VOYA - Judy Sasges
Thirteen-year-old Lena and her eight-year-old sister, Dion, are on the road. Lena has been able to survive her father's inappropriate touching since the death of their mother four years earlier but now that he's interested in Dion, Lena feels compelled to act. Not wanting to be placed in separate foster families, Lena's solution is for them both to dress like boys and hitchhike to their mother's family in Kentucky. As the two girls choose rides from place to place, the futility of their actions becomes apparent to Lena but she has run out of options. When Miz Lily, an elderly African American, offers the girls a ride and then a place to stay, Lena realizes that accepting help is necessary and that some adults can be trusted. Lena is a subtle, poignant novel about relationships, loss, and finding a place in the world. Lena hates what her father is doing to her yet remembers the time when they were a true family. Dion does not remember much about her mother and has tender memories of her father, the only parent she has known. Lena and Dion have been taught that whites and blacks should not mix, yet Lena's best friend is African American as is Miz Lily, who is instrumental in helping the girls. Woodson crafts characters who are real yet heroic in their everyday actions. Descriptive writing captures the reader immediately. The ending may be too tidy for the real world but it is encouraging to see the girls find some hope. This is a quiet, strong book that will affect readers. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P M J (Hard to imagine it being better written, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
To quote KLIATT's Jan. 1999 review of the hardcover edition: Thirteen-year-old Lena and her precocious eight-year-old sister Dion are on the road, hitchhiking from Ohio to Kentucky in search of their dead mother's family. Disguised as boys, they're running away from their sexually abusive father, afraid of being separated from each other by social service agencies. Lena is trying her best to take care of them, missing her friend Marie back home and unsure of what their future holds. Winter is coming on and it's getting harder to keep their lies to strangers straight. When Miz Lilly, a kind black woman, takes them in for a night, Dion overcomes the prejudice against blacks her father had displayed, and being in Miz Lilly's home makes Lena realize how much she and Dion miss Marie and their hometown. This quiet, affecting story continues the tale begun in I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This, but it can stand on its own. Woodson conveys the fear and sadness that underlie the girls' life on the run, as well as their survival skills and their love for each other. The happy ending will warm readers' hearts. KLIATT Codes: JRecommended for junior high school students. 1999, Random House/Dell Laurel-Leaf, 116p, 18cm, $4.99. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; November 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 6)
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-Like thousands of their real-life counterparts, 13-year-old Lena and her younger sister, Dion, run away from home because of their father's sexual abuse. Disguised as boys and carrying only a few necessities, the girls hitchhike from Ohio to their deceased mother's hometown in Kentucky on the vague and unrealistic hope that some unknown relative might take them in. Readers of I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This (Delacorte, 1994) will recognize Lena as the poor, white girl who skips town in the final chapters of Woodson's heartwrenching and brilliant novel of interracial friendship. Here the story continues, this time in Lena's rough voice, a voice that betrays years of developmental neglect yet still speaks eloquently for the tenacity of the human spirit. With aching honesty, Lena expresses the conflicts many abused children face. "My daddy was really messed up but he was all we had," she admits. Readers who long for a happy ending for these heroic children will not be disappointed. Halfway through the book, they are picked up by a kindly woman who takes them in. Miss Lily's nurturing thaws Lena's defenses and she reaches out to the one friend who can truly bring her home. That her friend Marie's father, an African-American college professor, must overcome his own racial attitudes to help the girls, adds to the novel's richness. Once again, Woodson writes with excruciating clarity about difficult issues of childhood and leaves readers encouraged by humanity's potential for insight, compassion, and hope.-Carolyn Lehman, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Robert L. Pela
[A] thought-provoking, realistic drama...Aimed at young readers, this memorable and wise story touches universal bases with smashing success.
Woodson's quietly harrowing I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This (1994) left teenager Lena Bright and her gifted sister Dion on the run from their abusive father; here, after hitching their way from Ohio to Kentucky, they find the safety they seek, back where their flight began. The book divides neatly into halves: in the first, the weeks-long journey generally takes a back seat to Lena's lengthy internal recapitulation of themes and incidents from the preceding novel; in the second, with abrupt changes of pace and direction, hours after an idealized foster mother takes the two under her wing, Lena learns over the phone from her loving friend Marie back in Ohio that her father has disappeared and that Marie's father wants to adopt the Bright girls. Within 48 hours they're on a plane. This does bring a sense of closure to its open-ended predecessor, but the severely unbalanced structure and a resolution that can best be described as shrink-wrapped, make it a weak sequel. (Fiction. 11-13) .
From the Publisher
"This taut story never loses its grip on the reader."--Publishers Weekly, Starred
"Lena's rough voice . . . speaks eloquently for the tenacity of the human spirit. . . . Once again, Woodson writes . . . about difficult issues of childhood and leaves readers encouraged by humanity's potential for insight, compassion and hope."--School Library Journal
"A tender and loving story of . . . encountering much goodness in the world as well as ultimately a place to belong in it."--The Bulletin, Recommended
Read an Excerpt
"You crying, Lena?" I felt Dion's little hand on my shoulder.
"What would I be crying for?" I gave my eyes one more wipe and glared
Dion shrugged. She took a step back from me, hunkered down on her own
knapsack. We must have been a sighttwo kids in flannel shirts and jeans
and hiking boots at a Trailways stationDion chewing on her collar, me
with my head in my hands.
She swallowed like she was a little bit scared of what she was gonna say.
"Where we going, Lena? You tell me that and I won't ask you anything elseever
again if you don't want me to."
People on the outside who didn't understand would probably look at me
and Dion and say, "Those kids running away from home." But I knew we were
running to something. And to someplace far away from Daddy. Someplace
safe. That's where we were going.
"Mama's house," I whispered, my voice coming out hoarse and shaky. "We
going to Mama's house."
Dion shook her head. "Not the lies we tell peoplethe true thing. Where
we going for real?"
"Mama's house," I said again, looking away from her.
"Lena?" Dion said "Mama's . . . dead." . . .
". . .I know she's dead. I didn't say we were going to her. I said we
were going to her house."
"And what's gonna happen when we get there?"
"You said you wasn't gonna ask no more questions, Dion."
Dion nodded and pulled her book out of her knapsack. I took a box of colored
pencils out of mine and the brown paper bag our sandwiches had come in
and started sketching. I sketched the cornfields across the way from us
and a blue car moving in front of them. I sketched the sky with the pink
still in it and Dion sitting on her knapsack reading. Maybe we sat there
an hour. Maybe two or three...We'd learned how to make ourselves invisible.