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Cuckoo Child

Cuckoo Child

by Suzanne Freeman, Leo Dillon (Illustrator)
Mia Veery wants her family to behave like the families she reads about. They would never include a mother who flies airplanes and trades one husband for another. Or older sisters who dress all in black and read French novels. Or a father who moves his family from Ohio to live in Lebanon, where even the tangy air tastes foreign.

Every day in Beirut, Mia wishes she


Mia Veery wants her family to behave like the families she reads about. They would never include a mother who flies airplanes and trades one husband for another. Or older sisters who dress all in black and read French novels. Or a father who moves his family from Ohio to live in Lebanon, where even the tangy air tastes foreign.

Every day in Beirut, Mia wishes she could live the way kids are living in America in 1962, eating hot dogs, drinking real milk, maybe watching Bonanza on TV. Then her wish comes true, but in a way she'd never intended.

Mia is sent back to the United States, to Tennessee, to stay with an aunt she's never met. During a summer spent longing for her parents and trying to find her place in her new surroundings, Mia figures out a few truths about families and all that they can and cannot be.

Mia Veery is fierce, funny, and finally, indomitable. Her story marks the extraordinary debut of a talented writer.

Author Biography:

Suzanne Freeman graduated from Boston University. She has been a newspaper writer and editor and a teacher of writing at the University of Virginia, and is currently a book reviewer. She lives in Manchester with her husband and two children. She says, "I lived in Beirut as a child and remember being acutely homesick for 'American' things. I thought that nothing would be right again until I got home and had those things."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
First-time novelist Freeman conveys the essence of estrangement in a unique coming-of-age story, at once profound and darkly humorous. The youngest member of a studiedly individualist American family living in Beirut during the early '60s, Mia longs to be a "normal" American girl, but her chance to make this dream come true arrives via tragedy. Only after her parents are lost at sea and her "beatnik" older half-sisters are sent off for a lengthy visit with their real father does Mia find herself being reshaped as an "ordinary kid" by her Aunt Kit in Ionia, Tenn. Although Mia quickly learns how to blend in with the popular girls at the local Vacation Bible School, she continues to be haunted by her memories. It takes much soul-searching for her to realize that the things that made her different are the same things that made her truly happy. A number of the minor characters are somewhat stereotyped, but Mia's psyche is painstakingly developed and she emerges as a highly complex character, very much an original. Readers will become absorbed in Mia's battle to overcome grief and guilt, and will identify with the growing pains she suffers and the social blunders she commits. Sure to make a lasting impression. Ages 10-up. (Mar.)
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
Mia returns to America from Beirut after her parents mysteriously disappear at sea. She's been begging to go "home." begging for the normalcy of an American childhood. When her wish doesn't include her parents, but an unknown aunt in an unknown town, Mia must learn the true meaning of the word "home." Freeman beautifully recreates small town America in 1962-along with the longings of a troubled child who no longer belongs anywhere.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-The summer their parents disappear at sea on a sailing vacation off the coast of Greece, Mia and her two older half-sisters, Bibi and Nell, must leave their home in Beirut to live in Ionia, Tennessee, with their mother's unmarried sister, Kit. It is 1962, and the summer looms long, as Bibi and Nell are invited to visit their father in Boston, while Mia remains with Aunt Kit, whom she has just met. Frustrated by her young charge's rudeness, Kit sends her niece to Bible School, a place replete with snobbery and wickedly funny incidents. Although Mia finds one comfortable friend, she still feels like an outsider. She savors memories of their life in Beirut, even though she dreamed only of living in America during her three years there. Her reality now includes her aunt's insufferable boyfriend, one of many minor characters drawn with razor accuracy. Eventually, Bibi and Nell return to Ionia to comfort Mia, bringing along their father, another male whom Mia is poised to resent. With all the recent changes in her perception of family, her acting out becomes so severe that she is finally forced to let down her guard and allow others to help her find a new equilibrium. Freeman's first-person narrative presents Mia as a complex young woman, often outrageous, sometimes poetic, in a tale rich with insight and droll humor. This is a strong first novel, reminiscent in both its story and its depth and sensitivity, of Sharon Crete's Walk Two Moons (HarperCollins, 1994). A stunning debut.-Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VT

Product Details

Hyperion Books for Children
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 7.59(h) x 0.66(d)
720L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The week after my parents vanished I tried to climb the water tower in Ionia, Tennessee. I hoped to see the ocean. It was a hot, windy day, and grit from the cement works pelted my face, making me blink. That morning my sister Bibi had teased my hair to cheer me up, and now, in the heat, I felt it prickled out all around my head like a thistle blossom. Usually it hung down, fine and flyaway and not a good color: beige, the shade of a grocery sack.

