Hope Was Here is a novel by Joan Bauer about a girl named Hope Yancey who lives with her aunt and works at a diner. After moving to Mulhoney, Wisconsin, Hope and her aunt begin to work at the "Welcome Stairways" and their boss, G. G. begins a political campaign against the corrupt incumbent mayor. With his employees' help, G. T. wins the campaign, introduces reforms and adopts Hope but soon dies of leukemia. The novel delivers a strong moral message of perseverance, hope and courage.
Hope Yancey is a teenage waitress living with her aunt, Addie, in Brooklyn, where Addie works as a chef at "The Blue Box Diner." Hope's birth mother, Deena, deemed herself unfit for parenting and gave Hope to Addie before taking off. The only mementos Hope keeps from her mother are Deena's tips on being a quality waitress. She even threw away her original name, Tulip, and had it legally changed to Hope when she was twelve. Before deciding on her new name, Hope walked around with it scribbled on a piece of paper for a month, just to make sure she could live up to the expectations of her new name. Hope has no idea who her father is and feels that she cannot be whole until she meets him. She has a scrapbook filled with people who she thinks would be her father. Besides the scrapbook, she also has "memory books" from every place that she's been, given that she's moved a lot. Every time she leaves a place, Hope writes "Hope Was Here" somewhere unobtrusive as her own personal way of saying goodbye. Her goal is to be able to pull out all of the memory books when she finally meets her father and give him the play-by-play of her life.
When the restaurant Hope and her aunt work at closes down because the owner, Gleason Beal, stole all of the restaurant's money, Addie and Hope decide to move to Mulhoney,a small city in Wisconsin, where they will work at a small-town diner called "Welcome Stairways." Hope's new boss, G.T. (Gabriel Thomas) Stoop, is a kind-hearted man with leukemia, which keeps him off his feet at the Diner. After witnessing the political corruption within Mulhoney, G.T. decided to run for mayor against the incumbent candidate, Eli Millstone. Millstone has several illegal agreements with the large corporate Real Fresh Dairy, and in exchange has the workers support his campaign. Real Fresh Dairy causes a lot of problems for the townspeople, such as cracking roads with overweight trucks and disturbing the peace using illegal routes to the highway, but Millstone's political power is too strong to combat.
Meanwhile, Addie has been changing the menu at the diner, much to G.T.'s amusement. G.T. then shows interest in dating Addie, who responds positively but brusquely. Encouraged by G.T.'s success, the line cook Eddie Braverman, who works at the diner to help support his mother because his father left them, decides to ask Hope out. Hope refuses at first, wary because Deena has always told her to never date the cook. However, after a test date, Hope and Braverman become a couple. Hope also befriends the two other waitresses, Flo and Lou Ellen, along with Yuri, the Russian bus boy. Lou Ellen has a baby daughter, Anastasia, who is maturing a little slower than normal. G.T. sets up a nursery in his office and lets Lou Ellen bring her daughter to work. Anastasia reminds Hope of herself when she was a baby, so Hope and Braverman decide to help Lou Ellen by watching Anastasia. When at first Anastasia was helpless, they finally succeed in getting her to drink from a bottle.
Braverman,Hope and a group of students from the area high school form a "Students for Stoop" organization to support G.T.'s campaign. Because of Braverman's participation, he is attacked and beaten by a group of Millstone's supporters. During his campaign, G.T. discovers that his leukemia is in remission, but Millstone's campaign spreads a rumor that G.T.'s cancer has spread to his brain. The teens, Addie and G.T., along with the deputy sheriff Brenda, all attempt to spread the truth about G.T., but they are unable to convince the townspeople in time, and G.T. loses the election.
A few weeks later, Hope and Braverman discover that Millstone rigged the election by looking at the list of voters. She comments to two people that voted only to find out they didn't. G.T. is named the new mayor of Mulhoney and begins many reform programs, including a scholarship fund. G.T. marries Addie and officially adopts Hope. Unfortunately, about two years later, the leukemia returns. Before he dies, Hope tells G.T. that she thinks of him as her real father, the one that she had always been looking for. Hope and Braverman leave for college, since he can now pay for his tuition thanks to G.T.'s reforms. G.T's death refers to Hope as how she had to stay with her hope. Before she departs, Hope leaves her signature "Hope Was Here" scrawled beneath the diner's counter, waiting for her return.