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A Finders-Keepers Place

A Finders-Keepers Place

3.0 2
by Ann Haywood Leal

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Esther Page has been trying to keep things together for as long as she can remember. Valley—that's her mama—has always gotten funny notions like gardening indoors or living as the Amish do, without any electricity. And Esther has always cleaned up after those notions and watched our for her little sister, Ruth.

But Valley's notions are getting


Esther Page has been trying to keep things together for as long as she can remember. Valley—that's her mama—has always gotten funny notions like gardening indoors or living as the Amish do, without any electricity. And Esther has always cleaned up after those notions and watched our for her little sister, Ruth.

But Valley's notions are getting wilder, and too many people are asking questions about what's going on at home. It seems to Esther that the only person who can help is Ezekiel—the father she can barely remember.

Ezekiel was a preacher, that much is certain, so Esther takes Ruth on a search through all the churches in town. Somebody, somewhere, must know about Ezekiel . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As she did in Also Known as Harper, Leal plumbs the dynamics of an economically stressed family pushed to the edge in her sophomore novel, set in the 1970s. Forced into maturity and responsibility beyond their years, 11-year-old Esther Page and her younger sister, Ruth, are barely holding their lives together. Their unpredictable and moody mother, Valley, sleeps for days at a time and then gets "notions"--spurts of irrational behavior (most recently, she decided that they should live simply, like the Amish, and began throwing out their possessions). Sometimes Valley works as a temp, but she neglects the children, and the family lives in poverty. Esther and Ruth spend their time Dumpster-diving for food and clothing, and attending services at various churches, hoping to find their father, Ezekiel, a preacher who left seven years earlier. When Esther receives a note of concern from her teacher, she works harder than ever to keep their lives a secret. Leal excels in pithy characterization, mainly through spot-on dialogue, yielding sympathetic characters, a gripping plot, and no shortage of heartbreaking moments. Ages 9–12. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“Mature beyond her years, able to make the best of a bad situation and blessed with impressive survivor skills, Esther proves an admirable heroine in this poignant story.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Leal excels in pithy characterization, mainly through spot-on dialogue, yielding sympathetic characters, a gripping plot, and no shortage of heartbreaking moments.” —Publishers Weekly

“The author of Also Known as Harper (2009), Leal creates strong, individual characters and a convincing narrative of a family in disarray.” —Booklist

Children's Literature - Dawna Lisa Buchanan
This distressing story is beautifully composed, but it is unclear to this reviewer which audience would find it appealing. Esther takes good care of her younger sister, Ruth. Their mother, Valley, suffers from manic depression, but has not been taking her medication. The girls endure a staggering amount of abuse and neglect. Valley leaves Ruth in a grocery store overnight, and has, in the past, broken her arm and banged her head on a coffee table. She leaves the girls at a flea market one night. The girls find food and clothes in dumpsters. Valley starts "decorating" the house by banging down the walls, and makes the girls help her. She goes off and part of the ceiling falls in on Ruth. Throughout the story, Esther seeks her father, Ezekiel, who never married their mother and left the family seven years prior in 1966. She knows he is a preacher, and believes that by attending all the churches in the area, she will find him. Two of the most likeable characters in the story are Ford, a young automotive mechanic who allows the girls to play in the parts yard, and Gull, a pragmatic and persistent girl who fancies herself a detective. In the end, Ford is revealed as the girls' half-brother, and Ezekiel, long dead, is buried in the local cemetery. Valley starts to mend because Esther watches her take her medicine every morning, and the story concludes with the girls conducting a private memorial service. The hope seems to lie in their positive relationship with their newly discovered brother, Ford. While many children do, in fact, live in similar conditions, and this is a portrait of a brave, resilient girl, this story does not help young readers feel better or offer much hope. Reviewer: Dawna Lisa Buchanan
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—In a small town in the 1970s, 11-year-old Esther Page feels the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her mother, Valley, is neglectful and abusive to her and her eight-year-old sister, Ruth, because of untreated manic depression. When Esther wakes up to see Ruth's empty bed, she knows she must find her. With Valley passed out, Esther finds a clue in the pink puddles of ice cream in the kitchen from groceries never put away and realizes that her mother must have left her sister at the grocery store. She finds Ruth curled up on a shelf, head resting on a package of toilet paper. The girls scramble through a Dumpster for food, forage in a Goodwill bin for school clothes, and do their best to avoid their mother when she is "out of sorts." Desperate for help, they search the churches in town for Ezekiel, their preacher father, who left when they were little. Where he is becomes clear as the plot, with its adept foreshadowing, unfolds. Readers may feel anger and frustration because of the lack of adult intervention as well as at the absence of closure at the end of an emotional and well-developed buildup to an all-too-common social situation.—D. Maria LaRocco, Cuyahoga Public Library, Strongsville, OH
Kirkus Reviews
As her single mother's mental state degenerates, a resilient little girl desperately tries to hold life together. Since her father vanished seven years ago in 1966, 11-year-old Esther has watched over her younger sister Ruth and pretended all's normal in their chaotic home. Frequently "out of sorts" and "off-kilter," their mother Valley angers "real fast, without much warning," forgets to take her pills, vanishes for days, manically redecorates and accidentally leaves Ruth overnight in a store. In her "finders-keepers" world, the resourceful Esther makes a game of scrounging food and clothing from Dumpsters, convinced all will stabilize if she can just find her father. Esther's matter-of-fact, grown-up voice chronicles her attempts to keep life going, fool nosey outsiders and protect her pathetic mother, but it's obvious the walls are literally crumbling around her and she's only a kid herself. Mature beyond her years, able to make the best of a bad situation and blessed with impressive survivor skills, Esther proves an admirable heroine in this poignant story.(Historical fiction. 9-12)

