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  • Written by Laura Pedersen
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  • Written by Laura Pedersen
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A Novel

Written by Laura PedersenAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Laura Pedersen

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List Price: $9.99

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On Sale: December 10, 2008
Pages: 400 | ISBN: 978-0-307-48223-5
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

“We’re approaching Cat in the Hat level chaos and no one’s even had breakfast yet.”

When the death of her father leaves her mother bereft and incapacitated, card shark Hallie Palmer returns home from college to raise Hallie’s eight younger siblings. Hallie’s older brother has a scholarship and a sensible major–which translates to free tuition and desperately needed future income for the family. So it’s up to Hallie to deal herself in as head of the chaotic household.

But even after the invasion of those well-meaning, casserole-carrying purveyors of comfort the local church ladies, Hallie’s in a downward spiral. Thank goodness for old friends like Bernard and Gil, now proud parents, who keep Hallie afloat with good humor, brilliant organizational skills, and Judy Garland’s most quotable quotes–not that life is entirely peaceful now that Bernard’s wise, willful, and delightfully outrageous mother, Olivia, is back from Europe with a big (and shockingly young) surprise.

Through it all, Hallie discovers that life can indeed turn on a dime, and that every coin has two sides plus an edge. Just because beginner’s luck doesn’t always last forever doesn’t mean you’re out of the game.

Excerpt

ONE

It’s a cold and windless January night following a two-day winter storm. All across the campus of the Cleveland Art Institute a blanket of snow sparkles as if encrusted with tiny diamonds. Thick clouds blot out the moonlight and for a moment it feels that all of nature is hushed.

Suzy, Robin, and I walk the half mile to the Theta Chi frat house, a box-shaped building with dark brown vinyl siding that looks like it could be the back part of a church where the priests reside, were it not for the large wooden Greek letters hanging between the second and third floors. Theta Chi is hosting a Welcome Back keg party and all comers are indeed welcome, so long as they can produce an ID, real or otherwise, along with twenty bucks to be paid in cash at the door.

I have to go because my roommate Suzy has a huge crush on the president, and she convinces Robin and me to be her accomplices in the manhunt. But being that it’s a new semester, and a brand-new year, I’m certainly open for adventure. When you’re eighteen, the possibilities seem endless. At the same time, I’m feeling a bit lonely, since Craig, the guy I really like, attends college in Minnesota. We’re eleven hundred miles apart, and he and I both agreed that it’s best not to be exclusive with each other, at least for now.

Once inside the front door we pay our cover charge and a guy wearing a multicolored felt jester hat uses a stamp to emblazon the backs of our hands with big purple beavers. In the strobe-lit entrance hall Billy Joel blares from speakers that seem to be everywhere. The jacked-up bass causes the wooden floorboards to thump so it feels as if there’s a heartbeat in each foot. The couches are pushed back against the walls and from the ceiling of the large living room hang dozens of strings of chili pepper lights that cast a crazy quilt of patterns onto the guests. Young people stand around holding big red plastic cups, occasionally leaning in close to yell something at one other. They nod or laugh and over near the fireplace a few dance.

A guy wearing a T-shirt that says, freshmen girls—get ’em while they’re skinny, rolls a fresh keg past us and catches my eye. He’s heading toward a place underneath a mangy bison head where participants in a Chug for Charity contest appear to be making excellent progress.

Oh my gosh—it’s Josh! He’s a junior in the art department whom I had a crush on the entire first semester of my freshman year, while he didn’t even know I was alive.

After dropping off the keg he comes over and hands me a beer. “Do I know you?”

“Hallie Palmer,” I reply, trying not to feel devastated that he doesn’t remember my name.

We begin a shouted exchange and I remind him of the shared computer graphics class.

“Oh yeah,” he says and nods.

Though whether he means that he remembers the class or me is impossible to tell. Our talk segues to general stuff like movies and families. Only the problem is that now, after so much fantasizing about our nonexistent relationship, and several beers, I’m experiencing difficulty separating the real conversation from all the imaginary ones I had with him last fall. For instance, Josh looks surprised when I talk about having nine brothers and sisters, whereas I’m thinking we covered that months ago.

