Born Blue

Born Blue

by Han Nolan

Paperback(First Edition)

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Leshaya is a survivor. Rescued from the brink of death, this child of a heroin addict has seen it all: revolving foster homes, physical abuse, an unwanted pregnancy. Now, as her tumultuous childhood is coming to an end, she is determined to make a life for herself by doing the only thing that makes her feel whole . . . singing.
Han Nolan pulls no punches in this hard-hitting story of a girl at the bottom who dreams of nothing but the top.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780152046972
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 04/14/2003
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 308
Sales rank: 594,755
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.75(d)
Lexile: 920L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

HAN NOLAN has won many awards for her teen fiction, including the National Book Award for Dancing on the Edge. She lives in New England.

Read an Excerpt


My first memory of myself I be drowning. I can close my eyes and feel myself getting pushed back under all that heavy water, my legs kicking and straining for the sandy bottom. Alls I find be more water rushing at me and over me, big walls of water hitting me whole and tossing me upside down, and I got no breath left, so I open my mouth and I swallow a gallon of salt water and choke, and more water get up my nose and burn in my head, and I go for a breath again, and the whole time I thinking, Mama's gonna be mad at me, Mama's gonna be mad. Then I ain't thinking nothin' and all the struggling stops, and I wake up in a dark room I know ain't mine. I think I be dead, but I scream, anyways, and a lady I never seen come in and holds me till daylight.

That were back when I were four years old. They couldn't find Mama Linda for a long time, and then when they did, they said I couldn't see her 'cause she were sick and needed help. I kept on crying for her and asking for her and telling all them grown-up people who now in my life that I wanted my mama. When were I gonna see my mama?

I got put in a foster home with Patsy and Pete, my foster parents, and some babies that come and went — there was always some babies in the home — and a foster brother named Harmon Finch.

I remember the house that Pete and Patsy lived in like I just moved out yesterday. I don't think after all these years I yet got the smell of that place outta me. It were in a town just outside of Mobile, Alabama, a little poky town. The house were a big old nasty with yellow paint and brown trim and mostly just fallin' down ugly. It had more puke smells in it than a toilet bowl, and all of them some kind of sour, like sour feet and sour cheese and wet sour and fart and BO. Most of them come from Pete, and the rest come from Patsy's cooking or the way she didn't never keep a house. Them smells just flooded the place, and weren't a spot you could go to get away from it but outside when the wind were blowing just right.

Only thing good about living in that home were knowing Harmon. It didn't take me any time to figure out that Patsy and Pete had no use for either of us 'cept to boss us round and make our lives miserable. All their attention went to the babies, so me and Harmon got to be best friends fast. Back then he a shy boy, seven years old and walking round with a shoe box everywhere. He carried it under his skinny black arm, and anybody got too close, anybody ask to see what he got in the box, he bring it round and hug it tight to his chest with both arms and twist side to side — sayin' No! with his body. Always when he said no 'bout something, he used his whole body. He were physical like that, and soon as we 'come friends he were huggin' me all the time, and I huggin' back, and never since have I felt safe and sure with a hug the way I done Harmon's.

Harmon were three years older than me, and when he little he were a skinny runty thing you wouldn't imagine could ever grow up to be much, but he grew up tall and round — not fat, just beefy. He got the friendliest face I ever seen in a person, too, with a big smile so full of goodwill it could melt anybody's heart, and it turns his own face so soft and good you fell in love with him right away; everybody do. He got happy round eyes, and eyelashes so long he got to cut them to look a man, and chubby cheeks that make him look too young and sweet for any kind of hell raisin', but he say that be fine by him.

In the foster home those babies come and went so fast, weren't worth it to bother looking at them and learning their faces, but me and Harmon stayed on and stayed so close you knew if you saw one of us coming you saw the other. Patsy and Pete, thinking they was being cute, called us chocolate and vanilla 'cause of our skin, and it just burned me up to hear it. I didn't like being called vanilla or anything to do with white. White was Mama Linda and her not coming to see me, and Patsy and Pete and their steely meanness, and the evil-eye lady with the pistol in her boot who lived across the street and talked all the time 'bout shooting us and hanging us out for scarecrows in her cornfield. No, I didn't like white.

