If Only Summary
Thirteen-year-old Corinna Burdette has just lost her mom. Sophie was a viola player, music teacher, and all-around great mom; people loved her and she didn't do anything wrong. So why, Corinna wonders, did Sophie deserve to die?
To make matters worse, the first day of eighth grade is just two weeks after the funeral. Corinna hasn't talked to her best friend Joci since Sophie died, and she's a little hurt (okay, a lot hurt) that Joci hasn't called.
On the first day of school, she arrives to see the other kids' moms dropping them off, and she just knows that she's going to be the class freak and/or pity project. Instead, though, most of the other kids pretend nothing's changed. The only person who acknowledges that Corinna's mom has died is her soccer coach, who tells the team they need to support her.
Shortly thereafter, another eighth-grade soccer player named Clare sends Corinna an instant message. She tells Corinna her own father died three years ago, and the two girls become close friends.
Other than Clare, there are exactly three bright spots in Corinna's life: the grief group started by Ms. DuBoise, the school counselor; her sewing class with a cool, artsy teacher named Ms. Carey; and her raging crush on Alex, a fellow member of the school band.
In general, though, things are pretty rough. Her dad's so wrapped up in his own grief that he can't get it together to buy Corinna the new clothes she desperately needs, her social studies teacher is a jerk, her long-awaited period refuses to start, and forget about getting boobs. But because she has Clare, Ms. Carey, Mrs. DuBoise, and her sympathetic English teacher, Miss Beatty, she manages to survive the school year.
When Alex kisses her at the school dance and her dad announces they're going to take the trip to Japan they were planning before Sophie died, things get significantly better for Corinna. She and Joci reconcile, albeit warily, which also helps. But it's when she goes to Kyoto and meets her mom's former host sister, Aiko, that Corinna finally starts to find real inner peace. Aiko teaches her the Japanese tradition of making a shrine for the dead, and it helps Corinna turn a corner.
Corinna returns to school at the start of ninth grade determined to find a life outside her grief. She'll never forget her mom, but she thinks it would be okay with Sophie if she went ahead and enjoyed herself a little. Thus begins what will hopefully be a relatively normal adolescence, complete with boobs, periods, and hopefully, more kisses from Alex.
Part One: Contents / Chapter 1
Colors of Me
- Corinna describes the last year of her life in colors.
- Fall was black; winter was gray with black blobs; spring was varying shades of blue, some almost black. Summer was more like a multicolored bruise, with yellow and purple mixed in.
- It's an analogy for her grief in the year after her mother died.
- Corinna's standing outside her house in Bethesda, Maryland with her mom's best friend, Deborah Rollins.
- Deborah gives her a gift wrapped in bug wrapping paper. Corinna opens it, and it's a fuzzy pink journal.
- Deborah mentions Anne Frank's diary, and how writing in it it helped Anne.
- Corinna notes that Anne Frank didn't survive, but Deborah says that Corinna will.
- It's two days until school starts, and Corinna's not looking forward to it. How do you go back to school after your mom dies?
- When Deborah leaves, Corinna hops on her bike, rides to a bookstore, and buys a brown suede journal, which isn't babyish like a fuzzy pink one.
- She names her journal Suki, because it sounds Japanese.
- Back at home, she calls her mom's number and listens to the voice mail message.
Part Two: Fall / Chapter 3
- It's the first day of eighth grade at Westhaven Middle School, and Corinna has to endure seeing moms say goodbye to their daughters as they drop them off.
- Corinna's nervous, because not everybody knows her mom died over the summer.
- The first day of school used to be fun, but now she just feels like she's dragging herself through it.
- She also used to dress up, but today she's just wearing an old t-shirt and jean skirt.
- The class "queen bee," Beth, comes up to Corinna in the hallway and invites Corinna to lunch at her family's country club. They've never hung out before. It's nice, but definitely misguided.
- Corinna looks around for her best friend, Jocelyn, or Joci. They used to talk about everything, but Corinna hasn't heard from Joci for several weeks, and they don't have any morning classes together.
- In fourth period English, Corinna's teacher, Miss B.B. Beatty, whom everyone calls Miss Boppity Bop, offers her condolences. She's the first person to acknowledge Corinna's mom's death all day.
- Miss Beatty assigns homework: Write about the highlight of your summer. Smooth move, Boppity Bop.
- Finally, at lunch, Corinna sees Joci—she's sitting with their friends Olivia, Juliette, and Eliana.
- Corinna sits with them, and everybody talks about teachers and pretends everything is normal, but after lunch, Corinna hears other kids talking about her, though they get quiet as she walks by.
- That night, over a dinner of canned chili, Corinna and her dad are both exhausted. Her dad's a high school teacher, and he's also struggled through the first day of school.
- They head to bed early, but before she goes to sleep, Corinna writes her essay. She titles it "The Day That Led to the Longest and Worst Summer of My Life"—it's about April Fools' Day, when she found out her mom had cancer.
- Afterward, she takes a bubble bath and remembers her last birthday party before her mom got sick.
- The next morning at school, Joci comes running up to Corinna and asks why Corinna didn't answer her phone last night.
- Corinna says she was tired, and Joci says they need to have "a major catch-up session."
- Corinna is less than enthusiastic, and Joci reminds her that best friends share everything—but Corinna doesn't answer; she just heads off to class.
- In English class, Miss Beatty asks for volunteers to read their assignments. Kids read about the usual vacation-y stuff; Corinna doesn't volunteer, obviously.
- After school, Corinna has soccer practice, and it feels good to kick something.
- Coach Montgomery gathers the girls around after practice and tells them Corinna's mom died over the summer and that they need to be supportive. Corinna thinks she's glad he said something, but it feels pretty intense, and she starts crying as soon as she gets into her dad's car.
- When they sit down to dinner, Corinna asks her dad what's going to happen now that it's just the two of them. He hugs her and says it's not going to be easy, and it might take a while, but they'll be okay.
- However, things definitely aren't okay the next morning at school. Corinna gets called into the office, where one of the secretaries (whom the students call Norma the Storma) asks if her mother sent in her proof-of-residency form.
- The other secretary has to explain to Norma that "there is no mother." Hey there, clueless adults…
- That evening, Corinna calls Joci and tells her the whole story.
- Joci says she knows how Corinna feels, because those secretaries are creepy, but of course Joci has no idea how she feels.
