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by Bruce Brooks

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The deep bond between a boy and his grandfather may be the only thing that can save the old man's life when he suffers a heart attack. But first the boy must overcome his feelings of helplessness and guilt.

With the imaginative assistance of Dooley, the nephew of a local nurse who knows a mysterious ritual called soul switching, the narrator discovers, in a


The deep bond between a boy and his grandfather may be the only thing that can save the old man's life when he suffers a heart attack. But first the boy must overcome his feelings of helplessness and guilt.

With the imaginative assistance of Dooley, the nephew of a local nurse who knows a mysterious ritual called soul switching, the narrator discovers, in a reluctant flight to the farthest edges of faith, the miraculous and healing power of love.

In the best literary tradition of Truman Capote and Carson McCullers, award-winning novelist Bruce Brooks tells this spellbinding tale with a compassionate understanding of the capacity of children to transcend pain with amazing grace.

Author Biography: Bruce Brooks is a two-time Newbery Honor recipient, in 1985 for The Moves Make the Man, and in 1993 for What Hearts. He has won many other awards and honors, not least of which was being a spazzy assistant coach for his son's travel hockey team. He lives in Burtonsville, Maryland.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
A nine-year-old boy's love for his ailing grandfather convinces him that his friend Dooley knows how to cure the old man. Find an animal whom the old man resembles and just 'switch souls.' The ritual connected with the soul switching is believable but child-like. In a rare moment in children's books, Bruce Brooks has written that jewel of a story, laced with humor and compassion, that seems destined for classic status. Don't miss it. 1992 (orig.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-While his beloved grandfather hovers between life and death, a boy is comforted by a new friend who seems to save the man through a technique extracted from comic-book lore. Polished prose, with serious issues thoughtfully explored. (Sept., 1990)

Product Details

HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:
Age Range:
9 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I was sitting in the backyard, in the shade of the roses, but I heard them step onto the sidewalk way up the street. The sidewalk along my grandfather's street was a single, long slab of dimpled concrete. Sidewalks were a pretty new idea in this part of Richmond, and that is how they built them; when someone stepped on it at any point, the steps vibrated along the whole block with a kind of clack and boom. My grandfather said many times he was going to take a big chisel and a small sledge and cut through in five or six places, to kill the vibration and allow the sidewalk to shift when the ground froze, so the whole thing would not crack and crumble. But he did not do it, and now it was probably too late. During the night my grandfather had suffered a heart attack.

At least that is how my grandmother put it: "Poppa has suffered a heart attack." She was quite a proper person, but she had never said anything so book-proper before. I had the impression that there was nothing else you could do with a heart attack, verbally, but "suffer" it — you couldn't "undergo" it or "encounter" it or any of the other words adults use when they want to avoid saying something has power over you.

At ten, I had no idea exactly what a heart attack was. I had heard "attack" used in such a fashion only in regard to kinds of food-my mother often had a "pickle attack" — or baseball. People had all kinds of attacks during baseball games, as I well know. My grandfather and I spent five nights a week beside his radio on the screened porch, listening to games played all over the country by the Yankees, broadcast from faraway New York, wheremy grandfather had grown up, and picked up by a huge antenna he had erected. In these games a player sometimes had a "wildness attack" or an "error attack," causing my grandfather much concern.

I was trying to be concerned now in exactly the same way. I tried to fret and frown the way he did while waiting to see if a wild pitcher would get a strike over on a 2 — 1 count. From my grandmother's seriousness I gathered the situation demanded such tension. A heart attack was clearly more like an error attack — that is, mysterious and difficult to overcome — than a pickle attack, which could be solved by a trip to the store.

The feet coming down the street numbered four. My grandfather had taught me how to listen to the steps and count the feet. Two would belong to Lucy Pettibone, who was a kind of nurse. The remaining two would belong to her nephew, who was coming along to be a kind of playmate for me.

This morning my grandmother had told me she would be unable to do anything for me today, even to make my breakfast. I was on my own. This was okay with me. I made myself a breakfast of toast sprinkled with powdered hot chocolate, several spiced peaches in heavy syrup, and a slab of Gouda cheese. My grandfather always had a cheese with red wax around it somewhere in the house. He drove an ambulance in Belgium and Holland in World War 1, and developed a taste for such cheeses then. As a rule I found them too sharp, but I enjoyed chewing the wax he peeled from his slices. He allowed me to do this in spite of my grandmother's protests that red dye was poisonous (she once told me that if I ate the red crayon in my box of Crayolas, I would die). This morning, however, I ate the cheese and left the wax unchewed.

Later my grandmother came downstairs to tell me she had telephoned for Lucy Pettibone. Lucy was taking care of her nephew and could not leave him, so my grandmother had invited him along too. "It will be good for you to have someone to play with," she said. I thanked her, but I didn't mean it. I played just fine by myself. And I wanted to fret about my grandfather. When the Yankees were in trouble, a person didn't go play somewhere — he hung by the radio, leaning and tight. I couldn't hang by the bottom of the stairs, because my grandmother asked me to stay outside. But I could at least sit tensely in the shade of the roses.

My grandfather liked the roses better than anything but the Yankees and me. He had created three new kinds of rose, all by himself. When you do that, he said, you get to choose a name for the new kind. The one that was peachcolored with red splotches on it he named Arlena for my grandmother. The one that was white with dark red edges on the petals he named Phyllis for my mother — not for my father, who was his son, but for my mom. One that was small and yellow, the best rose I had ever seen, the only one that looked like you wouldn't break it if you breathed on it, he named Peanuts — for me. I was sitting beneath this bush now.

Presently Lucy came puffing around the side of the screened porch. She knew better than to go to the front door — not because my grandmother didn't allow black people to use the front door, but rather because nobody used it except strangers. Lucy was no stranger to anyone in this part of town. Up until a couple of years ago, she had cleaned nearly everyone's home once a week. Then, for a summer, she had stopped housecleaning and disappeared. When she showed up again in the fall, it was in a white dress and cap and shoes, without which she now never appeared in public. She had mysteriously become a nurse over the summer, completing studies begun long ago at the University of Virginia. The people in our neighborhood were getting old; they were not sickly, but certain failings had begun to show up. Before long, Lucy was working most of the houses pretty much the same way she had as a housemaid, except, I believe, for much higher wages.

Meet the Author

Bruce Brooks was born in Virginia and began writing fiction at age ten. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1972 and from the University Of Iowa Writer's Workshop in 1980. He has worked as a newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, newsletter editor, movie critic, teacher and lecturer.

Bruce Brooks has twice received the Newbery Honor, first in 1985 for Moves Make the Man, and again in 1992 for What Hearts. He is also the author of Everywhere, Midnight Hour Encores, Asylum for Nightface, Vanishing, and Throwing Smoke. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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