Study Guide

If Only

By Carole Geithner

If Only Introduction

When you Google an author, what do you expect to see? Pictures of them sitting at computers? The writer surrounded by piles of books? How about photos of them in fancy gowns attending major political events? Because if you Google Carole Geithner, the author of If Only, that's exactly what you'll find. Her husband, after all, is former Secretary of the Treasury of the United States.

Need to check this out for yourself? We'll wait while you get to Googling.

Okay, ready to continue?

Famous and important husbands aside, Geithner's 2012 book stands on its own. See, Geithner's spent more than twenty years as a clinical social worker. Having lost her own mom when she was twenty-five, Geithner began doing grief work with kids who lost parents. And the combination of these experiences is how she came to write If Only, the story of a thirteen-year-old girl named Corinna, who loses her mom right before eighth grade starts.

This middle-grade novel could easily be a giant bummer, and in some ways, it is. After all, Sophie Burdette died in the living room, and when she did, she left her husband and only child to fend for themselves. It's majorly sad stuff, and Corinna tells us about her pain in every chapter. However, the book isn't only bleak, and there are some genuinely funny moments along the way. We won't spoil anything for you if we say that one of these moments prominently features an exploding toilet.

When it comes to grieving, Geithner's seen it all—both in her own life, and as a counselor. So grab a box of tissues and get ready to read this very real tale of one young girl's struggle to navigate losing her mother.

What is If Only About and Why Should I Care?

We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but if you don't know anyone who's died, you will someday. It might be a relative; it might be a friend; it might be a hamster—no matter what, though, it's probably going to hurt.

Maybe you've been unscathed so far, but you probably know someone else who's lost a loved one. Nobody wants to think about it (well, unless you're getting paid to be a grief counselor), but kids lose parents every day. If it happens to a kid you know, we hope you won't be as clueless as Corinna's friends. (Pro tip: Don't walk past cemeteries with them and talk about ghosts.) And if it happens (or has happened) to you, well, we're really sorry for your loss.

The hardest thing about comforting someone who's grieving is the knowledge that you can't fix it. It's not like you can say, "Oh hey, sorry about your dead mom, but I'm sure she'll come back." You also can't tell the person to cheer up, or expect that they will any time soon. Corinna's story, however, will give you a few ideas for things you can say if you don't want to sound like a total tool.

It'll also clue you into the fact that everyone else is making baked ziti for the grieving family. And Jell-O salad and marinara-based foodstuffs? Yeah, they're bad news. Cupcakes, though, are all good. But we probably didn't have to tell you that. Cupcakes are always good—nobody has to die for it to be cupcake time.

If Only Resources


Geithner's Author Site
Send a message to Corinna or write your own "I AM" poem here.

And Her Husband is the Treasury Secretary!
Geithner was finishing If Only while her husband, Timothy Geithner, was trying to save the U.S. economy. Dinner conversation must have been interesting at their house…

Make Some Baked Ziti While You're at It
We hope you never have to make a post-funeral dish, but if you do, here's how to whip up some baked ziti.

What to Say When a Friend is Grieving
Here are a few tips from PBS Kids on how to help a friend deal with a death in the family. It's okay—you don't have to invite them to your country club.

Articles and Interviews

Kidsreads Author Interview
Geithner explains to Kidsreads that "grieving kids are kids first, grievers second," and why she made Corinna thirteen-years-old.

The Muse Interview
The Muse asks Carole Geithner what advice she'd give to her younger self.


What (Not) to Say
Geithner joins Book Girl to talk about If Only and comforting the bereaved.

How to Comfort a Grieving Teen
High school student Bridget Park, in a Tedx Talk at the University of Nevada, tells us what she needed to hear following her brother's death.

Death of a Parent
Geithner discusses her own mother's death on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show.


Oh, Just Hangin' Out with President Obama
Here's Geithner with President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden the day her husband was sworn in as Secretary of the Treasury.

… After Which You Totally Need a Cup of Coffee
Here's Geithner in a decidedly more low-key setting—a diner.