Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mindby Valerie Hobbs, Tara Sands
Minnie McClary’s life was turned upside down when her family moved from the big city to a small town, and now she has nothing but problems. Miss Marks, her new language arts teacher, thinks that the way to solve problems is to start by asking questions. But Minnie has so many questions she doesn’t even know where to start. Like why did her father lose… See more details below
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Minnie McClary’s life was turned upside down when her family moved from the big city to a small town, and now she has nothing but problems. Miss Marks, her new language arts teacher, thinks that the way to solve problems is to start by asking questions. But Minnie has so many questions she doesn’t even know where to start. Like why did her father lose his job by blowing a whistle? Why is her war veteran uncle obsessed with building a helicopter in the basement? Why do people make fun of her new friend Amira’s head scarf? Why do all of the parents care so much about the rainbow tattoo on Miss Marks’s ankle? And what can you do when you know you should stand up for what’s right, but you might be too scared?
"Fans of Claudia Mills’ thoughtful and sometimes anxious protagonists will definitely take to Minnie and appreciate her widening understanding." —The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
"Readers will cheer this protagonist on as she finds her voice—and perhaps be inspired to make their own voices heard." —School Library Journal
- Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.90(w) x 5.10(h) x 1.10(d)
- Age Range:
- 9 - 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind
By Valerie Hobbs
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2012 Valerie Hobbs
All rights reserved.
10:02. Room 2, Mojave Middle School, Home of the Mustangs.
Minnie McClary, row one, seat four, nervously watched the clock. If a teacher did not show up in exactly three minutes, Room 2 was going to explode. It had happened yesterday, and the day before that, and it was sure to happen again.
Some little thing would set it off, a belch or a fart, a spitwad would fly. Kids would wriggle in their seats. One boy would leave his desk, then another. They would prowl the room like dogs sniffing for trouble, or do some dopey thing to make everybody nervous, like standing on the teacher's desk.
Minnie was trying not to worry about what would happen today. It was not her job to keep order. Like the rest of the class, she was only a kid. Unlike them, she was the new kid. She didn't know where she fit in yet, or if she ever would.
She bit her lip and waited.
10:03. Feet shuffled, backpacks unzipped, forbidden cell phones appeared. Alicia, who always sighed dramatically, sighed dramatically. The boy who had allergies and never blew his nose began his nervous sniffle. Somebody hummed the theme from Jaws. Derek's fingers drummed the desk.
Minnie tried to think about things outside this classroom, like the blank canvas in art class that was supposed to turn into a self-portrait. Her brother, Dylan, who had stopped being nice the minute he turned thirteen. Her uncle Bill, who was building a helicopter in the basement.
She tried not to think about her mom and dad arguing about Uncle Bill, but one thought led to the next, and then she was worrying. Minnie worried too much, her mother said. She should be having fun, like a normal eleven-year-old girl.
10:04. Amira, the girl across from Minnie, turned to her with dark, troubled eyes. She seemed to be thinking what Minnie was thinking: what if nobody came? In the three weeks since school began, their class had had five different subs. Only one of them, the principal's wife, stayed longer than two days. She had gone on and on about the beauty of verb phrases, and then went home and had a baby.
Mr. Delgado came next. He yelled so loud the windows rattled.
Miss Valentine, number three, had laryngitis and couldn't talk at all.
Mr. Spinks, a retired engineer, taught them how to make stealth planes out of notebook paper. He didn't know what a verb phrase was.
And now their language arts class had fallen apart.
10:05. "Ow!" yelled Carl. He leaped from his desk, rubbing the back of his head. "Who did that?" He dived on Jorge and knocked him to the floor. Two of the girls and all of the boys, except for Todd Ingram, whose mother was the school board president, flocked to the back of the room.
Todd sat quietly and drew. Theresa the goth girl opened a book and began to read. Amira bowed her head. A trash can went clattering across the floor. Kids yelled and whooped and jumped around Carl and Jorge, who were scuffling on the floor.
