Eleven-year-old Toby Steiner wants to do normal things on his vacation. He wants to hike and race his bike down the hill. He wants to learn to fish out on the lake. He doesn’t want to return to the children’s hospital where his painful cancer treatment finally ended. When Toby starts spending time with Pearl, a spunky old woman who lives on a nearby farm, and Blossom, her broken-down cow, he sees all the more reason to keep the new lump on his side a secret from his parents. From Pearl he discovers the beauty of poetry, and from Blossom he just might uncover the meaning of life.

by Valerie Hobbs (Author)

Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 – 13 years
  • Grade Level: 5 – 8
  • Lexile Measure: 640L (What’s this?)
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Square Fish; First Edition edition (May 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312535813
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312535810
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces


Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Gr. 4-7. Toby’s cancer has recurred, but he defiantly determines not to share this information with his parents. The prospect of hospitalization and additional painful treatments are more than the 11-year-old can bear. His decision is reinforced after he meets and befriends a fiercely independent, elderly neighbor, Pearl, once a famous poet who hasn’t published for years. Although she is in her 90s and nearly blind, Pearl stubbornly refuses to leave her tumbledown home to live with her daughters. Drawn together by their mutual affection for Pearl’s beloved cow, Blossom, these two characters gradually develop a mutually supportive and loving friendship, which, with the death of Blossom as a catalyst, helps them reclaim their lives and a promising future. Occasionally predictable in both plot and characterization, the story is nonetheless emotionally satisfying, and Hobbs, a gifted writer, does a quietly effective job of dramatizing the life-affirming power of both poetry and a cross-generational friendship.


“Real and poignant.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“Beautiful and gripping . . . The victory of the human spirit shines through Defiance like the sun.”—Suzanne Fisher Staples, Newbery Honor–winning author of Shabanu

“Emotionally satisfying. Hobbs, a gifted writer, does a quietly effective job of dramatizing the life-affirming power of both poetry and a cross-generational friendship.”—Booklist

“The wit and wisdom of poetry give this potentially sentimental plot depth and a welcome acidity. Hobb’s dry humor is deliciously evident in Pearl’s ironic take on things.”—The Horn Book

“A poetic tale of empowerment with gentle touches of humor.”—School Library Journal

“This simple, touching story offers great characterization.”—Voice of Youth Advocates“This gripping story will send fans searching for this author’s previous books.”—SIGNAL Journal

“A heartwarming story of self-discovery.”—A YALSA Teen YA Galley Reader

About the Author

Valerie Hobbs is the recipient of the 1999 PEN/Norma Klein Award, a biennial prize that recognizes “an emerging voice of literary merit among American writers of children’s fiction.” She is the author of young adult and middle-grade novels including Sheep, Anything but Ordinary, and The Last Best Days of Summer. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she has taught academic writing. Valerie lives in Santa Barbara, California, with her husband.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

On the third morning after they’d settled into the cabin, Toby had felt it again. It was in the same spot on his right side, a slippery marble. He’d jumped out of bed and hurried into his clothes, covering it up.
His mom had been standing at the little kitchen sink sipping her coffee. There were purple shadows under her eyes. “Sleep all right, honey?”
She looked out the window. “It’s going to be hot today. Did you pack your trunks?”
“My trunks?” Was he hearing right? The lake was off-limits, wasn’t it?
“I thought you could help me for a while in the garden,” she said. “Then we could . . . Oh, I don’t know . . .” Her smile was lopsided, as if she was out of practice. “Run through the sprinkler to cool off! Or are you too old for that?”
“I’m eleven, Mom,” he said. “Jeez!” Run through the sprinkler? Was she nuts? And anyway, he did have his trunks. He just couldn’t wear them. Or she would see. Her eagle eyes would go straight to the marble and he would be back at Children’s Hospital in no time flat. She would call an ambulance. Or get a helicopter. Only he wasn’t going to do all that again. He wasn’t going to puke up his guts over and over while his mother held his head. He wasn’t going to miss school and lose what few friends he had left. He wasn’t going to make new friends with kids who disappeared. It would be the biggest lie he’d ever told, and he would tell it over and over again whenever she asked him how he was, no matter how bad it made him feel.
“Fine,” he’d tell her. “I’m fine.”

More About the Author

Visit Amazon’s Valerie Hobbs Page
Valerie Hobbs


What I’ve learned in all the years since I began writing is that each of us has at least one special story to tell. Some stories are sad, some funny, but all are as unique as our fingerprints. We are storytellers, every one of us. Some of us just have to write those stories down. I didn’t always want to be a writer though. What I longed for most was to be an ice skater, but when I was fifteen I moved with my family from New Jersey to California and there went the ice.My first short story began with a journal entry written when I was nineteen, after a close friend of mine met with a tragic accident. Many years later, that same story became the basis for my first novel, How Far Would You Have Gotten If I Hadn’t Called You Back . Eight novels have followed, with three more to come in the next few years. Writing is the hardest work I’ve ever done, but by far the most fun.