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Livvie Owen Lived Here

Livvie Owen Lived Here

5.0 2
by Sarah Dooley

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Olivia "Livvie" Owen feels things differently than her parents and two sisters. Livvie is autistic. Her family has had to move repeatedly because of her outbursts. When they again face eviction, Livvie is convinced she has a way to get back to a house where they were all happy, once.

The problem is, Livvie burned down that house.

But she's not giving up. Here


Olivia "Livvie" Owen feels things differently than her parents and two sisters. Livvie is autistic. Her family has had to move repeatedly because of her outbursts. When they again face eviction, Livvie is convinced she has a way to get back to a house where they were all happy, once.

The problem is, Livvie burned down that house.

But she's not giving up. Here is her story.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Told from the perspective of an autistic 14-year-old, this poignant first novel explores the frustrations that come with being different. Since their house burned down years ago, the Owens have moved from one rental property to another, and now, after receiving their latest eviction notice, they may be forced to relocate to a neighboring town. But Livvie doesn't want change ("It was hard to start fresh with a new group of neighbors when your daughter was a kid like me"). Her desperate attempts to cling to the familiar lead to angry outbursts and secret late-night excursions, which create even more problems for the family. It takes a lot of love, patience, and understanding from Livvie's parents, her two sisters, and her new substitute teacher to calm her frazzled nerves and help her accept hard truths. Dooley, a special education teacher, offers readers a rare opportunity to experience the day-to-day struggles of a special-needs student. Livvie's internal growth is convincing, and her ultimate triumphs are inspiring. Ages 10-14. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

“A book that will challenge and touch you to the core.” —Meg Cabot, author of the Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls and Princess Diaries series

“Provides readers with a snapshot of autism and its often overlooked gifts.” —Kirkus

“Even if readers cannot identify with a character who has autism, they will find this a heartwarming story as they journey with Livvie and her family to find a place to call home. The story will keep readers on edge as they anticipate Livvie's outbursts, culminating in something tragic. Nothing is too predictable, however, and readers are exposed to three-dimensional characters.” —VOYA

“Livvie Owen Lived Here is a powerful and touching young adult novel… Livvie's story will remain with you beyond the final pages.” —Huntington Herald-Dispatch (WV)

“Dooley has written a sweet story about the value of love within a family and the importance of each person, even those with disabilities.” —School Library Journal

“Dooley, a special education teacher, offers readers a rare opportunity to experience the day-to-day struggles of a special-needs student. Livvie's internal growth is convincing, and her ultimate triumphs are inspiring.” —Publishers Weekly

“Dooley draws on her experience as a special-education teacher and her own string of childhood moves in an accomplished debut novel with memorable secondary characters whose believable emotions highlight the importance of having a place to call home.” —Booklist

