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Holding On to Zoe

Holding On to Zoe

3.0 1
by George Ella Lyon

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After sixteen-year-old Jules has her baby, Zoe, it doesn't matter anymore that her mother thinks she's a drama queen, or that her father left them years ago, or even that Zoe's father is gone, too. She and her baby make a family now; she doesn't need anyone else in the world except Zoe.Though it's tough being a new mom, balancing Zoe's needs with working at the


After sixteen-year-old Jules has her baby, Zoe, it doesn't matter anymore that her mother thinks she's a drama queen, or that her father left them years ago, or even that Zoe's father is gone, too. She and her baby make a family now; she doesn't need anyone else in the world except Zoe.Though it's tough being a new mom, balancing Zoe's needs with working at the Toyota factory and thinking about how to finish school, Jules is sure she'll figure it out. Still, she wonders, why can't anyone be happy for her and Zoe? And why does her mom refuse to believe that Zoe's real?

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Lyon's ability to rouse empathy in her readers is most evident in Zoe, in which Jules refuses to accept that she had an ectopic pregnancy and lost her baby, caring for her bundle as if it were a real infant. Lyon brings in the real issues that can and do cause so much heartbreak around teen pregnancies: disappearing boyfriends, conflicts with parents, the shortage of affordable child care, and getting a high school diploma as the girl struggles with her delusions and refuses to accept the truth. Jules is as certain of her unconditional love for infant Zoe, as she is doubtful of it from her own mother, a tired and irritable social worker. She's hardly the mom Jules envisions herself becoming. But here too, the author keeps a taut balance between a traumatized daughter who had been brutally victimized as a child and a mom who's a single parent for the long haul. Lana respects, for example, the fact that her daughter's pining for a father who left them both, but this doesn't make it easier to pay the rent or to relax at home after a long day. A loyal friend and her family provide a softness that seems to be missing in Jules's home, but even they can't get through Jules's defenses. It takes a caring therapist for her to face what's real and what's not and to begin to heal.Georgia Christgau, Middle College High School, Long Island City, NY
Publishers Weekly
This spare, tense novel explores the aftermath of the ectopic pregnancy of 16-year-old narrator Jules. Lyon (Sonny’s House of Spies) weaves skepticism and mystery around the baby, which Jules names Zoe, while conjuring sympathy for Jules and her desire to care for her child. Jules copes with abandonment by Damon (the classmate who got her pregnant) and the harsh reactions of her cold, overworked mother—who initially refuses to believe Jules is pregnant—and her supportive, if brutally honest best friend, Reba, who bursts into tears nearly every time Jules mentions Zoe. Readers will get the sense very early on that all is not what it seems in Jules’s world, or her mind, and an exceptionally kind and skilled psychologist helps Jules face reality and explore her pain. While a surprising, late-breaking revelation is not entirely earned in the narrative, Lyon offers a haunting portrayal of a girl’s psychological trauma and the defenses she builds in order to feel less alone in the world. Ages 14–up. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. (July)
From the Publisher

“...readers will gain an important new perspective on why some teens welcome the idea of pregnancy.” —BCCB

“…an intriguing window into the life of a damaged teen.” —Kirkus

“. . . readers will be intrigued by this unique story.” —Booklist

“Lyon brings in the real issues that can and do cause so much heartbreak around teen pregnancies: disappearing boyfriends, conflicts with parents, the shortage of affordable child care, and getting a high school diploma as the girl struggles with her delusions and refuses to accept the truth.” —School Library Journal