- Joci changes the subject and talks about her new, cute tennis coach. Corinna just wants to get off the phone and have it be the weekend.
- The next morning, the doorbell rings, and when Corinna answers, she sees a cupcake box on the steps. It's a single cupcake from Georgetown bakery, with a candy heart embedded in the frosting. On the heart are the letters BFF.
- Corinna assumes it's from Joci, and she wonders if things will ever be normal between them again.
- You know how when you're trying not to think about something, there are suddenly references to it everywhere? That's how it is with Corinna and mothers.
- People at school keep mentioning them, like asking at lunch whose mom is picking everybody up after talent-show auditions. Almost nobody mentions dads. It's like dads don't even exist.
- Fortunately, Corinna has Joci, who's managing to be a decent friend despite her general cluelessness.
- One thing Joci is clueless about is the talent show.
- She's choreographing a dance with Juliette, and though Corinna chose not to audition with them, she still feels left out, and Joci won't stop talking about the show in front of her.
- The one bright spot in Corinna's day is soccer. She's on her way to practice one afternoon when the new guidance counselor, Cynthia DuBoise, stops her at the water fountain to say Corinna can talk to her anytime.
- Corinna gets through practice, but afterward she goes home and screams into her pillow. It's hard work trying to keep everything together.
- When she and her dad finally go grocery shopping that weekend, they're out of everything—it's the first time they've done a major shopping trip since her mom died.
- Seeing all her mom's favorite products is pretty awful. Corinna holds her breath when she sees the coffee yogurt and Kashi cereal.
- That night they make sausage and salad, and Corinna remembers how her mom liked to experiment in the kitchen.
- The doorbell rings. It's Deborah, Corinna's mom's best friend, the one who gave her the fuzzy pink journal.
- There's an awkward exchange in which Deborah says Corinna must miss her mom a lot (duh). Corinna's dad invites Deborah in for coffee, and Corinna goes upstairs and thinks about how she's both mad and Joci and really needs her at the same time.
Maki and Dad
- Corinna tells us about her poodle, Maki. Her parents got him for her when she was eight, because she kept begging for a brother or sister.
- She named him Maki because when he was a puppy, he looked like a little sushi roll. Corinna's mom taught her about sushi, which she learned to make when she was an exchange student in Tokyo.
- On Sunday morning, Corinna comes downstairs to find her dad listening to The Beatles' song "Julia" and looking sad (even though her mom's name was Sophie).
- They don't talk about her mom enough, so over a bowl of cereal, Corinna asks her dad if he thinks Sophie would have liked the Avatar movie.
- He hugs her, accidentally spilling milk on her, and says yes.
- After breakfast, Corinna has a heart-to-heart with Maki. She asks Maki if he also hates it when someone says her mom's death was part of God's plan.
- No loving God, says Corinna, would have wanted Sophie Burdette to die.
- Flashback to Sophie's funeral: It was on August 10, and it was held at a music hall where Sophie and Deborah played with their trio eight months earlier. (Sophie played viola; Deborah plays cello.)
- Corinna sat in front with Aunt Jennifer, Sophie's sister.
- Just as her dad joined them, an old man walked in and started yelling, "Where's Sophie?" Someone had to explain to him that her ashes were in the small box on the table at the front of the room.
- After the funeral, back at Corinna's house, there was lots of food. The baked ziti was good, but there were also nine pans of it… As for the Jell-O molds, well, they're never a good idea.
- Aunt Jennifer said Corinna could call her in California anytime, to talk about anything. Corinna wished she lived closer.
- That night, while her dad slept on the couch, Corinna went into their bedroom and tried on her mom's clothes and shoes.
- It's the day of the talent show. It's all anyone can talk about at lunch, but Corinna hasn't decided whether or not she wants to go.
- When her friends say the word dancer, all Corinna can hear is cancer.
- She thinks back to April. By the time Sophie's doctor, Dr. Rothstein, found her cancer, it was too late—it had already spread through her body.
- Sophie did chemo at first, but after three months, she decided to stop. Corinna thought Dr. Rothstein seemed mad about it.
- Corinna's dad told her too much about the treatments. She didn't feel equipped to deal with all the adult information, and it made her feel even more separate from her friends than she already did.
- Back in the present moment, Joci's complaining about her own mom, who keeps bugging her and Juliette to keep their dance "appropriate."
- It stings that Joci would complain about her mom in front of someone who no longer has a mom to complain about.
- Corinna gets an instant message from a girl named Clare, a classmate who moved to her school in the middle of last year.
- The girls have two things in common: They both play soccer, and they've both lost a parent. Clare's dad died of heart disease when she was ten.
- They chat about what it's like to live without their parents, and even joke about how much baked ziti people brought over after the funerals.
- Suddenly Corinna has someone else who understands, which is good, because Joci totally doesn't.
- Joci was the first of Corinna's friends to find out her mom was sick. Corinna's parents told Joci's parents, who told Joci, who happened to be in CVS one day shortly thereafter when Corinna and her dad were picking up medicine.
- Corinna hadn't wanted anyone to know, and she begged Joci that day at CVS not to tell their friends, but Joci told anyway.
- Corinna's still mad about it—which stinks, of course, because she still needs a best friend.
- She's also having stomach pains, as she has been since her mom's death. She hopes it's just stress over Joci, and not the onset of stomach cancer.
- She and her dad are kind of turning into hermits. Deborah leaves messages inviting Corinna out for lunch, but Corinna doesn't respond, and when their neighbor Mrs. Simmons invites them over for dinner, they make an excuse. Dad's friend Mike invites him out to play tennis, but he just says he's not feeling up to it.
- Finally, Corinna agrees to go to the movies with Joci, but she doesn't want to sleep over at Joci's house and leave her dad alone—she worries that he'll be lonely without her.
- The one good thing that's happening is that Aunt Jennifer is coming from California to visit for Veteran's Day weekend. They are both looking forward to that.
- After soccer practice one day, Corinna's dad runs a stop sign and gets pulled over. He tells the cop he didn't see the sign.
- Corinna worries about his spaciness. She needs him to get it together.
Twists and Turns
- Corinna's really annoyed that the other kids at school have such easy lives while her dad can't even get it together to buy bread. He's having a lot of trouble with this grocery thing.
- When she snaps at a kid named Franklin in the hallway just for being happy, she gets called to the counselor's office.
