What I Call Life

Jill Wolfson

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

I haven’t even explained yet about the Knitting Lady. Who is she? How did I wind up on her doorstep? How did I meet the other girls who became my friends—no, they became more than friends—despite the fact that they drove me absolutely crazy.

I need to take a giant step back, return myself to the police car and explain how I, Cal Lavender, came to be living a life that wasn’t my own.

A witty and moving first novel that uncovers another side of the foster-care system

Cal Lavender is perfectly happy living her anonymous life, even if she does have to play mother to her own mother a whole lot more than an eleven-year-old should. But when Cal’s mother has one of her “unfortunate episodes” in the middle of the public library, she is whisked off by the authorities and Cal is escorted to a seat in the back of a police car.

On “just a short, temporary detour from what I call life,” Cal finds herself in a group home with four other girls, watched over by a strange old woman everyone refers to as the Knitting Lady. At first Cal can think of nothing but how to get out of this nuthouse. She knows she doesn’t belong there. But it turns out that all the girls, and even the Knitting Lady, may have a lot more in common than they could have imagined.
A fresh new voice in middle-grade fiction—Jill Wolfson’s unforgettable characters will blunder their way into readers’ hearts.


Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1Everyone is always living her story.When I first heard this, I thought: What kind of nutty philosophy is that? Who would buy it? Everyone? Always?All I had to do was look at my own personal situation to see how wrongheaded this kind of thinking happened to be. I looked around at where I was living at the time and with whom I was living and shook my head. No, sir. This isn't MY story. This is nothing like MY life.My life--what I call life--had been running its usual course up until recently. Until everything came to a complete and total halt. That was the day my mother


Praise for What I Call Life

“Wolfson paints her characters with delightful authenticity. Her debut novel is a treasure of quiet good humor and skillful storytelling that conveys subtle messages about kindness, compassion, and the gift of family regardless of its configuration.”—Booklist, Starred Review
“Wolfson's first novel is a grand-slam home run. Her wonderfully kooky characters, her fast-paced, witty dialogue, and her realistic depiction of emotional growth in severely damaged children keep the reader laughing and crying on every page. In the fine tradition of Holden Caulfield and Huckleberry Finn, Cal is loveably unforgettable. Somewhere, perhaps inside of every reader, is a child who will be reaffirmed by this exceptional piece of middle school fiction.”—VOYA
“Thankfully, books like Wolfson’s—issue-oriented and therapeutic—give all kids an enjoyable way to begin to understand the complications of living. Her book specifically is a small miracle for how gently it exposes the wounds of being a foster kid.”—Santa Cruz Sentinel

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Jill Wolfson

  • Jill Wolfson’s writing has appeared in Salon and the San Jose Mercury News. She lives in Santa Cruz, California. This is her first novel.
  • Jill Wolfson


Available Formats and Book Details

What I Call Life

Jill Wolfson

Iowa Children's Choice Award Master List
  • Trade Paperback


  • e-Book