Allison's Book Bag

Hating Heidi Foster by Jeffrey Blount

Posted on: January 12, 2013

Jeffrey Blount was inspired to write Hating Heidi Foster after observing a shared moment between his daughter and her best friend. Yet the theme of friendship is the weakest part of his book. Instead, Hating Heidi Foster excels in its portrayal of family, loss, and grief. This is a gentle and sometimes slow-paced story of how Mae loves her dad, hurts when she loses him, and eventually finds peace.

The back cover of Hating Heidi Foster tells readers that Mae and Heidi were the best of friends: “Their relationship was the stuff of storybooks, legendary even, in the minds of their high school classmates.” However, in the first chapter we meet Mae, her mom, her grandparents, and family friends. In other words, we meet everyone but Heidi. When Heidi is finally introduced briefly in the second chapter, we discover that Mae hates Heidi because she blames Heidi for her dad’s death. For that reason, Mae doesn’t understand why anyone would even associate with Heidi. How it is that Heidi is responsible for the death of Mae’s dad? Apparently, Heidi was trapped in a closet in her burning house and Mae’s dad sacrificed his life to save her. Whether you agree with Mae that her dad should have left Heidi’s rescue to firefighters isn’t the issue. Mae needs to channel her grief somewhere, and hating her best friend makes fine sense. Except, Mae’s choice puts Jeffrey Blount in a difficult position as an author. How does one write a story about two best friends if throughout most of the book neither friend will talk to the other? Blount relies on flashbacks, meaning that the bulk of this short one-hundred-page story is about past events. This is not a story-telling format that excites me. Moreover, even when Heidi’s health begins to suffer as a result of Mae’s rejection, Mae continues to ignore her. Mae only finally comes around and allows Heidi back into her life because of a contrived situation involving a videotape. So, this whole storyline fell flat for me.

On the other hand, the back cover of Hating Heidi Foster also tells readers that the book is about grief, and this is one area in which Blount excels. Mae slowly shuts down—pushing away friends, giving up on team sports, neglecting schoolwork—and begins to live on the memories of her dad. The immensity of Mae’s pain is evident and natural. Yet it’s not only Mae that is suffering here, but also her mom and both sets of grandparents. Unlike most books for young people, Blount acknowledges this reality by showing how the adults in Mae’s life handle grief. Mae’s mom refuses to look at photographs, watch family videos, or store up memorabilia of Mae’s dad. The grandparents send text messages, make phone calls, and one set even visits. Everyone has questions, feels alone, and shares grief. Mae scoffs at the idea that time heals all wounds, but eventually that truth is made real even to her. When she returns to school after a long weekend, Mae finds that her hate is weakening. The longer she watches the videos of her dad, the more she has to admit that her memories of him are becoming blurred. Loss of loved ones hits hard, but most of us find a way to make peace. Blount stays well-focused on his depiction of that journey. I particularly like that one way the family starts to find peace is by talking to neighbors and rescue workers who had witnessed the attempt by Mae’s dad to save Heidi.

The back cover of Hating Heidi Foster doesn’t refer to the value of family in our lives. Yet the portrayal of family is much stronger than that of the friendship between Mae and Heidi. Naturally, because the first chapter starts with the funeral, Mae’s relationship with her dad can only be shown through flashbacks. This portrayal is enriched by how the death of Mae’s dad brought her mom, her grandparents, and even friends of the family closer together. In that way, Blount is able to bring the story into the present. Other ways include Mae’s growing insatiable need to know why her dad ran into a burning building, which leads to a search to find those who had last seen her dad, and Mae’s conflicts with her family. Her mom worries about Mae’s withdrawal, her grandparents worry about Mae’s rejection of her mom’s decision to date again some months later, and friends try to convince Mae to talk with Heidi. All these events happen in the moment and, despite sometimes overly-formal dialog, work well. Mae has a strong-knit family who survive their loss because they pull together. In a literary landscape full of dysfunctional parents, Blount has given readers two parents that make exemplary role models.

The depiction of friendship in Hating Heidi Foster disappointed me. One can find far better options. But, having lost my own mom, I greatly appreciated the honest depiction of grief. I also love the beauty of Mae’s family. Hating Heidi Foster is worth seeking out.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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