Call Me Hope - Gretchen Olson

Hope Elliot is struggling to live under the pressures of her verbally abusive mother. But instead of running away, precocious Hope chooses resilience instead, and creates survival strategies for herself. Her strategies include: a support team that includes the employees of a used clothing store, the smartest kid in the sixth grade, her older brother; and a point system to help deal with her mom. Will Hope find a way to confront her mother and help things change for the better?



* Read for the 2017 Anti-Bully Readathon week: November 13th-19th



As of late, Eleven year old Hope Elliot has seriously been feeling the strain of living with a verbally abusive mother. Just for example, we learn that Hope's middle name is Marie, named after "a famous opera singer" (I'm assuming Maria Callas?) but her mother says it was a silly choice since Hope is actually pretty "hopeless" and can't carry a tune in a bucket. Oh, and Mommy Dearest here also spits out that Hope's father left them because Hope cried too much as a baby. Seriously. Hope also shares that her mother treats her as if she were a constant inconvenience, "like a 7-Eleven that closed at ten." This is on the more mild side of what Hope endures. Hope has her own theory that much of her mother's venomous talk is mostly just bitterness at never achieving her dreams to become a famous actress. 


Hope starts developing physical pain from the stress of her home life, mainly in the form of severe headaches and jaw discomfort. A visit to the dentist reveals that her teeth show hardcore evidence of nighttime teeth grinding. Keep in mind, this girl is ONLY 11! When the dentist talks with Hope's mother and says it's often a result of stress, mom's response is basically That's ridiculous, stress isn't even a thing for someone her age. Well, this reader begs to differ! 


To combat her mother's daily barrage of insults and put-downs, Hope initially finds comfort in numbers -- literally! She especially likes even ones. She shares with the reader that 6 is her favorite number of all, the way it spirals around for awhile and then spins out. Hope takes this as something to aspire to in life: you may spin around for awhile but hang in there and hopefully life will spit you out in a direction towards something wonderful! 


Additionally, Hope goes on to find inspiration for healing from an unexpected source: a unit her class is doing on the Holocaust. After viewing the movie Life Is Beautiful in class, Hope gets the idea to create a point system where she awards herself points for every pain she endures without complaint. Tragic that a child has to bring herself to this but it does get her through her days! (BTW, if you haven't seen the film, just a heads up there are spoilers for that movie in this book). In addition to that, Hope also finds comfort and commonality in reading The Diary of Anne Frank


Outside of school, our protagonist finds strong female figures in Anita and Ruthie, the owners of Next To New, the local consignment shop where Hope is working part-time in order to buy some boots on display there that she feels she needs for an upcoming outdoor school experience. Hope is also given a lesson in "I Statements" (when someone hurts you, you are supposed to address it by saying 'When you do ______, it makes me feel ____" or "I am ____ when you say ___"... that kind of thing).


I looked at everyone and suddenly felt confidence in my words. "I've tried to be good," I began again, wiping my eyes on the back of my hand, "but nothing I do ever works. I can't say the right things or do the right things. I live in my bedroom trying to stay out of your way, Mom. I sneak around, trying not to disturb you. I don't ask for anything or go anywhere. But maybe that's not enough. Maybe you want me out of here for good. Maybe I should go away."


This one is most definitely a tough read to get through if you've at all experienced some of the things mentioned here. Author Gretchen Olson does an impressive job conveying the stress of the environment without going TOO dark for young readers. The abuse from the mother is kept to the verbal variety, but the strain of Hope's life is no less evident. It's crushing to read of such a young character ALREADY at a point in her life where she is fighting to cling onto even the smallest bits of joy within a day. Still, the book lives up to its title and readers can be rest easy, knowing they will be on a journey with one inspiring protagonist!


I thought it was a pretty cute touch that on the back cover featuring the author blurb, Gretchen Olson chose to use a photo of herself at Hope's age! :-)


NOTE TO PARENTS: Because this book deals with the topic of verbal abuse, there are moments of profanity featured in this book. If you're particular about how much your child is exposed to before their teen years, you may want to give this one a pre-read through. 


TEACHERS / HOMESCHOOL PARENTS: A reading guide is included at the back of the book, should you want to use this story during a unit on bullying. This reading guide includes a list of discussion questions as well as "Hope Notes", tips on how to cope for children who are going through a similar experience to Hope's.