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Life Is Funny

Life Is Funny

4.2 24
by E. R. Frank

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A moving novel about a diverse group of teenagers in a Brooklyn neighborhood.

Eric is fiercely protective of his little brother, Mickey. The world sees only his fierceness. China and Ebony, watching outside the day care near McDonald's, see him as "mad scary." Later, a teacher sees that Eric is an artist worth her attention. He is one of eleven characters —


A moving novel about a diverse group of teenagers in a Brooklyn neighborhood.

Eric is fiercely protective of his little brother, Mickey. The world sees only his fierceness. China and Ebony, watching outside the day care near McDonald's, see him as "mad scary." Later, a teacher sees that Eric is an artist worth her attention. He is one of eleven characters — black, white, Pakistani, Puerto Rican — whose story over seven years in Brooklyn is worth anyone's attention. Rarely does such power and tenderness illuminate a book and the true worlds of its kids. Most attend the same school; their live take different trajectories yet intertwine, overlap, cast light upon the others. Grace and Sam are lucky enough to be beautiful. Sonia struggles to live the life of a good Muslim girl in a foreign America. Monique and Molly are sisters who each feel saved by the other. Keisha says, "Before Gingerbread first talked to me, I'd a long time forgotten about laughing, but the second after he said his own name right out loud, I remembered again. When we first started, I asked why he laughed so much, and he said, like it ought to be plain as day, Because life is funny, and maybe that's when I for real started to fall in love." Frozen from laughter and from tears, Linnette warns to Eric when she hears him being told: "Your mother's fighting a war out there. That war got her so young she's been fighting since before you were a thought." for his mother wants nothing to do with Eric. Her enemy is the crack addiction, something Gingerbread was born with and yet can still say, and mean, "If you have a good anybody to help you through, you can do anything." This book brims with "good anybodys."

Author Biography: E.R. Frank is a pseudonym for a writer and clinical social worker who was raised in Virginia and now lives in Brooklyn, NY. Life is Funny is a first novel.

