My favorite young adult (YA) novel is The Divorce Express by Paula Danziger.
I enjoyed Paula Danziger’s earlier YA books, too – The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?, The Pistachio Prescription, and especially There’s a Bat in Bunk Five (I had a real thing for summer camp books when I was younger), but The Divorce Express was published closer to the time of my own adolescence, so it was easier for me to relate to the characters.
It’s the story of 9th-grader Phoebe, whose parents are divorced. At the beginning of the story, her father has just moved away from New York City to rural Woodstock, New York. As the new school year starts, Phoebe lives with her dad during the week and goes to the city on the weekends to stay with her mother, “riding the Divorce Express” (the nickname of the bus that runs between New York City and Woodstock, ridden weekly by a crowd of kids with divorced parents).
In The Divorce Express, Phoebe adjusts to a new school, makes friends with the kids in Woodstock (so different from her friends back in the city), and makes a new best friend, Rosie, on the Divorce Express. She also gets dumped by her long-distance boyfriend, meets a new guy, dabbles in civil disobedience at school (helping organize a school cafeteria boycott to convince the school to serve healthier lunches), and deals with her parents’ own romantic relationships.
When Paula Danziger visited my Midwestern high school during my sophomore year in 1988, only the 9th graders were scheduled to go to the assembly. Somehow I was able to convince the head of the English department (whom I had never met and seemed a little scary) that since Paula Danziger was my favorite author, I should go, too. I’m still thankful that she made the arrangements for me to miss class and attend the assembly.
It didn’t take me long to decide which book to bring along for Paula to autograph – it had to be The Divorce Express. I was lucky enough to speak with her briefly after the assembly, and I told her about my desire to become an author. Somehow I mentioned S.E. Hinton, whose book The Outsiders was published when she was only 16. Maybe I felt like I was on a deadline to become an author; I don’t really remember. But I’ll never forget what Paula told me – “Oh, honey, Susie was a fluke.” It doesn’t seem like much now, but the warmth with which she said it filled me with encouragement.
Even though there’s nothing groundbreaking or earth-shattering about The Divorce Express, in it Paula Danziger creates a complex, meaningful, and realistic world that I yearned to be a part of. I love the language and tone of the writing, and as a suburbanite I always thought it would be so much fun to live in Woodstock, “Colony of the Arts,” and be a neo-hippie like Phoebe and her friends.
The New York Times Book Review called The Divorce Express “a pleasure,” and The Horn Book said, “The author has a sympathetic eye for the ups and downs of her characters and a quick ear for adolescent conversation.” I couldn’t agree more – as both a teenager and an adult!