Edge: Collected Storiesby M. E. Kerr
These 15 short stories by a writer the New York Times Book Review has called “one of the grand masters of young adult fiction” capture our fears, yearnings, loneliness, self-doubts, and universal need for love and acceptance M. E. Kerr’s pioneering young adult literature has gained a devoted following for fearlessly/b>/i>
These 15 short stories by a writer the New York Times Book Review has called “one of the grand masters of young adult fiction” capture our fears, yearnings, loneliness, self-doubts, and universal need for love and acceptance M. E. Kerr’s pioneering young adult literature has gained a devoted following for fearlessly breaking rules and confronting conformity. In Edge, her trademark gifts of pulling apart relationships, exposing real emotion, and conveying what it means to grow up are on full display. From handling a teenage girl’s coming out in “We Might as Well All Be Strangers” to asking philosophical questions about God, life, and death in “The Sweet Perfume of Goodbye” to parodying social norms in “Do You Want My Opinion?,” this is a funny, moving, and brave anthology about faith, friendship, family ties, prom night, an unusual act of heroism, and staying true to yourself.
Family, honesty, and status emerge as themes in a collection of prolific author Kerr's short stories for teens. A girl's ne'er-do-well adopted brother returns to her as a ghost. A Holocaust survivor understands her lesbian granddaughter better than the girl's mother fears. A school outcast visits an inmate at the town prison, pretending to be his son, and thinks he's lucked into a fortune. Most stories here were originally published in the 1990s, but despite occasional dated preoccupations, the subject matter still feels fresh and the telling, crisp. Each piece is tautly constructed and economical, the longest clocking in at 16 pages. A couple are gently speculative, like wry opener "Do You Want My Opinion?" in which kissing and sex are engaged in casually, but philosophical conversation is intimate and risqué. Most, however, draw out subtle, everyday conflicts and experiences. As it's been many years since Kerr has written actively for teens, more introductory material than the current plot-based teasers would have provided valuable context for readers new to her work. A biographical note at the end, however, complete with black-and-white photographs, gives readers background on Kerr's life, career, and multiple pseudonyms. Expertly crafted, with enduring relevance. (Short stories. 12-18)
- Open Road Integrated Media LLC
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- 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)
- Age Range:
- 13 - 17 Years
Read an Excerpt
By M. E. Kerr
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2015 M. E. Kerr
All rights reserved.
DO YOU WANT MY OPINION?
The night before last I dreamed that Cynthia Slater asked my opinion of The Catcher in the Rye.
Last night I dreamed I told Lauren Lake what I thought about John Lennon's music, Picasso's art, and Soviet-American relations.
It's getting worse.
I'm tired of putting my head under the cold-water faucet.
Early this morning my father came into my room and said, "John, are you getting serious with Eleanor Rossi?"
"Just because I took her out three times?"
"Just because you sit up until all hours of the night talking with her!" he said. "We know all about it, John. Her mother called your mother."
I didn't say anything. I finished getting on my socks and shoes.
He was standing over me, ready to deliver the lecture.
It always started the same way.
"You're going to get in trouble if you're intimate, John. You're too young to let a girl get a hold on you."
"Nobody has a hold on me, Dad."
"Not yet. But one thought leads to another. Before you know it, you'll be exploring all sorts of ideas together, knowing each other so well you'll finish each other's sentences."
"Okay," I said. "Okay."
"Stick to lovemaking."
"Right," I said.
"Don't discuss ideas."
"Dad," I said, "kids today —"
"Not nice kids. Aren't you a nice kid?"
"Yeah, I'm a nice kid."
"And Eleanor, too?"
"Yeah, Eleanor, too."
"Then show some respect for her. Don't ask her opinions. I know it's you who starts it."
"Okay," I said.
"Okay?" he said. He mussed up my hair, gave me a poke in the ribs, and went down to breakfast.
By the time I got downstairs, he'd finished his eggs and was sipping coffee, holding hands with my mother.
I don't think they've exchanged an idea in years.
To tell you the truth, I can't imagine them exchanging ideas, ever, though I know they did. She has a collection of letters he wrote to her on every subject from Shakespeare to Bach, and he treasures this little essay she wrote for him when they were engaged, on her feelings about French drama.
All I've ever seen them do is hug and kiss. Maybe they wait until I'm asleep to get into their discussions. Who knows?
