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The Long Night of Leo and Bree

Press: Perfection Learning (October 1, 2003)
Publication Date:2003-10
Author Name:Wittlinger, Ellen


8:30 P.M.: It's been four years since Michelle was killed.
Leo can't stand to be at home with his mom -- she's crazy with rage.
He's got anger of his own and pictures of his dead sister he can't get out of his head.
9:00 P.M.: Bree parks her mom's car and locks the doors.
She's in a bad part of town, but she knows the bar has to be around here somewhere.
All she wants is to escape for a while and have a good time.
9:15 P.M.: Leo, out for a drive to get away from his mom, spots Bree.
Why is this girl alive while Michelle's not? By 6:30 A.M., when their long night is over, everything has changed.

From School Library Journal

Grade 8 & Up--Told from alternating points of view, this intense narrative reveals the inner workings of two 18-year-olds. 
On the anniversary of his sister's brutal murder by her boyfriend, Leo, frightened and enraged by his mother's drunken ravings and assault (she is convinced that all men are beasts), escapes from their apartment.
Driving around, he is consumed by anger and despair.
Memories of his father's desertion and his mother's growing mental instability haunt him.
Pictures of Michelle's corpse lying in a pool of blood appear before his eyes.
When he sees a young woman walking alone in her tight skirt and high heels, he concludes that this stranger should be dead, not Michelle.
Bree wants freedom from her wealthy parents' expectations and from her controlling boyfriend's superiority.
She feels trapped at home, but when Leo grabs her, puts a knife to her neck, and forces her into his car, fear takes over.
As his hostage, talk is Bree's only weapon.
Through their conversation, each teen discovers demons that they must confront, from making choices and handling grief to dealing with adversity and with the future.
By the time morning rolls around, Leo and Bree have opened their hearts to one another.
Wittlinger's dependable, solid character development mirrors that of her previous novels.
With its strong, believable emotions and direct, clear writing, this novel will speak to young adult readers.Gail Richmond, San Diego Unified Schools, CACopyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Library Binding edition.

From Booklist

It is the anniversary of Leo's sister's death.
She was knifed 57 times by her sadistic boyfriend, and since the murder, Leo's father has disappeared, his mother has turned into a crazy drunk, and he has quit school to work in a garage.
When his mother pulls out the autopsy photos, Leo reaches his breaking point.
He finds himself driving around, looking for a girl to murder.
Enter wealthy Bree.
Tired of being under her mother's thumb, she heads off to find a pool game.
Instead, Leo finds her and takes her captive.
This comes pretty close to a TV movie, with Leo and Bree seeming more like stock characters than real people.
Suspense is also limited, since Leo is clearly not the sort who'd really kill Bree.
What the book does have is plenty of energy.
The emotions roiling around are right on the surface, and kids will plug into the anger, fear, and sadness that surround the young people's lives.
A quick, effective, if not particularly memorable, read.
Ilene CooperCopyright © American Library Association.
All rights reserved

--This text refers to the Library Binding edition.

About the Author

Ellen Wittlinger is the critically acclaimed author of the teen novels Love & Lies: Marisol's Story, Parrotfish, Blind Faith, Sandpiper, Heart on My Sleeve, Zigzag,and Hard Love (an American Library Association Michael L. 
Printz Honor Book and a Lambda Literary Award winner), and the middle-grade novel Gracie's Girl.
She has a bachelor's degree from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, and an M.F.A.
from the University of Iowa.
A former children's librarian, she lives with her husband in Haydenville, Massachusetts.