Minnie counted to ten. Twice. She looked at the door through which no one was coming. She checked the clock: 10:06. Her face felt hot and her ears itched. She could not keep her feet still. Without thinking, without really knowing what she was doing, Minnie jumped up out of her seat and, with her fists clenched, shouted "Stop!" as loud as her voice would go. "Stop it!"
And something extraordinary happened. As if Minnie had cast a spell, every kid in the room did exactly what she said. They stopped what they were doing and froze in place. Now they were all staring at her, at Minnie the new girl, the very short, hardly noticeable new girl in the first row. Even Amira, the girl who might have been a friend, stared at her in horror, as if Minnie had sprouted horns.
Even Minnie seemed to be staring at Minnie. She could not believe what she had done, or that the floor would not open and let her drop through.
10:07. The doorway filled with the huge body of their principal, Mr. Butovsky, wearing his navy blue suit and a red tie knotted beneath his chins. "Back to your seats!" he bellowed. Kids scurried to their desks, quick as lizards. Minnie slid into her seat, her heart ticking like a clock gone haywire.
Mr. Butovsky had been their sub for two days. He had read to them out of a book called Crime and Punishment. For a while the class had been patient. But the words were huge and the sentences went on forever. "So he kept torturing himself," Mr. Butovsky had read, looking down over his three chins and through the reading glasses balanced on the end of his nose, "tormenting himself with these questions, and he seemed even to derive some pleasure from it."
No one could understand why the principal had chosen to read them the crime book. Yes, they had been bad. Yes, they had thrown spitwads and played games on the phones they weren't supposed to bring to class. But they didn't murder any little old ladies like the guy in the book did.
They had listened a while longer to find out what their punishment would be. Maybe this was their punishment! One by one they had all given up on the crime book, even Minnie, who always did everything right.
But Mr. Butovsky was upbeat today and all of his chins were smiling. "I have some very good news, children," he said, righting the trash can. "We have found you a teacher."
Nobody said a word. Room 2, fourth-period language arts, was wary of new teachers who blew in and out like the wind across the desert.
"Her name is Miss Marks and she'll be starting tomorrow," he said. "You will have her for the rest of the year."
"The whole year?" said Alicia, who was pretty and brave and always spoke up.
"The whole year," said Mr. Butovsky. "Now let's get to work, shall we?" He opened Crime and Punishment to the page he had marked. Eyes glazed over. Jorge laid his head on his desk. Carl used his backpack as a pillow. Amira sat without seeming to breathe, as patient as stone.
Minnie tried, really tried, to listen, but all she could think about, the only thing she could think about, was what she had done. The enormity of the thing. How she had jumped right up out of her seat and yelled at the top of her lungs. She still couldn't believe that she'd done it. Her face tingled with shame. Her whole body felt hot and sticky. It was wrong. It was wronger than wrong: it was embarrassing, and she would never live it down.
She sat with her hands clenched together, her own shrill voice still ringing in her ears.
Mr. Butovsky looked up from the book, squinting at the window. "Will somebody please lower that blind?" he said. Nobody moved. Then Carl, from the very last seat in the very last row, in his nastiest, nasally voice, said, "Let Miss Goody-Goody do it."
Every face turned toward Minnie.
Derek and Carl did a fist bump. "Dude!" said Derek.
Somebody snickered, then somebody else.
Minnie stopped breathing. She blinked and blinked to hold back her tears, but they leaked out all the same, rolling over her cheeks and off her chin as Amira, wearing her black head scarf, got up and with her perfect dancer's posture went to the window and lowered the blind, and Minnie waited to die.
Minnie took two cans of Pepsi out of the fridge and opened the door to the basement. A stew of smells—grease, laundry detergent, orange peels, musty sheets, and dirty socks—rose up to greet her. She started down the stairs.
Her uncle Bill was asleep on his Salvation Army couch, curled up with his arms around his chest. His gray T-shirt was the one he'd worn yesterday, and the day before that. It was stained with grease and something that looked like blood but was probably catsup. He was going to shave "someday," he said, but that day didn't seem to be coming. His face was beginning to look mangy, like the back end of Tuffy, the neighbor's dog.
