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Hope Yancey, née "Tulip," knows first-hand about survival. And she'll be the first one to tell you.
I was born too early and much too small (two pounds and 5 ounces). For the first month of my life I kept gasping for air, like I couldn't get the hang of breathing. […] The doctors didn't think I would make it. Shows what they know. My mother didn't want the responsibility of a baby, so she left me with Addie, her older sister, and went off to live her own life. (5)
That's what Hope does: survive. Through change after change, move after move, disappointment after disappointment, she keeps on keepin' on. She more than survives, though—she thrives. She grows up to become a kind, brave, hard-working, compassionate, forgiving young woman who manages to maintain a sense of self throughout a life filled with changes. When she's 12 years old, she decides her name should be "Hope." It fits.
We meet Hope at 16, when she's forced to uproot her life once again and move to a new home. She does what she always does:
I took out my blue pen and wrote HOPE WAS HERE in tiny letters on one of the boards. Hope is my name. Whenever I leave a place I write this real small someplace significant just to make the statement that I've been there and made an impact. […] It's one of the ways I say good-bye to a place. I've had tons of practice doing that. (3)
Right off the bat, we learn two important things about this young woman. First, she's had more changes in her life than any kid should have. Second, it hasn't beaten her down. She still feels she can make an impact wherever she goes. That inner strength, we'll learn, is what keeps her going.
Hope says that boxing saved her life, but it really seems as if her life has been one long boxing match. The poor girl has been thrown in the ring with some pretty tough opponents over the past sixteen years. But one look back at her glory days proves that this young lady knows how to take a punch (or two...or ten).
Round 1: Hope's mother walks out on her while she's still fighting for her life in the infant intensive care unit.
Round 2: She's made more moves than a fleet of U-Haul trucks and has had to leave friends behind "in three time zones in America" (9).
Round 3: After pretending to be Hope's friend and acting like he genuinely cared about her, Gleason Beal—part-owner of the Blue Box Diner—walks out on her and Addie after helping himself to a giant portion of the business' bank account.
Round 4: Hope is forced to leave her waitressing job at the Blue Box and her life in the place she's loved most so far.
You might expect someone who's been knocked down so frequently in the boxing ring of life to be an angry, bitter young woman who wallows in self-pity, but not Hope Yancey. She clearly means it when she says,
"[Y]ou've got to keep a world view, you can't just live like you're the only person on the planet who matters." (8)
Her aunt Addie helps her keep a strong sense of who she is—not only by being a constant presence in Hope's life, but by letting her know that no matter how many times she moves, she's still Hope.
I've got my eleven scrapbooks of most of the places I've lived, complete with photographs and all my significant comments about people, places, and food. Addie says it's easy to go to a new place and feel like you don't have a history, so you have to lug your history around with you or it's too easy to forget. (8)
Despite all the disappointment she's faced, Hope's an optimist. She has no idea who or where her biological father is, but she holds onto the notion that one day soon he's going to show up out of the blue and whisk her away to the land of perfect families.
What's most impressive about this hard-working 16-year-old is the amount of inner strength she possesses and how it seems to overflow into the lives of those who need it most. G.T. sums it up best when he says
"Hope, I want you to know how much your strength supported me these many months. You've got an inner courage that is a powerful thing to witness." (163)
This means a lot coming from a man who has more courage than the Lion does at the end of The Wizard of Oz.
It's no secret that Hope's been dreaming about a well-dressed guy with a great smile and a thick head of hair. The one who drives a Jaguar to the office, where he spends nine-hour days sitting behind a desk in a green leather chair, working on business deals that require him to travel all over the world. He's the kind of guy who always finds time for his girl, though, and knows just what to say at just the right time.
The man, of course, is the father that lives in Hope's mind and on the pages of her scrapbooks. She holds onto the notion that he'll show up one day to fill the void in her heart with his unwavering love and devotion.
And he does…he just looks a whole lot different in person, and it takes Hope a little while to recognize him.
G.T.'s got "a toothpick in his mouth and a mess of eggs on the grill" (23) when Hope meets him for the first time. He's bald, he drives a truck, and he wears an apron to work every day. He looks nothing like "the dads" pictured in the magazine clippings that Hope's compiled over the years, but it's hard to know what "steadfastness" looks like. It is, after all, "the best trait for a father" according to Hope.