I walked to school with Edna O'Leary.
She's very beautiful. I'll say that for her. We put our arms around each other, held tight, and stopped to kiss along the way. But I'd never ask her opinion on any subject. She just doesn't appeal to me that way.
"I love your eyes, John," she said.
"I love your smile, Edna."
"Do you like this color on me?"
"I like you in blue better."
"Oh, John, that's interesting, because I like you in blue, too."
We chatted and kissed and laughed as we went up the winding walk to school.
In the schoolyard everyone was cuddled up except for some of the lovers, who were off walking in pairs, talking. I doubted that they were saying trivial things. Their fingers were pointing and their hands were moving, and they were frowning.
You can always tell the ones in love by their passionate gestures as they get into conversations.
I went into the Boys' room for a smoke.
That's right, I'm starting to smoke. That's the state of mind I'm in.
My father says I'm going through a typical teenage stage, but I don't think he understands how crazy it's making me. He says he went through the same thing, but I just can't picture that.
On the bathroom wall there were heads drawn with kids' initials inside.
There was the usual graffiti:
Josephine Merril is a brain. I'd like to know her opinions!
If you'd like some interesting conversation, try Loulou.
I smoked a cigarette and thought of Lauren Lake.
Who didn't think of Lauren? I made a bet with myself that there were half a dozen guys like me remembering Lauren's answer to Mr. Porter's question last week in Thoughts class.
A few more answers like that, and those parents who want Thoughts taken out of the school curriculum will have their way. Some kid will run home and tell the folks what goes on in Porter's room, and Thoughts will be replaced by another course in history, language, body maintenance, sex education, or some other boring subject that isn't supposed to be provocative.
"What are dreams?" Mr. Porter asked.
Naturally, Lauren's hand shot up first She can't help herself.
"Dreams can be waking thoughts or sleeping thoughts," she said. "I had a dream once, a waking one, about a world where you could say anything on your mind, but you had to be very careful about who you touched. You could ask anyone his opinion, but you couldn't just go up and kiss him."
Some of the kids got red-faced and sucked in their breaths. Even Porter said, "Now, take it easy, Lauren. Some of your classmates aren't as advanced as you are."
One kid yelled out, "If you had to be careful about touching, how would you reproduce in that world?"
"The same way we do in our world," Lauren said, "only lovemaking would be a special thing. It would be the intimate thing, and discussing ideas would be a natural thing."
"That's a good way to cheapen the exchange of ideas!" someone muttered.
Everyone was laughing and nudging the ones next to them, but my mind was spinning. I bet other kids were about to go out of their minds, too.
Mr. Porter ran back and kissed Lauren.
She couldn't seem to stop.
She said, "What's wrong with a free exchange of ideas?"
"Ideas are personal," someone said. "Bodies are all alike, but ideas, are individual and personal."
Mr. Porter held Lauren's hand. "Keep it to yourself, Lauren," he said. "Just keep it to yourself."
"In my opinion," Lauren began, but Mr. Porter had to get her under control, so he just pressed his mouth against hers until she was quiet.
"Don't tell everything you're thinking, darling," he warned her. "I know this is a class on thoughts, but we have to have some modesty."
Lauren just can't quit. She's a brain, and that mind of hers is going to wander all over the place. It just is. She's that kind of girl.
Sometimes I think I'm that kind of boy, and not the nice boy I claim to be. Do you know what I mean? I want to tell someone what I think about the books I read, not just recite the plots. And I want to ask someone what she thinks about World War II, not just go over its history. And I want to ...
Listen — the heck with it!
It's not what's up there that counts.
Love makes the world go round. Lovemaking is what's important — relaxing your body, letting your mind empty — just feeling without thinking — just giving in and letting go.
There'll be time enough to exchange ideas, make points — all of it. I'll meet the right girl someday and we'll have the rest of our lives to confide in each other.
"Class come to order!" Mr. Porter finally got Lauren quieted down. "Now, a dream is a succession of images or ideas present in the mind mainly during sleep. It is an involuntary vision ..."
On and on, while we all reached for each other's hands, gave each other kisses, and got back to normal.
I put that memory out of my poor messed-up mind, and put out my cigarette.
