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Bo and Mzzz Mad

Bo and Mzzz Mad

by Sid Fleischman

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Enemies at first sight

Orphaned Bo Gamage has nowhere to go. So he ends up in the old Queen of Sheba Hotel in a ghost town in the middle of the desert. It's dry and bare and — worst of all — the only other kid there is his awful cousin Madeleine, who calls herself Mzzz Mad.

Soon, they're caught up in a battle for a missing map


Enemies at first sight

Orphaned Bo Gamage has nowhere to go. So he ends up in the old Queen of Sheba Hotel in a ghost town in the middle of the desert. It's dry and bare and — worst of all — the only other kid there is his awful cousin Madeleine, who calls herself Mzzz Mad.

Soon, they're caught up in a battle for a missing map, the mystery of the tattooed head, and the search for the old Pegleg Smith gold mine. Then Bo and Mzzz Mad find themselves in deadly danger and handcuffed — together!

Editorial Reviews

ALA Booklist (starred review)
“First-rate…a quick, enjoyable read that will fly off the shelves.”
ALA Booklist
"First-rate…a quick, enjoyable read that will fly off the shelves."
Publishers Weekly
A 12-year-old orphaned boy is sent to relatives with whom his family has been feuding for generations. According to PW's starred review, "Fleischman delivers a thumping good page-turner spiced with humor, snappy descriptions, and a lickety-split plot." Ages 8-up. (Oct.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Take one orphaned boy, send him to relatives with whom his family has been feuding for generations, add a long-lost gold mine and a pair of no-good, low-down dirty rascals and voil the stage is set for a classic Fleischman (Bandit's Moon) tale. In his contemporary western, 12-year-old Bo Gamage's arrival in Queen of Sheba, Calif. "the jumping-off place to nowhere" is less than auspicious. Bo and his smart-mouthed cousin Madeleine Martinka (she goes by Mzzz Mad) take an instant dislike to each other, and grumpy Paw Paw, Mad's ex-cowboy movie star grandpa, is equally unwelcoming. Only Aunt Juna, an artist who inveigles Bo into a scheme to rekindle Paw Paw's interest in life with a fake treasure map, shows him any kindness. A couple on a crime spree throw a monkey wrench into Bo's plans to move on, however, and he soon finds himself handcuffed to Mzzz Mad and in fairly desperate straits. Fleischman, who can spin a yarn like nobody's business, is in top form here, delivering a thumping good page-turner spiced with humor, snappy descriptions ("The front door stood wide open, as if the building were gasping for air"; Mzzz Mad says Paw Paw feels "older'n greasewood") and a lickety-split plot. Readers can just sit back, relax and watch a master at work. Ages 8-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Mark Twain once wrote that "a Kentucky feud never ends." Sid Fleischman says that is the phrase that inspired Bo & Mzzz Mad, a 20th century version of the Hatfields and McCoys set in the Mojave Desert of California. Bo Gamage, a newly orphaned teenager, has been invited to visit the opposing Martinkas by an aunt who married into the family but not into the feud. That would be Aunt Juna, who takes care of Mzzz Mad, a thirteen-year-old who drives her own red pick up truck, and Charlie, an aging cowboy who used to be in the movies and still puts on spurs and a gun belt everyday. The story is a quick and easy read, with bits of old anger and newfound caring, adventures with rattlesnakes and desert robbers, legends of hidden goldmines and stolen maps. Fleischman lets readers in on a few secrets at the end—like the newspaper story he'd seen about thieves betrayed by mothball-scented paper money—giving young readers some clues about where to find good material for their own story writing. 2001, Greenwillow, $14.95 and $14.89. Ages 8 to 14. Reviewer: Karen Leggett
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Fleischman's many fans won't be disappointed by this fast-paced tale. The story is set in a tiny western town that really isn't a town at all-it's just the remnants of a Western movie set, stuck in the California desert. Recently orphaned Bo Gamage decides to visit his only remaining relatives, despite a longstanding family feud between the Gamages and Martinkas. The 12-year-old discovers that Queen of Sheba's only residents are his great-uncle Charlie Martinka, a washed-up, cantankerous cowboy actor; Aunt Juna; and cousin Madeleine, a 13-year-old who calls herself "Mzzz Mad." The feud centers on an alleged gold mine in the nearby hills, which both sides of the family claim but no one can find. It's not long before Bo realizes that he would like to go back to the city life he's used to and escape the bad blood, but the realities of the harsh desert keep him from walking away. Then, a couple of modern-day bandits arrive on the scene and hold the family hostage. The resulting troubles draw the relatives together and the mystery surrounding the contentious gold mine is solved. The narrative speeds along with enough plot twists to keep readers flipping pages. Character development suffers a little, the conflict between the title characters is a bit superficial, and the resolution is not very satisfying. Charlie Martinka, however, is colorful and charming, still clanking around in his spurs and cowboy delusions. The combination of his character and Fleischman's storytelling prowess results in a fun, quick read.-Steve Clancy, Colonial Village Elementary School, Niagara Falls, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Orphaned Bo is invited to visit his estranged relatives in the Mojave dessert. A generations-old feud involving a legendary "black gold" mine has kept the Gammages and Martinkas apart. Now, Bo isn't sure if his invitation is an honest one, or just more family intrigue. His quirky, same-age cousin "Mzzz Mad," a 12-year-old who drives her own truck, just makes things worse, until they both get caught up in a very real and dangerous mystery. Fleischman is at his best here—his characters and setting come to life instantly, in a lightning-quick plot that is nevertheless rich with tension. He pulls off both slapstick humor and heartfelt drama in a genuine and appealing way. Walking the line expertly between tall-tale and believability, he will delight readers with his "Author's Secrets" note at the end, which not only lends credence to his story, but might just inspire a few young would-be writers. The books' short length and quick pace make this a perfect choice for older, struggling readers; but don't pass on this because it looks easy—this is pure good reading. (Fiction. 8-14)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.22(d)
Age Range:
8 - 11 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Bus Stop

The bus pulled away, leaving Bo standing alone at the windy crossroads. He looked all around for someone to meet him. There was no one in sight — nothing, in fact, but a clump of cactus and blowing sand and a snake's tracks in the dirt road.

