Long Story Shortby Siobhan Parkinson
From Ireland's first laureate for children's literature comes a story of abuse and neglect told with sincerity, heart, and a healthy dose of humor.
Jono has always been able to cope with his mother's drinking, but when she hits his little sister Julie, he decides it's time for them to run away. Told in Jono's funny, self-conscious voice, the layers of his/p>
From Ireland's first laureate for children's literature comes a story of abuse and neglect told with sincerity, heart, and a healthy dose of humor.
Jono has always been able to cope with his mother's drinking, but when she hits his little sister Julie, he decides it's time for them to run away. Told in Jono's funny, self-conscious voice, the layers of his past and the events of his escape are gradually revealed. Amusing and touching but never sentimental, Siobhan Parkinson is a well reviewed middle-grade author who now turns her considerable skill as a writer to a young adult audience.
The first half of this intriguing but flawed tale from Ireland's first children's literature laureate is spellbinding.
Caring for his little sister, Julie, now 8 years old, has been a struggle for Jono, 14, since Da took off, but with Gramma's help, he kept the household going. Now that Gramma's dead, there's not enough money left over to support them after Ma's bought her sherry. Without a clear plan, Jono flees with Julie from Dublin to Galway, where Da lives. Jono's an appealing, funny and observant narrator, so it's all the more shocking when, halfway through the book, readers discover he's left out key events that will transform how they perceive him, lying by omission. Unreliable first-person narrators can be tricky, and here's where the story runs into a wall. Because readers never learn why Jono lied to them or how to gauge when he can and can't be trusted after they do, they are unable to interpret the story. Working backward from the abrupt ending, readers can by inference distinguish some truths from lies, but with a lingering sense of betrayal.
In fiction, as in life, trust is essential to emotional engagement. Without reason to trust Jono once his lies come to light, it's hard to care what happens to him. (Fiction. 12 & up)
Read an Excerpt
Long Story Short
By Siobhán Parkinson
Roaring Brook PressCopyright © 2011 Siobhán Parkinson
All rights reserved.
My grandmother died.
I know this is not what you would call a dramatic opening. It's what happens to grandparents. They get old (jeez, they are old to start with, or they wouldn't be grandparents, would they?); they die. (My grandfather died too, actually, but that's another story.)
Mr. O'Connell, who is my Creative Writing teacher, which is to say he's my English teacher, but he is into Creative Writing (capital letters deliberate) — he would say, Not intriguing enough, Jonathan. You need to hook your reader.
But, frankly, I couldn't be bothered with the hooking part. See, I don't think you need to start on the premise that your reader (if you have one) is a fish.
There used to be a song about that, Gramma used to sing it, about how uneducated fish are, how they can't write their names or read books — which may or may not have been put in for the rhyme with brook. That's where the illiterate fish in question lives, allegedly. Come to think of it, maybe it was the other way round. Maybe brook was put in to rhyme with book, I mean, because you would think river, wouldn't you, in association with fish, not bloody babbling brook, like a feckin' poem.
In any case, I don't need to do any hooking, because this is not Creative Writing. This is what really happened, and if you are reading this you will have your own reasons that have nothing to do with fish.
I could have begun by telling you that my mother was a drunk. Or that my father had left. I could have begun by saying, My mother brought home a bag of apples one night for dinner. Sounds kinda cutesy, that.
Except that was all. A bag of apples. There was nothing else to eat in the house. Not even a loaf of bread. Not a crumb. And we hadn't had much for lunch either.
"Keeps a doctor away," she said, poking her fingernail in the side of the polyethylene bag to reef it open.
Right, yeah, very healthy, apples.
When she'd gouged a big enough hole in the bag, she shook the apples out all over the coffee table. Most of them rolled to the edge and then clunked onto the carpet, where they rolled some more.
"Have you heard about the food pyramid?" I asked, fishing for apples under the sofa.
"Pyr-mid?" she said. She stuck a finger in her ear, to represent thinking. Very amusing. "Egypt, right?"
Then she went off into these howls of laughter.
I knew where that would end, so I got ready for it. And by the time I come back into the living room with the basin from the kitchen sink and a dry tea towel, she's already got to the sobbing stage. Sure enough, as soon as she sees me, she clutches for the basin and pukes up half a liter of sherry. Not the cooking kind. She prefers Fino, she says, which is supposed to make her not a drunk but a connoisseur.
She's not a connoisseur. She just knew a Spanish word for a kind of sherry that is not so sweet it'd curl your teeth.
I might as well have started this story with the bag of apples after all, because I've got there pretty fast, though I didn't mean to. I meant to explain about my grandmother. Gramma we called her, because she didn't like Granny — made her sound like a granny, she said. That was the kind of humor she had. Dead unfunny. (A small voice in my head wants me to revise that last bit, edit out the insensitive word, but on second thought, I don't think so.) Appreciated only by a select group, she used to say about her sense of humor. Of one, I said. That made her smirk. Old ladies don't go in for smirking, but Gramma did. She liked a good smirk, did Gram.
She didn't live with us or anything like that. She lived near enough. Near enough to supervise, I mean. She went in for supervision. Supervision and smirking. Makes her sound like the granny from hell, but she wasn't. She was sound.
I did miss her. I missed a good hot dinner that didn't come out of one of those microwave Pot Noodle tubs for a start. I missed my five clean shirts every Sunday night, all ironed and on hangers for school. Yes, I can iron my own shirts — I may be sad, but I am not a sad bastard — but only if I have remembered to wash them in the first place, and to take them out of the machine before they go manky with mold, and hang them up to dry. And, see, that sequence of events didn't happen many weeks, and never two weeks in a row. So of course I missed my grandmother.
But mostly, I missed someone who knew what to do about Julie. I haven't mentioned her before, because I just don't know what to say. That's the real bitch about all this.
That came out wrong. Julie is not a bitch. She's just a little girl whose grandmother is dead and has no parents to speak of. And if you think it's bad for me — I am fourteen after all, I can find some sort of way to get by — it's a whole lot worse for an eight-year-old with a big imagination and a tiny understanding and a great gawping hole where the love should be.
God, I dunno where that came out of, a great gawping hole where the love should be. Maybe I could get a job working for a greeting card company, writing the prayery kind of words they have on the insides of cards that have a photograph of a bluebell on the front, or a sunset.
Anyway, it was the apples that started it, but it wasn't because of the apples that I rang the police. (I am not that thick.) It was when she hit Julie.
I mean, I couldn't have that, could I? She's only a little kid. Well, she's eight, but she's young for eight, if you know what I mean. She's not stupid or anything, she's good at school and all that. It's just that she's ... well ... it's as if you could break her if you dropped her. Maybe it's because of the situation, or maybe it's just the way she is.
She cried when Ma hit her. She may be young for her age, but she's not a crybaby, and I think it wasn't even so much because it hurt, but because she was just so totally dazed. No one ever hit her before. I mean, yeah, a smack on the back of the hand if she's reaching for one biscuit too many or a biff on the shoulder to steer her out of the path of some kind of disaster, but a blow full in the face, a blow so hard I could hear the impact — that is not on. That is assault.
So there's Julie sitting on the floor surrounded by apples, all snot coming down her face and her wispy, mousy hair catching in it so parts of it are wet and clumpy, and she's gulping with sobs and letting out this high-pitched wail, and Ma all rolled up tight in an armchair with her legs under her, her head tucked into her chest so you can only see the top of her hair, and her arms over her ears, and rocking, rocking, and me in the middle of it all with the portable phone in my hand, dialing 9-9-9.
She must have heard the pips, because she looked up before I even spoke and let out an almighty yell at me.
"Garda," I roared over her yell, into the mouthpiece of the phone. I shouldn't have roared, because that word, at that decibel level, really got to Ma, and she came bounding out of her chair and knocked the phone out of my hand.
"Don't you dare call the police!" she snarled, pulling my ears so that I had to lower my face to hers and got the stench of booze and vomit off her breath. "Just don't you dare. You are in my house, you are under my roof, and you do not ..." She couldn't bring herself to name my crime, evidently.
She pushed me in the chest, so I staggered backwards and nearly fell on top of Julie, who was still howling on the floor.
"Hello?" came a squeaky little voice from under the sofa, where the phone lay on its back on the floor. "Hello?" A lifeline.
I picked the phone up, but I didn't grab the lifeline. Instead, I pressed the hang-up button.
If the police came, God knows where it would end.
I know they try to keep families together when they take kids into care, but you can't count on it, can you? And who wants a teenage boy with attitude when they could just have a lovely little smiley girl? But for sure I wasn't going anywhere without Julie.
"Under your roof," I said, "but not under your care, and not under your orders either. From now on, I am in charge in this house. You will bring me your money every week and I will buy the food for us all, and I will cook it and serve it, and you can do the washing and cleaning."
Nah, of course I didn't. (Come on, you didn't really believe that, did you?)
I did press the hang-up button, but I didn't make the speech. I just hauled Julie to her feet and walked her out of the room. She'd stopped wailing by now, but she was still choking on her tears.
I put her up on the kitchen table and washed her face. I clucked over her, and she went on sobbing and sniffing. I tried to dry her face with the kitchen towel, but she said, "Aagh! It stinks," and pushed it away, so I got a tissue and dabbed at her face with that. All along the cheekbone on one side it was swollen, but the skin wasn't broken.
"You'll be plum-colored tomorrow," I said. "Miss Plum, the Grocer's Daughter. That's you."
Julie loves Happy Families. I hate all card games, but I especially hate Happy Families. Still, I play it with her sometimes, like when she is sick.
"Master Plaster, the Doctor's Son," she said, with a snivel and a little grin.
"Nah, you don't need a Band-Aid," I said. "You need an ice pack. Which we don't have. Or a packet of frozen peas, which we even more don't have."
"Peas!" she murmured, as if she was talking about some fabulous, exotic, unattainable fruit. "I'd love some peas. And mashed potatoes."
"Don't!" I groaned.
"It was because of the apples," she said. "I was crying because apples make me hungry instead of filling me up, they make my tummy water, and that was why she ..."
That wasn't why. It wasn't Julie's fault. But I just said, "Listen, I have some money. You and I are going out for a bag of chips, and then I will tuck you up in bed, and you don't have to go to school tomorrow, because of that face. How does that grab you?"
She brightened up at this. In fact, she lit up like a Christmas tree.
"No school?" she sang. "Really? Are you sure?"
"School's not so bad," I said.
Her face dropped.
"But I'm sure. You don't need to go. In fact, you can't go to school looking like that, you'd frighten the children!"
It was touch and go. Was she going to burst into tears again, or would she think it was funny? I grinned like a lunatic to indicate that humor was the correct response.
She got it. "Yay!" she said, and smiled.
She put her fingers very carefully to the tender place. The nails were all bitten down.
"Don't touch it," I said, lifting her down off the table. "You'll only make it worse."
"I wish ..." she said, and then stopped.
"Yeah," I said. "I know."
I knew what she wished because I wished it too. We wished we could go to Gramma's.CHAPTER 2
I woke up out of a dream of snakes, with my breath stuck in my neck. I was never so glad to wake up, but still, it was half past four in the morning.
"For the love of God, Julie," I hissed. "It's the middle of the night. What do you want? You haven't ...?"
She's not a bed wetter, Julie, not really, but she has the odd lapse when Ma gets extra ratty.
"No," she said, and stamped her bare foot, all indignation.
"Okay, okay," I said. "So what is it? Nightmare?"
"No. Let me into your bed, I'm freezing."
"Julie," I said. "I can't do that."
"It's not right. We're too old for that sort of thing."
"I am only eight."
"Yes, but I'm a big boy now. Boys and girls ... brothers and sisters ... don't ..."
"That's just stupid," she said, and she climbed in at the foot of my bed, since I wouldn't let her in at the top, and put her two icy feet on my calves.
I closed my eyes.
"Jono," she said, "I have an idea."
"Hmmm?" I said, turning over. I didn't want to encourage her.
"Let's run away."
"Go back to your own bed, Julie."
"Why don't we run away?"
"Because ... oh, Julie, don't be silly."
"I'm not. I was reading this book and these children ran off to an island and they made cocoa and they weaved baskets for raspberries. They had a cow."
"Oh, yeah?" I said. "Sounds dead practical. And it's wove."
She giggled and wriggled her feet in under my legs. "Wove!" she said. "Wove, wove, wove." She made it sound like a ridiculous word. "Oh wove, wovie, wove, wove-a-doodle, wivvy-wove-wovie."
"Shut up. Go back to bed. Your feet are warm now, if you run they won't have time to get cold again."
"My face hurts," she said in a whiny voice. "It's weally sohe, Jonathan."
She used not to be able to pronounce the letter R, and she still does it when she's looking for sympathy.
With a sigh, I turned on the bedside lamp. Her face was pale and blotched. I thought I could see the bruised part throbbing, but that might have been a trick of the light.
"I'll get you some medicine," I said.
I pushed my legs out of the bed and padded to the bathroom in the dim light that we left on overnight on the landing because Julie is scared of the dark.
I looked in the bathroom cabinet. None of the Calpol stuff Ma gives her when she's sick.
I fingered a packet of painkillers and pressed one tablet out of its blister. I snapped it in half and sloshed some tap water into a glass.
I wondered if it was okay to give a child even half a tablet. I couldn't read the instructions in the semi-darkness, but I felt reluctant to turn on the bathroom light. I think I thought that if I kept the lights off, then Ma wouldn't wake up. Which made no sense, because her bedroom door was closed. I just felt safer in the yellowy night-light.
I went back into my room, but Julie'd fallen asleep, so I didn't have to poison her after all with the quarter dose of pain medicine.
I left the door to my room half open and went and slept in her bed. It was all rumpled and uncomfortable, and it smelled of her little-girl strawberry smell, and the duvet was too thin. No wonder she was cold.CHAPTER 3
One time when I was not much older than Julie is now, I ran away. Not all by myself. Me and Granda, see, we went off together.
It was his idea. He was a madman, now I come to think of it, but when you are only a kid, you don't notice that kind of thing, do you? You just think adults are all much the same and know stuff you don't know. It doesn't occur to you that some of them might be loo-lah.
He was a right one, was Granda. He'd got this idea they were trying to kill him, and the only one he could trust was me. So one day, when Gramma was out shopping and I was in their house for some reason — I can't remember why — he made me put his things in a wheely suitcase. I remember what I packed. A bottle of whiskey wrapped in a bath towel, a deck of cards, a small radio, his very worst pair of slippers that he wasn't allowed to wear at home, and a handful of assorted clothes that he just pitched out of a drawer and into the suitcase. He never thought of clothes for me, nor did I.
"That's the way they pack in the films," he said. "Not if they are going on a holiday, then they pack normally. But if they are running away, they just open a drawer and dump stuff in a suitcase. I've always wanted to do that."
"Why?" I wanted to know.
"It seems so glamorous," he said.
Glamorous was not a word that sprang to mind when I looked at Granda. He hadn't shaved for two days and the front of his shirt had got caught in the zip of his fly.
"Are we running away?" I asked.
"Course we are."
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"Ask me no questions ..." he said.
He didn't finish the sentence, but I knew it went, "and I'll tell you no lies." Even at ten, I knew this was a very unsatisfactory answer to a reasonable question.
We set off for the bus stop. First off, Granda said he'd just take his stick, he didn't want his walking frame, couldn't manage it with the suitcase anyway. But as soon as we were out of the cul-de-sac and onto the footpath of the main road, he decided he needed the frame after all.
"Sit there, young fella," he said — he never called me by my name, sometimes I wonder if he even knew it, he just called me "young fella." He used his stick to turn the suitcase on its side, and he poked me in the groin to make me sit.
I stumbled and fell backwards on top of the suitcase.
"I'll be back," he said, and off he went, into the cul-de-sac again. I sat for ages on the suitcase and fended off what felt like dozens of nosy old women who wanted to know if I was going on my holidays or what?
At last I heard Granda coming, wheezing along, going shuffle-clunk, shuffle-clunk, on the frame.
"How are you going to get on the bus with that thing, Granda?" I asked when he came up to me.
He scowled, as if I'd asked a rude question.
"I've been on the bus dozens of times," he said regally. "Dozens of times."
"Yeah, but not on your frame," I said.
"Course I have," he said.
I couldn't remember a single time he'd done that, but he was a grownup and I was a kid, so I said, "Okay."
The bus driver took one look at us and threw his eyes up.
A black lady that was waiting at the bus stop with us took the suitcase for me, so I could concentrate on Granda. I'll never forget it. I had to take the frame from him and put it on the bus and then come back for him. He started yelling at me that I shouldn't have taken the frame, and he made me go back for it. So I had to walk down the aisle of the bus again and retrieve the frame from the luggage compartment, where I'd just managed to squeeze it in, and bring it to the door of the bus, and of course he couldn't lever himself up with it, he couldn't reach it from the pavement, so then he started shouting at me to take the bloody frame away.
Excerpted from Long Story Short by Siobhán Parkinson. Copyright © 2011 Siobhán Parkinson. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
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
SIOBHAN PARKINSON is the author of twelve previous novels, including Something Invisible, Second Fiddle, and Blue Like Friday. Named the first laureate for children's literature of Ireland, she lives in Dublin with her husband and son.
SIOBHAN PARKINSON is the author of more than a dozen novels, including Something Invisible, Second Fiddle, and Blue Like Friday. Named the first laureate for children's literature of Ireland, she lives in Dublin with her husband and son.
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This "book" was 104 pages short. While the story was not terrible, $9.99 for it is a rip off. B&N needs to make page counts clear in these listings, I never would have bought a short book like this in the store for that much. I could have read it in store for free. As for the story itself... it was fair. It ends abruptly but I don't really feel the need to care about what happens to these characters next. There is a mid story change of character perspective that ends a few pages later and it is awkward at best. Overall, I think this story belongs in a book full of other short stories.
it was terrible all zeros but i had to votr a freakin star bools a rip off