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My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer

My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer

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by Jennifer Gennari

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Twelve-year-old June Farrell is sure of one thing—she’s great at making pies—and she plans to prove it by winning a blue ribbon in the Champlain Valley Fair pie competition. But a backlash against Vermont’s civil union law threatens her family’s security and their business. Even when faced with bullying, June won’t give up on


Twelve-year-old June Farrell is sure of one thing—she’s great at making pies—and she plans to prove it by winning a blue ribbon in the Champlain Valley Fair pie competition. But a backlash against Vermont’s civil union law threatens her family’s security and their business. Even when faced with bullying, June won’t give up on winning the blue ribbon; more importantly, she won’t give up on her family.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 4–8—Twelve-year-old June has led a carefree life with her mom in a small Vermont town on Lake Champlain. They run a small boating shop, selling supplies and homemade snacks, and June spends much of her time there or on the lake with her friend Luke. She also practices her baking in preparation for the Champlain Valley Fair pie competition. But when her mom decides to marry her girlfriend, June is suddenly faced with the harsh backlash against Vermont's civil union law that affects her family, friendships, and sense of safety. Suddenly, life is less carefree, and when people begin to boycott the shop, the future becomes uncertain. With the support of Luke, his father, and the town's librarian, June finds the courage to stand up for her family against prejudice. Although her relationship with her mom's partner is sometimes challenging, she also begins to accept the woman as a member of the family and to work with her to create a happy home life. This strong, vibrant novel looks at a complicated issue without didacticism or platitudes, but with the level of complexity it deserves, staying true to the heart of the protagonist.—Sharon McKellar, Oakland Public Library, CA
Publishers Weekly
Set against the backdrop of the legalization of civil unions for gay couples in Vermont in 2000, Gennari’s debut novel spends the summer with 12-year-old June Farrell, an accomplished pie maker who is still getting used to living with her mother’s partner, Eva. “I understood that Mom went out on dates with women, and sometimes I met them. But no one lasted. Not until Eva.” June’s uneasiness is compounded when her mother and Eva announce that they are planning a civil union ceremony, just as a local antigay “Take Back Vermont” campaign is gaining traction, testing June’s friendships and emotions. Readers won’t have to look hard to find metaphors that allude to June’s turmoil—the churning waters of Lake Champlain, a burnt-pie smell that “seemed to linger for days”—and Gennari doesn’t gloss over June’s discomfort with her mother’s relationship, her unpleasantness toward Eva, or her desire for a father. It’s a realistic account of a family coming together under stress, as June finds inner strength that brings her several triumphs and helps her stand up for her family. Ages 9–12. Agent: Alison Picard. (May)
From the Publisher
"My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer is like its protagonist, full to bursting with sweetness and summer light. . .When things begin to look bleak and scary, you just know June has the grit and sunshine to pull through." —Tim Wynne-Jones, award-winning author

"Mix a pitch-perfect narrator with serious themes (but don’t set it aside to cool) and you have My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer. Tart in places and sweet in others, Ms. Gennari’s debut novel is satisfying in every way."—Ron Koertge, author of Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs

"A realistic account of a family coming together under stress."—Publishers Weekly

"This title is a much-needed addition to the world of LGBT literature for young readers, given the relative scarcity of pre-YA novels about kids dealing with gay parents."—Bulletin

"This strong, vibrant novel looks at a complicated issue without didacticism or platitudes, but with the level of complexity it deserves, staying true to the heart of the protagonist."—School LIbrary Journal

