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*The Pursuit of Happiness* by Tara Altebrando - young adult book review


The Pursuit of Happiness
by Tara Altebrando
Young adult 256 pages MTV Books July 2006 Paperback    

The Pursuit Of Happiness begins on the day that Betsy Ross Irving's mother dies. Betsy is at work giving tours, dressed up as a colonial girl in the fake colonial town of Morrisville. Her history professor father got her the job, and she isn't particularly excited about it. Just what a teenage girl needs to make her more popular: playing dress-up and working with the biggest freak in school, Liza Henske.

On the day her mother dies, Betsy's rarely-seen aunt and uncle pick her up at Morrisville to take her home, where the rest of her family is waiting to tell her the bad news. On that day, everything changes for Betsy and the rest of the Irving family.

Betsy, her father, and her younger brother, Ben (full name Benjamin Franklin Irving, courtesy of their father) don't know how to be a family anymore. They're three people sharing a last name and a house, sitting down at the same time to eat their fast-food meals, but they're not the family they were before Betsy's mother died. The void left by her death can never be filled; even if Betsy's father tried, he couldn't do it. He doesn't have that same instinct for when she's lying about where she's going, and she certainly can't talk to him about anything in her life. Betsy gets a little out of control, going to beach parties and drinking.

She doesn't do it alone, though. When her friends abandon her, and her boyfriend breaks up with her for slutty Lauren Janey, she doesn't just sit around and mope. She finds an unlikely friend in Liza Henske, who isn't at all that the school's gossip says she is, and another friend in gorgeous surfer James, who also works in Morrisville. James has a girlfriend, though, and he and Betsy are just friends…Right?

Betsy also finds an unlikely escape in Morrisville from her shattered life. Playing farm girl, churning butter, and going back to simpler times take her mind off of what's going on in her reality. Her other escape is her art. She's found something that she's good at, and strange as it might seem, that's making silhouette art like she saw in an exhibit at Morrisville. Betsy's life has fallen apart, and she's got to put the pieces back together. One crucial piece--her mother--is missing, but she still has to find some way to make it work.

The Pursuit Of Happiness is an amazing story of love, loss, friendship, and, as the title suggests, the pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of finding something you're passionate about. The last time Betsy's mother spoke to her daughter, she urged her to find her passion. Her mother was a photographer, and would have been thrilled to see her daughter become an artist as well. She wanted to see her daughter turn sixteen, graduate high school, and get married. She only achieved the first of those goals before her death, but a few months before her death, Betsy's mother took her daughter shopping for a wedding dress.

This book, similar to works by Sarah Dessen, details one girl's very real life and her grief at the loss of her mother. Anyone who has ever lost someone will understand what Betsy is going through, but, if you're lucky enough not to have suffered a loss this large in your life (few of us have that sort of luck), you'll still love this book. Powerful and emotional, it chronicles Betsy's journey from brokenhearted and falling apart to putting the pieces of her life together again - and never forgetting her mother.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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  Jocelyn Pearce/2006 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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