A Friend at Midnight

A Friend at Midnight

3.9 10
by Caroline B. Cooney

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Lily has settled into life in Connecticut after her parent's divorce but it's been harder on her eight-year-old brother Michael. After their mother remarries, her brother chooses to go live with his father in Washington, D.C., until the day he calls home from the Baltimore-Washington Airport where his father has abandoned him.

Lily is home babysitting her baby

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Lily has settled into life in Connecticut after her parent's divorce but it's been harder on her eight-year-old brother Michael. After their mother remarries, her brother chooses to go live with his father in Washington, D.C., until the day he calls home from the Baltimore-Washington Airport where his father has abandoned him.

Lily is home babysitting her baby stepbrother when she answers the phone. She has no idea the extent to which her faith in God will be tested. There is no choice for Lily. She will rescue Michael, but will she be able to rescue herself from the bitterness and anger she feels?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A Friend at Midnight is the BEST teen novel I’ve read. Lily and her quirky family totally won my heart–they made me laugh and cry and ponder. Brimming with realistic characters, unexpected twists and heartwarming redemptions, this is a superior read!"

Melody Carlson, award-winning author of more than 100 books including her new teen series Notes from a Spinning Planet

Publishers Weekly
Cooney's (Whatever Happened to Janie?) latest tale starts with a jolt of adrenaline: an unnamed adult takes Michael to the airport, says something so terrible the boy knows "right away that he must not think about it," and drives off, leaving the youngster without money or an airline ticket. The boy must make his own way back to the New York suburb where, until just a few weeks ago, he lived with his mother, stepfather, two sisters and toddler half-brother. Several pages later Cooney reveals that Michael is just eight years old and the man who abandoned him was his own father, Dennis, who coolly explains, "You're not the son I had in mind." Riding to the rescue is Michael's sister Lily, 15, who manages to get her brother home without any adult help and, when Michael asks her to, promises never to tell what their father did and said. Horrifying though Michael's situation is, this is ultimately Lily's story, one that centers on her heart-splitting struggle to balance her loyalty to Michael's wishes with her fierce desire to reveal the ugly truth about their father. Matters come to a head a year later, when Lily's older sister, determined to have Dennis participate in her upcoming wedding, tries to insist that Lily make peace with their father. Wrathful, courageous, resourceful, loving and even occasionally light-hearted, Lily is a bracingly refreshing heroine. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Sarah Squires
Lily is a fifteen-year-old girl with anger-management issues. She is mad at her sister for going to college, furious with her mother for remarrying so soon after a nasty divorce, irate with her delinquent father, and irritated that God seems to have abandoned her. Lily's father refuses to pay child support and leaves his eight-year-old son Michael at the airport with no money and no ticket because Michael was "not the son he had in mind." Lily manages to rescue her brother and keep the whole ordeal secret for a year. When Lily's older sister drops out of college to get married, Lily and Michael's secret is revealed because Lily refuses to be in the wedding if her father is present. This book is nowhere close to Cooney's Milk Carton series or Driver's Ed (Delacorte, 1997/VOYA October 1994), but the author's name alone will sell it. Lily's anger consumes the plot and seems unrealistic because she remains so bitter. The reference to the biblical parable in the title fits nicely into the book but could have easily been removed and not missed. Lily prays angrily about her father and ignores the cute boy who desperately tries to befriend her. Of course at the end of the novel, Lily's best friend calls Lily the "friend at midnight," and Lily's faith in God is restored.
Children's Literature - Kathleen Isaacs
When her divorced father abandons 8-year-old Michael at the BWI airport, 15-year-old Lily rescues her little brother without telling the rest of her family. Her resulting resentment, even hatred, poisons her life for the next year and threatens to tear her reconstituted family apart. Cloaked as a suspenseful family story, this is really an extended riff on the Biblical text (Luke 11:5—13) in which Jesus describes the situation of a friend asking for help at midnight, saying "Ask and it shall be given to you." Lily can see that when Michael, unhappy with the changes in his family, which now includes a stepfather and 22-month-old stepbrother, asked his birth father to take him in, his father refused. The 8-year-old sees this as his fault, but Lily is angry not only with her father, but also with Jesus for promising comfort and with God for allowing her little brother to be so betrayed. The tension builds in the first half of the book as Michael tries not to attract attention in the airport and Lily maneuvers to get herself and her 2-year-old brother to Baltimore from New York to rescue him. By the time they have connected, the reader is just as angry as Lily, and will keep turning the pages to see how their secret inevitably comes out and she can forgive. The family dynamics are believable and the action fast-paced. The Christian message will give middle school readers something to think about as well.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