VOYA - Kelly Czarnecki
Livvie desperately wants to live in the Sun House again. When she sees a sign in front, she assumes it says it is for rent. She will stop at nothing to convince her family this is really home. She doesn't remember burning down the house and can't read the sign that says it is condemned. Even though it takes a lot of patience to understand Livvie sometimes, when seeing her through the eyes of her sisters, Lanie and Tash, or Mrs. Rhodes, her substitute teacher, it is hard not to care deeply about her. While this story centers around Livvie, who has autism, it is also about relationships with family and friends, belonging to some place, and feeling alone. Even if readers cannot identify with a character who has autism, they will find this a heartwarming story as they journey with Livvie and her family to find a place to call home. The story will keep readers on edge as they anticipate Livvie's outbursts, culminating in something tragic. Nothing is too predictable, however, and readers are exposed to three-dimensional characters. Livvie unfolds into a more mature person as she progresses through school and a home life that consists of close living quarters with her family. "Life's pretty crazy, even when you don't have autism," is one of the many lessons Livvie learns from Mrs. Rhodes. Livvie teaches the reader many things too. Teens in both school and public libraries will enjoy the humor and will think about Livvie long after the last page is read. Reviewer: Kelly Czarnecki
Children's Literature - Susan Treadway M.Ed.
Olivia "Livvie" Owen is an autistic fourteen-year-old ninth grader living in another temporary home with two sisters, a mother and father. Although a work of fiction, this moving story is far-reaching about a loving, struggling family. One of the high costs of not understanding Livvie's startling outbursts is moving frequently. Karen and Simon are her dedicated parents who face uncertainties with more confidence. Sisters Natasha and Lanie are caught up in their own worlds and also have special moments as most siblings do. For those who know and love her best, Livvie learns to trust a certain amount of structure and predictability. Fellow students with disabilities are able to develop relationships where basic communication thrives. Robert, Bristol, and Georgia ("G") provide useful insights as Livvie makes sense of both personal and social circumstances. And yet, all is not stable when a particular daily whistle blast intrudes. Why does not anyone else hear it? She takes matters into her own hands while talking herself through the process of going outside in the middle of the night still in pajamas and slippers. Frantic is an understatement when Livvie's parents locate their distraught daughter in the rain, but who is thankfully safe. Later, life takes an encouraging turn as the family packs up to move again. Working her way through the trailer to complete a familiar ritual, she spots something on the wall written in purple, "Lanie Owen Lived Here." Livvie smiled, for she knows they understand her well, that she had written her own name in all those other places. Thus, readers are given instructive guidance into the thoughts and feelings of a bright autistic child who discovers meaning and security in the midst of tangled situations. Reviewer: Susan Treadway, M.Ed.
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Livvie, 14, is living with her family in yet another rental with neighbors who complain about too much noise, noise she makes when something frightens her or her routine changes, or when she wakes from a nightmare. Her parents and sisters show her abundant love, but others don't always know how to react to her behaviors. Dooley has written a sweet story about the value of love within a family and the importance of each person, even those with disabilities. Livvie's voice is strong and flowing, but not necessarily the voice of an adolescent with autism. Other authors have done this much more effectively; for example, Suzanne Crowley in The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous (HarperCollins, 2007) and Beverly Brenna in Wild Orchid (Red Deer, 2006) have successfully captured the voices of young people with autism spectrum disorders, portraying a person with somewhat aberrant thought patterns both realistically and sympathetically. While Livvie and her family are sympathetic characters, there are too many contradictions in character/voice to make this is a realistic portrayal of a person with autism.—Wendy Smith-D'Arezzo, Loyola College, Baltimore, MD

Product Details

Feiwel & Friends
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
850L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


I heard the whistle blast at 9:15. Funny, the thought that struck me wasn’t that the whistle had stopped blowing years ago, but that it should have blown at six. There was a time when the whistle was as reliable as the opening and closing of the hardware store or the passing of the ten o’clock train. The whistle used to rattle the windows and frighten the cats of Nabor every six a.m. and six p.m. for decades.

That was, as my parents liked to say, “way back when.” Used to be, everybody in Nabor who didn’t work at the hardware store worked at the paper mill, and the whistle told them when to come to work in the morning and when to go home at night. Then one day the whistle blew at six p.m. and everybody went home. The next morning, the whistle didn’t blow, so nobody ever came back.

Nabor—with an A—is my town. Nabor is also the neighbor to Neighbor—with an E—which is the town everybody’s heard of. Neighbor-with-an-E boasts a college and a Super Walmart and several law firms with names like Schubert and Schubert, and Williams and Williams, and the less-popular Williams and Schubert. Nabor-with-an-A? Well, Nabor-with-an-A boasts that it is Neighbor-with-an-E’s neighbor. We’ve got a stoplight and two stop signs. A closed paper mill where the stray cats run wild.

And me. Olivia Owen. Former neighbor to just about everyone in Nabor.

You don’t have to believe me. You can look. Open a door. Peek through a window. It almost doesn’t matter which house you try; it won’t take you more than a couple of blocks. You’ll find Livvie Owen Lived Here written on the walls of over twenty dwellings in the county. It’s the only sentence I ever learned how to write.

When the whistle blew, I was standing on a chair on my tiptoes, lining up drinking cups. I knew it was silly, but my eyes checked the micro wave clock, glowing green across the dark kitchen at me. It really did say 9:15, not 6:00—neither time to go to work nor time to come home. I felt compelled then to check the calendar, just to make sure I had that part right as well. But it continued to list the proper year; nothing there had changed.

In the brief seconds it took me to confirm that nothing suspicious had happened with time, my fingers slipped on my mud mug and it dashed itself to the floor.

The whistle was still blowing when the sound of glass shattering raised the volume almost to unbearable. My ears didn’t like so many levels of noise all at once. I wobbled on the chair, ready to fall, and felt familiar pressure building up inside my head. The mug looked so sad and betrayed on the floor, all scattered into pieces I was certain glue wouldn’t fix. As the whistle faded into the night and the sound of glass gave way to the sound of my breathing and the clicking of the cooling stove, I curled my toes into the chair’s woven seat and let my hands find their way into my hair.