I act interested in everything that Josh says about where he’s from and what he’s studying even though I already know all of this from looking up his campus profile on the Internet. I may be majoring in graphic arts, but like most college women, I minor in stalking.

Just when I fear we’ve run out of conversation, he says, “Hey, wanna dance?”

We put down our plastic cups and move to the area in front of the fireplace where throngs of intoxicated students dance to Jason Mraz’s “I’ll Do Anything.” I’m probably reading too much into the situation, as usual, but it’s as if every line of the song has a double, or even triple meaning.

When the next song begins Josh appears to be finished with the dancing part of the evening. He stands still while everyone begins jumping around to “Heat Wave.” Meantime, Suzy pushes her way toward us through the closely packed gyrating crowd, carefully ducking and maneuvering so as not to disturb any of the headgear with beer cans attached to the top and plastic tubes running into the mouths of thirsty revelers. Her cheeks are flushed. “I found Ross! He’s upstairs!”

“This is Josh,” I lean in close and say to Suzy.

“Hey Josh,” she shouts, barely glancing over at him. “Hallie, they’re playing strip poker upstairs and you have to come because I don’t know how to play and—” Suzy stops midstream and looks back at Josh. “Is that Josh?” she asks me. The emphasis is code for: the guy you were so obsessed with that I thought a counselor was going to have to be brought in for an assist?

“Yes,” I bob my head up and down to indicate it’s that Josh.

Suzy smiles. This translates to: He’s really cute and you’re going to get lucky tonight!

“You said that you found Ross,” I remind her.

Suzy grabs both our hands. “Come teach me how to play strip poker.”

“Actually I’m not much of a poker player,” says Josh, holding his ground.

“Me neither,” I lie. I’ve been playing poker since I was seven, but why appear anxious when Suzy is going to close this deal for me?

“Please, you guys.” She pulls us in the direction of the wide staircase that empties into the back of the living room. What might soon qualify as a three-alarm blaze is now roaring in the fireplace. The room was already hot and redolent of spilled beer, and now it’s becoming filled with thick gray smoke.

Suzy is giddy with excitement, turning back and smiling every few seconds as she directs us to the second floor, and then up a narrow staircase that leads to a refinished attic. Eight kids are lounging around on oversized pillows in a dimly lit room with a lava lamp in the corner and music wailing from a CD player on the floor. Everyone is still fully dressed, and if the loud laughing and joking is anything to go by, no longer fully sober. A guy wearing khaki shorts, a frat house T-shirt, and a cowboy hat shuffles a deck of cards. There’s the faint but distinctive aroma of marijuana, though given that the one hexagonal window in the room doesn’t open, it’s impossible to tell whether the scent is from tonight’s group or previous parties.

“Are you outlaws here to play poker or are you delivering the pizza?” says the guy nearest the boom box, whom I recognize as Ross, Suzy’s big crush.

Everyone laughs uproariously at this stupid joke. Suzy releases our hands and I come out from behind her. A girl named Jennifer and a guy named Kevin, both of whom I recognize from my freshman dorm, say, “I didn’t know I was going to play against Hallie Palmer,” and “Now things are really getting exciting.”

It’s not unknown for me to sit in on a dorm game and clean up a pot or two. Most of the kids aren’t exactly strong opponents to begin with; however, they usually drink while playing, giving me an even greater advantage. People who booze while they bet tend not to fold nearly as early or often as they should.

The cowboy-hat guy calls for a game of five-card draw with deuces wild. Ross announces that we all have to start with our shoes and socks either on or off.

Jennifer holds up her hand and says, “We didn’t decide about underwear.”

The four guys yell “no” to underwear while the five women shout “yes.” “I’ll do odds or evens with one of the girls,” states Ross. The girls could argue this but they don’t because some secretly want to play down to the nude. Let’s face it, a girl doesn’t join a game of strip poker unless she likes one of the guy players or she’s incredibly drunk.

