Where We Used to Roam

In this powerful middle grade novel from the acclaimed author of Things You Can’t Say, a young girl navigates the social growing pains of middle school and struggles to find her place while her older brother fights to overcome opioid addiction—perfect for fans of The Seventh Wish and Waiting for Normal.

When Emma starts sixth grade, things finally begin to change. She may still be in the shadow of her older brother, Austin, the popular high school quarterback, but she’s made artsy new friends who get her way more than her bookish best friend, Becca.

But things are changing for Austin, too. After undergoing surgery for a football injury, Austin has become addicted to opioid painkillers. By the end of the school year, everything blows up with Austin—and Becca. When their parents decide to send Austin to rehab and Emma to stay with family friends in Wyoming for the summer, Emma seizes the chance to get away.

Wyoming turns out to be a perfect fresh start, especially after Emma makes friends with Tyler, a kindred spirit who doesn’t judge her—then again, he doesn’t know what she did to Becca. Still, Emma can’t hide forever…or go back to the way things were with Austin or with Becca. But can she find a way to confront the truth and move forward?

Aladdin / Simon & Schuster

Audiobook published by Tantor Media, narrated by Jennifer Jill Araya

Cover illustration by Ji-Hyuk Kim / 336 pages / Middle Grade (8-12) / ISBN: 9781534457294

Praise for Where We Used to Roam

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

A 2023-2024 Iowa Children’s Choice Award Nominee

“This sensitive portrayal of drug addiction’s effect on family members also pays significant attention to broader issues such as the growing pains of forming identities and forging new friendships in middle school; should appeal to a wide audience.” – School Library Journal [full review]

“In this transparent examination of how addiction can affect families, Bishop (Things You Can’t Say) effectively showcases Emma’s realistic struggle to forgive her friends, her family, and herself; her turbulent emotions make her a relatable, authentic character.” – Publishers Weekly [full review]

“A sensitively told and heartfelt story of Emma’s experience with her brother’s opioid addiction. Where We Used to Roam will help open up many difficult, but important conversations.” – Jasmine Warga, Newbery Honor-winning author of Other Words for Home

“Emma O’Malley experiences the all too common trials and rewards of progressing to middle school, such as strain with best friend Becca and a sharpened focus on developing her artistic talent. Older brother Austin’s shoulder injury, which requires major surgery and hobbles his football dreams, is little more than background noise early in Em’s social transition, but as her usually supportive brother withdraws into his own misery, Em is left without a sounding board when she makes an ill-considered remark that leads to Becca’s humiliation. Austin is actually in the deepest trouble, addicted to his painkillers and in dire need of rehab, so the O’Malleys send Em off to stay with family friends in Wyoming, leaving her to manage her worries and guilt far from home. Em is gracious enough to make the best of it, though, and she gains valuable perspective on her family’s challenges through a new friendship with Tyler, whose own mother is in prison on a drug-related conviction. Bison sightings and Em’s well-managed encounter with a bison calf that had strayed from the herd also help Em make a positive reconnection with Austin. The two distinct halves of Bishop’s novel are securely harnessed, and the abrupt segue underscores the tailspin into which Em’s life has been thrown. The O’Malleys stay strong, though, and even though the book wisely eschews an unequivocal happy ending, there’s definitely light on their horizon. ” – Recommended, BCCB 

“Bishop combines a coming-of-age story with an issue story, creating a novel that teaches lessons without being preachy and honestly depicts the confusion, fear, and anger that arise when a sibling struggles with substance abuse . . . Though the story ends on a positive note, there is no unrealistically neat happy ending . . . An enjoyable book that is a starting point for young readers to understand the opioid crisis.” – Kirkus [full review]

“A searingly poignant story of adaptation, resilience, and the kind of love that can guide us through our most difficult paths. Jenn Bishop beautifully balances heavy topics, like addiction, with more ordinary trials, like friends growing apart, weaving in threads of artistry and hope that carry the reader through the hardships Emma faces.” – Cindy Baldwin, author of Beginners Welcome

Where We Used to Roam is a sensitive and thought-provoking story about one girl’s efforts to navigate changing friendships, a brother’s addiction, and the ripple effect it has on the whole family. An important platform for difficult discussions that will leave a lasting imprint on your heart.” – Elly Swartz, author of Give and Take

“Bishop’s approach creates a nuanced story that highlights how opioid addiction can happen to anyone, any family, and for reasons that are hard for loved ones to understand. The novel provides an intimate look into the effects of Austin’s addiction on Emma. The other characters’ choices on the periphery of her story make for a rich and dynamic narrative. Emma’s conflicts are prominent, and they blend together to create a realistic portrayal of life’s messiness and depict the realities one encounters as they try to make sense of that mess. Educators seeking to talk about opioid addiction have to start somewhere, and Where We Used to Roam provides a safe and honest opening. Emma’s family’s story is a potential beginning, their struggles a starting point. The nature of the narrative makes it a realistic one at least. An unresolved ending highlights the long-lasting impact of this disease, one that so many families must battle. Where We Used to Roam provides space to not only talk about its broad impact, but does so with the empathetic understanding that life’s other struggles must be faced at the same time. It is a tough but realistic truth worth depicting. Educators willing to talk about tough topics will see the value of incorporating Where We Used to Roam‘s thoughtful context. Through it, middle grade readers will find something or someone to love that resonates with the challenges they face in their own life.” – Lit Lessons [full review & curriculum ideas]

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Click here for the Curriculum Guide for Where We Used to Roam

Click here for the Choose to Read Ohio Toolkit with additional discussion questions, activities, & more.

Watch and listen to Jenn read a sneak peek from Where We Used to Roam:

Click here for the Nerdy Book Club post with fellow author E.B. Vickers about the inspiration behind Where We Used to Roam and Vickers’s YA novel Fadeaway, both of which deal with substance abuse

Click here for a reading list of other middle grade titles featuring substance abuse & recovery

If you liked Where We Used to Roam, you may also enjoy:

  • Across the Desert by Dusti Bowling
  • Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo
  • Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
  • The Mending Summer by Ali Standish
  • Rule of Threes by Marcy Campbell
  • A Song Called Home by Sara Zarr
  • The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner
  • Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm
  • Violets Are Blue by Barbara Dee
  • What About Will by Ellen Hopkins
  • The Wild Path by Sarah R. Baughman