behind her came the sound of footsteps. Dad knocked on her door. "Zoe? Can I come in?"


"Zoe, don't do this."

Zoe stood still until the knocking stopped. The air was thick with color. Zoe moved her arms. Swimming in it. Losing herself in the middle of the blue.

Copyright © 2004 by Janet Lee Carey

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Reading Group Guide



By Janet Lee Carey


When Zoe's father loses his teaching job and his bookstore, the family has to leave California and what Zoe calls the best house. Ending up in a small town in Oregon and living in the family van, Zoe struggles with dramatic change, embarrassment, and keeping the family's plight a secret from everyone.


Homelessness; Family life; School stories


• Without naming names, have you ever had someone say something in class that embarrassed you, like Zoe's experience with the pink moon?

• If you had to leave your home, what would be the one thing you would absolutely have to take? Why?

• Why will Zoe not tell Aliya about how she is living? What are the parts of Zoe's life that are double?

• After reading about Zoe's family being homeless, has it made you look at homeless people and families in a different way?

• Are any of Zoe's plans, such as the lottery tickets and Galaxy Burgers, realistic?

• What is the secret doorway? How is it different for different people?


• Check out Helping Families Hopelink at

• Check out National Coalition for the Homeless at

• Research what is in your town or community that helps homeless or poor families. Find out what these organizations need, then organize a class project to help one of these agencies.

• On her website, Carey says that a child must have courage. What are the four requirements of courageaccording to Carey? Write how they apply to you and what you can do to attain courage.

• Have the local police or sheriff's department do a bicycle safety program at your school. Have them talk about some of the more dangerous areas in your community for bicycle riders.

• Go to the library and find information about selkies. What other stories about selkies can you find besides the one Zoe's dad tells?

• Zoe's dad has Zoe and Juke close their eyes for "movies of the mind." Have volunteers from the class tell a story while the rest close their eyes.

This reading group guide is for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

Prepared by Julie Tomlianovich

© William Allen White Children's Book Award Please visit for more information about the awards and to see curriculum guides for other master list titles.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2006

    The Double Life of Zoe Flynn

    Have you ever felt as if you hated the home you grew up in and wanted to move out right away? Or the opposite, you love your home and could not picture yourself living anywhere else? Well then The Double Life of Zoe Flynn by Janet Lee Carey, is the perfect book for both situations. This book fits under the genre of realistic fiction I would also recommend this book for ages twelve through fourteen, and anyone who believes that they live in the worst place imaginable. The Double Life of Zoe Flynn is a heartwarming story about a perfect family who live in the town of Tillerman. They have everything they need from a big house, to great friends. However, terror strikes one day when Zoe finds out that she must pack up everything and move out due to her father¿s loss of a job. Now, Zoe must leave behind her great life, from her beautiful life on 18 Hawk Road, to her best friend Kellen who she has known since she has been able to walk, and shift over to life on the road. Since Zoe¿s father does not have job, it leaves them no with no money to afford a house. With that, they must live in their van while Zoe¿s father finds a job. Will Zoe be able to leave behind her great life, survive going to a new school, trying to make new friends, and on top of that, have to live in an old beat up van? Find out as you read the story about one young girl, trying to live her life one day at a time! After reading this book, I must say that I myself have now realized how great my home is. Even though my town is not the greatest throughout the United States, I now see that I have everything I need. With a great home, a loving family, the most amazing friends, and a school that I can get an education in, what more could a girl ask for? Just like Janet Lee Carey says, ¿The home that you grew up in is magical¿ I am now able to understand that after reading this book. It does not matter if you grew up in the biggest house on your block, or the most beat up and smallest house on your street, I really do believe that the home that you grew up in is magical. However, if you do not believe me, I challenge you to read this book and find out for yourself. I truly am amazed on how this book had really changed my outlook on where I live, and that is why I give it two thumbs up!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2005

    An okay book

    Its a cool book, a medium book, not great, but good, its not a poor book, but i didnt like it as much, but you should read it if ur a starter in novels!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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