Suzy volunteers to throw out fingers against Ross, promptly loses the underwear option, and then conveniently remains sitting next to him.

Picking up my cards I find a pair of sixes and a wild two. With the chance to replace two cards, this means the prospect of four sixes! Though I don’t receive another six or wild card, an ace comes my way. Kevin’s three sixes made with a wild two have only a queen high and so I’m the winner. The others good-naturedly remove an article of clothing and throw it into the center of the circle. After four more rounds I’ve lost only my pants, while almost everyone else is down to their underwear, and Jennifer has also lost her bra. The girls nervously alternate puffs on cigarettes with long sips of beer. Between the cloud formed by their cigarettes and the stream of smoke rising from downstairs, the room is becoming more than hazy, and so I don’t know how much we’ll actually be able to see when people are fully naked.

Mr. Cowboy Hat, whom I’ve since found out is named Justin, is the first one required to throw in his underwear, but removes his Stetson instead. The girls cry foul.

“You’d better show us more than your side part!” exclaims Christine.

“There’s no rule against hats,” insists Justin. “You could have worn one.”

“If that’s the case then my ring and necklace count as articles of clothing,” argues a braless Jennifer.

The more those two bicker the more everyone else roars with laughter. Between Josh placing his hand on my knee every few minutes and the good cards that keep coming my way, I decide that this must indeed be my lucky night.

“Hall-ie . . .” I hear my name echoing somewhere within the swirl of music, shouts of laughter, and a gauzy but pleasant alcoholic haze.

It can’t be. It cannot be the voice that boomerangs through the garden at the Stocktons’ and calls me in for dinner at the end of the day.

TWO

Sure enough, Bernard Stockton, my longtime mentor and summer employer, crawls toward the circle on his hands and knees, panting with exhaustion. Oh no—could there have been another breakup with Gil? They’ve seemed so happy since getting back together and adopting the two little Chinese girls. Or worse, maybe something terrible has happened to Olivia and Ottavio on their trip to Italy. A plane crash?

Bernard drops to the floor as if he’s been crawling through the desert and finally reached an oasis. Covered in a heavy down parka with a scarf wrapped around his neck and carrying a fleece hat in hand, sweat pours off Bernard’s face, his eyes are rimmed with red, and he’s gasping for air. But something else is odd. Those aren’t his usual gabardine wool winter slacks. They’re navy blue silk pajama bottoms! Bernard never goes out of the house unless he’s immaculately dressed and every salt and pepper hair is in place.

“Hallie!”

“Bernard!” Whatever is he doing here, right now?

“Heavens to Betsy Bloomingdale.” Bernard begins coughing uncontrollably and pounds his hand on the floor while catching his breath. “I’m tipsy and tripping and dying of asphyxiation without having imbibed nor inhaled.” Bernard raises his head an inch. “And possibly betrothed—some woman thinks I’m George Clooney and kissed me solidly on the mouth. She has eyes like cherry strudel and appears to be riding high on everything but skates.”

“Kimberly,” everyone says in unison.

Jennifer grabs a T-shirt off the mound of clothes in the center of the circle and covers her bare chest. Otherwise the group doesn’t appear bothered by the adult intrusion, at least after making certain it’s no one from the dean’s office or else the campus police on the prowl for underage drinkers.

“Hallie, I’ve been searching absolutely everywhere for you. Come on—we have to go!” Bernard doesn’t so much as say hello to the rest of the kids, which is totally unlike him. “I don’t want you to be alarmed,” he says in a voice that suggests I should be very alarmed indeed, “but your father had a heart attack.”

Huh? My dad—a heart attack—impossible! He’s young and strong and not even forty! I sit there stunned.

With a certain amount of dramatic huffing and puffing Bernard rises to his feet. “We must go to the hospital now!” He enunciates the words as if talking to someone who can only lip read.

Not knowing what to say I stand up and walk toward him like an automaton. It’s only when I reach the door that Bernard says, “It’s rather chilly outside, you might want to consider pants.”

