Keesha's House

Keesha's House

by Helen Frost


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An unforgettable narrative collage told in poems

Keesha has found a safe place to live, and other kids gravitate to her house when they just can't make it on their own. They are Stephie – pregnant, trying to make the right decisions for herself and those she cares about; Jason – Stephie's boyfriend, torn between his responsibility to Stephie and the baby and the promise of a college basketball career; Dontay – in foster care while his parents are in prison, feeling unwanted both inside and outside the system; Carmen – arrested on a DUI charge, waiting in a juvenile detention center for a judge to hear her case; Harris – disowned by his father after disclosing that he's gay, living in his car, and taking care of himself; Katie – angry at her mother's loyalty to an abusive stepfather, losing herself in long hours of work and school.

Stretching the boundaries of traditional poetic forms – sestinas and sonnets – Helen Frost's extraordinary debut novel for young adults weaves together the stories of these seven teenagers as they courageously struggle to hold their lives together and overcome their difficulties.

Keesha's House is a 2004 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312641276
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 01/08/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 479,164
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

HELEN FROST is the author of many award-winning books for children and young adults, including Diamond Willow, winner of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Award, The Braid, Crossing Stones, and Hidden, available from FSG in May 2011. She is the recipient of a 2009-2010 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry. She lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Read an Excerpt

Keesha's House

By Helen Frost


Copyright © 2003 Helen Frost
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-9632-1





    My parents still think I'm their little girl.
    I don't want them to see me getting bigger,
    bigger every week, almost too big to hide it now.
    But if I don't go home, where can I go?
    Jason said, You could get rid of it. I thought of how he tossed
    the broken condom in the trash, saying, Nothing

    will happen.
Now this baby is that nothing,
    growing fingers in the dark, growing toes, a girl
    or boy, heart pulsing. Not something to be tossed
    aside, not nothing. Love and terror both grow bigger
    every day inside me. Jason showed me where to go
    to take care of it. I looked at him and said, I can't. Now

    he isn't talking to me, and if he won't talk now,
    I know what to expect in six months' time — nothing.
    His family doesn't know about the baby. When I used to go
    there every day, his mom would say, It's nice to have a girl
    around the house.
But they have bigger
    dreams than this for Jason. All my questions are like wind-tossed

    papers in the street, and after they've been tossed
    around, rain comes, and they're a soggy mess. Now
    I'm hungry. I had a doughnut, but I need a bigger
    meal. I'm not prepared for this. I know nothing
    about living on my own. At school there's this girl
    I know named Keesha who told me there's a place kids go

    and stay awhile, where people don't ask questions. I go,
    Yeah, sure, okay. I kind of tossed
    my head, like I was just some girl
    who wouldn't care. But now
    I wish I'd asked her the exact address. (Nothing
    wrong with asking.) To lots of girls, it's no big

    deal to have a baby. They treat it like a big
    attention getter — when the baby's born, they go
    around showing it off to all their friends. But nothing
    like this ever happens in my family. Mom and Dad won't toss
    me out, or even yell at me, if I go home right now.
    But how can I keep acting like the girl

    they think I am — a carefree teenage girl with nothing
    big to worry me. As for what I've started thinking now —
    don't go there. Heads is bad; tails is worse: like that no-win coin toss.


    Coach keeps asking me what's wrong.
    I missed the free throw, cost our team the game.
    I thought I could count on you, he said,
    quiet, really puzzled, those dark eyes steady,
    looking through me. How can I say, Forget
    the championship, forget the scholarship, college

    is out of the question? And without college —
    what? You want to know what's wrong?
    I want to know what's right. I can't forget
    Stephie's eyes, the light through her tears. The old game
    plan won't work now. Are you two going steady?
    Coach asked. He was serious. He said,

    She's a lovely girl, Jason. All I can say
    is, times have changed. In his day, you went to college,
    married the lovely girl you'd gone steady
    with for four years. Nothing went wrong
    like this. I wish I could play the game
    like that. I wish I could forget

    about this baby. But I can't forget
    the night it happened. Stephie said
    she loved watching me play in the big game;
    she loved the brains that got me into college,
    but there was more than that. I was wrong
    if I thought that was all she saw in me. Steady

    light in her eyes. I want to be steady
    for her now. But I'm not. I can't. Forget
    it. It's all turning out wrong.
    When I drove her past the clinic, she said,
    You want me to kill our baby so you can go to college,
    play basketball, be a big hero in every big game?

    Those words: Kill our baby. No. This is not a game.
    I need some kind of job, a steady
    income. I could stay here and go to college
    part-time, but I'd have to forget
    about my basketball career. Whoever said
    these are the best years of your life was wrong.

    But Stephie's also wrong. I don't think everything's a game.
    I just can't seem to say, Yes, I'll be the kind of steady
    father I should be.
It's hard to forget about college.


