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Cross Country

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Having her father away in Vietnam wasn't easy for Bets, but she soon discovers having him back home comes with its own set of problems. When a letter from her friend Emmie arrives along with a ticket to the Woodstock Music Festival, Bets has a tough decision to make. Should she stick it out back home or leave her problems behind for a cross-country adventure?

There's a lot happening in 1969, and figuring it all out is complicated. The people Bets encounters all have their own perspectives, each changing the way Bets thinks about the war in Vietnam, the problems America is dealing with, and her own problems at home.

374 pages, Kindle Edition

Published August 15, 2018

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About the author

Brian Herberger

2 books34 followers
As an educator, father of two, and a former middle school English teacher, Brian Herberger is immersed in the world of young adult fiction. In his debut novel, he draws on childhood memories of flying with his father and combines them with his love of history to create a story that is exciting, meaningful and fun. Originally from Buffalo, New York, Brian now lives, reads, and writes in the Washington, DC area.

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Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews
1 review1 follower
August 9, 2018
In Cross Country, Brian Herberger deftly places readers into the the mind and heart of Bets — a smart, bold, and thoughtful teenager — and into America in the summer of 1969, a time, not unlike our own, when young people are finding the courage to stand up and speak out for justice. I was absolutely captivated by Herberger’s Bets in Miss E, so it was a treat to follow her on her journey across America from San Francisco, CA to Woodstock, NY as she continues to come of age and grapple with her increasingly complicated relationship with her parents, the Vietnam War, friendship, misogyny, and racism.

While the plot is exciting and engaging, it is the richness of the characters and the setting that truly drive the story. This book will make young readers nostalgic for a time before they were born, and if they don’t know the music of Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix, by the end of the book, they will be begging their grandparents to dig out their old records.

If there is a current book that will spark conversations between baby boomers and their grandchildren, Cross Country is it. I will recommend it not just to my teenage children and students, but my baby boomer parents as well.
Author 2 books1 follower
August 8, 2018
After his debut with Miss E, Herberger has come back to his protagonist Bets with this wonderful follow-up book. As Bets goes across the country, she spends her time learning about racism, poverty, violence, PTSD, and more, and Herberger's readers are fortunate enough to go along for the ride. In Cross Country, Herberger does an amazing job showing the mindset of both the time period and the protagonist's age. This book was a pleasure to read. It was like catching up with an old friend and finding out what their adventures have been.
July 21, 2018
Great book! I liked the first book and reading about Bets but I loved this one. It was so interesting and very exciting.
October 29, 2018
Mr. Herberger has done it again! The sequel, Cross Country, is just as engaging and thought-provoking as his first book, Miss E. I loved following the main character, Bets, through her next adventure, and I really enjoyed watching her character process the aftermath of the Vietnam War. I am thankful to have spent a few afternoons with such a strong and compassionate young woman, and I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's truly a fascinating glimpse into life and music in the late 1960s and provides an opportunity to draw endless parallels to our current political climate. Cross Country is most certainly a must read!
Profile Image for Krissy Ronan.
898 reviews10 followers
October 23, 2018
Loved going on a new adventure with Bets. Great MG/YA book for historical fiction fans, especially for music lovers and those who would have protested The Vietnam War!
Profile Image for Kate.
23 reviews5 followers
August 15, 2018
“How did I put into words the different perspectives on the war that I’d been given from Jerry, and Jake, and Bill, and Teddy. Each of their stories had added a layer to what I thought about Vietnam and the war. How did my father fit into all of that? He had a story that was all his own. It was different than all the others, but it was somehow part of them as well. Most importantly, I’d realized that I needed to pay attention to my father’s story, instead of just my own” (p. 325).

Cross Country by Brian Herberger is Bets’ story—what she experiences and learns traveling across the USA in a camper with a friend on the way to Woodstock—but over the course of her adventure, Bets learns that her story is not just hers. She travels thousands of miles. She sees racism in action for the first time. She fights off an attacker. She makes friends out of strangers. She kisses a boy for the first time. She learns how to drive. She witnesses the music festival at Woodstock. And finally, she returns home, with a deeper understanding of how everyone’s life is interwoven with everyone else’s.

It’s 1969, and Bets is a Sophomore in high school. This year isn’t as engaging as last year; and when Bets gets an invitation from her friend Emmie to go to Woodstock, she’s thrilled and anxious. These are musicians she loves! Will her parents let her go?

