"SIX FEET OVER IT IS LIKE NOTHING YOU'VE READ BEFORE." Bustle.com
"Equal parts poignant and humorous...Superb." KIRKUS (Starred)
"UP TO THIS POINTE: A moving love letter to dance, dreams, and San Francisco." KIRKUS
Praise for UP TO THIS POINTE & SIX FEET OVER IT, a Summer/Fall 2014 Indies Introduce New Voices, 2014 Washington State Book Award Finalist and VOYA Perfect Ten 2014 title.
SHELF AWARENESS (STARRED)
"A stunning love letter to ballet and San Francisco, Jennifer Longo's (Six Feet Over It) quirky sophomore novel, Up to This Pointe, is the perfect meld of adorable and heart-wrenching.
"Harper Scott--related to South Pole explorer Robert Falcon Scott--has lied her way into a National Science Foundation grant for teens to winter over at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. One hundred and forty days ago, she and her BFF Kate were on the brink of realizing their Plan, which hinged on the San Francisco Ballet offering both girls positions so they could fulfill their professional dance goals and stay together in their beloved hometown. Kate's innate talent and ability to pay for extra classes and stretching coaches paves her way, while Harper taught children's classes at their ballet school to cover her tuition and has dieted since she "was like, twelve." However, Harper so wholeheartedly believed her sacrifice, work and passion would get her through that she never sought backup possibilities, even though 17 is old to start a ballet career. Longo slowly teases out how the Plan went awry and how Harper moves forward from her heartbreak in a dual then-and-now narrative.
Longo offsets Harper's crushing lesson that "sometimes ballet does not love us back" with dreamy rambles through San Francisco, her depressed need "[t]o be frozen" with perky penguins, and one charming rascal of a Mr. Right Now with a steadfast, swoon-inducing Mr. Right. Older teens and adults will relate to Harper's dreams, loss and rebirth." --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services librarian, Latah County Library District (Idaho)
Discover: Jennifer Longo's second novel is a sometimes funny, sometimes anguished look at the failed dreams of a teen ballerina who lies her way into Antarctica's McMurdo Station, hoping to heal.
THE BULLETIN (STARRED)
"Failure is hard. It’s especially hard that most of the kids who dominate in their high schools, youth leagues, and art worlds as teens don’t make the cut to be the adult stars they were certain they’d be, so they plummet precipitously from youthful glory into the shards of ordinariness. Yet despite this being a common youthful experience, it’s a surprisingly uncommon topic for young adult literature. Such a fall has recently devastated seventeen-year-old Harper Scott. Harper has grown up with the legend of her distant relation, polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott, guiding the do-or-die spirit of her family. Initially, that connection seems sufficient explanation for her becoming a student biology assistant at McMurdo Base in Antarctica, where she’ll be one of the few who spends the winter there. Flashbacks, however, reveal that Harper isn’t a scientist but a dancer, consecrated to ballet and “the Plan” for her future as a dancer with the same fervor that explorers brought to their missions (“For a person to become a ballerina, it is understood you are taking on Antarctica. . . . You must be willing to eat your dogs”).