Children's Literature - Jodell Sadler
If readers are looking for a different book that makes them think and rethink about actual events as if it is as much drama as it is an unfolding mystery, then this is definitely the right read. The jacket flap reads, "After sixteen-year-old Jules has her baby, Zoe, it doesn't matter anymore that her mother thinks she's an attention-hungry drama queen, or that her father left them years ago, or even that Zoe's father is gone, too." When readers begin to realize that Zoe is here, but not here, and begin to grapple with Jules's reality, many issues begin to surface that are kept well-hidden. It matches the reality teens face when it comes to incest, teen pregnancy, or even abuse. Who or what exactly is Zoe? Readers who stick this one out will definitely learn a lot about finishing things, figuring things out in your own way, and finding your own space in the world. What is interesting about this whole story is that it is Jules's as well as the author's. In this title, "reality, memories, and delusions collide" and really raises the question: what is a girl to do? Reviewer: Jodell Sadler
Kirkus Reviews
After an operation for an ectopic pregnancy, an emotionally distraught 16-year-old girl struggles to care for her imaginary baby over the objections of her caring best friend and angry, joyless mother. When readers meet Jules McCauley, she believes she's working in a factory that provides housing for her and daycare for her newborn baby girl, Zoe. But as she talks about her experiences--the "get-acquainted meetings" for the workers run by Dr. Stapleton (whom Jules thinks is an efficiency expert), the craziness of the other employees, and the vitamins the staff insists she take--it gradually becomes apparent that Jules is delusional and in an institution. Sensitively weaving the past and present together, Lyon adroitly describes the texture of the troubled teen's world in the girl's voice, which switches tenses appropriately. Particularly masterful is her depiction of Jules's social-worker mother, an icy, furious woman who is so emotionally tone-deaf that she's surprised when a potential client with cancer is offended when she asks if the woman will be around long enough to collect benefits. Jules' therapy in the hands of the kindly Emma Douglas initially works, but the pat conclusion--an epiphany that leads to a too-easy cure--is hard to buy. Still, an intriguing window into the life of a damaged teen. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

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Read an Excerpt

Holding On to Zoe

By George Ella Lyon

Farrar, Straus Giroux

Copyright © 2012 George Ella Lyon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-5528-7


I SWEAR I WON'T WORK IN THAT FACTORY one day longer. It is killing my legs, my ears, my back. Tending the line that puts door handles on minivans, that's what I do: sweeping to make sure nothing's underfoot for workers and taking production numbers from the foreman to the supervisor. The machines count, of course, but they want a human count, too. All day I hear the zing and whump of the machines, feel the vibration that aches my bones. Halfway through the afternoon I tell myself, You're never coming back. You don't have to. Nobody can make you.

Then I get off my shift, walk the long hall to the day care, and as soon as I feel the warm weight of that baby in my arms, I know I'll go back. I've only had this job a few weeks. I'll get used to it. I have to. How would I pay for her diapers otherwise? How would I afford her doctor? How would I pay our rent?

Why am I working in that factory day after day anyway? Why did I leave high school, my best friend Reba, and Mom's little apartment to take this job and move to an apartment at Toyota?

Zoe is the answer. Zoe is the answer to everything.

* * *

Of course, I used to think the answer was Damon. Damon of the curly brown hair and the smoky dark eyes, Damon who was so moody and funny, humming and winking at you one minute, gone off inside himself to some dark place the next.

I still think I loved Damon: the way he walked down the hall at Stuart Ellis High like he was about to step out on a stage where fans were waiting, the way he loved music so much he didn't have time for English and history but spent exams drawing guitar fingerings which he turned in instead of answers, the way he wrapped me in his strong arms and sang to me after.

Sex was okay but it didn't give me what I thought it would, didn't bring me any closer to understanding Damon — or even to feeling close to him. That's pretty funny, isn't it? Here this guy is inside your body and still you don't feel you're with him. It was in the singing afterward that I felt close. Close and held. I would have given a lot for that. I did give.

And after I missed my period, when I told Damon about Zoe, he said he would marry me, just like that. His dad was a truck driver, never around, and my dad had skipped out years ago. Damon said he'd be damned if he'd let his kid grow up that way.

I couldn't believe this. I thought he'd offer to go with me to the doctor, maybe contribute to the cost of an abortion. So when he said he wanted to marry me and have the baby, I envisioned a whole new life. We would be a family — Mama, Daddy, baby! I laughed and cried. We were huddled on the wall of the skateboard park near the school. I'd been so sad and scared, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I wasn't alone. Damon put his strong arms around me — I remember his navy blue sweatshirt smelled like cigarettes and fabric softener — and I rested against him, a little bird safe in the nest. Till the nest flew away. Damon told his mom that night and she yanked him out of school the next day and sent him away. Just like that.

He didn't even tell me in person. He called me from the Greyhound bus station the next afternoon.

"Hey, Jules —"

"Are you sick? Why weren't you in school?"

"I'm sorry," he said. "I told my mom and she threw a fit. She's sending me to Tennessee to work construction for my Uncle Rick."

"She's what? What about school?"

"She said I'm about to flunk out anyway, which is true. But the thing is, Jules, working construction is really bad for my hands."

"Your hands?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

"Yeah. Guys get fingers smashed and tendons torn all the time. It could ruin my guitar playing."

