Hugging the Rock

Hugging the Rock

Book Synopsis

When her mom runs away from home, Rachel is left behind with her emotionally distant father and many questions she cannot answer. Over time, she learns the truth about her mom. But it’s only when she learns the truth about her dad, the rock- immoveable and always there for her to lean on-that Rachel can move toward understanding.
Every word rings true in this achingly real novel in verse.
Tricycle Press, 2006
ISBN 978-1582461809


  • American Library Association, Notable Children’s Book
  • Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year
  • California Readers California Collection
  • NCTE Notable Children’s Book in the English Language Arts, Realistic Fiction
  • VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers

Behind the Book

Hugging the Rock is a novel about mothers who leave, about mental illness, and about the complex relationship between fathers and daughters, but more than that, it is about making peace with things you cannot change.

I never knew my father but I have spent most of my life wondering about him, wondering what kind of person he was, and what kind of person I might have been had he stuck around. Even though you learn how to pick up and go on, when there is a hole like that in your life it colors everything you think and do for the rest of your life. You can’t help it. Throughout my own childhood I made up stories about the kind of father I wished I had had. When I watched TV shows with strong father figures I always rewrote the story in my head and made myself part of the family. When girlfriends were imagining themselves as married to the latest heartthrob, I was imagining myself in a family with a loving father that wanted to be with me. I knew I would write about that need for a positive father/daughter relationship at some time but I wasn’t sure when.

After I was divorced I watched what my children went through trying to figure out just what happened and I knew that would factor into the story too. But I couldn’t write this story in the years immediately after my own divorce. The pain was too immense, the emotions too raw. Eventually my emotions came to the surface, at a time when I felt safe and loved in life, and I knew that it was time to write the story. In the process of the writing there were still some deep and painful moments but because I had waited, I was strong enough to go to the dark places and still come out alive. Enough time had passed that I could accept the blame for what was mine and let go of the blame for anything else. I could see the details through the tears.

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Teaching Guide

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Brown creates a poignant work dealing with a topic rare in children's literature. Readers will hug this book. I did. —Lee Bennett Hopkins

As in Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie (Candlewick, 2000), father and daughter gradually grow closer together out of necessity and begin to pull together as a family. —School Library Journal

...a poignant tale of father-daughter love and friendship. —Kirkus Reviews

...This is a painful read, but at the same time, a hopeful read…From the first, the poetry hurts because it rings true. There is the loss, the child's loss of security, the harsh knowledge that it's a lie that parents will always be there, that Moms are always nurturing and Dads are always protecting. —Liz Burns, A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy

Rachel and her father learn to live and love with strength and beauty. Despite the fact this book made me cry more than once, Hugging the Rock is a beautiful testament to the strength and stability of the human spirit.—Kelly Herold, Big A little a

Hell, it’s downright gutsy to go and create a mother character that seriously does not love her daughter. —Elizabeth Bird, Fuse #8

This novel in poems is a rare and powerful father-daughter book. It's also a whole-heart book. You feel your whole heart break and re-knit as you read. It's that good. Ages 9-up. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. —Cynthia Leitich Smith

This book packs a lot into relatively few words. Susan Taylor Brown offers insights into life with a mentally ill parent, how fathers parent differently from mothers, how personally kids take any parental rejection, how 'sometimes dads are better moms than moms are', and how, ultimately, people adapt to changing circumstances. Hugging the Rock is beautifully written, and I give it my highest recommendation. —Jen Robinson

A touching look at the resiliency of kids and families. —Rebecca Hogue Wojahn, author and librarian

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