I've always considered Cooney's stories entertaining and good additions to YA collections to attract reluctant readers. This one surprised me and made me understand Cooney has talents I didn't realize. It is about fury, righteous fury, and about how difficult it is to forgive. Cooney writes about a teenager, only 15 years old, who is placed in a most difficult situation. Lily's parents are divorced, her mother remarried and out of town, when Lily gets a phone call from her eight-year-old brother Michael at the BWI airport. He is frantic. Their irresponsible father has angrily deserted him and he is all alone. Lily must figure out a way to get to Baltimore from NYC to pick up Michael, who hysterically makes her promise not to tell their mother because he blames himself for his father's desertion. Lily manages to get Michael home safely, and for a year they keep their secret. Michael is a devastated little boy, and Lily is worried about his sanity. She has screamed at their father that he is scum and no longer her father. Her rage for her father spills over into rage at God, the God she hears about in church. The minister preaches about a Jesus who is a "friend at midnight," and Lily angrily questions where Jesus was when Michael needed help so desperately. The family life is chaotic and interesting. When Lily's older sister comes home to plan her wedding and wants their father to be part of the wedding, Lily says if their father comes, she won't participate, but she feels bound by her promise to Michael not to tell the family why. And Michael, strangely, is happily looking forward to seeing his father again, hoping to prove himself a worthy son. This also infuriates Lily, understandablyso. Cooney brings everything to a climax with another crisis that brings the family together—Michael finally tells the truth about his father to the others and the truth sets Lily free. Still, she has to wonder who was the "friend at midnight." In many ways, this story is profound. The family dynamics are believable and fascinating; and the story is helped as well by Lily's terrific best friend and the unrequited love and understanding offered by a guy Lily has known for a long time. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-In this novel's gripping first scene, eight-year-old Michael Rosetti is abandoned by his father at the Baltimore airport, his hopes of living with his dad after his mother's remarriage dashed by the man's self-centeredness and irresponsibility. Placing a collect call to his 15-year-old sister, Lily, Michael waits until she and their baby half brother fly from New York City to get him and return before their mother and stepfather get back from taking their older sister, Reb, to college. Michael swears Lily to secrecy, and Cooney uses this implausible scenario to tell the story of the teenager's growing fury at her father's callousness and its personality-changing effect on her brother. Throughout the book, Lily grapples with her difficulty in reconciling the Christian beliefs and ethics she learns at church and her inability to forgive her father. When Reb returns from college and announces her impending marriage, planning to have her father walk her down the aisle, the story of his cruelty to Michael finally comes out. It is their quiet, forbearing stepfather who comes up with a way to avoid a confrontation between Lily and her father while preserving Reb's and Michael's loyalty to him, however misguided. Despite many flaws, the story is engrossing and the resolution satisfying. Cooney is somewhat heavy-handed in her criticism of school-system counseling, but she manages to avoid religious platitudes, grounding the story in a teenager's conflict with applying her beliefs to a difficult family reality.-Marie Orlando, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Lily, 15, has never accepted her new stepfather, but knows her real father is a loser. She's sure that no good will come of it when her eight-year old brother Michael goes to live with him. Indeed, Dad dumps Michael at the airport with no ticket, no food and no money. Lily rescues him, but vows not to tell anyone. The incident and their secret wreak havoc on both siblings' lives, even prompting Lily to lose her faith in God. Tension builds even further when Lily's sister wants their real dad to be a part of her wedding and Lily can't tell her about him. When events finally come to a head and the truth emerges, Lily learns much about herself as well as the people around her. Always readable, Cooney is as adept at adolescent psychology as she is at suspense. Yet another enjoyable-and this time enlightening-offering from the author that can expand her fan base even further. (Fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

* chapter 1

For miles, nobody spoke.

Then the driver stopped right in the road and said, "Get out of the car."

Michael's fingers struggled with the latch of his seat belt. The driver reached over with such irritation Michael expected a slap, but the driver just released Michael's seat belt. It was gray and shiny and slid away like a snake.

