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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

'Hope Was Here' by Joan Bauer

From the BLURB:

One new life, coming right up. Hope's used to thinking on her feet - she hasn't become a terrific waitress by accident. But when she and her aunt move from New York City to a small town in Wisconsin to run the local diner, she isn't sure she'll fit in. Luckily, she doesn't have much time to brood. G.T., the owner, has decided to run for mayor, an no one in town knows what to think. After all, G.T. has leukemia. And his opponent is the unscrupulous current mayor, who will do or say anything to win the election. Hope knows that G.T. is up against the odds=but his visiton of the future is so vivid and good that she can't help but join the campaign. Because, after all, everyone could use a little hope to get through the touch times. Even Hope herself.

Hope’s mother was meant to be a waitress more than a parent. That’s why after Hope was born prematurely, she left Hope with her aunt Addie and never looked back (though she does send Christmas newsletters). Just about the only thing Hope’s biological mother left her was a bad name (Tulip) which she has had legally changed… plus a talent for waitressing, and frequent tips on how to get good tips.

Addie has been the best mother a girl could ask for. Her pancakes are legendary, her pies are criminal and her meatloaf is drool-worthy. It’s Addie’s job to show up at diners that need help, get them back on their feet and then take off for parts unknown again.  Which means she has dragged Hope and a U-Haul all around America – and Hope has made friends and said goodbye to them in countless states, always leaving behind the scribbled words ‘Hope was Here’ in some unassuming place.

Now Addie and Hope are coming to Wisconsin, to help out a man called G.T. - owner of the “Welcome Stairways” diner who has recently been diagnosed with leukaemia, and needs a helping hand to keep the restaurant going while he recovers.

But that’s not all G.T. needs help with. He figures that since he’s dying, he has nothing to lose – so he’s taking on the local mayor, Eli Millstone, and the big business Dairy factory and running for local candidacy. G.T. intends to take on the corruption that is rife in town, bring down the tax-evading dairy factory, and Eli who is lining his pockets with dirty dealings.

Helping G.T. accomplish his clean political campaign is young cook, Braverman, who Hope develops a small fascination with. Local pastor and best friend, high school politician called Adam and a slew of small-town customers.

Hope isn’t really used to permanency, or trusting people. But since coming to Wisconsin and seeing the integrity with which G.T. is trying to win a hopeless campaign … well, it’s got Hope trying to live up to her very big name.

‘Hope Was Here’ is a NewberyHonor book, written by Joan Bauer in 2000.

 ‘Hope Was Here’ is continuing my love of Newbery Honor books, another sweet gem of the middle-grade readership that I gobbled up in one train ride. The book begins with sixteen-year-old Hope leaving New York behind and heading out to Wisconsin with her adopted mother, Addie, for yet another new food adventure. But when we meet her, Hope is becoming weary of the road and her and Addie’s always-changing homes. Hope is feeling particularly disgruntled at this latest move, because it came after their NY diner business partner, Gleason Beal, took off with another waitress and all of Addie’s life savings.

Hope is a most interesting character; because when we meet her life has already beaten her down and moulded her some. She admits that it took a short boxing career to punch out her built-up anger at her mother; anger for leaving her as a sick baby, anger for not being the mothering type, anger for still calling her ‘Tulip’ when she changed her name to Hope. After the Gleason Beal debacle, Hope is both saddened but not all that surprised at the betrayal. Here we are meeting a kid who is already world-weary, and if it wasn’t for Addie being her constant and comfort, she would have a completely negative outlook on life.

What kinds of kids live in Mulhoney, Wisconsin? 
Would they like me? 
Would I like them? 
Have they ever eaten suhi? 
That’s usually how I determine food sophistication. Maybe a personal ad would get the ball rolling. 
Insightful, hardworking 16-year-old girl, emotionally generous and witty, seeks friend/pal/chum to wile away meaningful hours. Picky eaters need not reply.

Hope’s low-expectations of people are confounded by her having to leave the best ones behind. She finds that making friends is the first step to accepting a new place as home, but having had to leave so many people she loves behind, she has taken to not making promises of seeing them ever again (though she does write them). When we meet her in Wisconsin, she’s really feeling down and out;

When does the magic hit in a new place and you suddenly fit in?

So, of course, the stickler of ‘Hope Was Here’ is reading Hope change her outlook on life, and try living up to her name. The journey Hope has to go on has an obvious end-result, but it’s the way Joan Bauer gets her there that’s so darn great.

When Hope and Addie arrive at the “Welcome Stairways” diner, they don’t realise they’re stepping into brewing political warfare. Diner owner, G.T. is dying and intends to fight against small town corruption with his last breath. He is the embodiment of everything Hope isn’t right now – he may not be a permanent fixture of this earth for much longer, but he’s intending to do the most he can with what little time he has left. He can’t promise people that he’ll even be able to complete a full term if elected, but he can show them that he intends to do the best job he can for however long this illness he’s battling will let him.

I loved this book. Hope is an exceptional narrator – I sort of see her as this girl who’s fighting a grin, so sometimes it looks like she has pursed-lips from sucking on sour grapes so long, but really that grimace is just a smile waiting to break out.  Her thoughts sometimes turn dark – when she thinks about the mother that didn’t want her, or the people she has had to leave behind – but her namesake is often bigger than her woes and she’s this girl who is constantly breaking out in sunshine, despite the rain. I loved her. And I think she’s the main reason that, despite being a 16-year-old narrator, Joan Bauer’s ‘Hope Was Here' is a proud middle-grade book.

This one also had me crying buckets by the end – as much for the story as to be leaving behind this cast of characters who I so enjoyed spending a little bit of time with.

This is a beautiful, heartfelt book that asks big life questions in a small-town setting. Hope is one of the best narrators, and Joan Bauer’s book is being added to my list of favourite Newbery’s.



  1. I read this book a few years ago, and I remember really enjoying it. I'm glad you liked it! Great review!

  2. AWESOME REVIEW! :D Here's mine if you don't mind:

    Thanks and have a nice day!


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