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Velva Jean Learns to Drive: A Novel Paperback – Bargain Price, July 28, 2009

98 customer reviews
Book 1 of 4 in the Velva Jean Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Niven makes some memorable moonspun magic in her rich fiction debut (after two nonfiction books) about 10-year-old Velva Jean Hart, a North Carolina kid determined to drive and sing at the Grand Ole Opry. After Velva Jean is born again, her daddy leaves and her mother falls ill, and not even Velva's bargaining with God can save her. Her brother, Johnny Clay, is some comfort, but Velva Jean grows up fast after promising her dying mother to heal people with her singing. At 16, Velva marries charismatic Rev. Harley Bright, a moonshiner's son, railroad fireman and part-time evangelist who later resolves to become a full-time preacher. But Velva Jean's independent streak (she wants to learn to drive), her singing (which sounds sinful to Harley's ear) and her friendship with a half-Choctaw, half-Creole blues musician fire up Harley's controlling jealousy. It's a touching read, funny and wise, like a crazy blend of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, a less morose Flannery O'Connor and maybe a shot of Hank Williams. (Aug.)
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About the Author

JENNIFER NIVEN's first book, The Ice Master, was named one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year by Entertainment Weekly. Her second book, Ada Blackjack, was a Book Sense Top Ten Pick. Her memoir, The Aqua Net Diaries, was optioned by Warner Bros. Her bestselling debut novel, Velva Jean Learns to Drive, was followed by the sequel Velva Jean Learns to Fly. Her novel Becoming Clementine will be released in September. She lives in Los Angeles.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Original edition (July 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452289459
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452289451
  • ASIN: B002SB8PIS
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #782,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Niven has always wanted to be a Charlie's Angel, but her true passion is writing. Her most recent book, All the Bright Places, is her first novel for young adult readers and tells the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die. All the Bright Places is the #1 Kids' Indie Next Book for Winter '14-'15, an editor's Pick/Best Book of the Month, and a New York Timesbestseller. The foreign rights have already sold to thirty-four territories, and the movie rights have been optioned with Elle Fanning attached to star. As a companion to the book, Jennifer has created Germ (, a web magazine for and run by girls (and boys) -- high school and beyond -- that celebrates beginnings, futures, and all the amazing and agonizing moments in between.

With the publication of her first book, The Ice Master, Jennifer became a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writer. A nonfiction account of a deadly Arctic expedition, The Ice Master was released in November 2000 and named one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, and translated into multiple languages, including German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Danish, and Icelandic. Jennifer and The Ice Master appeared in Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, Talk, Glamour, The New Yorker, Outside, The New York Times Book Review, The London Daily Mail, The London Times, and Writer's Digest, among others. Dateline BBC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel featured The Ice Master an hour-long documentaries, and the book was the subject of numerous German, Canadian, and British television documentaries. The Ice Master has been nominated for awards by the American Library Association and Book Sense, and received Italy's esteemed Gambrinus Giuseppe Mazzotti Prize for 2002.

Jennifer's second book, Ada Blackjack -- an inspiring true story of the woman the press called "the female Robinson Crusoe" -- has been translated into Chinese, French, and Estonian, was a Book Sense Top Ten Pick, and was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the Top Five Arctic books.

Her memoir, The Aqua-Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town, was published in February 2010 by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, and was optioned by Warner Bros. as a television series.

Her first novel, Velva Jean Learns to Drive (based on her Emmy Award-winning film of the same name), was released July 2009 by Penguin/Plume. It was an Indie Pick for the August 2009 Indie Next List and was also a Costco Book of the Month. The second book in the Velva Jean series, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, was released by Penguin/Plume in August 2011, and the third book in the series, Becoming Clementine, was published in September 2012. The fourth Velva Jean novel, American Blonde, hit shelves in 2014.

With her mother, author Penelope Niven, Jennifer has conducted numerous seminars in writing and addressed audiences around the world. She lives in Los Angeles.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By annie VINE VOICE on July 16, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is not Jennifer Niven's first book, but it is her first novel, and what a success! I haven't read her other books, but hope to soon. And, I hope this is not her last novel. I love this book and had a difficult time putting it down. I can't wait to share it with friends!