"Damon," I heard my voice getting higher. I was pacing the small box of our kitchen and about to hyperventilate. "What about our baby, our family you were so sure about yesterday?"

"Grow up, Jules. Like Mom says, we can't have a baby. We're kids."

"But we are having a baby, Damon. You can leave town but I'm still pregnant."

"I know. And whose fault is that? Anyway, when I get paid I'll send you some money to help get rid of it."

"Rid of it?"

"You know what I mean."

"I do, but I can't believe you. Yesterday —"

"Yesterday I was a kid, pretending. Now I'm a man with a job that I've got to get out of fast. Got to make my way to Music City. At least at Uncle Rick's I'll be in Tennessee, that much closer ..."

My throat was hurting like I wanted to cry and my heart was pounding like I wanted to scream, but I just said, "Is there a phone where I can call you?"

"I don't know where I'm staying yet," Damon said. "Maybe with Uncle Rick, maybe with one of his friends. But I'll let you know. You'll see. I'll make it up to you. When I'm playing at the Bluebird Café in Nashville —"

Talk about fantasy, I thought. "But you won't be here," I said. "I need you here."

"Sorry, Jules. They're calling my bus."

"I'm sixteen and pregnant," I said. "And the daddy of my baby is skipping town."

"Sounds like a country song," Damon said.

I hung up.

* * *

I stood in Mom's kitchen, my finger threaded in the black loops of the phone cord. I felt as alone as if Damon had never happened. Cast out of the circle we'd made, that small hot space where I had tried to feel at home.

I took a deep breath. Think of a good thing, Jules, I told myself. There's got to be one. Oh, yeah. Your mother wasn't here when he called. That's it. Things could be worse. Lana Livingston McCauley could be standing in this room.

And she will be home from work before long, I realized. I'd better get hold of my life while it is my life.

The first thing I do is look across the breakfast bar, through the living room and out the grimy window. We're on the second floor, but I know that beyond the parking lot, diagonally across Willow Street, is a laundromat.

Well, that'll be handy, I think. I can wash the baby clothes right across the street. Mom always says it takes too much time to wait on the machines in this building. There are only four and usually one is out of order. Plus they're in a dank dingy room. Gross.

I have to have this baby, Damon or no Damon. I can't be alone anymore. Of course I'm not feeling sick or cosmically sleepy yet. That comes later. I don't feel weird at all, unless you count being sure of something as weird, which I guess it kind of is for me. Before Zoe, I was always looking around to see how I was supposed to be, picking up signals from my parents first and later, after Dad left and Mom was too busy, looking to other kids for clues.

Sometimes I'd try to talk to Mom like my best friend, Reba, talks to her mother — try to sound casual, connected. Like one day when she got home late, I said, "Hey, Mom, there's a new Chinese place on Weber. Reba's mom says it's great. I could go pick some up and you wouldn't have to cook."

She ran her hand through her short hair, put out her lower lip, and blew air up till it lifted her bangs. Exasperation. Then she said, "Jules, may I remind you that we are not the Karims? Your father is not a lawyer — he was a private pilot, for heaven sakes. And at this point I don't know what he is except gone. I don't have the luxury of staying home like Sara Karim, and we do not have money to throw around."

"I know, Mom. Sorry."

"It's not just our expenses, I've still got school loans to pay off."

"I know, I know." After Dad left, Mom had to go back to school. Her part-time office work wasn't enough, so she went to college and became a social worker at the same place she used to file and type.

When Damon and I first got together, I even tried to be like him, saying books bored me, ignoring homework, trying to buy into his dream. He'd make it big in music one day and we'd travel and see the world. I liked imagining this but I couldn't be Damon. I wanted stuff to think about, too. I wanted my own dream. That's how I am. Also, when it came down to it, I had to do well in school. For Mom.

Anyway, my days of trying to be like somebody else or blend in are over. Now that I'm pregnant, forget it. Every day that passes, I will be less blended in.

And it turns out that I have a voice inside me that knows her mind. Maybe she was always there but I never listened before. Maybe it was that one speck of boy juice that nested itself in the egg and changed me. I don't know. I just know when I quit looking to other people for directions, I found my own map.

* * *

It's late January. My baby won't come till the end of summer at the earliest, so I can finish my junior year. I'll keep my part-time job at Baskin-Robbins until I start to show, and then when the baby comes, I'll have to find a better job and finish school somehow.

Think, Jules, I tell myself. What do people with kids do? Kids with kids?

