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Nothing but Blue

Nothing but Blue

by Lisa Clough

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All dead. No one survived. All dead. This morbid chant haunts seventeen-year-old Blue as she trudges through the countryside with just the clothes on her back, heading to her childhood home on the ocean. Something absolutely awful has happened, she knows it, but she doesn’t know what. She can’t even remember her name, so she calls herself Blue. This


All dead. No one survived. All dead. This morbid chant haunts seventeen-year-old Blue as she trudges through the countryside with just the clothes on her back, heading to her childhood home on the ocean. Something absolutely awful has happened, she knows it, but she doesn’t know what. She can’t even remember her name, so she calls herself Blue. This gripping survival story—peppered with flashbacks to bittersweet times with her boyfriend, Jake—strips life down to its bare bones. Blue learns, with the help of a seemingly magical stray dog and kind people along the road, that the important thing is to live.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Jahn-Clough (Me, Penelope) offers a fresh take on the literary device of amnesia in this gripping novel about a teenage girl who embarks on a quest after a disaster. She chooses the name "Blue" for herself as she journeys to a remembered home. Jahn-Clough effectively infuses elements of magical realism into a narrative grounded in the psychology of trauma, as Blue meets a dog she names Shadow who speaks only to her. Flashbacks reveal her former low self-esteem, especially in her ill-considered relationship with a popular boy named Jake, who takes advantage of her naiveté; scenes with Blue's parents illustrate their disappointment at not having a popular, pretty daughter. Blue has moments of terror and desperation during her trek, while also forming brief but powerful connections to those under similar duress. Blue's reward for tackling the painful road to recovered memory is the formation of a triumphant new sense of self. Readers should find this resilient heroine's poetic observations about survival and identity as memorable as the details of her harrowing ordeal. Ages 14–up. (May)
From the Publisher

"Those interested in the psychological landscape will appreciate the moments of kindness from strangers, the sympathetic portraits of people who fit best in the margins, and the overall optimistic vision of human nature."
Horn Book

"With clipped prose of intimate detail and keen insight, Jahn-Clough crafts an authentically adolescent first-person narrative. . . . With tight pacing, motley characters, and touches of the spiritual, this is a furious, illuminating adventure."

"The plotting and the exploration of a teen's suddenly being stripped of everything she owns and everyone she loves will elicit interest."
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Jahn-Clough offers a fresh take on the literary device of amnesia in this gripping novel. . . Readers should find this resilient heroine's poetic observations about survival and identity as memorable as the details of her harrowing ordeal."
Publishers Weekly

