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Charley knows a lot about pain. She endures it when she walks on her newly shattered leg, she sees it when her father buries himself in an eighty-hour work week, and she runs from it when she sees photographs her mother took before her death. Then one day, Charley meets a wild, abused dog that knows as much about pain as she does, and, despite herself, she feels an immediate connection and vows to help him. But how will one heartbroken girl help mend the battered spirit of an ...
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Charley knows a lot about pain. She endures it when she walks on her newly shattered leg, she sees it when her father buries himself in an eighty-hour work week, and she runs from it when she sees photographs her mother took before her death. Then one day, Charley meets a wild, abused dog that knows as much about pain as she does, and, despite herself, she feels an immediate connection and vows to help him. But how will one heartbroken girl help mend the battered spirit of an untamable dog?
Charley is halfway across the dam, sweat dripping down her back under her T-shirt, when her father drives past her on his way back to work. She doesn't look at him. As slowly as he is driving, the car still kicks up gray-white dust from the gravel road. She walks through the dust, as straight and tall as she can make herself, jamming her walking stick into the stones as she goes, trying not to limp. She is walking. It is what he wants, and she is doing it. But if he's so interested in the best thing for her, why can't he let her decide what that is?
"I won't have you sitting in that chair all summer!" he yelled when she refused to come sit with him and eat the lunch Sarita had to scramble to fix when he showed up suddenly, unexpectedly, in the middle of the workday.
"Summer hasn't even started yet," she yelled back.
"It's the last day of school -- for kids who are in school," he said.
You'd think it was her fault that she isn't in school, finishing the sixth grade with everybody else!
"You only have ten weeks to build up your strength and be ready when school starts again. You are to get outside today. It's time, Charlene! Your physical therapist says you're healing well and a little exercise is all you need to get back tonormal. You will start by walking. Today. Is that clear?" He was using his I-am-the-boss voice that keeps a factory full of workers in line.
She lowered the footrest of the recliner chair, picked up her walking stick from the floor, and got to her feet as gracefully as she could. Without a word she went down the hall to her room and put on her sneakers. Then, pounding the stick on the floor as she went, she walked straight through the living room and the dining room, out the sliding glass door, and down the ramp he had had built over the stairs her second week in the hospital.
Her father was at the breakfast table in the lake room when she left, waving his fork in the air as he talked into his cell phone. He might have taken time to come home for lunch, but he hadn't really left his work, Charley thinks as his car moves up the hill on the other side of the dam and disappears around the curve. It's what her father does -- work. Normal for him means his eighty-hour workweek.
By the time the dust from his car settles, Charley has reached the end of the dam, where there is a bench under a willow tree by the water. She could sit there in the shade awhile, looking at Eagle Lake, its ripples glittering in the sun. She could rest her leg and then go home again. But she keeps walking, up the slope of the road.
She can walk all right. She is done with the wheelchair. Done with crutches. The "miracle" of the rod the doctors stuck into the bone in her right leg from her hip to her knee means she has never had to wear a cast. By now all there is to show for what happened to her is
the scar down her leg where they put the rod in. And the walking stick she made so she wouldn't have to use the stupid old-lady-looking cane Tony, her physical terrorist, tried to give her after the crutches.
Her father wants her back to normal. Normal. What is that? Is that what her life was the first week in March? Before her friend Amy's brother Travis gave them a ride home from school that rainy Monday afternoon? Before he got to showing off and playing NASCAR driver? Before what the papers called a "one-car accident" that was really one car and one tree? She can't remember the accident that put her in the hospital and ended the school year for her. She can't even remember the first few days after it. The doctors say, because of the concussion, she probably never will.
If there is one thing she's learned for sure in her twelve years of life, it is that you can't go back to the way things used to be. No matter how much you want to. You can't go back. Somehow or other, you have to keep going forward. It's just that she hasn't figured out yet how to do that.
Whether she spends the whole summer in the recliner chair or out here walking the hot, dusty road around Eagle Lake, it can't be like the last two summers. This summer can't be Charley and Amy at Amy's house swimming in Amy's pool, playing tennis, going to movies, hanging out at the mall, spending whole days at a time at Carrowinds amusement park with Amy's family. Because this summer Travis is working to pay his father back for the car he wrecked. And Amy . . . Amy . . .
Charley stabs her walking stick into the gravel, and a little puff of dust rises into the air.
She has reached the split where the gravel road that is Eagle Lake Drive goes straight ahead, past the caretaker's house and out to the paved county road, and also right, through the woods toward the south side of the lake. She turns right and keeps walking. Where the road splits again -- right to the four houses closest to the dam and left to the rest of the houses on the south side of the lake -- she goes left. Trees nearly meet over her head -- thick woods on one side, woods with houses on the other.
She goes on stabbing her walking stick into the gravel, goes on making the little puffs of dust. Amy, her best friend since second grade, is going off to spend the whole summer at Lake George in upstate New York with Becky Sue Lindner. . . .
Excerpted from Listen! by Stephanie Tolan Copyright © 2006 by Stephanie Tolan. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted May 13, 2006
This is a riveting book. Charley is a girl who is damaged in body and spirit, in ways she doesn't even recognize, and the feral dog she names Coyote is very like her. I never felt the outcome was assured or guaranteed there aren't any easy answers for Charley, her family, or for Coyote, and I don't want there to be any! It's far more interesting to see if Charley can build up trust between herself and the dog, if her psychic link with him is real, if she can keep the outside world from putting demands on her and Coyote that will break the growing ties between them, and if she can find healing for herself after her mother's loss, after her own accident, and after her friend's apparent betrayal. I love Charley's expanding her world to include the natural world around her and the inner world of the woman who looks after her, as well as that of her dad. This is just one of those books that makes you feel better for reading it, because the characters' battles are all hard fought, and you feel like they're *your* battles, too.
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Posted November 21, 2009
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