The young adult novel “Nothing But Blue” is disorienting from the first page, fueled in part by a kind of post-apocalyptic starkness in the language.

The book opens with a young girl walking down an endless road, struggling to remember who she is, where she came from and what happened. She can’t even remember her own name. All she can remember is an explosion. And disembodied voices, “All dead. No one survived,” echoing in her head.

The reader must get well into the book before beginning to fathom something of what happened. The setting really is post-apocalypse — at least for the girl who takes the name Blue.

Blue’s world was annihilated when the house she lived in with her parents was blown to splinters. Neighbors did in fact think there were no survivors. But they were mistaken.

There was a 17-year old girl who went early for coffee in the new town where her family had just moved, only to return to find that her family and their new house were gone.

Lisa Jahn-Clough’s novel has strokes of genius to it, most certainly with the appearance of a mangy, stray dog that keeps appearing, trailing in Blue’s wake.

Jahn-Clough, a part-time Maine resident, introduces the dog with deft skill, allowing the reader to start to suspect, like Blue does, that there is more to this willful, unwashed creature than first imagined.

Blue names the dog Shadow. The dog has the uncanny knack of appearing unbidden at the most auspicious moments, bearing unusual and timely “gifts.”

Shadow’s presence puts the reader on notice that, despite the spare language, there are riches in this story that promise to sparkle throughout.

Though very different in story and storytelling, “Nothing But Blue” is resonant of Garth Stein’s “Racing in the Rain,” and Terry Kay’s “To Dance with the White Dog.”

The story of Blue on the road is eventually augmented by

alternating chapters that provide a compelling back story of a girl who has long thought of herself as invisible: overweight, shy and without friends.

She is also tangential to her parents’ lives and becomes the object of a cruel “bet” among popular kids at school.

But on the road, in addition to meeting some who wish her ill will, there are others who are quite taken with her, most centrally, Snake, an older boy who is also trying to find his way in life.

As with the appearance of Shadow, the story takes a major turn with Snake’s entrance, a turn that deepens and widens Blue’s world.

“Nothing But Blue” is a story about the loss of innocence and also family, about confusion and angst, grief and despair.

Though these are all themes common to other young adult novels, this is a coming-of-age story of a very different mettle. And Blue is a heroine of uncommon appeal. 

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer, ghostwriter and writing coach whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize. He can be reached at


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