Children's Literature - Greta Holt
All dead. Blue can remember only this when she wakes up, covered with dew. She has a small flashlight key chain, a useless front-door key, and some Life Savers, which she eats quickly. Something tells her to go to a yellow house on the beach many miles to the west. The story takes place as she journeys toward ?home.' Clough handles time carefully and cleanly. Chapters are titled either ?Now' or ?Before.' Blue is running toward home but away from a memory so horrible that she cannot face it. Clough writes in present tense, which heightens the tension. Blue has not one penny, and readers will experience that negation of power: how one finds shelter, stays away from danger, or gets any food at all. Blue is always tired, too cold or hot, and monumentally hungry. But, she runs from those who would help her. She must stay on her journey. Clough adds a dog Shadow who is seen by Blue as having a mesmerizing influence, and Snake, a young former train rider who provides welcome, if short, relief on Blue's the journey. Blue focusses on getting home, but shows selflessness by back-tracking to save friends she has met. Backstory chapters show th,at Blue has been treated badly by her peers, thus, her journey travels toward self-reliance as well as from shock. The ending might have been strengthened by having Blue act alone, without the help of the dog Shadow. Her realization is hers alone, and her future journeys will emanate from her own courage. Ninth and tenth graders will enjoy this well written story. Reviewer: Greta Holt
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—A teenage girl survives an explosion, but her memories are sporadic, and the haunting words, "All dead. No one survived. All Dead" are stuck in her head. She begins walking, trying not to think about the past or the future. Along the road, she adopts the name Blue and a stray dog that refuses to leave her alone. Blue is convinced that she must avoid people. She finds food in Dumpsters and bathes in ponds and public restrooms. Snake, a damaged young man, is one of the few people she interacts with; like her, he is displaced and trying to escape a painful past. He assists Blue in reaching the house in which she grew up, and it is here that she must finally face the reality of her situation. Chapters alternate between Blue's present and what memories she has of her past. But like the rest of the book, the flashbacks are written in first person, a confusing choice considering Blue is supposed to be suffering from memory loss. This would be a minor complaint in an otherwise engaging story if the abrupt conclusion, so lacking in credibility, were not such a disappointment.—Cary Frostick, Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA
Kirkus Reviews
An insightful, if not entirely successful, exploration of the effects of trauma on memory and identity. In the powerful opening pages, readers meet a teenage girl who has obviously been through some kind of trauma involving an explosion. Unsure what has happened or even who she is, the girl (eventually going by Blue) feels compelled to just keep moving in the direction she thinks is home, and so she does, eating whatever scraps she can scrounge and sleeping wherever she can find a safe enough bit of space. The chapters that describe her journey are labeled "Now," and they are interspersed with chapters labeled "Before," in which readers gradually learn about Blue's story up until the moment of the explosion, including her foray into the world of dating and sex with the handsome, popular boy down the street and her parents' decision to move across the country. In a strange addition to an offering that seems to be striving for emotional and psychological rawness, Blue meets an apparently magical dog named Shadow who impels people to do Blue favors by mesmerizing them with his eyes. The before-and-after structure ultimately undercuts suspense, as the narrative loses momentum, and readers become weary of waiting for Blue to arrive at answers they've long known. Starts out strong, but ultimately fizzles out. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.40(w) x 5.70(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


All dead. No one survived. All dead.

The words pound in my head like mini explosions going off again and again and again.

All dead. Boom!

No one survived. Boom!

All dead. Boom!

I don’t know what these words mean. I am not dead. I am here, so I have survived. The heavy fog dampens my clothes so that my cutoffs cling to my thighs. I touch the air gingerly, then grab at it as though I can hold on. I rub my fingertips together. They are wet and clammy from the humidity. I feel, therefore I must exist.

I’m not sure where I am. I’ve been walking since morning, so I must be miles from wherever I began. It’s afternoon now.

I find a plot of grass and a tree to lean against. The bark is rough and hard on my back, but it’s solid. I flip off my flip-flops and massage one foot, then the other.

I check my pockets. Maybe there’s something useful tucked away. I take out a door key on a mini-flashlight key chain. I blink the beam once, twice, three times and swirl the white light. I can barely see the glow in the misty air.

In the other pocket is a roll of Life Savers. I am suddenly aware that I have not eaten all day. I pop one into my mouth, then two more. I am about to take another when I think perhaps I should save the rest. I fold over the foil wrapper and seal it down with my thumb.

I turn the Life Savers around with my tongue and suck out the sweet juicy flavor to make them last longer. I long for a candy bar, something with hard, dark chocolate outside and gooey, chewy, sweet caramel inside.

The sky darkens under a cloud and the wind blows. It looks like it’s going to rain, maybe storm. The days are getting shorter. School will start soon. It will be my last year of high school, but I don’t think I’ll be going now. I can’t shake the feeling that something absolutely awful has happened.

One fat droplet splats on the top of my head. Expecting a downpour, I pull up the hood of my sweatshirt, but there is only that one drop. I’m glad to have the sweatshirt though. I think hard. I try to remember. I almost didn’t take it with me. I grabbed it off the chair on my way out the door. It was early in the morning. Was that this morning? What was it I had to get? A cup of coffee? I never got it. I forgot the money. I was going back to get some, and that’s it.

Now I don’t have the coffee and I don’t have the money and I don’t know what happened.

Boom! Boom! Boom! throbs my brain with the struggle to remember. I beat my palms on my forehead. The exploding will stop if I can just stop thinking.