Product Details

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
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Read an Excerpt

A Finders-Keepers Place

By Ann Haywood Leal

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2010 Ann Haywood Leal
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-6201-8


I knew Ruth was gone the second I woke up. When I looked across the room, I could see her bed was just as I'd made it for her yesterday. The way she liked it, with the pink ruffle peeking out from under her polka-dotted quilt and the yellow happy-face pillow leaning up against the headboard.

"Ruth?" I pulled on the knob of our closet door, and the accordion folds caught on something. I reached around the door and felt for a foot or a hand, but all I got was the lid of my Mouse Trap game and my fifth-grade spelling book.

The hallway outside our room seemed too quiet, and it was almost as if I could hear the house breathing. "Ruth?" I opened the linen closet and yanked out the stacks of towels and washcloths. I stood on my tiptoes and felt along the top shelves.

"Where did you get to?" I got a prickly feeling on the backs of my arms, like when I'd fallen behind my class at the field trip to the soda factory.

The living room at the end of the hallway was exactly the way I'd left it when I'd gone to bed. I kicked aside the pile of zigzag gum-wrapper chains I'd been working on and jumped up on the couch to look out the front window. The shovel was still there, next to the hole in a bare patch of grass.

My mouth got dry when I pictured Ruth falling into that hole. For a quick second I saw her with a hurt leg, unable to climb out. But my brain made me remember. That hole was barely deep enough for a chipmunk to fall in.

I knew there was only one place left to look, and I'd really hoped to find her before it came to that. The bottoms of my bare feet were sweaty when I opened the door of Valley's room.

I stood in the doorway. "Valley?" I asked her quietly.

"Valley?" I said it a little louder and hugged myself. No one ever woke up Valley without plenty good reason. "Valley? It's me, Esther."

I went another step closer and took a good look around, in case Ruth had wandered from our room in the middle of the night to sleep on Valley's floor. Ruth's body had grown only about half an inch to every two of mine, all her life, and it was easy to miss that tiny thing wedged in somewhere.

There was no sign of her, and I knew I had no other choice. I stepped right up close, so my knees were bumping against the side of the bed.

"Mama?" I put my face next to hers, so she could've smelled what I'd had for supper last night if she'd wanted to.

"Valley? You awake?"

I stepped back. She looked dead, but I knew she was heavily into one of her long sleeps. The kind she has when she takes the round yellow pills from the top shelf in the bathroom. When her mind won't slow down, but her body needs to rest.

I thought about tossing some water on her, but she'd be mad as a hornet. So I knelt down and got up close to her again. "I know Ruth was with you last night. I saw her leave in the truck with you." I got so close, she could probably feel the shapes of my words on her cheek. "Please, Valley? I need you to retrace your steps."

But I knew it was useless. When her breath caught short in the back of her throat like that, she wouldn't be up and around for another three or four hours.