Editorial Reviews

Atlanta Journal Constitution
There's not one false moment in this outstanding first novel.... brutally honest characters along with strong writing and street-smart storytelling triumph over all.
San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle
Franks' stories have... emotional power. This is in part due to Franks' uncanny gift for voice—each of her 11 storytellers sounds authentically, memorably different—but also to the psychological complexity of her characters and her insights into their minds and hearts.
After you get to know these characters, you won't want to quit reading!
Publishers Weekly
"Eleven kids with distinct voices and individual struggles narrate this impressive debut novel, yet each of the interlocking stories springs to life with tender details," said PW in a starred review. Ages 14-up. (Apr.) n Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Eleven kids with distinct voices and individual struggles narrate Frank's impressive debut novel, yet each of the interlocking stories springs to life with tender details. The book follows a loosely connected group of Brooklyn students over a seven-year period. The author initially introduces a few characters in a kind of pastiche, then renders them in fuller portraits, such as Keisha, who reveals that her brother is "touching me on my privacy every night" and, in a chapter four years later, experiences a healthy relationship with a peer. Other characters deal with physically abusive or absent parents, an unwanted pregnancy or a friend's suicide, but as the title indicates, each tale is tempered by humor. Readers will empathize with their struggles, but more than that, they will be inspired by the strength of their spirits and their willingness to love. Eric, another character introduced in a kind of broad brushstroke at the beginning, metamorphoses in one of the novel's most memorable stories. His mother is a drug addict, and he becomes the caretaker for his little brother, Mickey ("He tell all the little bugs he see at school he don't need no daddy 'cause he gots me," says Eric). The brothers reappear in the last chapter, narrated by their new foster-sister, Linnette, who calls Eric a "hatchet murder face," intimidated by his bottled-up anger. When he literally reaches out to her at the end, she delicately describes her reaction as "my voice high and melting, my insides all unfrozen." The language is gritty, and some of the story lines will be intense for young readers, but this is ultimately an uplifting book about resilience, loyalty and courage. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
To quote KLIATT's March 2000 review of the hardcover edition: Eleven teenagers who attend a high school in Brooklyn, NY each relate the story of their sometimes-intertwined lives over a period of seven years. They are of different races and backgrounds, often with little in common except that their tales feel grittily, piercingly real, told in voices so authentic that one would think Frank, a Brooklyn clinical social worker, had a tape recorder running. There is Sonia, an obedient Pakistani girl, who blames herself when a friend commits suicide; Drew, whose wealthy, white upper-middle-class background doesn't protect him from the pain and rage he feels when his father beats his mother... Gingerbread, who finds true love (and sex) despite his funny looks and ADD; Ebony, who cuts herself to help forget other kinds of pain; and more. There are parents and teachers who are kind and understanding, and those who are abusive in all kinds of ways. Life is tough for most of these kids, but as Gingerbread happily notes, "Life is funny," and there is love and beauty and hope here, too. The dialogue is always believable, and often raw, and Frank succeeds in creating distinct voices for each narrator. With its slang, profanity, and explicit talk about sex, this may shock some and make others nod in recognition; it feels real, in a way that few YA novels do, in its depiction of the lives of inner-city teenagers, as they joke, flirt, smoke weed, lash out at the world, and do their best to get by. The importance of family comes through clearly, for good or for bad, and the support that people can provide for each other is a theme, too. An arresting, accomplished first novel. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptionalbook, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Penguin, Puffin, 264p.,
— Paula Rohrlick
Once in awhile, a book puts you smack inside the lives of people you might otherwise never meet. It jolts you, shakes you up, and moves you. Life is Funny does all that. Most of it takes place in Brooklyn, New York, in tough, drug- and crime-ridden neighborhoods where dire poverty breeds ills of many sorts. But don't worry, it doesn't preach at you the way guilt-inducing sociological tracts thinly disguised as fiction do. This is a gripping novel, fully realized. You won't want to put it down. And when you're done, if you're like me, you read it again right away. Life is Funny breaks new ground, and breaks some rules: for instance, the one that cautions authors of "YA" (young adult) novels to stick to a single central character lest young readers get confused. With astonishing assurance, E.R. Frank (a first-time novelist!) presents eleven young people, each one in depth, convincingly, and not just at one age, but over seven years, allowing us to witness how they grow and change. She lets us overhear them think, recounting what they do and feel. She has a perfect ear for the brash and knowing sound of kids in the city right now. Who are these kids? There's China and Ebony, best friends with each other. China's lucky; her life is good. She has two parents who care about her. Ebony, though, "chomps her nails and spits the bits out in a pile," waiting for her absent dad to call her long-distance and make promises he'll break. These girls are African-American (and I hope that E.R. Frank's informed, empathic portrayal will cast doubt on the dictum that authors had better stay within, and only write about, their own ethnicity). China and Ebony are also best friends with a white girl,Grace. Grace is blessed with model-like looks and cursed with a drunken bigot of a mother, creating crises in the three girls' closeness. There's scary Eric, who "keeps his face shut tight," and fights but cares for his little brother because their mom, "real skinny and way ashen," is on drugs and has discarded them. There's Sonia, a bright gifted student, torn between wanting to achieve and wanting to conform to her Pakistani family's crippling views about how properly subservient girls should act. There's Keisha. She, too, has a "streeting, doping" mom. She also has a caring aunt who takes her in but can't protect her from her brother "touching (her) privates every night." There's Drew; he's rich and his dad drives a Jag but regularly beats Drew's mom, and she puts up with it. There's Sam, another lucky one, good looking, smart, and he and his dad get along great. There are the sisters, Monique and Molly, a study in contrasting ways to handle having a crazy mother: Monique gets pregnant at 16, comes close to giving up on any kind of future, while Molly, energetic, brainy, works her way through N.Y.U. Finally, there is the boy I hope I will remember always, and each time with a rush of joy. Here he is, introducing himself: "I got a round head, and round eyes, and a round nose and little bitty ears, and sunset skin, and they call me Gingerbread because that's what I look like: a gingerbread cookie man, and I don't care. I got hyper blood and bad concentration and I got to take my riddle-in (ritalin) every day, but I don't care. I got a crackhead mother somewhere on this earth, or maybe dead, but I don't care because I got my real mama and my real daddy since my little gingerbread face came into this place. My mama is white and my daddy is black, and fools try to make shit out of that, and I don't care." Gingerbread is luckiest of them all: He got adopted by these two "real" parents. But also, he's got something in him that makes him thankful to "the Lord, Jesus, God, Allah, Buddha, Whoever, for making it (life's pleasures) feel so good." This wonderful novel brings all its characters alive, and tells their often terrible truths without flinching, yet does not plunge them, or us readers, into hopelessness. And it keeps faith with its title (a quote from Gingerbread) by showing many instances where life is funny, in the sense of making us laugh, but also in Gingerbread's broad sense of "funny," which includes just holding hands and touching, discovering you love somebody, letting that person love you back, and other miracles like that. 2000, DK Ink, $17.95 Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Doris Orgel — The Five Owls, May/June 2000 (Vol. 14 No. 5)
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
The lives of eleven teens from New York City are intertwined in this real life look into a multicultural and many-layered reading experience. The author accurately depicts their lives in the powerful voices of today's teen. Readers meet Grace and Sam, the beautiful couple for whom everything seems to go right; Sonia, the Muslim teen, who struggles daily to be true to her religion in a world where almost nothing seems to be valued except money and beauty; Ebony who is mentally tortured by not having a father in her life (she learns to torture herself to bear the pain she feels), and Monique who is pregnant by an abusive past lover and longs for a perfect father for her unborn child. Their voices are real and compelling and the reader will be drawn into their lives which while tough today are full of hope and promise. Recommended for young adult readers, this novel would be a great book for a classroom teacher looking to stretch their students thinking. It would be useful as a springboard for group discussion or as the basis for a Reader's Theatre presentation. 2000, Dorling Kindersley Publishing Inc., Ages 12 up, $17.95. Reviewer: Sue Reichard—Children's Literature
This debut novel is a sliceoflife peek at a handful of innercity students as they enter and eventually move beyond a Brooklyn high school. Six years pass as the stories of the characters and their various family problems play themselves out. Each chapter is named after a character and invites the reader to share the fears that these young people face as they are forced to make adult decisions about drug abuse, selfmutilation, alcoholism, family violence, incest, racism, and mental problems. Their lives intersect during this period in interesting ways as they cope surprisingly well with the harsh hand life has dealt them. The book suggests that peer pressure and blossoming sexual desires are the primary motivations in the teens' lives. There are frank discussions and depictions of experimentation with drugs and sexual exploration. The recurring theme, however, is positive. More than one character observes, "Life is funny," as they ponder changing relationships and look forward to the future. Readers might be turned off by the giddy "valley speak" of the initial characters but will be intrigued by how they mature in later chapters. The focus of the novel shifts from one group of kids to another. The blacks, Hispanics, and parents all are given authentic dialogueue and honest portrayals. This book belongs in the hands of mature readers who enjoy realistic stories and like to share the emotional highs and lows of the characters within. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, DK Ink, Ages 16 to 18, 263p, $17.95. Reviewer: Kevin Beach
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Eleven solo voices blend to create a choral piece of writing that sings of coming-of-age in a multiracial Brooklyn community. Spanning seven years, the lives of China, Keisha, Sonia, Drew, Grace, Monique, Eric, Molly, Gingerbread, Ebony, and Linnette intersect, overlap, and intertwine as each one struggles to find meaning in the world around them. Each chapter is a slice of one teen's life, resonating with pain and joy. Daily confrontations with racism and drugs are compounded by family dysfunction. Collectively, the young people cope with home lives damaged by parental alcoholism, crack addiction, molestation, abandonment, violence, divorce, and death. As their voices blend, the narrators form a frighteningly realistic view of growing up in America. Hopeful and fresh, they reach out to one another and into themselves to find the strength to overcome what life has dealt them. The characters are skillfully and compassionately wrought, though some of the situations that bring them together are contrived, and the ending defies closure. Yet, when the final page is turned, these robust voices are not silenced. They are angry, sorrowful, confused, and contemplative, and their language is rough and raw. They are boisterous and full of laughter, because after all is said and done, life is funny, isn't it?-Alice Casey Smith, Sayreville Public Schools, Parlin, NJ Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
This raw portrayal of 11 New York City high school students of various ages and races quickly belies its ironic title. Frank's first novel convincingly portrays seven years in the lives of these kids as they fight, mature, and cope with alcoholic, abusive, even insane parents. Each character's story eventually intertwines with those of other characters as they all escape their emotional prisons. Eric, a hostile special ed. student whose mother is a hopeless drug addict, frames the narrative. He finds salvation in his love for his little brother Mickey and in a teacher who helps reunite the two into a caring foster home after child-protection authorities separate them. Then there's Drew, who seems to have everything, but whose wealthy father beats his wife. Or Monique, whose life turns around when Hector comes into it. Divided into years, seven in all, each section is then divided again into narratives by two of the protagonists. Each voice is distinct, but the underlying message is one and the same: underneath the street smarts and the rough talk are real kids, with much more to them than can be seen on the surface. Realistic language, rough and profane, fierce situations that are nearly too much to bear, and a savagely honest portrayal of the nature of the interconnectedness of life make this not a novel for the faint of heart or timid reader. But those who embark upon this intriguing mosaic will come away rewarded and inspired by the strength and fortitude of its characters. An astounding first effort. (Fiction. YA)

