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Don't Stop Now

Don't Stop Now

3.7 4
by Julie Halpern

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On the first day of Lillian's summer-before-college, she gets a message on her cell from her sort-of friend, Penny. Not only has Penny faked her own kidnapping, but Lil is the only one who figures it out. She knows that Penny's home life has been rough, and that her boyfriend may be abusive. Soon, Penny's family, the local police, and even the FBI are grilling Lil,


On the first day of Lillian's summer-before-college, she gets a message on her cell from her sort-of friend, Penny. Not only has Penny faked her own kidnapping, but Lil is the only one who figures it out. She knows that Penny's home life has been rough, and that her boyfriend may be abusive. Soon, Penny's family, the local police, and even the FBI are grilling Lil, and she decides to head out to Oregon, where Penny has mentioned an acquaintance. And who better to road-trip across the country with than Lil's BFF, Josh. But here's the thing: Lil loves Josh. And Josh doesn't want to "ruin" their amazing friendship.

Josh has a car and his dad's credit card. Lil has her cellphone and a hunch about where Penny is hiding. There's something else she needs to find: Are she and Josh meant to be together?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Halpern delivers a summer road-trip novel with dark undertones, suggestive of a John Hughes film in its humor, pathos, and keen eye for the teenage mindset. Lil, a recent high school graduate who breezed through her senior year, has just heard from her sort-of friend Penny, who has faked her own kidnapping. Pretending (to herself and others) that she doesn't know why Penny took off, Lil persuades her best friend Josh to drive to Portland, Ore., to find Penny. Armed with cheesy Wisconsin-themed T-shirts and a sense of adventure, Lil and Josh travel west, visiting strange roadside attractions and staying in even stranger hotels, while Lil wrestles with her longtime, unrequited love for Josh. There isn't much sense of mystery to the trip—painful passages from Penny's viewpoint make clear the reasons behind her departure, and they find her too easily—but Lil's strong narrative voice and banter-filled relationship with Josh are immediate draws. As she did in Get Well Soon and Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, Halpern demonstrates her skill in creating outsidery everyteens trying to make sense of their lives. Ages 13–up. (June)

…readers in the mood for a vicarious summer fling will enjoy the ride.
The Horn Book on Into the Wild Nerd Yonder

