Download high-resolution image Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00

And Then, Boom!

Author Lisa Fipps
Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00
A gripping new novel in verse by the author of the Printz Honor-winning Starfish, featuring a poverty-stricken boy who bravely rides out all the storms life keeps throwing at him

Joe Oak is used to living on unsteady ground. His mom can’t be depended on as she never stays around long once she gets “the itch,” and now he and his beloved grandmother find themselves without a home. Fortunately, Joe has an outlet in his journals and drawings and takes comfort from the lessons of comic books—superheroes have a lot of “and then, boom” moments, where everything threatens to go bust but somehow they land on their feet. And that seems to happen a lot to Joe too, as in this crisis his friend Nick helps them find a home in his trailer park. But things fall apart again when Joe is suddenly left to fend for himself. He doesn’t tell anyone he’s on his own, as he fears foster care and has hope his mom will come back. But time is running out—bills are piling up, the electricity’s been shut off, and the school year’s about to end, meaning no more free meals. The struggle to feed himself gets intense, and Joe finds himself dumpster diving for meals. He’s never felt so alone—until an emaciated little dog and her two tiny pups cross his path. And fate has even more in store for Joe, because an actual tornado is about to hit home—and just when it seems all is lost, his life turns in a direction that he never could have predicted.
Lisa Fipps is a graduate of Ball State University, an award-winning former journalist, a former director of marketing for a public library (where she won the Sara Laughlin marketing award), and an author of middle-grade books. Starfish is her debut novel. She lives in Kokomo, Indiana. View titles by Lisa Fipps
JUST LIKE SUPERMAN

My name’s Joseph Oak, and
since an oak tree
grows from an acorn nut,
Grandmum calls me a little nut,
and if Mom’s around to hear it, she adds,
I’m allergic to nuts.

It isn’t nice of Mom to say that,
but she’s not known for saying
—­or doing—­
nice things.

But I never thought
she’d do what she did.

I never thought a lot of things.
Like I’d be on the news and
the whole wide world
would end up finding out about
the moment I flew.

Just like Superman.

ORIGIN STORY

I’m not a superhero.
Straight up not.
I mean, yeah, sure,
I flew like Superman.

Once.

But
I don’t have any special powers—­unless
you count my ability to be invisible,
and to survive.

I do have one thing in common
with superheroes.
I have an origin story.
So does Grandmum, who’s from England,
Mom, who gets The Itch,
my best friends, Hakeem and Nick,
Uncle Frankie, who’s not really my uncle,
and my sixth-­grade teacher, Mrs. Swan.
Each of us has an origin story,
the story of how we became who we are.

This is my story,
and when you read it,
I want you to remember something.

When Superman summons every ounce of his strength
to survive something others can’t even imagine,
he’s the same person he was when
he crumpled to his knees,
left helpless by Kryptonite.

He’s the same person he was when
he was Clark Kent,
just living day by day,
invisible to the world.
Superman’s the sum of all his moments.

And so am I.

WHY THE WORLD NEEDS COMIC BOOKS

In comic books,
superheroes use their powers to help others,
defeat villains,
and save themselves.
Good triumphs over evil,
giving you hope,
something to believe in.
Comic books remind you
that even when horrible things happen,
it can all work out

in the end.

AND-THENS AND BOOMS!

Every story boils down to
and-­thens
and
BOOMS!

And-­thens

and
BOOMS!
are all about the moments when
something happens
that changes
everything.

It could be bad.
And it could be good,
but it’s often not.

So always pay attention to
and-­thens
and
BOOMS!

SCRATCHING AN ITCH

I’m only allergic to one thing.
Poison ivy.
I learned that the hard way one day when
my basketball rolled into the woods.
Leaves brushed across my face as
I parted them like curtains to find the ball.
When I woke up the next day,
I looked like . . . well . . . 
Pretend you need to blow up a big balloon, and
fill your cheeks full of air.
Bigger.
Bigger.
Bigger.
Now squint.
That’s what I looked like.

But worse than how I looked was how I felt.
An itch is the worst!
You can’t stop thinking about it,
and the more you try not to,
the more you do.
Plus you just have to scratch it,
but then an itch itches even more.

It’s almost impossible
to live with an itch.

