Worlds Apart


It's 1959 and Winnie's family is moving to rural Minnesota. Are there even phones there? How will she keep up with her group of best friends, the Starlings? Besides, something isn't right. Her parents are keeping secrets, and Winnie is under strict orders to "keep family matters private." In Minnesota, Winnie finds out that her father's new job requires her family to live on the grounds of a mental institution--"a prison for freaks," Winnie concludes. The Bridgewater State Hospital is near an Indian reservation ...

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It's 1959 and Winnie's family is moving to rural Minnesota. Are there even phones there? How will she keep up with her group of best friends, the Starlings? Besides, something isn't right. Her parents are keeping secrets, and Winnie is under strict orders to "keep family matters private." In Minnesota, Winnie finds out that her father's new job requires her family to live on the grounds of a mental institution--"a prison for freaks," Winnie concludes. The Bridgewater State Hospital is near an Indian reservation and surrounded by small farms. It's only a mile from her new school, but that mile brings her into a different world. At school Winnie is ridiculed not only as the new kid but as the girl who lives at the local nuthouse. At first the only thing Winnie thinks about is how to get back to her friends and her "real" life in Chicago, but eventually she is swept up in a world full of people and events that cause her to question her former life and then to see everything in a new light--her parents, the Starlings, her new friends, and herself.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The unique setting of this bittersweet novel adds a fresh twist to the timeless theme of a "new kid" trying to fit into an unfamiliar environment. Until November 1, 1959, eighth grader Winona has lived in a "nice, normal Chicago neighborhood" and has enjoyed popularity at school. But when her physician father accepts a position at a Minnesota mental institution, Winona is forced to make some unwelcome changes. ("It's not the schoolwork I'm worried about... It's figuring out the pecking order and my place in it," she confides to readers.) The worst part about moving to the small town of Bridgewater is that her family has to live on the premises of the hospital. Gaining the reputation of a "resident" of the "the colony" makes Winona feel "worlds apart" from her new classmates. Snubbed by the other children and worried about her mother, who has fallen into a state of depression, the 13-year-old finds herself drawn to other outcasts: patients at the hospital and a Native American boy who lives nearby. While Johnson (Soul Moon Soup) sends a pointed message about the thoughtless, sometimes cruel treatment of people who are different, she also delves into other social issues of the 1960s that are still relevant today: the legalization of abortion and common misconceptions about physically and mentally disabled patients. If her approach to controversies is a little heavy-handed, the author offers much food for thought as well as a sympathetic heroine, who learns how to look beyond appearances. Ages 10-up. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From The Critics
Winnie May is suddenly uprooted from her shallow-but-real-life in Chicago to move to rural Minnesota, where her father has taken a position as a doctor in residence at a state mental health facility. Winnie tries to adjust, but she's the new kid in school, and her only friend is Justice Goodwater, who lives on the reservation. Complicating matters is her mother's spiral into depression. Winnie relates more easily to the residents than most 14-year-olds would, but her acceptance of, and affection for, them is believable. The friction caused by her friendship with Justice is palpable and relevant and adds complexity to the story. Set in 1959, this novel explores Winnie's evolving maturity and changing relationship with her parents. Johnson may be trying to accomplish too much in this slim volume, and consequently some issues are only hinted at, but the story strangely does not suffer. Instead, it serves as a window on Winnie's life, with the realization her story will continue. 2005, Front Street, 164 pp., Ages young adult.
—Melissa Moore
Children's Literature
Winnie is an eighth grader whose parents surprise her with the announcement that the family is moving from Chicago to rural Minnesota. Leaving her friends and urban life behind is very difficult for Winnie to accept. To make matters worse, Winnie's father has accepted a job as a physician at a state mental institution and the family will be living on the institution's grounds. Winnie does not think her life could be any worse. But once she and her family arrive, she discovers that it can be. Family secrets, difficulties at school, and living in a place that everyone in town describes as the "crazy house" all combine to challenge Winnie's beliefs and spirit. In the end, Winnie discovers that you can not judge people by their wealth, their skin color, or their disability. Set in 1959 this middle school level novel takes readers on a thoughtful journey. Winnie comes across as a believable and troubled young teen. Her struggle to cope with the changes in her life, as well as her discoveries about people with and without disabilities, makes the story worth reading. In addition, the author introduces and deftly handles controversial themes such as abortion and teen sexuality. This is a novel that will make people think. It tells the tale of a resilient young girl who learns a great deal about life and about herself. 2005, Front Street, Ages 12 up.
