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Long Story Short

Long Story Short

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by Siobhan Parkinson

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From Ireland's first laureate for children's literature comes a story of abuse and neglect told with sincerity, heart, and a healthy dose of humor.

Jono has always been able to cope with his mother's drinking, but when she hits his little sister Julie, he decides it's time for them to run away. Told in Jono's funny, self-conscious voice, the layers of his past


From Ireland's first laureate for children's literature comes a story of abuse and neglect told with sincerity, heart, and a healthy dose of humor.

Jono has always been able to cope with his mother's drinking, but when she hits his little sister Julie, he decides it's time for them to run away. Told in Jono's funny, self-conscious voice, the layers of his past and the events of his escape are gradually revealed. Amusing and touching but never sentimental, Siobhan Parkinson is a well reviewed middle-grade author who now turns her considerable skill as a writer to a young adult audience.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"his is not Creative Writing. This is what really happened," begins Jonathan, the 14-year-old narrator of Parkinson's 13th novel, which ought to serve as an upfront warning about his essential unreliability. After his alcoholic mother hits his younger sister, Julie, with enough force to break her cheekbone, Jonathan tells a pack of lies to Julie's school, hoping to stave off the social workers who he's sure will whisk Julie into foster care. But when days pass with no improvement to Julie's appearance, Jonathan decides their only choice is to flee, hatching a halfhearted, underfinanced attempt to run away. After they are captured by the police, the story pivots completely—Jonathan even attempts, initially, to tell the second half of his tale in third person, but can't sustain the device. "I thought the third person might make it all seem more real somehow, but it's hard work writing about yourself as if you are not yourself," he admits. What results is a deeply affecting story about what can go wrong when adults fail children and the choices available to them are all bad. Ages 12–up. (June)
VOYA - Rebecca O'Neil
Ever since his father left, his mother's alcoholism worsened, and his grandmother died, fourteen-year-old Irish teen Jonathan (Jono) Kinahan has had one goal: to keep his younger sister, Julie, safe. When his mother hits her, he decides they must run away. Living on the streets proves impossible, however, and Jonathan decides to deposit Julie at their father's and continue on alone. Out of money, he is soon arrested holding up a convenience store, and his interrogation uncovers an array of damning evidence that sheds new light on his home life. Parkinson's first foray into YA literature is a fast-paced, short read with a narrator who becomes progressively more unreliable, turning a typical runaway story into a layered mystery. In part one, Jonathan appears to be up-front with readers, referencing techniques he learned in creative writing and adding his own darkly humorous asides. But part two begins with a brief and jarring shift to third-person narration, followed by information from the cops that Jonathan left out—or possibly blocked out. The book's subtitle, "You believe me, don't you?" becomes increasingly appropriate as Jonathan's angst and confusion mount along with the reader's. Parkinson's strength is her ability to tell a tense, believable story in an economical style with just enough question marks. Jono's sincere love for his sister runs throughout the book, making for a protagonist whose actions could be merely misguided rather than purposely misrepresented. Teens will enjoy figuring out which they believe. Reviewer: Rebecca O'Neil
Children's Literature - Amanda Ledbetter
Jonathan is a fourteen-year-old boy with more responsibility on his shoulders than is fair for any teenager. His alcoholic mother does not do much to support the family, but Jonathan deals with it, until the day that she hits his eight-year-old sister Julie. In that moment, Jonathan decides it is time for action and runs away with Julie. Heading across Ireland to their father's house where he lives with his new family, Jonathan does his best to care for Julie and shield her from the harsh realities of life. The story does not end there as part two of the book shares the darker side of the story. Jonathan's mother was found dead in her home, and he is being interrogated as a murder suspect. This portion of the book is even darker than the first, with the psychological weight that Jonathan has been bearing laid before the reader. This book hits home with realistic trends found in some troubled homes and is not for the faint of heart. The connection that Jonathan and Julie have is the redeeming quality in the tale, though their struggles are heartbreaking. Readers should also be aware of the Irish slang that is scattered throughout the book, but it does not have much effect on the readability. Reviewer: Amanda Ledbetter
School Library Journal
Gr 8–10—Jono and his little sister run away: from home, from their drunken mother, and from their absent father, who has another family. But looking after himself, let alone after eight-year-old Julie, is a bit too much for the 14-year-old. After they spend just two days wandering Galway, Jono knows he has to get his sister to safety. He makes certain she gets into their father's house before taking off on his own. He does not get far before the police and social workers catch up to him. Jono gives his version of what happened at home, but he is not the most reliable of narrators. The story jumps in time as he tries to order his memories. Or is he is trying to twist the tale to suit his own interests? Jono's tough exterior, his attempts to hold his family of two together, and his rough humor will appeal to many readers. Parkinson's language is spot-on for a smart but troubled young man, but some terms may make comprehension tricky for non-Irish readers. The author sustains a tense and worrisome mood throughout, but the tale is not without humor, dark though it is. Jono and Julie's story is not tied up neatly by book's end, but readers are left with hope, and sometimes that is enough.—Geri Diorio, The Ridgefield Library, CT
Kirkus Reviews

