True to Form

True to Form

4.3 24
by Elizabeth Berg

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Katie Nash — the beloved heroine of Elizabeth Berg's previous novels Durable Goods and Joy School — is thirteen years old in 1961, and she's facing a summer full of conflict. Her father has enlisted her in two care-taking jobs — baby-sitting for the rambunctious Wexler boys and, equally challenging, looking after Mrs. Randolph, her


Katie Nash — the beloved heroine of Elizabeth Berg's previous novels Durable Goods and Joy School — is thirteen years old in 1961, and she's facing a summer full of conflict. Her father has enlisted her in two care-taking jobs — baby-sitting for the rambunctious Wexler boys and, equally challenging, looking after Mrs. Randolph, her elderly, bedridden neighbor. To make matters worse, Katie has been forcibly inducted into the "loser" Girl Scout troop, compliments of her only new friend Cynthia's controlling mother. Her only saving grace is a trip to her childhood hometown in Texas, to visit her best friend Cherylanne. But people and places change — and Cherylanne is no exception. When an act of betrayal leaves Katie wondering just what friends are really for, she learns to rely on the only one left she can trust: herself.
Full of the joys, anguish, and innocence of American adolescence, True to Form is a story sure to make readers remember and reflect on their own moments of discovery and self-definition.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Boston Herald (Editor's Pick) A convincing teen's-eye view on growing up in the summer of 1961.

Chicago Tribune In Katie, Berg has created a narrator true to adolescent form.
It is 1961, and 13-year-old Katie is living in the chasm of the generation gap. Accepting her father's corny suggestions, she becomes a babysitter and a Girl Scout. For Katie, adolescence without her birth mother is tense and stressful; and, as she matures, Katie realizes that she is capable of sacrificing even her best friend for popularity. Things that should make her happy don't, but she does find solace in odd places. This powerful novel tracks Katie in the years between Durable Goods and Joy School.
Publishers Weekly
Berg is the master of the soft-focus, nonconfrontational women's novel, as evidenced in her 2000 Oprah Book Club selection, Open House. In her latest work, which again features the pubescent narrator first encountered in her debut novel, Durable Goods, she describes a summer in the life of 13-year-old Katie Nash. It is 1961, and Katie's mother has been dead for two years; Katie lives with her dour military father and peppy stepmother in Missouri. Resigned to allowing her strict dad to find her summer jobs, in her free time she gorges herself on junk food with her best friend, Cynthia, and works on her tan. Katie's first-person voice is deliberative and colloquial, and the story told is rarely eventful: the highlights come when Katie first starts working for a kind, needy elderly couple, the Randolphs, and wins a radio contest offering a free plane ticket anywhere in the world. Yet where does Katie choose to fly? Back to Fort Hood, Tex., where she last lived before her mother died and where she can revisit her former best friend, Cherylanne, who is slightly older than Katie and well versed in the ways of boys, clothes and getting married fast. The trip peters out when Katie realizes she really has nothing in common with boy-crazy Cherylanne. Meanwhile, Mr. Randolph secures a scholarship for Katie at the upscale school where he once taught, but even this boon becomes a hurdle when Katie belittles Cynthia to land in the rich girls' good graces. Berg lays nostalgia traps at every turn in her 10th feel-good novel, but her readers for the most part will be happy to fall into them. 14-city author tour. (June 11) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
In this lyrical coming-of-age novel about the choices one makes and what they cost, Berg is true to form, peopling the story with her characteristic interesting and unconventionally flawed creations. Overprotected Katie is having a rough summer-her friends are left behind in her old hometown, her only new friend is a decidedly uncool Girl Scout, and her dad has landed her a job as caretaker to an elderly neighbor. The position opens up the possibility of private school, and Katie does all the right things to get in-passes the test with flying colors, aces the interview, and even begins to hang with the in-crowd. When she decides to betray a friend at a party, her guilt haunts her, and she realizes that she has power both to hurt people and to make things right again. This moral tale is told without a heavy hand. Katie makes mistakes but is able to redeem herself, and nothing is lost without something else being gained. Everything about this quiet book rings true, from the 1961 small town setting to Katie's voice and the characterizations of supporting characters. A less noticeable jump on the bandwagon of adult authors publishing for young adults, this short volume has more conviction and is of higher quality than recent offerings. Although this title stands alone, readers interested in Katie's character development can go back to read Durable Goods (Random, 1993) and Joy School (Random, 1997). VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, Pocket Star, 224p,
— Beth Gallaway
In the character of Katie Nash, Berg manages to bridge the gap between adolescence and adulthood and attracts both kinds of readers. This is her third novel with Katie as the heroine and as Katie matures so does her appeal. Katie's mother died when she was young and her older sister has left the strict confines of her father's home, but Katie must follow him to a new life in Missouri as his army career moves him from place to place. He has found a new wife who is able to soften him a bit, but Katie still chafes under his constraints even as she discovers some new freedoms that her advanced age of 13 1/2 brings her. In this novel, she finds herself at a crossroad of her old life and her new. She wins a trip back to see her old friend, Cherylanne, and a scholarship to a private school. In attempting to make new friends, she betrays her current best friend. Because she is such a thoughtful person, the story is not just about the events that occur and the people she meets, but their significance to her own growth. This novel may guide the YA reader in her journey through this difficult time. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Simon & Schuster, Washington Square Press, 214p.,
— Nola Theiss
Library Journal
Berg continues the saga of the adolescent Katie in this sequel to her award-winning Durable Goods and Joy School. Katie's maturity is increasingly evident as she faces tough choices about the cost of friendship and begins to look outward. Her routine battle against loneliness encompasses fellow outsider Cynthia, an aging couple where the wife is ill, and the wild set of boys she baby-sits for instead of finding a "real job." Witty and insightful, this short but complete audiobook is a comfortable revisiting with narrator Jen Taylor's familiar embodiment of the daily life of a teenager. Recommended.-Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another installment in the life of preternaturally wise military brat Katie Nash (Joy School, 1997, etc.), who over a summer and fall learns about friendship and love: a story that's more well-intentioned manual of life-lessons than engaging drama of adolescent turbulence. Katie, now 13 and living in St. Louis, misses her former home, Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas, where her mother died and her best friend Cherylanne lives. Dad, who had a rough childhood, is still playing the heavy, but stepmother Ginger, a model of tact and insight, seems to be softening him up. Katie's only friend is Cynthia O' Connell, a loser though she does share Katie's liking for poetry—but also has a pathetic mother determined to start a Girl Scout troop (afraid of the outdoors, she plans overnight camping in her living room). As summer begins, Dad insists that Katie work two jobs: helping old Mr. Randolph, a retired teacher, with his bedridden wife; and babysitting the three Wexler boys. Not Katie's ideal jobs, but she buckles under and finds them more rewarding than she expected. Mr. and Mrs. Randolph are still deeply in love, though they've been married for eons, and Katie learns that "In some couples, each puts the other first." Not like the Wexlers, whose boys are fun to babysit once Katie figures out that they like playing games, but whose marriage nearly ends that summer. A trip back to see Cherylanne affords more life-lessons—that Cherylanne isn't as smart as Cynthia, that she doesn't appreciate poetry, and that friendships change. Cherylanne has troubles too—she's pregnant and must get married. In the fall, Katie, now attending a snobby private school, is mean to Cynthia. But she really wants to be good,confesses her sins to a friendly priest, and, realizing how much she values Cynthia's friendship, tries to win her back. Insights that seem too easily won in a slick story that skims the surface. Author tour