Harmon showed me what he got in the shoe box — cassette tapes of lady singers. He got Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald and Odetta, Sarah Vaughan, Etta James, Billie Holiday, and Roberta Flack. I couldn't read all that till I were six years old, but there were a Fisher-Price tape player in the house, and one time I said to Harmon, "Harmon, what's on them tapes? Can I hear?"

"Be music," he said. "They my daddy's tapes."

We dug out the tape player from a pile of toys we was supposed to keep in a box in the basement. We listened in front of the toy box 'cause we knew if a toy wandered too far from that box, we got the strap.

We listened to the ladies singin'. I laid down on the floor on top of a rug that smelled wet and sour, and Harmon laid down next to me, and we stared up at the ceiling that looked like white cardboard and listened to those pretty voices. Sometimes while I were listening I'd look at the pictures of the ladies on the front of the cassettes, and I'd look at the words I couldn't read, and I'd get all happy and easy feelin' inside. I loved the ladies. I loved their singin'.

Pete and Patsy wanted to know what we was doin' down in the basement so quiet, and they said we doin' dirty things, and I felt all twisted nasty hearing their ugly words.

It were our secret 'bout loving the ladies. We'd go outside and climb into the Japanese maple tree Patsy said were the only tree we allowed to climb, and talk our secret talk 'bout loving the ladies.

"They pretty, Harmon," I said once.

"Mm-hmm." Harmon nodded.

"They make me happy."

"Me, too," Harmon said. "They make me want to jump."

"You want to jump out the tree?"

"I want to jump and jump and turn myself around."

I said, "They make me want to sing. Harmon, I want to sing." I said that and I felt something inside me go different from everything else I ever felt. It felt like something strong were sitting inside me. Like it were sitting in my belly waiting on something, and it made me feel hungry. I got to feeling so hungry I thought there weren't enough food in the world could fill me up.

"Harmon, let's go see if they got any bread to eat," I said.

After that time, when I thought of the ladies, when I heard the ladies sing, I had to eat bread so I didn't go feeling that hunger. I'd eat the crust first and then roll up the rest into a ball, dip it in the sugar bowl, and suck on it, getting all the sweet out of it, and then I'd eat it down and start on another one.

Patsy wanted to know why I ate so much bread. She said I looked like dough. Said maybe she should pop me in the oven and see if I bake. I stayed clear of her best I could.

Sometimes we would go sit in the Japanese maple tree with a stack of bread and eat and dream the ladies' music till it would get so late we 'bout fell right out the tree asleep.

That whole time I lived with Patsy and Pete and Harmon and the babies that come and go, I loved Harmon and the ladies most, and almost every day I lived there, which lasted almost three years, we'd go to the basement and listen to the ladies sing. But Harmon didn't dance and I didn't sing. We was too scared to get the strap. We'd lay on the sour rug and dream we was singin' and dancin', and I had me a stack of bread on a plate by my side for when I got so hungry I thought I would die.


We had a social worker who come visit us every once in a while to see how we doing, and ask what we thinking. Her name be Doris Mellon, and she were a fat lady who always wore happy red dresses and red lipstick and red fingernails and had the blackest, shiniest skin I ever seen. I used to love to pet her arm and grab her skin and hold it. When I got to know her better I used to kiss her arms and her cheeks, and I were jealous 'cause I knew she loved Harmon best. I knew 'cause she come over one time and said to Patsy that she gonna take Harmon out to her church on Sunday and that she wanted to do it regular. She wanted to take him out with her every Sunday.

