When the Bough Breaks

When the Bough Breaks

by Anna Myers

Ophelia knows she has to make it work with this new foster family. She's been through too many homes since a terrible tragedy left her alone and emotionally isolated, and the state is not going to move her again no matter how unhappy she might become. So when her new foster mother asks her to take a job reading aloud to Portia McKay, an elderly neighbor, Ophelia

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Ophelia knows she has to make it work with this new foster family. She's been through too many homes since a terrible tragedy left her alone and emotionally isolated, and the state is not going to move her again no matter how unhappy she might become. So when her new foster mother asks her to take a job reading aloud to Portia McKay, an elderly neighbor, Ophelia grudgingly agrees.

At first Ophelia only goes because she gets paid. But as they get to know each other, Portia and Ophelia discover that they have much more in common than their Shakepearean names. They both have horrible secrets that they have never shared with another living soul. And it seems that this unlikely friendship may be just what they both need to break free of their emotional prisons.

Anna Myers seamlessly blends contemporary and historical narratives as Opehlia's and Portia's tales unfold.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Weaving the past and the present together in this Oklahoma-set novel, Myers has created a thoughtful intergenerational story of loss and deliverance. . . . Gripping.” —Horn Book

“As fresh as today's headlines and as timeless as Greek drama. . . . Myers is an expert at timing and building suspense.” —School Library Journal

As the life of Shakespeare's Ophelia was tragic, so is that of the teenage Ophelia in Myers's latest novel. Orphaned after her enraged brother went on a murderous rampage both at school and at home, Ophelia is sent to yet another foster home and is told that this is her last chance. In an effort to earn money to run away, Ophelia begins reading to Portia, a one hundred-year-old blind woman who also has a tragic past. The two quickly bond and begin to share the truth about their involvement in the murderous lives of their families. Because Ophelia's story is topical, her point of view as the surviving sister of a teenage killer is interesting. Although Portia's story began nearly one hundred years ago, her physical and psychological abuse suffered at the hands of her tyrannical father also should engage today's teens. The tremendous emotional conflicts of these two characters, however, are solved too quickly and too neatly. Many foster teenagers have read to Portia over the years, yet she shares an eighty-year-old secret with Ophelia after knowing her for just a few days. The instant connection they feel seems to come from more than just their shared immense guilt and Shakespearean names. Although the author alludes to these mystical reasons, they are never really examined. Because school violence is such a hot topic these days, teens should be interested in reading about Ophelia. Unfortunately, Myers provides little additional insight into the causes and repercussions of these school killings or into the lives of those left behind to deal with them. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P J S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High,defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Walker, 192p, . Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Elizabeth Prior SOURCE: VOYA, April 2001 (Vol. 24, No.1)
Children's Literature
Ophelia goes to live with yet another foster family, but she is not sure she can continue to live with the grief and pain of the tragedy that took the lives of her parents. As part of her duties with this new family she must read to Portia, an elderly woman who lives down the road. Not only do they share Shakespearean names, but they also have similar backgrounds with abusive fathers and a tragic death. Portia doesn't pry, but she knows Ophelia is hurting. She herself has carried a terrible burden for 70 years. Gradually they form a bond and Ophelia's tragedy is revealed. Her brother, tormented by their father, killed their parents as well as himself. Ophelia not only had to deal with seeing her family dead, but also that somehow, she could have prevented it. Portia talks her out of killing herself as she, too, reveals her gruesome story. Ophelia learns to deal with fellow students knowing her background, and sees that they are expressing love and concern, not pity. Although most children do not live with such a horrifying experience, they may identify with the Ophelia's guilt and humiliation. 2000, Walker and Company, 16.95. Ages 14 to 18. Reviewer: Janet L. Rose
Ophelia has arrived at a new foster home in rural Oklahoma, and when she is offered the opportunity to make money by reading aloud to the elderly woman up the road she takes the job. The old woman, Portia, shares more than just a Shakespearean name with Ophelia; it gradually emerges that they are both hiding awful family secrets. As they become closer we learn more about why each has closed herself off from the rest of the world. Ophelia remembers back five years ago, when she was 10, and her older brother, upset at the death of his only friend, took a gun and ended up shooting a classmate and then their mother, their father, and himself, as Ophelia looked on in horror. Since then Ophelia has stayed aloof from others, for fear that people will learn what happened, remind her of the tragedy, and think differently of her—as has happened again and again. As the old woman and the young woman become friends, they start to emerge from their shells—and then a classmate of Ophelia's, a boy who likes her, comes across an article about what her brother did. Aghast at the idea of her secret being discovered, and terrified of being shunned for it, Ophelia decides to throw herself in the river (echoes of her namesake here). Portia follows her down to the water, and tries to stop her by telling her own terrible secret. Many decades earlier, when her beloved older sister became pregnant out of wedlock, teenaged Portia drowned the newborn baby in the nearby river, to avoid the violent wrath of their tyrannical father. Ever since then Portia has punished herself by isolating herself in her remote cabin, but now, faced with Ophelia's threat to commit suicide, Portia feels compelled to help her.The old woman goes into the icy river herself, counting on Ophelia to save her, as of course she does, and emotional healing takes place for both in the end. This is a powerful and moving story, by the accomplished author of Ethan between Us and other YA novels. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2000, Walker, 180p, $16.95. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; November 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 6)
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-A story about loss and grief. Ophelia is a new face in a small town, a foster child who takes a job reading aloud to an elderly neighbor, Portia McKay. Both of them have a dark secret. It's no coincidence that they also have Shakespearean names, as their stories reveal both of them to be tragedies of epic dimensions. Myers skillfully juggles three narratives, shifting among them to describe the present, Portia's long-ago story of her teenage sister's illegitimate baby and their insane father, and Ophelia's shattered life when her brother shot their parents and himself. Stories like these, while extreme, are as fresh as today's headlines and as timeless as Greek drama. Both Portia and Ophelia have felt a disproportionate amount of guilt, but by the end of the story there is hope for redemption, forgiveness, and healing. Myers is an expert at timing and building suspense. Especially considering its fairly complicated structure, this book is a real page-turner. The author focuses on action, strong emotion, and subjects that will grab kids' attention. She is not the most polished stylist, and her dialogue can strike a false note here and there, but overall this novel, with its melancholy dust jacket and exceedingly dramatic plot, will appeal to readers who like to be swept up in a book.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Walker & Company
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.78(w) x 8.62(h) x 0.79(d)
620L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Anna Myers is the author of more than one dozen books for Walker & Company, including Tulsa Burning, a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, and Flying Blind, an Oklahoma Book Award finalist. Anna lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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