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Phoenix Rising

Phoenix Rising

4.5 53
by Karen Hesse

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Nyle's life with her grandmother on their Vermont sheep farm advances rhythmically through the seasons until the night of the accident at the Cookshire nuclear power plant. Without warning, Nyle's modest world fills with protective masks, evacuations, contaminated food, disruptions, and mistrust.

Nyle adjusts to the changes. As long as the fallout continues


Nyle's life with her grandmother on their Vermont sheep farm advances rhythmically through the seasons until the night of the accident at the Cookshire nuclear power plant. Without warning, Nyle's modest world fills with protective masks, evacuations, contaminated food, disruptions, and mistrust.

Nyle adjusts to the changes. As long as the fallout continues blowing to the East, Nyle, Gran, and the farm can go on. But into this uncertain haven stumble Ezra Trent and his mother, "refugees" from the heart of the accident, who take temporary shelter in the back bedroom of Nyle's house.

The back bedroom is the dying room: It took her mother when Nyle was six; it stole away her grandfather just two years ago. Now Ezra is back there and Nyle doesn't want to open her heart to him. Too many times she's let people in, only to have them desert her.

Karen Hesse's voice and vision are grounded in truth; she takes on a nearly unharnessable subject, contains it, and makes it resonate with honesty. Part love story, part coming of age, Phoenix Rising is a tour de force by a gifted writer.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After a catastrophic accident at a nuclear power plant not far from their small New England sheep farm, 13-year-old Nyle Sumner and her grandmother slowly discover they have been spared from direct radiation. Gran decides to take in two evacuees, 15-year-old Ezra Trent and his mother, both of whom are severely ill. Nyle, obliged to monitor her surroundings with a radiation detector, wishes there were also some way to measure the Trents' ability to cause her pain: she hasn't entirely recovered from the deaths of her mother and grandfather years earlier, nor from her father's abandonment, and she must overcome her terror of growing attached to the refugees. As if to counteract the potential for sensationalism or dystopic fantasy, Hesse ( Letters from Rifka ) grounds her story with keen observations of the natural world--e.g., Nyle describes training a sheep dog, working in the pasture, farm work (``I like spring . . . when the grass greens up and the lambs come''). She also invests her characters with a certain formality. Nyle and Gran both demonstrate an archetypal New England self-containment and self-sufficiency; Mrs. Trent, raised in Israel and therefore no Yankee, is equally measured and reserved; Ezra, too, rarely voices his feelings. The author's understated approach heightens the emotional impact of her searching and memorable tale. Ages 11-13. (June)
School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—The dangers of nuclear power are explored in this environmental drama (Holt, 1994) by award-winning author Karen Hesse. Nyle, 13, lives on a Vermont sheep farm with her grandmother. She's no stranger to loss—her father disappeared and her mother died when she was young. But when the Cookshire nuclear power plant experiences a radiation leak, the effect on her Vermont community is tragic. Nyle trudges through the hills in a radiation mask and the teachers at school discuss the devastating dangers of the meltdown. Only a quirk of fate and a prevailing wind saved Nyle's farm. When Nyle's grandmother takes in refugees from the disaster—the plant manager's wife and son—Nyle learns that forgiveness and kindness are the keys to moving on from tragedy. Julia Whelan does an admirable job of infusing the characters with distinct personalities. The message is an important one, but the story is relentlessly grim for the first few hours, making for a depressing listening experience. Those who persevere to the end will find hope as Nyle comes to the conclusion that her generation must fight for change.—Tricia Melgaard, Centennial Middle School, Broken Arrow, OK
From the Publisher

“After a catastrophic accident at a nuclear power plant not far from their small New England sheep farm, 13-year-old Nyle Sumner and her grandmother slowly discover they have been spared from direct radiation.... The author's understated approach heightens the emotional impact of her searching and memorable tale.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Hesse transcends the specific to illuminate universal questions of responsibility, care, and love. . . . Hesse portrays her characters' anguish and their growing tenderness with such unwavering clarity and grace that she sustains the tension of her lyrical, understated narrative right to her stunning, beautifully wrought conclusion.” —Kirkus Reviews, Pointer