No, what can I do? Me, Juliet McCauley, always called Jules. Me, somebody's mother.


FOR A FEW WEEKS I DON'T DO ANYTHING but go to school, scoop Rocky Road, do homework, and grow Zoe. I don't tell Mom or Reba. I am sickish in the morning, but not throwing-up sick, though smelling the ice cream — especially piña colada — makes me gag. And my thinking has changed. When Mr. Turner, my AP history teacher, talks about the Challenger explosion (it's the first anniversary), about how brave the astronauts were, especially Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, I think, but she was a mother. She didn't just leave the earth. She left her children. How could she do that?

Then, on the day after Presidents' Day, I am talking to Reba outside precalculus when bam! just like that, I throw up onto one of my clogs.

"Jules!" Reba exclaims. "Gross!" Then, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," I say. "Do you have any Kleenex?"

She digs in her backpack, then hands some over and says, "Hold on. I'll get some paper towels from the bathroom."

Reba disappears around the corner while I dab at my shoe and the floor with a wad of pink tissue.

Waves of heat and yuck flap through me like a flag till I squat and finally sit back, resting my head against the wall. Kids step around me like I'm a trash can set there to catch a roof leak, but when Mrs. Feeback, our teacher, shows up, she sees me. "Jules, what's wrong?" she asks. I look up at her and the concern in her face makes my eyes sting.

"A bug, I guess. I don't feel so good."

"Why don't you go see the nurse? Maybe you should go home."

"Okay," I say, though they won't dismiss you to walk and I know Mom won't take off work to come get me.

As Mrs. Feeback slips into class, Reba reappears. She has dry towels for the floor and a damp one for me to wipe my face. While I press the cool brown paper over my eyes, she does the janitor thing.

"Thanks, Reeb," I say. "Who would take care of me if I didn't have you?"

"Don't breathe on me, Jules. I don't want your germs."

I laugh.

"I'm serious," she says. "I hate throwing up."

"I don't think you can catch this," I tell her, "but if you could, mopping up would probably do it."

"Yeah, right," she says. "Tell Mrs. Feeback I've gone to wash my hands."

"Without a pass?" I ask. The bell for first period is ringing.

"I've got the puke pass," Reba says, holding up the hand with the towels.

I give Mrs. Feeback the message, then walk to the office, trying to think of something to tell the nurse. Turns out I don't need to worry. She isn't there. This one woman, Mrs. Ratliff, is the nurse for two high schools. I don't know about the other school but we've got 2,500 kids here. You'd think that would be enough for one nurse. When Mrs. Ratliff's not here, she deputizes office workers or volunteer moms to hand out pills, give shots to stop diabetic comas, call 911, etc.

"Mrs. Feeback sent me," I tell the secretary. "I just threw up."

"Do you need to go home?" she asks, punching the phone button to transfer a call.

"I can't," I tell her. "My mom's at work."

"Well, go lie down in the nurse's room," she says. "If you keep throwing up, you'll have to go."

"All right," I say. "Are there any crackers in there?"

"Should be. On a shelf by the desk." Her attention turns back to the phone. Then she calls, "You're not diabetic, are you?"



"I don't think so."

Curled up on the cot in Mrs. Ratliff's office, I reckon with the fact that I am going to have to tell Mom soon. Like maybe tonight. No, no, my scared self says. You can't. She'll —

She'll what? I ask myself.

She'll be so mad —


She'll yell at me and then —


She'll be so disappointed. She's got too much to deal with already. She'll say I've ruined everything. Like when I broke my ankle, only worse.

She's always disappointed in you.

Yeah, but this is major. I can't —

Sure you can. You've got to, I tell myself. It's not like she's going to hit you.

I wish she would.

Don't be stupid. Mom never, ever hits you.

Maybe she should. Then I could defend myself. I could be mad at her.

If you want to be mad, be mad at Damon.

Right. Fat lot of good that would do. It's not like I can call him up and yell at him.

With that thought, followed by a few wimpy tears, I fall asleep.


I WAKE UP IN TIME for second period and make it through the rest of the day. When I see Reba in the bus line next to mine, I ask if she can hang out for a while.

"Sure, if you're feeling okay," she says. "I'll walk over as soon as I get home."


It just seems to me if I tell Reba first I'll get some practice at saying "I'm pregnant" out loud and some practice at dealing with what comes after. I am so scared. How could you do this to your mom? I think. Your mom who's worked so hard all alone to raise you right?

