Pearl, by Jo Knowles (book review) – mystery fathers, faithful friendship

book cover of Pearl by Jo Knowles published by Henry Holt BooksNo dad,
weird mom,
just one friend, ever –
Henry and Pearl feel like they’re in Bizarro World for sure.

Must have been hard for Pearl’s grandfather when his only child was suddenly pregnant at 15, the age that never-had-a-boyfriend Pearl is now. As much as he loved his little ‘Bean’, he blamed her mom for that mistake every single day for the rest of his life.

Her friend Henry’s mom never got over being abandoned when he was a tiny baby, so she just stays in their house, watching soaps endlessly.

Fate does have its twists and turns, especially when 15 years of neighborhood and family secrets suddenly surface. You’ll have to read Pearl  to find out which layers of those secrets are the truth.

Big thanks to author Jo Knowles for helping Kate Messner offer  the summertime Teachers Write program online so that teachers and librarians can get better at their own writing (and maybe finish the next amazing novel we all can’t wait to read).

When is revealing a secret worse than keeping it?

Book info:  Pearl / Jo Knowles. Henry Holt, 2011. [author site]  [publisher site]  [book trailer] Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

My book talk: The summer that her grandpa dies changes everything for 15-year-old Bean and her best (only) friend Henry, trying to grow up despite their oddball moms and missing dads.

Soap operas, junk food, always staying at home – that’s Henry’s mom. Waitressing till late night, always arguing with her dad Gus, never escaping the big mistake she made at 15 – that’s Bean’s mom. Along with grandpa Gus, they’re all that Bean and Henry have, besides one another.

It was Gus who started calling her Bean (instead of Pearl), who took her fishing on the city-smooshed river behind their tired house, who told her stories of the grandmother who died when Pearl’s mom was young.

Gus’s death opens up family secrets, brings Claire into the house (her mom needs her, they both say), makes the summer even hotter and more miserable for Bean and Henry. At least the friends can be together and keep each other sane amid the craziness that their moms and Claire unleash.

Why did Bean’s mom hate her own dad so much?
Will Claire ever go back to her own place?
Why didn’t their dads stick around?

Too many secrets swirl through Bean and Henry’s lives now, but maybe they’re good enough friends to survive it all in this realistic novel of growing up and second chances.  (One of 6,000 books recommended on

What do you think?

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