“The characters overcome adversity, not through heroic deeds of epic proportions, but through simple acts of kindness. The message is poignant, but not overpowering. Hesse has displayed considerable skill in creating a contemporary tale of hope and love rising, like a phoenix, from destruction and despair.” —School Library Journal, Starred Review

“Hesse in Phoenix Rising deals with the effects of a leak at a nuclear plant, a young girl's awakening sexuality, the meaning of friendship, the strength of family ties, and the courage to love--and she does this with a grace and power that could make her novel ‘a favorite' with younger teens.” —Voice of Youth Advocates

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
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209 KB
Age Range:
11 - 13 Years

Read an Excerpt


Snapping my arm forward, I winged a stone toward the woods. It fell short of Ripley Powers's dog, Tyrus. I meant it to fall short. I had no wish to hurt the dog, only to chase him off.

"Get on home!" I yelled through the gauze mask that had covered my face for nearly a week now. I shook my fist at the dog. "Get on home, Tyrus!"

Even after he'd run into the woods, Tyrus's barking cut through the crisp November air, echoing down the valley.

Back across the field, in a corner of the front pasture, the yearling sheep crowded together, except for one, lying alone on the cold ground. I studied it from the road, waiting for some sign of movement. I saw none.

Brushing my hair back with the crook of my arm, I scowled. "Damn dog."

Muncie stood beside me. "It's Ripley's fault, letting Tyrus run loose."

Ripley's dog took off running every chance he got. If he couldn't find any trouble on our farm, he'd go agitating somewhere else. One time Red Jackson picked Tyrus up all the way to Cookshire, over the mountains and forty miles south of here. That was when there still was a Cookshire.

Dropping her backpack beside mine, Muncie crunched after me across the brittle November grass. Her short, bowed legs struggled against the pitch of the land.

Long-legging it over the electric fence, I got inside with the yearlings.

Muncie stayed outside in the field.

As I approached the fallen ewe, the rest of the flock pressed tighter toward the far fence. Their steamy breath came fast, forming a cloud over their heads.

I knelt before the bloody sheep, my mind racing. Radiation scared me most. That was everyone's fear these days.

But I'd lived on a sheep farm long enough to know radiation hadn't killed this ewe. Her rear end, her throat, her insides, were torn open. My mask puffed in and out; a nettle of anger stung at my chest.

We had just let this flock out of the barn yesterday, even though radiation was still leaking down at Cookshire.

So much time spent worrying about overcrowding the sheep in the barn to protect them from fallout. We never considered a dog attack.

"Nyle?" Muncie asked. "Is the sheep dead?"


"What killed it?"

As much as I worried about radiation, Muncie and her family feared it ten times worse. We'd all hovered over our radios, listening to the reports since last week. The announcers assured us of our safety. And we all wanted to believe them. But dread wore the Harrises to the bone. They feared more for Muncie, because of her being a runt to begin with.

"Tyrus killed the sheep," I told Muncie. "Just Tyrus."

Turning away from the kill, I stood, my fists clenched, looking across the field toward the Powers property.

I heard Ripley coming before I saw him. He was yelling at his dog. That boy always yelled. Seems like he didn't know any other way of talking.

Ripley appeared through a break in the trees, looking huge, even for a fifteen-year-old. He stood on the tangled bank at the edge of his property, his legs wide apart in the weedy grass. Tyrus, with a blood-stained muzzle, fawned around Ripley's feet.

Ripley's radiation mask stretched up around his forehead. He was the only one I knew who refused to wear his mask all the time. Looking over at me and Muncie, Ripley folded his long arms across his chest.

"Tyrus kill one of your sheep?" he yelled.

"Damn right he did."

"Why don't you get yourself another guard dog?"