The first half of this intriguing but flawed tale from Ireland's first children's literature laureate is spellbinding.

Caring for his little sister, Julie, now 8 years old, has been a struggle for Jono, 14, since Da took off, but with Gramma's help, he kept the household going. Now that Gramma's dead, there's not enough money left over to support them after Ma's bought her sherry. Without a clear plan, Jono flees with Julie from Dublin to Galway, where Da lives. Jono's an appealing, funny and observant narrator, so it's all the more shocking when, halfway through the book, readers discover he's left out key events that will transform how they perceive him, lying by omission. Unreliable first-person narrators can be tricky, and here's where the story runs into a wall. Because readers never learn why Jono lied to them or how to gauge when he can and can't be trusted after they do, they are unable to interpret the story. Working backward from the abrupt ending, readers can by inference distinguish some truths from lies, but with a lingering sense of betrayal.

In fiction, as in life, trust is essential to emotional engagement. Without reason to trust Jono once his lies come to light, it's hard to care what happens to him. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Roaring Brook Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)
760L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt



My grandmother died.

I know this is not what you would call a dramatic opening. It’s what happens to grandparents. They get old ( jeez, they are old to start with, or they wouldn’t begrandparents, would they?); they die. (My grandfather died too, actually, but that’s another story.)

Mr. O’Connell, who is my Creative Writing teacher, which is to say he’s my English teacher, but he is into Creative Writing (capital letters deliberate)—he would say,Not intriguing enough, Jonathan. You need to hook your reader.

But, frankly, I couldn’t be bothered with the hooking part. See, I don’t think you need to start on the premise that your reader (if you have one) is a fish.

There used to be a song about that, Gramma used to sing it, about how uneducated fish are, how they can’t write their names or read books—which may or may not have been put in for the rhyme with brook. That’s where the illiterate fish in question lives, allegedly. Come to think of it, maybe it was the other way round. Maybebrook was put in to rhyme with book, I mean, because you would think river, wouldn’t you, in association with fish, not bloody babbling brook, like a feckin’ poem.

In any case, I don’t need to do any hooking, because this is not Creative Writing. This is what really happened, and if you are reading this you will have your own reasons that have nothing to do with fish.

I could have begun by telling you that my mother was a drunk. Or that my father had left. I could have begun by saying, My mother brought home a bag of apples one night for dinner. Sounds kinda cutesy, that.

Except that was all. A bag of apples. There was nothing else to eat in the house. Not even a loaf of bread. Not a crumb. And we hadn’t had much for lunch either.

“Keeps a doctor away,” she said, poking her fingernail in the side of the polyethylene bag to reef it open.

Right, yeah, very healthy, apples.

When she’d gouged a big enough hole in the bag, she shook the apples out all over the coffee table. Most of them rolled to the edge and then clunked onto the carpet, where they rolled some more.

“Have you heard about the food pyramid?” I asked, fishing for apples under the sofa.

“Pyr-mid?” she said. She stuck a finger in her ear, to represent thinking. Very amusing. “Egypt, right?”

Then she went off into these howls of laughter.