My stomach felt both empty and queasy-full at the same time. I couldn't even think where Ruth might have gone. I tried to push aside the picture of her eight-and-a-half-year-old self out all night.

Valley's face was scrunched up and tight around her mouth, the way it got if the anger hadn't quite made its way out of her. When she got really charged up, that fire in her hung around for a while, even in her sleep. I took a giant step backward, out of reach of her balled-up fist, and I knew where Ruth had to be. It was where we always went to wait it out when Valley got her temper on.

I made my way to the coat closet next to the front door, my heart slowing down a bit, because I knew how I'd find her. She'd be all curled up like a cat, bundled in the ratty yellow blanket that Ford had washed out for her from the finders-keepers place.

I felt for the back wall of the closet and pushed Valley's coat sleeve out of the way. The cigarette smell hung on to the material and made my heart pick up again, as if Valley was lighting one up next to me.

"Ruth?" I knocked on the square door and put my finger through the ring, pulling it toward me.

The crawl space was dark, but if I was on the inside, it felt cozy and safe, all backed in there next to Ruth.

I grabbed the flashlight we kept in the corner and flipped on the switch. That's when my heart cranked up to full speed. No Ruth. Not even a shred from her blanket.

I thought about Valley's tight face and I knew I had to find Ruth fast.

I slammed the square door in place and thought about getting my friend Ford to help. But I didn't want to waste any more time.

As I stepped into the kitchen, I slid in a thick puddle. The sticky pinkness smelled familiar, and that was when I saw all the bags. Five grocery sacks sat in the middle of the table, pink liquid oozing out of the corners and making long, thick trails down the cabinets and onto the floor.

I looked into each bag, and they were all the same. Every one of them was filled to the top with half-gallon cartons of strawberry ice cream. Valley's favorite. But it didn't look as if she'd taken even one bite. The bags sat on the table, and Valley had gone to bed without giving them, or anyone else, a second thought.

I wiped a smear of ice cream from the side of my hand onto one of the bags, and I saw the receipt sticking to the side of one of the cartons. I peeled it away and held it up.

Mark and Pack. Valley had been to the Mark and Pack!

I tiptoed through the sticky mess and pushed my feet into Valley's green step-in slippers, and I was out the door.

The high handlebars of my bike leaned up against the wooden diamond pattern between the front windows of our house. I swung one leg over the silver banana seat and pushed off down the driveway. I could feel my heart beating as I squeezed my handlebars with my thumbs. We both knew better than to go anywhere with Valley when her anger was rising up.

The ice cream dried on my feet, making the fur from the slippers wrap around my ankles like bandages.

Only a few cars were in the Mark and Pack parking lot, so I pedaled right along the middle of the painted-on lines and tossed my bike down next to the front door. My feet stuck to the rubber mat as the automatic door swung open.

I wanted to run in shouting out her name, but I made myself stand real still and listen. All I heard was "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." It was the floaty music without words that follows you around in stores. That music was teasing me today, because it was helping to hide Ruth. I didn't hear any crying, but I hoped she was there somewhere. She had to be.

I crisscrossed up and down the aisles and was thinking about how I could get myself into the back room when I caught sight of something down low and to the right.

It was the blue Keds that gave her away. Only one person I knew put Dole banana stickers on the hole they'd worn over their big toe. My head had a fizzy feeling to it when I let out a whole chestful of air. I hadn't even realized I was holding my breath.

She was curled up on the bottom shelf of the toilet-paper aisle, her head resting on a four-pack. And I was willing to bet that no one at the M and P had even noticed her.

She was partly asleep, but one eye was trying to flip open.

Even though it was cold inside the store, sweat trickled down the middle of my back. My whole body relaxed onto the floor in front of the shelf. I couldn't believe I'd actually found her.

"Esther?" She looked as if she was having trouble getting her mouth around my name.

I put my hand out for her, but she scooted herself back an inch or so on the shelf.

I cleared off some four-packs and wedged myself in next to her. "Hey, Ruth."


"I got left." Her voice was hoarse and small.

"Valley get out of sorts?" I put my hand next to hers, but I didn't touch it. Ruth hated to be touched when she was upset.

She shrugged. "I think she might have been out of sorts when we were coming here in the truck. She was using her halfway words. The ones where she starts up with a few sounds and doesn't finish them."