PREPARE FOR TAKEOFF

My grampy was a pilot,
and my grandmum says
you can always tell when
a pilot’s preparing for takeoff.
They start ticking boxes on a checklist.
And the list is always the same.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Mom’s like a pilot when she gets The Itch.
That’s what I call it when she gets restless
and wants to take off.
Her Itch Takeoff Checklist goes like this.
Stares out windows.
Sighs loudly a lot.
Swings like a pendulum
from sad
to mean
and back again.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Mom leaves for days.
Weeks.
Months.
You never know when she’ll take off
or when she’ll come back.
But you know takeoff’s coming.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

MOM'S FIRST TAKEOFF

The first time I remember Mom taking off
was on a sweaty, sticky summer day.
We lived in The Gingerbread House then,
the color of graham crackers with a fancy white trim.
It was old and didn’t have air-­conditioning.
Mom sighed as we sat on the porch swing,
hoping for a cool breeze.
She pumped her legs,
and the swing creak-­creaked as we rocked.
My legs stuck straight out,
too little to dangle down.
As soon as I spied
yellow wings with black tiger stripes and a blue tail,
I jumped down to chase
the eastern tiger swallowtail,
and Mom chased me.
All I wanted was to hold the butterfly,
but every time I got close to it,
it took off.

What on earth’s wrong with you?!

Who tries to trap a butterfly?!
Mom yelled,
picking me up,
carrying me back to the porch, and
plopping me down onto the swing.
I flinched
when the screen door banged
as Mom went inside the house.
She came back out
with her purse slung over one shoulder
and her keys jingling, jangling.

Where you going? I go, too!

I yelled, scooting off the swing.

She didn’t even look at me.
She just went straight to her car and got in.
Slam!
Squeal!
Vroom!
Mom took off.

I hopped onto my Big Wheel
and pedaled down the sidewalk,
trying to catch her,
but my little legs
just couldn’t keep up.

MAKE ME CHOOSE

Mom wears a silk butterfly scarf all the time.
She says she’s a butterfly,
and butterflies are free.

You should be able to go

wherever you want
whenever you want.
Fly away.
Be free.

But Grandmum would say,
You’re not a butterfly, Carli.
You’re a mom.
You can’t be both.

Oh yeah?

Mom would answer.
Then make me choose and
watch what happens.

POP!

When I was little,
I had a jack-­in-­the-­box.
Music played as I turned the handle, and
I never knew exactly when
it was coming, but
I knew the door would open with a loud
POP!
And the clown would be right there.

The longer I turned the handle,
the more nervous I got,
waiting for that pop.

That’s what it’s like
after Mom gets The Itch and takes off.

I never know when
she’ll pop back into my life.

The longer I wait for her,
the more nervous I get
that she won’t ever return,
and yet
the more I fear her coming home.

ONOMATOPOEIA

Comic books are full of onomatopoeia.

I can tell you a story about Mom and me
using only onomatopoeia.

Grrr!
Slap!
Ouch!
Shhh!

Onomatopoeias are words
that sound just like
what’s actually happening.

OODLES OF DOODLES

I’m a doodler.
I have a notebook full of doodles.
Oodles of doodles.

I doodle the infinity symbol a lot.
It looks like the number eight on its side.
When you draw it, the line loops and connects.
So you end up not being able to tell
where it all even started.
But once it starts,
it never ends.
It goes on forever because
it keeps repeating itself.


Sometimes I don’t even realize
what’s going on inside me till
I start doodling and
whatever was in me is out of me and
right there on paper.

I just doodled a circle that became
a planet in a galaxy where grown-ups act like grown-ups
and do what they’re supposed to do,
over and over again.

The world where I want to live.
“How do you cope with the unexpected moments that change everything in your world? . . . The verse format, combined with Joe’s comic book and superhero metaphors, works exceptionally well at conveying honest emotion while maintaining a sense of humor and hope. Fipps doesn’t sugarcoat poverty, nor does she romanticize it or treat it as a moral failing; instead, she provides critical representation to the many schoolchildren who are living in poverty. Joe’s courage and individuality shine on every page. . . . A big, bold, engaging, and important story.” —Kirkus Reviews

* "Fipps (Starfish) depicts situations of abuse, financial precarity, houselessness, and hope through easy-to-read verse in this elucidating work. Eleven-year-old Joseph Oak loves superhero comics and his British-born Grandmum, whose ‘arms are like Captain America’s shield,/ protecting me,/ defending me.’ . . . Joe’s pragmatic voice explains, ‘I think I know a lot of things/ kids shouldn’t/ have/ to know’ about how much his grandmother makes cleaning buildings and what their U.S. government–provided benefits cover (and don’t). . . . Fipps employs resonant verse to portray Joe’s bleak reality as well as the bright spots he experiences due to the kindness of his best friends, who help him get food, and his teacher, who advocates for change in the school’s free meal system and opens a food and clothing pantry for students in need.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