I knew where that would end, so I got ready for it. And by the time I come back into the living room with the basin from the kitchen sink and a dry tea towel, she’s already got to the sobbing stage. Sure enough, as soon as she sees me, she clutches for the basin and pukes up half a liter of sherry. Not the cooking kind. She prefers Fino, she says, which is supposed to make her not a drunk but a connoisseur.

She’s not a connoisseur. She just knew a Spanish word for a kind of sherry that is not so sweet it’d curl your teeth.

I might as well have started this story with the bag of apples after all, because I’ve got there pretty fast, though I didn’t mean to. I meant to explain about my grandmother. Gramma we called her, because she didn’t like Granny—made her sound like a granny, she said. That was the kind of humor she had. Dead unfunny. (A small voice in my head wants me to revise that last bit, edit out the insensitive word, but on second thought, I don’t think so.) Appreciated only by a select group, she used to say about her sense of humor. Of one, I said. That made her smirk. Old ladies don’t go in for smirking, but Gramma did. She liked a good smirk, did Gram.

She didn’t live with us or anything like that. She lived near enough. Near enough to supervise, I mean. She went in for supervision. Supervision and smirking. Makes her sound like the granny from hell, but she wasn’t. She was sound.

I did miss her. I missed a good hot dinner that didn’t come out of one of those microwave Pot Noodle tubs for a start. I missed my five clean shirts every Sunday night, all ironed and on hangers for school. Yes, I can iron my own shirts—I may be sad, but I am not a sad bastard—but only if I have remembered to wash them in the first place, and to take them out of the machine before they go manky with mold, and hang them up to dry. And, see, that sequence of events didn’t happen many weeks, and never two weeks in a row. So of course I missed my grandmother.

But mostly, I missed someone who knew what to do about Julie. I haven’t mentioned her before, because I just don’t know what to say. That’s the real bitch about all this.

That came out wrong. Julie is not a bitch. She’s just a little girl whose grandmother is dead and has no parents to speak of. And if you think it’s bad for me—I am fourteen after all, I can find some sort of way to get by—it’s a whole lot worse for an eight-year-old with a big imagination and a tiny understanding and a great gawping hole where the love should be.

God, I dunno where that came out of, a great gawping hole where the love should be. Maybe I could get a job working for a greeting card company, writing the prayery kind of words they have on the insides of cards that have a photograph of a bluebell on the front, or a sunset.

Anyway, it was the apples that started it, but it wasn’t because of the apples that I rang the police. (I am not that thick.) It was when she hit Julie.

I mean, I couldn’t have that, could I? She’s only a little kid. Well, she’s eight, but she’s young for eight, if you know what I mean. She’s not stupid or anything, she’s good at school and all that. It’s just that she’s … well … it’s as if you could break her if you dropped her. Maybe it’s because of the situation, or maybe it’s just the way she is.

She cried when Ma hit her. She may be young for her age, but she’s not a crybaby, and I think it wasn’t even so much because it hurt, but because she was just so totally dazed. No one ever hit her before. I mean, yeah, a smack on the back of the hand if she’s reaching for one biscuit too many or a biff on the shoulder to steer her out of the path of some kind of disaster, but a blow full in the face, a blow so hard I could hear the impact—that is not on. That is assault.

So there’s Julie sitting on the floor surrounded by apples, all snot coming down her face and her wispy, mousy hair catching in it so parts of it are wet and clumpy, and she’s gulping with sobs and letting out this high-pitched wail, and Ma all rolled up tight in an armchair with her legs under her, her head tucked into her chest so you can only see the top of her hair, and her arms over her ears, and rocking, rocking, and me in the middle of it all with the portable phone in my hand, dialing 9-9-9.

She must have heard the pips, because she looked up before I even spoke and let out an almighty yell at me.

“Garda,” I roared over her yell, into the mouthpiece of the phone. I shouldn’t have roared, because that word, at that decibel level, really got to Ma, and she came bounding out of her chair and knocked the phone out of my hand.

“Don’t you dare call the police!” she snarled, pulling my ears so that I had to lower my face to hers and got the stench of booze and vomit off her breath. “Just don’t you dare. You are in my house, you are under my roof, and you do not…” She couldn’t bring herself to name my crime, evidently.