--This text refers to the Library Binding edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One: 8:00 p.m. 
Leo She's screaming at me again, like I'm deaf, like I'm stupid, like I don't know what day this is.
I knew she'd be crazier than usual today -- that's why I got up early and went to work at the garage before she woke up this morning.
I figured there was no sense taking a chance -- the more I'm around her today, the more likely I'll start seeing those pictures flashing in my mind again.
After work I stopped at the store to get some hamburg and a jar of pickles for dinner because she likes that.
I thought maybe I could get her off the subject, get her quieted down with a full stomach.
I'm not a great cook, but I can make decent hamburgers.
Gramma showed me how.
She usually does our cooking, but she's down to Quincy this week with my Aunt Suzanne, who just had another baby.
Ma calls Suzanne a frigging baby machine, unless she calls her something worse.
It's bad timing that Gramma's gone this week because sometimes she can get Ma to calm down.
I can't.
I just make things worse.
Which is what she always tells me I do.
But I don't think that's fair because I have tried to help out.
I quit school this year to work at the garage because she said we couldn't all live on what Gramma made answering the phones at that doctor's office.
She said I was eating too much and we couldn't afford it.
She bitches at me all the time, even though I help out around here more than she does.
But I know she can't really do anything.
She's pretty much nuts most of the time.
It didn't used to be like this.
Before my sister Michelle died four years ago (four years ago tonight), we didn't live at Gramma's apartment.
We still lived in Fenton, but in a regular house with my dad.
He worked over at the power plant and Ma worked at a fabric store down on Russell Avenue.
We weren't rich or anything, but we were all alive and nobody was insane.
After Michelle died, Dad turned into stone.
The rest of us were more like glass, but he was stone.
Just sat around the house all day, staring at the wallpaper like he could see down through all the layers.
Pretty soon he got fired from the plant and he didn't even seem to care.
Then he packed up a duffel bag and told us he was moving down to Kentucky.
"Why? Where?" Ma yelled at him.
"You don't know anybody in Kentucky!" "That's the point," he said.
"I can't stand knowin' anybody anymore.
I have to disappear." And that's what he did.
Although he did send me a birthday card last year with fifty dollars in it, and the post office mark said Louisville, so I guess that's a clue.
Maybe someday I'll drive down there and disappear too.
When I was a kid, Dad would take me down to the power plant and show it off to me and me off to the guys he worked with.
He was proud of his whole life, it seemed like.
But after Michelle died, the rest of us just turned into some broken-down mess.
I can't even remember what any of us looked like without a picture.
"Leo! Where are you?" She's still screaming, but I'm downstairs in the basement storage room where she won't find me.
I come down here lately when I need to get away -- it's a great hiding place.
Somebody left an old couch sitting here and some dining room-type chairs.
Stuff people aren't using anymore they put down here -- there's all kinds of crap: garden tools and suitcases and boxes of old clothes.
There's a light in the corner so you can see to do stuff, although usually I don't have much to do, maybe read one of these old magazines people got piled up.
It's hard to read, though, when I get Ma's crazy voice stuck in my head, noisy as a chain saw, slicing through my brains.
There's even a toilet behind this door in the back -- kind of filthy -- but I use it if I don't feel like going back upstairs yet.
I bought some toilet paper and some root beer and saltines at the store this afternoon and brought them down here like this was my home.
It's kind of cold in the basement, so the root beer doesn't even need to be in a fridge.
I'm starting to think of this as my place, where I can escape from her and her damn voice.
Ma doesn't know this room is here, even though Gramma's apartment is just one floor up.
See, Ma never goes outside our apartment anymore; she never even answers the door, so, to her, going down into the basement of the building is like a normal person getting on the space shuttle.
No way.
"Leo! Come here this minute! You worthless turd! Come here!" She's just getting wound up; she calls me worse than that when she really gets going.
I know what she wants.
She wants me to sit up there and talk to her, like she isn't a lunatic or something.
And I know what she wants to talk about too, but I won't.
I'm starting to have those nightmares again anyway -- I do every year around this time -- other times too, but always in March, and they always get real bad the closer it is to today, March 19.
Sometimes the nightmares get so bad I think I might be as crazy as Ma.
And sometimes it seems like there's this noise in the corner of my brain -- I can't stop listening to it, but I don't know what it is either.
I don't think anybody outside notices, though.
I'm pretty careful when I talk to people.