I never been to no church. Weren't sure, even, what church were, 'cept Harmon were gonna get to go with Doris and I weren't. Doris said that she would take me someplace special, too, sometime, but I wanted to go with her and Harmon. Why couldn't I go? I wanted to know. So did Harmon. He asked, "Why cain't she go? She my best friend. Don't wanna go no place without my Janie." And Doris and Patsy looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders, and I got to go.

The church were a long drive away to a building that looked like a movie theater. There was lots of people, and they was every one of them, 'cept me and one lady, black skinned. I smiled big when I saw this, and everybody smiled big right back at me. The preacher did his shoutin' and prayin', and the people sitting in the chairs shouted amen and hallelujah and waved their arms about and stood up and sat down and sang. A whole roomful of people was singin'. I grabbed ahold of Doris's skin and Harmon's shoulder, and I hung on tight. A whole roomful of people singin', and I got chills inside and out I wanted to fill myself up with bread, but there wasn't none, so I sucked on my lower lip. I wanted to sing so bad, but I didn't know the sounds or the words. I just knew about Aretha and Odetta and Ella. I knew their sounds, but the people in the church was singin' new ones.

After church Doris took us out to Shoney's for lunch and chocolate ice-cream sundaes. We never had sundaes before, but I got hooked on them first bite I took. I knew weren't nothin' in the world ever taste as sweet and good as a chocolate ice-cream sundae, and I always let some of the syrup dry on my lip so I could lick on it later.

Harmon and I couldn't wait to go to church with Doris every week, and I didn't know what I loved most about it — being out with Doris and Harmon, the music in the church, or eating sundaes — I were just happy as happy could be the whole time.

After three weeks of going to the church, I had learned most the words and all the tunes to them songs they sang regular every week, and I tried singin'. I were going on almost five years old, and I hadn't never sang a note. I opened my mouth to sing but didn't hear nothin'. I could feel sound humming in my chest, but I couldn't hear it. I opened my mouth more, like the men and women standing up front with the blue-andgold robes on, and I sang louder, and I could hear my own self singin'. I were making a song, my first song. I shook my shoulders and clapped my hands like the people all round me, and I sang louder. I felt Doris let go of my shoulder, and I heard her stop singin'. I turned my head, and Harmon were staring at me and smiling. I looked up at Doris, and she smiled, too, so I knew it were okay me singin', so I kept on.

Every time we had to sit down and listen to the talking, I got antsy and hungry and I couldn't wait till the singin' started up again.

After church that day, Doris said to me, "Child, you sounded real pretty singin'. Didn't she, Harmon?"

"Yes, ma'am, she do. And she can sing other. She can sing Aretha song and Etta and Roberta."

We was riding back to the stink house in Doris's car, and me and Harmon was sitting together in the back. I gave him a kick on his leg.

"Hey, you messin' up my one good pair of pants. Now quit."

I said, "How you know what I can sing, Mr. Harmon? You don't know what I can do."

Doris looked at me in her rearview mirror and said, "Sing something for us, Janie. Go on, it's all right. We're all friends."

I looked at Harmon and he nodded. "Go on, thang, you can do it."

Didn't never hear myself sing alone before. I closed my eyes and felt myself down in the basement, laying on the sour rug, listening to Roberta Flack. I heard her voice singin' "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," and I started singin'. And sitting in that car with my eyes closed, singin', felt like entering those pearly gates of heaven I were always hearing 'bout in church, felt like chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup, nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry slippin' down my throat. Felt like the first home I ever known.


Mama Linda come to see me. I were coming home from kindergarten, riding on the bus with Harmon. She were waiting at the end of the road where the bus driver always let us off, standing with one leg crossed in front of the other and her arms folded 'cross her chest. She were butter blond and blue eyed and pretty as pink pastries, and kids on the bus was sayin' it had to be my mama 'cause I looked just like her.

I got down off the bus behind Harmon and peeked round him at Mama Linda. She smiled big and opened her arms out. I went on and ran to her, feelin' funny 'bout it 'cause I weren't sure yet if I felt happy to see her or what. She hugged me, so I hugged her back, and my arms closed round her skinny, skinny waist. She smelled like I remembered, even though I forgot I remembered. She smelled like a cake made out of sugar and flowers and cooking oil.

