Hugging the Rock

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Overview

What do you do when your mom runs away from home?
Rachel retreats into herself--away from the father who has always kept his distance, away from school, and away from her best friend. Rachel’s mom says that her dad is a rock, the good kind you can always count on. But Rachel doesn’t even know if he really loves her. And she doesn’t know the secrets he’s kept since before she was born. Slowly, over time, Rachel grows close to the parent who ...
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Overview

What do you do when your mom runs away from home?
Rachel retreats into herself--away from the father who has always kept his distance, away from school, and away from her best friend. Rachel’s mom says that her dad is a rock, the good kind you can always count on. But Rachel doesn’t even know if he really loves her. And she doesn’t know the secrets he’s kept since before she was born. Slowly, over time, Rachel grows close to the parent who stayed and comes to understand the truth of why her mom left.

This bittersweet story of loss and revelation reveals the powerful and complex bond between fathers and daughters.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Phyllis Kennemer
Rachel's mom packs her car with everything that is important to her: her guitar, books, CDs, clothes, shoes, dishes, towels, etc. When she is finished packing there is no room for Dad and no room for Rachel. She drives away and does not return. Rachel's mom has told her that her dad is a rock she can cling to, but Dad is suffering as much as Rachel is. Neither one is able to cope with the loss for some time. Eventually, they begin to see a therapist and Rachel learns about her mother's mental illness. (Bipolar, apparently.) Rachel comes to realize how much her dad loves her and they gradually build a life together: learning to cook, going to the amusement park, talking to each other. Short chapters in poetic format contribute to the mood, seeming to emphasize the sense of loss and later the companionship of father and daughter. Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D.
Children's Literature - Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger
Rachel does not think her mom will really leave. But mom does leave. She packs up the car with books and CDs and clothes and shoes and Grandma's music box and the guilt and her guitar. She adds soap and shampoo, dishtowels, and even the potted red geranium. She packs until the car is full. No room for Dad—and no room for Rachel. Before she leaves, Mom tells Rachel she will be fine living with her dad because he is a rock. But Rachel knows some rocks weigh you down; some hurt when they are thrown at you; and some are sharp and cut your hands. What kind of a rock is Dad? Can Rachel find a way to forgive her parents and herself and make a new life with Dad? Through free verse, the first person narration gently guides the reader through a journey of pain and discovery. The novel provides a glimpse into a parent's bipolar disorder and how it affects the patient and her family. Especially effective for teens whose lives are affected by a parent suffering from a mental illness.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Presented in brief, free-verse poems, this is a poignant character study of a dysfunctional family. In the opening sequence, Rachel watches her mother get ready to "run away from home," packing up the car with everything that is important to her, except her daughter. When Mom is gone, neither Rachel nor her father can cope. Rachel shuts down and ignores schoolwork and friends, questioning why her mother left and blaming herself. Dad does not initially provide much comfort, closing himself off, too. As in Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie (Candlewick, 2000), father and daughter gradually grow closer together out of necessity and begin to pull together as a family. Rachel must accept the painful truth that her mother, who suffers from bipolar disorder, never really wanted to settle down or have children. Her father, who in the past had left most of the parenting to her mother, begins to play an active role in Rachel's life and reveals his softer side, ultimately becoming more involved and affectionate. Written in straightforward language, the text clearly reveals Rachel's emotions, describing moments both painful and reassuring. This novel will be therapeutic to children dealing with the loss of a parent or a mental illness.-Debbie Whitbeck, West Ottawa Public Schools, Holland, MI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
When Rachel's mother runs away from home, Rachel and her dad can barely cope. In a series of bland verses, Rachel breaks up the time since her mother's flight into sections labeled, The First Day, The First Week, The First Month, The First Year. As she and her father get to know one another, they cope with grief, guilt and their newly-forming affection for each other. Rachel's initial shock and fury are tempered as she learns how her seemingly distant father always wanted a child and so convinced his pregnant, bipolar girlfriend to stay with him and raise their baby. Rachel's growing comprehension of her mother's mental illness is heartbreaking, despite the story's troubling judgmental perspective of a severely ill woman whose issues with unplanned motherhood are presented as indifference. Despite weaknesses, a poignant tale of father-daughter love and friendship. (Fiction. 10-12)
From the Publisher
“Brown creates a poignant work dealing with a topic rare in children’s literature. In spare, poetic prose, the pain and angst of a young girl whose bipolar mother leaves, never to return, is detailed. The heart of the story is the growing relationship between Rachel and her father--a rock with soft spots--and how they must learn to live, love, cope--go on with their lives--together. Readers will hug this book. I did.” --Lee Bennett Hopkins
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582461809
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 8/28/2006
  • Pages: 176
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

“I never knew my father,” says Susan Taylor Brown. “If I never told you anything else about me, that would say a lot about why I wrote this book. Because I didn’t know him, didn’t know anyone from his family, I invented elaborate stories in which I was suddenly ‘found’ and reunited with a father who loved me, who wanted me, who needed me to make his life complete. Of course, that never happened. In writing this book I gave myself the father I’ve never known.” Susan lives in San Jose, California, with her husband, her dog, and more than 5,000 books.
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Read an Excerpt

No Room

When my mom decides to run away from home she packs up her car with all the things that matter most to her.