The guys at the garage think I'm just this quiet kid who's pretty good with cars.
Sometimes I come into work and I feel so mad from the nightmares and from remembering and thinking too much, and my stomach is pitching around so bad I feel like I'm gonna puke, so I don't talk to anybody until I can swallow all that awful feeling way down.
I try to joke around with the other guys, but it's hard.
They're mostly older and they like to talk about women in ways that...well, ways that remind me of Novack.
Michelle was seventeen years old, just like I am now.
She seemed so grown-up to me.
She was the person who always made everything all right.
When Michelle was around, nobody argued -- not me and Ma, or Ma and Dad -- she just knew how to get you in a good mood.
She had plans to be a social worker, so she could get everybody else in Fenton to settle down too.
It probably wasn't too realistic, but that was her hope.
I took Michelle's side against Ma the first time she spent the night at Novack's place.
Ma said he was too old for her and a wiseass besides.
I argued she was old enough to make up her own mind, even though I didn't like him much myself.
I wasn't just arguing for Michelle, though -- I was also arguing for me, that I was getting old enough too and wanted to be allowed to make up my own mind.
When you're thirteen, it never occurs to you there are people in the world rotten enough to kill your sister in a horrible way for no good reason.
Michelle never really had a boyfriend before Novack.
She was kind of shy and just average pretty, but really nice.
Not the type high school boys are in the market for.
At least not around here.
She had a job three nights a week working at the gift shop down at the hospital, and one night Novack came in to buy some flowers for his girlfriend, who was laid up in there.
(With a broken jaw -- but we didn't put two and two together at the time.) So he starts coming in and talking to Michelle, flirting, and before you know it he forgets all about the poor girl with the wired-shut jaw, which, as it turns out, is lucky for her.
He goes in and buys flowers and gives them right to Michelle, right as soon as he buys them from her.
Nobody had ever done stuff like that before, and she totally fell for it.
I think she was shocked that a guy could really like her.
Which was stupid because she was great, and somebody good would have liked her someday if she could have just waited.
But I guess she didn't know that.
Right after it happened, I felt like a stick of dynamite with all that explosive powder stuffed in tight.
I threw up all the time, but it didn't help; you can't get rid of poison that easy.
Last year on this night, it was pretty bad.
Really bad.
People keep saying how things will get better -- time heals your wounds, or some such crap -- but it's not true for me.
What happened last year is that Ma started crying and kept it up all day.
Not just regular crying, but drunk crying, crazy crying, nonstop, put-me-out-of-my-misery crying.
I was trying to read a book for English class, but I couldn't make any sense of it what with Ma's noise and the noise in my own head, buzzing away like a mad, stuck bee that's willing to sting everything in sight to get himself free.
The pictures that usually came to me in nightmares started flashing into my head, even though I was wide awake.
Everything was just pumping inside me so bad I finally couldn't sit still.
I knew if Michelle had been there she could have calmed me down -- she could do that even when we were kids -- she didn't let stuff get to her like I did, like Ma did.
She knew how to talk to you so you didn't feel so bad.
Of course, thinking like that made it all the worse because Michelle could never calm us down anymore now.
She was the reason we were all as crazy as we were.
So finally I got so mad I didn't know what the hell I was doing -- I went crashing into Ma's bedroom like a blind man, and I hit her.
I hit her hard, so her mouth started bleeding, but she still didn't stop crying.
Gramma heard the noise, which was a good thing because she came in and stopped me.
I swear, if she hadn't come in, I was ready to put my hands around Ma's neck and start squeezing off the noise -- I was that desperate.
Gramma's more like Michelle was -- she can get you to think about what you're doing.
After I calmed down a little, she sent me outside and I spent all night just walking around Fenton.
I even took my old pocketknife and made some cuts on my wrists, just to see what it looked like, just to feel myself bleed.
Man, I hope I never feel that bad again.
I promised Gramma before she left that this year I'd stay down here in the cellar all night -- just leave Ma alone with her miserable booze.
But even this is way too close.
"Leo! Damn you to hell! Where are you?" I gotta get out of the house.
Even a floor down, I can't stand the screaming.
But I need my car keys and they're up there in the kitchen.
She'll jump on me the minute I walk in.
I'll just get my coat and my keys and go.
I don't like to leave her all alone when she's this bad, but what choice have I got? Either I get out of here or I go loco too.
Text copyright © 2001 by Ellen Wittlinger

