Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Great Reviews for What I Call Life

I'm getting some great feedback on my new novel for middle-readers.

*Starred review from Booklist Nov. 2005

"After her mother has a breakdown in the middle of the public library, Cal is taken to live in a group home, which houses five other girls from troubled families. The young residents of the orange-colored Pumpkin House wear their wounds inside and out: Whitney is brash, bubbly, and determined to find her long-separated sister; timid Monica is whiny and full of complaints; Fern is an incessant giggler who sports a black eye; quiet, intelligent Amber has pulled every hair from her head, eyebrows, and lashes. Cal feels different. She's sure she is not a whiner, not a fusser; she shows no emotion and she's very organized. After all, she's held herself and her mother together for all of her eleven years. The Knitting Lady, the girls' tiny, elderly guardian, slowly begins the girls' healing process by sharing her love for knitting and storytelling. As the girls experience quiet time, reflection, and bonding with each other and their guardian, the Knitting Lady helps the girls recognize their own goodness and worth.Wolfson paints her characters with delightful authenticity. Her novel is a treasure of quiet good humor and skillful storytelling that conveys subtle messages about kindness, compassion, and the gift of family regardless of its configuration."--Frances Bradburn

One of the hot new kids’ books at the 2005 Book Expo AmericaPublisher’s Weekly

A Junior Library Guild selection. Check it out at

Gr 5-8-When her unstable mother has a psychotic episode, Cal is placed in a group home run by an elderly woman called "The Knitting Lady." The 11-year-old's new roommates are four girls, all in different stages of denial about their own situations. Cal, who prides herself on her independence and is fiercely protective of her mother, insists that she'll be going home any day and that what is happening is not at all part of her real life. Meanwhile, time passes, the girls learn to knit, and the Knitting Lady tells stories about two girls from long ago: one who was abandoned at an orphanage by her own mother, and another who was sent west on an orphan train. Set against these narratives, the present-day story involves shifting alliances, a search for a younger sister who may or may not exist, and a clear-eyed view of life in a group home and/or with "fosters" (regarding placements, one girl tells Cal, "Everything gets decided behind your back"). The author has a knack for vivid descriptions, suspenseful plotting, and a clear telling of the stories-within-the-story. A thoughtful and ultimately hopeful book, this novel has flashes of humor that lighten the sometimes painful events. Not all readers will take to it, but those who do will find it resonant and absorbing.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL

August 15 Kirkus Reviews: Cal Lavender (11) has perfected what she calls "My Face for Unbearably Unpleasant and Embarrassing Situations," which unfortunately is coming in handy following her mother's latest public outburst. While the story never gives Betty, Cal's mother, a specific diagnosis, her mental health causes Cal to be taken into protective custody until such time as Betty is deemed a functioning parent. Assuming that her stay at the group home, dubbed the Pumpkin House, is simply a detour from her real life, Cal initially resists getting to know the other girls. These include Whitney, a girl with an imaginary sister and a motor mouth; Amber, who can't stop pulling out all of her hair; and Monica, who jumps at her own shadow. The head of the group home, simply known as The Knitting Lady, offers pearls of wisdom in the form of stories, offering the girls a glimpse into each other's lives. While the odd characters are interesting, it's the smart and unique voice that makes this story shine. (Fiction. 10-14)


Whisper Mom said...

I posted this review on - but thought it would be helpful for readers to see it on your blog:

This Story Makes Me Want To Be A Better Person...

Reviewer: Dora E. H. Crow
Santa Cruz, CA

This is such an endearing story - spoken through an eleven year old girl's voice and thoughts with a refreshing honesty. The girls in this group home all display different strengths, coping methods, and vulnerabilities which are revealed one by one as the story progresses.

The Knitting Lady is an insightful and patient woman, who is not presented as simply "all-knowing and wise", but also as a caring person with her own wounds and self-doubts. She does seem almost too good to be true: occasionally relaxing the rules and letting the girls learn truths on their own, going with the flow and being totally present - but, as I said, she does have her own self-doubts. I feel that the Knitting Lady was not only the girls' mentor in the story, but that she has become my mentor as well.

My daughter observed me while tears ran down my face a few times when I was reading the book and asked, "Why are you crying Mom? Is it sad?" I replied, "Some parts are very sad, but the parts that make me cry are the happy ones.."

This is a very touching book.

The girls, the Knitting Lady, and their stories stayed with me for days after reading the story. Actually, they haven't left - I can still feel them. They make me want to be a better person.

Thank you, Jill Wolfson, for giving all of us this story and for giving us the Knitting Lady.

bookwormaddict said...

Hi Jill,
Today I completed your new book and it was a delight to read! I'm defnintely going to be adding it to one of my favorite books read this year!