I had been eyeing the tower since we'd arrived in Ionia two days earlier, and finally, that afternoon, I decided to go up. I didn't tell my sisters when I left the house. They were supposed to take care of me while Kit, our aunt, was at work, but they spent all their time out in the porch swing eating cashews and reading novels in French to show off.

"Who wants to play crazy eights?" I'd asked, but they wouldn't even look up. I knew they were just reading love stories, but their French books had plain paper covers that looked intellectual, and heavy, folded-over pages that MY sisters sliced open, importantly, with butter knives from my aunt 's kitchen.

"Want me to fix lunch?" I asked. "I can fix baloney sandwiches."

Bibi looked up, reluctantly, from her book. "None for me," she said. "I'm just going to have a coffee."

"Me, too," Nell said. She tapped her butter knife against the porch railing. "Ennui." She sighed. "Tristesse."

"We're back in America now," I said. "You can speak English."

The branches of two huge catalpa treesbrushed across the porch roof, sounding like drum whisks. My sisters turned back to their books, slicing pages and pushing their bare feet against the floor to rock the porch swing, back and forth, back and forth. My palms itched. I couldn't wait around any longer.

"Maybe we should call the police," I suggested, "and see if they have any news for us."

My sisters didn't answer. I thought I could feel the weight of the hot, damp air, as if somebody were resting a hand on the top of my head. Over on the hillside the water tower gleamed, dully, against the hazy sky, the highest point in town. Suddenly I knew what I was going to do. What I had to do.

"You're making me nervous, just standing there, Mia." Nell spoke from behind her book. I stood there for another half a minute anyway, rooted to the scene. It changed things, having a plan. My sisters swung there idly, so unknowing. I already felt bad for them, for how they would worry when they noticed I was gone.

Up close, the water tower was much taller than it had appeared from Kit's house. When I leaned back to look up at the tank, its sides seemed to bulge, as if it were breathing. I hesitated. I knew I wasn't brave. But at least I was used to climbing. In Beirut, where we had been living, I shinnied to the top of the date palm trees on the playground almost every day and swayed there, hidden in the leaves, until one of my sisters was sent to tell me it was time to eat dinner or practice my music. Getting down from a palm tree was harder than climbing up, and I had scrapes all along the insides of my legs that I had to treat every night with Mercurochrome. Bibi told me if I kept it up, I would need a skin graft. But I wouldn't stop. From the tops of those trees, I could look across the street to the Mediterranean Sea and watch for any American ships that might be coming in. If no ships came, I would just beam messages, by mental telepathy, across the ocean, in the direction I hoped was toward the U.S.A. I spent most of my time being homesick. We had been living in Beirut for more than three years, and I was missing out on being an American kid.

I could name just what I was missing: sloppy joes and corn on the cob and going to watch Dumbo at the ten-cent matinees on Sundays. I wanted to drink school milk from the small waxy cartons printed with pictures of the presidents, and I wanted to sniff my hands for the strong, dull smell they gave off after catching lightning bugs. It was 1962, and I knew, from reading Life magazine, that there were new things I was missing, too: Barbie dolls, Caroline Kennedy riding her pony around the White House, teenagers dancing the twist. I kept magazine clippings in a scrapbook in my room, along with every letter I'd received from the friends I'd made in school where we used to live, in Ohio. They didn't tell me much -- that it was snowing out or that school was as boring as ever -- but I treasured them for the stationery with pictures of Little Lulu or Daisy Duck.

It wasn't that I hated Beirut. I liked the way it seemed pretty and dirty at the same time. The long flight of concrete stairs near our school always smelled as if somebody had just peed there, but small wild orchids grew out of the gaps in the concrete. I liked the tall white buildings and the tramcars and the beaches, where I collected sea sponges that rolled in on the foamy waves. I liked riding in the Cadillac taxis that went speeding along the Corniche with their tail fins bumping up and down.. But I wanted to go home. Every morning, when I woke up, I tasted the Beirut air, tangy with salt and exhaust fumes and lemon blossoms, and I knew I wasn't where I was supposed to be.

It made me nervous that my dad was so happy teaching geology there, as if we might stay forever. From the balcony of our apartment he showed me how quickly the texture of the land changed from the seacoast to the slopes of Jabal Makhmal, where the cedar trees grew. He stooped down to my eye level and outlined the mountain range with his hands. I tried to pay attention. I had always loved my dad's looks, his coppery hair, his long, bony arms and legs, the sharp ridge of his nose. He looked as if he should be some kind of geological formation himself. But now I didn't want to think about bodies too closely. Jill Pillsworth, who was a grade ahead of me, had complicated everything, by always talking about IT. She seemed to know all the details.

"They breathe really hard when they do IT," she said, panting to demonstrate. "The whole bed shakes. God! Can you imagine your parents doing that?"

The Cuckoo's Child. Copyright © by Suzanne Freeman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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