Fans of everything geek will adore Jessie's induction into the world of nerds, one that includes the band geek lunch table, Dungeons & Dragons, and a genuinely fun-filled weekend in a field immersed in a medieval role-playing game. Halpern's story may not hold surprises, but readers aren't hoping for any; besides, Jessie's narration is the real draw...
Children's Literature - Heidi Hauser Green
It is the first day of "freedom"—the day after the last day of high school—when Lillian receives a mysterious phone message from her sort-of friend, Penny. "I did it," the fragile girl whispers, leaving Lillian to wonder what she did. Later, talking with her best friend Josh, Lillian vaguely remembers Penny mentioning faking her own kidnapping. She could not have really done that, could she? Does Penny's abusive boyfriend Gavin have something to do with her "missing" status? The open road beckons, and finding out what happened to Penny seems as good a reason as any for a road trip with Josh. Lillian hopes to use the time to sort out their relationship, finally, before she leaves for college at the end of the summer. Lillian's first-person narration is interspersed with passages from Penny's journal that reveal just how vulnerable the missing girl is. Although undertaking the trip shows some concern for her friend, Lillian's words lack compassion. Perhaps the jabs she pokes at Penny are meant to indicate realistic cynicism, but they seem at times simply mean-spirited. Her oft-repeated, no-effort approach to senior high school may seem unrealistic. Still, some readers may appreciate Lillian's candor. Reviewer: Heidi Hauser Green
VOYA - Barbara Johnston
With high school over, Lil sees big changes ahead; however, she needs to find out whether Josh, her handsome BFF, returns her romantic feelings. When classmate Penny phones Lil and leaves a message, "I did it," Lil concludes that Penny has followed through with faking her own kidnapping. Josh and Lil take off on a cross-country road trip to Portland, ostensibly to find Penny, but Lil hopes that days together and nights in motels will determine the relationship status with Josh. When they locate her, Penny agrees to seek help with her problems but Lil's "love dilemma" remains inconclusive. She has made wonderful memories, though, and she is ready to step into the future. Hanging on to their comfortable high school friendship, Lil and Josh drive to Portland and create a trivia-filled travelogue of their stops in quirky places such as the Mars' Cheese Castle and the Church of Elvis (not a church at all). Full of t-shirt humor (I Cut the Cheese in Wisconsin), teen-speak, and mild swearing (damn), this novel has well-developed characters and clear insight into relationships. There are mild sexual innuendos, but the couple's kisses are mostly chaste and, when the opportunity for sex appears, it usually dissolves quickly into humor. Although Lil narrates, Penny's thoughts are interspersed and tell of her neglectful, shopaholic mother and abusive boyfriend. Teens will ponder Penny's situation, question the romance of BFFs, and delight in their friendship and freedom during the road trip. This book is perfect vacation reading. Reviewer: Barbara Johnston
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—It's the summer before college, and Lil is ready to take it easy. She has money from her bat mitzvah and a partner in crime: her best friend, Josh. Her plans are thwarted, though, when a high school acquaintance, awkward Penny, leaves a phone message for Lil saying only, "I did it," and disappears. Lil is torn between her desire for a drama-free summer and a conscience that won't let the message go. Calls from the missing girl's parents, the police, and the FBI don't help, either. Lil and Josh take matters into their own hands and try to find Penny themselves, helped by more phone messages from her. As the two drive from Chicago to Portland, OR, they try to figure out if they are just friends or more. Throughout, Penny's diary entries interrupt Lil's first-person narrative to paint a picture of an insecure young woman in an abusive relationship. When Josh and Lil finally find her, all three have changed in positive ways; however, their overall motivations don't make a lot of sense, so the book's resolution lacks impact. At times the story suffers from detailed accounts of the kitschy tourist traps the teens visit along the way, and Penny's heady story line never really gets the kind of attention it deserves. Still, Josh and Lil have the kind of carefree trip that many readers will find enviable and about which they will enjoy reading.—Jennifer Miskec, Longwood University, Farmville, VA
Kirkus Reviews

A road trip from Chicago to Portland, Ore., in a Chevy Eurosport with Dad's credit card for expenses makes for a mildly enjoyable summer read.

The trip's not really about Lillian's stated need to find Penny, who might have faked her own kidnapping.No, it's more about spending time with best friend Josh, who has never shown any romantic interest in Lillian, and enjoying a little freedom after graduation from high school and before the reality of college. Both Josh and Lillian enjoy the peculiar, and they aren't afraid to indulge their whims. As they proceed from the House on the Rock to various museums and roadside highlights such as Wall Drug, the two find themselves struggling with Lillian sexual attraction for the uninterested Josh.Through it all, Josh and Lillian manage to let their quest for Penny, who is less a friend than an obligation, keep them on the road and moving forward. The dialogue sounds true without being crude and repetitive, and readers will enjoy narrator Lillian's sharp wit. Credibility issues—the lack of financial limitations, miraculously blasé parents and the relative lack of interest from the authorities regarding Penny's whereabouts—keep this closer to fantasy than anything deeper.

There is enough weirdness in this lighthearted road trip to keep it entertaining, although there is not quite enough depth or suspense to make it rise above the average.(Fiction. 14 & up)

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Read an Excerpt

Don't Stop Now

By Julie Halpern

Feiwel and Friends

Copyright © 2011 Julie Halpern
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-6594-1


"I did it," Penny's voice whispers on my voicemail. Confused, I push the button to replay. "I did it." That's all she said. According to Robot Phone Woman Time Keeper, Penny called at exactly 4:47 a.m., a rather unacceptable time to call anyone on a Saturday morning, and most certainly not on the Saturday morning after the Friday that was our last day of high school EVER. Because it is the first Saturday of the rest of our lives, finally past all of the clique clack crud of high school, I allow myself to sleep past my mother's acceptable sleep hour of exactly 11:59 ("At least it's still morning") until 1:43 in the afternoon. Which makes me approximately nine hours too late to stop Penny.