But I didn't do this, I say. I didn't decide to get pregnant, not really. Okay, maybe I decided once not to NOT get pregnant. I didn't even exactly decide to have sex, though there was a moment when I might not have. And Damon, for all his speed in leaving the scene of an accident, did not pressure me.

I just thought I had to do it. You want this boy to like you, right? And he's so solid, so sure of himself. He knows what he wants: you. Besides, maybe if he touches you, you'll be real.

For a guy, Damon was very responsible. He always took time to dig for the foil packet in his jeans pocket on the floor of the car, to tear it open and try to apply the rubber, which kept popping off like a hat that's too small, making us laugh, even as he trembled. Finally he would get the damned thing on. I'd already put in the foam. We thought we were safe. I know Mom will say, "Jules, how many times have I told you: No sex is safe"? So hey, Mom, you're right.

When Reba shows up at the apartment, we head for the refrigerator.

"Coke?" I ask.


I bend down to the bottom shelf where the cans are. "Hungry?" I ask.

"Always," she answers.

Setting the cans down, I reach around to open the cabinet with the Triscuits. Reba is standing on the living-room side of the breakfast bar, staring at me. I avoid her eyes.

"What's up, Jules?" she says, sliding the scünci off her ponytail so her blond hair hangs in stripes down her black sweater. She puts the scünci over her wrist. "You're acting weird."

"I'm thinking about Damon," I say, pouring Triscuits in a bowl.

"Earth to Jules: I can eat them out of the box."

"Oh, yeah," I say. "But Damon —"

"Did you hear from him?"


"So ...?"

"So I'm pregnant."

Reba takes a cracker out of her open mouth and brings her hand down to the bar. Her blue eyes widen.

"Oh my God," she says, looking at me like my hair is on fire. "Are you sure?"

I nod.

"Those tests can be wrong," she says.

"Not if your breasts feel like very sore headlights and you're throwing up." I've read about this in What to Expect When You're Expecting, which I checked out of the library with some other pregnancy books.

She keeps staring like I am some kind of disaster area. "Stop looking at me like that!" I say.

"Sorry!" Reba says, and eats the Triscuit. "But this is a shock. You didn't even tell me you guys were fooling around."

I didn't and I don't really know why. Reba and I have never kept secrets from each other. Not before this. I try to make a joke. "Oh, no, we weren't fooling around. It was having lockers on the same hall that did it."

"You're not very pregnant are you?" Reba asks. "You've got time to get rid of it?"

Damon's words. I don't say anything. Now it's my turn to stare.

"I can help if you need money," she offers. "Maybe you don't even have to tell your mom. You know how she is —"

I take a sip of Coke, counting on the sweet bubbles to settle my stomach.

"I have to tell her. It's my baby. I can't get rid of it."

"Jules! Are you nuts? It's not a baby! It's a ball of cells that will wreck your life if you don't stop it!"


Excerpted from Holding On to Zoe by George Ella Lyon. Copyright © 2012 George Ella Lyon. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

George Ella Lyon is an award-winning poet and author. She has written more than 35 books for young readers, including the Schneider Family Book Award picture book The Pirate of Kindergarten and the young adult novel Sonny's House of Spies, as well as numerous books for adults. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

George Ella Lyon is an award-winning poet and author. She has written more than 35 books for young readers, including the Schneider Family Book Award picture book The Pirate of Kindergarten and the young adult novel Sonny's House of Spies, as well as numerous books for adults. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky. 

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Holding on to Zoe 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
BlkosinerBookBlog More than 1 year ago
Well, I read this story in one sitting. But, it definitely was not what I thought it would be. I knew something was off a few chapters in, and I knew mostly where it was going. I think that I didn't pay as much attention to the last line of the summary or I probably would have been expecting more of what this book was about. This is not to say that I disliked this book, it was just kinda like getting a sip of sweet tea when you were expecting diet coke. Holding on to Zoe is also hard to review because I can't really say very much without giving away spoilers, and I don't want to do that. The character development was good, and Jules really evoked my sympathy. I felt for her love for Zoe, her pain that her mom is pushing her away and refuses to believe that Zoe is there. My problems are more of were coming from more of a medical perspective. I wanted more answers as to *why* and *how.* But I can also see that this is a book for teens and not everyone cares (read probably everyone except me?) about those questions from the medical sense, instead of just focusing on the world that was set up, what the character was going through and feeling and her journey to finding herself in the mess of what her life had become. This story is short but has lots of emotional issues.