I was ready to face another day, and I told myself, Hey, you're going to be okay. Tonight, you'll get Dad's car, get a date with someone like Edna O'Leary, go off someplace and whisper loving things into her ear, and feel her soft long blond hair tickle your face, tell her you love her, tell her she's beautiful ...
I swung through the door of the Boys' room, and headed down the hall, whistling, walking fast.
Then I saw Lauren, headed right toward me.
She looked carefully at me, and I looked carefully at her.
She frowned a little. I frowned a lot.
I did everything to keep, from blurting out, "Lauren, what do you think about outer space travel?" ... "Lauren, what do you think of Kurt Vonnegut's writing?" ... "Lauren, do you think the old Beatles' music is profound or shallow?"
For a moment my mind went blank while we stood without smiling or touching.
Then she kissed my lips, and I slid my arm around her waist.
"Hi, John, dear!" She grinned.
"Hi, Lauren, sweetheart!" I grinned back.
I almost said, "Would you like to go out tonight?" But it isn't fair to ask a girl out when all you really want is one thing.
I held her very close to me and gently told her that her hair smelled like the sun, and her lips tasted as sweet as red summer apples. Yet all the while I was thinking, Oh, Lauren, we're making a mistake with China, in my opinion. ... Oh, Lauren, Lauren, from your point of view, how do things look in the Middle East?CHAPTER 2
THE SWEET PERFUME OF GOOD-BYE
Here nothing smells.
Almost nothing smells.
The roses are red beyond belief but give off no aroma. The lemons are as yellow as the sun, but there is no lemony fragrance, just a semblance of bitterness as you bite into one. The fresh-cut bright green grass where my lovers sit does not even smell, as it did summer mornings when I was on Earth and could smell it from my room while the boy cut our lawn.
I call them "my lovers" with a little smile. That is my sense of humor emerging (though I am thought to be a humorless young scientist). They do not make love to me, of course. They are mine only in the fact that I am studying them.
Here the only perfume is the sweet perfume of good-bye that comes on a person one hour before death. I cannot describe it accurately, even though I am a stickler for accuracy. Like our lilies? A little, but more rare and tantalizing, and people rush to be near whoever is dying, keeping a respectful distance (scores of them behind me as I write this), but still lingering nearby for a faint whiff.
Carlo, the boy, is dying. He has just begun to give off this haunting, beautiful scent. His girlfriend, Marny, is ecstatic as she breathes it in. They sit on the grass near me, having their last conversation.
I can hear them. It is love talk of the passionate variety.
The great advantage of being thought to be crazy is that I can sit near them and they ignore me. Let her be, they say. The poor thing, they say. We have so much and she has nothing but her mixed-up brain, they say.
It is important for you to know that there is no murder here, no suicide, no wars, no illness. The only way you can die is naturally, when your time comes, and no one knows when that will be.
Carlo is my age, seventeen.
I have a certain freak value here.
They ask me to be on late-night television talk shows of the kooky variety.
They pretend to treat me with respect, but no matter who the host is, there is always the slanted smile, the wink I am not supposed to see, the same questions.
"So what is Earth like?"
"Filled with the most magnificent fragrances!" I respond.
"Is everyone there an hour away from death then?" Ha! Ha! from the studio audience, but I persist. "No, listen! Our flowers smell. Our food smells. The very air smells. Not always good. We have bad smells too."
"So you spend all your time on Earth mesmerized by these odors, ah? How do you get anything done on Earth? How did your people ever build that fantastic spaceship you supposedly came here in, if you have all these odors to distract you?"
"We take our scents for granted, you see."
"Of course! Of course! And does your spaceship smell?"
The audience is bent double with laughter, and it is just as well in this phase of the interview, for I am not to disclose anything about the mission, not even in jest, not even here in this report.
I am to concentrate on Farfire.
That is what they call this place.
I was chosen because of my practical nature, my keen ability to be objective and unemotional. I am my father's daughter. Doctor Orr remarks on it often, telling me that I am rational and unstirrable beyond my years.
"Tell me, Caroline — is that your Earth name or your Farfire name — Caroline?"
"It is my Earth name. I am not from Farfire, so I have no Farfire name."
"Caroline's not too unlike a Farfire name, though, is it?"
"There is a lot of similarity between Earth and Farfire."
"Yes, well, tell me, Caroline, do you have death on Earth too?"