The car door was heavy. Michael opened it with difficulty and climbed out onto the pavement. The passenger drop-off made a long dark curve under the overhang of the immense airport terminal. Glass doors stretched as far as Michael could see. Men and women pulled suitcases on wheels and struggled with swollen duffel bags. They hefted briefcases and slung the padded straps of laptop carriers over their shoulders. The glass doors opened automatically for them and the airport swallowed them.

"Shut the door, Michael," said the driver.

Michael stared into the car. He could not think very clearly. The person behind the wheel seemed to melt and re-form. "You're not coming?" Michael whispered.

The driver answered, and Michael heard the answer. But he knew right away that he must not think about it. The shape and contour of those syllables were a map of some terrible unknown country. A place he didn't want to go.

"Shut the door," repeated the driver.

But Michael could neither move nor speak.

Again the driver leaned forcefully over the passenger seat where Michael had sat. Michael backed up, the heels of his sneakers hitting the curb. The driver yanked the door shut and the car began leaving before the driver had fully straightened up behind the wheel.

Michael stared at the back of the car, at its trunk and license plate, and immediately his view was blocked by a huge tour bus with a red and gold logo. Passengers poured out of the bus, encircling Michael, talking loudly in a language he did not know.

The bus driver opened low folding doors covering the cargo hatch and flung luggage onto the sidewalk. Bus passengers swarmed around the suitcases. Michael watched as if it were television. When all the luggage had been distributed, the driver folded the doors back, leaped into his bus and drove off.

Michael could see down the road again, but the car that had dropped him off was long gone. airport exit, said the sign above the road.

Three cars drove up next to his feet. Families got out. People kissed good-bye. They vanished into the maw of the airport. Another bus arrived, all its passengers either old ladies carrying big purses or old men carrying canes and newspapers.

Michael felt eyes on him. Not bus people eyes, because the bus people were too busy making little cries of pleasure as they spotted their suitcases.

He didn't have to look to know they were police eyes focused on him. He was not going to tell the police. Not now, not ever.

Michael eased into a knot of bus people, resting his hand on the edge of an immense suitcase towed by a fat chatty lady. Another even fatter lady towed an even larger suitcase. Wherever they were going, they could hardly wait to get there. The ladies hauled their suitcases into the terminal. Michael went with them. The women never noticed him, but surged forward into a ladies' room. Michael stood in the midst of a vast open area. Hundreds of passengers hurried by, separating on either side of him as if he were a rock in a river. They gave him no more attention than they would have given to such a rock.

Michael threaded his way down the concourse until he came to flight monitors high on the wall. Michael was not a good reader. Charts, like the departure and arrival lists on these screens, were difficult for him. Craning his neck and squinting, he struggled to interpret the information. There were several flights to LaGuardia. He counted six in the next two hours. He hung on to this information, as if it might be useful.

Michael was wearing new jeans. It was too hot for jeans, but he had been told to put them on. The crisp pant legs were rough against his skin. His T-shirt, though, was old and soft. It had been his sister Lily's, and he had filched it from her to use as packing around a fragile possession. He had been wearing it lately, even though it came to his knees.

He felt those eyes again. He walked into the men's room to get away from the stare. It was packed. So many men. Fathers, probably, or grandfathers or stepfathers or godfathers. He closed himself in a stall, but the toilet was flushing by itself, over and over, as if it intended to drown him, and he fled from the wet sick smell of the place.

Back in the open space, Michael distracted himself by looking everywhere, even up. The ceilings were very high, with exposed girders in endless triangles that looked like art. He had been in this airport once before and had imagined swinging from those girders, leaping from one to the next, sure of his footing. Michael was not sure of anything right now, not even the bottoms of his feet.

He sat on a black bench that had curled edges, like a licorice stick. Ticket counters stretched in both directions: American, Southwest, Continental, Frontier, Delta. People stood in long slow lines that zigzagged back and forth, separated by blue sashes strung between chrome stands.

Maybe I just didn't understand, he thought. Maybe the car just went to park. Maybe if I go back outside . . .

He felt better. He went back outside.

Taxis and hotel limousines and vans from distant parking lots were driving up. Wheeled suitcases bumped over the tiled sidewalk as loudly as guns shooting. Clumps of people stumbled against him and moved on. New buses took the place of the last set, and their exhausts were black and clotted in his lungs.

The terrible words the driver had flung at Michael had been lying on that sidewalk, waiting for him to come back, and now the words jumped up and began yelling at him.

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