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Washington Square Press
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It is the first Sunday evening of the summer, the sky an ash rose color and losing its light to night. I am sitting on the floor in my room with a mirror propped up against a stack of magazines, setting my hair according to the directions in Modern Style. If I do it right, I will get a perfect flip. I just need to sleep in such a way that the rollers do not become pushed out of place, as they usually do. Either they get pushed out of place or I take them all out in the middle of the night. I don't know why. I don't even remember doing it, I just wake up and there the rollers are, thrown down on the floor. I guess my sleep self and my awake self don't agree about beauty.

The radio is turned on low to "Moody River," and my question is, Why did she kill herself if the guy was just a friend? And also, how can Pat Boone be singing so smoothly if his heart is broken? He sounds like Perry Como singing "Magic Moments" when he should be sounding like Brenda Lee sobbing, "I'm sorry, sooo sorry."

I am thinking about how tomorrow I will lie out on a towel in the yard, slicked up with baby oil to get going on my tan. I like it when you lie there for a long time and feel the sun's heat like a red thing behind your lids. You see a map of your own veins, and then when you open your eyes the view is bleached a bit of its colors. When I was nine years old someone told me you must never look at the sun straight on because it could make you blind. This made me go right outside and stare up at it, and when my eyes protested and shut automatically, I held my lids open until my eyes burned and watered so much I had to stop. I did not go blind. I do have to wear glasses, but I was wearing them before I stared at the sun. I am this way, sometimes, that I just have to find things out for myself.