Josh has anticipated this and dug my jeans from out of the clothing pile. After handing them to me he retrieves my socks and shoes from the corner of the room.

I quickly dress and we head toward the main floor. The entire house is now chock-full of people partying, swaying to music, and propped up against walls, their outstretched legs blocking the hallways and stairwells. Bernard is pardonnez- moi-ing every step of the way through this obstacle course while towing me along behind him. We finally reach the front door, but it takes another moment to push through a crowd of rowdy women who claim to have paid earlier. The heavyset doorman is effectively blocking their entrance and shouting, “Show me your beavers!”

Bernard looks questioningly at me. “Hand stamp,” I explain. But it’s too loud to hear anything, and so I hold mine up to Bernard’s face and he nods in understanding.

Once we’re outside Bernard continues to yell as if he’s still competing with the music. “Gil is waiting in the car with the girls. I’ve been to so many different parties I don’t even know where I am anymore.”

“What did you park in front of?” I holler back, though it’s quiet now but for a few shouts coming from a late-night snowball fight across the quad.

“There was a sculpture out front—like a giant toadstool.”

“That’s the science building,” I say. “It’s supposed to be a molecule or something.”

I hurry Bernard in the correct direction and the fresh air clears my head slightly. “Is it serious?” I ask.

“I’m not sure. Your sister Louise phoned.” We’ve been jogging for a few minutes, and it’s not so easy to catch our breath. “You . . . can . . . call her . . . from . . . the car.”

I locate the maroon Volvo that Bernard recently traded for his vintage silver Alfa Romeo parked across from the science building with its engine running, the exhaust puffing a cloud of gray smoke into the cold winter air.

The girls are asleep in their car seats in the back and I climb between them while Bernard dives into the passenger side. The moment I pull the door closed Gil shoves a cell phone in my ear and puts the car into gear so that we jump away from the curb.

My sister Louise is frantic on the other end of the line. “Hallie? Is that you?”

“Yeah,” I exhale heavily.

“Thank God they found you! Please go to the hospital right away and find out what’s going on. I’m stuck here with the kids. Every time the phone rings I practically faint.” Louise sounds as if she’s starting to cry, and that it’s not for the first time over the past few hours. “I woke up and the paramedics were flying down the stairs with Dad on a stretcher and Mom threw a coat over her nightgown and yelled for me to watch the kids. Reggie’s been screaming bloody murder. I finally gave him a bottle of regular milk. It’ll probably kill him. Tell Bernard and Gil that I’m sorry to have woken them up, but I didn’t know what else to do.”

“No, it’s fine.” I’m suddenly feeling incredibly sober.

“I got hold of Eric about an hour ago,” reports Louise. “He’s taking a bus from Indiana.”

“I’ll go to the hospital, find out what’s happening, and then call you right back.” I click off the phone and let my head tip over backward.

“Don’t worry,” says Gil. “The new hospital has a terrific cardiac unit—state of the art.”

“How old is your dad?” asks Bernard.

“Both my parents are thirty-nine.” It’s easy to remember because I just have to add nineteen to Eric’s age.

“Oh, that’s young,” says Bernard. “He’ll be fine. They can do quadruple bypasses and even replace valves with animal parts. We eat too much ham and bacon and then the surgeons give us pig aortas. It’s one giant recycling system. If your heart can’t be salvaged, then they just throw it away and stitch in a whole new one.”

I certainly hope Bernard is right, but I fear that he’s just trying to make me feel better.
Author Q&A

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Laura Pedersen

Julie Sciandra and Laura Pedersen have been friends since their potato salad days as teenagers during the energy crisis in Buffalo, New York, back when you had to keep moving in order to stay warm.

Julie Sciandra:Where exactly is Cosgrove County?

Laura Pedersen:Well, how do you want to go there—by car?

JS: Say that I want to drive there from Buffalo, New York.