- Mrs. DuBoise says it must be hard that the other kids don't know what she's going through. She also tells Corinna she's thinking of starting a support group for kids who have lost parents.
- While Corinna's surprised to learn that there are others besides her and Clare, she's not interested in a group.
- Still, she doesn't protest when Mrs. DuBoise promises to let her know when the group starts.
- Tuesday afternoon, soccer practice is canceled for rain, and Corinna's dad has an after-school meeting, so Corinna goes home with Joci.
- Joci has a new jewelry organizer, and Corinna can't believe what's hanging on it: a bracelet just like the one she lost last year.
- Her mom gave it to her, and she's been looking everywhere for it.
- Joci says she doesn't know where it came from, but tells Corinna she can have it.
- After leaving Joci's house, Corinna calls her mom's voice mail and leaves a message about the bracelet.
- Then she goes home and cries. She remembers how Joci told everyone her mom was sick, after Corinna made her promise not to.
- Corinna gets a call from Olivia inviting her to a movie star sleepover. Corinna says she can come for the evening, but she can't spend the night, because she and her dad have plans early the next morning.
- They don't, but somebody's got to keep an eye on him. Corinna's dad's a wreck, and she feels sorry for him because the other adults pretty much ignore him at the soccer games now—they don't seem to know what to say to him now that he's sad and skinny and alone.
Starbursts and Ziti
- Joci begs Corinna to go out trick-or-treating on Halloween, and though Corinna doesn't really want to, Joci talks her into it.
- They eat tons of candy—specifically, Starbursts—and Corinna gets sick. So sick, in fact, that she stays home from school the next day.
- This means getting the mail (catalogs for Sophie) and answering the home phone (telemarketing calls for Sophie). Going to school sick would have been better.
- On a brighter note, on the days when she does go to school, Corinna sits with Clare at lunch.
- They ignore a lot of the usual teen clothing commentary and instead talk about important stuff.
- They also make lots of jokes about having baked ziti in their lunchboxes.
- Cringe alert: Corinna's dad tries to give her The Talk.
- Basically, he tells her that if she ever needs tampons, to just go ahead and put them in the cart at the grocery store, and ask Aunt Jennifer and Deborah if she has any questions.
- File this under Stuff That Will Really Make You Miss Your Mom.
- That night, after he goes to bed, Corinna goes into the living room and looks at her mom's ashes in the Chinese ginger jar on the mantel.
- In her head, she asks her mom if being sad about your period makes it come later.
- There's a boy at school named Alex Doherty, and Corinna has a crush on him. They both play in the band (he plays drums and she plays flute), plus they have math class together.
- They've never really talked much; she's just crushing from afar.
- Corinna wonders if Alex even knows she exists—and if he does, does he think of her as "the girl whose mother died"?
- Joci calls Corinna that night to talk about their hard English essay. She says she asked her mom for help, but her mom "got too involved" and they fought.
- Then Joci asks why Corinna's always hanging out with Clare these days.
- Corinna says Clare understands what it's like to lose a parent, and Joci asks if Corinna only wants to hang out with kids whose parents died.
- But wait, there's more: Joci says that if her mom died, she'd kill herself.
- Corinna wonders if their friendship will survive. Which seems like a reasonable thing to wonder right about now.
- Corinna remembers when her dad used to tell stories and make jokes. She misses those days.
- She's started searching their house for "Mom things," putting them in a Japanese wooden tea box she calls her Mom Box.
- Today, in the basement, she finds a box of old photos, and she wonders what kinds of things her mom liked when she was Corinna's age.
- She decides to call Aunt Jennifer. They chat about Corinna's week at school, and Corinna is glad Aunt Jennifer is coming to visit next weekend.
- Corinna continues crushing on Alex. Clare's brother and Alex's brother are friends, so Clare's on it with the reconnaissance. Go team.
- School continues to be… well, school. Corinna forgets to turn in homework assignments, dislikes her social studies teacher, Mr. Spinolli, wears mismatched socks and worries that the other kids will notice, and finds release in soccer.
- In other words, on top of grieving, she still has to deal with eighth grade.
- After soccer practice one day, her dad is twenty minutes late picking her up, and Corinna flips out. She calls him, but he doesn't answer. She imagines the worst.
- When he finally arrives, it turns out he was just stuck in traffic. He promises her a spaghetti (not ziti) dinner to make up for upsetting her.
- Corinna is glad when Aunt Jennifer calls him to confirm her trip. She hopes Aunt Jennifer can talk some sense into her dad.
- Corinna's going through her mom's jewelry box when her dad calls her downstairs and tells her Aunt Jennifer's not coming—her whole family is sick with the stomach flu. Bummer. Big time.
- Speaking of bummers, school's become slightly less of one because Corinna has a cool new teacher. Ms. Carey teaches sewing elective, and she makes her own artsy clothes and has a spiky, artsy haircut.
- Corinna considers telling Ms. Carey about her mom, but she doesn't want Ms. Carey to feel sorry for her; plus, she's not sure if her principal told all her teachers, or just Miss Beatty.
- One day, the week before school lets out for Thanksgiving break, Corinna's in the bathroom checking to see if she's gotten her period yet (nope), and as she's washing her hands, Joci walks in and says they need to talk.
- Joci wants to know why Corinna tried to keep it from her that her mom was dying, then got mad at her for telling other people.
- Corinna says she didn't want anyone to know. She needed part of her life to still be normal.
- Joci says it must have been awful, and she hugs Corinna, and they both cry.
- When other kids come into the bathroom, they wash their faces and go their separate ways.
- Corinna still needs to talk to Joci about that "If my mom died, I'd kill myself," comment, though. On the first night of Thanksgiving break, she works up the nerve to call Joci and confront her about it.
- Joci says she said it as a way of telling Corinna she understood how hard things must be for her; she didn't mean for it to sound mean.
- Corinna says there's no way Joci could understand, and by the way, it really hurt when Joci disappeared for the weeks between the funeral and the start of school.
- Joci apologizes. Yay.
- Corinna says she wants things to be normal again, and Joci say she does, too.
- After they make plans to hang out over Thanksgiving break—still no sleepovers, though—Corinna calls her mom's voice mail just to hear her voice.
- Corinna and her dad go to his parents' house for Thanksgiving. (Corinna calls them Gigi and Pop Pop.)