Her guitar and some books all her CDs her clothes her shoes
Grandma’s music box from the fireplace mantle and the quilt from the bed she shares with Dad.

She jams plastic grocery bags filled with soap and shampoo into the small spaces left in between things and ties a couple of suitcases to the roof.
At the last minute she throws in a few dishes some towels and a potted red geranium that guards the front porch.

Dad tells her not to pack stuff too high so she can still see out the back window but she ignores him and shoves her pillow between her guitar case and the portable TV.

By the time she’s done there’s no room left for anything else.
No room left for Dad.

And no room left for me.

The Wrong Answers

When I ask her why she’s leaving she finds lots of ways to not answer me.

She yanks photos from the albums and dumps out her purse on the kitchen table then puts everything back in it again.
She unloads the dishwasher just like any other day.

“Why do you have to go?”

Because I can’t stay.

“Why?”

She paces arms swinging wildly trapped like a bee in a jar.

I don’t belong here anymore.

“If you’re not supposed to be here where are you supposed to be?”

I don’t know, Rachel.
I just don’t know.

“Why can’t I go with you?”

You just can’t.
Later yes later maybe after I get settled but now now you need to stay here you have to stay with your dad it will all be fine even better than fine, I bet.

I don’t mean to,
but I snort and she slams her hand down on the kitchen table.

I jump.

I can’t do this anymore, Rachel!

I wonder if she took her pills this morning then I glance at the bottle near the coffee pot and she catches me looking.

Yes, she says.
But sometimes they don’t work.

And then she starts to cry.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2006

    A book to embrace

    I recently had the privilege, nay, the honor, of reading Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, it is a novel in verse. Free verse, that is. Each poem is a scene. Sometimes it describes the actions of the characters, but always it conveys the emotional truth of the MC/narrator, Rachel, even when what Rachel says isn't true. The first scene/poem in the book sets up the major issue for our character, when Rachel's mother leaves. We learn a lot more about Rachel's mother and her particular issues as the book goes on. We learn more about Rachel's father, too, and of course we learn about Rachel. There are magnificent mega-issues here, too, like what is family? and how can we forgive those who hurt us? and that we can live through awful grief and not only survive, but thrive. The individual poems are magnificent. In the first stanza of the book, we read: 'When my mom decides to run away from home/she packs up her car/with all the things that matter most/to her.' The genius of this stanza is the surprising force and punch of those last two words. And as a reader, you already know that the MC is not getting invited into that car. And you automatically wonder, 'what kind of mother can willingly leave her child?' And you side with Rachel, because there is no sympathy for this sort of mother. Not yet. Not until later, and even then, anger usually outweighs the modicum of sympathy there. A second stanza much, much later in the book (p. 132, to be exact, but please don't skip to this poem/chapter if you haven't read the book yet) does the same thing. It begins 'The hurt/settles in my heart/like one of those giant rocks you tie to something/when you want it to sink . . .' And the use of the rock imagery here not as a source of stability but as a tool of destruction brings new levels of meaning to the book. Images of embracing the truth, perhaps, or of acceptance. Much later, in the midst of a chapter/poem entitled The Worst Thing, Rachel and her dad are in a car, discussing some very serious matters, like the whys and wherefores of her mother's behavior. Rachel is nonverbal here, and shrugs. Dad presses on, and Rachel writes 'I shrug louder.' Talk about your imagery. It's genius. Finally, the shortest poem in the book is the chapter/poem entitled Mother's Day, and I can tell you this for true: it very nearly killed me, in a readerly way. Because in its brevity, it spoke volumes. And those volumes were eloquent and poignant and true. But you must start at the start and read all the way to there, or you will not understand what it is that I am telling you. Do yourself a favor: If it is already in your reading pile, move it to the top. If you do not have it, buy it. Expect to see it discussed in important book circles later this year, because it is a beautiful story beautifully told. In closing, Hugging the Rock will not take you long to read, but it may take you forever to forget.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2006

    A Powerful Novel in Verse

    Rachel¿s mother runs away from home and she is left behind with her father, an emotionally-distant man she barely knows. The reader is thrown into the middle of Rachel¿s journey as she looks for answers and acceptance. Susan Taylor Brown tells a moving story in Hugging the Rock. She dares to bring painful emotions to the surface, connecting with her readers through shared feelings and experiences. A powerful novel with the potential to spark heart-to-heart conversations among families and friends.

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