March SST: Excerpt of Where You'll Find Me

Sunday, March 27, 2016
Where You'll Find Me by Natasha Friend
Genre: Young Adult
Publication Date: March 8, 2016

About Where You'll Find Me:

In this powerful and buoyant YA novel, a thirteen-year-old girl learns to navigate the shifting loyalities of friendships in middle school and deals with challenges at home.

The beginning of the eighth grade is not what Anna thought it would be. Her lifelong best friend has ditched her for the cool kids, and her mom is in the hospital after a suicide attempt. Anna finds herself where she least expects to: living with her dad, his young new wife, and their baby, and starting a new year at school without a best friend. With help from some unlikely sources, including a crazy girl-band talent show act, Anna learns that sometimes you find what you need to pull you through in the most unlikely places.

EXCERPT

THE NEXT MORNING, Sarabeth Mueller flags me down. All week she has been doing this, saving a seat for me on the bus. It is worse than sitting alone, but I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I take off my backpack, rest it in my lap.

“Hi, Anna.”

“Hi,” I say.

Sarabeth Mueller is so pale you can see her veins. Practically everything about her is see-through. Skin, hair, fingernails, eyebrows. There is a pink ribbon of scalp where she parts her hair. Once, when we were on a class trip to the beach, I saw her squirt sunscreen on it.

“Want to know what I’m doing this weekend?”

“Okay.”

I do not want to know what Sarabeth Mueller is doing this weekend. I am sure it has something to do with dolls. In sixth grade, she had a birthday party and we spent the entire time in her bedroom drinking tea and looking at her dolls. She had about a million of them, all dressed up and staring down at us from shelves.

Sarabeth adjusts the hem of her skirt. "Ever hear of Irish step dancing?”

"Um. I don't think so."

“Well, it’s a traditional performance dance that originated in Ireland. I’ve been doing it since I was four. Saturday I have a competition.”

“Cool.”

I am lying so bad. I know exactly what Sarabeth is talking about because in seventh grade there was this talent show and she got up onstage and danced for the whole school. It was the craziest thing. Little Sarabeth Mueller, all alone with her white toothpick legs and her big black clogs, going like sixty. The ninth-grade boys had a field day. Dani and I sat in the back of the auditorium, the only ones not laughing.

Of course, that was last year. Now if there were a talent show, Dani would be front and center. She would be up onstage with Jessa Bell and Whitney Anderson and all those girls, shimmying around in her tube top and platform heels, making the ninth- grade boys whistle. And you’d still find me in the back of the auditorium, not laughing.

“So,” Sarabeth says now, “how long will your mom be out of town?”

This is what I told her my first day on the bus, and it’s not exactly a lie. My mother is out of town. “Not long,” I say.

“Do you like staying at your dad’s?”

I shrug. “It’s okay.”

“When did they get divorced?”

“A year ago.” I am chewing on my thumbnail. I am squinting out the win dow, hoping we’re close to school, but we’re not.

“That’s tough,” Sarabeth says. “My grandparents are divorced. Both sets. If you ever need someone to talk to . . .”

“Okay.”

I don’t know why I’m saying okay. I don’t even know if Sarabeth means I can talk to her or to her divorced grandparents. All I know is I need one of those school bus emergency drills. The driver presses a button and an escape hatch opens. He doesn’t even have to slow down. I’ll just jump.

* * *

“The sum of the angles is . . . uh . . . ninety degrees,” I tell Ms. Baer- Leighton.

Ms. Baer- Leighton is drinking something brown out of a Poland Spring bottle. She takes a swallow and nods. “Yes.”

I fiddle with my protractor. “So that means they’re . . . uh . . . complementary angles?”

“Is that your final answer?”

Oh, I hate math so much. No teacher but Ms. Baer-Leighton makes you stand up in the middle of class like this, stuttering like an idiot while laser-beam eyes shoot holes in your back.

“No,” I say. “Supplementary.”

Behind me, someone sniggers.

“The first rule of mathematics”— Ms. Baer-Leighton swishes her bottle around and around— “as in life, is to trust your instincts.” She takes a sip. What ever she is drinking matches her sawed-off haircut. Also her scarf, dress, and practical pumps. Brown, brown, brown.

Your clothes tell a lot about you, Dani said once. Jean-on-jean is a message you don’t want to send. Try a pop of color. Accessorize.

"Do you understand what I’m saying, Anna?” Ms. Baer- Leighton is looking at me, forehead shining in the light.

“Yes,” I say.

She raises a fist in the air. “Confidence!”

I sit down at my desk, die a little.

* * *

In English Mr. Pfaff gives everyone a sheet of lined paper and tells us to freewrite for ten minutes. It’s his favorite thing, freewriting. Every class he makes us freewrite, and every time my brain freezes and I can barely eke out two sentences. Sometimes I wonder if he is doing it just to torture me.

Today our prompt is “morning madness.” What I really want to write is I am mad this morning because I am being forced to freewrite, but I know this is not what Mr. Pfaff is looking for. So I stare at my paper and think of all the other things I could tell him.

  1. I am mad this morning because I heard my father and stepmother doing it last night and was too mortified to look them in the eye at breakfast.
  2. I am mad this morning because I have to ride this new bus and Dani’s not on it, not that she would be sitting with me anyway, but now I have to sit with Sarabeth Mueller.
  3. I am mad this morning because my mom is in the psychiatric ward, also known as the mad house. Get it? MADhouse?

Of course, there are a lot of reasons why my mother ended up in the hospital, most of which have nothing to do with me. But I am the daughter. I was there and I should have seen it coming. Because there are always signs. The way her voice sounds, or little shifts in her behavior, like forgetting to brush her teeth. Red flags. But in a way, I ignored them. I’m not good with impending disaster. I’d be the one in the middle of the tornado saying, “Don’t worry, Dorothy and Toto. Really. It’s just a breeze.” I am the one who, instead of writing down all the bad thoughts in my head, will chew on my pencil and keep my paper clean.

Ten minutes later, Mr. Pfaff is looking over my shoulder, petting his goatee. When he talks, he lowers his voice, but it really isn’t low at all. It’s more like an announcement to the whole class.

“You can’t think of anything to write?”

I shake my head. I can feel Dani looking at me but stare straight ahead.

“Nothing at all?”

I sink down lower in my seat.

“Why don’t you stop by and see me after school and we’ll talk about it?”

I nod, as though I am agreeing.

He smiles, as though he believes me.

It’s official. I now hate English more than I hate math.

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