Despite her growing fondness of G.T., a man she considers to be "one of the finest men on this planet" (112), it's not until he and Addie decide to get married that Hope even allows herself to think about him as a possible father. When he asks her if he can adopt her, her dream has come true. That's corny, but totally accurate.
She looks back at "The Dads" section of her scrapbook and admits that,
A skinny bald guy in remission would not have made it into this collection. But G.T. was better than all these trench-coated fantasy fathers put together. (157)
Hope gets right on with it:
I piled all my scrapbooks on the desk in the back office in chronological order. My heart was beating so hard and happy I could hardly stand it.
"These are all my significant life moments, G.T. You want the in-depth tour or the Cliff's Notes version?"
He sat in a chair, "I don't want to miss a thing."
That's exactly what a father should say. (171)
The father of her dreams may not have shown up in a Jaguar, but the pick-up truck he's driving is headed exactly where she has always wanted to go—home to a loving family and a father who always has time for her.
There's another great guy in Hope's life but it's difficult to tell if Hope is attracted to Braverman when they meet for the first time. Initially, she gives Braverman a 6.7 on her friend's "male cuteness scale," but as he wows her with his yo-yo tricks and ability to juggle potatoes, Hope begins to see him in a whole new light. After all, who could possibly resist a tall, handsome man with a skillset worthy of early admission into clown college?
All jokes aside, Braverman's able to make Hope smile and to see the lighter side of life. He makes her laugh, even when it's at her own expense, and shows her how to use humor as a means for coping with the people (make that person) who make her miserable. Toss in a few meaningful compliments about her waitressing skills and she's all his.
When Hope admits how anxious she is about her mother coming to visit, Braverman suggests the diner as a meeting place so her mother can watch her work. This tug at her heartstring prompts Hope to reveal the most embarrassing detail of her life: her real name. Braverman cracks up when Hope blurts out, "She named me Tulip" (136), and soon finds herself laughing about it for the first time in her life.
Braverman's bag of tricks saves the day when Deena actually shows up at the diner. Hope's on the verge of tears within minutes of her mother's arrival and runs into the kitchen so she doesn't lose it in front of her. Braverman's able to turn Hope's frown upside-down by putting on a red clown nose, and in no time Hope's laughing again.
The laughs don't end there, though. Braverman hands the clown nose to Hope and tells her to wear it, which she does for the rest of her shift. It transforms her into Happy the Waitress and suddenly everyone in the diner, even Deena, is smiling as Hope twirls her way through the lunch-time crowd.
Hope keeps her feelings about Braverman under wraps, or so she thinks. Jillian's noticed that, "you have this force connecting you. It's under the surface but it runs deep" (93).
Hope immediately springs into her "I don't date people I work with…" spiel, but her heart is thumping a mile a minute as she says it.
I didn't tell her the truth—that, just maybe, I'd like to go out with him, but I hadn't let myself go there. I'd only had one boyfriend, Bobby Ray Goshen from Pensacola, but he was part-time. He cheated on me. (94)
Jillian's not buying Hope's excuse and Hope's not sure she's buying it either.
The truth's eventually revealed when Hope learns that Braverman's been beaten up. She calls his house, but Braverman's mom says he's asleep. She calls Jillian next and as soon as her friend answers the phone Hope starts bawling like a baby. She's baffled by her own reaction—she's not usually a crier—but Jillian gets it. She spells it out for Hope in four easy words: "You care for him," but even then, Hope's not ready to admit it. "We all do," she replies, but Jillian persists and Hope is forced to admit (just not out loud) that she does indeed care for Braverman, and in a different way than everyone else does.
When Braverman finally asks Hope out, the calm, cool, collected young woman turns into the Cowardly Lion and walks away without ever giving the poor guy an answer. It's one of the few times in the entire novel where Hope comes completely unraveled; she even drops a bottle of mustard on the floor.
But in usual Hope fashion, she finds the courage to tell Braverman the truth:
"I need to tell you that I would love to go out with you, Braverman, but I'm scared to do it. That's why I acted like a jerk when you asked me." (150)
Braverman not only gives her a second chance, but sets up an impromptu practice date right there in the diner to make her feel more at ease. He makes pork-chop sandwiches and decorates the table with flowers and candles.
I might as well have been in a prom dress, I felt so special. (152)
Love, actually, was all around her. She just had to let it in. Is there nothing that love and a good pork-chop sandwich can't conquer?