*
“As in her Starfish (2021), Fipps focuses on another young person on the fringe of their peer group, and the novel-in-verse narrative works beautifully here, invoking urgency and intimacy. Vivid descriptions of housing and food scarcity are intense and unforgettable, sure to spark empathy from any young reader. Though the story tackles heavy subjects, Joe is a wonderful companion, and there are also deep, dear relationships and an undercurrent of kindness that keeps hope afloat throughout. An exceptionally compassionate examination of existence on the edge.” —Booklist, starred review

“This verse novel’s conversational tone, linear timeline, and dialogue-heavy writing will ease readers nervous about poetry, and the first-person narration shows Joseph’s intelligence and joyful creativity. What Joseph goes through is horrible, but not completely without hope. Joseph is surrounded by a wonderful secondary cast, from his teacher who attempts to support kids living in poverty by changing unfair school systems to a neighbor who models generosity and healthy community building. . . . Fipps’ indictment of how society treats and ignores people who need help (‘It’s amazing / how long you can live / without anyone realizing / how you live’) paves the way for compassionate discussion about how cyclical poverty affects kids.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Supporting characters, including Joe’s teacher, his friends Nick and Hakeem, and the mobile home park’s compassionate owner, are well drawn and vividly portrayed. As in Starfish, Fipps uses short lines, lots of white space, and an engaging first-person voice to carry the story. A fine example of how a novel in verse can be the perfect vehicle for getting inside the head of a character and creating empathy for what it’s like to be him.”The Horn Book

About

A gripping new novel in verse by the author of the Printz Honor-winning Starfish, featuring a poverty-stricken boy who bravely rides out all the storms life keeps throwing at him

Joe Oak is used to living on unsteady ground. His mom can’t be depended on as she never stays around long once she gets “the itch,” and now he and his beloved grandmother find themselves without a home. Fortunately, Joe has an outlet in his journals and drawings and takes comfort from the lessons of comic books—superheroes have a lot of “and then, boom” moments, where everything threatens to go bust but somehow they land on their feet. And that seems to happen a lot to Joe too, as in this crisis his friend Nick helps them find a home in his trailer park. But things fall apart again when Joe is suddenly left to fend for himself. He doesn’t tell anyone he’s on his own, as he fears foster care and has hope his mom will come back. But time is running out—bills are piling up, the electricity’s been shut off, and the school year’s about to end, meaning no more free meals. The struggle to feed himself gets intense, and Joe finds himself dumpster diving for meals. He’s never felt so alone—until an emaciated little dog and her two tiny pups cross his path. And fate has even more in store for Joe, because an actual tornado is about to hit home—and just when it seems all is lost, his life turns in a direction that he never could have predicted.

Author

Lisa Fipps is a graduate of Ball State University, an award-winning former journalist, a former director of marketing for a public library (where she won the Sara Laughlin marketing award), and an author of middle-grade books. Starfish is her debut novel. She lives in Kokomo, Indiana. View titles by Lisa Fipps

Excerpt

JUST LIKE SUPERMAN

My name’s Joseph Oak, and
since an oak tree
grows from an acorn nut,
Grandmum calls me a little nut,
and if Mom’s around to hear it, she adds,
I’m allergic to nuts.

It isn’t nice of Mom to say that,
but she’s not known for saying
—­or doing—­
nice things.

But I never thought
she’d do what she did.

I never thought a lot of things.
Like I’d be on the news and
the whole wide world
would end up finding out about
the moment I flew.

Just like Superman.

ORIGIN STORY

I’m not a superhero.
Straight up not.
I mean, yeah, sure,
I flew like Superman.

Once.

But
I don’t have any special powers—­unless
you count my ability to be invisible,
and to survive.

I do have one thing in common
with superheroes.
I have an origin story.
So does Grandmum, who’s from England,
Mom, who gets The Itch,
my best friends, Hakeem and Nick,
Uncle Frankie, who’s not really my uncle,
and my sixth-­grade teacher, Mrs. Swan.
Each of us has an origin story,
the story of how we became who we are.

This is my story,
and when you read it,
I want you to remember something.

When Superman summons every ounce of his strength
to survive something others can’t even imagine,
he’s the same person he was when
he crumpled to his knees,
left helpless by Kryptonite.

