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4.5 16
by Jacqueline Woodson

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A compelling story of survival from a three-time Newbery Honor winning author

At the end of I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This, Lena and her younger sister, Dion, set off on their own, desperate to escape their abusive father. Disguised as boys, they hitchhike along, traveling in search of their mother's relatives. They don't know what they will find,


A compelling story of survival from a three-time Newbery Honor winning author

At the end of I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This, Lena and her younger sister, Dion, set off on their own, desperate to escape their abusive father. Disguised as boys, they hitchhike along, traveling in search of their mother's relatives. They don't know what they will find, or who they can trust along the way, but they do know that they can't afford to make even one single mistake. Dramatic and moving, this is a heart-wrenching story of two young girls in search of a place to call home.

Editorial Reviews

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

The Barnes & Noble Review
I took Lena, Jacqueline Woodson's stunning new novel, with me to a café the other day. My tea got cold. In fact, I forgot where I was and even who I was while the pages turned by themselves. Woodson's story consumed me. Then, as the last passages poured into my heart, a friend tapped my table and said hello. Coffee steamed in her hands. Reality. Café. Oh, yeah...

"What are you reading? You look absolutely transfixed by this book."

"LENA, the latest from one of my favorite authors. It's about two sisters who escape their abusive father and go on the road in search of a new home."

"Sounds depressing!"

"Oh, but it's not!" I told my friend. She sat down at my table, ready to be convinced that a book about hurt teens could be anything but depressing.

Pickle. Conundrum. Paradox. How to explain that sadness could become joy when explored by a careful writer? How to convince my friend that teens needed to read this sort of angst? Yet how was this angst transformed for the story's characters as well as its readers?

Thankfully, I had Jacqueline Woodson's words and spirit with me at the table. I'm not sure if I have encountered any other writer for teens who deals with these perplexing issues with more grace. She's a shaman of story. She weaves words, and they unravel in our hearts — lovely, lyric words that sing like poetry.

Readers of Woodson's I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This have met Lena before. She is Marie's friend, the one who confessed secretly to Marie that her widower father abused her in his loneliness. Beyond the tender unfoldingoffriendship between Marie and Lena (who had both lost their mothers), I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This bravely scrutinizes the schoolyard politics that ignite when a wealthy and respected black girl (Marie) befriends a lost white girl (Lena) who was labeled "white trash" as soon as she enrolled in her new school.

Lena explores the other heart in that memorable friendship. Lena's life is complicated. When her younger sister begins to suffer from their father's nighttime abuse, Lena confronts the situation head-on. She prepares an escape — methodically storing necessities under an abandoned car, purchasing backpacks with her pennies, stowing her younger sister's favorite little pillow, which their mother sewed before she died. On the road hitching rides, Lena and her sister pretend they are boys when circumstances dictate. Lena hides her growing breasts under a tight bandage. She doesn't hide her smarts or her heart, though, and that's what gets them through the cold winter nights they spend sleeping in boxes behind grocery stores. "Where are we going, Lena?" her sister asks.

Lena isn't sure where they are going. She half convinced herself that they were heading to their mother's childhood home in Kentucky, in hopes that the extended family there might take them in. But the closer they get to Kentucky, the more doubts surface within Lena. Maybe her mother ran from them just as Lena and her sister are doing now from their father. Since her mother died, the only family Lena has ever known, the only belonging she's ever felt, has been deep in the middle of her friendship with Marie.

As winter grows colder around them, truth crystallizes in Lena's heart. Home. Friendship. Marie. Peace. Laughter. Trust. Running away from all that might not be the right thing to do. Maybe Marie and her family could help protect Lena and her sister from their father.

Watching Lena on the road, listening to her talk to her sister, witnessing her wrestle with the pain in her heart is a lesson in grace for readers. Lena has a calm gentleness, a brave wisdom. Even though she runs, she is not running from pain. She faces it, almost as if she's listening to it for guidance. As she explores this pain in her heart, Lena uncovers the joy and strength that live there, too.

In 115 pages, Jacqueline Woodson gives us an important truth: When we face pain with tenderness and honesty, we make room for love in our hearts. That's the transformation. That's the answer to the pickle, and it isa paradox of sorts. Life is hard for all of us sometimes. Lena has more than a handful of the hard stuff in her life, but — in the crucible of her own heart — that pain becomes hope and possibility.

No, Lena is not a depressing book. Woodson's words are a celebration!

—Cathy Young

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: J—Recommended 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.
The Advocate
Kirkus Reviews
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) .

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

An Excerpt from Lena:

        "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
        at her.

        Dion shrugged. She took a step back from me, hunkered down on her own
        knapsack. We must have been a sight—two kids in flannel shirts and jeans
        and hiking boots at a Trailways station—Dion 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 else—ever
        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 people—the 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.


Meet the Author

Jacqueline Woodson (www.jacquelinewoodson.com) is the 2014 National Book Award Winner for her New York Times bestselling memoir BROWN GIRL DREAMING, which was also a recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor Award, the NAACP Image Award and the Sibert Honor Award. Woodson was recently named the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. Born on February 12th in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline Woodson grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York and graduated from college with a B.A. in English. She is the author of more than two dozen award-winning books for young adults, middle graders and children; among her many accolades, she is a four-time Newbery Honor winner, a three-time National Book Award finalist, and a two-time Coretta Scott King Award winner. Her books  include THE OTHER SIDE, EACH KINDNESS, Caldecott Honor Book COMING ON HOME SOON; Newbery Honor winners FEATHERS, SHOW WAY, and AFTER TUPAC AND D FOSTER, and MIRACLE'S BOYS—which received the LA Times Book Prize and the Coretta Scott King Award and was adapted into a miniseries directed by Spike Lee. Jacqueline is also the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement for her contributions to young adult literature, the winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and was the 2013 United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

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Lena 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What would you do if you were alone on the streets? If you read Lena, you¿ll discover what a teen girl and her little sister do in a situation like this. Lena and her little sister had an abusive father who always hurt them. Their mother had died a few years before, so they had no mother. To get away from their father, Lena and her sister run away. But it¿s tough on the street. Where can they sleep? What can they eat? Where are they going? How will they get there? I recommend this book to people who want to know the answers to these questions and for anyone who likes adventure and happy endings. Brooke S.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey Nicole
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a sad book But it was amazingly good I recomend everyone to read this amazingly qute story about LENA did I mention My name is lena
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It it
Tchrandstdnt More than 1 year ago
I was happy to find out that there was a follow up to "I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This". "Lena" answered the question that is left on your mind at the end of the first book. My only issue is that the ending is the classic, perfect bow at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was sooo wonderful.Every page was filled with a new adventure. J. Woodson is my FAVORITE author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It was amazing! I was totally blown away by the situations and the depth. Many people say it sounds soo depressing but it isnt.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Will u do me a an appetizer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is also on.