LP: That’s easy. You get on the thruway going west, drive through a chunk of Pennsylvania, and eventually you’re in the northeast corner of Ohio. Get on Route 45 heading south. After about twenty minutes you’ll see a dairy with a big plastic cow on top and a faded red barn behind it—make a left at that corner. Go through the covered bridge—it’s a shame about the graffiti, but it does make you wonder whatever happened to those couples, especially the ones who declared True Luv 4ever. Drive about two more miles, until you see the old mill where they sell apple cider and maple syrup, and then bear left at the fork in the road. Only slow down because a lot of Amish folk live around there and they don’t like to use those orange triangles on the back of their buggies. They also don’t care to have their picture taken. But if their farm stand is open you definitely want to stop and buy a cherry pie—absolutely delicious. Anyway, after approximately three more miles you’ll come to the edge of town. There’s the train station and then the park. If you make a right onto Millersport it will take you up to Cappy’s place.Otherwise go left on Swan Street and that takes you to Main.Main Street is about eight blocks long and you’ll know you’re at the end of it when you pass the town hall and see the gravel road that leads to the cemetery. On a nice day the cemetery can be a great place for a picnic. I actually prefer it to the park.

JS: So this town is a real place?

LP: It is to me. But then I’m an only child and we’re known for creating not just imaginary friends but entire galaxies.

JS: Throughout the first three Hallie Palmer books you make it sound as if the town has been hurt by the advent of outlet centers and superstores.

LP: Cosgrove has certainly known its ups and downs, like so many towns in Middle America. Back in the 1800s the land around there was a good place for a farmer to settle, since the soil is rich and you had not only the railroad nearby for transporting your crops but also the Great Lakes. The Erie Canal was completed in 1825, and so your grain or lumber or whatever was sent by train to Buffalo and then got loaded onto mule barges that went past Albany on the Hudson River, to New York City, and could then go on to Europe. Similarly, after the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, your goods could be easily transported to Chicago and the fast-developing Plains, Rockies, and California.

JS: Do you want to start singing “Erie Canal”?

LP: “Low bridge, everybody down. Low bridge, for we’re coming to a town.”

JS: Did you have to sing that in elementary school as many times as we did?

LP:More. Sweet Home is a public school.

JS: I’d forgotten that the name of your school system is Sweet Home.My condolences.

LP: It definitely caused more than a few fights. Our mascot was the panther, but at basketball games the opposing team liked to snarl, “Sweet Home Sweeties.” This didn’t go over real well. No matter, I’m just glad they finally got the asbestos out of the ceilings.

JS: So the town where Hallie lives was going gangbusters back in the 1890s.What went wrong?

LP: As farming became increasingly mechanized, people began working and living in town. But by the 1940s they’d started migrating to the cities for work in the factories, steel plants, stockyards, and granaries, at least until the 1950s and 1960s when many of those jobs went overseas. Then the oil crisis and recession of the 1970s hit the area pretty hard. However, this past year the town is becoming more of a bedroom community for Cleveland, and if they go ahead with those plans to start a commuter train it’s really going to revive things.

JS: And exactly how is it that you know all of this? Do you have a seat on the town council?

LP: Actually, I’m the town historian.

JS: Sure you are. Now back to the story. Do we finally find out the name of Hallie’s mom?

LP: No.

JS: The Big Shuffle seems darker than the first two books in the Hallie Palmer series.Has anything happened to make you more pessimistic since you wrote those?

LP: I don’t find it so, but then I thought Last Call—a love story between a roguish Scotsman living in Brooklyn and a nun who has run off from the convent—was optimistic when a good portion of that book was about dying from cancer. I tend to stick with the themes of life, love, and death. So basically in every book someone is going to get it. It was a greater tragedy because Hallie’s father is a relatively young man and leaves behind this enormous family. On the other hand, the Palmers have experienced plenty of new life, with a total of ten children, and so every once in a while the pendulum has to swing.

JS: But was it necessary to go that far for Hallie to become an adult?