"Why don't you tie your dog up?" My grip tightened on the bony handles of my hips.

Ripley glared at me from across the road. Even from this distance, I could make out the droop of the lid over his bad eye. He reached up, rubbing where the mask cut into the back of his neck.

"I wish that mask would strangle him," I mumbled. "I swear, I do."

"Nyle." Muncie's voice warned me to cool down.

Muncie was right. A thirteen-year-old girl, even one as thorny as I was, had no place messing with the likes of Ripley Powers. He was too big, too strong.

But I couldn't help it. That boy sent the blood swarming in my head.

Ripley took a half step forward and tugged off his mask. He tossed the wad of gauze down the bank, into the road.

Looked like he meant to start some kind of trouble. I whistled for my dog, Caleb. Caleb's a Border collie, a herding dog, low and fast, silky black and white. With Ripley looking so threatening, I would have felt better having Caleb nearby. But he didn't come to my whistle. Must have been inside with Gran.

All I had standing beside me was Muncie. The November sun shone on Muncie Harris's straw-blond hair, the way it shines on a cabbage in the kitchen garden. She stood on her short legs, breathing hard through her radiation mask.

"Forget about Ripley," she said. "You'd better tell your grandmother about that dead ewe. She'll want to call Red Jackson right away."

Every year at town meeting the people of North Haversham elected Red Jackson as town officer. He's the one got us radiation detectors and masks after the accident.

Whenever we had a sheep kill, Red would come out to the farm, take a look at the evidence. If a dog, and not some coyote, had done the killing, the town paid us for our loss. Usually dogs went for the rear first, coyotes for the throat. Considering the condition of the sheep and the bloody mess on Tyrus's face, the dog's guilt would not be hard to prove.

I high-stepped back over the fence, out of the pasture, to stand beside Muncie. Ripley scowled across the field at us.

"Hey, Munchkin, grown any brains yet? Maybe with all this radiation in the air, you'll mutate into something normal."

I started toward him in anger but Muncie held me back.

"How much is two plus two, Munchkin?" Ripley yelled.

Muncie shifted on the uneven, tufted grass, staying me with her iron grip. I jerked my arm away, causing her to lose her balance. Muncie stumbled backward into the electric fence. Her hand brushed the hot wire.

She jumped at the sting.

Laughing, Ripley pointed at her. "Nyle Sumner, why do you hang around with that dwarf?"

The way he said it made it sound ugly.

I turned my back on him.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

Muncie tucked her right arm tight against her chest. Tears stood in her pale eyes, magnified by her glasses.

"I'm going to kill him. Just walk over there and kill him," I said, twisting around to face Ripley again.

"No, Nyle," Muncie whispered, coming up close to me. She cradled her shocked arm.

Ripley shifted a big wad of spit in his mouth and hurled it. It arched and landed in the dirt road between us. I took another step forward. Muncie's left hand reached out, this time to hold me back.

Just then Ripley's dog caught the scent of something behind him in the woods. He backed up, lifted his head, and started baying. Turning tail, he took off, vanishing between the trees. Ripley, yelling for Tyrus to come back, stomped off after him.

Anger rose up in me like spring sap. I marched toward the road, meaning to cross over.

"Forget it, Nyle."

Muncie struggled behind me, rocking on her short legs over the treacherous, sloping ground.

"You can't fight Ripley, Nyle. No one can. Forget it."

I swung around to face her. "I could--"

"He's fifteen! And twice your weight. And besides, he's a boy."

"I could fight him."

I stopped in the road to pick up the backpack I'd dropped minutes earlier. I stared at the place where Ripley and Tyrus had stood.

"This makes half a dozen sheep we've lost in one year to that dog." I beat road dust off my backpack.

"At least he killed only one this time," Muncie said.

Last May, Ripley's dog slaughtered five of our sheep in one night. That was after Birch, our old guard dog, had died.

"Tyrus won't kill any more of your sheep," Muncie said. "Red Jackson'll see to that. Come on, Nyle. Let's get home."