I have a feeling percolating under my skin that says this will be a really important summer. Just a feeling that doesn't go away. I think sometimes I am a little psychic, like my grandmother who could read tea leaves. She would sit at the kitchen table with her beautiful white hair up in a bun, and she would be wearing an apron that sagged over her bosom like another bosom. She would stare into the cup for a long time, and nobody talked; even the air seemed to hold still. Then she would look up, and her blue eyes would seem clearer and not quite her own. She would settle her shoulders, and, in a low and intimate voice, tell people things about their lives. I thought for a long time she was a gypsy queen, but my mind just made that up; she was really just a woman from England who married my grandfather from Ireland. She was a housewife who made good gravy and kept a parakeet in her kitchen.

Once, when I was in third grade, my grandmother read tea leaves for me. My mother was there, and her sisters, my aunts Rose and Betty, were there, too. I remember I was so nervous I sat under the kitchen table, and my grandmother had to tell me things without looking at me. She said I had a boyfriend, which was true, Billy Harris was his name, and I got all embarrassed even though no one could see me. Then she told me he liked me too, which was not so true, since if you asked him, "Do you like Katie Nash?" he would have said, "Who?"

I miss my aunts a lot. Since my mother died a couple of years ago, I never see them anymore. We used to go and visit for a week or so every summer. Rose was very prim and proper, but full of a warm love. When I used to stay there, my cousins and I washed up for bed at night in a dishpan at the kitchen sink, and Aunt Rose made sure we got our ears good. Ivory soap, she used, those floating cakes bigger than a kid's whole hand. She made plain dinners but they were the kind of food a person always enjoys. Like just meat loaf from the recipe on the back of the oatmeal box, served with mashed potatoes, butter filling the little well in the middle, and some green beans from the can, all served on an embroidered tablecloth. Her sheets smelled like outside, and everybody used to say you could eat from her kitchen floor. I used to think, Why would you want to do that? and I would imagine my uncle Harry sitting there cross-legged with his napkin tucked into his shirt, leaning over awkwardly to lift his scrambled eggs from the linoleum.

Aunt Betty was a wild woman, that's what she called herself. She told me she was engaged to another man when my uncle Jim proposed to her. She wore a lot of makeup and smoked constantly and painted her fingernails and toenails blood red. She and my uncle were very social, and I never saw anyone look as glamorous as she did when they went out. She would wake up her children for a meteor shower or a good sunrise, and she was always asking them to tell her things they learned in school; she thought her children were wonderful. Every Sunday morning, she would make Monkey Bread, and there was always enough for everyone.

My dad doesn't want to visit my aunts anymore. I guess he has a new life now with my stepmother, Ginger, and the aunts just don't figure in. Sometimes I get mail from them: a joke card from Betty; a card with Jesus on it from Rose. They both call me Honey, which makes for an inside curl of pleasure. I thought I would always go and see them, every summer.

Well, you never know what life will turn out to be. Sometimes when I lie in bed at night, I think of bad things that can happen and how much we can never know, and it's so scary. It's like taking the lid off a box that's in front of you all the time, but usually you leave it alone. But every now and then, you take the lid off and you look in and the box is so dark and deep and full of writhing possibilities it gives you the shivers.

I lean back against my bed, let out a big breath, and look around my bedroom. I am used to it now, which probably means it's about time to move. Every time I get used to something, it's time to leave it. "We have orders," my father will say, and that's that, we're on the way to wherever the army tells us to go.

I like this room. It feels more private than any place I've ever had, situated the way it is at the end of the hall. If my sister, Diane, were still living with us, she would have gotten this room; she always got the best room. But she lives by herself in California now, because she ran away when she was eighteen. We talk about twice a month, and once in a while she comes to visit, but mostly it is just no good between her and my father; it never was. My father was always fierce, but after my mother died it seemed like he got a lot worse. And Diane finally just left. He never talks about it, but I know he is sorry. One thing my stepmother has done is to make my father a little softer, not so mean. It's odd; I think he loved my mother more, but he treats Ginger better. And I think I know why. It is because she is not as nice to him as my mother was. She pushes back, sometimes. She draws a line and says don't you cross this. Now you tell me why someone is nicer to the person who treats him worse.