"You even see her leave the store?" I asked.

She shook her head. "I was reading the Archie comic books, and I looked out and the truck was gone." Her voice was slow and careful, as if she was thinking Valley might be able to hear her.

"Valley Page can be like that," I said. "Quick and stealthy, like a spy. There one second and gone the next."

She nodded and moved a little closer to me.

I brought my feet up in front of me and peeled some green fur away from my heel. I wanted to hug her tight, I was so glad to see her.

"Hold out your arms." I pushed her sleeves up past her elbows so I could see the place where Valley usually left her angry squeeze marks.

Ruth shook my hands off. "The truck got the bruises. I stayed by the door." She screwed her eyes shut tight, as if she was back in the truck. "She kept banging on the dashboard with her coffee mug." She drew short lines in the air with her pointer finger. "It left little dents."

"Why'd you go with her, Ruth?" I picked at the plastic wrapping on a toilet- paper package. "You know better than to get in the truck with her when she's got her temper on."

She shrugged. "You saw her. She wasn't mad when we got in the truck." She narrowed her eyes at me with the blaming look she gets. "You were on your way out, collecting."

I swallowed hard and thought about how Valley's anger tended to grow real fast, without much warning of any kind.

Ruth leaned back on her elbows, the corners of her mouth quivering up in a tiny smile. "We were going to have a party." She closed her eyes as if she was picturing the spread in front of her. "We were getting strawberry ice cream. Everything was going to be pink. Valley was going to make a big strawberry- pink mountain." Her eyes snapped open, and she sat up. "She's not home decorating, is she?"

I shook my head. "She's in bed."

Ruth blinked hard, as if she was trying to push Valley's pink party to the back of her mind.

"Want a hot dog?" She held out a cocktail wiener. "They had free samples." I could see a pile of toothpicks on top of a small stack of comic books beside her.

"No thanks," I said. "You have it. My stomach's not settled down just yet." I thought about Valley, all tucked into her bed like she was, and I got mad and nervous at the same time. "Let's get going."

She slid forward and stood up, staring down at the floor. "What you got Valley's house shoes on for?"

I curled my sticky toes inside the green fur. "It was the first thing I saw." If my feet hadn't been so coated with strawberry stickiness, those slippers would have been real comfortable. My Keds hardly fit anymore. Seemed like ever since I'd turned eleven, my feet had been growing like crazy.

I picked up my bike outside the store and held the high handlebars steady. "Come on." I pointed to the dip in the middle. "I'll ride you."

Ruth's narrow body fit perfectly in that spot. I felt her slowly relax and lean her head back against me as I pedaled across the parking lot and out onto the road.

"Graveyard!" Ruth let go for a quick second to point at the tiny cemetery to the side of the road, and I heard her take in a noisy gulp of air and hold it.

It was kind of tricky to hold my breath and push hard on my bike pedals at the same time, but I made myself do it.

Ruth let out a stream of air as we passed the last fence post. "Did you feel anything?" She gave a little shiver. "You were kind of late sucking in your breath."

"I'm fine." Grandma Page told me and Ruth a while back that if you didn't hold your breath as you went past a cemetery, a spirit would come out and vacuum-hose your air right out of you. "I wish Grandma never told us about it to begin with. This town is so old, it has a cemetery about every block."

Ruth shook her head. "She was just looking out for us." She lowered her voice so it was low and raspy, exactly like Grandma's, and made sharp jabs in the air with her pointer finger. "'How'd you think I ended up in this filthy, broken-down nursing home? Hmmm, girls?'" Ruth paused and gave a quick hacking Grandma cough. "'Partly because your mother doesn't give a lick about me, but mostly because I let my breath out too fast going past Saint Margaret's cemetery.'"

Ruth could imitate voices so they sounded almost exactly as if the real person was talking.

"Get a good grip on the handlebars." I pressed my arms in. "I'm going up the curb."

She bounced a bit, but Ruth had good balance. Good enough so she could turn and poke me in the stomach with the sharp part of her elbow. "There she is."

"Valley?" I swerved on the sidewalk and almost dumped her to the ground. But then I saw it was Mrs. Selma Korth, giving off that sad puppy look she always had. Only she never gave off the sad as if she was sorry for herself. She was pointing that sad right at me and Ruth.