As we climbed the steep road, sloping pasture to one side, Ripley's woods to the other, I slowed way down, matching my pace to Muncie's. We didn't even try talking. Climbing pinched the breath right out of her.

We stopped at the fork that led to my house. Muncie's chest worked hard, trying to suck enough air in.

"Are you--coming up--to do homework?"

I usually did after chores, but Gran would need help burying the sheep. Damn that Tyrus.

"I don't know if I'll make it tonight. Probably not."

"Nyle," Muncie urged. "Whatever you do, don't mess with Ripley."

"I will if I want." But my temper had cooled some.

"You don't have to go around with me," Muncie said. "Not if it causes trouble."

I liked Muncie. Nobody else ever bothered getting to know her. They just looked at her big head, her short arms and legs, and thought they knew everything about her. Sometimes people were mean, like Ripley. I never heard her complain, though it must have galled her.

"I don't know how you stand by and suffer Ripley's insults," I said.

Behind her glasses, she lowered her blue eyes. "I just do."

I gazed over the rolling autumn fields, speckled with sheep. The mountains rose gently on either side of the valley.

"Ripley can't tell me who to be friends with," I said. "I choose my own friends. I don't give a skunk's turd what he thinks."

Muncie nodded.

After she got her wind back, she continued up the hill. Her parents rented one of Gran's houses, the one high above the back pasture, at the edge of the upper woodlot.

I waited until she waved the all clear. Then I started down my drive, hurrying to get inside and tell Gran about the sheep.

But as I passed the corner of the farmhouse, I stopped.

Something was different.

It was the curtain. The curtain to the back bedroom was closed.

We never closed that curtain, not even last week, right after the accident. We'd shut off the whole house and spent most of our time in the basement, but we hadn't shut that curtain.

On a normal day I walked past the back bedroom at least a dozen times. The curtain was never drawn. But now it hung across the window, thick and heavy, a nasty shade of green, like a four-day-old bruise.

In our house, that bedroom was the dying room. My mother died there when I was six. And two years ago my grandfather died there. I hated that room.

Backing away from the window, I turned to fill the log carrier with firewood from the shed. Humping the wood across the driveway, I banged on the kitchen door with my elbow. Gran didn't come to meet me the way she usually did.

I waited, banged again.

Then, shifting my load, I freed my fingers, twisted the doorknob, and let myself in.

PHOENIX RISING Copyright © 1994 by Karen Hesse

Meet the Author

Karen Hesse is the author of many books for young people, including Out of the Dust, winner of the Newbery Medal, Letters from Rifka, Brooklyn Bridge, Sable and Lavender. She has received honors including the Scott O'Dell Historical Fiction Award, the Christopher Award, and the MacArthur Fellowship "Genius" Award, making her only the second children's book author to receive this prestigious grant. Born in Baltimore, Hesse graduated from the University of Maryland. She and her husband Randy live in Vermont.

Karen Hesse is the author of many books for young people, including Out of the Dust, winner of the Newbery Medal, Letters from Rifka, Brooklyn Bridge, Phoenix Rising, Sable and Lavender. In addition to the Newbery, she has received honors including the Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award, the MacArthur Fellowship “Genius” Award and the Christopher Award, and was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award. Born in Baltimore, Hesse graduated from the University of Maryland. She and her husband Randy live in Vermont.

