A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaidsby Shelley Tougas
A bully, a wedding, and a larger-than-life family add up to a hilarious and heartfelt middle-grade novel.
Mary Margaret Miller is going to be a junior bridesmaid--that is, if she isn't grounded for the rest of her life. She's feuding with school bully Brent Helzinski, and her cousin Eden, aka The Bride, is clashing with her grandmother about wedding plans./b>
A bully, a wedding, and a larger-than-life family add up to a hilarious and heartfelt middle-grade novel.
Mary Margaret Miller is going to be a junior bridesmaid--that is, if she isn't grounded for the rest of her life. She's feuding with school bully Brent Helzinski, and her cousin Eden, aka The Bride, is clashing with her grandmother about wedding plans. Mary knows it's her job as a junior bridesmaid to make the day run smoothly, but she sure could use a little help from above.
Gr 4–8—In addition to moving from Minnesota to North Dakota over the summer, middle schooler Mary has the distinctly important responsibility of serving as her cousin Eden's junior bridesmaid/maid of honor. While her parents prepare the new house in North Dakota, Mary and her younger brother are sent to stay with their grandmother in St. Paul to help prepare for the wedding. A model student and well-behaved daughter, Mary knows that she can help her cousin, who suffers from severe social anxiety, by corralling her very spirited, very overbearing grandmother while keeping a big secret of her mother's. Mary also has a big indiscretion hanging over her head—before she left her school in Minnesota, she punched Brent Helzinski in the face and doesn't want to talk about it. Oh, and then there's the cute boy next door who keeps distracting her from her very important wedding duties. It's a lot to handle. While the explanation of why Mary punched Brent in the face, which is hinted at throughout the story, fails to pay off, this would be a serviceable choice for libraries searching for faith-based novels to add to their collections. Catholic traditions and references feature heavily here. VERDICT An additional purchase. Hand this to tween readers who crave sweet and innocent realistic tales.—Carli Worthman, Carmel Middle School, Carmel, IN
A girl from a devoutly Catholic family prays to as many patron saints as she can find, but she can’t find the one she needs when she becomes a junior bridesmaid for her shy cousin.Mary’s family must move from their small Minnesota town, where everyone “is as white as bleached T-shirts,” when a large chain forces their family hardware store out of business. Mary’s dad is working an oil job in North Dakota, and she and her mom are staying with Mary’s grandmother in St. Paul for the summer. There, Mary meets next-door-neighbor Nick, a Vietnamese boy her age. When her cousin announces she’s getting married, Mary wants not only to be a good junior bridesmaid, but also to reconcile some difficulties she’s been having with her faith. When Nick, a Unitarian, casts aspersions on some of the tenets of Catholicism, Mary finds that she has some major lessons to learn. Tougas keeps the narrative just light enough for her target audience of middle graders even as Mary struggles with some pretty deep religious questions. She may have been the Minnesota Church Youth Group Member of the Year, but that doesn’t mean she is without flaws—a hard thing to admit. Wedding-prep comedy balances serious questions of morality in this sweetly perceptive book. (Fiction. 9-12)
- Roaring Brook Press
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)
- Age Range:
- 9 - 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids
By Shelley Tougas
Roaring Brook PressCopyright © 2016 Shelley Tougas
All rights reserved.
There's going to be a wedding
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject line: News
Dear Grandma, Mom, Dad, Aunt Bernie, Uncle Craig, Mary, and Luke,
I am getting married. His name is Justin.
Sincerely, Eden M. Collins
Someone hacked Eden's e-mail account. That's the only explanation. My cousin has never mentioned a guy — ever. She works in a hospital laundry to avoid people, and she takes college classes online for the same reason. Eden's social life revolves around church bingo with Grandma.
I start my computer's virus-scanning software in case I got infected by opening the message. Once Grandma replied to a scam e-mail about a Nigerian prince who needed money so he could hire a lawyer to collect his inheritance. She told the fake prince she'd be happy to help out as long as he paid her back. Aunt Maggie took her computer to a shop to have it cleaned up so the scammer couldn't get Grandma's personal information.
But my virus scan turns out okay. And all the e-mail addresses are correct. Everything looks normal. If this news is real, then Saint Anthony of Padua, the Patron Saint of miracles, had something to do with it. Church bingo is not a dating service.
Another e-mail pops into my account.
Subject line: Will you be my junior bridesmaid?