My favorite place in my room is my desk drawer. In it is a little figure of a bird all covered with jewels. I don't think they're real jewels, but maybe they are. It was given to me by a boy I did not know, for no reason. It was a while ago, just after my mother had died, and I was sitting out by myself in the middle of a field on a summer day, and the boy appeared out of nowhere. He was younger than I, I thought — smaller, at least, and so I wasn't afraid. I said, "Hey," and he said nothing back. "What are you doing?" I asked, and again he said nothing. I asked him if he spoke English, and he just smiled and shrugged. I stared at him for a while, and then I patted the ground. He sat next to me, his knees drawn up under his chin, and together we watched the movement of the breeze through the tall weeds, the lazy shifting of the gigantic cumulus clouds that filled the sky that day, and, once, the magical hovering of a dragonfly, colored metallic blue. We only pointed at things, but it was a good conversation. We sat for a good fifteen or twenty minutes, and then the boy got up to leave. But first he took the bird out of his pocket and gave it to me. I was amazed by his generosity, but I am ashamed to say that I made no move at all to refuse that gift. It is the main thing in my drawer, because it was a miracle and it came without asking. Sometimes when I think of that boy, I think, Wait, was he mute? And sometimes I think — the thought very small and private — Was he an angel? And sometimes I think, in a way that makes me feel like bawling, Was he my mother? That thought is the smallest and most private of all, and it lives in my heart, and it will never be told to anyone.

Also in my drawer is a photo of baby pigs. I remember them vaguely from a time we lived on a farm in Indiana. I think I was three. I remember being barefoot, standing on the wooden rail of a fence, looking down at those pigs. I wanted them to be my dollies; I wanted to wheel them in a carriage, put bonnets on their heads, feed them from bottles, and cover them when they slept. But they were not babies, they were pigs. So I only watched them lie by their mother in their neat, pink row; and I watched them take their grunty little steps around the sty.

I have some rocks I cracked open and kept for their gorgeous insides. I have some acorns, because look what comes from them. I have a pressed flower, a rose I would still call pink, even though its edges have turned tea-colored. I have pictures of beautiful things cut out of magazines: a willow tree next to a river, a kitchen lit up by morning sun, a monarch on a red poppy, a herd of sheep on a hill in Ireland, a wooden, straight-back chair positioned by a window with a blowing white curtain. I have a lot of pictures of dogs, too. I would like to have seven dogs.

I have something that I drew, a woman's face that is full of sorrow. And it looks like a real picture that an artist did. It looks that way to me. And the thing is, I don't know how to draw. I was sitting at my desk one day, my head in my hands, and I had that middle ache that is just the pain that comes with being alive sometimes, that kind of personal despair. I don't know why it comes, but I know it used to get my mother too. Every once in a while, she would sit so still, her hands in her lap, and she would have a little smile on her face that was not really a smile. What's wrong? I once asked, and she looked up quickly and she saw that I saw. After that, she would usually close herself in her bedroom until it was over — it never took that long, really. She didn't like for anyone to see her that way. She didn't want anyone to know.

But I had that same kind of feeling one day, that veil of sadness between me and the world, and I had a piece of paper in front of me and I drew that woman's face like I was in a dream, like someone else was borrowing my hand. And I have never shown it to anyone, and I have never drawn anything good since then, either.

Lately, I have begun writing a lot more poems, and I have been saving them in my drawer. And it's funny, the same thing happens, about someone else borrowing my hand. I get a feeling; I step off into space; and a thing makes up itself.

I have red lipstick in my drawer that was my mother's, with the mark of her mouth on it. I have a rhinestone button I found outside, feathers from birds, pennies that mean good luck. I have a box of crayons that I intend never to use, I just like to look at them all perfect and read the names of the colors out loud, and I like to smell them deep, like I smell the test papers at school that have just come off the mimeograph machine. I have some torn-out hairdos that I would like to get, if my hair will ever grow really long instead of acting paralyzed.

Sometimes I think, What if I died and someone looked in my drawer? I wonder what they would understand about me. Probably not so much — for one thing, they would get the crayons wrong. I think, actually, that none of us understands anyone else very well, because we're all too shy to show what matters the most. If you ask me, it's a major design flaw. We ought to be able to say, Here, look what I am. I think it would be quite a relief.

Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth Berg

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Berg is the author of ten national bestselling novels, including the New York Times bestsellers True to Form, Never Change, and Open House, which was an Oprah's Book Club selection in 2000. Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as American Library Association Best Books of the Year, and Talk Before Sleep was short-listed for the ABBY award in 1996. The winner of the 1997 New England Booksellers Award for her body of work, she is also the author of a nonfiction work, Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True. She lives in Chicago.

Brief Biography

Chicago, Illinois
Date of Birth:
December 2, 1948
Place of Birth:
St. Paul, Minnesota
Attended the University of Minnesota; St. Mary¿s College, A.A.S.