VOYA, October 2016 (Vol. 39, No. 4) - Kevin Beach
Frank’s debut novel weaves together the stories of eleven teenagers in New York City over seven years in this well-written and impressive debut. Inner-city kids, each with their own chapter, are featured independently as the reader learns about their aspirations, family problems, and daily life. Some are more successful than others. Grace, for example, is an aspiring model, but her alcoholic, racist mother might throw a wrench in her plans. Keisha has been abused all of her life, so when Gingerbread, who has become a success, shows interest in her, she confusedly throws a tantrum. Why does China cut herself? Is Ebony’s pregnancy going to make her life better or worse? Can Sonia reconcile her new American life with her strict Muslim upbringing? Can Eric, a foster kid who has given up on life, make sure his kid brother has a chance? Will Drew fit in as a rich kid in a very poor school? All these issues and more are expertly interwoven in a realistic snapshot of schoolmates living on the fringes of a dangerous world. Some will overcome their adversity, while others will succumb to family or peer pressure. Readers curious about inner-city culture and challenges will enjoy the triumphs and be empathetic to the tragedies. The novel contains some rough language, but it is a necessary part of the characters’ lives and contributes to this very effective and realistic slice of life. Reviewer: Kevin Beach; Ages 12 to 18.

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


At first Ebony and I don't want to, but then her mom, Ms. Giles, says she'll pay us, and we say okay because Ebony's twin sisters' day care isn't that far, plus it's across the street from McDonald's.