Grandma just replied to my e-mail announcing my wedding. She said I should ask you to be my junior bridesmaid because young cousins are perfect for that role. She asked about a maid of honor, and I don't plan on having one, so I guess you'll be both, in a way, if you know what I mean.
Will you be my junior bridesmaid?
Sincerely, Eden M. Collins
So it is true! Eden's humor is straighter than uncooked spaghetti. If she doesn't joke about jokes, she definitely wouldn't joke about her own wedding. And she wants me to be a junior bridesmaid. I guess that means I'll get a pretty dress and matching shoes with heels. Maybe even a manicure! I've always wanted a real-deal manicure, the kind you see on models and rich ladies.
And then I think of something. Something that makes me smile really wide. I jump up from my desk, kneel down on the floor, and sweep my hand across the carpet under my bed until I find my notebook filled with Patron Saints. I flip through the pages until I find Saint Anthony of Padua, the Patron Saint of miracles. I put a big star next to his name because he's delivered two miracles. First, Eden is getting married, and second, the timing is perfect. Any minute now my principal will be calling Mom to tell her about my fight with Brent Helzinski. But surprise wedding news is way bigger than your never-in-trouble, straight-A daughter getting a week of detention.
I flip to a clean page in the notebook. After getting called to the school office today, I have a new saint to add to the notebook, a guy I'm going to need: Dominic Savio, the Patron Saint of juvenile delinquents. I make a star by his name and say a quick prayer. Dear Holy Saint Dominic Savio, I guess I'm one of yours now. A juvenile delinquent! Me. The good kid. The principal said normally kids get suspended for fighting, but she's giving me a break because I never do stuff like that. Help! Brent is making me crazy!
The phone rings. My whole body freezes. Downstairs Mom's voice is high pitched and happy, but I can't make out her words. Everything goes quiet, so I guess she hung up. High pitched and happy. That was not a call from my principal. My body relaxes, and I flop back onto my bed.
The phone rings again seconds later. This time her voice is deeper. During most of the call she's silent.
Seconds tick into minutes. Long seconds, long minutes.
Footsteps pound down the hall, and I sit up just in time to look casual before my bedroom door opens. Mom steps into the doorway, shaking her head and drilling her hands into her hips.
"I just had two very interesting phone calls."
"Oh?" I try to sound very innocent, but I'm not sure I'm succeeding. I'm an inexperienced juvenile delinquent.
"The first was Jon Hellmer," she says. Mr. Hellmer is the youth group director at our church. "Guess why he called?"
"Does he need me to volunteer for something? That's usually why he calls."
"No, that's not the reason. It seems he worked with Father Benson to nominate you for the Minnesota Church Youth Group Member of the Year Award. That award is based on integrity, volunteer service, and being a role model for younger kids. Integrity means being honorable and good." She crosses her arms. "You won the award. You know why that's ironic?"
Here we go.
"Why?" I ask.
"Less than sixty seconds later your principal called." Mom takes a deep breath. "She said you punched Brent Helzinski in the face. That is not integrity!" Her Pump Quick uniform shirt is untucked, and her hair hangs in a droopy ponytail. Since Dad moved to North Dakota for the new job, Mom always looks like she just rolled out of bed.
"I'm sorry. It's complicated, Mom."
She sighs, and the anger seems to float out of her body with her breath. "Why in the world would you punch Brent Helzinski? That boy has enough problems. His mom practically lives in the bar."
"He's a bully."
"Violence is never the answer. It's never an option, Mary."
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but I have something ginormously important to tell you." I take a breath and swoop in with my distraction. "Mom, Eden is getting married!"
"What?" She leans against the door, like she might fall over without support.
"You need to check your e-mail. She wrote to all of us. She's getting married to some guy named Justin."
Mom tightens her ponytail. Whenever she's nervous, she tugs at her hair. "Maggie would've told me."
"Aunt Maggie got the e-mail, too. We all did."
"Let me read it."
As she leans toward the computer screen, another e-mail from Eden lands in my inbox. Mom reads the new one out loud:
Dear Grandma, Dad, Mom, Aunt Bernie, Uncle Craig, Mary, and Luke,
You are all probably wondering if Justin is Catholic. The answer is no, but please don't worry. He is taking classes to convert.
Sincerely, Eden M. Collins
Mom looks as if she'd jump in the car and make the four-hour drive to Aunt Maggie's house if she could. She tucks in her work shirt. "I should call Maggie, but I don't want her to hear it from me. Leave it to Eden to send an e-mail. Who does that?"
