Just Imagine

Overview

Mary Francis’s world is split in two when her father loses his job in California during the Great Depression and finds another one in Hardenville, Massachusetts. Unwilling to give up her dreams of a film career for her son, Leland, Mary Francis’s mother refuses to leave their home in Beverly Hills. So, Mary Francis, her father, and grandmother go on to New England without them. Determined to keep an eye on the other half of her family, Mary Francis works on her “gift,” the ability to have “out-of-body” ...

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Overview

Mary Francis’s world is split in two when her father loses his job in California during the Great Depression and finds another one in Hardenville, Massachusetts. Unwilling to give up her dreams of a film career for her son, Leland, Mary Francis’s mother refuses to leave their home in Beverly Hills. So, Mary Francis, her father, and grandmother go on to New England without them. Determined to keep an eye on the other half of her family, Mary Francis works on her “gift,” the ability to have “out-of-body” experiences. She hopes to get so good at it that she’ll be able to “travel” to California to check on her mother and Leland. While Mary Francis practices her developing talent, her parents become more estranged, and she begins to fear they’ll never all be living in the same place again.
Quirky but believable characters and a look at the early days of the movie industry send this story off in funny, poignant, and unexpected directions.

During the Depression, having discovered that she has the ability to have out-of-body experiences, twelve-year-old Mary Francis tries to use it to deal with the "peculiar domestic situation" caused by her family's financial plight.

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Editorial Reviews

VOYA
Twelve-year-old Mary Francis, her father, and her grandmother leave her mother and little brother, Leeland, behind in California during the Great Depresession when they move to the East Coast for her father's new job. The separation, which the family thinks will be only temporary, stretches out to more than a year as her mother feels that little Leeland's big break as a child movie star is imminent. After a series of minor mishaps and misunderstandings within the separated family, Mary Francis feels that it is her responsibility to bring her mother and father together again. Mary Francis's efforts to reunite her parents and to adjust to her mother's almost complete lack of attention reveal a sad and lonely child who is desperate for her mother's care and presence. The characters of her grandmother, father, and mother are deftly drawn, but Mary Francis is the reader's focus. There is a brief hint of fantasy as Mary Francis attempts to teach herself to have out-of-body experiences similar to those of her Aunt Nora, founder of a cult-like group in California. But Mary Francis learns that she cannot effect change in her family by withdrawing from real life. This introspective story might lack enough action for teens to appreciate, but those who persevere will meet a resourceful and thoughtful girl just beginning her journey into adolescence. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P M (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2001, Houghton Mifflin, 216p, $15. Ages 12 to 14. Reviewer: Rosemary Moran SOURCE: VOYA, August 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 3)
Children's Literature
Living in Beverly Hills in the 1930s, twelve-year-old Mary Francis is a lonely island in a household dominated by her mother's mania to turn tap dancing little brother Leland into a male Shirley Temple. Seeking a spectacular act for herself, Mary Francis falls under the spell of Nora¾a relative in the spiritualism business. On Nora's sudden death, Mary Francis, left with a very vague concept of what spiritualism actually is, converts her ideas into out-of-body experiences. Forced to move with her father and Gram to New England and leave her mother and Leland behind, the girl practices this talent, in hopes of being able to transport her spirit to California. On the verge of losing herself, she comes to her senses in time to help pull her family back together. Mary Francis's talent is hard to describe, and difficult at times to believe. Collins has chosen an odd premise for her story, which is basically one of a dysfunctional family trying to cope with the Great Depression. 2001, Houghton Mifflin, $15.00. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-Mary Francis, 12, latches onto her "gift" of out-of-body experiences as doggedly as her mother takes to outlandish and impractical notions, pushing her young son through the Hollywood child-star mill. Mama clutches fast to their fancy Beverly Hills home, fueled by dreams of Leland's tap-dancing future. Meanwhile, Mary Francis, Daddy, and Gram head toward a small New England mill town and Daddy's new job. Even as Gram tucks Mary Francis protectively under her wing, the girl harbors a nagging doubt as to why Mama doesn't want her in Beverly Hills. She works hard at perfecting her ability to escape the neglect and family tensions in her life. Her success at the paranormal is balanced with quirky moments, as when she drags Gram to a s ance, as well as well-timed bursts of humor. Nonetheless, family conflict is the focus: Mama's childlike tunnel vision, Gram's palpable disdain for her daughter-in-law, and Daddy's tight-lipped stance over just when Mama's coming home. Through Mary Francis's eyes, the story is revealed with unconditional love and refreshingly unflappable candor. Collins has typified the paradox of the 1930s-the irresistible glamour of the Hollywood Golden Era masking the downtrodden gray of the Great Depression. Juggled between these vastly different realities, Mary Francis emerges as an endearing and memorable character. Teachers will love this novel's authentic feel of the period, and readers will love Mary Francis.-Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
During the Great Depression, Mary Francis's family is split up when her mother wants to hang onto her dreams of showbiz success for little brother Leland, and her father is afraid not to take a job across the country. In the tug-of-war between fears and dreams, Mary Francis takes a cue from her spiritualist relative, great-aunt Nora, and practices separating herself mentally from her body in times of stress. Unlike most Depression fiction, this family is not facing poverty, but there is no extra and the economy affects their choices. The move of Mary Francis, her grandmother, and her father to New England—leaving her mother and brother behind in Beverly Hills—is made without much consideration of the daughter. The constant bickering of the adults plays out as Mary Francis tries to adjust to a new school, neighborhood, and climate as well as a new home. There's a comic tone to this drama. Mary Francis gets excited about the band at school only to be disappointed that an accordion is not regarded as a regular instrument. Attending an advertised séance disappoints in the spirits' failure to respond helpfully. When Grandma massacres her hair, Mary Francis endures the joking at school in an out-of-body state until she finds herself able to return to earth and bear the kidding. In that isolation that children feel when the adults are otherwise occupied, it becomes logical that getting her own talent recognized is paramount. Mary Francis decides to play the accordion while on rollerskates at a talent contest in a hilarious but poignant scene. Well-rounded characters, a myriad of details grounding the story in time, and the emotional angst add up to entertaining historicalfiction, with a contemporary feel. (Fiction. 10-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618056033
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/28/2001
  • Pages: 224
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Pat Lowery Collins lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where she writes, paints and illustrates full-time. She was born and raised in Hollywood and received her B.A. in English from the University of Southern California. She is an award winning poet and author, having written a number of young adult novels including The Fattening Hut (Houghton, 2003), Just Imagine (Houghton, 2001), and Signs and Wonders (Houghton, 1999), as well as the picture book Tomorrow, Up and Away (Houghton, 1990). To learn more about Pat Lowery Collins, visit her website at www.patlowerycollins.com.

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