This is the story of Velva Jean Hart growing up in the Appalachians in the 30's & 40's. From a young girl who loses her mother and becomes quite a wild child to a very young preacher's wife, Velva Jean's story is filled with interesting characters. The character descriptions were so good that I felt like I knew each and every one of them -- heart and soul as well as physical appearance. Her grandparents, her brothers, the traveling preachers, the wood carver, the boys who worked on the highway all bring something interesting to the story.

My favorite character aside from Velva Jean is the Wood Cutter who most people are afraid of and believe to be a murderer. He lives alone up on the mountain and he and Velva Jean become the most unlikely of friends; his wisdom and friendship become very important to her. When she seeks counsel from him, he tells Velva Jean ,"The strongest trees are the ones that bend with the storms." Reading the final chapters of the book, I had to remind myself that although she is married, she is still just a teenager facing a lot of difficult decisions.

I highly recommend this book. It is the best novel I have read this year.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Emily J. Morris VINE VOICE on June 4, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have to admit, when looking at this book before getting it, it looked interesting. Then I got it. Then I thought about how I seem to be losing my taste for non-children's fiction. But... I felt obligated to read it anyway.

Where oh where did I get that odd desire not to read this?

While being somewhat on the cutesy side, this is a fantastic first novel that shows more raw talent than a lot of writers out there. Ms. Niven has a gift with words and even though I am a Western girl she managed to make me find a connection with this Appalachian town. The writing is clear, words well-chosen and never flowery, and the story is full of heart and meaning and interest. It is simply a good, down-home story that does not try to be pathetically original or controversial. It's just the story of a girl who wants to be a singer. So, even though that might rub some as the aforementioned cutesy, I for one certainly enjoyed it.

This is the tale of Velva Jean Heart who grows up in a small Appalachian community in the 1930s. Despite various family troubles, she clings to the dream of singing in the Grand Ol' Opery. She has the company of her grandfather, her brother, and a mysterious old murderer. Later, she marries a traveling preacher. They are all wonderful characters, for this is more of a character-driven story than a plot-driven one. And yet there are other characters, such as the Scenic Highway being built through their land that gets different opinions from folk, and the yellow truck her brother-in-law buys.

Niven seamlessly weaves all of this together into a touching, sweet story that explores the subtle changes in people. It's not absolutely perfect, but it certainly is wonderful and Niven should be proud.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Mercedes J. VINE VOICE on July 23, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This was a very well written, beautifully descriptive novel right from page one. Velva Jean and her family just jump off the pages and make you feel as though you're right there in 1930's-40's Appalachia with them.

I won't summarize this book as it's already been done here many times, but I absolutely recommend it for those interested. If you're a fan of Southern Fiction, or coming-of-age stories, then you will love this book. There's a little bit of everything, loss, sex, violence, and the finding of one's self, but it's all done very tastefully. There's nothing vulgar or offending about this story. It's just a heartwarming journey with a young child of the mountains.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Debbie's World of Books on August 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
I really would say this is 3.5 stars.
This book was a little hard to get into at first and yet strangely I could not put it down. We first meet Velva Jean when she is 10 years old and watch as she grows older, marries and has to make a decision about pursuing her dream of singing in the Grand Ole Opry. I had to really get myself into the right frame of mind for this book. It takes place in the early 1930s and continues into the early 40s. So there were a lot of things that I was shaking my head over. I couldn't believe that it was unseemly for women to drive cars. I had never actually heard that before and would have smacked my husband if he tried to tell me I couldn't drive a car. But things like this were a part of every day life for Velva Jean. This just makes her dream of singing in the Grand Ole Opry that much more difficult to achieve. This was a time where women were supposed to marry, have children and take care of the family and house hold and be happy with it. The story did pull me in and I loved the cast of characters you meet like her brother, Johnny Clay, the wood carver who is supposed to be some sort of crazy half-animal murderer and Sweet Fern, her sister who has to put her own life on hold in order to take care of her brothers and sister after their mother dies and their father leaves home. Velva Jean's character often struck me as immature but then I would have to remind myself that she is not even 18 years old yet through most of the book so then I would find myself feeling sorry for her. The ending wraps up quite nicely with her learning the true reason her father left home and we finally learn the decision she makes whether to pursue her dream or pursue the love she has for Harley.
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