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When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
Or better yet, lemon meringue pie.
Or, if you're Hope Yancey, make a smoked turkey and mozzarella sandwich with all the fixings. Call it the "Keep Hoping" and watch it become an instant best-seller the minute it's added to the menu.
Joan Bauer's 2000 novel Hope Was Here is about one teenager's quest for a permanent place to call home, long-lasting friendships, and a father—none of which are easy to find when you're forced to move from one city to another before you've had a chance to unpack your stuff.
Sixteen-year-old Hope is on the move again, this time to rural Wisconsin. She and her aunt Addie—who's been raising Hope since her mother left right after she was born—have been hired to help the ailing G.T. Stoop run the Welcome Stairways diner. Hope's expecting very little from the little town of Mulhoney, but things really start cooking when G.T. decides to challenge the corrupt mayor in the upcoming election. Big changes are in store for the small town and the lives of its two newest residents: one extraordinary teenage waitress and one top-notch chef.
It's no surprise that a story set largely in a diner is full of food talk. Customers drool over Addie's butterscotch cream pie and line up for her marinated flank steak. What's surprising, however, are the serious issues facing the characters in Hope Was Here. There's cancer, abandonment, betrayal, political corruption—heavy stuff for a young-adult novel.
But Joan Bauer has found the perfect recipe for combining the two and it's probably what earned her the Newbery Honor and the Christopher Award. She mixes the tough stuff with humor and a lighthearted approach and dishes it out to characters who can take it. After all, when you change your name to Hope at the age of twelve, you know you're thinking that better times have got to be ahead.
Bauer's written a dozen young-adult novels and they're all pretty similar when it comes to plot, theme, style, and even design. If there's a picture of a puppy, a pumpkin, or a jean-clad teenage girl on the cover, there's a good chance it's one of Bauer's books. But don't be fooled into thinking that life is nothing more than fluffy pink frosting for the characters in Hope Was Here. They all experience tough times. But rather than sink like an undercooked soufflé, each one of them rises and grows stronger as a result.
We'll admit it...many of the characters in Hope Was Here are as sweet as blueberry pie. What makes this book special, though, is that these same characters could have easily turned into sour grapes after all they've been through.
Let's start with Hope.
Her mother bails on her right after she's born. She has no idea who or where her father is but she never stops believing that he's out there searching for her. (Is that Journey we hear singing in the background?) She even keeps a scrapbook of her life to share with him when he does show up. And while she's grateful for the love and support of her aunt Addie, Hope has to move every time Addie starts a new job—which she does a lot. By the time she's 14, Hope has left friends behind in five different states and has changed schools six times.
Despite all the rotten tomatoes that have been thrown her way, Hope is kind, caring, and compassionate. She's able to recognize and reach out to others who are going through tough times and has a knack for offering just the right amount of support. She's got a quiet confidence and inner strength at sixteen that many adults never achieve. She's the kind of person we'd team up with if we were on Survivor.
Speaking of survivors, we can't forget the owner of the Welcome Stairways diner, the one and only G.T. Stoop. He's just finished his first round of chemo for leukemia, but it doesn't stop him from whipping up a batch of cinnamon-apple pancakes at 6:30 in the morning, entertaining the customers at the diner, or running for mayor. He's the only one in town brave enough to challenge the corrupt Eli Millstone, who has run unopposed for the past eight years. When G.T.'s customers question his motives, he calmly replies, "I'm more interested in living than in dying. And I want to bring as much healthy change into this town as I can before I go" (37). What a guy.
Because characters like Hope and G.T. have had to develop the strength to deal with their own challenges, they've got the guts to take on the status quo even though they know it won't be easy. Bauer's message goes beyond just telling us that we can dig down and find the strength to deal with our own personal changes and disappointments. It shows us how we can use that personal strength to change the world—or at least our little corner of it.
Here's Joan Bauer's own website, complete with bibliography, bio, and blog.
American Diner Museum
For a brief history of the American diner, visit this virtual museum. Its mission is "to save the vintage diners that are in danger of distinction."
"A Life Devoted to the American Diner"
Diner enthusiast and curator Richard Gutman shares his passion for all things diner-related in this article posted on Smithsonian.org.
Leukemia Explained Without the "Doctor Speak"
KidsHealth offers parents, teens, and younger children clear-cut information on complex medical issues.
"It's the Quality, Not the Quantity, of the Milk" That Counts
The same Wisconsin-based company known for its mammoth cheese wheels reveals the secrets to its award-winning cheddar in this four-minute journey through the cheese-making process.
Live From New York...It's Joan Bauer!
Sponsored by the New York Public Library, this transcript of a live chat with the author includes her interesting response to the question, "What's the best advice anyone has ever given you?"
Two Yums Up
Publisher's Weekly called the book "comfort food" in this review.
"I Was a Punk"
Bauer describes her younger self as a "[...] punk who loved to read" in this frank and honest video interview.
Get This Girl an Agent!
This "book talk" video posted by the Blackburn Library at Friends' Central school in Pennsylvania features a very articulate young lady discussing the virtues of Hope Was Here. It's sweet!
This Gives Slapstick a Whole New Meaning
The sound effects in this video "book report" will slap you silly.
The Original Face of Hope Was Here
When the novel was first published in 2000, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City stood tall in the background of the cover illustration.
Hope Was Here Gets a Facelift
In 2005 (four years after 9/11) the book was re-released with an updated cover. The New York City skyline was replaced with a photograph of a half-eaten apple pie.
On the Road Again
According to this map, Hope and Addie travel close to 800 miles to reach Wisconsin from New York City, roughly 14 hours by car. That's a lot of time to spend behind the wheel of a Buick (especially without a cell phone or a built-in DVD player).
A Street in a Small Town Somewhere in Wisconsin
A glimpse of High Street in the real small town of Mineral Point, WI, makes it easy to imagine what the fictional town of Mulhoney looks like.
A Diner in a Small Town Somewhere in Wisconsin
The Red Rooster Café in Mineral Point, WI, is a family-owned restaurant noted for its breakfasts and original desserts. It would be the perfect place to film Hope Was Here if it ever makes it to the big screen.