But there was a homemade sign with a fading blue finger pointing toward the hills. Bo found the sign reassuring; the bus driver had let film off at the right place.


Bo had a couple of relatives there, tenth or fifteenth cousins or something. Had they forgotten he was coming? He guessed that was just like those rattlebrained Martinkas. Bo himself was on the Gamage side of the family. His folks and the Martinkas hadn't been on speaking terms since the Stone Age, as far as he knew. Or even before.

He hung around for a while in the shade of some dusty runt of a tree. He hunkered down on his heels and listened to the lonely whistle of the wind. Then he decided he might as well leg it before he dried up and blew away like everything else he could see out here on the desert.

Bo had walked about a mile, getting drier and thirstier, when he noticed a rising cloud of chalky road dust ahead. Barreling toward him was an old Chevy pickup truck the color of Day-Glo red lipstick. On it came, rattling and squeaking and thumping like a one-man band. He had to jump out of the way before the girl at the wheel discovered there were brakes on the truck.

"Run me down, why don't you?" he yelled.

She backed up a little and bung out the window. "Trying to. You my cousin Bo? You one of them orneryGamages? Where's your horns and your mangy tall?"

"I packed 'em there in my suitcase," he said. "Together with my pitchfork."

She was hardly much older than Bo — thirteen at the most, he thought. She was wearing big movie star sunglasses and a billed pink cap that said MAD on it.

She looked him over. "You're not as runty as I expected," she said.

"You must be one of those tobacco-spittin' Martinkas," Bo said. "You old enough to drive that thing?"

"I'm driving, ain't I?"

"I think I'll walk."

"Did I invite you to ride?"

"That's what you came out here for, isn't it?"

"Only to get a look at you, like at the zoo. I never laid eyes on an uppity Gamage before."

He matched her, look for look, as if they were dueling. From under her hat hung streaks of yellow hair. She was wearing a wrinkled T-shirt, bib overalls, and silver rings on all her fingers and thumbs.

Bo had never seen a genuine on-the-hoof Martinka before. He was kind of amazed that she was able to walk upright. He'd been brought up to believe that Martinkas were throwbacks to the woolly mammoth.

She kicked open the passenger door. "Aunt Juna said to stop what 1 was doing and run out here for you. Her car's getting fixed. So climb in."

"I'd sooner walk," he muttered, not wanting to give in to her.

"You'll melt in the sun, and I'll have to scrape up the mess. Get in, stupid."

Stupid to come out to this stupid desert, he thought. It looked just the place to settle down with a bad cough. His folks had left the California desert generations ago. And no wonder, he thought. You could get a sunburn just crossing the street. If you could find a street.

Bo gazed at the oasis shade of the cab. He threw his nylon backpack and old tin suitcase onto the bed of the truck and climbed onto the seat. He couldn't help noticing that the rear window had a lace curtain.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Can't you read?"

"The word on your hat? Mad? That's not a name. That's a overheated mental state."

She gave Bo an airy look and exclaimed to the world at large, "Holy jumped-up Moses, will you listen to him? Overheated mental state! He's a talking Webster dictionary."

"I forgot. You barefoot Martinkas can't read."

"That's right," she said. "Only Greek and Latin. You ought to hear Aunt Juna rattle it off when she gets mad."

"Is she an aunt? I didn't know I had an aunt Juna."

"You don't. She's my aunt. Did you ever cut paper dolls when you were a kid?"


"Didn't you ever cut paper dolls?"

"Maybe," Bo said.

"Well, that's what Aunt Juna does. She's a great artist in her spare time, but she designs paper dolls. That's her job, I mean."

The girl swung the truck around and laid on the gas. When the road dropped down to cross a dry wash, the truck leaped out over the shallow cutbank and almost launched him through the window.

"Don't slow down on my account," Bo said.

"Wouldn't think of it."

He gave her a direct look. "What does Mad stand for? Madonna? Mad dog? Madagascar?"

She gave a little shrug. "Try Madeleine. Not that anyone can spell it."

"M-a-d-e-l-e-i-n-e," Bo muttered.

"What a show-off."

"Your aunt Juna put up the lace curtain?"

"Of course not. I did. It's my truck."

"Your truck?"

"Talk, talk, talk," she muttered impatiently. "Paw Paw gave it to me. What else do you want to know?"

"Who's Paw Paw?"

"What does it sound like? Cornmeal mush? Grandpa Charlie Martinka, that's who. My daddy's daddy. You can call him sir."

"Don't hold your breath."

"Talk, talk, talk. You're so green you don't know enough to keep your mouth shut in desert heat like this...

Meet the Author

Sid Fleischman wrote more than sixty books for children, adults, and magicians. Among his many awards was the Newbery Medal for his novel The Whipping Boy. The author described his wasted youth as a magician and newspaperman in his autobiography The Abracadabra Kid. His other titles include The Entertainer and the Dybbuk, a novel, and three biographies, Sir Charlie: Chaplin, The Funniest Man in the World; The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West; and Escape! The Story of The Great Houdini.

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