It also slowly becomes clear that that Plan hit a roadblock that cracked Harper’s life apart, and that she’s now trying to figure out her place in the world—starting at the bottom. The two seemingly disparate themes synthesize with keen effectiveness in this story of a girl who never for a moment thought that her discipline and desire wouldn’t get her where she wanted to go. That’s the rule, after all, evident in a thousand exhortations about following your dream and wanting something enough (“If you work hard your entire life for this one, single dream you have and ever will have, then nothing, no one, can stop a person from achieving this dream”). Even as Harper encounters rejections from companies before her audition with her beloved San Francisco Ballet, she’s crafting the myth of her many setbacks before her ultimate success—but what she gets is not a triumphant narrative twist but a summary dismissal (“Number 232, you are excused from the barre”). “I’ve wasted my entire life for the love of something I can never have,” says a shell shocked Harper, “and now I don’t have any idea who I am.” Longo, author of the delightful Six Feet over It (BCCB 11/14), makes Harper a standout character of fire, commitment, and sass (wryly noting her softening body in Antarctica, she cracks, “Welcome to my ass, Fat”). Harper’s narration accentuates the poignancy of her dilemma by making it clear how much she has to offer in many areas, not just dance, and how little she realizes that. Her appealing romantic interludes—with a devoted guy back home and an engaging flirt in Antarctica—allow her a little room to explore additional emotional possibilities. Even more important, though, is her fiercely loving and fiercely complicated relationship with her best friend, Kate, who has the professional-level talent Harper lacks; Harper’s grief and fury blinds her to Kate’s own challenges and almost breaks the friendship, but the girls have the courage to come back to each other after they’ve faced their changes. The book is also savvy and detailed about the Antarctic and life on the ice, with McMurdo’s combination of industrial site and summer camp vividly conveyed. It’s also perfect that the Antarctic ghost/hallucination that Harper chats occasionally with is not her relative, Scott, or the plan-intensive Amundsen but the third saint of polar exploration, the glorious Shackleton—who may be the greatest of them all despite never actually succeeding in setting foot at the Pole." Fans of McCaughrean’s The White Darkness (BCCB 2/07) will definitely want a look; even determinedly frost-free readers, though, will sympathize with Harper’s upheaval at failing to become one of the chosen few. An author’s note includes a lively Antarctic bibliography. (See p. 363 for publication information.) Deborah Stevenson, Editor
“Six months in an isolated Antarctic research station give Harper, a recent high school graduate, time to reflect and heal after the painful end of her ballet aspirations. Withdrawn Harper Scott arrives at the McMurdo station, having pulled strings because of her family relationship to the famous Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott. Her tale of loss slowly unfolds through flashback chapters describing her life back home in San Francisco. Although Harper and her best friend have dedicated their entire lives to becoming professional ballerinas, recent events have forced Harper to accept that her body is fundamentally unsuited for professional ballet—regardless of her incredible passion and willingness to make sacrifices. While many readers will make early, accurate predictions about the death of Harper's career, rather than spoiling the big reveal, this foreknowledge makes witnessing Harper's denial of obvious warning signs incredibly painful. But, ultimately, given time to collect herself in a land where just surviving is challenging, and with the sage advice of another Antarctic explorer—Ernest Shackleton—Harper eventually charts a course toward a future that will honor her love of ballet and her talents for teaching young dancers (and might even leave room for a sensitive boyfriend). A moving love letter to dance, dreams, and San Francisco, and a look at how embracing personal passion leads to fulfillment (even if it wasn't part of the plan).”
“Harper loves two things with all her heart: ballet and her best friend, Kate. Since sixth grade, Harper and Kate have been following the Plan, which involves auditioning for a professional dance company. But something derailed the Plan. Harper is now alone in Antarctica, “wintering over.” As a descendant of Robert Falcon Scott, Harper was allowed last-minute entry into the McMurdo science station for six long months. Chapters alternate between her experiences in Antarctica and the events that led to the abrupt dissolution of the Plan, and both stories are brutal. As a ballerina, Harper endures physical and emotional pain to the point of deformity, and despite that, it’s where she’s investing all her hopes and dreams. What, then, could cause her to flee thousands of miles from home? The two stories do not weave together easily, but the tension between them snags the reader’s curiosity. Longo’s fabulous depiction of McMurdo and the winter residents captures the beauty, humor, and danger of such an isolated existence. An adventure story with lots of heart.” — Diane Colson
“Harper and her best friend Kate have dreamed of becoming professional ballerinas in the San Francisco Ballet ever since they were small, but after their plans go awry, Harper finagles her way into a six-month stint in Antarctica. Harper is a member of the Scott family (as in explorer Robert Falcon Scott), which makes her Antarctic “royalty,” and she’ll be one of three students sent to “The Ice” via a National Science Foundation grant. Flashback chapters following Harper’s time in San Francisco can’t help but feel conventional next to the newness and unfamiliarity of her time in Antarctica, but Harper’s passion for dance, jealousy over Kate’s success, and heartache when she realizes her own dancing dreams may not come to be are incisively written. “Your love is evident,” her instructor tells her. “But, darling, sometimes ballet does not love us back.” Longo (Six Feet Over It) makes it easy to commiserate with Harper as she tries to move past disappointment and envision a new path forward.”
THE HORN BOOK REVIEW
"Harper Scott and her best friend Kate always planned to graduate early from high school and join the San Francisco Ballet company. In Harper’s mind, “If you… dedicate your entire life to what you truly love and put all you have into it…it is, in fact, impossible that it will not happen.” But things don’t always go according to plan, particularly in the hyper-competitive world of ballet—which is why, when we first meet Harper, she’s on a research base in Antarctica, not rehearsing with the San Francisco Ballet. First-person, present-tense chapters alternately relate what’s happening now in Antarctica and, beginning “140 days ago” in San Francisco, the events that led up to Harper’s current situation. Harper’s grief, shock, and profound homesickness are immediate and wrenching as she slowly reveals the painful truth of what happened, which involves betrayal by Kate and, in Harper’s mind, by ballet itself. Harper’s temporary Antarctic life is evoked with as much vivid, fascinating detail as her “second home,” the ballet studio. Two subplots, involving Harper’s rival beaux and a hallucination-producing thyroid disorder (resulting in pep talks from the ghost of explorer Ernest Shackleton), provide enough romance and light-heartedness to temper the poignancy. An affecting, memorable examination of disappointment and loss." Katie Bircher
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
"Harper Scott had one plan, a plan devised in sixth grade to live the life of a ballerina with her best friend, Kate. She dedicated her life to ballet, yet after her plan defaults and Kate is offered her dream, Harper, a descendant of Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott, follows in her ancestor’s footsteps and ventures to the Antarctic to heal and figure out where her future lies. With alternating narratives set in her hometown of San Francisco and Antarctica, Harper’s clear voice will resonate with teens struggling to obtain their dreams while being comfortable with their abilities, even if their initial plans go south. Harper is a well-developed, relatable character. Her inner monologue is witty and dominates most of the novel, giving a unique perspective on how her relationships with secondary characters, as well as apparitions of Antarctic explorers, influence her decision-making. Relationships with a possible love interest, Owen, and new and old friends are well crafted. VERDICT A recommended read for determined teens with an interest in following and exploring their dreams." Briana Moore, School Library Journal
"This book has earned Jennifer Longo a place on my must-read list. Longo has a knack for capturing the emotional roller coaster of life-changing events; she did it with Six Feet Over It and maybe even more powerfully here. Additionally, it’s nice to have a ballet story for teens that doesn’t focus on body dysmorphia and eating disorders, nor does it focus on the backbiting hyper-competitiveness. Yes, those things are present–you can’t really have a ballet book without them–but they aren’t the focus. The parallels between the harsh world of (aspiring) professional dancers and the harsh conditions of Antarctica were beautifully drawn and serve as perfect backdrops for Harper’s personal journey." –Billie Bloebaum, A Children’s Place, Portland, OR
"One of the most breathtaking explorations of navigating heartbreak that I've ever read. This one is for the ages." Martha Brockenbrough, author of THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH
"My good friend Gaby Salpeter used to work at Books of Wonder, and to mix things up, she would always force a few goodies into my bag I hadn’t heard of. She raved about Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo, but I was doubtful: first, it was contemporary, which isn’t a genre I naturally gravitate toward (it has to really shine to get me to like it). Second, the synopsis was unique, but I couldn’t entirely connect with it: seemingly out of nowhere, Harper, a talented ballerina, abandons her best friend Kate and a guy she is falling for... to winter-over in Antarctica – drawn to the legacy of her ancestor, the explorer Robert Scott, who died never reaching the South Pole. She is lost, and alone, and literally surrounded by darkness. Throughout non-linear interludes that stretch back in time, we eventually learn why she left, what she is really searching for, and the cost of starting over. Needless to say, Gaby was right and I was wrong: I devoured this book from the first page. The character’s voice just ripped into my ribcage, seized my heart, and kept me close the whole way through. Up to This Pointe transcends its synopsis: it is about best friends who realize that they are traveling two different roads; about needing to leave the one place that has always kept you safe; mourning the thing you thought you loved most in the world because, in order to thrive, you have to give it up; about believing you are worthy of love even when you fail; and, of course, surviving in the darkness of Antarctica, where everything is cold, bitter, and bleak, except the one thing you need to survive: your inner light." Tara Sonin, Publicity/Marketing Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Praise for SIX FEET OVER IT
“A teenage girl must choose to live in a world filled with death. Fourteen-year-old Leigh is anything but thrilled when her parents move the family from their coastal home in Mendocino to run a “memorial park” (aka graveyard) in the boring inland California community of Hangtown. While her older sister, Kai, relaxes into small-town living, finally a normal high school girl after a long battle with leukemia, Leigh hides herself in the cemetery’s office and tries to avoid forming relationships. Like her parents, Leigh sacrificed a lot for Kai’s recovery, but she isn’t bitter. She adores her sister. Instead, she has closed herself off from feeling, hoping to avoid hurting or losing anyone again. When the local florists’ daughter and the new groundskeeper enter her life, she struggles to keep them at arm’s length. As she begins to let her guard down, she realizes that loss is a part of life and must decide if she is ready to let go of some painful events in her past to start really living again. In her debut, Longo deftly combines Leigh’s wry wit with an exceptional cast of well-developed characters to create a novel that is equal parts poignant and humorous. Readers will find themselves rooting for Leigh as she returns to the world around her. Superb.”
THE BULLETIN (STARRED)
“When Leigh’s father moves the family away from their beloved ocean home to run a cemetery in the hot California inland, high school freshman Leigh runs the business while her father generally flakes out and her mother retreats to her art studio. Leigh accepts it because she’ll do anything to keep her older sister, Kai, happy, now that Kai is newly in remission from leukemia; Leigh also has begun to believe that death is her own natural element, and that she is responsible for the unexpected death of her best friend, Emily, her anchor during Kai’s illness. Only Dario, the cemetery’s new wonder worker, is able to get past Leigh’s defenses. Leigh improves her Spanish as they dig graves together, relies on him to teach her to drive, and chokes down her crush on him when it turns out that the twenty-something Dario has a fiancée in Mexico hoping to join him in California. A vibrant voice keeps Leigh’s narration from becoming morose, but it also reveals the desperate loneliness and fear of the girl beneath the sass, the girl who believes “everyone good always leaves. Or dies.” Her work at the cemetery is suffused with her frustration toward her parents, but it’s also a perceptive and at times deeply moving view of people in loss, with insider insights like the difference between Pre-Need (those who purchased their plots in advance and are now merely using the service) and At Need (those arriving at the cemetery in fresh grief). Leigh’s an eloquent spokesperson for the pitfalls of being the kid whom worried about in a family in crisis; her raw deal will elicit indignant sympathy, and readers will rejoice at her triumphant reentry into the world. A delightfully robust author’s note describes Longo’s own cemetery experience.” – Center For Children’s Books Review Bulletin
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL REVIEW
“Instead of returning home at the end of a summer spent with their grandparents, Leigh and her older sister Kai receive two one-way bus tickets to Hangtown, CA. Their father has bought a graveyard and the family is moving. For the past three years, Leigh has been a stalwart support system for Kia while she battled cancer, and although the cancer is now in remission, Kai’s health feels tenuous. And there’s Emily, Leigh’s best friend, who died over the summer. Her parents are neglectful and disengaged, and her father expects her to work after school in the graveyard office. Longo has crafted a complicated and multilayered narrative, the root of which is the story of a young girl who feels that death follows her. Leigh’s aggressive sarcasm is at first off-putting, but soon it becomes clear that it masks a lot of pain. She resists making friends because she feels that being friends with her is to invite the specter of death. Leigh’s worst fears are confirmed when Dario, the 20-year-old Mexican immigrant who works at the cemetery (and Leigh’s crush), tells her that her birthday, November 1st, is the Day of the Dead in Mexico. Dario says she is like La Caterina, patron saint of the dead. It is through Dario’s friendship, Kai’s love, and the intrepid perseverance of Elanor, a girl who desperately wants to be her friend, that Leigh emerges from her grief and solidly joins the world of the living. An impressive debut novel—simultaneously hilarious, clever, and poignant.”–School Library Journal, Ragan O’Malley, Saint Ann’s School, Brooklyn, NY
“In a mordantly comedic coming-of-age story, 15-year-old Leigh believes she’s the “patron saint of death.” Not only did Leigh’s parents move the family away from the California coast to operate a graveyard, but her sister has leukemia, her best friend Emily was killed by a falling tree, and death seems to be everywhere Leigh turns (she works selling gravesites to mourners). Yet after meeting a young Mexican gravedigger named Dario, Leigh’s life at the cemetery starts looking up; the quirky graveyard regulars begin to grow on her, and she makes a new friend who reminds her of Emily. Debut author Longo provides Leigh with an offbeat, sarcastic worldview, revealed through Leigh’s chatty running commentary about the people and events around her. Leigh’s expressive inner monologues and witty observations about life and death vacillate from cynical and disassociated to deeply emotional: “I am the last person to hold her,” Leigh muses as she buries a newborn baby. A strong heroine, multicultural cast, and eclectic contemporary setting make Longo’s story stand out.” – Publisher’s Weekly
AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION BOOKLIST
“The one thing 14-year-old Leigh didn’t need after the death of her friend Emily was for her dad to move the whole family, including her cancer-recovering sister, inland to work at the cemetery he suddenly decided to purchase. Now Leigh’s days are filled with dealing with the “Pre-Need” (those buying plots for the future) and the “At Need” (those who need graves right now). Death, it seems, surrounds her, though the 19-year-old Mexican gravedigger, Dario, suggests that being “the patron saint of death” is rather beautiful. What looks to be positioned as a romance between Leigh and Dario develops into a surprising—and quite refreshing—story about the sometimes painful give-and-take of friendship, as Dario, over two years, helps Leigh to realize that accepting new relationships does not equal forgetting Emily. It may sound morose, but Longo gives it quite a bounce, with Leigh’s wry sense of humor wreaking havoc on the day-to-day cemetery operations and her boisterous father bringing the laughs with his every sputtering shout of disbelief. A unique book for unique teens.” – Booklist
VOYA, August 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 3)
“This story about a teenager whose family acquires a cemetery as the family business after leaving a hippie lifestyle in Northern California pulls at the reader’s heartstrings. This moving tale of friendship, loyalty, and family ties brings up so many themes of modern teen life. This very satisfying story builds gradually, letting readers know about Leigh’s past, present, and future with hints of growing courage in her character. She develops into a wonderful person in spite of a quirky and dysfunctional family. Death is all around her, yet she finds truth and determination to make the most of the hand that has been dealt her. Leigh was born prematurely on the Day of the Dead and lives on to be stronger than she ever thought possible. Her older sister becomes a cancer survivor; she loses her best friend to a deadly accident and suffers an extreme case of survivor guilt; and she builds a strong, sibling-like relationship with a Mexican worker. She has a crush on him, naturally, and he teaches her how to drive at her father’s urging. All the forces in her life collide to show her how to step in when help is needed most urgently. She often feels neglected by her parents and rises to the occasion many times when called upon to do the right thing. The story covers may aspects of teen life: bullying; “mean girls;” sisterhood, in family of origin as well as outside those boundaries; and working a job, albeit in a cemetery office, while learning lessons in school and in life. Leigh weaves in the literature she reads in school, giving us allusions and metaphors for her own life and the lives of those suffering and struggling in the world. The characters she encounters add unexpected depth and humor to the tale. This was a surprisingly good read, and this reviewer recommends it whole heartedly.” – VOYA/Jane Murphy
THE HORN BOOK REVIEW (Nov/Dec 2014)