“That did not happen!” I hollered into the darkened house. “That had just better not have happened, young lady! Don’t you dare drop that mug, Livvie Owen! Hold on tight before the whistle blows!”

I held on tight to a lot of things, but lately it seemed like it was all the wrong ones. Like the cups. My family had so many different types of drinking cups that if I didn’t keep them lined up neat, I could scarcely think about anything else. The chaos in the kitchen cupboards kept me distracted till I gave in and fixed it. My teachers called it “self-stimming” and made it sound like something bad, but I only wanted to put things right. There was nothing I could do about the mismatched collection of cups we owned, not with the high cost of sets of things. But at least I could give the cupboard a little peace by putting things in order the best I could manage.

I liked to put the glass cups on the top shelf. That way, when the cabinet was open and the sun was on, the light could catch the glass and sparkle. Plastic lived on the bottom according to color, left to right, starting with the cups that had words. With everything in order, I was always able to find my favorite cup, a glass coffee mug that felt like it was made out of hardened mud. It lived on the far right of the top shelf and I used it for everything from water to coffee to my morning yogurt, which was difficult to sip, but worth it if I got to use my mug. It felt worn and soothing under my hands.

When the mud mug hit the floor, the whistle got louder, like all noises did when I started to get upset. I remembered the whistle from my childhood—which is to say, I remembered being routinely frightened by a loud noise, and I remembered my mother saying, “Little Livvie, it’s just the paper mill whistle. You’re all right.” My mother was always saying, “You’re all right.” She said it to me when I got upset. Said it to my father when he stopped laughing and got forehead crinkles, which was usually when I was being difficult or when the bills came in before his paycheck.

Back when there really was a whistle, she said it to the cats each time they went tearing out of the kitchen and slid under the sofa we used to have, the green one with all the stripes that made my eyes dizzy. They hid under that sofa every time the whistle blew. You would think after a while they would get used to it, but they never did. I think maybe they just wanted an excuse to be afraid, like my big sister reading ghost stories in the dark.

Or maybe it was something about the whistle itself that stopped them from getting used to it. It was a scary whistle, high and low at the very same time: a shrill note piercing a sky you imagined was dark from smoke and chemicals, then sewn up with a dark, heavy note like an angry cat’s growl, a note that made my stomach feel hollow.

Coupled with shattering glass, the noise was unbearable, and my hands slapped over my ears. My mug didn’t pick itself up, so I jumped down off the chair to get it. That’s when I remembered it was made out of glass, and glass is sharp. Crashing backward and knocking over the chair, I tumbled to the kitchen floor and grabbed my bleeding foot.

“That did not happen!” I bellowed again. “Glass is sharp, young lady! You watch your step!”

“Oh, lord,” I heard my mother murmur, and her bedroom door opened. “Livvie, is there glass? Come away, honey.” A light switched on.

I blinked up at my mother and hollered, “The paper mill blew its whistle at the wrong time! It’s supposed to be at six! It made Livvie drop her mug and Livvie is very angry!”

My mother quickly took in the scene around her and grabbed a dish towel off the counter. She wrapped it around my foot and held it there. I watched her, but I couldn’t feel the cut anymore. I was too busy fighting off my overwhelming fury at the whistle.

“Simon!” Karen called. Although her voice was just as loud as mine, my mother never hollered or bellowed. She sounded gentle even with her voice raised, as polished as I was rough, my father, Simon, said sometimes.

“Three hours and fifteen minutes late!” I yelled at my mother. “Why was the paper mill whistling so late, Karen? It’s supposed to blow at six and six!” I got louder with every word and I heard someone shuffle in the doorway.

“Livvie, shut up!” my little sister, Lanie, yelled, skidding into the kitchen in her socks and her purple pajamas. “I’m trying to sleep! I have the science fair tomorrow!” Her pale hair stood up in sleepy patches, and her eyes were narrow.

“You tell that whistle to shut up! That’s who should shut up!” I yelled back, slamming against the cabinets and jarring the silverware in its tray. Underneath my noise I heard Karen’s soft voice explaining to my sister, “She’s hurt herself. Simon! Lanie, get your father.”

Lanie took one look at my foot, and her eyes widened in horrified fascination. She dashed for my parents’ room, screeching at a volume rivaling my own, “Daddy! Come and see! Livvie’s cut her foot off!”