He’s the same person he was when
he was Clark Kent,
just living day by day,
invisible to the world.
Superman’s the sum of all his moments.

And so am I.

WHY THE WORLD NEEDS COMIC BOOKS

In comic books,
superheroes use their powers to help others,
defeat villains,
and save themselves.
Good triumphs over evil,
giving you hope,
something to believe in.
Comic books remind you
that even when horrible things happen,
it can all work out

in the end.

AND-THENS AND BOOMS!

Every story boils down to
and-­thens
and
BOOMS!

And-­thens

and
BOOMS!
are all about the moments when
something happens
that changes
everything.

It could be bad.
And it could be good,
but it’s often not.

So always pay attention to
and-­thens
and
BOOMS!

SCRATCHING AN ITCH

I’m only allergic to one thing.
Poison ivy.
I learned that the hard way one day when
my basketball rolled into the woods.
Leaves brushed across my face as
I parted them like curtains to find the ball.
When I woke up the next day,
I looked like . . . well . . . 
Pretend you need to blow up a big balloon, and
fill your cheeks full of air.
Bigger.
Bigger.
Bigger.
Now squint.
That’s what I looked like.

But worse than how I looked was how I felt.
An itch is the worst!
You can’t stop thinking about it,
and the more you try not to,
the more you do.
Plus you just have to scratch it,
but then an itch itches even more.

It’s almost impossible
to live with an itch.

PREPARE FOR TAKEOFF

My grampy was a pilot,
and my grandmum says
you can always tell when
a pilot’s preparing for takeoff.
They start ticking boxes on a checklist.
And the list is always the same.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Mom’s like a pilot when she gets The Itch.
That’s what I call it when she gets restless
and wants to take off.
Her Itch Takeoff Checklist goes like this.
Stares out windows.
Sighs loudly a lot.
Swings like a pendulum
from sad
to mean
and back again.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Mom leaves for days.
Weeks.
Months.
You never know when she’ll take off
or when she’ll come back.
But you know takeoff’s coming.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

MOM'S FIRST TAKEOFF

The first time I remember Mom taking off
was on a sweaty, sticky summer day.
We lived in The Gingerbread House then,
the color of graham crackers with a fancy white trim.
It was old and didn’t have air-­conditioning.
Mom sighed as we sat on the porch swing,
hoping for a cool breeze.
She pumped her legs,
and the swing creak-­creaked as we rocked.
My legs stuck straight out,
too little to dangle down.
As soon as I spied
yellow wings with black tiger stripes and a blue tail,
I jumped down to chase
the eastern tiger swallowtail,
and Mom chased me.
All I wanted was to hold the butterfly,
but every time I got close to it,
it took off.

What on earth’s wrong with you?!

Who tries to trap a butterfly?!
Mom yelled,
picking me up,
carrying me back to the porch, and
plopping me down onto the swing.
I flinched
when the screen door banged
as Mom went inside the house.
She came back out
with her purse slung over one shoulder
and her keys jingling, jangling.

Where you going? I go, too!

I yelled, scooting off the swing.

She didn’t even look at me.
She just went straight to her car and got in.
Slam!
Squeal!
Vroom!
Mom took off.

I hopped onto my Big Wheel
and pedaled down the sidewalk,
trying to catch her,
but my little legs
just couldn’t keep up.

MAKE ME CHOOSE

Mom wears a silk butterfly scarf all the time.
She says she’s a butterfly,
and butterflies are free.

You should be able to go

wherever you want
whenever you want.
Fly away.
Be free.

But Grandmum would say,
You’re not a butterfly, Carli.
You’re a mom.
You can’t be both.

Oh yeah?

Mom would answer.
Then make me choose and
watch what happens.

POP!

When I was little,
I had a jack-­in-­the-­box.
Music played as I turned the handle, and
I never knew exactly when
it was coming, but
I knew the door would open with a loud
POP!
And the clown would be right there.

The longer I turned the handle,
the more nervous I got,
waiting for that pop.

That’s what it’s like
after Mom gets The Itch and takes off.

I never know when
she’ll pop back into my life.

The longer I wait for her,
the more nervous I get
that she won’t ever return,
and yet
the more I fear her coming home.

ONOMATOPOEIA

Comic books are full of onomatopoeia.

I can tell you a story about Mom and me
using only onomatopoeia.

Grrr!
Slap!
Ouch!
Shhh!

Onomatopoeias are words
that sound just like
what’s actually happening.

OODLES OF DOODLES

I’m a doodler.
I have a notebook full of doodles.
Oodles of doodles.