    Stephie walked by this afternoon, holding
    her umbrella in front of her face.
    When it rains like this, all day, into the night,
    that's when you need a home
    more than you need your pride. She still
    goes home to her folks, but she's scared

    of something. I can tell when someone's scared
    and I can usually guess what it's about. She's been holding
    her books in front of herself, and she still
    wears that heavy jacket, even when the weather's good. Her face
    clouds over whenever it's time to go home.
    She'll go home again tonight, but one night

    soon, she'll find her way here. Just watch — Sunday night
    or a week from Tuesday, she'll show up scared,
    like she's the first girl that ever ran from home.
    I know how it is. The night I ran off, holding
    on to my picture of Mama, like her face
    could talk to me or something, I still

    believed someone would come after me. I still
    thought the cops or somebody would look for me all night,
    and Dad would say he didn't mean it. His face
    when I left, so tight and dark. I'm scared
    when his eyes flash like that — Don't come back. Holding
    his bottle like a gun. What would a real home

    be like? An everybody-sit-down-at-the-table home?
    I remember when Mama was still
    alive, sitting on that brown couch holding
    Tobias. He had an earache, he cried all night,
    and she stayed up and tried to quiet him. She was scared
    of Dad. I remember his face,

    so angry when one of us cried. And her face,
    softer when he wasn't home.
    I'm never going to live like that, scared
    of what a man will do to me. I'm still
    in school. I found a place to sleep at night,
    and I'm smart. You won't see me holding

    a baby anytime soon. I'm still trying to hold
    my own life together. I face each night
    by calling this place home. No one's going to see me acting scared.


    They'll be sayin' I ran
    off, but that ain't how I see it. To me —
    I went to Carmen's house
    where all my friends chill out,
    and when I called home for a ride,
    my foster dad said, You got there on your own, son;

    you should be able to get home.
They call me son
    like that. But if I was, they'd run
    out in that fancy car and give me a ride
    when I need one. It ain't no home to me.
    It look like one, sittin' on that green lawn, out
    in the suburbs. My caseworker say, This house

    has everything. Four bedrooms, three baths, the house
    of your dreams.
Sound like she sellin' it. Their real son
    has a bathroom to hisself, and a sign that says Keep Out
    on his door. He got the whole crib on lock, runnin'
    the whole show. But me —
    I feel like I'm beggin' if I ask for a ride.

    I hafta ask if I can eat! I got a ride
    home last Thursday, and when I went in, the house
    was quiet. They was all done eatin', nothin' left for me.
    My foster mom said, Sorry, son,
    you need to learn, if you want to run
    around with those kids, and stay out

    past suppertime, you can't expect us to go out
    of our way to feed you.
Where they live, you need a ride
    to go get food. You can't just run
    to the corner for a sandwich or go to a friend's house
    and eat with them. Carmen's grandmama call me son
    too, sometimes, but if I'm hungry at their house, she'll feed me.

    So now I don't know what to do. It's gonna look like me
    messin' up again. But to me — they locked me out!
    If I had my own key like their son,
    I coulda got in last night when I finally got a ride
    from Carmen. It was midnight, and the house
    was dark. Carmen thought I'd gone inside. I tried to run

    and catch her, but she didn't see me standin' out
    there in the dark street — no house, no food, no ride.
    I didn't run off. I shivered in the backyard, waitin' for the sun.


    I'll be sixteen in seven months,
    and I know how to drive.
    When Dontay had to find his own ride home,
    Grandmama was asleep. I know where she keeps
    her keys. I borrowed them and drove as careful as I could
    out to that house he's stayin' at. By the time I left

    him off, it was after curfew. I turned left
    on Main Street, thinkin' 'bout the time we all got stopped last month
    in that same place, thinkin' I could
    go a different way. Shoulda done that, but I thought I'd drive
    that short way, take my chances. Tried to keep
    an eye out, but I got stopped before I made it home.

    That is, to Grandmama's house — what I call home
    since Mama and her boyfriend left
    for Cincinnati. I keep
    thinkin' she'll be back, but it's five months
    now, and I've about stopped hopin' she'll drive
    up any minute. I guess it could

    happen — prob'ly won't, but could.
    Anyhow, for now, Grandmama's house is home.
    Or was until she woke up to flashin' lights and saw the cops drive
    up. They gave her back her keys, told her I was DUI. Left
    me handcuffed in their car tryin' not to cry. I'll prob'ly get two months
    this time. Don't know why I keep

    on gettin' in this kind of trouble. I keep
    tryin' to do right — thought I could
    help out with this month's
    rent. Now it looks like I won't be home
    or makin' any kind of money for a while. I'll miss what's left
    of school, or at least too much to make up. This could drive

    you crazy: Just try to do some little thing like drive
    a friend that needs a ride, and you keep
    findin' yourself locked up, nothin' left
    to do but sit around thinkin' how you could
    be out with friends — or home.
    You think about that stuff for months,

    and when those months are finally over, everything you left
    behind is different. You feel like jumpin' in the nearest car and drivin'
    outta town, keepin' goin' till you find someplace that feels like home.


