Cover image for The key to the Golden Firebird : a novel
The key to the Golden Firebird : a novel
Johnson, Maureen, 1973-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, [2004]

Physical Description:
297 pages ; 22 cm
As three teenaged sisters struggle to cope with their father's sudden death, they find they must reexamine friendships, lifelong dreams, and their relationships with each other and their father.
Reading Level:
7 & up.

740 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 4.6 10.0 78844.

Reading Counts RC High School 6.3 16 Quiz: 36346 Guided reading level: NR.

Format :


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

On Order



As three teenaged sisters struggle to cope with their father's sudden death, they find they must reexamine friendships, lifelong dreams, and their relationships with each other and their father.

Author Notes

Maureen Johnson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on February 16, 1973. She received an undergraduate degree in writing from the University of Delaware and a MFA in writing from Columbia University School of the Arts. After college and before graduate school, she was the literary manager of a Philadelphia theater company. Her first book, The Key to the Golden Firebird, was published in 2004. Her other works include 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Devilish, Suite Scarlett, The Last Little Blue Envelope, and the Shades of London series.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 7-10. May is the middle sister, intelligent and responsible, surrounded by her two beautiful, athletic sisters, Brooks and Palmer. All three girls were named after baseball players by their larger-than-life father. Then their father suddenly dies, and the girls' lives are forever changed. Brooks quits baseball and begins to hang out with Dave, who introduces her to alcohol and sex. Palmer becomes sullen and more baseball driven. And May tries to hold herself and her siblings together as their grieving mother supports the family. Told alternately by all three girls, with May as the primary narrator, Johnson's novel will pull readers in with its quietly complex story. May, Palmer, and Brooks each respond in separate but absolutely authentic ways, and Johnson takes readers beyond the predictable coping story by beautifully articulating each daughter's pain, gradual healing, and acceptance. The romantic subplots are deftly handled as well. One sister is disillusioned by her foolishness at giving it all up for a man, while another slowly realizes that her antagonistic friendship with a boy has the potential to be so much more. A very special, unexpected coming-of-age novel. --Frances Bradburn Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Three sisters named for baseball players by their beloved father begin to unravel after his death. Each responds in a different but credible way, and begins to heal. Ages 12-up. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-Poignant and laced with wry humor, this novel follows the Gold sisters as they cope with their father's sudden death from a heart attack. While their mother works overtime to keep them afloat financially, the three teens cope in their own way-often with disastrous results. The focus is on May, the studious, steady middle sister, who tries to hold the family together even as she is going to pieces on the inside. She is falling for Pete, a neighbor she has grown up with, but is afraid to admit it even to herself, so she watches in agony as he dates her coworker at a coffee shop. Palmer, the youngest, begins to have panic attacks. Brooks, the oldest, quits the softball team, gets drunk on a regular basis, and makes plans to have sex with her not-quite-boyfriend. Set in a suburb of Philadelphia, the novel revolves around baseball and the father's Pontiac Firebird, which serves as a haven for one of the girls, a means to rebel for another, and an important part of the healing process for all three. This is a wonderfully moving and entertaining novel full of authentic characters and emotions.-Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Key to the Golden Firebird Firebird, golden (largous automobilus yellowish) A car manufactured by Pontiac. In this particular case, a car painted a color called Signet Gold and built in Lordstown, Ohio, in 1967. Almost sixteen feet long, with extremely poor gas mileage and no modern amenities. Has a cream-colored interior and a black convertible top and belches noxious clouds of instant-cancer fumes whenever started. Attracts an unreasonable amount of attention from car buffs (for its collectability) and others (because it's brightly colored, noisy, and as big as a battleship). A mythical creature prominently featured in Russian folktales. Possesses magical powers. Wherever the Firebird goes, princes, princesses, kings, and mad wizards are sure to follow. Presumably, any golden bird that's on fire. before "Chome