JoEllen’s parents divorced when she was very young, so she was used to splitting her time between them, shuttling four blocks from one Cincinnati apartment to another. But when her dad moved to the old family farm last year, her life was suddenly divided. Now on weekdays she’s a city girl, called Ellen, who hangs out with her friends, plays the sax, and loves old movies. And on weekends she’s a country girl, nicknamed Joey, who rides horseback with her cousin, Hayden, goes fishing, and listens to bluegrass. So where do her loyalties lie? Who is the real JoEllen? Linked free-verse poems, illustrated with a quirky array of found objects and mementos, create the vivid, realistic portrait of a young girl at a defining moment in her life.
Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, a former middle-school teacher, is the author of three books, including Sketches from a Spy Tree, published by Clarion. She and her family live near Charlotte, North Carolina. For more information visit www.tracievaughnzimmer.com.
Read an Excerpt
Changes Until this year my parents lived four blocks apart in Cincinnati
Until this year I went to Liberty Elementary
Until this year I was average height had clear skin and didn't need glasses to see the blackboard
Everything was easier until this year
Bargains I looked just like Mom— brown eyes straight black hair. Even my dimples match hers. But I'm long and lean like Dad, the fifth generation Courtney kid to weave around the apple orchard on this rolling Ohio farm.
The story goes that Mom and Dad couldn't agree on a name (and a lot else, I guess) since they divorced when I was in diapers).
So I got half of Dad's name: Joseph and part of Mom's too: Eleanor. But no one calls me by my real name: JoEllen.
Mom (and my city friends) call me Ellen, and to Dad (and his family) I've always been Joey.
Now my days— divided between them— are as different as my names.
Best Friends Tamika dreams of living in Milan, designing the latest fashions or modeling them in the pages of Vogue. She likes the four styles of dance her mom insists she learn, and she holds herself so elegantly, as if a spotlight follows her every move. Only Annie and I see her silly side: the impersonations she does of our teachers and parents and the way she snorts when she's cracking up
Annie's afraid of everything Lyme disease the speed of the bus the additives in cafeteria food. She wears her worry in chewed fingernails and eyes that flit around searching out danger. But she can take down a two-hundred pound man in judo class and wants to open her own dojo someday.
Friday Nights Mom hovers in the doorway as I stuff my backpack with homework and music. Don't need clothes; there are plenty of worn ones tucked in the painted dresser under the attic eaves at Dad's house.
No sleeping over with Annie and Tamika. ("Try to have fun in Hicktown," they say No long Saturday afternoons spent planning outfits comparing quizzes in teen magazines painting each other's nails the same shade of green.
On the drive to the farm quiet falls like the darkness the closer we get to Dad.
Soon I'll climb out of Mom's crumbless black sedan, and she'll call from the cracked-open window "See you Sunday, Ellen."
I'll walk in the house without knocking and Dad will be standing over the sink, eating one of his odd concoctions— meatball tacos or eggplant pizza. "I tried to wait for ya, Joey," he'll say between bites. Then he'll hand me a plate, and my other life will begin.
Hayden My cousin Hayden lives with his parents, my Uncle Tilman and Aunt Shirley, and two collies, Rebel and Kate, on the other side of the apple orchard in a double-wide trailer.
Hayden and I spend weekends exploring the woods trail riding on Old Bess and Brownie or catching sunfish with worms from the garden. (Can't do this in the city," he says.
Sometimes, as we head down to the pond in the last few minutes of slanting light. Hayden grabs Papa's old five-string or pluck a harmonica from his pocket to harmonize with the tunes of twilight. The lightning bugs begin to waltz in the darkening woods, and we stay until the stars slice holes in the night.
42 Miles 4.5 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
Great "coming of age" tale told in prose. As a teacher I plan to use this for character studies. Heartwarming and touching, even for an adult.
More than 1 year ago
JoEllen leads a double life. It's a bit like the old fable about the country mouse and the city mouse. Since her parents divorced long ago, JoEllen has divided her time between her father, who lives in the country, and 42 miles away in the city, where her mother lives.
It isn't just the living arrangements that divide JoEllen's life. She explains that even back when her parents named her they couldn't agree. Her name became part Joseph and part Eleanor - a piece of her father and a part of her mother. The city half of her life consists of girl friends, shopping, and movies while the country half involves horseback riding, fishing, and listening to bluegrass music. Even her friends get confused and can't understand how JoEllen copes.
It's the only life JoEllen has ever really known, but now that she's almost thirteen, she is wondering which life is truly hers. Maybe she isn't either one but perhaps someone completely different.
This short novel written in verse tells of a young girl's struggle to find herself. Surrounded by two loving parents, albeit 42 miles apart, she realizes that neither life truly reflects the person she is inside. Any reader searching for their personal identity will be able to relate to this touching tale.