- Neither of them really feels like going, but somebody has to make Sophie's cranberry sauce. Corinna whips up a batch, then puts one of Sophie's favorite sweaters on to wear to dinner.
- The family seems uncomfortable. Corinna's Uncle Patrick and Aunt Vicky (and all the other adults in attendance) ask her how school is, but everybody's obviously trying to avoid talking about her mom.
- Back at home, Corinna emails Aunt Jennifer and asks her to relate a funny story about Sophie. She needs to laugh.
- Aunt Jennifer writes back that Sophie once had a crush on a boy, so she baked him brownies, left them on his doorstep, rang the bell, and ran.
- They included walnuts, which the boy was allergic to, so fortunately, he didn't eat them. Phew.
- Corinna prints out the email and puts it in her Mom Box. She hopes they can spend Thanksgiving with Aunt Jennifer's family next year.
Part Three: Winter / Chapter 18
- Corinna can't concentrate in band, and she's not practicing her flute enough at home; she screws up in rehearsal, and Mr. Morgan asks her to stay after class for a talk.
- Alex sees the whole thing go down. He smiles at Corinna on his way out the door, which would be awesome if he hadn't just witnessed her complete humiliation.
- By talk, Mr. Morgan means guilt trip—he asks Corinna what her mom would think about the fact that she's not practicing.
- Corinna says Sophie probably wouldn't like it, but she's just not sure she's into the flute anymore.
- Mr. Morgan doesn't love that answer, and he tells her to talk things over with her dad.
- Corinna's really glad Clare's coming over that night, at last. She finally feels comfortable inviting someone to her house, but just for dinner and a movie. Sleepovers still aren't happening.
- Corinna tells Clare the story of Mrs. Simmons, their nosy neighbor who used to drop by all the time when her mom was dying. One time Mrs. Simmons actually took pictures of her mom lying in her hospital bed in the living room. So terrible, right?
- The rest of the weekend is pretty uneventful—that is, until Corinna's dad tells her they're going to Deborah's house for dinner.
- Corinna's nervous, and Deborah makes Brussels sprouts (which Corinna hates), but her dad actually seems to have an okay time. He and Deborah do a lot of reminiscing about Sophie.
- Before they leave her house, Deborah offers to go to the upcoming Parents' Night at Corinna's school, since her dad has to work at his school that night.
- Corinna says no, and Deborah seems surprised.
- On the drive home, Corinna's dad says Deborah was just trying to be nice. Corinna wants to remind him that Deborah's not her parent, but she stays quiet.
- Corinna writes a letter to Dr. Rothstein, her mom's oncologist.
- She tells Dr. Rothstein how bad she made Corinna's family feel when Sophie chose to stop chemo. Corinna says that if she ever gets cancer, she's going to find a doctor who treats patients like people.
- She shows it to her dad, who tells her she can't send it—Corinna, however, says she thinks it's important for doctors to know their strengths and weaknesses.
- She knows her dad won't give her Dr. Rothstein's address, so she hunts for it among the piles of medical bills on his desk.
- She spends three days contemplating whether or not to send the letter. Finally, she decides to go for it and drops the letter into the mailbox while she's out walking Maki.
- Corinna gets her school pictures back, and they're awful. She goes to her friend Eliana's house to hang out that afternoon, and they commiserate about bad pictures.
- Corinna looks at the photos in Eliana's scrapbooks. She finds pictures of Juliette's recent mother-daughter tea party, which all her friends attended but didn't tell her about.
- She emails Aunt Jennifer to ask if she should confront them. Aunt Jennifer writes back and says that's a tough one; she suggests Corinna think about what she'd do if she were in their shoes.
- It's not a clear answer, but it helps Corinna think about the problem differently.
- A week before winter break, Miss Beatty asks Corinna to have lunch with her in her classroom.
- Corinna does, and they talk about their mothers. Miss Beatty's mom died, too, and they both cry, despite Corinna's no-crying-at-school rule.
- Corinna tells Miss Beatty that she sometimes worries that other people think her mom did something bad, something that made her deserve to die. Miss Beatty tells her that if anyone thinks that, they're mean.
- The next day, Corinna and Joci go to Bruce's Variety after school—it's a craft store Corinna used to go to with her mom.
- When they get there, she has a flashback. It's a combination of nostalgia and grief, and she has to run from the store.
- Two days before vacation, Corinna's math teacher gives her a note from Ms. DuBoise. The grief group is starting up. It will be weird to talk about her mom at school, but Corinna seriously needs it.
- At home, Corinna goes through some of the catalogs that are always coming to Sophie in the mail. She really needs clothes. All of hers are getting too small.
- Joci finally talks Corinna into spending the night. Yay.
- Joci's mom takes them to the mall the next morning—she says Joci needs bras, so they go to Victoria's Secret first.
- What she really means is that Corinna needs a bra. Or, sort of… She needs a 30A, but hey, that's still a bra, finally.
- Corinna goes to sleep happy to finally be a member of "the bra sisterhood."
- In her dream, Sophie looks like her old, healthy self, not her bald, pale self. It's the first happy dream Corinna's had about Sophie since she passed away.
- Quick: What's more depressing than the first Christmas after your mom dies?
- That's right: nothing.
- Corinna and her dad eat frozen dinners and watch movies, and she has an awkward conversation with her maternal grandparents, Grandma and Bapa, who say they've sent a box of gifts.
- The next morning, Corinna's dad goes to the post office to pick up said box of gifts, which gives Corinna a few minutes to indulge in snooping in her mom's closet.
- She finds a duffel bag she's never seen before, and in the bottom of it is a journal. She doesn't have time to read it, though, because she hears her dad's car pull into the driveway.
- They go for a swim at the Y. Corinna can't stop thinking about the journal.
- When they get home, their nosy neighbor Mrs. Simmons comes by with a plate of cookies and starts asking nosy questions about when they're going to get rid of Sophie's clothes.
- Corinna finally yells at her that they'll do it when they're ready. You go, girl.
- After Mrs. Simmons leaves, Corinna needs a long walk to dispel her anger. She walks through the neighborhood looking at all the cozy houses full of people doing happy Christmas stuff.
- She wonders if people feel sorry for her, feel lucky not to be her, or both.
- Happy New Year to Corinna… okay, not so much.
- She's seriously bummed out, and her dad yells at her about how messy her room is and how she never practices the flute.