"Now, how's your little face today?" she said, like we just left off seein' each other yesterday.

I didn't know what to say, so I looked back at Harmon, who were behind us.

He had his hands dug in his pockets, and when I looked at him, he shrugged and his face drooped so sad like he was giving up on me, saying good-bye 'cause Mama Linda be there, comin' to take me home.

I reached back for him and grabbed his arm, which were still pushin' at the bottom of his pocket, and said, "This here Harmon. He be my brother now."

Harmon said "hey" to Mama Linda, with his head down so low his fat cheeks was 'bout all I could see of his face. Then he pulled away from me and ran ahead to the stink house without us.

"He's a shy one," Mama Linda said.

"He don't know you," I said. "Are you here pickin' me up? Am I goin' home with you?"

I didn't know what I were hoping the answer would be till she told me no. Then I knew I were hoping she coming for me, 'cause soon as she said no, I wanted to push her down on the road and run off home with Harmon.

Mama Linda stopped walking and pulled my two arms toward her and stooped down in front of me. "Janie, I've been ... ill. I've been in a rehabilitation center 'cause I've ... I've had this amnesia thing." Mama Linda nodded to herself and said "amnesia" again.

"What that be?" I asked.

Mama Linda set her head at a tilt and took a bit of my hair in her hand. "Don't you talk funny now. Amnesia's when you lose all your memory. You can't remember anything. So, see, I didn't even remember I had a little girl. That's how ill I was."

"Are you all better? Why cain't I come home?"

Mama Linda stood up. "Well, see, they've got to watch me awhile, still, and make sure I don't go back on — get that old amnesia thing again. You wouldn't want me to get it and leave you alone at the beach again, would you? So, for now I'll just come visit you, and if things go well" — Mama Linda started up walking again — "then we'll live back together."

Once a month Mama Linda come to visit, bringing a sack of boiled peanuts in her hands and handing them off to me like that were the reason for coming. I always ate them up before she left, popping in one after another and swallowing them whole like they was vitamin pills. I got sick every night on days when she visited, and Pete said it be the peanuts, so he said not to eat them no more, but still I got sick. I didn't tell no one but Harmon.

"Harmon, I sick again."

"What you gonna do?"

"I gonna go get me some food 'cause I think it a hunger sick in my stomach."

I waited for Patsy and Pete to go on to bed, then I slipped down to the kitchen in the dark and stashed down as much food as my body could hold. Next day, Patsy did have a fit and then some when she come down and found all her food gone missing. She blamed me and Harmon both, 'cause she said no way could I eat all that food myself, and she told Doris on us.

I said to Doris, "It ain't Harmon, but Harmon get the strap same as me, an' you gotta tell Patsy it ain't Harmon."

So Doris and Patsy talked long, and they got up a plan so I don't be gettin' in trouble and gettin' sick Doris give me Mama Linda's phone number and said once a week I could call her and talk, and on days when Mama Linda come, Patsy would set out extra food for me to come down and eat at night if ever I felt sick-hungry.


Excerpted from "Born Blue"
by .
Copyright © 2001 Han Nolan.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

star "Raw, rough, and riveting . . . The writing is superb; like the blues, it bores through the soul. . . . Readers will be absorbed in this intimate and painful voyage."—School Library Journal

"Absolutely riveting . . . Leshaya captivates with her strength and determination."—Kirkus Reviews

Reading Group Guide

1. Why does Janie change her name to Leshaya?

2. What is it about blues singers like Etta James and Billie Holiday (p4) that touches Leshaya?

3. Why isn't Leshaya happy with the James family? Why does she steal from them?

4. Twice Leshaya decides to leave Etta with Harmon (p115). What is her motive the first time? The second time? Why doesn't Leshaya leave her bag of stolen items?

