Love and Other Four-Letter Words

Love and Other Four-Letter Words

4.2 45
by Carolyn Mackler

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With her parents splitting up, 16-year-old Sammie Davis may not want to feel a thing, but feelings happen. For starters, she’s plenty angry. Her dad’s leaving their upstate New York home and moving clear across the country. Her mother—well, she’s packing up and relocating to New York City with Sammie, who has no say about any of it.

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With her parents splitting up, 16-year-old Sammie Davis may not want to feel a thing, but feelings happen. For starters, she’s plenty angry. Her dad’s leaving their upstate New York home and moving clear across the country. Her mother—well, she’s packing up and relocating to New York City with Sammie, who has no say about any of it. Overnight Sammie is forced to deal with change. And one change spawns another: Roles get reversed, old and new friendships tested, and sexual feelings awakened. It’s a scary time. But as Sammie realizes that things can’t stay the same forever, that even the people she loves and trusts the most can disappoint her, she begins to accept that change isn’t always bad. It’s how you cope, jumbled feelings and all, that counts. And as she copes, Sammie’s sense of self emerges proud and strong.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Teens will relate to the common themes of divorce and awakening sexuality and will enjoy this Birkenstock-wearing heroine.”—School Library Journal

“This debut novel is both funny and sad. [It] will resonate with younger teens who are themselves standing on the edge of adulthood.”–VOYA, Starred

“Mackler gets the contemporary scene with humor and realism.”–Booklist

“Mackler has much of the offbeat humor that Blume and Danziger use in their fiction.”–KLIATT

“This is a well-crafted novel with a personable heroine.”–The Bulletin

An ALA Quick Pick

A YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Though first-time novelist Mackler creates a sympathetic 16-year-old narrator filled with realistic anxieties, her dependence on familiar themes and plot development, plus heavy-handed pop culture references, makes for a lukewarm read. When Sammie's parents decide on a trial separation, she calls it "the obliteration of the belief that Mom and Dad were the 7th Heaven,we-have-problems-yet-we-gleefully-work-through-them type of parents." Her Cornell professor father heads off on sabbatical in California, while her mother, a stifled artist, yanks Sammie with her from Ithaca to New York City. The protagonist must deal with adjusting to a new city, a depressed mother who can't get out of bed, and only seems to manage monosyllabic responses to her father's phone conversations. When her narcissistic best friend, Kitty, comes to visit, they fight and Kitty leaves in a huff citing " irreconcilable differences." Sammie finds support in a new bond with Phoebe, an offbeat dog lover, and Eli, the hippie son of her mother's college roommate. Readers will relate to Sammie's internalized self-loathing; she's self-conscious about everything from her name, to her over-developed figure, to her only-been-kissed-once status. But they will likely predict the exact moment when Sammie and Eli will share their first kiss and when her father will finally reappear to sort out built-up tensions. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Sixteen-year-old Sammie Davis is forced to move with her mother to New York City when her parents split up. Already unhappy about the move, Sammie faces more difficulties when her mother becomes depressed and discouraged about her job hunting, forcing Sammie to take on the caregiver's role. Sammie makes a new friend while walking her dog and falls for the son of her mother's best friend—despite having him foisted on her constantly by their mothers—as she learns how to be her own person. This debut novel is both funny and sad. Sammie is a realistic teenager, with genuine fears and fancies. Her description of the Big Slobbery Makeout at sailing camp is worth the read. Her developing friendship with Phoebe, a fellow dog-lover with family pressures of her own, is authentic and bittersweet. Sammie's conflicting desires—to grow up and stay the same, to be independent while still her parents' beloved daughter, to experience life but stay close to her old home, to fall in love while remaining innocent—will resonate with younger teens who are themselves standing on the edge of adulthood yet are not ready to leave all childish things behind. The resolution of the situation with her parents is a bit too pat, but it is an almost-but-not-quite-happy ending that will satisfy readers. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2000, Random House, 248p, $14.95. Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Kendall Diane Brothers

SOURCE: VOYA, October 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 4)

