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Welcome to the Dance

Youths' search for identity is 'Anything But Ordinary' — or is it? Valerie Hobbs' latest novel takes a closer look at relationships.


Life is a dance. At no time is this truth more apparent than in the teenage years. Identity becomes liquid. It flows from day to day, shaping and reshaping itself in relation to other people. We know who we are by our relationships to others. But who are we without others? Are we no one? Do we not truly exist until we enter into relationship with others?

These are the questions at the root of Valerie Hobbs’ latest novel, Anything But Ordinary. Thirteen-year-old Bernie Federman may not know who he is, but he does know who he is not. He is not a brain, a fashionista or an athlete. He doesn’t fit into any group. Then he meets the stubbornly independent Winifred Owens and decides to become just like her. Together they form a joint identity — the couple Bernie and Winifred. As time passes, they become linked together in the minds of their high school classmates, and are bound for greater things.

Then Bernie’s mother dies unexpectedly and his life unravels. Without his mother to keep them together, Bernie and his father spiral downward into deep depression, together but separate. Bernie forgets his promises to Winifred, forgets to study, forgoes college admissions applications, settles for a life changing tires in his father’s shop. Winifred, unable to stop Bernie’s collapse, moves ahead with her own life and moves to Santa Barbara. Who is Bernie now that Winifred is gone? And who is Winifred without Bernie?

Winifred changes herself altogether to fit into her new surroundings and tries to find a new place for herself in the world. Bernie decides he is nothing without Winifred and follows her to Santa Barbara. He pursues her tirelessly, while she tries to pretend he is just part of the scenery of her new life. The past cannot be recreated no matter how hard Bernie tries, but can he create a future without Winifred?

Anything But Ordinary

ISBN: 9780374303747
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Hardcover, 176 pages
February 2007

Their individual searches for identity bring Bernie and Winifred together and then tear them apart, hurling them across the stages of UCSB and Isla Vista as though they were on stage at the Kennedy Center.

UCSB alumni will love the accurate descriptions of life on campus, and of the surrounding environment. As enjoyable as these are, they serve merely as a backdrop to the far more important story of universal search for identity. Anything But Ordinary is ideal for readers 16 and up.

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