Cohn, Rachel

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Rachel Cohn


Born December 14, 1968, in Silver Spring, MD. Education: Barnard College, earned degree.


HomeNew York, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, 4th Fl., New York, NY 10020. E-mail[email protected].


Author of young adult novels. Worked as an administrative assistant at a law firm in San Francisco, CA, as a research assistant for public television, and as promotions manager for a reggae record company.

Awards, Honors

Evergreen Young Adult Book Award, 2003, for Gingerbread.



Gingerbread, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.

The Steps, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.

Pop Princess, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.

Shrimp, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 2005.

Two Steps Forward, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 2006.


The Steps was adapted as an audiobook by Listening Library, 2003; Pop Princess was adapted as an audiobook by Listening Library, 2004.

Work in Progress

A sequel to Gingerbread and Shrimp.


Rachel Cohn's 2002 debut young-adult title, Gingerbread, has achieved the status of "minor cult classic among girls with attitude," according to Horn Book reviewer Christine M. Heppermann. Cohn employs a strong personal voice in each of her novels, with

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frank talk about sex and life, told in a contemporary teen argot. Blended families and troubled teens abound, but at heart her novels are coming-of-age stories for young girls.

All of Cohn's protagonists demonstrate "attitude" of some kind. Gingerbread's heroine, Cyd Charisse, is sassy and glib; a popular character, she was reprised for a sequel, Shrimp. The story in Cohn's novel The Steps is continued in Two Steps Forward, and follows another hip young teen learning to deal with a blended family. In the stand-alone novel Pop Princess, Wonder Blake scores a record contract that gets her out of her small Massachusetts hometown.

Unplanned Career as Novelist

Cohn, who grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, enjoyed reading books from an early age. As she noted on her author Web site, "I grew up surrounded by books and by a family of educators—the desire and encouragement to write came readily in my household." Favorite childhood authors included Judy Blume, Ellen Conford, and E. L Konigsburg. Cohn also imagined she would write books herself one day. However, as the author told Kate Pavao for publishers Weekly, she majored in political science at Barnard College and thought some other career would come first: "I'll have a great career and then I'll settle down, then when I'm 40 or something I'll have this great novel in me." Events after graduation changed her mind, however. "I always knew I wanted to be an author," Cohn noted in an interview for, "but I didn't start taking it seriously until I was a few years out of college and really hated every job I had, so I decided to just go for it and pursue what I really wanted to do."

Cohn wrote two unpublished adult titles before turning to young-adult fiction. Inspired by a friend's drawing of a teen girl wearing combat boots and dragging a rag doll along behind her, Cohn began imagining a story about a young woman in the San Francisco neighborhoods where she, Cohn, was then living. Cohn called this character Cyd Charisse, after the famous Hollywood dancer and actress. In a couple of months she had the first part of the novel completed, and within the year she had sold it to Simon and Schuster.

Gingerbread tells the story of sixteen-year-old Cyd, a "recovering hellion," in the words of her stepfather. Kicked out of her fancy New England boarding school, she is back in San Francisco coping with her weight-conscious mom and her surfer/artist boyfriend, Shrimp. Cyd's need for love is not being met, but her hard and witty exterior hides the problem. She does not even tell her mother of the abortion she had before leaving school. Gingerbread, the rag doll she carries with her at all times, seems to be her best friend. When Cyd breaks curfew, she is shipped off to New York for the summer to live with her biological father (who gave her the doll the only time he met her). There she deals with new family members and learns to appreciate the folks back home all the more. Ultimately she is able to tell her mother of her secret abortion.

A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that Cohn "covers a lot of ground" in her novel, developing some plot elements more than others. However, this reviewer concluded, "In the end, it's Cyd's creativity and energy that keep the story on course, and her magnetic narrative will keep readers hooked." A critic for Kirkus Reviews was not too sure about that, though. This commentator noted, "In spite of the relentlessly hip talk and trimmings, this is all utterly familiar, much like the spicy yet humble dessert of the title." In School Library Journal, Gail Richmond was more positive in her evaluation of what she termed a "funny and irreverent" first novel. "Cohn works wonders with snappy dialogue," Richmond noted, adding that the author's "contemporary voice is tempered with humor and deals with problems across two generations." Booklist reviewer Gillian Engberg also had praise for the "hilarious, contemporary" narrative voice in this "fast, uncomfortable read," while Kliatt contributor Paula Rohrlick found the novel an "engaging tale about a girl coming to terms with her family and her relationships."

Cyd Returns

With Shrimp, Cohn returns to the familiar ground mapped out in Gingerbread. This "compelling sequel," as a Publishers Weekly reviewer called it, finds Cyd back in San Francisco for her senior year in high school after her time away in New York. Calling herself CC, she makes new friends at school and restarts a former romance with the surfer named Shrimp. CC also learns how to deal with her family and herself, putting her beloved doll Gingerbread in her little sister's bedroom as a symbolic act of her acceptance of approaching adulthood. But when Shrimp wants her to move with him to New Zealand, where the surfing is great, she must make some hard choices. "Cyd must decide just what kind of future she wants with—or without—Shrimp," as Norah Piehl described it in

A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that, as with Cohn's first novel, "the memorable heroine's lighthearted, sassy narration will enthrall her fans," while a critic for Kirkus Reviews dubbed Shrimp a "wonderful sequel," and praised CC's "impressively original, partly stream-of-consciousness voice." In Kliatt Paula Rohrlick put it succinctly: "Cyd Charisse is a wonderful creation." To the delight of the character's fans, one more sequel to Gingerbread is planned.

