Long Gone Daddy

Long Gone Daddy

Helen Hemphill

Harlan Q and his minister father learn to understand each other on the road.

The first time I met my grandfather, he was laid up on a porcelain prep table at the Hamilton-Johnston Funeral Home. His eyes were wide open and he had a grin on his face, but he was dead as a doornail.

The old man’s will leaves a chunk of money and a Cadillac convertible, but stipulates that his body must be buried in Las Vegas Harlan Q is ready to make the trip in order to get away from Paps, his Bible-thumping father, who doesn’t take to money made by cards and whiskey. Through a little creative coaxing, Harlan Q convinces Paps to transport the quickly ripening body of his grandfather in the back of their station wagon, but it’s a long, hot trip.

As they drive the body back to its home, Harlan Q and his father pick up Warrior, a Hollywood-bound Zen-minded actor-in-training. Through flat tires, conversations over Chinese food, and a covert trip to visit his grandfather’s bar, Harlan Q opens up to Warrior and learns to forgive his own prejudices about Paps’s single-minded approach to life. Moreover, the trip forces Paps to question his own feelings about his long gone daddy, which may help as he tries to understand his rebellious son.


  • Ages: 14 - 17
  • Grades: 9 - 12
  • Pages: 176

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Recent Reviews

Regional flavor, quirky humor, and strong father-son dynamics are the elements of this entertaining debut novel.

—Voice of Youth Advocates

"When Grandfather dies, Harlan Q, his zealous preacher father, and a hitchhiking hippie named Warrior drive his body in the back of a station wagon to its resting place in Las Vegas. In this emotional story of father/son conflict, the characters may lean toward stereotypes, but the unique plot and vividly painted setting give this book a fresh feel.

—Horn Book Guide

A terrific, thought-provoking, introspective look at inter-generational strife and the struggles for appreciation and understanding by each character.

—Library Media Connection

Engaging story of love and redemption, judgment and forgiveness, life and death.....Hemphill brings a fresh, humorous voice to her tale. ... A breath of fresh air.

—BookPage

Hemphill strikes a confident balance between deep heartache and sharply irreverent humor. Harlan’s folksy voice narrates, and his constant thoughts of running away and his run-ins with shady characters move the story swiftly along.

—Booklist

Hemphill’s debut novel alternates between bittersweet and laugh-aloud funny, often in the same paragraph. With a clear, spare writing style, she tells the quirky tale of a father and his estranged son making a road trip from Texas to Nevada with a casket in the back of their old station wagon.

—Dallas Morning News

Hemphill borrows themes from Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood and a plot point from As I Lay Dying in this impressive debut ...Laugh-out-loud scenes, a marvelous narrative voice, period details and appealingly quirky characterization outweigh the too-tidy ending, making Hemphill a writer to watch.

—Publishers Weekly

In her strong debut, set during the late 1960s (or early 1970s), Hemphill strikes a confident balance between deep heartache and sharply irreverent humor. Harlan’s folksy voice narrates ("I wanted to go like an old dog with a small bladder," he says about the trip), and his constant thoughts of running away and his run-ins with shady characters move the story swiftly along. Many teens will see their own questions about faith, worship, and independence in Harlan’s heart-twisting feelings: ‘How could God love a screw-up like me?’

—Children's Literature

Wryly funny.

—Kirkus Reviews

In her first novel, Hemphill catches the classic tone of the road-trip story, as confidences and life stories roll by along with the miles, and the possibilities open up with the horizon, and she never overplays her quirky, satirically touched humor and picturesque particularity. By overtly focusing the story on fathers and sons, the book relieves itself of the burden of being unobtrusive, so that Harlan Q can be keenly interested in Warrior’s relationship with his own estranged father and with Harlan P; the ‘Long Gone Daddy’ of the title is actually the name of Harlan O’s Vegas bar, taken from a Hank Williams song and summing up Harlan O’s own history of parenting, with which Harlan Q’s dad has never really come to terns. The colorful and comedic travel tale will draw a broad range of readers, while those dealing with their own parental friction will sympathize with Halan Q’s struggles.

—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

A delightful story that let the reader feel the emotions and battles of a teenage boy trying to understand his thoughts and life—separate from the thinking of his father.

—ALAN Review

Hemphill’s novel features a spot-on Southern voice, a double helping of colorful characters, and an emotionally-satisfying conclusion. What else could you ask from a debut author?

—ALAN Review

Harlan Q, 14, lives and works with the local funeral director and his wife because his evangelical preacher father, Harlan P, has evicted him for religious doubts. There he meets his grandfather, Harlan O, for the first time. The fact that the man is dead doesn't stop him from wanting to know more about his relative. The teen convinces his father to drive the body to Las Vegas to collect an inheritance, and thus the two have the opportunity to develop a relationship and learn something about the man who has been lost to them for 20 years. The premise is interesting, but not much happens as the two travel, have car troubles, take on an aspiring actor who is more interesting than either Harlan, and find themselves in a city that fascinates the younger Harlan as much as it horrifies the elder. The characters are not fully developed except for the former and some barely seem to have a face or voice, like his mother. As Harlan Q learns about his grandfather through the people who knew and loved him, he discovers a compassionate and intelligent man, but Harlan P never does accept him. Harlan Q knows a bit more about his father at story's end, but it's not clear what lessons are learned by either of them as they begin their ride home together.

—School Library Journal

Honors for Long Gone Daddy

  • Books for the Teen Age—NYPL
  • Teddy Award—Writers League of Texas