Julie Tells her Story

Published in 2007; author Megan McDonald; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley


Julie's teacher just assigned a big project: an autobiography. Some parts will be easy, like "The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me." Piece of cake: playing on the school's basketball team, where the boys have even given her a complementary nickname, Cool Hand Albright, for how well she can handle the basketball. But what about "The Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Me"? Julie's not too thrilled about telling the class about her parents' divorce. Her dad helps her get started on the project though, with an early Christmas gift of a tape recorder. Julie has a blast interviewing her family and friends for the autobiography. She even uses it to spy on Tracy when her sister's on the phone, and learns that she has a secret boyfriend! Julie purposely lets it slip to Tracy that she knows, out of spite when the girls are bickering.

But Tracy gets over it quickly, although not without ulterior motives. She wants Julie to "plant-sit" her spider plant over the weekend. Tracy is going to be at a friend's house and the spider plant is a project for one of her classes. While hanging out with Ivy, Julie accidentally knocks the plant out the window with her basketball, smashing the hippopotamus planter it's in. Julie and Ivy can't find another hippo pot, but do find a pig which looks similar. The plant is still alive when Tracy returns, but dinged up from its fall. On the bright side, Tracy's so distracted by the plant's damage (which Julie and Ivy lead her to believe is from over-watering and too much sunlight) that she doesn't notice the new pot.

Soon after, a big basketball game comes up. Julie holds own for most of it, despite the referees not calling most of the fouls against her and the other team trash-talking her. But one particular body-check from the other team takes Julie out of the game, with her finger either sprained or broken. Worse, neither of her parents are there. Her mom had to be in a meeting with the bank, and her dad is nowhere to be seen. Tracy arrived just before Julie got injured, but at fifteen, she can't drive yet. In the end, T. J.'s mom takes the sisters to the ER.

There it's confirmed that Julie's finger is broken. As she's just about done being checked out, both her parents arrive. Her dad was stuck in Chicago due to a weather delay, and her mom's meeting ran over. They're both apologetic to Julie and Tracy, and impressed with how well they handled everything. They even go out for pizza--all four of them. It's only for dinner though. After they finish eating, Julie has to say goodbye to her dad until the next time she visits.

At home, Julie realizes it's going to be difficult to write her report, but she's able to edit it together on the tape recorder. She picks getting on the basketball team as the best thing that's happened to her, and her broken finger as the worst. Some other students give their reports before hers, recounting stories of losing swimsuits in the pool and terrible haircuts complete with pictures. When it's Julie's turn, she plays the report for the class but stops it before the worst thing part. She then talks about the divorce instead, and how hard it is to not live with both parents. She's grateful though that they can come together when they really need to, and understands that while her parents don't love each other anymore, they still love Julie and Tracy.

Looking Back

The 1970s saw many civil rights advances. One that took place in schools was integrating classrooms so that students would learn in a diverse environment. Not only were students with disabilities mainstreamed when possible, children were bussed to different schools to encourage racial and economic diversity. While the goal was admirable--letting students experience new things and new opportunities and meet people from different backgrounds--busing was controversial for a variety of reasons. The bus rides could be very long, more than an hour, and some people felt too connected to neighborhood schools to "abandon" them. Other people didn't want students from wrong side of the tracks "tainting" their schools. There was also the problem of money. Some school districts already had to cut after-school activities and other programs, and buses cost money. In response to the cuts, some people like music promoter Bill Graham organized benefit concerts, a new thing then, to raise money for schools.


This book is dedicated to the memory of John and Mary Louise McDonald.

In looking at the pictures, I noticed that Julie and Tracy have blonde hair while their parents have dark hair. I've seen critiques of various movies or shows that scream about genetics and how brunette parents shouldn't be able to have blonde kids. But...my dad has black hair and my mom has dark brown hair, and my older brother and I had white-blonde hair until it gradually darkened to brown by high school (my younger brother's always had brown hair). And we look enough like our parents that there's no question of a blonde milkman, plus they have too strong a relationship for that. So lighten up, naysayers! Hair color isn't like blood type.

Tracy often skips her weekends with Mr. Albright. I wonder about Mr. and Mrs. Albright's custody agreement, that she's "allowed" to do that. Some agreements are more lax than others.

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