Speaking of parents, Bets’ father is back from Vietnam, but life didn’t go back to normal when he came home. He’s changed. They don’t call it PTSD in 1969, but it’s clear that’s what he’s experiencing:
“My father was the person who always understood me…but since coming back from the war, more and more he seemed like a different person. One afternoon, I came home from school to find him in our living room, pacing the floor. When I first came into the house and heard his voice, I thought my mother was home with him and that he was talking to her. I took in a surprised breath when I realized he was alone, talking to himself, or maybe talking to others who were only with him in a memory. Nothing he said made any sense. Shouted names of people I didn’t know, orders to men who weren’t there, and panicked whispers about an enemy that was hiding in the tall grass and ready to sneak into camp at night. My skin shivered when I heard the urgency in his voice, and I looked over my shoulder, as if an invisible enemy was right there in our living room with us. I stood there helplessly watching, not knowing what to do. I was afraid to call out or step in front of him or do anything to pull him out of the memory he was in, and at the same time, I wasn’t able to bear another second. I knew only a little bit about my father’s time in Vietnam, but standing in our living room with him that afternoon was like looking through a window at the year he was away from us. I didn’t like what I saw” (24-5).

Bets’ home life is difficult. The world is in upheaval—Vietnam is in full swing, and it’s changing the national discourse. “And with the war, came the draft. Draft was a word that had snuck its way into our vocabulary over the last few years. It wasn’t like we’d learned it in English class or looked it up in a dictionary. One day it was just in our mouths, like it had always been there. Draft” (p. 19). She’s learning lessons no one wants to have to learn. She wants to escape, so she takes Emmie up on the offer to travel across the country to go to Woodstock.

They travel with Emmie’s acquaintance (and half-owner of the VW camper they travel in) Seth, who is a less-than-desirable traveling companion. Seth is miserable human being, and spreads that misery to everyone he encounters, from Bets and Emmie to the people they meet along the way. To escape the wretchedness that is Seth, the women strike out on their own. Liberating themselves from the negativity leads to another set of adventures, including Bets having to learn to drive the camper.

Woodstock is the highlight of the story. The entire book is filled with Herberger’s excellent writing: the plot is gripping and the characters are incredibly real, but the music festival is, after all, the intended destination. The descriptions of the music and the masses of people are enthralling.
“Jimi Hendrix was able to make a guitar sound, not just like a different instrument but like a whole room full of different instruments… Toward the end of his time on stage, a familiar song twisted and turned like the guitar had a mind of its own, and then became the first notes of “The Star Spangled Banner.”…The distorted sound of the guitar ground in my ears, and the whining notes pierced the morning. Goosebumps prickled my arms when I realized that the horrible, grinding sound that seemed to break the melody in two came at the point when I was silently mouthing the words about rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air. Jimi Hendrix had somehow created the sounds and chaos of war using only the six strings of his guitar. Then just as suddenly, the guitar jumped back into the notes that caused people to stand at baseball games, take off their hats, and put their hands on their hearts” (p. 256).

As soon as I finished reading that passage, I pulled up a video of Hendrix’s performance. I watched and listened with Bets’ words in mind. Her description perfectly evoked the music. That’s how good Herberger’s writing is—he made me feel a piece of music before I listened to it.

Bets and Emmie’s journey doesn’t end at Woodstock, naturally. They return home to California, and Bets has been gone long enough and grown up enough that, even though life is still hard, it’s ok. “I’d traveled all the way across the country with Emmie to get away from a bunch of problems, but they didn’t go away. They were still there, waiting for me when I got home. What was different, was me. I’d figured out that running away from problems didn’t make them better, and it didn’t make them go away. I’d also figured out that my father wasn’t a different person when he came home from the war. He was the same person I’d loved before he went away, the same person I’d missed while he was gone. The only difference was that he’d come home with a problem” (p.361).

Cross Country is amazing. It’s beautifully written, the characters are well-developed and they grow throughout the story, the plot is engaging, and the settings are vivid. Moreover, it’s historical fiction about a time period that’s not often written about. Of course it has flaws—there are a few times when the narrative feels pedantic (for example, when summarizing the historical events leading up to Woodstock, like MLK’s assassination) instead of like a teenager showing us her world—but I have so few complaints that it’s hard to take them into consideration. I can’t recommend this story highly enough.