—Greg M. Romaneck
Thirteen-year-old Winnie and her family relocate to rural Minnesota in 1959. Much to her horror, she discovers that her family will be living on the grounds of Bridgewater State Hospital, a mental institution where her doctor father will be employed. The move to Minnesota is sudden and suspicious, with Winnie's parents constantly talking in whispered tones and clearly hiding something from her. Life in her new town is not kind to Winnie; she finds herself ostracized for living at the hospital and for riding the bus with the Native Americans. Always scheming for ways to return to Chicago and her old life, Winnie keeps telling people that her family is only at Bridgewater temporarily. It is not until Winnie befriends Justice, a Native American boy and fellow outcast, and Rose, one of the hospital's patients, that she can begin to admit to her real life. As Winnie gets to know the hospital and its patients better, she feels that she will never be the same person again. Johnson skillfully crafts vivid characters in a unique setting. Winnie's growth and maturity over the course of this brief story is both surprising and realistic. The plot reveals new depth once Winnie uncovers the secrets that her parents have been hiding. A captivating story told through masterful narration, this powerful and engaging novel is an excellent addition to any library's collection and sure to inspire much discussion. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2005, Front Street, 176p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Amanda MacGregor
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Winnie is devastated when her family moves from Chicago to the grounds of a mental institution in small-town Minnesota where her physician father goes to work. In 1959, these facilities are alien and frightening places to most people, and Winnie is appalled at her circumstances. Rejected at school by the local kids, she misses her previous friends, the cliquey Starlings. Her mother is not handling the move any better than she and is no help. But Winnie perseveres as she volunteers to work the hospital snack cart, makes a friend, and adopts a pet goat. Along the way, she evolves into a more thoughtful and sensitive person. When drastic changes in the family dynamic cause Winnie to speak up and ask for the truth about the move, she displays her growing ability to distinguish solid virtues and true friendship. While historically accurate in its portrayal of daily life and the way our culture viewed mental disabilities at the time, the focus is on the protagonist's feelings. While at times Winnie can be an unreliable narrator, she eventually demands the same level of honesty from herself as she does from her parents. This story brings bias and prejudice to the forefront in a discussable and readable narrative.-Carol A. Edwards, Douglas County Libraries, Castle Rock, CO Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A teen moves from Chicago to rural Minnesota in 1959 and finds her new life "worlds apart" from normalcy. A popular student at Morningside Academy, 13-year-old Winnie is shocked when her father unexpectedly accepts a five-year position as resident doctor at Bridgewater State Hospital, a mental institution in Minnesota where the family must live on hospital grounds, isolated from the nearest town. Typecast as the "Lone Retard" by cruel classmates, Winnie's only friend is a solitary boy from the Indian reservation who relates to her pariah status. Winnie pretends her situation is temporary and fantasizes about returning to Chicago, but reality sets in when her mother suffers a breakdown. Initially disturbed by the mental patients, Winnie gradually realizes they are human beings, accepts that her old world is gone and decides "life-the weird, the wicked, and the wonderful parts of it . . . " must be experienced. This disturbing peek inside a mental institution from Winnie's perspective raises important questions about those who are marginalized out of ignorance. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781932425284
  • Publisher: Front Street, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/28/2005
  • Pages: 166
  • Age range: 11 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Lindsay Lee Johnson grew up in a family of storytellers. She thinks of words as her first and most enduring playthings. Ms. Johnson has worked as a newspaper reporter, editor, community education instructor, visiting author in schools, and free-lance writer of everything from business brochures to greeting cards and fortune cookies, but her heart has always belonged to fiction. She has written award-winning stories for adults and children and has published three books for children-Hurricane Henrietta, A Week With Zeke & Zach, and Soul Moon Soup. Ms. Johnson writes from her home in the east central Minnesota countryside, where she lives with her husband, four cats, and assorted other animals. She and her husband have twin daughters and four grandchildren.

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