How did it become my responsibility to help this pathetic soul anyway? We weren't ever friends until this past year, and even then only by default. I had no choice really, unless I wanted to be a total hag by not asking her to join us at the Lunch Table of Misfit Toys, dubbed so by our paltry group of seniors in lunch period 8, who were so placed because we chose not to stress ourselves out with AP classes, resulting in a more pliable schedule for the admin to have their way with. Instead of the race for the maximum number of AP credits possible, I selected some easy, breezy independent studies of things I actually enjoy doing, like Creative Writing and Photo. Why bother with the AP BS anyway? So you can graduate college early? No thanks. I breezed through my senior year like I plan to breeze through this summer, living off the fat of the land that is my bat mitzvah savings, and just chilling out. No worries. Or at least, that was the plan.

"I did it." Who leaves a message like that? Who is so paranoid that they have to be so cryptic? If this wasn't day one of my Summer of Nothing, I might be in a hurry to figure this out. But first: breakfast. Or lunch, really. Snack? Lack, or lunk maybe. It is a bowl of cereal, whatever it is. I like to fancy myself a cereal connoisseur. Today, slightly out of it and in need of substance and energy, I mix some Frosted Mini-Wheats with Cookie Crisp, and throw in a few Craisins for fruit and texture. I shake up the skim milk, splash it on, toss around the cereal pieces with a spoon to make sure each piece is coated with milk, and plant myself in front of the computer. Then I second-guess it. Maybe I don't want my lunk interrupted by the possibility of more Penny drivel waiting on the other side of the screen, so I flip on the TV instead. An actual video is on MTV. Hip-hop or rap or something. Not my scene. But I can't help wishing I had a butt like that girl in the video. I wonder how she buys jeans, though.

"I did it." It's like Penny's voice is floating out of my cereal from between the flakes and the crisps. How did she say it? It wasn't urgent or terrified, like someone calling 911 from under her bed as she waits for a killer to enter her room, nor was it excited or light or distracted or a million other adjectives I can think of. She just sounded flat, like the only reason she left the message at all was to keep a record of her existence.

Before I call Penny, you know, just to clarify things, I decide to call my best friend, Josh. Although, if there's one person who can outsleep me, it's him, and I say this from experience. Sadly the experience is due to the fact that he and I are so platonic that his dad and my mom could give a rat turd if I sleep at his house or he sleeps at mine. On the couch, of course. So damn pathetic, then, that I am so madly in love with him. Cliché, touché, but true. I've spent four years waiting for something to happen between us that is more than just sharing a toothbrush when he forgets to bring his own. This summer is the last chance, before I head off to college and he heads off to tour Europe with his band or records the Next Big Thing album he always talks about or possibly moves to Saskatoon to hunt moose. He doesn't know where he'll go, but it sure isn't college. And it's most definitely not in any way, shape, or form dependent on anything I do or anywhere I go. But, damn, I wish it was.

I decide to try and wake him. The phone only rings twice before Josh picks up.

"Heeeyyyy." He sounds awake and happy to see me on the caller ID, which gives my stomach a buzz. I remember once at school when I was talking to some randomer, and Josh came out of the bathroom, me not expecting to see him there because he had Español at the time, and this randomer, upon seeing the two of us see each other, said, "It's like you guys haven't seen each other in weeks. That's how happy you look." And I thought, Him, too?

"Good afternoon, sir. May I interest you in a pointless quest?" Josh and I like to go for long walks or drives with fake purposes and dub them quests. Once we spent an entire afternoon "looking for love in all the wrong places," like that super-lame old country song. We looked under rocks, at Ben & Jerry's, in the sand box at Stroger Park. I thought maybe, just maybe, he'd get the hint that love was standing right next to him in a cute pair of cut-offs, but Josh seemed to miss that somehow.

"I'll meet you at Stroger in twenty. And I hope you don't mind, but I have evening stink." Josh isn't much of a fan of showering on a regular basis, which may put off some, but I prefer his sleep smell to some covered-up soap smell any day.

