Cover image for Both sides now
Both sides now
Pennebaker, Ruth.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Holt, 2000.
Physical Description:
202 pages ; 22 cm
Fifteen-year-old Liza tries to deal with the normal everyday crises of life in an Austin, Texas, high school, a process complicated by her mother's fight with breast cancer.
Reading Level:
600 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 4.4 10.0 42956.

Reading Counts RC High School 5.9 16 Quiz: 24216 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

On Order



Witnessing her mother's battle with breast cancer, a teenage daughter finds her own strength. Liza's mother has just completed an exhausting, but promising, treatment for breast cancer and her future looks bright. Liza takes the same approach to her junior year of high school - work hard, think positively, and keep everything under control. When tests reveal that a riskier, more painful treatment is needed, it seems Liza's mother has given up. But she hasn't. Her mother's courage shows Liza that life isn't about control, it's about living.Drawing on the author's own experiences with breast cancer, this unforgettable novel reveals that positive thinking is not always the answer to tragedy, but that facing pain can bring great strength.

Author Notes

Ruth Pennebaker is quickly becoming a young adult favorite for her first two novels, Don't Think Twice and Conditions of Love . Don't Think Twice was named both an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and a "Quick Pick" for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. A regular contributor to the Dallas Morning News , Ruth Pennebaker now lives with her husband and two teenaged children in Austin, Texas.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 9^-12. A loving family's struggles with the shock and grief of breast cancer lie at the center of this authentic, heartrending novel. Driven and relentlessly optimistic, sophomore Liza has always felt more of her father's steadiness than her mother's sensitive uncertainty. The reappearance of her mother's breast cancer after remission is the beginning of a series of changes in Liza's life: her usually harmonious family is thick with tension and arguments, her group of friends splinters, a favorite teacher leaves school, and a new boyfriend appears. As her parents make some tough choices about treatment options, Liza is forced to rethink family relationships that had seemed so black and white. The narrative alternates between the voices of Liza and her mother, both of which sound intelligent, intimate, and real. But the story is really Liza's; her mother's voice, though filled with the raw emotion of a survivor, lacks the character-developing descriptions of daily life and sounds intrusive. Some of the peripheral characters are also left undeveloped (readers never really find out what is troubling Liza's best friend, Rory, for example). But this is still a quiet, beautifully articulated portrait of a family living with illness, and Liza is a self-aware, believable, character whose experiences and questions will ring true to teens. Readers may want to pair this with Carole Vogel's nonfiction title Will I Get Breast Cancer? (1995). --Gillian Engberg