"Hold on again." I nudged Ruth's back with my forehead. "I'm switching over to the other side of the street." I had to turn my head to the side a bit. Ruth's hair always got a smell to it when she hadn't had a bath in a while.

"There's no sidewalk." The nervous edge was creeping back into Ruth's voice.

I reminded myself to be patient. "It's easier to dodge a car than it is to dodge Mrs. Korth."

Valley had gotten in Selma Korth's line of fire a couple of months ago when Valley forgot to change out of her nightgown before she went for a walk to the five-and-dime. Next thing we knew, Mrs. Korth was at our back door with a hamburger casserole, trying to get inside and have a chat with Valley.

I steered the bike close to the curb and pushed harder on the pedals. "If you ask me, Mrs. Korth is just jealous. She probably doesn't even own a nightgown like Valley's."

Ruth didn't say anything. She was most likely still stewing about being left.

"And even if she had one, it'd never look like it does on Valley. All cotton- candy pink and flowy." I tried to imagine how Valley must have looked to Mrs. Korth as she walked down the sidewalk in her shiny white high heels, the shimmery pink fabric of her nightgown streaming behind her. "Valley said Selma Korth was strictly a high-necked-flannel person."

I'd had to do some quick thinking with Mrs. Korth at my door. "Valley was just in a hurry to get Ruth her medicine," I'd told her. "Ruth has a fever of 103." I'd made Ruth get on the couch with the afghan pulled up past her chin. "Valley couldn't waste her time changing clothes with Ruth as sick as she was," I'd said.

I could still see Mrs. Korth craning her skinny ostrich neck around the door, trying to get a better look at Ruth on the couch.

I slowed down as I turned onto our block. It was hard to keep an eye on the ground when I was riding Ruth on my handlebars. This was supposed to be a finders-keepers day for me. I'd seen something on the trip over. I was so worried about getting to Ruth, my brain might have been making me see things, but when I pedaled Ruth past the Langs' yard, I knew I'd been right. The blue sparkled up at me from the ground, begging me to go back and pick it up.

I steered into our driveway next door and tilted my bike so Ruth could slide off. "Go on inside and get in a quick nap. You couldn't have had much of a night's sleep on the toilet-paper shelf." I wished I could take that last part back as soon as I said it. Ruth didn't need any reminders about being left.

She made her way into the house without looking back at me. Ruth had always been one to hold a grudge. It had gotten handed down to her from the Page part of the family. And it didn't usually make much sense who she picked to fire her angry looks at. It was hardly ever the person who had made her mad to begin with.

I set my bike down on the grass and walked back next door — along the curb, so I wouldn't miss anything. When I spotted the glass, I could see it was already in medium-sized pieces, which would be perfect for my garden. I scooped it all up in the palm of my hand and ran my little finger carefully over the edges. They were so smooth, I would've believed it was sea glass, if there had been any water nearby to speak of.

I went to the far corner of my front yard and pressed down a fresh patch of dirt with the pads of my fingers. Then I poked the pieces of glass into the dirt, one by one, making a design that went up and over like the tip of a wave. I stood back to look at all of it, and I could see it was just right. When the light caught the cobalt-blue glass, it bounced off the windy trail of gold beer-bottle caps I'd found a couple of days ago. Too bad Valley wasn't a drinker, because if I had just seven or eight more, I could arrange the bottle caps in a swirled border.

I turned and headed toward the house. I still needed to mop up Valley's sticky puddles before she woke up. I wanted to put the house back to normal, because when Valley Page walked out of her room, things could go about a dozen different directions.


Excerpted from A Finders-Keepers Place by Ann Haywood Leal. Copyright © 2010 Ann Haywood Leal. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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

Ann Haywood Leal is an elementary school teacher and the author of Also Known As Harper. She has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and enjoys spending time with her husband, Andy, and daughters, Jessica and Holly. She lives and writes in Waterford, Connecticut.

Ann Haywood Leal is an elementary school teacher and the author of Also Known As Harper and A Finders-Keepers Place. She has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and enjoys spending time with her husband, Andy, and daughters, Jessica and Holly. She lives and writes in Waterford, Connecticut.

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Finders-Keepers Place 2.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an absoloutly amazing book... all hould read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is touching and a great conversation opener even if it does drag on a little bit
Anonymous More than 1 year ago