- Gigi and Pop Pop come for a visit and Gigi is her usual annoying self; she talks too much.
- When they finally leave, Corinna and her dad recover with a trip to the grocery store—they're both really sick of living on canned chili.
- Surprisingly, their taste buds are starting to come back.
- Even more surprisingly, it doesn't hurt as much to walk past Sophie's favorite foods.
- They even buy some of her favorite coffee yogurt out of nostalgia, but neither of them eats it.
- After such a bummer of a winter break, Corinna's actually glad to get back to the bummer of school. She's especially glad to get back to Ms. Carey's sewing class.
- She has a new project for class: making a quilt out of Sophie's clothes.
- Time for Ms. DuBoise's first grief group. There are four other kids: Chris, whose dad died of diabetes; Yasmine, whose dad was killed in Afghanistan; Max, whose dad died by suicide; and Robert, whose stepdad died in a car accident.
- Later that day, Corinna asks Clare why she wasn't in the group, and Clare says she didn't know about it.
- Corinna takes Clare to Ms. DuBoise and asks if she can join—Ms. DuBoise says yes, of course.
- Dad finally leaves the house to get a haircut, and Corinna goes straight for her mom's journal. She's sad when she sees that most of the pages are blank. She decides to ration out the pages.
- There's not much on the first page: Sophie's twenty-six and wondering if all musicians express themselves better with music than words.
- At the next meeting of the group, Clare talks about her dad. The other kids' parents' deaths are recent, but Clare's dad died three years ago.
- Ms. DuBoise asks what it feels like after that much time has passed. Clare says that in some ways it's easier, but she's starting to forget things about him, and sometimes she thinks forgetting is worse than remembering.
- Max says his mom still won't tell the kids his dad died by suicide—she thinks they believe it was a heart attack—and he wonders if she'll ever tell him, or if he'll ever tell her he knows.
- Corinna works on her quilt in sewing class. A boy named Billy Bradley asks her if she's using old rags because she can't afford new fabric. Ugh.
- Corinna wants to tell Ms. Carey what's up, and when she does, Ms. Carey gives her a hug, which feels really nice. Corinna doesn't even care if anyone sees.
- Joci asks where Corinna and Clare always go at lunch, and Corinna says she'll tell her later, but she doesn't really want to.
- Four days later, they get a snow day. Yay. Corinna goes sledding with her friends.
- When her dad walks Maki that night, Corinna swipes Sophie's journal from the closet and hides it in her room. She reads another page.
- Her mom's worried about money—she's not sure how she and Corinna's dad are going to survive on a musician and teacher's salaries.
- Robert drops out of group, and Corinna works up the nerve to ask him why. He says it's because he hated his stepdad, and it makes him feel really different from everyone else.
- Corinna realizes there are people who feel even more like aliens than she does.
- She gets the flu and misses a week of school. When she goes back, she goes to get her homework from Miss Beatty and asks her teacher if it ever gets easier to live without a mom.
- Miss Beatty says it does, although it never gets completely better. She reminds Corinna that her mom will always be a part of her.
- Corinna continues to go through her mom's old pictures; she likes remembering how she looked when she was healthy, not when she was sick.
- She thinks about all the things for which her mom won't be there, like her graduation and wedding.
- She instant messages Clare with an idea: Her dad can walk Clare down the aisle if Clare's mom will do mom stuff with her. She's not entirely serious, but it's not a bad idea.
- Corinna's dad asks if she wants to go to the Spy Museum to help him do research for one of his classes. She goes, and asks him if he thinks the spies' families knew they were spies.
- He says they probably didn't, since it would have put their families in danger.
- Corinna tells him she thinks it's a bad idea for families to keep secrets from each other.
- Case in point: the journal. She feels kind of badly for not telling him she swiped it.
- She finishes the section about money problems while he watches a basketball game on television that night. Sophie's worried about how they'll send their future kids to college, though they don't even have kids yet.
- Corinna and Clare go to CVS, where some seventh-grade boys are buying giant sticks of Old Spice deodorant. The girls wonder if the boys realize how stinky that stuff is.
- When she gets home from CVS and takes Maki for a walk, Corinna sees a boy and girl riding bikes in her neighborhood. One of them looks like Alex, but he lives across town.
- She wonders if he already has a girlfriend, and she wonders even more when she sees him talking to Juliette at school.
- She asks Clare to do some snooping and find out if Juliette likes Alex, too.
- In the meantime, the boys aren't the only people at school with body odor—Mr. Spinolli, her despised social studies teacher, has awful blue cheese breath.
- They have a test in his class. He sees a textbook under her desk with a paper sticking out of it, thinks she's reading the answers off the paper, and sends her to the office.
- When he comes in, he's holding the textbook. He tells her cheating won't look good on her record.
- She tells him it's not hers—and when he opens the book, he sees that it actually belongs to someone else. He does not, however, apologize.
- The worst part is that it was another humiliation in front of Alex. Determined to avoid any more, Corinna goes home and practices her flute for the first time in months.
- In the grief group, Corinna and the other kids write an "I am" poem. Corinna writes that she's a daughter who loves her mother.
- It's sad, but something awesome happens, too: Clare finds out that when Alex was talking to Juliette, he was actually asking about Corinna.
- Corinna's birthday is at the end of February, and she can't imagine celebrating without her mom.
- She asks if they could celebrate with Aunt Jennifer, so her dad and Aunt Jennifer talk, and it's on—they're going to California.
- Corinna's psyched. She's also hungry. She asks her dad what's for dinner, and he suggests breakfast.
- Corinna's sick of that, though—they've been having it twice a week for months—so instead, she makes grilled cheese and tomato soup.
- Over dinner, she asks her dad if she's going to get cancer, and he tells her no. He says her mom's situation was unusual.
- She asks how, and he says it just was.
- In group, the kids introduce empty chairs as their loved ones who died, then they cover them with Post-Its with memories of the person.
- It's really hard for Corinna, and she has to leave the room for a minute before her turn, but she gets through it.
- In her non-grieving life, she really needs new clothes. Everything she owns is too tight or too short, but whenever she asks her dad to take her shopping, he says he'll do it later.
- Corinna makes pumpkin muffins using Sophie's recipe and takes one to Miss Beatty. She asks how Ms. Beatty's mom died and Ms. Beatty tells her that she had multiple sclerosis.