Children's Literature - Krisan Murphy
The ingredients in the life of twelve-year-old pie-baking June Ferrell are tart, complicated, and laced with political and moral issues. Don't offer this book to a child unless you are prepared to discuss lesbian lifestyles, moral objections to homosexuality, Vermont's politics, and all the ramifications of being reared by lesbian mothers. Since childhood June has known that her father was a sperm donor—no "daddy's girl" warm fuzzies for the bright child who secretly dreams her mom will bring home a dad one day. This agenda-laden novel begins when June's mother and live-in girlfriend announce their wedding plans since Vermont passed the Civil Unions bill in April 2000. June is not the only one upset about this new development—the author's version of homophobes in the community protest as well. June and her mom, M.J., run the Stillwater Marina bakery and tackle shop on Lake Champlain. June wants to enter her pie in the county fair, but her mother refuses to let her draw attention to their family. Meanwhile, June's friend and confidant, Luke, finds a secret lode of premium blueberry bushes just right for June's pie. June is not only confronted by those who boycott their business, but also by her other close friend's family. Throughout the ordeal, June finds a passive way to address the conflict and heroically saves the day. Although the novel may resonate with children of lesbian mothers, this novel raises more questions than it answers about such a weighty topic. Reviewer: Krisan Murphy
Kirkus Reviews
The summer of 2000 should be an idyllic one for June, spending it alongside Vermont's Lake Champlain, but her mother has decided to wed her partner, Eva, under the state's newly enacted civil-union law. The 12-year-old doesn't mind much that her mother, MJ, is a lesbian, but she preferred life with just the two of them. Besides that, Eva isn't subtle about her relationship with MJ, and that's attracted negative attention from some local people opposed to the new statute. They begin boycotting the family business, a marina that also sells the pies June and her mom love to bake. To protect her from public interest, MJ tells June she can't enter a pie in the local fair, a competition the girl has eagerly awaited. Although her best friend, Luke, and the town librarian provide emotional support, June remains conflicted over her mother's relationship and local reaction to it. Unfortunately, debut author Gennari portrays those opposed to the civil-union law as a group of misanthropic cardboard characters disrupting the library and offering inappropriate, unwelcome advice to June. This black-vs.-white depiction of a polarizing topic pitches the story to the choir rather than providing a complex and emotionally satisfying exploration. A dramatic, somewhat unlikely climax brings a ready resolution to most of her issues. A one-sided exploration of a timely and important subject falls short, failing to plumb the potential depth of the issue. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Unlike some people, Lake Champlain was a friend I could count on. I knew her every mood—sometimes she was flat like a cookie sheet, and other times she was whipped up like meringue on a butterscotch pie.

That was the way I felt, too. Ever since Eva had moved in with Mom and me last month, I was as changeable as the lake.

I looked out my bedroom window. The lights were already on at Stillwater Marina; Mom was probably boxing pies and wrapping cookies, getting ready for the customers who would tie up at the dock and come into our shop. I’d be there to help her soon. Or maybe I’d swim first. The lake, rolling steadily to shore, was as dark and inviting as rubbed blueberries.

My mouth watered, thinking about blueberry season and tasting the sweet zing of the first berry. What I needed, though, were champion berries, the kind growing wild on the cliffs around the lake. I was going to make my best pie ever and enter it into the Champlain Valley Fair. I could see the newspaper headline already: "Wild Berry Pie by June Farrell, 12, Astonishes Judges."

The trick to great pies—and I should know—is fruit combinations. Everybody does strawberry-rhubarb. To stand out from the crowd, you have to do something offbeat, like apple-blackberry or strawberry-peach-pineapple or blueberry-pear. And you need the best ingredients, of course—no store-bought blueberries or hothouse strawberries.

I shrugged out of my PJs and pulled on my bathing suit. Luke would know where to find wild blueberries. I stood on my bed and grabbed the large flashlight suspended by fishing line from my curtain rod and covered it with a green cellophane lens, pointing it east toward the island just a softball field away from our shore. I trained my binoculars on Luke’s house on the tip of the island and zoomed in on his window.

He was up—his green light shining back at me. We had been using the color lenses left over from a school play for about four years, since we were eight: green—I can play; yellow—I can’t; red—trouble. I wish I could claim it as my idea. Luke says, when you don’t have a phone, you learn to improvise.

I shifted my gaze to the dock and spotted Luke. His shaggy black hair was in his eyes, his hands carrying oars to the rowboat at the end of his dock. I couldn’t wait to hear his plan for the day.

I yanked my Stillwater Marina T-shirt over my bathing suit and pulled my brown hair into a ponytail. I didn’t bother looking in the mirror: I was the same June, never mind the changes other people saw. I clambered down from my loft to the kitchen.

"Good morning, June." Eva moved her plate over. "I was just finishing up."

"That’s OK." I grabbed a bowl and the Cheerios and sat at the other end of the table. I still couldn’t get used to her being here.

In between us was a bowl of sliced strawberries, courtesy of Mom, I was sure. I took a handful for my Cheerios. Strawberry-blueberry-cherry? I wanted the strangest fruit mixture for my pie.

Eva brushed a crumb from her shirt. I could have told her everything was in its place, from her cropped blond hair to her nametag neatly pinned on the right: EVA LEWIS, MD. I balanced the comics upright on the cereal box, hoping she’d get the message.

"OJ?" she asked.

I shook my head and remained behind the box.

She turned to the newspaper, rustling the pages. "Look at this headline," she said, pointing to "Grassroots Organization Backs Candidates to Repeal Civil Union Law." "Has everyone gone crazy?"

I was sick of hearing about civil unions and gay rights. "Mom says not to worry."

"That’s MJ for you." Eva folded the paper on the table. "By the way, a package arrived that has to be unpacked—on top of wrapping all those cookies you two made last night."

