Just Like That
Just Like That

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Annotation: With insight and a light touch, best-selling, Newbery Honor-winning author Gary D. Schmidt tells two poignant, linked stories: that of a grieving girl and a boy trying to escape his violent past.
Catalog Number: #253837
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Copyright Date: 2021
Edition Date: 2021
Pages: 387 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-544-08477-2 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-8776-1
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-544-08477-3 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-8776-5
Dewey: Fic
Dimensions: 21 cm.
Language: English
Horn Book
Losses suffered by two young people set in motion threads of fate that will ultimately tie them together. In June 1968, in Hicksville, Long Island, Meryl Lee Kowalski's closest friend, Holling (protagonist of The Wednesday Wars, rev. 7/07), is killed in a car crash, and her parents send her away for a fresh start at St. Elene's Preparatory Academy for Girls on the coast of Maine. In a parallel narrative, Matt Coffin has fled New York City with a pillowcase full of money stolen from Leonidas Shug, an evil, Fagin-like leader of a gang of street criminals who killed Matt's friend. After the loss of her friend, Meryl Lee feels that "everything in the world became a Blank," a dark hole that threatens to suck her in. In the same town, Matt has holed up in a lobsterman's shack, but he realizes that he cannot escape his past, as Shug is in pursuit, leaving a trail of arson and mayhem in his wake. Meryl Lee's and Matt's stories eventually converge through the actions of St. Elene's wise and compassionate headmistress, who offers them both the refuge they seek. Schmidt nimbly weaves a story of good and evil, loss and gain, home and heart. He writes like a modern-day Dickens; at one point, Meryl Lee says that "there are times when words can't do what you want them to do," but Schmidt can, and this is a masterwork of old-fashioned storytelling.
Publishers Weekly
In 1968, the summer before her eighth grade year, Meryl Lee Kowalski-s best friend dies suddenly, and Meryl Lee becomes enveloped in grief and depression-which she calls -the Blank--on Long Island. To give her a new start, her parents enroll her in a girls- prep school on the coast of Maine; the headmistress, Dr. MacKnockater, promises to help Meryl Lee become -accomplished.- As the school year progresses and she fends off the encroaching Blank, Meryl Lee also faces classist teachers and snobby classmates while discovering a social conscience around the treatment of the school-s kitchen staff. A secondary arc follows Matt Coffin, whom Dr. MacKnockater finds living in an oceanside shack and whose dark past is never far behind. The heaviness of Matt-s story line at times eclipses Meryl Lee-s, but episodes of slapstick humor, told in Schmidt-s (Pay Attention, Carter Jones) trademark wry deadpan, are woven throughout (a disastrous formal luncheon hosting Vice-President Spiro Agnew is a standout). Though overlong and occasionally plodding, Schmidt-s rich, humane tale rewards persistent readers with moments of hilarity and heartache in a skillfully rendered Vietnam War-era boarding school setting. Ages 10-up. (Jan.)

Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
When unthinkable tragedy strikes, Meryl Lee Kowalski’s parents send her to a girls preparatory school while the war in Vietnam continues to rage overseas.Schmidt returns to Hicksville, Long Island, the setting of The Wednesday Wars (2007), but only briefly. A beloved friend—maybe more than a friend?—dies in a tragic accident, and Meryl Lee is consumed with grief that she terms the Blank. Unable to fathom returning to Camillo Junior High for her eighth grade year, Meryl Lee doesn’t protest when her parents decide to send her away to St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls in Maine. There, she is challenged by headmistress Dr. MacKnockater to discover what she will become accomplished in. Meryl Lee juggles this charge with navigating obstacles like snobby classmates and persnickety teachers, all the while trying to keep the Blank from overwhelming her. Meanwhile, Dr. MacKnockater takes in Matt Coffin, a mysterious boy whose dangerous past follows him everywhere he goes. Matt’s decidedly Dickensian storyline intersects with Meryl Lee’s as she makes friends in unlikely places and unwittingly begins to break down the classist social structures within St. Elene’s storied walls. Alternating between poignant moments of humor, melancholy, and occasional suspense, Schmidt's book sensitively explores the various ways grief has of bringing people together. Most characters are White.Offers solace and hard-earned hope in the face of heartbreaking loss. (Historical fiction. 10-14)
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* It's the summer of 1968. The accidental death of a dear friend has blindsided Meryl Lee, and grief still overwhelms her at times. Unable to face her old school for eighth grade, she enrolls at St. Elene's Preparatory Academy in Maine, where she initially feels isolated from her pretentious roommate and other classmates. From the start, she's intrigued by the strong, enigmatic headmistress, Dr. MacKnockater, who seems to understand so much and whose opening address unexpectedly mesmerizes and challenges Meryl Lee. Slowly, she begins to find her way and tentatively makes friends while navigating boarding-school life under the watchful eyes of her inscrutable teachers. Meanwhile, Matt has arrived in the area. A good-hearted, vulnerable boy on the run from his sometimes-violent past, he's befriended by Dr. MacKnockater, who takes him in and gradually gains his trust. The Vietnam War isn't just the story's backdrop, but an inescapable, unsettling element of the times, painfully affecting several characters. The well-phrased writing is understated, endlessly engaging, and sometimes suspenseful or amusing. While fans of Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars (2007) and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (2004) will find links to both stories here, this well-constructed novel, with its beautifully interwoven strands of narrative, stands on its own. An unforgettable story of loss, healing, and finding one's way.
Word Count: 94,678
Reading Level: 5.9
Interest Level: 4-7
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 5.9 / points: 15.0 / quiz: 510307 / grade: Middle Grades+