- They have a band concert, and Corinna actually plays okay and manages not to embarrass herself in front of Alex. She has to wear black pants, and the only ones she has that fit are yoga pants.
- Mrs. Simmons comes to the concert to see her grandson play. She insinuates that Corinna might like to go to the Valentine's Day dance with him—Corinna, to be clear, most certainly would not.
- On the drive home, her dad says her mom would have loved to see her play. Corinna doesn't answer.
- In group, the kids interview each other about their lost parents. Corinna's question is whether or not she ever gets mad at her mom for dying, and she says she does, even though she knows it wasn't Sophie's fault.
- The question she asks is, "Have you ever had a strange feeling when you ate something?" Yasmine says yes, string beans, which for some reason, Corinna finds funny.
- Joci calls to ask why Corinna never calls her anymore, but Corinna gets defensive and says she does.
- Joci tells Corinna she didn't steal the bracelet.
- California time. They have a good visit with Aunt Jennifer, who makes Corinna a chocolate cake.
- However, Corinna overhears her dad and Aunt Jennifer talking about how much they miss her mom, and it makes her really sad. Her dad says he'll never love anyone the way he loved Sophie.
- She worries again that he'll die of cancer, too, and does some Googling to find out about her own risk.
- Back home, Corinna spends a long time writing in her journal about it all; she just can't get her dad's conversation with Aunt Jennifer out of her head.
Part Four: Spring / Chapter 33
Back to School
- The kids in group talk about what to say and what not to say when someone dies.
- Things not to say: "Don't cry," and "I know how you feel."
- Things to say: "I'm sorry," and "I'm here for you."
- Corinna's dad gets the flu. Deborah brings over soup. Her dad seems happy when he finds out she's the one who made it for him.
- Corinna uses some of her birthday money to do something she's always wanted to do: get her ears pierced. Her mom had wanted her to wait until she was sixteen, but her dad, surprisingly, doesn't freak.
- Corinna tells us how mean kids at school can be, and how they call each other names. There's a girl at school named Nicole who's overweight, and people call her Shamu.
- Corinna feels lucky she's not overweight and doesn't have a weird name they can make fun of.
- She says she needs to get brave.
- The group has its last meeting—Ms. DuBoise has to start a kids-of-divorce group now.
- Everyone gives each other wishes. Corinna tells Max she wishes he could have less suffering, and he gets teary, and she thinks it must have been a stupid thing to say.
- Ms. DuBoise wishes they could all have someone to talk to when they need to, and they discuss which people in their lives that might be.
- Chris says he doesn't have anyone, and Corinna feels sorry for him. She doesn't want him to think she has a crush on him, but she decides she should talk to him sometimes, because "feeling alone is the worst."
- Joci gets a nosebleed at school, and Corinna takes her to the nurse's office. The medical smell makes her remember when her mom was in the hospital.
- She texts Chris to ask if medical smells are hard for him, too; he says they are.
- Corinna decides to cut a piece of Sophie's canvas bag, the one in which she found the journal, for her quilt.
- She reads another page of the journal. It's about how her mom's cell phone went off during a performance—it's a story her mom told her while she was alive.
- Corinna notices that her hair is getting really long. Her dad has pretty much stopped taking care of things like haircuts and dentist appointments (not to mention clothes), so she reminds him that she needs to have her teeth cleaned. And guess what? He actually makes her an appointment.
- He's late getting her there, though. She remembers how her mom used to always let her pick out chocolate at the drugstore before her appointments. She got to eat it afterward, which made going to the dentist less awful.
- Her dad has a lot to learn about how things are supposed to work.
- Corinna finds out that the mother of someone she went to preschool with, a kid named David who now goes to private school, died of cancer.
- Even worse, his dad died of cancer a few years ago.
- It's her worst fear come to life.
- At school, some of the other kids have heard about it. The ones who aren't too absorbed in their own lives talk about how awful it must be, and how they hope he has someone to live with.
- The other kids talk about stupid stuff, like what they brought for lunch.
- Corinna asks her dad whom she'd live with if he died; he says she'd live with Aunt Jennifer.
- Corinna goes through the condolence letters people sent her after her mom died—since they made her feel better, she writes one to David.
- She resolves that she'll always write to people she knows whose parents die.
- Corinna's packing up her flute after band practice one day when Alex comes walking up to her.
- He asks if she knows when the upcoming Aloha Dance is, even though the posters have been hanging in the halls for weeks.
- She's glad she doesn't know the exact date, because that might make her seem too interested. Instead, she twirls her hair.
- They have a moment of mutual cute awkwardness before going their separate ways.
- Corinna calls Joci into the girls' bathroom for a squee session. They squee.
- Corinna's so wound up about it all day that she nearly sews her finger into her quilt in Ms. Carey's class.
- Ms. Carey asks if she's ready to put the backing on her quilt, and Corinna says she is.
- When Ms. Carey says the quilt is beautiful, they both get tears in their eyes.
- Corinna and her dad go for a walk on the Billy Goat Trail along the Potomac River.
- He brings up the trip to Japan they were planning to take before her mom got sick—he thinks they should still go.
- Corinna's totally into it: Japan was a big part of her mom's life, and she thinks Sophie would want them to visit, with or without her.
- She walks home from school with Olivia the next day, and Olivia rags on a girl named Norah's boots.
- Corinna doesn't like how Olivia makes fun of people's clothes and she doesn't join in; it's not like making fun of other people makes her feel any better about herself.
- Out of the blue, Olivia says she feels sorry for Corinna for not having a mom.
- Corinna says it's hard, but what she really wants to say is that Olivia doesn't know how lucky she is.
- Olivia goes back to making fun of people's clothes.
- That night, Corinna calls Clare, and Clare invites her to spend the night that weekend. For the first time since her mom died, Corinna thinks a sleepover sounds like fun.
- The day after the sleepover (which Corinna not only survives, but actually enjoys) is April Fools' Day, a.k.a. the anniversary of the day they found out Sophie had cancer.
- In the grief group, Ms. DuBoise suggested honoring anniversaries, so Corinna makes a little altar out of rocks and shells, writing "Love you," "Miss you," and "Mom" on three of the rocks.
- She and her dad light a memory candle at dinner; they drink Mango Tango (Sophie's favorite beverage) out of wine glasses and listen to her favorite viola music.