    We wait in the playground tire swings, sipping Cokes and dipping nuggets in hot sauce, and I'm wishing I'd asked for sweet and sour, when we see him. I'm guessing he's younger than us, but he's way bigger, and he's real dark, and he doesn't look around or anything. His eyes are set straight ahead, and he walks right by and up to the front-door stoop and just stands there, waiting.

    "We're fine, thank you. And what's up to you, too?" Ebony goes, loud, so he'll hear. Only he acts like he's deaf or something.

    Ebony sucks her teeth for a minute, and then she tells me, "He'd be fine if he was dressed half decent." It's hard to know if she truly cares about stuff like that or if she's just trying to get me aggravated, for fun.

    So I tell her, "You'd be fine if you weren't a bitch."

    "Shut up."

    "You know it's true." Ebony fakes a sulk, and I check him out again.

    "He wouldn't be fine anyway," I go. "He's scary.

    "What do you mean?"


    She sticks her foot way out and leans way over to pretend-tie her shoe.

    "You're right," she says. "He's mad scary."

    A bell rings, and the doors open. A bunch of little kids shoot through, andme and Ebony hop up out of the swings. A couple of day care ladies laze out behind the kids, and that boy crosses his arms and leans his back to the brick.

    Ebony's twin sisters, Mattie and Elaine, bounce outside, holding some kind of Popsicle stick craziness.

    "What's that?" Ebony asks them.

    "A dollhouse," Mattie says.

    "It's not done," Elaine says. "We have to make the roof."

    "Hi, China," Mattie says.

    "Hi, baby," I go.

    "Hi, China," Elaine says.

    "Hey, baby," I tell her.

    They're six but like it when I call them baby. Ebony's not allowed. They get mad at her when she does it. They let me because I don't have any little sisters, and I talk to them when Ebony just thinks they're around to get on her last nerve. They would let our other best friend, Grace, because she's white and she's prettier than anything, only Grace would never say baby anyway.

    "China, look," Ebony goes, poking me.

    One of the day care ladies is staring, pole up her butt, at that boy. "Can I help you?" she asks, nasty.

    The boy stares back at her. He doesn't say a mad word.

    "Do you need something?" the lady goes, like he better not.

    He keeps his face shut tight, and the lady opens up her mouth again, but then this real small kid—way younger than the twins—zooms out with this Popsicle stick thing and goes to the scary boy, "Mama sick?"

    The scary boy gives the lady a big old cold eye and then scoops up the real small kid and flips him over his shoulder and takes off. The kid giggles like crazy.

    "Eric!" he squawks. "Eric! Let me go!"

    "Bye, Mickey," Mattie yells at the small kid's upside-down giggly head.

    "Bye, Mickey," Elaine yells.

    "Bye, y'all!" he calls back.

    But that boy Eric, he doesn't smile or slow down or anything.


On the first Friday the twins get to color mad bunches of yellow balloons with Magic Markers, and they let me and Ebony carry the balloons home. When Ebony's mom gets back from showing apartments, she taps at the bunches, making them nod and shiver all over their living room, and she goes, "`In Just-spring when the world is mud-luscious the little lame balloonman whistles far and wee and eddieandbill come running from marbles and piracies and it's spring when the world is puddle-wonderful.'"

    "It's not spring," Ebony cuts in. "It's summer."

    Ms. Giles leaves the balloons and the poem and digs into her pocketbook. I wanted to hear the end, but Ebony hates it when her mother says poetry. She's always making her mom stop in the middle like that.

    "Thank you, gifts," Ms. Giles goes, and she hands us each a fresh green bill, stiff as a new bookmark. Ebony holds hers by the edges, pushes them forward, and then pulls them back to make a loud snap. I fold a box out of mine, then undo it flat again and snap it, like Ebony.

    "What's the rest of that poem?" I ask Ms. Giles.

    "Ugh," Ebony moans.

    "Ugh right back," I go.

    "Be patient with her, China," her mother tells me. "Ebony's poetry hasn't bubbled up to the top yet."

    That makes me picture the fish tank at school.

    "Mom!" Ebony moans again.

    Her mother touches my chin with her fingertips. "China," she goes, "your poetry is closer to the surface, just under your skin."

    Ebony drags me to her room and then calls Grace so the two of them can tease me stupid.

    "Under her skin!" Grace goes, all sarcastic. Ebony's got her on speaker phone.

    "Y'all just wait," I tell them both.

At Grace's I work on mini-collages from old magazines, to fit into flat plastic key chains, while Grace and Ebony rip the hems out of the bottoms of their jeans. You have to do both projects just right, or you mess things all up.

    "Make sure you don't get glue on the floor," Grace reminds me for the millionth time. I don't get an attitude. though, because of her mother. We're not even supposed to be at Grace's because her mom's sort of mean and doesn't like people who aren't white. I met Ms. Sanborn once on the sidewalk, and she was kind of nasty to me and Ebony both, but it was hard to tell if it was because we're black or what, because she was mean to Grace, too, and Grace is white, plus she's her mother's own daughter.

    "Y'all want to sleep over this Friday?" Ebony asks, right when I get done cutting out the words hip and sex.