I search deeper in my pockets. Maybe there’s some cash. I do that sometimes, fold up a bill and stick it in my pocket, then forget about it until I next wear the pants and find it all washed and crumpled. I turn the front pockets inside out. Not even a coin—nothing but lint.

So this is what I have:

• half a roll of Life Savers

• one front-door key (useless)

• one flashlight key chain

That’s it. That’s all she wrote. No more. No less. Once I had everything, and now, nada. No money, no phone, no music, no food, no clothes—well, except for the clothes on my back: sweatshirt, T-shirt, cutoffs, flip-flops, underwear. Hard to believe I could be so stupid as to take so little, but I was only going for a few minutes, or so I thought.

I hear my mother’s voice somewhere in my head: You’re going out in that?

And my father: You really should wear better shoes.

Mother: You just don’t have the legs for such short shorts, dear.

Father: I don’t see how you can walk in those. There’s no support.

Mother: At least brush your hair.

Father: We just want what’s good for you.

Mother: We just want you to be a normal, happy, pretty girl . . .

Did they actually say these things, or am I imagining things they might say? They always said they just wanted me to be happy. Do they even know I’m gone?

Where are they?

Where am I?

All dead. No one survived. All dead.

My throat tightens and my stomach twists into knots. It’s hard to breathe. I squeeze my eyes shut. There is a smell that makes me want to vomit. Burning. Smoke. Ash. I gasp for air.

I try to focus on the moment by counting breaths. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. I inhale deeper with each count, and the chant grows quieter. By the time I get all the way to fifty it is so faint I can barely hear it. The stench disappears and my stomach loosens. I can swallow.

As I listen to my breath, I stare at an ant on the ground. It’s a tiny little thing carrying a crumb twice its size, trudging through grass and over dirt. Suddenly it runs into a twig, and instead of going around, it attempts to climb over without dropping its precious load. The poor little ant is all by itself in a world much larger than it will ever know. I move the twig out of its way, and the ant keeps going as though the twig had never even been there.

I make a pledge to myself—I won’t think of anything except what is in front of me. It is the only way. I have no future. I have no past. All I have is now—the clothes on my back, the raindrop on my head, the grass under my feet, the tree pressing against my spine, the woods on either side of me, and the long stretch of road ahead disappearing into a bank of gray fog.


I’m walking along the side of the road with my hood pulled over my face so no one can see me. The air is dark and heavy. My feet ache from the stupid flip-flops. I might as well be barefoot.

My stomach grumbles. I finished off the Life Savers hours ago. So much for saving. I imagine all the things I could eat: a bagel oozing out cream cheese, extra-cheesy pizza, stringy mozzarella sticks, fried chicken fingers, a burger with loads of ketchup, french fries, potato chips, a mocha milk shake, a thick slice of chocolate cake for dessert. I lick my lips.

The rumbling of a pickup truck interrupts my food fantasy. I try to breathe normally even though inside I am trembling. My instincts tell me I shouldn’t be "found." The truck comes up behind me. I stare straight ahead.

It will pass. It will not notice me. It will pass, I tell myself, like a mantra that will make it true. But it doesn’t work. The truck slows to my pace and drives alongside me. I keep walking. It will pass. It will pass.

The window rolls down and a guy calls out, "Want a lift?"

I don’t dare look, but I imagine a cliché truck guy: cigarette dangling from his mouth, the rest of the pack rolled in the sleeve of his T-shirt, a big grin revealing missing teeth, and some empty beer cans strewn about the front seat.

I shake my head ever so slightly, no, and keep walking straight ahead. My flip-flops slap at my heels with each step.

"You sure? It can be dangerous walking all alone. It’s gonna be dark soon," the man says.

This is what every child is warned about. Never trust strange men who sound friendly. Especially men in trucks who offer rides. I make a mistake and glance at him. He is muscular and good-looking and wearing a T-shirt, but there’s no cigarette. He smiles wide, and as far as I can tell he has all his teeth.

He asks, "You from around here?"