- As they're cleaning up, her dad suggests asking other people to help them make a list of fond memories. Corinna's surprised—it's the most he's talked about Sophie since she died.
- Corinna realizes she's ready to have lunch with Deborah, but she's not sure how to tell her.
- She goes for a walk, carrying Sophie's quilt; it feels like her mom's spirit is swirling around her.
- She sees a duck on the water by itself and wonders if it lost its mate, since ducks are supposed to mate for life. Then another duck swims up to it, they quack at each other, and she feels better.
- Back home, Corinna notices the daffodils she planted with Sophie are blooming. Spring flowers are nice, but they also remind her of when Sophie got sick.
- She wonders how you're supposed to reconcile the good memories with the bad.
- Corinna gets invited to the dance, but not by Alex—by a disgusting boy named Hank Greene who farts a lot. Fortunately, Joci saves her by telling Hank their friend group (read: girls only) is going together.
- Corinna tries to figure out what she's going to wear. She has absolutely zero clothes; nothing fits anymore.
- She finally confronts her dad, yelling at him about how he doesn't notice anything.
- He apologizes and tells her they can go to the mall that weekend, but the dance is Friday night, so she talks him into telling her coach she has "an urgent situation" and letting her miss soccer practice.
- Corinna, Joci, and Clare get ready for the dance at Joci's house. Corinna's dad finally took her to the mall, so she has a new outfit.
- However, being around Joci's mom makes her sad, because she'll never have a mom to share her dating stories with; she also won't have anyone to talk about the dance with when she gets home.
- Because of all this, Corinna doesn't have a good time. The dance is in the gym, and she sits by herself on the bleachers.
- Alex comes up to ask if she's going to dance, but she says she doesn't feel well.
- When she gets home, she tries to call her mom's voice mail, but the number has been disconnected.
- She yells at her dad, who apologizes, but says he couldn't keep paying fifty dollars a month for her line.
- Corinna goes to bed and sleeps for a long time. When she wakes up, she emails Aunt Jennifer to ask for stories of her mom's teenage love life.
- Aunt Jennifer sends back some funny stories about the boys Sophie liked when she was Corinna's age. It helps, but Corinna wishes Sophie was there to tell the stories herself.
- Corinna finally goes to lunch with Deborah. It's scary, but she's ready.
- They go to Cosi, where they talk about—you guessed it—Sophie.
- Deborah asks Corinna when she misses Sophie the most and Corinna tells her that it's when she sees other kids with their moms.
- Deborah says she's asked Sophie's friends to write memories of her for Corinna, like Corinna's dad told her about.
- Corinna asks if anyone's sent one in yet; Deborah says no, but they're writing them.
- At school, the kids have a long-term substitute in math, and Corinna can't stand her. She thinks the teacher mumbles and doesn't know what she's doing.
- She complains to her friends about it at lunch, and Joci and Clare tell her she's being harsh.
- After school, she goes to the band room to get her flute and music. Alex is there, talking to Mr. Morgan about drumsticks.
- She gets her stuff and leaves the room before Mr. Morgan can ask her about practicing again. Alex follows her, though, and calls to her to wait up.
- They have another moment of cute awkwardness. Corinna asks him what he thinks of the math teacher, and he says he doesn't like her either.
- She's proud of herself for finally talking to him—after all, it was one of her New Year's resolutions.
- Another bombshell from the journal: Sophie's dad wasn't her biological dad. Her parents used a sperm donor.
- Sophie found out because she overheard her parents talking about it—she was already an adult and pregnant with Corinna at the time.
- Corinna wonders if Sophie would have ever told her, and why she didn't think it was important to do so before she died.
- She remembers the morning her dad came to her room and told her Sophie had passed away in the night. She feels guilty that she was afraid to see Sophie's body before the undertaker came, and wishes she had said goodbye.
- Corinna receives a reply from Daniel, the kid who lost both his parents to cancer; he says he's living with his grandparents now.
- She wishes he went to her school. He might be one of the nice boys, unlike Dylan and Jake, who continue to tease Nicole about her weight and call her Shamu.
- Corinna stands up for Nicole in gym class and invites her to start sitting with her and her friends at lunch.
- Nicole does, and one day in the cafeteria, the boys tease her again—this time she stands up for herself.
- The girls are super impressed. They walk out of the cafeteria all charged up with girl power.
- In the meantime, Joci is bummed because her sister has mono and they've had to cancel the trip to New York they had planned for the weekend.
- Joci's scared of getting mono, too, and she tells Corinna she hates feeling like she's waiting to get sick.
- Corinna understands where she's coming from.
- Yet another bombshell from the journal: Sophie lost a baby when Corinna was a toddler.
- Corinna confronts her dad about it, and—of course—he asks how she found out, but she just says that she has her ways.
- Surprisingly, he's not upset, and they talk about it. Her dad says it was sad, but they survived, because they had Corinna and their careers.
- Somehow, he and Corinna also survive Mother's Day.
- As awful as it is, it's time to get rid of Sophie's clothes.
- Corinna and her dad decide to do it, then wait a week before donating them just to be sure they're ready.
- Corinna has to throw away the clothes she cut up to make the quilt. It's awful, of course.
- To cheer herself up, she looks through her baby book. Sophie wrote about cute things Corinna did, like calling macaroni "happironi" and "wacanoni."
- Surprise: Her dad's sense of humor returns. Yay.
- He plays an old joke—leaving a full-size Tootsie Roll on her bed and asking her if she forgot to take Maki out.
- Surprise, part two: He asks her if she wants to go clothes shopping.
- Of course she does.
- Corinna and Olivia walk past a graveyard, and Olivia starts talking about ghosts. It bothers Corinna a lot.
- She tells Olivia her mom's not in the graveyard; she was cremated.
- Olivia thinks this is gross—Corinna says it's not, though; they don't smell or anything.
- Surviving the experience makes her feel brave enough to tell her dad about the quilt.
- She's afraid he'll be mad that she cut up Sophie's clothes, but instead he gets tears in his eyes and hugs her.
- They cry together.
Words and Letters
- Corinna hangs out at Nicole's house. They make necklaces.
- Corinna feels sad, because normally she would have given hers to her mom; she decides she'll give it to Aunt Jennifer instead.
- She goes to read more of Sophie's journal that night, but she comes to the last page: Sophie says she's not very good at journaling—music is her journal.