"Eden. Eden does that," I say. "She wants me to be in the wedding."
"That'll cost a fortune."
"Do you want me to tell her no? She said that Grandma told her to ask me."
"Of course she did," Mom mutters. I can practically see images of expensive wedding dresses in her brain. Details of the Brent fight are evaporating, and my mood improves by 100 percent in seconds. Mom continues, "E-mail! That's no way to tell your family important news. We'll be together next weekend for Easter. Why not tell us then?"
"Because it's Eden. She doesn't like talking when we're all together in a group. It makes her anxious."
"She didn't even tell us she had a boyfriend. This is crazy. Just crazy. Poor Maggie. And Uncle Will! It'll break his heart."
"Doesn't your shift start at four-thirty? You only have fifteen minutes."
Mom checks the time on her phone and shakes her head like she can't believe she's running late again. "Listen, Luke has a spelling test. Please go over his words. I didn't have a chance to get groceries because the guy was here fixing the furnace. Warm up the leftover meatloaf. Make sure you both eat a vegetable, too. And please fold the towels in the dryer."
"And do your own homework."
"And load the dishwasher if you've got time. Only if you have time. Homework first."
"I'll have time."
"Thanks, honey. I know I can count on you." She disappears into the hall, calling to Luke, "Mary's in charge. You need to listen to her." Then she pops back into my room. "If Dad calls, don't say anything about Eden. He didn't get the e-mail because he still doesn't have Internet at the motel."
"Why can't I tell him?"
"Once he hears about you being in the wedding, he'll just worry about how much it's going to cost."
"But what if he asks?"
Mom looks at me like I'm stupid. "He's not going to ask, 'Is Eden getting married?'"
"He'll say something like, 'What's new?'"
"Mary, I'm not saying it's a secret forever. Just tell him nothing is going on because, actually, nothing is really going on. It's not official news until I talk to Maggie, right? We don't even know if it's 100 percent true." If the Pope ever decides to pick a Patron Saint for Truth-Stretching, my mom will be a top candidate. She's the Master of the Not-Exactly-A-Lie.
With that final instruction, she leaves. The front door slams, and in seconds the car is rumbling. It rattles and coughs and stalls. The engine screeches as she starts it again, and the rumbling fades away.
I flop on the bed. Crisis averted! But at the back of my mind a question lingers: What mom forgets her daughter just punched a kid?
Even worse, what girl wins an award for being nice the same day she punches someone? What girl is proclaimed a junior bridesmaid hours after getting lectured in the principal's office?
Me — a responsible daughter, a sweet big sister, a devoted Catholic, the nicest girl in school. Mary Margaret Miller. The girl who knocked down the school's meanest bully with a mighty right hook.
ABOUT BRENT HELZINSKI AND ME
I don't want to talk about Brent Helzinski.
I don't want to think about Brent Helzinski.
I don't want to text or post or e-mail about him.
There's going to be a wedding ... and gossip
Before I get to Mom's checklist, I count the number of stars I've made next to Saint Ann, Patron Saint of mothers, and compare it to the stars next to Saint Joseph, Patron Saint of fathers. The stars represent each time I've prayed to that particular saint. I've only been keeping the notebook since November, but Saint Joseph is definitely outpacing Saint Ann. I had to start an entire page just for Saint Joseph.
I don't love my dad more than my mom, but he's living alone in a crappy hotel room in North Dakota. I feel bad for him, and he's definitely less annoying than Mom with her constant to-do lists and complaints about being tired and sad, like she's the only one who misses Dad. When Dad got the new job, we took a family vote and decided Mom, Luke, and me would stay in Minnesota until the end of the school year and then join Dad. Plus new oil jobs are bringing so many people to North Dakota that he can't even find an apartment.
But that was our only vote.
We didn't get to vote on whether the massive Home Supply Station should be allowed to open in Holmestrand, even though my family's hardware store had been here for 100 years.
We didn't get to vote on where people in northern Minnesota shop for their tools, paint, extension cords, and nails.
We didn't get to vote on whether it was time to close our store or keep fighting Home Supply Station and its extra-low prices and huge inventory. We couldn't pay the bills, so there was no vote. The bank forced Miller Family Hardware to close.