I heard shuffling, quite a bit faster than my father usually traveled, before he appeared beside my mother looking winded. “What’s all the hollering?”

“Liv dropped her mug and stepped on it.” Karen handed my injured foot to my father and scooted around to hug me from behind. Karen was much better with words and hugs than blood. “The girl was up on a chair at this hour, stimming on the glasses.”

“It was the whistle’s fault!” I hollered, because nobody seemed to be listening. Or understanding. Sometimes words that made perfect sense in my head simply would not spit out in the proper order. “The mill whistle blew and it wasn’t six! It was three hours and fifteen minutes late and it made Livvie drop her mug!” I wrapped my hands in my hair and tugged, feeling the pressure inside me ease as though I were pulling on a cork.

“Livvie, stop that!” Karen swatted gently at my hands. “Stop it. You’re all right.”

“I am not all right, I’m angry!” I yelled. “The whistle blew wrong!”

“What whistle?” Lanie grumped, blowing her long hair impatiently out of her face. “I didn’t hear a whistle!”

My gaze traveled to her, but she wasn’t lying. I could tell by her nose not crinkling. So I checked my parents and they were looking at each other with concern and dismay on their faces, two emotions I had a lot of practice understanding.

Fear shook my hands loose from my hair and made me cold. I wrapped my arms around myself tightly. “Only Livvie heard the whistle?” I ventured. My old teacher Miss Mandy worked with me a lot on third person versus first person, back before she ran away. First person was when I said “I” and “me” instead of calling myself “Livvie,” and I was supposed to use first person all the time, just like I was supposed to call Karen and Simon “Mom” and “Dad.” Only sometimes when I got upset, it made more sense just to use the proper names for people so everybody knew who was who.

“I didn’t hear anything but glass breaking and then you,” Karen said in a shaky voice, one that underlined just how frightened she had been when she heard those noises. “Simon?”

The way she asked, I knew she was humoring me, knew that if Simon couldn’t hear a kid banging around and breaking glass all over the floor, he definitely couldn’t hear a whistle that, apparently, was imaginary. “No, honey. I didn’t hear any whistle.”

My eyes blinked back and forth, but my parents weren’t lying, either. I could tell by their eyes not moving away from mine. So mine did the moving instead, rolling up to the cupboard, which now had an empty spot on the far right side of the top shelf. I started squeezing my joints tight, first my shoulders, then my elbows, then my wrists, all the way down to my toes, trying to use the technique Miss Mandy taught me to relax when I got upset.

After a few minutes, a breath went out of me and then I felt less pressure, maybe like I wouldn’t explode now. I let myself lean back against Karen and relaxed my muscles a little.

“Ouch,” I said faintly.

“I’ll bet,” my mother said, planting a kiss on top of my forehead.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” I said to Lanie.

She sniffed. “What ever. Don’t do it again. I have stuff to do.” I heard her feet shuffling with impatience all the way back to the bedroom.

My mother stroked my hair back out of my face and dropped another kiss on top of me. “She’s just nervous about her science fair,” she said. “Don’t worry about it, honey.”

“What were you doing standing on a chair in the middle of the night?” my father’s somewhat-less-sympathetic voice asked from his place at my foot.

“Oh.” I forgot about that part. “It’s not really the middle of the night. It’s only a little after nine. I started thinking about how Lanie did the dishes, and she never does the cups right. I couldn’t sleep.”

“Well, I think your old folks were right about standing on chairs not being safe,” my father said. I loved him for a lot of reasons, but one of them was because that was all he said. Lying on the floor with a dish towel around my foot and the remains of my mug scattered around me on the floor, I could easily see what a stupid idea it was to stand on a chair in the middle of the night. It was seeing these situations from the other end, before they happened, that was the hard part. Apparently, you just never knew when an imaginary factory whistle was going to startle you into breaking something.


Excerpted from Livvie Owen Lived Here by Sarah Dooley.

Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Dooley.

Published in 2010 by Feiwel and Friends.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

As a child, SARAH DOOLEY lived twenty-four different places, including an abandoned post office, a tent, and a red cargo van. She now lives in rural West Virginia with her partner and their assortment of dogs, cats, and horses. When she is not writing, she has the pleasure of teaching, and being taught by, children with special needs. Livvie Owen Lived Here is her first novel.

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Livvie Owen Lived Here 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
melissa henshaw More than 1 year ago
I read iy 20 times thats how good it was Please read it now