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True to Form 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
TammyR More than 1 year ago
Mrs. Bergs books are easy reads there are no hidden meaning behind the words or codes you have to decipher. I like how you can see yourself in some of the situations Katie is in and have the same thoughts. I remember myself thinking "Oh I felt that way before". I would give this book a second read.
Tl44 More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. True to Form is the third in the Katie Nash series. You don't have to read the first two to follow along with the story, though. Berg does an excellent job of filling in Katie's background for those who haven't followed the series. Katie is a realistic, relatable character. You get pulled into the story by her humor and charm, and miss her when the story ends.
Joanne Peluso More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Read this one in 2 nites!!! Love her writing and hope to 'see' Katie again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book last weekend, when I thought I would be depressed being stuck inside the house because of a snow storm. This is the first book I've read by Elizabeth Berg and I have to get another one. Katie is such a bright, interesting young girl. Elizabeth Berg knows just how to make you feel exactly what Katie is feeling. She is so honest about her feelings, it seems that she took some parts of my childhood and wrote them down. Strongly recommended!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Words cannot express, especially having just finished _True to Form_. I feel like anything I tried to say would just seem trite compared to the absolutely *true* voice Ms. Berg has given to Katie in this remarkable book. (See, what did I tell you? So trite, but still true! (My review, not the book. (which is true, but not trite.)))

Anyway. I stayed up until 5am finishing _True to Form_, and had to jump out of bed to submit this review, hence my rambling. I will just have to be satisfied with saying this:

If you have ever been any of the following: a young girl; a person who notices beauty in nature and in human behavior; a person who has done something for which you end up being ashamed; or a person who has learned from your mistakes, you will feel a deep connection with this book. If you have somehow escaped being any of the above, you will still deeply enjoy _True to Form_, simply for Ms. Berg's disarming observational style.

Thank you Ms. Berg! This is the first book of yours that I have read, and I am looking forward devouring the rest of your work!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Like the others here, I have thoroughly enjoyed every Elizabeth Berg book I have read, and the Katie trillogy has been entertaining! I love the way she talks (and thinks)...reminds me of my own 'self-talk' as a kid!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have yet to read an Elizabeth Berg book I did not like. Do yourself a favor and read these books in order:'Durable Goods', 'Joy School' and 'True to Form'. I could not put these books down. 'True to Form' is just perfection. I certainly hope Ms. Berg honors us with another book about Katie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best book of the three books. I hate the thought that this is the last book about Katie. Surely, it can't be. This is Elizabeth Berg at her finest. Please, more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the character Katie and the way she shared her thoughts with us. Both amusing and heartbreaking.
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coffee_luvr More than 1 year ago
I have always enjoyed this author's writing and this book is a sweet, poignant story. It took me back down memory lane to my early teenage years even though my growing up years were later than the time period this story is set in. This is a fast read and a great story about growing up, friendships and family. It would make a good book club discussion book.
jvandix1 More than 1 year ago
The book brought back memories of my youth. I laughed; I cried; I enjoyed. It was a relaxed read that is intended for pre-teens. It moved fast and covered so many of the trials and feelings that the young experience. Being set in the 60's, I could relate the character and events to my own youth. I enjoyed Elizabeth Berg's style of writing very much.
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Review, don't rewrite the book, don' t have to buy it now!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As usual harriet has to come along with her cliff note book report and ruin another book. Please bn, when are you going to do something about this obnoxious plot spoiling poster? She needs to be banned and her plot spoiling posts deleted.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book takes you back in time to when things seemed so confussing and complicated, a time when u had a lot of self discorvery to do. E. Berg sets the story up with true to life events and memories that are easy to relate too. Great book for all ages!
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1961, her military rigid father informs thirteen-year-old Katie Nash that since she is now grown up she needs employment during the summer. Katie thinks of obtaining a job at a nearby concession stand, but her dad must not believe she is that grown up because he arranges her work. She is to help the elderly Randolphs and to baby sit the Wexler males spawned in hell. Katie¿s opinion is interpreted as sassy talking back further proving how grown up her father feels his daughter is.

A trip to Texas to visit her former best friend turns into a disaster as both have moved on different paths since they last saw one another. Back home, the mother of her friend Cynthia, forces Katie to join the local scouts. Katie believes she is now a member of a the loser¿s club. As the summer of her discontent moves towards the beginning of the school year, Katie learns the meaning of friendship at a high cost with only her stepmother as her ally.

TRUE TO FORM is an engaging coming of age character study that focuses on an adolescent¿s struggle with changes in her life forces her to look inside herself. The story line is breezy yet poignant, not an easy feat but accomplished by talented Elizabeth Berg. The author keeps life¿s lessons lighthearted for the reader, but deep and angst-laden for the lead protagonist, who is the puissant key to an effective, entertaining elucidation on maturing.

Harriet Klausner