    "Yeah," I go, spotting ultra and fine and Wow all on one page. "Can you come, Grace?"

    "Depends what mood her mom's in," Ebony says quick, so Grace won't have to.

    Grace rolls her eyes, which she is real good at, especially for a white girl.

    "Word," she goes, just to make us laugh.

That boy, Eric, stares right past us again and waits with his back to the day care wall. This time Ebony keeps her mouth shut about him, and I try to catch his eye, but he won't see me. The day care lady doesn't say anything. She looks at him like he stinks or something, and he acts like she's a speck of bug doo under his shoe.

    Another girl shows up waiting today, too. She's younger than us, like that Eric boy, only she looks it more than he does because she's real small and skinny.

    "Hi," she goes when she has to pass us at the tire swings.

    "Hi," we go.

    She sort of stops near us when she notices that Eric taking up the stoop by the day care door. Nobody knows what to say for a minute, so we all stare at him until Ebony finally goes, "You know him?"

    "He switched to special ed last year," the girl says. "He fights."

    "Figures." Ebony smirks. The girl kind of shrugs, while I kick at Ebony's tire. "Isn't he ugly?" Ebony goes to her, kicking my tire back.

    Then the doors swing open, and the kids spill out. A real small girl, the same size as that little Mickey, skips over to us, all excited.

    "Keisha!" this real small girl squeaks. "We made cookies!"

    "You make some for your mama and Nick?" this Keisha asks her, all calm and still, like she's grown or something. The small girl's face goes guilty. Keisha rolls her eyes at us. "See you," she says, and they take off.

    Little Mickey shows up right after that, and he grabs Eric's hand and then hums a little while they walk down the stoop and away. Like he knows underneath that hard face, Eric's smiling down at him.

"You sure you don't want to take some day classes in arts and crafts or karate?" my mom asks, over the TV.

    "Uh huh," I tell her.

    "Deadline's next week," she reminds me.

    "I just want to hang out this summer."

    "Twelve-year-old girls ought to keep busy," my daddy says to me. Then, to the TV, he goes, "What is the Suez Canal?" He knows every Jeopardy answer. The only one I ever saw him miss was "What is sulfur?"

    "I keep busy," I tell him. "Grace and Ebony and me do stuff on our own."

    "China's getting a little pay each week to help Ebony watch the twins on their way home from day care," my mom tells him.

    "You're putting it all in the bank, right?" he goes.

    "Wrong," I say, and he tries to swat my behind, but I get away, because he never for real tries to get me, plus I'm fast.

Grace and Ebony don't have daddies. Grace thinks her mother doesn't even know who he is. Ebony's lives somewhere in the South, and she hasn't seen him since she was five. Ebony's mother won't talk about him except to say that he loves Ebony but isn't enough of a man to know how to show it. They think my daddy's mad cool partly because he's got these slanty eyes like me, plus he's got a pierced ear, plus he's real nice.

    "Have you ever visited him at work?" Ebony's asking me. She's pulling at the let-out hem of her jeans, to make fringes. She does stuff slower than Grace, who's putting her jeans on to see if her done fringes are even enough.

    "Once," I say. I'm busy gluing all my cutout words onto three different pieces of small cardboard. When I'm done, each collage will slip into a plastic key chain frame just like a picture would.

    "Did you meet a lot of stars?"

    "There's not really any stars on the news," I answer. "But he's going to switch over to a soap opera soon."

    "I bet stars don't even talk to the cameramen anyway," Grace says, and then we hear the front door bang open and Grace's mother yell, "I'm home!"

    "Shit," Grace goes, and the next minute her mother's standing in the bedroom doorway, hands on her hips, mouth wide enough to catch a truckload of flies.

    "Hi, Ms. Sanborn," I go, to show her how polite black girls can be.

    "Hi, Ms. Sanborn," Ebony goes.

    "That's Ebony, and that's China," Grace says. She looks real calm, but I can see a vein, or something, bouncing in her neck.

    "Nice to meet you," Grace's mom says. But she's not looking at us, plus she met us once already. I guess she doesn't remember. "Now you'll have to leave."

"What a bitch," Ebony says while we're waiting for the day care to let out. We bought McDonald's again, but we're too mad to eat.

    "You think she'll let Grace sleep over with us Friday?"

    "You think she's going to shit honey anytime soon?"

    "Hey," I go. "That boy isn't around. That Eric boy."

    "What. You like him now?" Ebony starts smirking.

    "It's not like that," I go.

    "Riiight," she says, all attitude.

    "For real," I tell her.

    The bell rings, and the twins run out. They're wearing all kinds of painted and strung-up macaroni. Bracelets, necklaces, belts.

    "Y'all want some nuggets?" we ask. They grab them and run off to the jungle gym.

    I see that Mickey looking around. I see him walk to the playground's fence. I see him stare over at a lady I didn't notice before who's leaning on the fence gate. She's way skinny and ashy like you never saw. Mickey scuffs over to her. She starts walking away as soon as he's near. He speeds up to get next to her and hands over his macaroni necklace. She puts it on over her head, without stopping or even looking at him or anything.