Minnie was beginning to think she would never get her "old" uncle back. The one who laughed harder at kid movies than she did. The one who taught her magic tricks and sang off-key on purpose. In church! The uncle who was more fun than anybody she ever knew.
Minnie ducked under a helicopter blade, stepped over a box of metal parts, and poked her uncle's shoulder. "Uncle Bill!"
"Mmmmph," he said, opening an eye.
"I brought you a Pepsi." He didn't move.
She pushed his shoulder again. This time, he opened both eyes and sat straight up, his eyes wide and wild. "What? What happened?"
He frowned and ran a hand over his crew cut. In the dim light, his deep-set eyes were a muddy green, his skin pale and ghostly. "Oh," he said, coming back from wherever he'd been. "Thanks, Minnie."
Minnie set the drinks on the floor next to her uncle's prosthetic leg. She sat down beside him. "I did a jerky thing today," she said.
With his arms still crossed, her uncle scratched his armpits. "How jerky?"
"Real jerky," she said. "Stupid jerky." Then she told him what happened in language arts class.
Her uncle nodded thoughtfully, or else he was falling back to sleep. "Uh-huh."
"I don't know why I did it!" she cried. "I've never done a thing like that in my whole life! It was horrible!"
"Horrible." He rubbed his red-rimmed eyes.
"It felt like ... like ..." She couldn't come up with a word bad enough, a metaphor right enough. Except for "hell," which she wasn't supposed to say.
Her uncle got a rare twinkle in his green eyes. "It felt good, didn't it?"
"It felt good," he said, and shrugged.
For a minute, Minnie said nothing. She just stared at her uncle, whose eyes had lost their muddy look. Was he teasing her? How could what she had done feel good?
Well, it couldn't. He was wrong, dead wrong. What she had felt wasn't good, it was awful.
Or was it? The awful came after, didn't it? After she'd done the horrible thing. What she felt like while it was happening was, yeah, kind of good. As if, for once, she, shrimpy Minnie McClary, was bigger than herself, almost huge.
But after, after was horrible. Not worth it. Definitely not worth it. For the rest of the year, she would be still. As silent and still as Amira.
Minnie's uncle smacked her thigh and stood. He switched on the fans her mother had bought at Target, but all they did was push the hot air around. "I'm going to get some work done on the chopper today," he said, hopping over to his toolbox. "You can help, if you want."
His camouflage pants were faded and torn. He'd worn them or his one other pair for two months now, ever since returning from Iraq. But it didn't seem to matter to him how he looked. If he wasn't down here, he was at the dump scavenging for parts or going wherever he went late at night when nobody was around. His clothes always smelled like smoke.
When Minnie warned him that he was going to die of lung cancer if he didn't quit smoking, he had looked at her for a long time. He didn't care. He didn't say it, but it was there in his eyes, along with all the other things he never talked about.
The helicopter looked like a giant insect crouched in the middle of the cement floor. It wasn't as big as a real Apache AH-64, her uncle said. He'd need a barn to build one of those. But it was huge and took up most of the basement. Squished against the back wall was a worn-out, ugly brown couch, a metal locker, books about aircraft, his laptop on a wooden crate, and boxes of metal parts.
Stacked against the facing wall were all the cardboard boxes bulging with stuff from the family's big, old house in Pasadena. They were "downsizing," her mother said.
This was part of the reason that Uncle Bill didn't have a bedroom. The other part was that he wanted to live in the basement, where he didn't have to talk to anybody but the people who wanted to talk to him: Minnie, her mother, and once in a while, Minnie's brother, Dylan.
Upstairs, the front door slammed. Her uncle jumped, dropping his screwdriver.
"It's okay," said Minnie. "It's just my dad."
Her uncle's hands shook. Not because of Minnie's father, but because of the war. The only time they didn't shake was when he slept.