She pushed me in the chest, so I staggered backwards and nearly fell on top of Julie, who was still howling on the floor.

“Hello?” came a squeaky little voice from under the sofa, where the phone lay on its back on the floor. “Hello?” A lifeline.

I picked the phone up, but I didn’t grab the lifeline. Instead, I pressed the hang-up button.

If the police came, God knows where it would end.

I know they try to keep families together when they take kids into care, but you can’t count on it, can you? And who wants a teenage boy with attitude when they could just have a lovely little smiley girl? But for sure I wasn’t going anywhere without Julie.

“Under your roof,” I said, “but not under your care, and not under your orders either. From now on, I am in charge in this house. You will bring me your money every week and I will buy the food for us all, and I will cook it and serve it, and you can do the washing and cleaning.”

Nah, of course I didn’t. (Come on, you didn’t really believe that, did you?)

I did press the hang-up button, but I didn’t make the speech. I just hauled Julie to her feet and walked her out of the room. She’d stopped wailing by now, but she was still choking on her tears.

I put her up on the kitchen table and washed her face. I clucked over her, and she went on sobbing and sniffing. I tried to dry her face with the kitchen towel, but she said, “Aagh! It stinks,” and pushed it away, so I got a tissue and dabbed at her face with that. All along the cheekbone on one side it was swollen, but the skin wasn’t broken.

“You’ll be plum-colored tomorrow,” I said. “Miss Plum, the Grocer’s Daughter. That’s you.”

Julie loves Happy Families. I hate all card games, but I especially hate Happy Families. Still, I play it with her sometimes, like when she is sick.

“Master Plaster, the Doctor’s Son,” she said, with a snivel and a little grin.

“Nah, you don’t need a Band-Aid,” I said. “You need an ice pack. Which we don’t have. Or a packet of frozen peas, which we even more don’t have.”

“Peas!” she murmured, as if she was talking about some fabulous, exotic, unattainable fruit. “I’d love some peas. And mashed potatoes.”

“Don’t!” I groaned.

“It was because of the apples,” she said. “I was crying because apples make me hungry instead of filling me up, they make my tummy water, and that was why she…”

That wasn’t why. It wasn’t Julie’s fault. But I just said, “Listen, I have some money. You and I are going out for a bag of chips, and then I will tuck you up in bed, and you don’t have to go to school tomorrow, because of that face. How does that grab you?”

She brightened up at this. In fact, she lit up like a Christmas tree.

“No school?” she sang. “Really? Are you sure?”

“School’s not so bad,” I said.

Her face dropped.

“But I’m sure. You don’t need to go. In fact, you can’t go to school looking like that, you’d frighten the children!”

It was touch and go. Was she going to burst into tears again, or would she think it was funny? I grinned like a lunatic to indicate that humor was the correct response.

She got it. “Yay!” she said, and smiled.

She put her fingers very carefully to the tender place. The nails were all bitten down.

“Don’t touch it,” I said, lifting her down off the table. “You’ll only make it worse.”

“I wish…” she said, and then stopped.

“Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

I knew what she wished because I wished it too. We wished we could go to Gramma’s.


Text copyright © 2011 by Siobhán Parkinson

Meet the Author

SIOBHAN PARKINSON is the author of twelve previous novels, including Something Invisible, Second Fiddle, and Blue Like Friday. Named the first laureate for children's literature of Ireland, she lives in Dublin with her husband and son.

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Long Story Short 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Stacey Miller More than 1 year ago
This "book" was 104 pages short. While the story was not terrible, $9.99 for it is a rip off. B&N needs to make page counts clear in these listings, I never would have bought a short book like this in the store for that much. I could have read it in store for free. As for the story itself... it was fair. It ends abruptly but I don't really feel the need to care about what happens to these characters next. There is a mid story change of character perspective that ends a few pages later and it is awkward at best. Overall, I think this story belongs in a book full of other short stories.
Hillary Severino More than 1 year ago
it was terrible all zeros but i had to votr a freakin star bools a rip off