    Today he's not giggling. Or humming.

"May I speak to Grace, please?" I go.

    "No, you may not," her mom says. "Grace is grounded from the phone."

    "I'm sorry we didn't have your permission," I say. I don't want to get Grace into more mess, but still.

    "Your apology is accepted."

    "We're real clean," I say. "And we don't make any noise or bother your neighbors."

    "I'll tell Grace you called," Ms. Sanborn says.

    "Grace is our best friend," I tell her.

    "I'm aware of that."

    "Maybe you could ask our mothers to punish us instead," I say. "Because, really, we kind of made Grace let us come over."

    "Good-bye," her mom says. Then she hangs up the phone.

    What a bitch.

On Thursday me and Ebony don't hang out together at Grace's first, so we meet up at the day care. I get there early. That younger girl, Keisha, is hanging out by the tire swings. Eric's leaning up against the wall. I wave to Keisha and then walk up the stoop to Eric.

    "Hi," I go. He doesn't say anything. Plus he does kind of smell.

    "You want a nugget?" I ask. He glares at the nuggets, and then he glares at me.

    "I saw your mother yesterday," I go.

    He won't say a mad word. Maybe it wasn't even his mother.

    "Is she sick?"

    "Get the fuck out my face," he tells me.

Friday Grace races into the McDonald's right when me and Ebony are ordering.

    "Hey, girl!" Ebony goes. "How'd you get out?"

    "I'm grounded for a month, same for the phone," Grace pants. "But my mom's at work every day. So screw her." She's red and shiny from running in the heat. All the McDonald's boys are staring at her under their baseball hats. She plays like she doesn't notice, though.

    "My mom's not paying you," Ebony warns.

    "Like I want your money," Grace says.

    "Oooooh," I go.

    Outside we see Eric walking ahead of us.

    "That's him," Ebony tells Grace. "That's the one China wants to get with. Isn't he nasty?"

    "I do not either want to get with him," I say. "And don't call him nasty. Something's wrong with his mother or something."

    "So?" Ebony goes. "He's still nasty."

    The thing I notice today just about knocks me over. You'd think he'd slide his eyes over Grace if he slid them over anybody. But it's like he doesn't even see her. The person he watches is Ebony when she stoops in the middle of the playground to help Mattie reglue her milk carton castle.

Grace's mother has a date with some new neighbor, so Grace sneaks out to Ebony's.

    "Somebody would get with your mom?" Ebony goes, and then she says quick, "No offense."

    "Like I care," Grace tells us. We're in the kitchen, making brownies. When we're at Ebony's, we bake. At my house it's usually popcorn. We don't eat at Grace's.

    "You girls want a movie?" Ebony's mother asks, poking her head into the kitchen.

    The phone rings, and Ebony grabs it. "Hello," she goes.

    "That's the twins," her mom tells us. They're at an overnight somewhere.

    "This is Ebony," Ebony says. Then she gets real quiet. I guess it's not the twins.

    "Who is it?" Ms. Giles asks.

    "Uh huh," Ebony goes.


    "I don't remember," Ebony tells the phone. "I didn't get any." Then she says, "Hang on." She holds out the phone.

    "He says he's my daddy," she goes. "He's crying."

    Ms. Giles grabs the phone and covers the receiver with her hand.

    "Go upstairs," she orders us. "Now."

We stretch across Ebony's bed and try to figure out how to listen in, but even though Ebony's got mad phone stuff, like call waiting and speaker and three way, we can't figure out anything for spying.

    "What did he sound like?" Grace asks.

    "He was all happy at first," Ebony goes. "He was real happy." She's swinging around her sock monkey doll by his tail.

    "He was all how he sent me these letters on my birthdays, and did I like them."

    "You never told us about any letters," Grace says.

    "Well, I never got any, girl," Ebony goes, popping Grace's knee with that monkey.

    "You said he was crying," I say.

    "He was."

    "But you said he was happy."

    "He was crying from happiness," Grace guesses, rolling her eyes.

    "Wrong," Ebony says. "He was crying when I told him I never got any dumbass letters."

    We all think about that for a minute, trying to figure it out, and then Grace asks me, "Did you ever see your dad cry?"


    "Did y'all ever see your mothers cry?" Ebony goes.

    We shake our heads, and then Ebony's mom walks in.

    "Was that really my daddy?" Ebony asks. She doesn't sit up or anything. She just keeps swinging that sock monkey over her head.

    "Yes," her mom says. "Do you want to talk about this now, with your friends here?" she goes. "Or do you want to wait until you and I can discuss it on our own?"

    Ebony shrugs. Me and Grace look at each other. I know she's hoping what I am. We want to hear all about it.

    "Maybe we should wait until tomorrow then," Ms. Giles says.

    Ebony shrugs again.


Grace sneaks home an hour later, and I wake up in the middle of the night without Ebony next to me. I get spooked, but when I find Ebony all tucked in with her mother, I step away because it seems like something private.

    "`... and how you first fluttered,'" I hear Ebony's mom whispering, "`then jumped and I thought it was my heart.'"