A Focus on Family

Blended families are also at the heart of Cohn's second novel, The Steps. Annabel, who is twelve going on twenty, travels to Australia for Christmas break to stay with her father and his new family. As if getting to know her Australian relations or "steps" is not difficult enough, Annabel learns while in Australia that her mother plans to remarry as well; there will be a whole new set of steps back in the United States when she returns.

Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper found this middle-grade novel "wittily written," but further noted that it "follows a predictable path as Annabel's animos-ity turns to tolerance, then acceptance." Writing in School Library Journal, Maria B. Salvadore noted that although Cohn's precocious protagonist "uses contemporary references and present-day language, her concerns and emotional responses are timeless." Salvadore went on to call The Steps a "breezy, compelling, humorous glimpse of families trying to cope as they transform." For a Kirkus Reviews critic, the author's "relatively predictable tale … is enlivened both by Annabel's sassy voice and by the acuity of her observations," and a reviewer for Publishers Weekly predicted that "readers will wait with bated breath for Cohn's next novel." That novel is the upcoming Two Steps Forward, which finds Annabel's large extended family gathered in Los Angeles. Returning from Australia, the girl must somehow deal with all the steps at once, as well as with the imminent failure of her mother's second marriage.

Musical Tale

With Pop Princess Cohn changed pace somewhat, focusing on a one-record music sensation rather than on families in flux. Wonder Blake is singing along with her Walkman during her shift at the local Dairy Queen when she is discovered by a music agent and transformed into a pop princess with a hit single. Ironically, this was her sister Lucky's dream, not Wonder's. Lucky was killed by a drunk driver and the family is still recovering from the shock. Although Wonder briefly rides the top of the charts and serves as warm-up performer to Lucky's best friend, the tinsel of the glamorous world soon wears thin, and the teen returns home to friends and family.

Reviewers differed widely in their appraisal of Pop Princess. Most critics noted that the book marked a new direction for Cohn, but while Booklist contributor Jennifer Mattson felt that fans "won't be disappointed by this diary," a Publishers Weekly critic commented that "fans of Cohn … will likely come away disappointed" with a novel that is "all packaging and no content." Similarly, a writer for Kirkus Reviews found that the author's "venture into the world of pop stardom falls surprisingly flat."

Other critics found more to like in Cohn's novel. Miranda Doyle, reviewing the book in School Library Journal, called Pop Princess "light, frothy, and delicious," and Kliatt contributor Claire Rosser found it "thoughtful and intelligent."

In her interview, Cohn passed on some advice to would-be writers. "The hardest part of writing is just sitting down and writing. It's so easy to have stories circulating in your head that you think would make a good book, but when you sit down at the computer, it's much harder to get down than you would expect." A disciplined person, Cohn forces herself to write 500 words a sitting, before allowing herself any treats, such as a cup of coffee or a television break. She told Pavao that sometimes the words do not come easily. "I literally have to sit there and be tortured for 12 hours if that's how long it takes."

If you enjoy the works of Rachel Cohn

If you enjoy the works of Rachel Cohn, you may also want to check out the following books:

Sarah Dessen, Keeping the Moon, 1999. Laurie Halse Anderson, Catalyst, 2002. Meg Cabot, Teen Idol, 2004.

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, April 15, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Gingerbread, p. 1394; January 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of The Steps, p. 1911; January 1, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Pop Princess, p. 843.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 2002, review of Gingerbread, p. 274; February, 2003, review of The Steps, p. 229; April, 2004, Deborah Stevenson, review of Pop Princess, p. 320; February, 2005, Deborah Stevenson, review of Shrimp, p. 247.

The Five Owls, 2003, review of The Steps, p. 31.

Girl's Life, April-May, 2004, review of Pop Princess, p. 40.

Horn Book, May-June, 2003, Martha V. Parravano, review of The Steps, p. 341; March-April, 2005, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Shrimp, p. 198.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2002, review of Gingerbread, p. 101; February 1, 2003, review of The Steps, p. 227; February 1, 2004, review of Pop Princess, p. 130; February 15, 2005, review of Shrimp, p. 227.

Kliatt, March, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of Gingerbread, p. 7; July, 2003, Paula Rohrlick, review of Gingerbread, p. 19; March, 2004, Claire Rosser, review of Pop Princess, p. 8; March, 2005, Paula Rohrlick, review of Shrimp, p. 9.

MBR Bookwatch, May, 2005, Vicki Arkoff, review of Shrimp.

Publishers Weekly, January 21, 2002, review of Gingerbread, p. 91; December 23, 2002, review of The Steps, p. 71; May 12, 2003, Sally Lodge, "Tales from the Tween Tour," p. 27; January 5, 2004, review of Pop Princess, p. 63; June 24, 2004, Kate Pavao, "Flying Starts," p. 27; January 24, 2005, review of Shrimp, p. 245.

School Librarian, winter, 2004, Janet Sims, review of The Steps, p. 214.

School Library Journal, February, 2002, Gail Richmond, review of Gingerbread, p. 129; February, 2003, Maria B. Salvadore, review of The Steps, p. 140; March, 2004, Miranda Doyle, review of Pop Princess, p. 204; February, 2005, Kelly Czarnecki, review of Shrimp, p. 136.

Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 2002, review of Gingerbread, p. 40; August, 2004, Pam Carlson, review of Pop Princess, p. 210; June, 2005, Julie Scordato, review of Shrimp, p. 126.


Bibliophile Book Reviews, (May 21, 2005), review of Shrimp., (April 2, 2005), Melissa Parcel, review of Gingerbread.

King County Library System, (March 22, 2005), "Evergreen Young Adult Book Award.", (August 8, 2004), interview with Cohn.

Rachel Cohn Home Page, (March 22, 2005)., (March 22, 2005), "Rachel Cohn.", (July 15, 2005), Norah Piehl, review of Shrimp.