Mackler's mentors are Judy Blume and Paula Danziger, and this first novel will appeal to those authors' many readers. The main character is a teenage girl named Sammie, whose parents have decided to have a trial separation. Sammie has always been closest to her father, and is stunned to lose his company as he goes to California; instead Sammie is expected to move to Manhattan with her mother, a struggling, frequently hysterical woman who thinks she might pursue an art career. Mostly this mother reads self-help books and hides in her bedroom while Sammie has to try to take care of them both in a strange place. Sammie is so furious with her father she avoids his phone calls and any real communication with him. This is the story of one hot summer in New York City when Sammie learns just how strong she really is. Mackler has much of the offbeat humor that Blume and Danziger use in their fiction—readers will love the exaggerated situations and overblown emotional reactions. The plot turns around the parents' separation, of course, but also features Sammie's attempts to understand why she is so loyal to an old friend who uses her as a convenient shrink, confiding every detail of her sex life and stormy love affair. A new friend comes into her life, sharing Sammie's devotion to her dog. Best of all comes the connection with a family that has an attractive son who gets interested in Sammie: they share a love of folk music, of all things. So that is the basic situation. This will be popular. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2000, Random House/Delacorte, 247p, $14.95. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; September 2000 (Vol. 34 No.5)
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-Called a "hippie-chick" by her best friend Kitty, Sammie Davis strums folk songs on her guitar instead of joining life in the fast lane. Aside from the changes in her developing body, the 16-year-old's life has been relatively uneventful until she learns that her artist mother and college-professor father are separating. Feeling angry and betrayed, Sammie leaves Kitty and her upstate home for a cramped New York City apartment with her mom. Despite the stressful situation, there is a lighthearted element to the novel that keeps the mood balanced. Insightful and intelligent, the teen finds herself coping with the changes better than her emotionally fragile mother. Sammie's humor shines through, especially when she's with her slobbery dog, Moxie. She begins to primp, donning a lacy camisole and a spritz of vanilla musk for "Elevator Duty," a daily routine in the hope of a chance meeting with her good-looking neighbor. Finding a fellow dog-walker and ally named Phoebe, Sammie gains confidence in her new surroundings and ultimately finds the courage to tell her father how she feels. The author uses actual locations from the upstate New York area around Cornell University and from New York City, adding to the realism of the story. Teens will relate to the common themes of divorce and awakening sexuality and will enjoy this Birkenstock-wearing heroine.-Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Laurel-Leaf Bks.
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.08(w) x 6.86(h) x 0.67(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Let's say someone had waltzed up to me six months ago and asked for my definition of love. I wasn't so naive at fifteen and a half to presume that love, or luv—as my best friend, Kitty, always ends her e-mails—only applies to sex-crazed teenagers, pressed against lockers, feverishly grinding groins in between classes. I'd probably have rambled on about the bond between mothers and fathers, parents and children. No doubt I would have sprinkled in choice phrases like "unconditional support," "mutual respect," and "considering the other person's feelings."

Pull me aside now and quiz me about those same four letters, and I'd blankly stare at you, my jaw ajar, like those guys who sat behind me in biology all year. Kitty would say I'm jaded. I would say that's a major understatement, seeing how my entire life has been blown to smithereens. Unconditional support has gone the way of the pterodactyl. Mutual respect? Only exists in the pages of the self-help books on Mom's bedside table. And my feelings definitely weren't being considered when Dad dropped the bombshell on that Sunday afternoon in early May.

I'd just returned from sleeping over at Kitty's, where we pulled an all-nighter because her boyfriend, Jack, called from his cell phone at three a.m. to report that he and two friends were on her back porch. Kitty had answered on the second ring, before her parents woke up, so we slipped into sweats and sneaked out the sliding glass doors. They were all wasted; I could smell it on their breath. And moments after Kitty and Jack disappeared into the pool shed, both guys conked out on reclining chairs, a gesture I tried not to take personally. I almost crept back to Kitty's room, but then I remembered an article I once read about an inebriated frat boy choking to death on his own puke. So I held a vigil until pinkish light accented the sky and the luvers reappeared on the deck: Jack's T-shirt inside out, three nickel-sized hickeys dotting Kitty's neck.

By the time I got home the next afternoon, my eyelids were drooping and my throat felt scratchy and dry. All I wanted to do was take a hot shower and burrow under my covers, but an eerie stillness permeated the house.