5. Paul tells Leshaya, "You don't let anybody care about you. You don't let anybody get close enough!" (238) Why do you think Leshaya pushes people away?

6. How does taking care of Mama Linda at the beach house change Leshaya?

7. Do you think Leshaya is following her dreams or running away from things?

Copyright (c) 2003. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Born Blue 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 78 reviews.
Ivaskov More than 1 year ago
i read this book so long ago and i LOVED it. I dont know it made me cry and made me connect with the character.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book several years ago, and enjoyed it very much. You might not always like the bahavior of Lashaya (Janie) but you'll root for her in the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nolan creates Janie, a character that lives day to day without knowing where she will be next. Her voice is her salvation in a world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The language and content is definitely for older teens, and her dialect is something to get used to...
hayleyd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a really great book, but it has a bad ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At first when i read it, i mostly thought that the girl was a jerk and had a serious probelm- which she did. It was the kind of book that you read and wish that you could just go and yell at the character. I was dissappointed by the lack of change in the character and the overall sad story. But eventually i realized that she did show some kind of change. Although it wasnt a big thing probably to us, right at he end, she had to make a decision, and her responce did show some sort of change. For someone like her, i think that kind of desicion was a major turning point and that changed my opinion of the book. It still wasnt the best, but i think everybody should read it once they get old enough to realize what is going on and what she should have done.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the best book ive read!!:D
tkhswims More than 1 year ago
I love this book. I would definitely recommend this. Fast and gripping read. I found it to have a few inappropriate parts and story line. Overall one of my favorite books. One of the books you wish had a sequel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the best book i have read i love the meaning of the book and how true it is. I read this book when i was in high school and as an adult now i still love reading this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book i read this book years ago the plot of the story seems so real to what can happen with bad influence as a child
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every time i started reading i couldnt stop... it was great
demiana More than 1 year ago
definate page turner
Volleyball3RS More than 1 year ago
Born Blue is a great book and for very mature 7th grade readers. It's about a girl with a tough life, but gets through it all with one thing, Singing. She's terrific at it, and one day plans to be famous with her given talent. Janie, or who calls herself Leshaya,has been borninto the life of a drug-addict mother, many foster homes, run-aways, the losing of best friends,unwanted memories, and no-turning-back-mistakes. I love the way the author makes Leshaya talk, and it makes her unique, beside from her life. Over all it was a very interesting and well ploted book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
monika18 More than 1 year ago
Born Blue was a book about a girl overcoming many obstacles. Her mother had abandoned her because drugs were more important to her. Janie was passed around from one foster home to another. She eventually changed her name to Leshaya, because Janie was a white girl's name, this reminded her of her mother. Leshaya had a passion for singing. Her ispirations were Odetta and Aretha. She never felt wanted or loved by anyone. Leshaya was doing drugs and got pregnant. She did fall back in the shadow of her mother because of her drug use and abandoning her child. This was the one person that she never wanted to be like. It was pretty much inevitable because of her rough childhood. She has never had people to giude her and show her right from wrong. At the end of the book, Leshaya sees her mother on her death bed. She finds out about her mother's past, and that she wasn't an addict all her life. Finding her mom again, and learning something about her was a way that gave her a little part of herself back. Many people would be able to relate to this story, who have gone through a lot in their life. It's not just about loneliness or finding yourself, but also about the passions you have that keep you going.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
_aimee More than 1 year ago
In Born Blue, Han Nolan takes us on an adventure of a little girl name Janie who grows up to be Leshaya, a young lady with big dreams. The story begins with Janie 7, living with her music lover best friend Harmon in a foster home with Patsy and Pete near Mobile, Alabama. She almost drowns at the age of four because of her mother's negligence. Her mother, Mama Linda, is a heroin addict. Janie receives a sweet social worker name Doris, who goes to church. Janie and Harmon loved the tapes of blue and jazz female artists like Etta James and Billie Holiday. Etta James was Janie's absolute favorite. She loved and wanted to be her when she was older. When she went to church with Doris, she was able found her voice. And after Harmon got adopted, singing became her passion, the only thing no one could ever take from her. Mama Linda kidnaps her from the Patsy and Pete's when Janie was seven. Mama Linda traded her off to Mitch and Shell, a drug dealing couple, for as much heroin as she wanted. When she was with Mitch and Shell in Birmingham was when she took on the name of Leshaya. And then after that, a series of events happened that took her on a eye opening heart felt journey. Her drug-dealing guardians gave her a nice home and a pretty good education. But they got arrested. She then steals money from the home and runs away to Tuscaloosa to reunite with Harmon. Harmon and his adoptive parents take her in. But things go bad with them and she steals some of their prize possessions. Then she falls in love with a band member and loses her virginity to a stranger and get pregnant. Haves the baby and then pushes the baby on Harmon. Then she runs away again and lives with a songwriter/guitarist and records an album. Things don't turn out good again and she runs away. But back to Mama Linda, who is now dying of AIDS. That's when she starts to become more humble and more thoughtful of what had happened in both her's and her's mother life. Then she tries to go back and 'save' her daughter from the cycle of her and her mother's history. But she leaves her with Harmon, thinking that her life would be better with him instead of her. I liked this book for many reasons. As a young adult, it's nice to read about other young adult's experiences. I recommend this book to readers of the age 14 and older. Even though the book was fiction, it told a story with painful events but still quite enjoyable at the end. Many lesson were taught in this book, such as hanging around the wrong crowds, breaking away and learning from the past, burning bridges, trust, and love. I think most of it all helped with finding herself. At the end she was able to put her daughter's best interest first and find her own personal identity. She learned that in the past she brunt many bridges with people. She hurt people who cared about her the most and used them. She hung out with the wrong crowds and became a heroin addict herself. But she became meek after staying with her mother and when she passed and made a decision to leave her daughter. Then was when she was able to move on and strive to become the famous singer she was born to be.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How would you feel if your mother gave you away to drug dealers for drugs? Or if you got pregnant by someone you don¿t even know? Or even being in foster homes, experiencing physical abuse? Just think how you would feel. Well Janie feels that way, in Born Blue by Han Nolan.