"Of course we have death."
"Of course you have death." His tone mocks me again. "Except when you Earth folks die, there is no odor." Big wink to the studio audience.
"Not a good one, no."
"What's a bad odor, pray tell?" and there is more laughter.
"I can't describe it. Burnt rubber. Dead flowers. Feces. Those are bad odors on Earth."
"Feces smell on Earth?"
"Yes, they do," and the audience is in convulsions again.
"Well, Earth must not be all that lovely. You must be glad to be on Farfire, hah?"
I was, in the beginning. I truly was. Anticipating it, before I left, with pleasure. Challenged when I arrived. All of it new. But I did not calculate this part of it, being taken for a laughable freak, the way on Earth we treat those who say they've seen flying saucers or been to Mars.
"You'll not be there long," Father reassured me. "The moment you hear three beeps in your earpiece, use your minimike to assure Doctor Orr you're going directly to the field where you were dropped. He'll get you home safely in about two years, just in time for your nineteenth birthday!" Father was excited. "There's no telling what you'll learn about your Farfire teenage counterparts!"
"But will I blend in?" I asked him. "Will they take me captive? Will I be in any danger?"
"They will treat you as interlopers have been treated from time immemorial."
"How is that?"
"They will find some way to trivialize you. They will not believe you. It's all to your advantage."
"Caroline, Marny and I saw you on television," Carlo calls over to me. If anything could ruffle me, it would be that exquisite fragrance, almost making me homesick, it's so voluptuous. "We want to ask you a question." His lopsided smile reminds me of the talk show hosts. "How," says Carlo, "do you know someone's dying on your Earth, if there is no perfume?"
I try to tell him, but his eyes glaze over as I start to describe traffic accidents, war, heart disease, all of it, and Marny giggles into her hands.
"How," Carlo interrupts me as though he is bored with my ranting and raving, "do you handle death then? Death sounds like something horrible."
"How," I come back with a testiness that surprises me, "do you handle the idea that in about forty-five minutes you won't ever be with Marny again?"
He laughs gaily. "We will have been together for as long as we were intended to be together. What more can anyone want?"
Marny asks, "On Earth, do people die at the same time?"
"No, but ..." I have no ready answer. "But we don't like death."
"What sense does that make?" Carlo says. "Everyone must die. It can't go on forever."
In a while they prepare for his funeral.
My! My! My! I smell good-bye!
I know you've got to go
So one last kiss
The scent is bliss!
Good-bye, the scents to die!
They all wear white and dance.
Marny can't stop smiling with joy.
There is nothing ever said about God here.
After the funeral I ask Marny if there is religion, God, what?
"All of that is after death," she says.
"But what exactly do you believe happens after death?"
"We don't know," she says, and her mouth tips in a grin. "I suppose on Earth you do?"
"We have certain beliefs," I say. "We have concepts. There is a concept of heaven, and a concept or hell. Now, heaven is ..." and even as I talk, Marny wanders off from me, yawning, calling over her shoulder that she'd really like to hear all about it ... some other time.
I have never been treated so rudely. That is the part that is so hard to bear: me, Caroline Aylesworth, winner of so many, many honors in science my bookshelves cannot hold all the gold statuettes, my walls with no room left for framed certificates. Not even listened to here on Farfire!
I cannot say that I am in any way disappointed when I hear the three beeps, even though this tiny taste of Farfire has provoked considerable curiosity in me ... and even though there is no way ever again to have that curiosity satisfied, for there is no returning here.
"Hello, Caroline!" I hear Doctor Orr's familiar voice. "Do you think you got a good sample?"
"Not a comprehensive one, by any means, but enough about Farfire to make a highly interesting report."
Excerpted from Edge by M. E. Kerr. Copyright © 2015 M. E. Kerr. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
M. E. Kerr was born Marijane Meaker in Auburn, New York. Her interest in writing began with her father, who loved to read, and her mother, who loved to tell stories of neighborhood gossip. Unable to find an agent to represent her work, Meaker became her own agent, and wrote articles and books under a series of pseudonyms: Vin Packer, Ann Aldrich, Laura Winston, M. E. Kerr, and Mary James. As M. E. Kerr, Meaker has produced over twenty novels for young adults and won multiple awards, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her lifetime contribution to young adult literature.
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