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It’s getting to be about that time of year when horror invades my reading faster than I can pull up my ankles during a scary movie. Am I the only one who does this? Ankles are way too vulnerable when your feet are on the floor, and there’s plenty of room under most couches for a waif-like ax murderer to hide. Ankles are an easy target. Think about it.

But late September is the perfect time for a small town, slice of life story like Joan Bauer’s Newbery Honor book Hope Was Here. Born and raised in South Jersey, land of the world’s best small diners, I felt right at home in this story, a little nostalgic maybe. My first job was making fried egg sandwiches and serving at an all night diner. It was there that I thought I invented creamy iced coffee (deliciously burnt coffee sweetened with a swirl of soft serve).

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer

Hope is a sophomore in high school when her Aunt Addie tells her its time for them to move once again. This move is different from the many they’ve made before because instead of going to another city, they’re heading from Brooklyn to a small Wisconsin town. The opportunity for Addie to cook and run a diner there comes just after a “friend” stole all of their money.

It turns out Hope and her aunt arrive at an exciting time as the diner’s owner G.T. Stoop has decided to run for mayor. This is the same man still recovering from Leukemia, but he’s dead set on trying to stop the the corruption in his town.

Hope is a warm, friendly girl who takes after her mother in one way: She’s a killer waitress. As she and her aunt have a soft spot for G.T., she can’t help but get involved and emotionally invested in his campaign. The election is a black and white example of good versus bad, giving young readers an extreme close-up of why it’s important to care about local politics without hitting them over the head.

Originally named Tulip by her mother, Hope is the name our main character chose for herself. It’s a name she struggles to live up to when things take a dark turn. She longs for what she doesn’t have – biological parents who adore her, or are at least in her life – but this new life opens her up like a day lily.

Chapters are filled with references to ultra comforting diner food. The hustle bustle of a busy diner gives this story a colorful, fast pace. Much of the campaign planning takes place in the booths, naturally – Addie says that a good meal opens people up to conversation.

Reading this makes you feel like you’re sitting in the booth waiting for lunch while sipping a malt and getting the news of the day from neighbors. I enjoyed almost everything about this book. It’s a well written story with strong characters young readers can look up to. The end was a big disappointment to me, but that doesn’t take much away from my overall thumbs up.

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