At the tire swings Ebony chomps at her nails and spits the bits out in a pile.

    "That's disgusting," Grace tells her.

    Ebony's daddy called again yesterday. Her mom doesn't know. Ebony said he was telling her all about some woman he wants her to meet. Ebony said he was talking slow and sounded like he was forgetting words a lot of the time. Grace said maybe he'd been drinking.

    "Y'all want to sleep over at my house on Friday?" I go, while I'm looking at Eric, trying to figure out what that mad bulge is in his back pocket.

    "Mmmkay," Ebony says.

    "I'll come by for a while," Grace goes. She'll have to sneak out again. She's still got a week left on punishment.

    Ebony squints over at Eric. "He stinks," she tells me, evil. "I can smell him from here." That's a lie.

    "It's not his fault," I go.

    "How do you know?" Grace says, not evil, only curious.

    "I just do."

    "You're the one who said he was scary," Ebony tells me, standing up from the swings.

    "I changed my mind," I say. "And stop talking loud. He's not deaf."


    "Hi, girls," we hear, and Ebony's mother comes through the gate.

    "Do we still get paid for today?" Ebony asks when her mom gets to our swings.

    "Of course," Ms. Giles says. "I can't stay anyway. I'm on my way to Fifth Street to show a two-bedroom."

    I'm trying to catch Eric's eye, but he's stupid stubborn. I guess Ebony's mother sees me looking. "Who's that?" she asks.

    "Some fool," Ebony says

    "He's not a fool," I tell them.

    "He kind of is," Grace says.

    "He is not!" I go, loud.

    "What's your problem?" Ebony snaps, and then Grace, instead of rolling her eyes at me, she sucks her teeth hard at Ebony and kicks near the fingernail pile.

    "He's not a fool," I tell Ebony's mother. My voice is crazy shaky, and my face is all hot, and I don't even know why.

    Ms. Giles puts her hand on my shoulder and looks over at Eric. I try to keep from crying while the bell rings and the kids fly through the doors. Ebony's mother watches the day care lady glare at Eric until Mickey comes out, his nose all nasty. Eric yanks a tissue from his back pocket bulge and holds it up to Mickey's face.

    "Blow," he goes.

    "Battered by the tides like an abandoned ship, a spirit adrift," Ms. Giles says, real low.

    "Mom!" Ebony groans at her.

    "Just chill," Grace snaps at Ebony. "Jesus."

    "He's got poetry," I go, all choky. "He's got mad poetry."

I get a runny head and start feeling wobbly, and my mom takes my temperature and then kicks my daddy off the couch during Jeopardy so I can lie down. My daddy gives me the clicker and sits in the armchair, and my mom puts the tissue box and a blanket, even though it's about a million degrees outside, on the coffee table. Then she brings me this special kind of aspirin she gets for free from her boss at the drugstore and lemon honey tea and tells me to drink it hot. My daddy feels my forehead and the fat mug with the back of his hand and then makes my mom drop ice cubes into the tea, to cool it.

    "You're going to kill her," he scolds. "She's going to melt like the Wicked Witch of the West."

    Then they sit with me watching whatever I want to for a while, and right in the middle of a car commercial I understand "spirit adrift," and I feel this thing ease through my skin with the fever, showing me how mad stupid mean the world can be and just how lucky I got, and it's a warm sad feeling, like tea steam wrapping comfort around some new, crying part of my heart.

Meet the Author

E.R. Frank is the author of America, Friction, Wrecked, and Dime. Her first novel, Life Is Funny, won the Teen People Book Club NEXT Award for YA Fiction and was also a top-ten ALA 2001 Quick Pick. In addition to being writer, E.R. Frank is also a clinical social worker and psychotherapist. She works with adults and adolescents and specializes in trauma.

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Life Is Funny (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Life Is Funny is about the lives of 11 troubled teens. Each chapter is the story of one of them. Sometimes a character has only 1 chapter, sometimes they have more. But most only have 1. Each of them have some type of trouble that most people can only begin to imagine, yet they are surprisingly relatable to just about everyone, while still holding their individualism. All of them can be connected to another physically, whether by actually meeting one another, or by having met someone who has met them. However they are all related on the spiritual level. They all have problems that separate them from the world. Life Is Funny is not for the reader that expects a concrete and stream lined story. It ask the reader to assume, to think, and to put themselves in the characters shoes. It doesn't take you on an adventure, it takes you through the lives of teens who have had serious problems in their childhood. Whether it be that they were sexually abused, addicted to drugs, or abandoned by their parents. It is the story of how they continue to live life every day, supporting each other through the tough times. It is superb in what it is, but if you are looking for a epic and linear story, I suggest you look elsewhere. However if you like getting to know characters from the heart and hearing their stories and rooting for them and giving them support and thinking about their stories, instead of just reading about it, then this is a great book for you.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I really liked the book, and the characters are easy to connnect with, but i thought the ending ended randomly. Like, the author didn't really finish her thought. But other then that i think the book was good.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel, Life is Funny, is truely amazing. When reading this book, I really connected with the characters making me feel as if i knew them personally. 'Life is Funny' really makes you think. It helps teens anywhere realize that they arent the only ones with problems and teens can really use this book and forget about everything else and just connect. This novel is a beautiful love story about two teenagers who fall inlove, about an older brother protective of his younger sibling and two young ladies whose dreams finally come true. This novel is really remarcable and its a beautiful story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I got the book from my school library and I didn't thonk much of it. But I loved it! Its so contraversal, it will take your breath away. I didn't do my homework for that night. At first, it was confusing but i finally got it! The POVs in the chapter connect to one another with out them knowing about it! I never read this kind of book before. And its so good! I recommend this to anyone!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would have to say that this book is my favorite by far. Like others have said, it does deal with mature, real life situations and isn't 'cherry-coated.' So for those that are interested in a feel good kind of story, you might want to look elsewhere. I do have to disagree with some of the other reviews, in that I don't think this book needs a sequel. What makes this book so awesome is that it isn't mapped out step by step, so to have a follow up would be off course. It makes you wonder how the characters' lives continue and makes you think, which is something many people don't like to do.
Guest More than 1 year ago
the book of itself is beautiful but what makes the audience really care is the connections it makes. the book not only deals with real-life situations but the dialoge fits the charecters to the T. the book shines partly on the separation of children inside a school such as the sped kids and the honors. it also deals with the 'lost cause' issue when a teacher reaches out to a student and brings out his true talent. the themes also have that the good guy falls for the crazy chick, racism, love, heartache, loss, and messed up fathers. most of all this book shows that the world is truly a SMALL WORLD.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved how every character was related to each other somehow! I never would have guessed it. I definetly loved the multiple narrators... it's a must read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Omg... I love this book! You really feel like you get to kno each character and can like realte to some of the things they go through. I would like get hooked to a character and then it would like begin in a nother person's life, and all ovet again. Its tight how the characters are all somehow realted.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Throughout the whole book I was waiting for something to happen like 'BOOM!'It had no plot! And how could you end a book by saying 'Girls is crazy?' I would have really loved it if the author had tied it all together or at least given it a good ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was realllly good. I wanted to keep reading it forever! I could relate to so many of the people in the book. I feel like we have found out what would happen to the kids. But it was still really good
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book! I finished it in like 2 hours because i couldnt put it down. i thought it was a great book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Life Is Funny is seriously a good book. Im not usually a big fan of books but with this story, I literally could not put it down. all of the characters relate to one another and I surely related to some of the characters in this book or know someone who is like one of them. This book is about kids going through life, and growing up involving almost everything you can think of. All the characters have something different they have to deal with and leaves you wanting to know more about them. I really recommend this book for teens like myself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Life is Funny was a great book...I couldnt stop reading it...i can definely relate to the charaters in this book...i think the readers that read this book should at least be 13 years of age....there is somethings that you wouldnt really expect in the book...but i recommend reading this book..
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is definatly a page turner. you can relate to a chracter in the story. the way the story in passed from person to person makes it interesting. it tells how life is in brooklyn!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book tells it like it is in Brooklyn, there is no buttering things up. Theres cursing and some mature scenes, but if u ever can, and u can handle the reality made by E.r. Frank, then definitely read it!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book was a very good read. BUt i agree that you should be older than 12 to read this book, because there is some cussing. SOmetimes I think the characters changed too quickly; sometimes you forgot which character you were talking about. Overall, it told great stories and you could definately relate to all the characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book.I cried, laughed, and also gat mad sometimes it was an amazing book that catched my attention right away. I hardly catch a lot of attention on a book like i did with 'LIFE IS FUNNY' i recomended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This author captures teenage angst in very different situations. Every chapter is a new narrator with a new story (each section is a new year), though the lives of the characters all intertwine. The characters all grow up in the urban jungle of New York. There's the kid whose dad hits his mom, and the kid whose mother is a recovering alcoholic but still seems unstable, and the kid whose mother is a crackwhore and who has to take care of his little brother. There are several instances of sexual abuse, drug use, and a ton of swearing. I wouldn't give this to a middle schooler, and I wouldn't recommend it to just any high school student.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I disagree with the first review. You need to be older than 12 to read it. Anyway, it was really good. The whole concept of the book really makes you think and re-examine your life. I liked how all the characters knew each other, without really knowing it. The only thing I didn't like about it was some of the teenagers lives still didn't have an ending at the end, and that really upset me. But, that's how life in Brooklyn, New York is i guess.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing. It was about 11 teenagers growing up in Brooklyn. Each one tells a stroy from their own point of veiw. At first, it doesn't seem like one kid has anything to do with the other, but it is amazing how their stories weave together. I recommend this book to anyone 12 and over because it has a lot of cussing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much. I am a Brooklynite myself, so of course the whole novel taking place in Brooklyn drew me in. E.R.Frank is very creative and her style of writing is very unique.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I feel that this has changed my life forever for the better! I felt that I could relate to the characters and that's really important to me. This book has given me a new perspective on people and it has made me realize that there are people like me that go through the types of things that I grow through and even worst.