    I got invited to the winter dance.
    Think how that's supposed to be: Mom, Dad,
    there's someone I'd like you to meet,
    someone special in my life, someone
    who loves me as much as I love him.
    Freeze frame on that one word: Did you say

    him? I used to try to think of how I'd say
    it, how I'd let them know there'd be no dancing
    at my wedding, no grandkids. Finally I just told them about him
    and watched my world explode. What it meant to Dad
    was that he didn't know me. I turned into someone
    he's hated all his life. He wouldn't meet

    my friend. Why would I want to meet
    the person who ruined your life?
I couldn't say,
    No, Dad, I ruined his. They couldn't imagine just someone
    I loved who loved me. Now Mom and Dad and I can't dance
    around the subject like we used to. Dad
    said if I didn't have enough respect for him

    to act normal, how could I expect him
    to keep supporting me? I couldn't meet
    his eyes when he said that. I was ashamed of Dad
    and myself at the same time. I didn't say
    much, but after that, the winter dance
    seemed like a childish game. Overnight, I became someone

    different — older, tougher, on my own. Someone —
    me — with no parents to support him.
    I was scared enough to ask a girl to the dance,
    thinking I could bring her home to meet
    my parents. Maybe they'd let me come back. I'd say,
    It was just something I went through — really, Dad,

    it isn't true. But she said no. Anyway, Dad
    would never have believed me. I can't pretend to be someone
    I'm not. No matter what Mom might say
    (and she's not saying much), to him
    I might as well be dead. There's just no way to meet
    halfway on this. I didn't go to the dance.

    What made me think I could have danced with him
    in public? Now I can't even say his name out loud. Dad
    scared me into breaking up. I don't even want to meet someone.


    I sleep in my sleeping bag in a room
    with a lock in the basement of the place
    on Jackson Street. And I feel safe.
    If Keesha wants to talk to me, she knocks
    first, and if I want to let her in, I do.
    If I don't, I don't. It's my choice.

    There's not too much I really have a choice
    about. Mom would say I chose to leave my room
    at home, but that's not something anyone would do
    without a real good reason. There's no place
    for me there since she got married. Like, one time, I knocked
    her husband's trophy off his gun safe,

    and he twisted my arm — hard. I never feel safe
    when he's around. I finally asked my mom to make a choice:
    him or me. She went, Oh, Katie, he'll be fine. Then she knocked
    on our wood table. I blew up. I stormed out of the room
    and started thinking hard. In the first place,
    I know he won't be fine. I didn't tell her what he tries to do

    to me when she works late. In a way, I want to, but even if I do,
    she won't believe me. She thinks we're safe
    in that so-called nice neighborhood. Finally, Katie, a place
    of our own.
And since she took a vow, she thinks she has no choice
    but to see her marriage through. No room
    for me, no vow to protect me if he comes knocking

    on my door late at night. He knocks
    and then walks in when I don't answer. Or even when I do
    answer: Stay out! This is my room
    and you can't come in!
I could never be safe
    there, with him in the house. So, sure, I made a choice.
    I left home and found my way to this place,

    where I've been these past two weeks. And I found a place
    to work, thirty hours a week. Today Mom knocked
    on the door here. She wanted to talk. I told her, You made your choice;
    I made mine.
She wondered what she could do
    to get me to come home. But when I said, It's not safe
    for me as long as he's there,
she left the room.

    My choice is to be safe.
    This room is dark and musty, but it's one place
    I do know I can answer no when someone knocks.


Excerpted from Keesha's House by Helen Frost. Copyright © 2003 Helen Frost. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. When reading the book, were you aware of the poetic forms being used? Whether or not you were conscious of it, how did the rhythm and line breaks affect your reading of the book?

2. Did you begin to recognize and differentiate between the individual voices?

3. The author has divided the book into eight parts. Why do you think she did that? How would you define the mood in each part? Describe how the mood changes as the book progresses.

4. You learn that the house is really Joe's. Why does it become known as Keesha's house?

5. Look for dynamic and static characters in the book (those who change as opposed to those who don't). Select and compare three or four of the characters. What difficulty is each facing? How has it affected his/her life? Imagine what might become of the character in the future.

6. Choose a poem from the book that you enjoy, and explore it in depth. What is the poetic form? What is the rhyme scheme? Does the author use imagery, metaphor, simile, or dialect in the poem?

7. Select an excerpt to read as a monologue, or, with a group, act out a part of the book as a play.

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