(Aside: you really should read Miss E if you haven’t already. Cross Country can certainly stand on its own, so you don’t *need* to read it, but Miss E introduces the main characters and their situations. Also, it’s a genuinely excellent story.)
Profile Image for Coco Harris.
624 reviews4 followers
March 14, 2019
An adorable historical fiction tale about a teenage girl traveling from California to the Woodstock musical festival. I found this read refreshing and appreciated the fact that it was appropriate for all readers. Many books focused on this venue shine a light on sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I was pleased to see the Cross Country went deeper into different opinions and experiences with the war and how all decisions impacted different people differently. I thought the writing was fantastic, but I would have liked more development with Bets & Emmie's characters. Their relationship wasn't real to me, but perhaps that was because I did not read the prequel Miss E. first. All in all, a heart warming YA book that I'd recommend to other fans of historical fiction. A modern day hippie myself, I adored all the flower child references and loved experiencing this cross country journey. Special thanks to the author for a copy of this book!
Profile Image for Jessika.
622 reviews104 followers
September 4, 2022
Oh my goodness. At this point, I feel it's safe to say that Bets has made it onto my list of all-time favorite literary characters. After having read Miss E., I was thrilled to see that there would be a follow-up story. And now here I am, I loved Cross Country so much, I'm hoping for more again! 

What it comes down to is that Mr. Herberger just has a way with words, simply put. He has a way of describing things, places, people, feelings, etc. that, as a reader, you just get it. It helps, too, that these stories take place during a time period that I wish I could have experienced so much so that I feel almost nostalgic for it. I also really loved how relevant Bets' coming-of-age feels today. Even though she grew up during a totally different time period, young adults (and grown ups) will find a lot of lessons to take away from this book, especially with everything going on in the world today. 

Serious stuff aside, Cross Country is also a great adventure story. Who hasn't dreamed about just picking up and driving across the country? Bets has some pretty epic adventures along the way--some fun, some not so fun--with a wonderful cast of characters I won't soon forget. I love when even the secondary characters come to life, and Mr. Herberger didn't let me down. 

All in all, I loved Cross Country just as much, if not more than Miss E., and I know that I will read anything else Mr. Herberger publishes. Between all the times this book made me stop and think and all the times it was just plain fun, Cross Country brought Woodstock to life. I am always up for a story from Bets' point of view, and this one was a pure delight to read!

Profile Image for Deirdre Fagan.
Author 9 books24 followers
June 14, 2019
Another adventure with Bets! After reading Miss E, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Bets, so I’m so glad Herberger decided to write a second book featuring this character. The thing about YA books is the character inevitably grows up...maybe there is at least one more adventure for Bets? This book, like Miss E, skillfully weaves together historical fact with great storytelling. It’s clear that Herberger knows his genre and audience well. If I taught middle school, Herberger’s two novels would be woven into my lesson plan and repeated every year. They each offer an opportunity to revisit events through the tender lens of adolescent protagonist, Bets. In X-Country, we learn about the era of the Vietnam War from various perspectives while learning a bit about growing up, and getting to go to Woodstock! Some of the passages also resonate with the sort of discord we see in our country today and would make for great segues into current events. The ending leaves one optimistic: “There was lots of healing to be done in our country, and peace would eventually come.”
Profile Image for Barb.
287 reviews1 follower
September 30, 2020
This was a wonderful trip down memory lane, and a perfect description of 1969 when we craved for peace and love and expressed it in music. But it was the central character, Bets, who we came to love. I understand that this was the sequel to another book, which I now MUST read. I think this book could entertain all, but it is nicely crafted for late middle school to early high schoolers and could "safely" be on school lists for historical fiction.

Considering the action takes place on a trip across America, to end up at the Woodstock Festival, you might think it to be a boring travelogue, but there is plenty of adventures along the way, and a lot of soul searching.

Vietnam, the draft, the peace movement, racial predjudice, and coming of age all figure into the narrative and you finish the book wanting more. I look forward to hearing more about Bets and her future. I think you will also!!
528 reviews5 followers
October 3, 2020
Just finished Brian Herberger’s wonderful book “Cross Country.” I read it in one day. If you have not read Cross Country, order and read soon. Amazing journey across the country to experience Woodstock. I loved every minute. The compassionate perspective for the people who were going to, were lost during and returned from Vietnam gave me the chills. Thank you, Brian. I will not forget this book!
Profile Image for Michael Travis.
522 reviews4 followers
November 16, 2020
This was such a good book, told through the eyes of Bets during the summer of '69. This was a journey of learnings for the girls and the reader. I really enjoyed this novel.
Displaying 1 - 12 of 12 reviews

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