I finish my cereal, drop the bowl in the sink, and tug on a blue bra, blue T-shirt, and jean shorts. Some days I like to be monochromed, just for the hell of it. I brush my teeth, tug my chin-length golden brown hair into a nub of a ponytail, shuffle my way into a pair of flip-flops, and I'm out the door.

The air smells free. Free from class schedules and guidance counselors and hallway politics. High school hell is over.

"I did it." Damn that message. Damn Penny for glomming her way into my life. I wish I didn't care. It's messing with my new freedom vibe.

Three blocks away is Stroger Park, big when I was little and little now that I'm, well, big. Two regular swings, a tire swing, two baby swings, a slide, a wall climb, some monkey bars, and plenty of woodchips to stick in your flip-flops. I always wondered, Why the woodchips? It seemed like there would be more woodchip-in-the-eye accidents than woodchips-as-saviors-for-falling-children incidents. Or maybe I just missed them because I was too busy, you know, being a kid.

Josh hangs upside down from the monkey bars, shirtless (as is his summer look), his self-cut, shoulder-length brown hair dangling below him. I try not to ogle, but, damn, he looks amazing without a shirt. How do guys get to look so good without exercising or eating well at all? He's skinny, but not too skinny, and all nice and defined. I exhale a platonic sigh.

"Hey, Lil," he calls and swings himself off the bars, stumbling onto the woodchips. Even graceless, he's gorgeous. "You smell that?" he asks as I approach him, and I sit down on the metal ladder to the monkey bars.

"Well, what do you expect when you don't shower?" I ask. "No." He chuckles in his slow, slack way. He grabs the high bar closest to me and hangs himself so he can easily kick my knees with his ratty black Chucks. "Not me." He takes a huge sniff of air. "That. That smell. The rest of our lives." He grins big and I grin bigger. Our lives are going somewhere away from here. Like Penny, I remember.

"I got a message. This morning. From Penny."

"Poor little lamb." Josh always teases me about Penny because I befriended her out of pity, but he plays along, too. We're both too nice to let her go it alone. "What'd she say?" he asks me, still hanging.

I ignore the shoes on my knees. "'I did it.'" I look up at him and whisper it the same way she whispered to my voicemail.

"Did what?" he asks, but not curious enough. "It?" He laughs, although we both know she did it a long time ago, thanks to the pregnancy scare aftermath I had to clean up.

"She told me she was going to do something the other night, before graduation. Only I was just half listening, and you know how morose she can be. Sometimes I just need to block her out if I want to have a bit of fun."

Josh nods and lets the flappy rubber of his messed-up shoe tug on my knee. "So what did she do?" He's more interested now, and now that I've got an audience for the story, so am I.

"If I heard her right ..." I pause, adding to the tension of the tale I'm about to begin. "Well." Quizzical look. Pause. "I think she may have faked her own kidnapping."

* * *

I hate gym class. I hate wearing this hideous green, too-thin, too-short, too-cold uniform. It stinks. My bad for not taking it home, but I don't even want it to touch my backpack. No one comes near me anyway, so what does it matter. I just wish these shorts weren't so short. Did the makeup cover that purple spot on my leg enough? God, I hope so. I hope no one asks about it. Not like they will.

I wish the boys' gym classes were sharing the gym with us today. No, I don't. I look gross today. Bloated. Must be getting my period. I hope I'm getting my period. God, I hope I get it this time. I don't want Gavin to see me in these shorts. The bruise. Maybe he should see it. No. That might make him mad. Like I'm showing someone. Good thing the boys aren't in here. I'll just sit on the bleachers and hope Dr. Warren doesn't force me to play basketball. Usually if I make a pathetic enough face, she leaves me alone. What is she a doctor of, anyway? Basketball. Did she really go to medical school to just become a gym teacher? Oh, god. She's coming. She wants me to play. She wants me to be on the blue team. I hate the mesh smocks. Who knows who wore this before me?

The blue team. At least there are some nicer people on it. Not those bitches who always laugh at me in the locker room. And in the hall. When I interrupt them talking to Gavin. What business do they have talking to Gavin? I would kill them all if I didn't know that Gavin loves me more than he could ever love anyone else. That's what he tells me. He wouldn't lie.