Dad says we're lucky he got the oil job in North Dakota. It pays well, and we'll eventually get out of debt. North Dakota is cold and flat and empty. As far as you can see, there's nothing but dirt and sky. It's Minnesota without hills or trees or lakes. But some brainy engineer figured out how to pump oil from that empty land, and now we have to move to there.
I can't stand those engineers and the oil company and North Dakota. I flip through pages of Patron Saints and find where I'd written Saint Mary, Queen of Peace, Patron Saint of North Dakota. I scribble over the words, pressing so hard the tip of the pen rips through the paper. There weren't any prayer stars by her name, anyway.
Immediately, I feel bad for crossing out Saint Mary and taking her away from the North Dakotans. Nice girls don't take Patron Saints away from the people the Pope has assigned them to protect. I can't erase pen marks, so I write it on a fresh page, in my best handwriting:
Saint Mary, Queen of Peace, Patron Saint of North Dakota.
And I say a quick prayer. Dear Holy Saint Mary and Dear Holy Saint Ann, please help my mom be less stressed out in North Dakota. Make it a place where she's relaxed and happy like she used to be.
There. One prayer gets a star for Mom and a star for North Dakota.
"What are you doing?" Luke peeks in my room. His chin is smeared with peanut butter.
"You're not supposed to eat peanut butter. We're supposed to eat meatloaf."
"What difference does it make?"
"Because Mom said so."
Luke jumps on my bed. His shoes are muddy, and he has peanut butter on his fingers, too. He's eight years old and always filthy, a magnet for dirt and crumbs and mysterious stains.
"Luke, you're making a mess."
"I heard Mom on the phone, and it sounds like you really walloped someone and I think it was that Brent guy with the greasy hair."
"It's none of your business," I say. "Get off my bed and do your homework. I mean it."
"Have you ever hit anyone before?"
"I'm going to hit you if you don't get off my bed."
I meant it as a joke, but it came out serious. Luke's smile disappears, and his eyes look surprised. This year I've tried extra hard to be nice to him because he really misses Dad. For Christmas he asked if his present could be legally changing his name to Craig Miller — our dad's name. That's some serious Dad-missing behavior.
Luke stomps out of my room, yelling, "You're a huge grump!"
"I'm sorry!" I call after him. "I'll give you an Oreo after we do your spelling words, okay?"
He sticks his head through the door. He's smiling again. "Can I have two? Or maybe three since you're so crabby?"
Mom will be mad if he has one, but I know Luke. He won't stop annoying me until he gets more. I pull the same distraction maneuver I used on Mom. "Guess what? Eden's getting married! And I'm going to be in the wedding!"
"Totally. If you write her a note, like a congratulations kind of thing, I'll scan it into the computer and e-mail it to her. Then she can see your actual handwriting and how good it is."
He beams. "I'll do it right now."
As he scoots to his room, my phone buzzes. I have a text, and not just one. While I was talking to Mom, the messages were piling up. Looks like every kid in school is talking about Brent Helzinski and me.
Nadia Clonski: Just heard. What happened?
Abbie Greenfeld: Brent hit his face on your fist?
Connor Lewis: WTH?
Shane Johnson: Mary "The Fist" Miller!
Riley Nelson: OMG Mary!
Then my phone rings — a ring from an actual call, not a text. It's Jessica, my friend whose parents love love love the Home Supply Station. I know evidence when I see it. They have plastic bags from Home Supply Station at their house and receipts on the kitchen counter.
I answer at the last second. "Hey, Jess."
"Oh my God, Mary! What happened today? I mean, I heard what happened. But why?"
"It's so not a big deal."
"You got in a fight. A real fight! That's a big deal."
"I'll tell you about it later." I say this even though I don't plan to tell her about it ever. "So you know my cousin Eden?"
"The one who's weird because of that disorder thing?"
"Social anxiety disorder. She's not weird. She just acts weird because of her disorder."
"Isn't that what I said?"
Jessica sighs into the phone. "Okay, okay. What's going on with your cousin Eden?"
"She's getting married, and I get to be in the wedding."
"Cool!" Jessica gushes. "What's your dress going to look like?"
Big whew. Mom, Luke, and now Jessica. This distraction thing really works.
Excerpted from A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids by Shelley Tougas. Copyright © 2016 Shelley Tougas. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Shelley Tougas is an award-winning writer of nonfiction for children, including Little Rock Girl 1957, and the author of the novels The Graham Cracker Plot and Finders Keepers. She lives in Hudson, Wisconsin.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews