What I Came to Tell You

What I Came to Tell You

4.3 11
by Tommy Hays

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New in paperback. A critically acclaimed writer publishes his first juvenile novel, a SIBA Fall 2013 Okra Pick, in the spirit of such beloved novels as Newbery Medal-winning Missing May and Because of Winn-Dixie. Warm, evocative writing blends with an emotion-laden narrative that goes to the heart of the reader.

Since his mother died earlier this


New in paperback. A critically acclaimed writer publishes his first juvenile novel, a SIBA Fall 2013 Okra Pick, in the spirit of such beloved novels as Newbery Medal-winning Missing May and Because of Winn-Dixie. Warm, evocative writing blends with an emotion-laden narrative that goes to the heart of the reader.

Since his mother died earlier this year, Grover Johnston (named after a character in Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel) has watched his family fall to pieces as his father throws himself into his work rather than dealing with the pain. Left to care for his younger sister, Sudie, Grover finds solace in creating intricate weavings out of the natural materials found in the bamboo forest behind his North Carolina home, a pursuit that his father sees only as a waste of time.

But as tensions mount between father and son, unlikely forces conspire to help the Johnstons find their way. The new tenants in the rental house across the street who have come from deep in the Carolina hills seem so different from the Johnstons, but become increasingly intertwined with them in unexpected ways. Classmates, neighbors, teachers, and coworkers band together, forming a community that can save a family from itself.

Tender, touching, and utterly compelling, What I Came to Tell You, the first middle-grade novel from critically acclaimed Asheville author Tommy Hays, is a story of grief, love, and hard-won redemption.

A 2013 Fall Okra Pick, Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance

*"Hays is a gifted storyteller, offering up an effective balance of credible emotion, understated wisdom, and gentle humor."—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review

*"Hays is especially strong at depicting the network of people, old and young, who help Grover and his family move through their grief and, along the way, save his beloved forest."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

You may visit with Tommy Hays on his website, www.tommyhays.com.

Available in both hardcover (ISBN 9781606844435) and electronic (ISBN 9781606844342)book formats

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Twelve-year-old Grover loves making weavings out of leaves and branches he finds in a nearby bamboo forest, but he has other things on his mind, too. Mostly his mother, who was recently killed in a car accident, but also his younger sister, his pretty new neighbor, and his difficult relationship with his father, who works all the time and doesn’t even pretend to appreciate Grover’s art. In his middle-grade debut, adult author and North Carolinian Hays makes good use of the novel’s Asheville setting: Grover’s father runs the strapped-for-cash Thomas Wolfe house, and Asheville comes across as a cosmopolitan place with a small-town feel. Indeed, even as Grover is keeping an eye on his sister and his new neighbors, a lot of people are watching over him. Though the book spans just a few months, it’s packed with incident and complex connections between a range of characters. Hays is especially strong at depicting the network of people, old and young, who help Grover and his family move through their grief and, along the way, save his beloved forest. Ages 10–up. Agent: Neeti Madan, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"Though the book spans just a few months, it's packed with incident and complex connections between a range of characters. Hays is especially strong at depicting the network of people, old and young, who help Grover and his family move through their grief and, along the way, save his beloved forest." —Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Devastated by the accidental death of his mother, 12-year-old Grover looks to his 10-year-old sister, Sudie; intriguing new neighbors; and his own artistic talents for relief from his anguish. This moving, but often heavy-handed novel describes Grover's journey through rage and pain to a peaceful state of acceptance. His father is a workaholic and his sister also struggles with her grief. Grover, at first withdrawn and sullen, soon falls for the girl next door, just as his father develops feelings for the girl's widowed mother. Set in Asheville, North Carolina, the story has a pleasing Southern flavor, and the author includes details about the city's most famous resident, novelist Thomas Wolfe. Grover's father doesn't appreciate his son's talent for creating pieces of art out of bamboo. However, when the bamboo forest is threatened, Grover's friends and family rally to save his artistic endeavors. A budding romance and an almost-fatal fire move the book along, as do other, quieter events. Grover finds out more about the accident that killed his mother and begins to stop blaming himself. The characters are sympathetic, especially Grover and Sudie, but the happily-ever-after ending stretches credibility, and the story is not especially subtle or unique in its treatment of death and loss. Nonetheless, this well-written novel will appeal to readers with artistic or literary leanings, or those with a fondness for Southern settings.—Miranda Doyle, Lake Oswego School District, OR
Kirkus Reviews
Two lovable, grief-stricken children try to find their footing after their mother's death in a senseless accident. Twelve-year-old Grover and his little sister, Sudie, have already lost their mother, and now their father, director of the Thomas Wolfe house in Asheville, N.C., has practically disappeared as well, throwing himself into his work. Grover and Sudie spend most of their time in the city's Bamboo Forest, where Grover creates intricate weavings from bamboo, leaves and grass. When kids Emma Lee and Clay move in next door from Roan Mountain, Grover and Sudie discover they have the loss of a parent in common; Emma Lee and Clay's father was killed in Iraq. In addition to grief, this ambitious offering explores the meanings and value of art, faith and destiny, and Appalachian mountain culture. In a scene related to the latter, a student throws the slur "hillbilly" in Emma Lee's direction, and a boy named Daniel remarks that " ‘Hillbilly' is kind of like the N-word...except it's talking about mountain people." In some instances, the text veers toward the didactic, but the compelling characters and engaging prose put it squarely in the win column. Readers will be quickly and surely drawn in by quirky siblings Grover and Sudie, rooting for them to find a measure of peace and happiness in the wake of tragedy. (Fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.80(d)
770L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 Years

Meet the Author

Tommy Hays, director of the Great Smokies Writing Program, is a lecturer at the University of North Carolina Asheville. He is the author of several well-reviewed adult books; the most recent, The Pleasure Was Mine, has been selected as a Community Reads in many cities and counties throughout the South. The author lives in Asheville, NC.

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What I Came to Tell You 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like this book its make me feel happy and make want to be my self whoever made this book has great mine befor I did'et like to read but now i do evey time read this book it make me want to read alot thinks to this book I am much better at reading!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a fan of Tommy Hays's writing, so I was eager to read his new novel, What I Came to Tell You. I was not disappointed. I am not a literary critic, but I do know a bit about middle-grade readers, having taught 6th-9th grade literature classes for many years. Young people appreciate a good story, believable characters, and an engaging plot. This is especially true when characters struggle with universal issues such as how to deal with the unimaginable: the death of a parent. I have no doubt that this book will find a place on the shelves and in the hearts of many young readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tommy Hays is a master at creating complex, well-developed characters who come to life within a vividly drawn sense of place. In the first scene of What I Came to Tell You, we meet the main character, twelve-year-old Grover Johnston, and his younger sister, Sudie, as they struggle with the death of their mother, and the distance of their grieving father. As the story unfolds, Grover becomes friends with a new girl in the neighborhood, whose kindness and understanding eventually help him through the hardest time of his young life. Feeling grief, anger, guilt and confusion, Grover seeks refuge in art and nature in the Bamboo Forest near his Asheville home. Much like Grover’s bamboo “weavings,” Hays weaves a rich tapestry of characters, scenes and themes through beautifully crafted dialogue and narrative that engage the reader from beginning to end. These are true-to-life characters we care deeply about as they find ways to heal from loss and get on with life. My heart went out to Grover as I reflected on my own experience of loss. Growing up, my greatest fear was that my parents would die, leaving me alone to take care of my little sister. I wish I’d had this book back then, and later on when I did lose my parents, to offer comfort and hope. The resilience of the human spirit shines through as the family is lifted beyond profound grief through connection to nature, community, inner strength and a sense of something larger than themselves and their current circumstances. In all of his novels, Hays gives us heartfelt wisdom with his own blend of humor, grace and integrity. His writing brings to mind the words of author Brenda Ueland, who describes good writing as “a generosity, not a performance.” What I Came to Tell You may be his most generous offering yet.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Compelling Story about Loss, Love, and Growing Up What I Came to Tell You, by Tommy Hays, is a book that appeals to young and old.  Hays writes about loss, love, and growing up  in Asheville, NC.   His story revolves around  twelve- year- old  Grover Johnston and his sister as they come to terms with the accidental death of their mother.  Hays  is a master of subplots, and there is something for everyone in this compelling book.   Hays develops his story  around  the Johnston children trying to work through their grief, their relationship with the new renters across street, a blossoming love affair between their anxious father and the mother of the renter children,  and the politics of city government.   Of special interest to me (I grew up in Asheville) is the Bamboo Forest near Grover’s house and the preservation of the Thomas Wolfe House (Grover’s father fights city planners and a slow economy to keep it going).  I also love the focus on the meaning of family and those things that strengthen family members- cooking and eating together, special TV shows, appreciating differences, forgiveness.    Hays makes it clear that art is as important as math and science, and to any young person who is dedicated to a particular art, this story is especially gratifying. For Grover, the tapestries he weaves from bamboo are part of the healing process.   Lovers of Asheville are treated to references to the Asheville Citizen-Times (delivered to my door and discussed every night when I was growing up), Riverside Cemetery (where Thomas Wolfe and        O’ Henry are buried),  Montford  Avenue (part of Asheville’s historic district)  Claxton Elementary (still going strong since 1924), and Charlotte Street – where all things old and new come together. But don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t a story about history.  It is a story about real people.  You and me.   Everyone who has ever lost someone or something dear to them.  What I Came to Tell You was a treat for me because it allowed me to see Asheville again through the eyes of a young person.  For all parents and students, it is a story that will linger long after the book is closed.   Linda Holden Greenville, SC
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Getting into the heart and mind of an adolescent character is a stiff challenge, but Tommy Hays gets it just right with his new novel, WHAT I CAME TO TELL YOU. Grover Johnston, the protagonist of this YA novel, is drawn with depth and complexity. His struggles to cope with the recent and unexpected death of his mother and with the subtle but serious changes in his father are fully explored. As in most truly good young adult fiction, the themes of WHAT I CAME TO TELL YOU concern those most commonly associated with adult novels--loss, grief, anger and confusion. (A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA and A GREENGAGE SUMMER come to mind, also THE BRIEF AND WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO come to mind.) But all is not gloom and doom here. Kindness, compassion and the mystery of love eventually win out. As a Southern writer, Hays certainly belongs in that esteemed group who have turned place into a vital part of fiction. Here's it's Asheville, NC, and the spirit of Thomas Wolfe is very evident. Grover and his family can go home again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tommy Hays has earned a devoted following for his novels, and "What I Came to Tell You," his first for young adults, will certainly expand that number. The story of Grover, a boy artist working through his grief over the accidental death of his mother, is strong in every way - character, setting, incident, theme. Hays beautifully evokes Asheville, N.C., and the tensions between that beguiling city and its rural environs. One measure of a young adult novel's strength is its ability to appeal as well to older readers. I'm long past young adult, but "What I Came to Tell You" had me from page one.
lanath 11 months ago
I live between Burnsville and Spruce Pine and picked this book up at the library because of the setting. I did not expect it to be such a beautiful, sweet, wonderful story of a family trying to get through a terrible tragedy. I'll definitely have this up at the cabin for guests to read and for myself to re-read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pretty good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DubaiReader1 More than 1 year ago
Weavings in the bamboo forest. This is a coming of age story set in North Carolina, US. It is narrated by twelve year old Grover Johnston, who is grieving the death of his mother in a recent car accident, for which he feels responsible - if he'd collected Fantastic Mister Fox from Videolife, it would never have happened. Grover was always a bit of a loner, but after his mother's death he has retreated into himself and spends every waking moment in the nearby bamboo forest, where he weaves structures interlaced with twigs and leaves. At first he made smaller weavings to decorate his mother's grave, but as time passed he found his weavings were becoming larger and larger, actually woven into the forest because they needed the support of living bamboo. Grover's sister, Sudie, is two years younger and loves to help Grover with his weavings. Their father is coping with his grief by spending more and more time at work and they are left largely to their own devices. When stakes appear around the bamboo forest, closely followed by sign boards advertising its sale, Grover is devastated that the one place where he can find solace might be taken from him. While their father's old friend, Jessie, holds things together, with hot pot meals and support, another influence arrives in the shape of a family that moves in over the road. A mother and two children who have lost their father to war, gradually become more and more important in the lives of the Johnston family. I was disappointed with this novel, the cover art is very dated and the book has a corresponding feel. I would not have been at all surprised if I had been told that this book was written in 1980. The title doesn't really sell itself either, being rather unmemorable. The narrative was very American, with frequent use of the phrase "y'all" and similar Americanisms. I cannot imagine this book appealing to the boys who I look after, maybe it would be better received by girls, even though the main character is a boy. Many books have been written with children coming to terms with loss and in my opinion this is, sadly, not one of the better ones.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im thinking about reading this book is it good?