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When She Was Good

By Norma Fox Mazer

Once in a great while, the tale of a survivor touches the beaten-down part of all of us in a way that feels entirely personal. 

In the sad, shabby trailer where Em Thurkill lived her first fourteen years, suffering her father’s alcoholic rages and her mother’s deathly silence, and in the three she lived trapped with her violent, unstable sister, there seems more than enough to end even the dream of hope.

Yet Em Thurkill’s story is a story of how hope outlives brutality. It is a story of one girl’s sweetness, and almost unbearable pain.

Heartbreaking, mesmerizing, and ultimately transcendent, When She Was Good is a tribute to the astonishing resilience of the human soul.


After mother died, the thought came to me - and I couldn’t imagine then that it wasn’t thought, but mute, passionate longing stuck to the chaos of feeling like dust to glue - I thought that if I was good, if I paid attention, if I put up with, if I understood and overlooked and tended my bruises in silence, I thought and believed... that, in time, happiness would be given me. That I would find it. Or it would find me.

Reviews and Awards

ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Booklist Editor’s Choice
School Library Journal Best Book
Book Links Lasting Connection

“It is a delicately wrought piece of fiction about a young girl fighting depressingly bad odds. When She Was Good often sounds like nonfiction.... not too good to be true, but too bad to be false. It is written with a stinging clarity and conviction.” - The New York Times Book Review

⋆ “A stunning piece of young adult fiction for readers mature enough to understand all of its psychological complexities. No typical tale of teen angst, Em Thurkill's life story is one of pain, both physical and emotional, as well as determination.… Her voice is captured beautifully; her fear as well as her desperation for normalcy and happiness as she struggles to survive on her own are both heart-wrenching and uplifting. Even minor characters come to life as they are seen through Em's eyes. Readers will share her pain, her few joys, and her ultimate will to survive. Mazer at her very, very best.” - School Library Journal, starred review

⋆ “From the onset of this heart-wrenching novel, it is evident that Mazer thoroughly understands and empathizes with her impoverished narrator, Em, the younger Thurkill daughter.… The author poetically evokes a poignant, honest image of rebirth and self-reliance.... Readers who wince at the heroine's abuse and rejection will find solace in her slow-but-steady emergence into a kinder world.” - Publishers Weekly, starred review

⋆ “This isn't the first time Mazer has dealt with relationships between sisters in their teens and twenties: her YA novel Three Sisters (1986) is still in print in paperback. But this book is more intricately structured and far more brutal. Its language is at once fierce and unpretentious, and it has greater emotional depth than most YA novels... Its haunting themes speak right to older teens and the book can easily be used as a springboard to adult novels such as Kay Gibbons' poignant Ellen Foster (1987) in which a young girl struggles to maintain her self-esteem in the face of abuse, and Janine Boissard's books about sisters. That Em ultimately learns she possesses the strength to overcome her past is a powerful testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.” - Booklist, starred review 

Purchase Options
Amazon • Barnes & Noble

Fall 1997
Young Adult Fiction
ISBN: 0-590-13506-6
Price: $16.95/$21.99
Trim Size: 5 1/2" x 8"
Page Count: 208
Foreign Rights: Scholastic
Translation Rights: Scholastic
Rights Available? no

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