In June--the June before Meryl Lee Kowalski's eighth-grade year--she watched the evening news reports from the Vietnam War. Twenty-three American soldiers in a CH-46A Sea Knight had helicoptered in to evacuate Marines not far from Khe Sanh, South Vietnam. Their helicopter was hit by enemy fire and went down. Half the men were killed.
      No one who loved those Marines had a chance to say goodbye.
      Meryl Lee watched the story with her hands up to her face.
      In July, Meryl Lee watched the evening news report about the American Marines on Hill 689, who killed three hundred and fifty North Vietnamese soldiers. They weren't going to leave the hill, they said, until every North Vietnamese soldier was dead.
      They didn't.
      And no one who loved those soldiers had a chance to say goodbye.
      Meryl Lee watched that story, crying.
      Then in August, Meryl Lee's best friend--her very best friend who had once handed her a rose, who had danced with her at Danny Hupfer's bar mitzvah, who had listened with her to the sound of a brand-new bottle of Coke when you pry the lid off and it starts to fizz--her very best friend was sitting in the back of his father's Mustang on the way to a movie, a stupid movie, a stupid stupid movie, when they were rear-ended and Holling Hoodhood's head snapped back.
      Just like that.
      Meryl Lee did not make it to Syosset Hospital in time to say goodbye.
      For Meryl Lee Kowalski, everything in the world, absolutely everything in the world, became a Blank.
      The service was at Saint Andrew Presbyterian Church. It was packed. Men in black suits, women in dark dresses. Everyone from Camillo Junior High--the principal, Mrs. Sidman; Holling's teachers; his friends Danny Hupfer and Mai Thi. Cross-country runners from Bethpage and Farmingdale and Westbury and Wantagh, wearing their uniform shirts. Mr. Goldman from Goldman's Best Bakery, sitting in the back, bawling. Mercutio Baker holding a new white perfect baseball he had wanted to throw with the kid, and Lieutenant Tybalt Baker in his dress uniform. The priest from Saint Adelbert's. The rabbi from Temple Beth-El.
      His seventh-grade teacher, Mrs. Baker, spoke the eulogy, holding a single chrysanthemum. She did fine until she got to the end: "Fear no more the heat o' th' sun," she said, "Nor the furious winter's rages; / Thou thy worldly task hast done, / Home art gone and . . ." She could not finish. She tried, but she could not finish. She went back down to her seat. As she walked past the casket, she laid the chrysanthemum oh so gently upon it.
      So the pallbearers came to take Holling, and his father stood--they all stood--and when Holling passed him, his father put his hands on the casket and began to howl. Horrible, horrible hollow howls that could not be stopped, because there was no comfort.
      The pallbearers stood still. They waited a long time.
      Even through the Blank, Meryl Lee heard the howls.
      She thought she would hear them the rest of her life.
      She thought they would echo in the place where her heart had been, forever.
      She did not go to the graveside. She could not go to bear those last words, to bear that thud of earth, to see Holling . . .
      She could not go.
      Her parents drove her home.
      In the next weeks, Danny Hupfer and Mai Thi came over, and Mrs. Baker, and some of the other teachers from Camillo Junior High, and even Mr. Goldman, but Meryl Lee did not leave the house much that whole month. Everything she saw was without Holling, and the howls echoed in her empty chest. She could not go onto his block, she could not pass that Woolworth's and its lunch counter where they had had a Coke, she could not walk down Lee Avenue, and she could not could not could not go near Camillo Junior High. She could not.
      Because if she did, then the Blank would change. It would become a hole, a dizzying white hole, and she would fall into it, and she would be the empty hole where the howling echoes rolled around, and she had already come close, very close, to falling in.
      So in September, her parents made phone calls to St. Elene's Preparatory Academy for Girls. She would have a new start, her parents said. A whole new routine, her parents said. She would meet so many new friends. She would become so Accomplished. That's what the headmistress had promised. Meryl Lee would become so Accomplished. And she had never before lived so close to the sea. The Maine ocean would be beautiful, they said.
      And Meryl Lee knew that Holling Hoodhood had never been to the coast of Maine. He had never been there. And nothing familiar would be in Maine. Not Lee Avenue. Not Camillo Junior High. Not Goldman's Best Bakery. Not . . . anything. Maybe that was where she should go.
      Her mother packed her clothes for her.
      Her father packed some books for her.
      They bought her St. Elene's regulation uniforms: six white shirts, three green and gold plaid skirts, two green and gold sweaters, and two green blazers with the gold St. Elene's cross insignia. They packed them all carefully into her suitcase.
      Then on the day, they packed her into the car.
      On the ride up to St. Elene's Preparatory Academy, it rained all across New York. And the whole way through Connecticut. And every mile of Massachusetts. New Hampshire and southern Maine were nothing but gray drizzle.
      They stopped at a hotel in Brunswick overnight, and it poured.
      The next morning, Meryl Lee leaned her head against the hotel window and stared at the blurred world outside.
      None of them spoke.

Excerpted from Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

In this poignant, perceptive, witty novel, Gary D. Schmidt brings authenticity and emotion to multiple plot strands, weaving in themes of grief, loss, redemption, achievement, and love. Following the death of her closest friend in summer 1968, Meryl Lee Kowalski goes off to St. Elene's Preparatory Academy for Girls, where she struggles to navigate the venerable boarding school's traditions and a social structure heavily weighted toward students from wealthy backgrounds. In a parallel story, Matt Coffin has wound up on the Maine coast near St. Elene's with a pillowcase full of money lifted from the leader of a criminal gang, fearing the gang's relentless, destructive pursuit. Both young people gradually dispel their loneliness, finding a way to be hopeful and also finding each other.

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