Recently, I was talking with two friends about a YA book I had recommended. Neither of them connected with the book, though they had enjoyed other books I'd recommended before in the past. I couldn't explain exactly what I had liked about the book because it had been several years since I'd read it. So, I headed for the library to check it out.
The book was Hope Was Here, but Joan Bauer. The book is recommended for ages 12 and up (7th grade). I have found with other books by Ms. Bauer that I usually think the recommended age should be two years above what it is. The story is about a teenage girl named Hope. The story begins with her traveling to Minnesota with her Aunt Addie, who is essentially her mom. They are leaving their restaurant where her aunt was cook and she was a waitress. Addie's partner stole their money and they were forced to close up shop. The story follows Hope's journey in this new place. Much of the story centers around G.T. (the owner of the restaurant where they go to work) and his campaign for mayor of the small town where they live.
Yesterday, I sat down and reread the book, seeking to understand what had made me like it in the first place. My friends' main comment was that they couldn't connect to the story. As soon as I read the first page, I knew why I had like it. The main character Hope reminds me of my best friend from high school. She lived a life that had commonalities with Hope's. She was even a hostess and waitress, like Hope. My friend was an independent, no nonsense girl. She wasn't a super emotional girl, but was extremely level headed and took care of herself. Her relationship with her mom, stepdads, father, brother, and other extended family members were similar as well. Even the advice about waitressing that Hope shares over the course of the book is advice that I can imagine my friend giving to new waitresses.
The mentality that Hope has about being responsible for herself and making her own way, yet being thankful for the roof over her head and food on the table is one my friend shared. I find that in many books teenagers are portrayed in extremes. Either they are coddled and totally dependent on parents, or they are neglected by parents and have to scrape by. But, some teens do have a family member who steps in and cares for them--when they are abandoned by their parents like Hope is in this story. Hope recognizes that she has always longed for a father, but she's thankful to not be completely abandoned and adrift. She has only seen her mom 3 times prior to this book in her lifetime. Every visit is a bittersweet reminder of the blessing of her Aunt Addie's love.
Hope doesn't talk to Addie about what she's trying to understand about the world, but neither did I nor any of my friends when we were teenagers. On the other hand, the relationship I have with my daughters is completely different. We talk about everything and when they're trying to understand something they talk to me in a way that I didn't talk to my parents when I was in middle school.
So, why do I like this book?
First, I resonate with it. I was independent and making decisions like Hope did in high school. I had a part-time job from the time I was 14 years old on. I applied for the jobs myself and my parents didn't have a hand in me getting the jobs or in even suggesting that I apply where I did. Secondly, until I had children, I was not particularly emotional. I was pretty matter of fact about life--just like Hope--and like my friends in high school. Third, this book conveys the importance of voting to teens. I want my children to vote and to value voting. This book has some unexpected twists and turns that could feed cynicism, but instead it dispels them because the good guys win out. Lastly, this book reminds me of my best friend and why I respect her so much. She was the one who taught me what loyalty means--when she called me very single day from several states away while I was pregnant, very sick, and my husband was deployed overseas. No one else did that. In fact, no one else called. But, she did. She cared--just like Hope cared.
Joan Bauer is one of the better YA fiction writers in my opinion. That's not a blanket recommendation to read all of her books--I posted earlier about Almost Home and a recommendation for teens not to read it until high school. But, I like this book. It was a Newberry Honor Book and I can understand why. It isn't gushy and filled with romance. It's not filled with vampires and darkness either.
Ironically, I think this book would be a great discussion starter for Christian teens. Hope chose her name because she wanted a name that meant something. Is she a Christian? What makes you think she is or isn't? What is her definition of "hope"? What is a Christians' definition of "hope"? Are they the same thing? At the end of the book, she gets something she desperately had wanted. Did she know that this was what she wanted at the beginning of the book? How is she changed by getting what she wants? Compare/Contrast this book with Son and the morals of the two books. In Son, by Lois Lowry, the moral is that you already have what you really need--what you wish for may not be what you really want. On the other hand, in Hope Was Here, the moral (I think) is that getting what you really want will change you--for the better. It will fulfill you. Which book do you agree with?
So, those are my thoughts. Reading Hope Was Here was like putting on my Vans for me--it reminds me of who I am and where I come from.