"I know what needs to be done." I picked up my bowl and put it down hard in the sink. As if Eva knew anything about the marina shop. She hated boats. I knew how long mooring line was, what kind of oil motorboats needed, and what size cleats were best for main sheets. Mom and I knew how much bread to make for sandwiches and batter for giant batches of peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies.

Eva put her dish in the dishwasher. "MJ asked me to remind you."

"I didn’t forget."

"Of course, I’m sorry," she said, glancing at a little milk pooled on the table. I could tell she couldn’t wait to clean it up. I’d leave it for her; my eyes were on the lake.

"Luke’s here." I banged through the door and down to the dock.

I grabbed the line he tossed my way.

"Hey, June." Luke was dressed like me in a faded T-shirt and ready to swim. He climbed out of his boat. "Your mom need help?"

"As usual." I tied a quick hitch around the pier cleat.

"When we’re done, I’ve got a new place to show you," he said.

"With blueberries?"


Luke and I turned toward the shop. His strides were longer—he was a head taller than me—but I kept up.

"Does Joe need you to hold a piece of sculpture or anything today?"

"He’s still sleeping—he was up late blowtorching."

"Eva’s still in the kitchen."

He looked at me sideways. "Fireworks, already?"

I snorted. "She’s just so perfect."

"Like me?" He pulled at his faded shirt and made a face.

I laughed. "Yeah, right!" That was one of the things that made Luke so likeable—he didn’t care what other people thought. Maybe living on an island was so offbeat, you just had to give up on fitting in.

Luke and I found Mom slouched over a book behind the counter, her Stillwater Marina cap pulled low. At the sound of the door, she pushed her cap back and smiled at us.

"There you are," Mom said, turning down a page as she closed her book. "Help me wrap plastic around these cookies—two to a package. Luke, you put the price tag on."

"Anything you say, MJ," Luke said, and stuck a $1.95 sticker on his nose.

I grinned. That’s another reason why I like Luke.

"Did you have breakfast with Eva?" she asked me.

"The strawberries you left were perfect," I said. "Made me imagine the perfect pie."

"How about blueberry-pineapple?" Mom said.

I paused to consider the combination, but I shook my head. "I can’t get fresh pineapple," I said. "It’s gotta be something really good, really surprising."

"Well, corn’s coming up—why not corn-berry pie?" Luke said. "Or zucchini-apple! Is that weird enough?"

"You’re the weird one around here," I said. The plastic wrap stuck together as I stacked two cookies together. I picked at it to untangle it. I was the strange one, living with two mothers. The thought of my unknowable father came to me, again. Was he like Tina’s dad, driving a tractor and planting crops, or like Luke’s, welding together sculptures he dreamed up in his mind? What I wanted was a dad, not another mother. Instead, I got Eva, all fussy and difficult. I pulled the wrap clumsily around the cookies and stuck a price tag on the bundle. It looked lousy.

Luke was clicking out price tags from the labeling gun, lining them up along the counter.

"Slow down," Mom said. "That’s all we need."

"Can we go then?" Luke asked.

She gathered up the wrapped cookies and arranged them in the basket. "OK, but June, please come back for lunch."

The marina door banged shut as we raced out.

"The new spot is up by the old camp," Luke said.

We crossed the road to the meadow, and I turned a cartwheel, just for the freedom of summer. Luke somersaulted.

I turned to tell him to catch up, when a strange sign sticking out of the shop front lawn caught my eye. Something about the sign didn’t seem right. Sometimes Mom tacked up a notice outside the shop saying SPECIAL: HAM and CHEESE, $2.99 or EXTRAORDINARY PIES INSIDE. But this sign didn’t say anything like that. In fact, it didn’t seem like something Mom would put out.

"What’s ‘Take Back Vermont’ mean?" Luke asked, standing next to me.

"I don’t know," I said. Right away I knew it wasn’t right; it wasn’t something Mom or Eva had posted.

"We should ask MJ if she wants it there."

I shivered. Someone had been sneaking around early, hammering the sign outside our shop.

We were still standing there when Eva pulled out of the driveway. She tooted her horn, and Mom came out to wave. But then suddenly Eva was out of the car, running, and Mom ran, too. They were running toward the sign. Eva got to it first, and in one angry motion, Eva pulled out the stake and ripped the sign in half. She looked around wildly, but Mom grabbed her and pulled her close. I turned away.

"Let’s go," I said to Luke.

Meet the Author

Jennifer Gennari has been a writer and editor for more than twenty years. A graduate of Vassar College, she holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family in Sausalito, California—where they often whip up scrumptious berry pies. She returns to Lake Champlain every summer. This is her first book. Visit her website at

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