“Four months ago Leigh’s father unexpectedly bought a graveyard and moved his family from their California beach town to live on the graveyard’s grounds. While he loves his new business (maybe a little too much), Leigh’s not thrilled about having to manage the cemetery office when she’s not at her new school—a place where she remains a “friendless parasite in [an] unfamiliar labyrinth.” Leigh’s older sister is in remission from cancer and obsessed with running and with a new love interest; their artist mother escapes to the beach whenever she can. On top of all that, Leigh is secretly mourning the death of her only friend, Emily, from back home who, as it turns out, is buried in their cemetery. Leigh thinks that making new friends or having fun will be a betrayal of her friendship with Emily and believes that anyone who gets close to her will disappear, too, so she keeps people at bay. Fortunately the new young Mexican groundskeeper Dario and free-spirited flower-shop girl Elanor are persistent in their support and friendship, and they slowly help Leigh rediscover herself. Longo’s debut stands out for its unusual setting and also the sarcasm and caustic humor of its protagonist (“Creepy death/birth? Check. Living in a graveyard? Check…born on the Day of the Dead? The Day of the Freaking Dead?…Check!”). It is heartbreaking to see this likable character suffer, but all the more rewarding to see her transformation unfold.“- Cynthia K. Ritter
"SIX FEET OVER IT is unlike anything you’ve ever read before. It’s a beautiful family, female friendship, and quirky story all rolled up into one. Leigh’s eccentric father moves the whole family into a cemetery, aka memorial park, and Leigh is stuck selling gravestones to grieving families after school. You’ll laugh out loud and then clasp your hand over your mouth because you can’t believe you just LOL-ed at a death in someone’s family. That’s some seriously well executed dark comedy. But just when you think it’s all crazy fun, that’s when the waterworks hit." – Caitlin White, Bustle.com Top Ten 2014 YA Debut List
SIX FEET OVER IT was selected by a panel of booksellers from across the United States as a Summer/Fall 2014 Indies Introduce New Voices title.
"Delightful characters and Leigh's wry observations will keep readers pushing for her to struggle out of grief and guilt."- The Seattle Times
“Darkly funny and deeply moving. An original, memorable voice.” - Jennifer L. Holm, New York Times bestselling author
“Terrific. Longo had me at ‘graveyard’ and then dug me in deeper with wit, dark humor, and a splendid collection of characters.”
- Lisa Brown, New York Times bestselling author
“A bighearted, wildly funny, and deeply poignant coming-of-age story about life, love, death, and everything in between.”
- Sarah McCarry, author of All Our Pretty Songs
“The blurb says darkly funny and it is that and more. Leigh’s father buys a cemetery where she is expected to help families make choices. Leigh has suffered great heartache in her fifteen years – parents who don’t seem to care or understand, almost losing her sister to cancer, and worst, losing a good friend with no chance to say goodbye. Leigh’s acerbic wit gets all of us through this story and we cheer when she finally finds another friend to lean on.”
-Valerie Koehler, Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston, TX)
“Sad, sweet and funny, this is the coming-of-age story of Leigh, a teenage girl who lives and works in a cemetery, selling grave sites to those who are planning ahead for their own deaths (“Pre-Needs”) and those grieving their deceased loved ones (“At-Needs”). Leigh’s life is steeped in death, grief and abandonment, and she is convinced that anyone she loves will be doomed by association. However, with the efforts of an immigrant groundskeeper and a persistent, home-schooled Tolkien fan, Leigh gradually learns that she can embrace joy, friendship and love, even while understanding the inevitability of death. I devoured this book in one ecstatic gulp, and it left me breathless. Count me as a Jennifer Longo fan for life.”
-Emily Ring, Inklings Bookshop, (Yakima, WA)
“At 17 years old, Leigh has already had more than a passing acquaintance with death and near death experiences with those she loves. So when her father decides to buy a graveyard, it somehow seems only fitting to Leigh that she’s the one who will be the primary representative in the family to sell grave sites. Although she is smart and funny, she shies away from making friends, even with a quirky homeschooler who does everything she can to befriend Leigh and the handsome, gentle, just a little too old for her, gravedigger who is loved by everyone. This is a sweet, clever, witty coming of age story that will steal your heart.”
-Kris Vreeland, Once Upon A Time (Montrose, CA)