- Corinna wonders if Deborah ever got any of those letters from Sophie's friends.
- She calls and asks, and Deborah says she did. She brings them over.
- Corinna asks if Deborah has read them, but Deborah says she hasn't—they're for Corinna's eyes only.
- Corinna hopes there won't be any more bombshells. And there aren't—Sophie's friends have nothing but good things to say about her.
Part Five: Summer / Chapter 49
- It's June second, Sophie's birthday. Corinna and her dad buy a birthday cake, and they put flowers next to the urn.
- Corinna finally works up the nerve to tell him she found the journal and knows about the sperm-donor thing.
- He's not mad, though he is surprised—he didn't know Sophie had a journal.
- Sophie's death date, August fifth, will arrive soon. Corinna asks Clare what her family does on the anniversary of her dad's death.
- Clare says they light a twenty-four-hour candle. Corinna says that's what she and her dad did on the anniversary of her mom's diagnosis.
- There's something happy, too, though: Her dad says they're going to Japan to meet Sophie's host family from when she was an exchange student. Grandma and Bapa offered to pay for the tickets.
- Yay: Alex and Corinna kiss at the end-of-the year dance.
- Corinna's girlfriends blow up her phone with text messages when they all get home.
- She doesn't want to wash off the kiss, but her friends tell her washing her face is essential for pimple prevention.
- She falls asleep thinking of how awesome Alex is, and wonders when they'll kiss again.
- They talk at school the next day, and she tells him she's going to Japan, and he tells her he's going to camp in Vermont.
- Again, they're awkward and adorable. Are you sensing a pattern here?
- It's the day of the Westhaven Middle School graduation: Corinna's officially done with eighth grade.
- Her dad asks her if she'd like to pick out a piece of her mom's jewelry as a present, and she chooses a silver pendant with Japanese characters.
- The ceremony is tough, obviously. Corinna blinks back lots of tears, as does her friend Yasmine, the girl from group whose dad died in Afghanistan.
- Miss Beatty tells Corinna she's sorry she won't be her teacher anymore.
- Corinna and her dad pose for a picture. She's survived not only the ceremony, but middle school itself.
- It's Japan time. Corinna and her dad almost miss their flight because they forget to bring Maki's dog food and medication to the boarder, but they make it just in time.
- The flight to Tokyo takes forever, but eventually they make it there, too.
- The next morning they go to a fish market. After looking around for a while, they order noodles and struggle to eat them with chopsticks.
- They go to a shrine called Meiji Jingu, where Corinna's dad pulls out a small bag of her mom's ashes and suggests they sprinkle them there.
- It's beautiful, but it doesn't feel right to Corinna somehow; she's not sure how they can visit Sophie if her ashes are in Japan.
- Her dad says they can wait, and puts the bag of ashes back in his pocket.
- Before they leave the shrine, Corinna makes a wish that the next year will be easier, and prays that her mom will stay in her life forever.
- Corinna's dad calls Sophie's host family, the Ishibashis. After a stilted conversation in very basic English, they make a plan to meet at a coffee shop.
- When Mr. and Mrs. Ishibashi show up, they want to know where Sophie is. Corinna and her dad don't speak Japanese, and the Ishibashis don't speak much English, so they do a lot of different hand gestures meaning death.
- The Ishibashis invite the Burdettes to their home, where they serve them pickles and minnows. Corinna decides not to eat it and risk throwing up, but worries that she's being rude by leaving it on her plate.
- She goes to the bathroom, but the toilet has lots of unfamiliar buttons, and she accidentally pushes one that sprays water all over the room.
- When they finally get out of there, Corinna and her dad burst into giggles on the sidewalk. What can they do in such a bizarre situation but laugh?
- Aiko, the Ishibashis' daughter, calls the hotel that night. She speaks better English.
- Her parents, she says, are worried about Sophie; Corinna explains that her mom died of cancer.
- Aiko invites the Burdettes to meet her in Kyoto. They take the bullet train
and Aiko meets them at the station, and then takes them to the Uemura
Guest House, their Kyoto hotel.
- After trying to understand yet another foreign bathroom, Corinna and her dad go with Aiko to Ryoanji Garden, a Zen temple.
- Corinna asks why it's so crowded, and Aiko explains that it's Obon, the festival of dead ancestors.
- She explains the traditions: People sprinkle water on their loved ones'
graves, leave animal sculptures made out of vegetables and chopsticks,
and burn incense. They believe these things will help the dead come back
to visit, travel home quickly, and return feeling relaxed.
- Most people, she says, also have shrines to their dead loved ones in their
apartments. When they want to summon their ancestors, they light incense
and clap their hands.
- Corinna asks Aiko to tell her a story about when Sophie lived with her family and Aiko tells her that they
talked a lot about school and their future children.
- Sophie wanted to have lots of children, but she was very happy with the one she
had. In the holiday cards she sent each year, she always said she was
glad Corinna was her daughter.
- Corinna comes home from Japan and has letters from Clare and Joci, who are at camp.
- There's also one from Aunt Jennifer, who says Corinna's dad told her that
Corinna knows about the sperm-donor thing. Jennifer knows she's mad at
Grandma and Bapa for not telling her.
- It's never been easy for their family to talk about hard things, Jennifer says, but Grandma and
Bapa love Corinna a lot and want to stay close to her.
- Corinna's a little paranoid about who knows what—did her dad or Aunt Jennifer
tell Grandma and Bapa she knew? She's also happy to have gotten the
- She wonders what Sophie would say about it all. She imagines Sophie would probably tell her to forgive Grandma, Bapa,
and her; she would also probably say how much she loves Corinna.
- Corinna wonders what ninth grade will be like, and if she'll kiss Alex again.
- On the day before school starts, her dad goes out to buy food (you go,
Dad) and Corinna decides to light some incense, like people do for their
ancestors in Japan.
- She goes to the ginger jar holding Sophie's ashes and claps. She tells Sophie how much she loved Japan, and that
she's worried that cancer runs in her biological grandfather's family,
and that she misses her.
- The phone rings and interrupts her, but she returns to her conversation with Sophie later in the afternoon.
- This time she talks about how scared she is of ninth grade, though she's
sure it won't be as bad as eighth—nothing can be as hard as the first
year after your mom's death.
- On the first day of school, she sees Joci outside and walks into the building with her.
- Corinna thinks she and her dad are going to be okay.