LP: Good question. No, I don’t think anything was needed to help Hallie along, and that she was going to arrive on her own just fine. She didn’t have to be snapped into reality by a major event. I suppose I was harkening back to the past. There wasn’t really such a thing as “childhood” until about sixty years ago. Children were regarded as small adults. Furthermore, if you consider that back then the average life span was shorter, families were larger, and the number of women who died in childbirth was much greater, Hallie’s situation as temporary head of the household wouldn’t have been that unusual. In fact, I often think that teenagers today don’t feel all that challenged by their roles and fantasize about being able to do something heroic in a tough situation. I’m not advocating such circumstances, simply saying that most teens can and will rise to the occasion when put to the test, rather than just play sports, start rock bands, do homework, work at the Tastee Freez, and roam the mall. On the flip side, I know a lot of teenagers who do community service, whether it’s through school, a religious organization, or on their own, and this is a great way of learning about what type of adult they’d like to become.

JS: I’ve noticed that you seem to kill off at least one man in every novel?

LP: A few women have stepped on a rainbow—Denny’s wife in Going Away Party, Hayden’s wife in Last Call, and Pastor Costello’s mother was called home sometime between Heart’s Desire and The Big Shuffle. But you’re right to ask since these deaths occurred offstage and were more plot devices than the demise of developed characters. In my defense, Olivia takes a bad fall in Heart’s Desire and Hallie’s mom spends several months in a hospital during The Big Shuffle. Overall, you’re correct and I appear to be a man killer. Please don’t tell my husband.

JS:Where did Uncle Lenny come from? He must be one of your more bizarre characters.

LP: I think Uncle Lenny comes off as being eccentric only because he’s been temporarily transplanted to a small town in Ohio and we don’t encounter him in the port of Marseille. Which is what makes Uncle Lenny so much fun to have in the book—he has a different vocabulary from years at sea and is not familiar with typical suburban family life. However, he’s practical in the way that most sailors are, has a big heart, and ends up being an enormous help, which is more than we can say for Aunt Lala.

JS:Why is Bernard afraid to travel? Is that supposed to be symbolic in some way?

LP: I think we all have our fears, some more rational than others, some more acceptable or explainable than others. I never meant for it to be symbolic of anything. Bernard is just a home-and-hearth kind of guy and has hung on to that worry so many of us have when we’re young about going into the woods and not coming back. Or worse, a loved one leaving and not returning. Bernard feels that nothing bad can happen in the safety of one’s own home, surrounded by the people you love, aside from the occasional kitchen accident.

JS:What’s Hallie’s biggest fear?

LP: Aside from dropping one of those twins on his head, I guess it would be to make the wrong decision about something important—which man to marry, what job to take, where to live. I think that Hallie is in many ways overwhelmed by the amount of freedom she has to make choices regarding the direction her life will take. And that’s why she keeps circling her safe places—Officer Rich, the Stocktons, her family—always on the lookout for clear answers. To a good card player there’s almost always a right move—at least the odds favor it fifty-one percent and so you make it. But in real life the probabilities, decision trees, and possible outcomes can’t be calculated as accurately. This drives Hallie crazy, the fact that the world isn’t a math problem that can be easily solved with a pencil and paper. And that unlike work done with a pencil, life choices can’t necessarily be erased.

JS:What are you most afraid of ?

LP: Dying one of those long, slow, horrible deaths from a disease they don’t know much about, you can’t pronounce, and none of my friends have heard of, so between monthslong hospital stays I’m on the Internet searching for cures and ordering guava pulp concentrate from South America, lighting lavender candles, and forming healing circles with the dogs. I’d much rather the M4 bus come barreling up Madison Avenue on a winter day when there’s a bad glare and the curb is slippery and performs the Grim Reaper’s job lickety-split.As soon as the passengers look out the window and see that the driver has killed a woman wearing a fuzzy pink bathrobe and silver moon boots, they groan and immediately start shouting, “Give us a refund!” and “Is there another bus behind this one?”

JS: Good luck with that.Why is Best Bet, the next book, going to be the last in the Hallie Palmer series?

LP: At around the age of twenty-two I suddenly became very boring, basically the person I am today.