Janie grew up in a foster home with her best friend Harmon. Then one day Mama Linda (Janie¿s mom) came to visit Janie. Mama Linda told her that she¿s been sick with amnesia and couldn¿t take care of her since she¿s been in the rehabilitation center. Now Janie did not understand, so Mama Linda came by once a week, then one time she took Janie out and told her to sing for her because Doris (Janie¿s social worker) told Mama Linda she can sing well. Then Mr. James and Mrs. James came and adopted Harmon. That really made Janie sad and depressed. She gets `kidnapped¿ by the drug dealers and has a good life until she finds out her mom had given Janie to her for drugs. She runs away with this boy and gets pregnant at a party where they were drinking and taking drugs. Janie was a part of all that was happening at the party. She then has the baby and gives it to Harmon so the baby can have a good life. She visits her mom and stays with her until her mom dies of AIDs. Then she goes see her daughter contemplating on taking her but is better off leaving her with Harmon. I think Janie needs counseling to get over what her mother has done to her. Harmon needs to carry on with his life and his new daughter and not worry about Janie. The impact this book gave on me is to not do drugs, drink, smoke, and not get pregnant during my teenage years.

I would recommend this book to people that like real teenage world conflicts. Also if you like books about getting over drugs and what they can do to you, and what unannounced pregnancies can do to you if you¿re only a teenager.

Rating~ * * * * *
Sarah Patrick
1st period
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really liked it but it was hard to get use to the slang or the accent she used...the girl was actually really rude in my eyes but it was great to see her was very different than most of the books i've read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I borrowed this book from a friend and read the first paragraph and could not put it down... it is truely an amazing book, especially for one of who also has rockstar dreams.