Publisher's Weekly Review

Pennebaker's (Don't Think Twice) bittersweet novel about a 15-year-old's attempt to cope with her mother's breast cancer combines convincing characters and near-perfect pacing. When her mother's follow-up exam reveals that her cancer has returned, Liza follows the example of her positive-thinking father who tells Liza and her younger sister, Jane, that everything will be fine and that they must all be strong. Readers will quickly see what Liza, the narrator, cannot√Ąthat she uses what she calls her optimism to hide her fears and feelings, even from herself. But Liza's behavior shows the effects of the strain. She flunks driver's training and, worse, neglects to edit a controversial article for the school paper (which results in the resignation of her favorite teacher). Pennebaker skillfully builds the tensions in her plot, so that readers can practically pinpoint the moment that Liza will have her meltdown. From this moment of crisis Liza begins to learn to express her emotions. She begins to appreciate her mother's quiet strength, realizing that her mother is not, after all, weak or overly sensitive or high-strung. Liza's mother periodically weighs in with short narratives, chronicling her own search for a voice and her gradual acceptance of her disease. Through these passages, readers hear another perspective on the characters and realize how truly complex they are. Moving and realistic, this taut novel trades a happy ending for one both honest and empowering. Ages 12-up. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up-Liza, 15, handles life with a confidence unusual for one her age and believes that she can deal with any hurdle placed in her path. Even her mother's bout with breast cancer seems just an obstacle that can be overcome with determination and a positive attitude. However, when the cancer reoccurs, her world begins to fall apart. Her mother's decision to forego a devastating treatment that might save her life leaves her husband and children frightened and angry, and the teen no longer feels in control of the situation and her emotions. She finds herself alienated from her friends while at the same time reaching out to her new boyfriend, but nothing alleviates her pain and sense of betrayal. Liza is an especially appealing character; her first-person narrative sounds at times like a diary or stream of consciousness. Her emotional journey from control to weakness and vulnerability to resolution enables her to recognize both her mother's strength and her own dependence on others. Her mother's inner thoughts, printed in italics, are interspersed within the narrative, giving truth to the title of Both Sides Now. Despite the starkness of the subject, this novel is ultimately hopeful and realistic.-Janet Hilbun, formerly at Sam Houston Middle School, Garland, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Both Sides Now It's foggy and misty this morning, but I can see the finish line the minute I turn the last corner. It's about a block away. Lots of people are standing around it, clapping and yelling. There are pink balloons everywhere, and they bob up and down in the wind. When I cross the line, a woman in a white sweatshirt and aviator glasses gives me a big pink button that says I Raced for the Cure! I pin it on my T-shirt while I'm still jogging up and down. I look around, but I don't see Mom anywhere. So I turn back and jog along the sidewalk, watching all the people who are still finishing the race. At first, they're all runners like me--young kids, college students, middle-aged guys with babies on their backs. But the farther back I go, the slower people are moving. After I've gone four or five blocks, you couldn't even call it a race. It's like a party that's walking very slowly. There are mostly women in long, wavy lines with their friends. They're talking and laughing and pushing strollers. Mom and her friends are almost at the end of the crowd. She's with three women from her support group. They're all wearing pink T-shirts and visors that say I'm a breast cancer survivor! "Liza!" Mom's waving at me. I jog over next to her and slow down to walk with her and her friends. "You remember my older daughter, Liza?" Mom asks the other women. She pushes her hair back when she talks, the way she always has. Mom has a very pretty face, with deep blue eyes and soft skin and short, dark brown hair. Even though she doesn't like to exercise that much, she looks happy today. "Liza's a runner--when she's not doing lots of other things. She's the real achiever in the family." The other women and I smile at one another and nod. I've met all of them before. There's Barbara, who's short and peppy and probably the most cheerful-looking person I've ever met in my life. She almost always has lipstick on her teeth from smiling so much. Then there's Jeannette, who's taller and more serious, and Libby, who has pale skin and big brown eyes. The three of them have very short hair, like Mom's. That's because they all had breast cancer and went through chemotherapy a few months ago. When Mom and the other women talk about chemotherapy, they call it "chemo," for short. I think it helps to give something a nickname like that, so it doesn't sound as scary. Besides, chemo isn't as bad as most people think. It kills the cancer cells in your body and saves your life. That's what you have to keep telling yourself. "You think we'll win the race, Liza?" Barbara asks. She winks at me, and Mom and all her friends start laughing. Right now, the five of us are walking so slowly that it's going to take a year to finish. They might have taken the finish line down and gone home by the time we get there. About ten minutes later, we turn the final corner. The finish line is still there, with all the pink balloons flapping around. By now, it's gotten hotter, and the fog and mist have disappeared. The sun is shining, bright and golden and beautiful, and you can see the soft green hills in the distance. That's a good sign. I always look for good signs, and I almost always find them, too. It's amazing. People are yelling when we cross the line. I think it's because we're practically the last people to finish the race. Mom and her friends hug each other, and they all hug me. Around us, all I can see is a small crowd of women wearing pink. They move together and apart and together again, and their faces look hot and red from the sun. They're laughing and crying at the same time, in a way that's hard for me to explain. I don't think I've ever seen anything like that before. I hug Mom again. She's laughing and crying, like the rest of the women. For a few seconds, I don't know what to say. What should I say? The day's beautiful and we've finished the race and I feel so happy to be alive--like something wonderful's going to happen any minute now. Something wonderful's going to happen, bursting out of nowhere, the way the sun just came out. Everything is going to be all right. It's such a strong feeling, like a surge of something very powerful, that I know it must be true. I wish I could explain it better. I wish I could make Mom and her friends understand. I wish I could make everybody in the world understand. "Let's go, babe," Mom says. She stretches her arms up, over her head, and grins at me. "I need to get to the closest shower. It's an emergency." I drive us home. I got my learner's permit last summer, and I'm starting driver's ed classes this week, so I need to practice driving as much as I can. The trouble is, I don't have very good depth perception. That's why I have this bad habit of running over curbs. Dad says I shouldn't worry about it, though. It's a bad habit to focus on mistakes, because that's negative. As long as I act like I have confidence in my driving, I'll start to feel it, he says. Excerpted from Both Sides Now by Ruth Pennebaker 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.