Say nothing.

"Where are you headed?"

Keep walking.

He stops the truck. "Hey," he says as he opens the door and steps out.

Everything in me panics. Now I know he is dangerous. He is planning to pick me up, leave me battered on the street, or worse. As he walks around the front of the truck I burst into a run, my shoes flopping and flailing. I have to get away from him. Fast. He yells something about calling for help, something about people looking for me, but I concentrate on running.

A sound echoes somewhere—a single, short bark, then another and another, like a beckoning call. It’s coming from the woods. Of course, stupid me. Why am I running straight down the road where he can easily catch me, when I should run where it’s harder to follow and easier to hide? I turn and head into the trees toward the barking.

The flower part of one of my flip-flops breaks, and the toe thong pulls out of the sole. I kick both shoes off and keep running. I ignore the sticks and twigs and rocks stinging my bare feet. I pray that the man has not followed me into the woods, but I don’t dare stop to find out.

I hear another bark and can make out the dark shadow of an animal in between the trees way ahead. It stands there for a second like it’s looking back at me, then takes off at a gallop and disappears into the depths of the forest.

I hear the truck drive away. I wait until my heart and lungs are back to normal. I’m not used to running, or even all that much walking. I listen to the leaves rustling, the birds singing, and the occasional creaking of a tree (at least I think that’s what it is), until I figure it must be safe, and I finally limp back to the road.


I’ve been trudging slowly along and now it is quickly darkening into night. There’s not much along this road; it is straight and rural with a lot of cornfields. I stop at the next building I come to—a brick restaurant with a sign on the roof that reads firefly in hot red letters. Under that is says: Home-Cooked Breakfast and Lunch.

I am dying for something to eat and drink. Although dying may be an exaggeration. Funny how we use that expression so easily. Am I dying? Am I dead already?

All dead, all dead, all dead. No one survived. The words become a steady chant again, but this time I am better able to ignore them, since the grumbling of my stomach is even stronger.

I sit by the side of the building and cradle my tender feet. I’ve stubbed my toes more than once, and one of them is caked with blood. I spit on my finger and try to wash it off, but it smears a muddy, bloody streak across my foot.

A street lamp flickers and buzzes out. It is really dark now—there is no moon or stars. Tears burn in my eyes but I cannot cry. There’s nothing to cry about—this is just the way it is now.

Next to me are a couple of dumpsters. I bet there’s leftover food in there. I crawl over and peer inside the closest one. It’s all recycling—nothing but paper and cardboard. I go to the other. I shine the flashlight key chain into the foul depths.

The dumpster is full of black garbage bags, rotten food, Styrofoam containers, and other unidentifiable trash. The smell makes me want to puke. I snatch one of the containers and move away.

The container is half full of spaghetti soaked in red sauce with part of a meatball perched on the top. I poke the meatball with my finger. It’s mushy and totally gross. I can’t eat someone’s old leftover, thrown-out spaghetti dinner. This will make me sick for sure. Is it better to die of starvation or food poisoning? I place the box next to me. My stomach begs to be fed, but I’m not ready to eat garbage. Not yet.

I lie down on the hard, damp pavement. I close my eyes. I feel . . . nothing. I see . . . nothing. The chant is a buzz of white noise in the dark.

Then out of the blackness comes a vision of smoldering rubble, crumpled piles of wood, brick, rock—it looks like a war zone. The insanity of fire trucks, police, ambulance, neighbors screaming. That stench of smoke fills my nostrils again and dries my throat, as though the ash has crawled deep inside.

I hear words. This time they are not a chant but clear single words, one at a time: Explosion . . . Leak . . . Inside . . . Dead . . . Impossible . . . No, possible.

Meet the Author

Lisa Jahn-Clough has written and illustrated a number of books for young children, including Alicia Has a Bad Day; My Friend and I; Missing Molly; Simon and Molly Plus Hester; On the Hill; and Country Girl, City Girl. She has taught at Maine College of Art and the Vermont College Writing for Children and Young Adults program. 

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