JS: So what’s next?

LP: I’m working on a stand-alone novel called Fool’s Mate which is a bit edgier than this series. It takes place in a newsroom and there are some political machinations, which I’ve mostly avoided in the Hallie Palmer books, aside from Olivia’s protests and editorializing. I’m also working on a new series where two women open an animal hospital in upstate New York. One is a veterinarian and the other has an MBA.

JS:Wait a second. That sounds like my life.

LP: It is. But I had the idea first. Remember—I showed it to you years ago when you lived in Manhattan and then you went and copied it with your life. Same with John and Kelly adopting a baby from China. They stole that from Heart’s Desire.

JS:Will a lot of men die in the next series?

LP: I suppose it depends on whether or not they’re good drivers. The winters in upstate New York are very icy.

JS:What’s your ultimate goal as a writer?

LP: Ideally, I’d like to get my books banned. That seems to be the best thing for sales.

Praise | Awards

Praise

“Laura Pedersen’s lively imagination has created a cast of zany characters and an unforgettable heroine.”
–Bev Marshall, author of Hot Fudge Sundae Blues, on Heart’s Desire

Awards

WINNER 2007 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. When the Palmer family is in crisis, it’s decided that Hallie will leave school to take over and not her brother Eric, who is a year older. Was this the right decision? In your family, are tasks typically divided into what is considered “men’s work” and “women’s work”?

2. The neighbor lady, Mrs. Muldoon, has a daughter in Arizona who wants her mother to come and live out there. Only Mrs. Muldoon has spent her entire life in town and doesn’t want to leave. What are some of the pros and cons of having family members living nearby?

3. Do you belong to a community, organization, or close circle of friends who can rely upon each other when in need?

4. What do you think is the worst possible age to lose a parent?

5. In the Palmer family the girls tend to have major difficulties during their teenage years while the boys stay the course. In your experience, is it more common for boys or girls to have a rough patch as teenagers, or the same for both?

6. Do you think it’s possible to forecast how your friends or family members would react to a family crisis like the one Hal-lie experiences, or is it impossible to tell with people until they’re actually in such a situation?

7. Louise leaves home shortly after her father dies. Have you ever had a relationship or a bad experience in a particular place and felt that the only solution was to leave?

8. At a certain point Hallie wonders if something she may have done has caused tragedy to strike. Do you believe that good and bad things happen in life based on our behavior?

9. When Craig drops out of college, Hallie worries that he’s jeopardizing his future. What would you advise Craig to do? How important is a college education today?

10. Olivia’s boyfriend Ottavio turns out to be the jealous type and flies into a rage when she strikes up a friendship with a man. Did you feel Ottavio acted appropriately, or was his reaction out of proportion with the situation?

11. When Olivia takes up with a younger man, her son views this as being scandalous. Is there a double standard in society that allows for men to date younger women but not vice versa?

12. Going out with Auggie seems to help Hallie realize what she really wants in a boyfriend. Do you believe in love at first sight? Do you think that your first love is your only true love? Are you rational about the qualities you look for in a partner or do you base decisions purely on attraction and emotion?

13. Hallie and Craig finally decide to have a serious one-on-one relationship. How old must a person be to recognize true love and function in a mature relationship?

14. Hallie holds much of her grief inside because she’s trying not to upset her younger siblings. Are there times when it’s best to try to conceal your emotions, or is this almost always unhealthy?

15. While going through some papers Hallie discovers that her mother married and gave birth to her older brother earlier than she’d led the family to believe, largely because she regretted having dropped out of school. Is it okay for parents to keep some secrets, or is honesty always the best policy?

16. Even though Hallie cares very much for Pastor Costello, she’s extremely angry when she discovers that he has feelings for her mother. In your experience, do most children react negatively to the prospect of a parent striking up a new relationship after a death or divorce?


  • The Big Shuffle by Laura Pedersen
  • October 31, 2006
  • Fiction
  • Ballantine Books
  • $13.95
  • 9780345479563

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