He picked up his screwdriver. Reaching into his pocket, he took out a handful of screws. He stared at them so long that Minnie got nervous.
"We're getting a new teacher," she said to get his mind off the screws. "Her name is Miss Marks."
Her uncle looked up. His eyes focused. He smiled. "Another substitute?"
"For the rest of the year, Mr. Butovsky said."
Her uncle tossed his screwdriver into the toolbox. "What happened to the teacher you were supposed to have?"
Minnie shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe he got fired."
"Or she," her uncle said.
Minnie's father had gotten fired, which was why they were "downsizing." He'd been fired for blowing a whistle. Not a real, actual whistle. It had something to do with telling on his boss, which wasn't exactly tattling but sounded like tattling.
When Minnie's mother tried to explain it to Minnie and Dylan, she only confused them more. "Your dad got punished for doing the right thing," she said. Their father didn't want to talk about it.
When Minnie asked her mother why grownups got away with not talking about stuff when kids always had to, her mother said she didn't feel like talking about it.
And she wasn't even kidding!
"I hope Miss Marks is nice," said Minnie wistfully. She had always liked language arts. After art—which was ruined now because of the self-portrait thing—language arts had been her favorite subject. "I hope she's pretty."
Her uncle gave her a warning look. "Minnie ..."
Minnie grinned. "Don't worry, I won't try to fix you up."
"Again," said her uncle. "You won't try to fix me up again."
"I know, I know." She sighed. "It didn't work out last time."
He gave her nose a poke. "You tricked me."
Well, it was true, sort of. It was true that Minnie had talked her uncle into coming upstairs for dinner, which he almost never did. And it was true that she had talked her mother into inviting Beth Keller, who lived with Tuffy the terrier next door.
But it wasn't true that she had played a mean trick. Minnie had meant to do a good thing for her uncle and for Miss Keller, who hadn't had a date, she'd said, in seven years.
All through the dinner, her uncle hadn't said one word, while Miss Keller went on and on about updating her bedroom to make it more inviting.
Minnie's uncle wouldn't speak to Minnie for two whole days, which was awful.
Just then the basement door opened and her father's voice boomed. "Minnie? You down there?"
"Where's your brother?"
"I don't know."
"Come up here and do your homework."
The door shut with a solid sound.
Minnie sighed. "I've gotta go." Halfway up the steps, she turned around. She knew what her uncle would say, but she had to ask anyway. "We're having pizza for dinner. Are you coming up?"
"Not tonight," he said.
"Okay. I'll bring you some."
Her uncle frowned. "You don't have to wait on me, Minnie."
It was true, she didn't have to. But what would he do if she didn't? Starve to death?
No, he wouldn't starve. Minnie had watched him leave the house late one night when reading Speak had kept her awake. Twenty minutes later, he was back. Sitting on the front steps with his fake leg stuck out, he ate something wrapped in yellow paper. When he was finished, he stuffed the paper in his pocket and lit a cigarette.
While Minnie fought to keep her eyes open, he just sat on the steps blowing smoke into a dark, starless sky. Then he got up and wandered off in another direction, his hands stuffed into his pockets and his head down.
* * *
Minnie's father pinned her with one of his looks. "I don't want you hanging around down there all day," he said, pulling loose the knot in his tie.
Minnie closed the basement door. "I'm not hanging around down there all day," she said. "I just got home from school."
"Did you do your homework?"
"I just got home from school!"
Her father raised his eyebrows. "Excuse me?"
What had gotten into her? She never talked back to her father. Had something come loose fourth period when she'd yelled at the class? "I'm sorry," she said.
"That's better. Where's your brother? He should be home by now." He popped his can of Diet Pepsi, frowning at the brown foam that bubbled over his fingers.
"He's probably at Eric's or Nathan's," said Minnie. Unlike her, Dylan had friends. He made them as smoothly as the deals he made with Minnie and conveniently forgot to keep.
Excerpted from Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind by Valerie Hobbs. Copyright © 2012 Valerie Hobbs. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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