This girl Lillian is on the blue team. She's so pretty. So tall. I wish I looked like her. I bet Gavin does, too. I bet she doesn't have a single problem in the world. Isn't she dating that guy Josh? He's so sweet to her in the halls. Arms around her. They look perfect together. Perfect height. Perfect bodies. Perfect lives. I wish I were her.


"Wait. What?" Josh looks at me like he isn't sure he heard me right. "How can she have faked her own kidnapping? How can she fake a kidnapping to begin with? And why would she bother? She's eighteen. What does she need to fake anything for except buying alcohol? And she didn't even have to do that because her parents always left the liquor cabinet open anyway. Remember that night with the Kahlua?" I remember, since I vowed never to allow the tainting of my precious coffee, or anything else for that matter, with alcohol again. "But back to the loon fest at hand. Are you sure that's what she said?"

"I'm trying to remember." I stir some woodchips around with my toe, revealing the dirt underneath. Circle. Circle. Dot. I've just made a woodchip crop circle. "She was sort of going on about Gavin." Gavin being her mostly, sometimes ex, boyfriend. Mostly when he wants to be with other girls, not when he wants to be with Penny. Convenient.

"No?" Josh feigns surprise. He sits across the bars from me now, on the opposite steps. He removes his shoes, no socks, and plucks up individual chips with his toes.

"Yeah, that's why I was only half listening. I feel bad because I know it was more crappy stuff, like him saying how fat she was getting, or how she's not nearly as cute as some of the freshmen. I don't know, it grosses me out to think about it. But I can only tell her he's a dick so many times. I don't even know what she wants to hear from me anymore. Sometimes it's like she looks at me like I'm going to reassure her that he's a great guy. No can do."

"So — fake kidnapping?" Josh attempts to toss a chip with his toes, but it just slips through. He tries again.

I scan my brain for memories. "I think I changed the subject. Asked her about that guy she met on spring break when her family went to Disney World."

"The dude from Portland?" Josh flips chips from his toes toward my crop circle. I think he's trying to make a bull's-eye. I'm always amazed at what goes on up there in his head, how he's able to be so light about some things, serious when I need it, and remember just about everything. Even when it's about some random guy that some not-so-close friend met on a vacation.

"Yeah — Ethan. But when I brought him up, she shushed me. Like, actual full-on librarian shushing."

"You know, librarians don't really shush people as much as you think. That's a stereotype." He tries again with a toe toss. Not even close.

I sigh dismissively. "You know what I mean. It was weird. Gavin wasn't even in the room. He wasn't even her boyfriend at that particular millisecond, and she's all paranoid that he's gonna hear her talk about another guy. Which she has every right to do." Josh nods, still looking in the direction of his toes. "What's she so afraid of?" I ask, even though I already know the answer.

Josh looks up, chip still stuck between his toes, and asks, "Have you ever seen him in gym class? The guy's a beast. We were playing soccer, by which I mean I was standing in the goal talking to George, and the six bros in the class were bobbing and weaving and man-slapping one another all over the place, and here comes Gavin out of nowhere with the ball. Slams it right into the net. Dudes behind him are spewing names at me I do not care to repeat, and I'm like," — he holds his arms up in surrender — "'Sorry.' Gavin busts up to me, all in my face, 'You got a problem, Turdman?' For which I just answered with one of my patented Erdman looks." Josh's looks are both hilariously ambiguous and full of meaning if you know how to read them. "And he's still in my face. I'm like, 'Look, I'm a pacifist, man. Take your macho crap to someone who gives a rat's ass.' For which he declares me a fag and struts away."

"I am so glad we don't have coed gym," I proclaim. "Or didn't, I mean," and I smile at the thought that I will never be forced to do anything phys ed again in my entire life.

"Point being," Josh tries to get me back on subject, which is not unusual, "the guy's an unpredictable freak. I'm not saying I'm scared of him."

"Of course not," I tease.

"But I've heard some things. Locker room things that weren't meant to leave its sanctity."

"Kind of like Vegas, but not at all fun and definitely more stanky."