I doodle the infinity symbol a lot.
It looks like the number eight on its side.
When you draw it, the line loops and connects.
So you end up not being able to tell
where it all even started.
But once it starts,
it never ends.
It goes on forever because
it keeps repeating itself.


Sometimes I don’t even realize
what’s going on inside me till
I start doodling and
whatever was in me is out of me and
right there on paper.

I just doodled a circle that became
a planet in a galaxy where grown-ups act like grown-ups
and do what they’re supposed to do,
over and over again.

The world where I want to live.

Praise

“How do you cope with the unexpected moments that change everything in your world? . . . The verse format, combined with Joe’s comic book and superhero metaphors, works exceptionally well at conveying honest emotion while maintaining a sense of humor and hope. Fipps doesn’t sugarcoat poverty, nor does she romanticize it or treat it as a moral failing; instead, she provides critical representation to the many schoolchildren who are living in poverty. Joe’s courage and individuality shine on every page. . . . A big, bold, engaging, and important story.” —Kirkus Reviews

* "Fipps (Starfish) depicts situations of abuse, financial precarity, houselessness, and hope through easy-to-read verse in this elucidating work. Eleven-year-old Joseph Oak loves superhero comics and his British-born Grandmum, whose ‘arms are like Captain America’s shield,/ protecting me,/ defending me.’ . . . Joe’s pragmatic voice explains, ‘I think I know a lot of things/ kids shouldn’t/ have/ to know’ about how much his grandmother makes cleaning buildings and what their U.S. government–provided benefits cover (and don’t). . . . Fipps employs resonant verse to portray Joe’s bleak reality as well as the bright spots he experiences due to the kindness of his best friends, who help him get food, and his teacher, who advocates for change in the school’s free meal system and opens a food and clothing pantry for students in need.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

*
“As in her Starfish (2021), Fipps focuses on another young person on the fringe of their peer group, and the novel-in-verse narrative works beautifully here, invoking urgency and intimacy. Vivid descriptions of housing and food scarcity are intense and unforgettable, sure to spark empathy from any young reader. Though the story tackles heavy subjects, Joe is a wonderful companion, and there are also deep, dear relationships and an undercurrent of kindness that keeps hope afloat throughout. An exceptionally compassionate examination of existence on the edge.” —Booklist, starred review

“This verse novel’s conversational tone, linear timeline, and dialogue-heavy writing will ease readers nervous about poetry, and the first-person narration shows Joseph’s intelligence and joyful creativity. What Joseph goes through is horrible, but not completely without hope. Joseph is surrounded by a wonderful secondary cast, from his teacher who attempts to support kids living in poverty by changing unfair school systems to a neighbor who models generosity and healthy community building. . . . Fipps’ indictment of how society treats and ignores people who need help (‘It’s amazing / how long you can live / without anyone realizing / how you live’) paves the way for compassionate discussion about how cyclical poverty affects kids.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Supporting characters, including Joe’s teacher, his friends Nick and Hakeem, and the mobile home park’s compassionate owner, are well drawn and vividly portrayed. As in Starfish, Fipps uses short lines, lots of white space, and an engaging first-person voice to carry the story. A fine example of how a novel in verse can be the perfect vehicle for getting inside the head of a character and creating empathy for what it’s like to be him.”The Horn Book

Books for Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Every May we celebrate the rich history and culture of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Browse a curated selection of fiction and nonfiction books by AANHPI creators that we think your students will love. Find our collections of titles here: Middle School High School

Read more

PRH Education High School Collections

All reading communities should contain protected time for the sake of reading. Independent reading practices emphasize the process of making meaning through reading, not an end product. The school culture (teachers, administration, etc.) should affirm this daily practice time as inherently important instructional time for all readers. (NCTE, 2019)   The Penguin Random House High

Read more

PRH Education Translanguaging Collections

Translanguaging is a communicative practice of bilinguals and multilinguals, that is, it is a practice whereby bilinguals and multilinguals use their entire linguistic repertoire to communicate and make meaning (García, 2009; García, Ibarra Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017)   It is through that lens that we have partnered with teacher educators and bilingual education experts, Drs.

Read more

PRH Education Classroom Libraries

“Books are a students’ passport to entering and actively participating in a global society with the empathy, compassion, and knowledge it takes to become the problem solvers the world needs.” –Laura Robb   Research shows that reading and literacy directly impacts students’ academic success and personal growth. To help promote the importance of daily independent

Read more