--This text refers to the Library Binding edition.


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Comment List (Total:12)

  •     Leo, a brave kid, has been going through a lot with his sister and mother. You wouldn't think that he would get to the point that he would actually do something crazy, would he? All I am saying is that by the end of this book Leo is going to be a new Leo. Another main character in this book is named Bree. This girl is good girl brought up with a mother that is very over-protective and will hardly let Bree go out with her boy friend. Then until one night something happens that changes her perspective on life and her mother over-protectivness. Then some how, some way their worlds meet in a very unexpected way.The Long Night of Leo and Bree is a very good book for teen people and even people older. But you should most definitly have a mature mind. The book makes you feel like your there, witnessing everything that goes on. I love this book because i love how it is written. The author Ellen Wittlinger wrote this book in two different worlds. There is a world in Leo's perspective and Bree's perspective. It is really cool! She also creates great moods and feelings that makes you want to keep flipping the pages. I absolutely love this book!The long night of Leo and Breeis a heart-throbbing, suspencful, and intense kind of book. I recommend this book to anyone over 12 and a mature teen. If you want to read a more exciting book then this book is for you!

  •     Imagine your sister being brutally murdered by her boyfriend and everything changing so fast, you didn't even have the chance to blink. That's what happened for Leo.

  •     On the one year anniversary of his sister's brutal murder, Leo finds himself going slightly mad, along with his mother, who has never been the same since. Rather than stay in the house with his mom, Leo goes out driving and when he spots Bree, a rich kid who decided to take a walk on the wrong side of town, he wonders why she lived and his sister didn't. In a fit of insanity, Leo takes Bree hostage and plans to kill her, but when he and Bree begin to talk, he finds his saving grace.Ellen Wittlinger, author of Razzle and Hard Love, tackles a tough subject with this book and pulls it off quite well. The story itself is very short - just over 100 pages long. Almost the entire book is dialogue, and it takes place in only a couple settings. It's a quick read, but rather grim material. If you're looking for a happy ending, don't read this one! I enjoyed reading The Long Night of Leo and Bree, and my only complaint is I would have liked it to be longer - I'd love to find out what happened afterwards!

  •     Ok, maybe I am a little biast because I read Hard Love the same day that I read this book, and I loved Hard Love. I did not think that this book was good at all.

  •     This is a good book for teenagers and young adults. It's a book about the way life was lived for a brother and sister in an abnormal life style.

  •     This review has been crossposted from my blog at The Cosy Dragon.com. Please head there for more in-depth reviews by me, which appear on a timely schedule.It's been 4 years since Leo's sister was killed by her boyfriend. Leo is still haunted by the sight, and his mother is out of her mind. Bree leads a boring life in comparison, but when she heads out to a bar, and finds herself lost, confronted by Leo and threatened with murder.The back of this novel is very misleading. This is not romance. It's a horrible night for them both, but it has the potential to lead to positive things. I'm not sure exactly what though.I felt along with the characters, I felt Bree's terror and Leo's confusion. I found myself being disturbed by what was happening, and not wanting to put the novel down for fear of something happening while I wasn't looking!At the same time, I couldn't feel the same connection with both characters. Leo has so much depth, while Bree seems like a simple rich girl. I guess that's her role, but surely Wittlinger could have picked a better antagonist? Or at least make me feel some sympathy for her. If I had thought it would make Leo feel better, I would have told him to kill her.I purchased this novel because I've enjoyed Wittlinger's novels in the past. It has nothing on Parrotfish, but is really much better than Hard Love. That's not to say it's perfect though, or anything other than a quick, worth-reading-once, novel. Don't bother buying it unless you're determined to collect everything from this author, just borrow it from the library to make up your mind yourself. I'd recommend this for mature teenage readers.

  •     This book is about a boy who had a sister that died from her boyfriend. He can't forget about his sister and how she died.

  •     this book was a quick, bizarre read that made me deeply uncomfortable, but not in the way the author was intending.

  •     This is not a love story. This may tentatively be termed a friendship story. But mostly, it is a story about a simple human-to-human connection. It's about truly seeing each other as people. Leo is still reeling from the murder of his sister and thinks he can bring her back by murdering another girl. But he sees that his suffering isn't all that matters. Bree is a person, too, with her own life and her own tragedies, loss of a sibling included. And Bree realizes that Leo isn't just some horrible kidnapper, and he definitely does not want to truly kill her. He is kind, and he is in pain.I'm not trying to condone Leo's kidnapping Bree, but he definitely isn't a dimensionless "bad guy" archetype. In fact, he isn't really a bad guy, overall. And his connection with Bree may have saved him, just as it helped Bree to heal, as well. These characters are both damaged humans on the road to recovering from grief, and the effect they have on each other is pretty profound.

  •     I think this is Ellen Wittlinger's best book since HARD LOVE. Leo and Bree are fascinating characters, and the story of their long night is one you won't soon forget. It's true that there isn't much suspense--if Leo were really crazy enough to kill Bree, it would quickly become a very different book--but that's hardly the point. The real joy of this book is watching the journey of the characters over the course of their night together. I found them to be beautifully realized, almost real. If you've enjoyed Wittlinger's other books, don't miss LEO AND BREE; and if you've yet to discover her, pick up any of her books--you're in for a treat!

  •     Leo is disturbed kid who sees a young girl who he wants to kill but doesn't because he is grieving over the violent and gruesome death of his sister. This book is short and it is riveting and captures the heart of how far grieving can go and if you don't get help it could possibly escalate into something bad. Bree just so happens to be in the crossfire of Leo's grief. But the ending will shock you.

  •     Some have compared this book to Robert Cormier's "Tenderness" and there are some similarities: teenaged boy who is not quite right in the head kidnaps teenaged girl with homicide...


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