on," Palmer said, her words dulled from numb-tongue syndrome caused by the Icee she was slurping. "You haff to admit it wash funny." May, who was sweating profusely and peering longingly through the bottom of the screened window at a swimming pool, turned and stared at her little sister. "No, I don't," she said. "It wash . . . ambhishious." "Ambitious?" May repeated. "Looks like you got a new vocabulary word." "It wash." "They didn't play 'Wind Beneath My Wings' for you," May said. "Just be quiet for a minute, okay? I'm trying to listen." She turned back to the window. "I shtill can't believf the Oriole pickhed you up," Palmer went on, grinning at the thought. The Icee had turned her teeth a faint blue, which looked even creepier against her braces. It was as if the disguise was being dropped and thirteen-year-old Palmer was revealing herself to be a monster with blue metal teeth. May wasn't smiling, because the memory wasn't funny to her. She was here for a reason. She was getting revenge-revenge that had been a long time coming. Peter Camp was going down. Pete was the son of her father's best friend and had been eleven months old when May was born. There were pictures of him lurking above her as she was swaddled in baby blankets, unable to move. He looked surprisingly the same-brown curly hair, body covered in head-to-toe freckles, a slightly goofy, yet predatory expression as he reached for her stuffed duck. Right from the beginning, May had been the unwilling straight man in Pete's ever-evolving comedy routine. There was the lick-and-replace sandwich gag from kindergarten. The yo-yo spit trick at the bus stop in third grade. The terrifying "lawn sprinkler" (don't ask) from fifth grade. The dribble holes in her milk, the lab worms in her lunch, the bike-by Supersoaker attacks . . . There was nothing too low, too stupid, too disgusting for him to try. Then Pete had moved on to Grant High, and they'd been separated. The next year May had ended up going to a different high school-to Girls' Academy, in downtown Philadelphia. Aside from the occasional whoopie cushion at holiday gatherings, she believed the menace had ended. Until last weekend, when the Golds and the Camps had taken their annual trip to Camden Yards. The Camden Yards trip was one of the major events of the year. Even May, who didn't like baseball, was able to work up some enthusiasm for it-if only because her father and sisters were practically humming with excitement. Also, May's dad always saw to it that she was entertained in one way or another. He'd let her choose some of the music in the car. (Along with the obligatory Bruce Springsteen. Her dad had to blast "Out in the Street" and "Thunder Road" as he tore down I-95 in the Firebird. Had to. As if the earth would explode if he didn't-or worse yet, it might rain and the game would be a washout.) He'd glance at her through the rearview mirror and make his "big tooth" face, pulling his lips back in a horselike grimace that always made her laugh. As a reward for sitting through the game, her dad would slip her some cash (he had developed a very slick move, which even Palmer couldn't detect) so that she could buy herself an extra snack from the concessions. So May had come to peace with the event. On this last trip she had been biding her time during the seventh-inning stretch, staring absently into the depths of her cup of lemonade. The next thing she knew, a pair of huge and fuzzy black wings embraced her. Suddenly she was being lifted out of her seat by someone in a black bird costume and was on her way down to the field. Once there, she was immediately set upon by five members of the Baltimore Orioles, all of whom shook her hand. One gave her a signed ball. The crowd began to cheer her. Then, just when things couldn't get any weirder, she looked up and saw her own face-big as a building-stretched across the Jumbotron. Underneath it was the caption May Gold, formerly blind fan. She didn't even have time to react before she was escorted back to her seat. It had taken over an hour to get an explanation because that was how long it had taken for Peter Camp to stop laughing. He revealed at last that he had told one of the public relations staff that May had been born blind, had just been cured by surgery, and was fulfilling her lifelong dream of seeing a live baseball game. It was an incredibly weird story-so weird that they'd actually believed him. The audacity of the stunt had kept Pete from getting into any trouble; in fact, the Gold-Camp contingent now ranked Pete among mankind's greatest thinkers. May's father had immediately claimed the baseball and held it carefully with both hands for the remainder of the game, as though it were his very own egg that he was protecting until it hatched. The Key to the Golden Firebird . Copyright © by Maureen Johnson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen G. Johnson 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.