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Phoenix Rising 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i first read this when i was either in 4th or 5th grade and read it once since then but the title and the story of the book always stay with me...im now in the 10th grade and i still love the story and the characters in this book, and i recommend it for people of all ages... and even if you dont like reading like i did once upon a time, you should still read this book...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was good but very sad at the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The second I picked up this book I was so intrigued by the story. I never left this book¿ really, I never did. Karen Hesse is an outstanding writer and it shows in this book! I would read this book over and over again. I connected to the characters in such a way that I felt like I was there, standing next to them, talking to them, and doing the things they were doing. The plot is also magnificent. I loved the connection between Ezra and Nyle and the obstacles Ezra had to go through and how Nyle helped him tremendously. I may only be 12 but in this book I felt emotional and I don¿t normally read books like that, but I really connected with this book. When reading the book I also learned a lot about nuclear explosions and life back then. It taught me to be thankful for what I have knowing that someday I might lose it all. It also taught me to be grateful to my friends no matter what condition they¿re in, because you might lose them any day too. I hope when you¿re reading this book you feel the same way I did, because when you do it feels great!
Anonymous 11 months ago
She stumbles to the entrance, pucking. Her face was a hue of sickly gree
Anonymous 11 months ago
She looks around then exits, barfing.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book in 4th grade and loved it. It took me a couple of years to find again. Very sad book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A favorite book of mine growing uo
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's a riveting tale of love that left me in tears.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was in fourth grade when I first read this book. I was looking around for something to read in class, n I jist picked it up and began to pretend to read it. I dont exactly have a very big range of what I like to read, so when I started reading at first I wasnt impressed. Then I strted paying attention and imediately fell in love with the book. I read it six times that year. Then in fifth grade I wrote an essy on it and I found it so easy to write because I knew the book so well. It's one of those books where if you just give it a chanxe, you're sure to love it and its really not a book that you will forget. This book is great for all ages, just as long as the reader can understand it. I loce Karen Hesse and I absolutely love Phoenix Rising!
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kayON More than 1 year ago
I read this book first when i was in grade 5. my teacher recommended this book for a book report and i absolutely fell in love with it. I've since read this book over and over again ever since. What I absolutely love about this book are the characters as well as the story. they both mesh so well together and make you actually think about life. This is not some light read. This book really delves into the subject of "what if" so to speak and makes us think about what we take for granted. The air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and so much more. I definitely recommend this book to everyone and especially for group readings.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I first read this book when I was in fifth grade, back in 1998. It's been my favorite book ever since and I'm now in college. I even wrote an essay on Phoenix Rising when I was in tenth grade. I highly recommend this book to anyone, no matter what age you are. It's a great book that speaks of friendship and trust in times of need. It also shows how people can come together during a time of hardship.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Thsi is such a good book!! I've read it maybe 5 times and it never gets old! Karen Hess is a great author, my 5th grade teacher suggested it to me and I loved it!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was very good. i had to read this book in english class and lean about the hard times. death and friendship. Nyle. Muncie, Ezra and Ripley were very well described and i loved the was Karen Hesse made you feel like you were there at that moument. The book was enjoyable to read and it taught me a life lesson to live every day as your last and don't take things for granted.!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I read it for Reading Olympics but i loved it. I was sitting on my bed when i finished it and when i looks domn at my sleeves they were soaked with tears. Don't read this with mascara on it is definitly a sad book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Karen Hesse decribes a touching story of a teenage girl named Nyle, and Ezra, a sickly boy of similar age. Ezra and his mother used to live nearby a nearby a nuclear power plant in south Boston. When the plant explodes, radiation takes the lives of many innocent people, including Ezra's father. Ezra and his mother become deathly ill, and many of the people turn their backs upon the ill. Nyle, who lives with her grandmother, learns of all the hardships caused by radiation when her grandmother decides to allow Ezra and his mother to stay at their house for care. I liked this novel because the message given was deep and powerful. Hesse did an excellent job describing all the hardships Nyle faced when forced to care for Ezra. This book is an excellent choice for young adults to read, for it shows you to look at things from someone else's perspective, in someone else's shoes. And when you read this, put yourself in Nyle's shoes, and you will really and truly understand the novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I CRIED! When I picked it up I thought it looked okay, but not something I would love. Its a good book, that makes you want to laugh, cry, and yell viciously out at the characters. I love it- it makes you want to really start living.
Guest More than 1 year ago
if you are studying similies this is the perfect book to read! Karen Hesse has it packed with similies! there a some examples of personification and metaphors also! this book has to be by far very touching!