"Mom's in bed with a migraine," Dad reported in a hushed tone, pressing his outstretched pointer finger against his lips, steering me into the family room for A Discussion.

As I perched on the edge of our leather recliner, I tugged at the frayed strings on my cutoff jean shorts. Upon retrieving them from a bottom drawer on Friday afternoon, I'd discovered to my displeasure that they were snugger than last summer.

"Sammie." He paused. "Mom and I have been talking a lot these past few weeks. . . ."

Dad's voice trailed off. I noticed that the creases that have been cutting into his cheeks all spring were obscured by a weekend's buildup of stubble.

". . . And we've decided to get a trial separation."

Trial separation. The term hung in the air between us, like humidity before a thunderstorm. I began wrapping a thread from my shorts around my finger.

"What about our plan to go to California next year?" I asked. Dad is an English professor at Cornell, and Mom and I were joining him on his sabbatical to Stanford at the end of June. Aunt Jayne, Dad's younger sister, just sent a photo of the half-of-a-house she'd found for us in Palo Alto.

Dad began gnawing his fingernails, a habit he kicked five years ago, in solidarity with Mom, who was becoming a vegetarian because of her high cholesterol.

After a long silence, Dad somberly replied, "I'm going out there alone after all."

My face froze. Alone? Maybe he means alone, as in alone without Mom, as in alone with me. That had to be it. It's no secret that Dad and I are close, much closer than I am to Mom.

If the trial separation announcement was an atomic bomb, an obliteration of the belief that Mom and Dad were the 7th Heaven, we-have-problems-yet-we-gleefully-work-them-through type of parents, what was about to come was nuclear devastation. Armageddon. To quote that REM song, "the end of the world as we know it."

Dad got up from the couch, affixed his arm around my shoulders and delivered the final blow: "I'm sorry . . . it's just something I have to do."

I was stunned. Utterly, completely stunned. So stunned I couldn't speak, even though I was aching to scream, to rant, to demand an explanation for how he could desert me like this. All I could do was repeat, over and over in my head: Don't feel a thing. Don't feel a thing. Don't feel a thing.

It was only as I wriggled away from Dad's arm that I noticed my finger was red and bulging. I'd twisted the thread so tightly it had cut off the circulation. Yet still, as I unwound the tourniquet to discover purplish grooves in my skin, I didn't feel a thing.

There was this time last summer when Kitty and I rode our bikes all over Ithaca, ending up at Stewart Park. As we unlaced our sneakers and waded into Cayuga Lake, a motorboat whipped by, towing a small boy on an oversized yellow inner tube. The kid, both hands gripping the plastic handles, had a frantic expression on his face as his pleas to stop were swallowed by the rumble of the horsepower. The spotter was consumed with smearing on sunblock, the driver consumed with two bikini-clad women capsizing a Sunfish. Which left the boy two options: to catapult himself into murky waters, or to get dragged along, completely out of his control, until the powers-that-be decided to terminate his joyride. He chose the latter.

I kept revisiting that image over the next few weeks, as I watched my life being disassembled, one familiarity at a time. I avoided Dad assiduously until his late-May departure, as soon as Cornell let out. And I only talked to Mom when absolutely necessary. Like when the conversation swung to the looming question at hand: next year.

Mom had already taken a leave of absence from her job as an art teacher at the middle school. And in a matter of weeks, a faceless family who'd agreed to sublet from us back in February would be pulling into the driveway, stocking the cupboards, peeing in the toilets of the home I've lived in since I was two years old. This is all I know about them, from the realtor's letter that lay open on Mom's dresser:

1. The man's name is Dr. Oscar Mueller.

2. He's going to teach statistics at Cornell and his

wife will work at the vet school.

3. They're from Cincinnati.

4. They have one teenager.

Because of the father's name, I call them the Oscar Mayer Wieners. The worst part is knowing that the kid is going to curl up in my bed. Especially if it happens to be a boy, in light of what I recently read on this "let's-get-teens-to-chat-about-sex" Web site:

I'm a fifteen-year old guy, joeshmoe wrote, and I spank the monkey once a day, my morning ritual.

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