"Exactly. But none of it good, and all of it reeking of douchebag boyfriend."

Grrr. Why did I even get myself involved with this charity case of a girl? "So I'm starting to piece this memory together a little more. Penny is bitching about Gavin and another girl. Doesn't want to talk about herself and another guy. Then the music got loud. Michael Jackson, 'Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'.' Everyone starts to dance. I wanted to but had to deal with Penny. Tragic. Still couldn't help myself from moving a little, when she whispers something to me. It was one of those conversations where you nod and pretend to hear everything, just to appease the person. She never turns up her voice volume, even when things are loud around her. Drives me crazy."

"Focus, Lil, focus." Josh manages to flip a chip right into the center of one of my circles. "Yesss!" A small fist pump.

"Um, focus?" I chide. Josh smiles. "I'm thinking she said something about having to leave, but not wanting Gavin to know why or where. Doesn't want to make him mad. Then she mentioned Portland again. And then, maybe I'm just crazy ..." Josh nods in agreement. "Shut up. But I think she said that she had this idea. She might have even said 'good idea.' To fake her own kidnapping."

"That doesn't make any sense." Josh tires of his toe-chip game and stands up to hang from the bars again. "I mean, at eighteen you don't even have to run away. You can just go. Why would she have to fake her own kidnapping?"


Excerpted from Don't Stop Now by Julie Halpern. Copyright © 2011 Julie Halpern. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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.

Meet the Author

Julie Halpern is the author of Get Well Soon and Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, as well as the picture book Toby and the Snowflakes. In addition to writing, Julie is a middle-school librarian. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, lived in Australia for six months, and created a couple of zines before she started writing books, and realized she was and always has been a writer. She is married to the artist Matthew Cordell, and they live outside Chicago with their daughter and gloriously large Siamese cat, Tobin.

Julie Halpern is the author of several books, including Meant to Be, Maternity Leave, and Don't Stop Now. Prior to her life as full-time mom and author, Julie was a school librarian. In her imaginary spare time, she enjoys traveling, watching television for grown-ups, and eating baked goods. Julie lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, author and illustrator Matthew Cordell, and their two children.

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Don't Stop Now 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Lillian tried to help Penny, but she didn't think she'd actually fake her own kidnapping. When she does, Lil has to deal with all sorts of people trying to find information...Penny's parents, the police, even the FBI. Now, Lil is on a road trip with her best friend, Josh, to try and find Penny. She believes she's in Oregon...but they have to get there first. DON'T STOP NOW had an interesting premise. How bad can a person have it to fake their own kidnapping? I liked that you got a look inside Penny's head at the end of some of the chapters. These are thoughts from previous moments, though. You don't know what's happening in her present life until Lil and Josh find her. And then what happens? I do like the idea of road trip books. I learned about some different landmarks in the various states the duo traveled in. One of the things that felt a bit overdone was the relationship between Lil and Josh. Lil loves Josh, but he just wants to be BFFs. However, I liked that Halpern made Josh real. He wasn't all suave and perfect. He had bad habits, immature ideas, and he wasn't always the "catch" you would think Lil would want. But he was her friend and he was there for her. Although this wasn't my absolute favorite read of the year, it's still a pretty good contemporary YA read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Natasa-WMYB More than 1 year ago
After reading The Story Siren’s review, I was very excited to get my hands on this book. The verdict? Disappointment. I was expecting a light summer read, which admittedly, I got, but what I was not expecting was the bombardment of materialist and consumerist advertisements of half the tourist attractions in the USA. I’d just get a travel guide if I were you. Sure, in the beginning it was cute but by the end I felt I knew more about the fun places of America than the supposed couple/best friends. I don’t remember any character development. I don’t remember having any empathy for the main characters. I certainly don’t remember any romance for 99% of the whole book. The smidgen of actual romance that (finally) appeared was so weak it was quite pathetic and lasted so short it was a relief when it ended. I closed the book with not a little bit of frustration, because I loved the sound of the premise. The idea of best friends falling in love might not be original but the idea of a road trip held promise. Sadly, the bizarre ending and the lack of any real character development or conflict throughout the book ruined it for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago