The Pursuit of Happiness (MTV Books)

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Overview

Dressing up as an eighteenth century farm girl is not how Betsy Odell imagined spending the summer before her senior year of high school, but her history professor father insists she take a job at Morrisville Historic Village. To make matters worse, Liza Murphy, only the biggest freak from school — piercings, tattoos, bleached hair — works as a farm girl too. As far as Betsy can tell, her summer will be miserable and any chance of ever being popular is doomed.

When tragedy ...

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Overview

Dressing up as an eighteenth century farm girl is not how Betsy Odell imagined spending the summer before her senior year of high school, but her history professor father insists she take a job at Morrisville Historic Village. To make matters worse, Liza Murphy, only the biggest freak from school — piercings, tattoos, bleached hair — works as a farm girl too. As far as Betsy can tell, her summer will be miserable and any chance of ever being popular is doomed.

When tragedy strikes Betsy close to home, her boyfriend and 'friends' are nowhere to be found, and her job becomes a welcome escape from the real world. James, a Morrisville employee from the next town over, is probably the greatest — not to mention cutest — guy Betsy has ever met, and Liza is surprisingly normal and fun. Caught between two worlds — old and new — Betsy is soon struggling with two versions of herself. Combining backdrops of historic Morrisville with the normal teenage world of beach parties, learning to drive, and broken hearts, Tara Altebrando writes a hilarious and fun novel of one girl's search for love and happiness—and the unlikely places she finds them.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A dreamlike evocation of friendship and romance, and how tragedy can be transformed into art. Like Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever, The Pursuit of Happiness deals insightfully with love and loss."

— Alex McAulay, author of Bad Girls

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416513285
  • Publisher: MTV Books
  • Publication date: 3/28/2006
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 0.80 (h) x 7.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Tara Altebrando lives in Astoria, New York. Visit her website at www.taraaltebrando.com.

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Read an Excerpt

chapter 1

The day my mother dies is a Thursday in mid-June and Loretta's scolding me for leaving my cell phone on the kitchen table. If it were my own family's twenty-first-century kitchen table, there wouldn't be a problem. But the kitchen table where my stuff is right now happens to be in a restored colonial-era farmhouse. Anachronisms are a big, bad no-no at Morrisville Historic Village and employees like me are expected to know better than to leave such modernisms lying around.

It's a day like any other at work. Mary and I complain about our itchy Early American clothing and the ninety-degree weather; if colonial women actually wore as many layers as we do, we joke, they must have stank to the high heavens. Loretta bakes corn bread to show off the authentic brick oven and swats visitors' hands when they reach out for a taste. "Not enough for our guests," she sings. "I'm sure you understand." It'd be breaking character to say "health code" or "lawsuit"; she winks deliberately instead.

Mary and I feed the ducks in the pond out back and give tours of the house, pretending not to know anything about modern-day life. ("George Bush? Who's he? The cobbler up the road?") We explain the origins of the phrase "sleep tight" to packs of camp kids and detail the long-ago tragedies of the families that once called the farmhouse home. James, the lanky blond who works in the carpenter's shop, wanders over for a chat. He leans over the half-cut front door, his sloping shoulders silhouetted against blazing daylight, as I sit in a rocker in the darkened front hall drinking warm Coke from a clay mug. He says, "If Will tells me 'measure twice, cut once,' one more time I'm not responsible for my actions." He just graduated from a different high school, in the next town over, and is going to Princeton come fall. He surfs and always has a book in his pocket and that's about all I know about him at the moment. It will be another few weeks before he'll start carving me things out of wood — a duck, a name plate, a Ferris wheel — and a couple more before he'll say "wow" after we kiss.

Loretta hollers from the kitchen; she has a chore for me to do. I spill soapy water on my burlap skirt while emptying the metal bucket off the back porch. "If you don't rush so much, you won't get it on yourself," she instructs, and I say, "Thanks, Mom" without thinking. Immediately, I feel guilty. It's like I've already begun to replace her.

Mrs. Rudolph, the village head honcho, comes to the kitchen door a full hour before my shift ends and catches my eye. "Someone's here to take you home, Betsy." She has a perpetual redness to her nose, an unfortunate fact considering her name.

I slip into the nursery and unpeel my work clothes, hanging them over the side of the wooden crib before shoving them in my backpack in place of the shorts, T-shirt, and Sketchers I've put on. When I return to the kitchen, Mrs. Rudolph is still waiting for me and my stomach clenches. Escorts are never good. I know that it's happened, that she's gone. Thank God I went to see her last night.

Mary ditches colonial-speak and says, "Call me?"

The fact that no one chides her modern usage means trouble for sure.

Mrs. Rudolph and I walk through the village in silence, crossing the busy street that carelessly cuts through it, and I realize it's unpleasantly hot — Early American clothes or not. I'm mad that Mrs. Rudolph knows something I don't — rather, that she's actually been told — but I don't ask her what she knows. I don't even ask my Aunt Patty and Uncle Jim, who've been sent to bring me home; they're an aunt and uncle I rarely see so their mere presence confirms the level of crisis. I sit in their oversize backseat, my thighs sticking to the tan leather, and wait for Patty to start smoking. She's fidgeting — I know she wants one — but she doesn't give in. I could tell her it's okay, that I know the difference between breast cancer and lung cancer — that I could probably use a smoke myself — but I decide to let her sweat.

It feels like revenge. I just don't know what for.

I get out of the car in front of my house, and my aunt and uncle hang back. I grew up inside this house — a three-story white Victorian, with a big wraparound porch — and it has never, ever looked so menacing. I almost don't want to go inside but I do. When my eyes adjust, I see the grandparents I have left — my dad's parents — loitering in the kitchen. My father's at the top of the stairs and beckons me with his eyes.

We sit on my bed and he tells me what I already know. Together we cry and await my brother's arrival. Ben's younger than I am — fourteen years old — and he's been summoned from basketball camp. He joins us in my room a while later and the three of us cry and cry.

I call Brandon, who I've been dating for six months; he's my first bona fide boyfriend. In minutes he's at the front door, his car parked poorly on the street — a solid two feet from the curb. He wouldn't have his license if he parked like that during his road test.

"I'm going out," I shout to the house.

Brandon hugs me limply on the front porch. His eyes are perpetually sad to begin with, just by design; now they look something else, too. Sad and maybe a little bit scared. Like this is more than he bargained for. He doesn't say anything and I say, "Let's get out of here."

In the car, he says, "Where to?" and I say, "The wall." It's a concrete wall at the end of a wooded street that dead-ends at the beach. We go there to watch the waves and to fool around — sometimes just to talk. We've been going there less and less lately. I'm not sure why.

I step out of the car at the wall and am immediately grateful for the shore breeze. It's cooler by the water than anywhere else I've been all day. We hop our butts up onto the scratchy concrete and spin around so our legs dangle down over the sand. I wonder why I'm not crying and figure I'm now officially in shock. Brandon says, "I'm so sorry," and I just nod and stare at the water. We supposedly knew she was going to die but I guess you never believe it until it happens...and maybe not even then.

I want Brandon to say something more. Something insightful and comforting, something that will crush the feelings I'm having about his complete inadequacy as a boyfriend. I don't know what I expect from him, but I know that it's more than this. He takes my hand, which is a start, but when I look up at him, he's got nothing for me. "Why don't you say something?" I ask.

"I — " He sighs. "God. I don't...I don't know what to say."

I know that I should say something reassuring. Like "that's okay," or "just being here is enough." But it's not okay. It's not enough. I'm already wondering whether I'll ever see him the same way again, whether I'll ever feel my stomach flip at the sight of him — or anyone — and that makes me mad. She's gone and now everything's going to be different.

I pick a swell of ocean in the distance and try to track its progress to shore. When it finally crests and crashes on the beach, I turn to Brandon and say, "I should get home. My dad and Ben'll be worried."

We go home a different way, past the junior high I went to. Even though I'm only going into my senior year of high school I suddenly feel ancient, like junior high was a lifetime ago. Like I've aged twenty years in the space of an hour.

Brandon pulls up in front of the house. "Call you later?"

"Yeah," I say. "Sure." But I'm not sure I care whether he does.

Then, a blur of memories: Picking out a casket. Streams of people hugging me, squeezing my hand. Someone — a grandparent? an aunt? — saying it's for the best, she's at peace, my father can move on now, me storming out of the room. Deciding what dress to bury my mother in, feeling guilty for loving its deep pink-brown silk so much that I want to keep it, and shopping for something to wear to the funeral myself.

My Aunt Kay, the mother of two boys, takes me to the mall. She's already stepping up to the challenge my mother, her sister, apparently presented her — of looking after me in whatever mysterious feminine ways my father can't. And amidst the racks of tank tops and capris in The Gap, I run into Missy Vetter from school.

"Is that your mom?" she asks when she sees the blonde woman hovering near me. I hiss, "My mother's dead" before disappearing into a fitting room alone. I've got a long, blue floral skirt and a white cotton shirt with three-quarter sleeves hooked over my finger on plastic hangers. My mother, I was sure, would have insisted I was too young to wear black, even on her account.

My phone beeps a text message at me. "How R U?" Mary wants to know. And I want so desperately right then to be able to text back "gr8," to have my life be normal again.

People crawl out of the woodwork for these things, turns out. Cousins I never knew my father had pop up in every corner. Girls I barely know from school turn up at the wake, like it's the social event of the summer. Brandon is there, too, of course. I bring him up to the casket with me at one point — kneel in front of my mother's dead body with an arm slung around his shoulders. I think I'm giving him an opportunity to redeem himself, to say something insightful or meaningful, but he doesn't. He mostly seems to avoid looking at my mother, and who can blame him? I keep stealing glimpses at her myself, trying to figure out why she looks so different, but I can only conclude that the difference is that she's dead. I watch Brandon later, as Lauren Janey — barely an acquaintance from school — flips her hair in his vicinity. I think, Flirting at a wake. Nice.

I nearly die myself when I see Danny Mose's car pull into the cemetery. I'm standing with my family, sweating through the new clothes that I'll never wear again and, I imagine, getting sunburn. I think the priest has already started saying whatever it is he's saying when I see the car — a red sportscar — pull up. Danny gets out, with Meaghan Armstrong trailing behind him, and they hurry over to join the congregation. I think, Better late than never. I haven't seen either of them since the end of the school year a few weeks ago but there have been rumors they're kind of sort of dating. I guess they are. I barely know Meaghan, though, and I think it's weird that he brought her here. Like it's a date or something. Not that I know Danny well, either, but I've always wanted to. He's unbearably hot. I decide to pretend he came here because he's secretly in love with me, not because his mother worked with my mother and probably told him he had to. In school, Danny Mose never gives me the time of day.

The casket gets lowered. The crowd disperses. Then it's back to the house where there are lasagnas and baked hams to be pushed around on the plate; the salad dressing's oily, a cancer poisoning everything around it. When I'm finally able to escape the concerned looks of relatives and neighbors and retreat to my room, I lie down on my bed and see my work clothes — my brown burlap skirt, white cotton shift, and brown striped top — hanging on the back of the door. To my complete astonishment, I can't wait to go back to Morrisville, to put on layer upon layer of farm-girl gear. I've hated my dopey job from the get-go but right now it seems like the only place where I can escape. I think back to the first time I met James; I was feeding the ducks down at the pond and he walked over and said, "You new to these parts?" I smiled and said, "Yes," and then he said, "I'm James," and I said, "Betsy."

"You here all summer?" he asked.

I said, "Yup."

"Cool." He squinted and looked up at the sky; I'd just felt a drop of rain and I guess he had, too. "You ever say more than one word at a time?" he said.

I smiled, not even looking at him, just watching one duck launch itself back off the shore. I said, "Nope."

He looked at me with a sort of disbelief and for a second I liked the idea of it; that I could reinvent myself with him as this weird girl who never said more than one word at a time, a girl who couldn't say "my mother" or "breast cancer" or "I have a boyfriend." I liked the idea that he was a clean slate. But then I felt compelled to say, "Just kidding."

"Aha!" His eyebrows shot up. "That was two!" And then it started to rain and we each went off — me toward the farmhouse, him toward the carpenter's shop. "I'll see you around," he said. And I said, "See ya."

I wonder if the ducks have missed me.

Copyright © 2006 by Tara McCarthy Altebrando

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 14, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Jennifer Wardrip, aka "The Genius" for TeensReadToo.com

    According to the book ON DEATH AND DYING by Elsabeth Kubler-Ross, the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. If you ask Betsy Irving, though, Elsabeth got it all wrong. The five stages of grief are really agitation, intoxication, experimentation, resignation, and reinvigoration. Betsy's known for awhile that her mother is going to die. After all, with the type of breast cancer that her mother has, and the late stage that it's in, there's not a lot that can be done. But it's still a shock that hot, sticky Thursday in June when she leaves work at the Morrisville Historic Village early when her Aunt Patty and Uncle Jim show up to escort her home. Now her mother is gone, the funeral is over, the well-meaning guests have left, and it's just Betsy, her dad, and her younger brother, Ben, taking up space in the huge white Victorian house that they call home. <BR/><BR/>In the beginning, Betsy's friends have only her best interests at heart, and her first real boyfriend, Brandon, tries to be there for her, but Betsy still feels as if nothing in her life is working out as planned. And when said friends seem to disappear off the face of the earth, and Brandon turns out not to be the great boyfriend she had hoped for when he dumps her, things in Betsy's life get even more off-kilter. As if it wasn't bad enough that she's spending the summer working at the Village (which she knows was a trick devised by her history-loving, professor father), dressed in stifling Early American clothes and demonstrating cornbread making to eager tourists, now she has to do it alone, without any real friends or a supportive boyfriend--and in the presence of Liza Henske, whose Goth Girl shield isn't allowed at the Village. <BR/><BR/>It's amazing, though, what a new sort-of friend like Liza can teach a girl who just wants to get away form it all. And when James, the Village carpenter who will soon be leaving for Princeton, begins to comfort her with his soft-spoken words and small carvings, Betsy starts to learn that no matter what the actual stages of grief are, she just might be able to survive them after all. <BR/><BR/>THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS is a poignant, heartfelt novel. It's one of the best books I've read dealing with grief, with dialogue that never seems out of place or too cheesy. Ms. Altebrando has written a stunning debut novel that will leave you thinking about the story of Betsy and her family and friends long after you've finished the book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2007

    Great Book

    At first, I was a little reluctant to read this, because I noticed some other plot lines in the MTV books line, and I thought this would be a shallow book. I was wrong. The Pursuit of Happiness is a book about just that - looking for happiness. Betsy was a believable character who had to deal with her mother's death. It turned her into a different person. This book could have lessened the swears and sex talk, and it took me a chapter or two to get into, but it was still great. I found myself wanting to keep reading, but at the same time, I was sad about reaching the end. All in all, this one is worth the read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2007

    A reviewer

    i thought this book was really good. it shows what it feels like to lose a loved one and to gain another. james was my favorite character because he was full of mystery. a great book. i would recommend it to a lot of people but it does have some bad language XD.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2006

    Courtesy of Teens Read Too

    According to the book On Death and Dying by Elsabeth Kubler-Ross, the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. If you ask Betsy Irving, though, Elsabeth got it all wrong. The five stages of grief are really agitation, intoxication, experimentation, resignation, and reinvigoration. Betsy's known for awhile that her mother is going to die. After all, with the type of breast cancer that her mother has, and the late stage that it's in, there's not a lot that can be done. But it's still a shock that hot, sticky Thursday in June when she leaves work at the Morrisville Historic Village early when her Aunt Patty and Uncle Jim show up to escort her home. Now her mother is gone, the funeral is over, the well-meaning guests have left, and it's just Betsy, her dad, and her younger brother, Ben, taking up space in the huge white Victorian house that they call home. In the beginning, Betsy's friends have only her best interests at heart, and her first real boyfriend, Brandon, tries to be there for her, but Betsy still feels as if nothing in her life is working out as planned. And when said friends seem to disappear off the face of the earth, and Brandon turns out not to be the great boyfriend she had hoped for when he dumps her, things in Betsy's life get even more off-kilter. As if it wasn't bad enough that she's spending the summer working at the Village (which she knows was a trick devised by her history-loving, professor father), dressed in stifling Early American clothes and demonstrating cornbread making to eager tourists, now she has to do it alone, without any real friends or a supportive boyfriend--and in the presence of Liza Henske, whose Goth Girl shield isn't allowed at the Village. It's amazing, though, what a new sort-of friend like Liza can teach a girl who just wants to get away form it all. And when James, the Village carpenter who will soon be leaving for Princeton, begins to comfort her with his soft-spoken words and small carvings, Betsy starts to learn that no matter what the actual stages of grief are, she just might be able to survive them after all. THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS is a poignant, heartfelt novel. It's one of the best books I've read dealing with grief, with dialogue that never seems out of place or too cheesy. Ms. Altebrando has written a stunning debut novel that will leave you thinking about the story of Betsy and her family and friends long after you've finished the book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2006

    Outstanding

    This book was amazing! I just couldn't bring myself to putting this book down. Its about this girl who loe bses her mother and how she copes oh my goodness . It was the best book ever!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2006

    Loved it 3

    i loved 'the pursite of happiness'! i could really relate to some of the main characters feelings! i never wanted to put the book down. if you love sarah dessen you'll most likely love this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2006

    Not the best, but good.

    A very quick read, I finished this book in a day. This book is a little bit cliche and predictable, you knew how it would turn out in the end. But still, I was able to get into it and it was alright. It's a good summer read, but I think it's a little on the younger side, like maybe for ages 12-14.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2006

    really good read

    This is the first book I have read by Tara Altebrando, and it is really good. It is kind of sad in places, but in a good way. I felt very close to the characters and the story as I read. I would recommend it if you like Sarah Dessen's books or Bad Girls by Alex McAulay.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2006

    one of the best books I have read

    i dont normally like to read.. but this book was great! If you like realistic fiction books that you, as a teenager can relate to, then read this. Its pretty much a romance novel mixed with a bit of tragedy in the beginning but its not that sad cuz you didnt have time to become attached to the character....its really amazing READ IT!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2006

    Loved it :)

    I have to say that I absolutely loved The Pursuit of Happiness. If you're a fan of Sarah Dessen like I am, I can assure that you'll love it, too. It's a fairly quick read (I read it in a day and a half and would have been quicker but school got in the way!), but not in the mindless type of way that so many other chick lit books are. From the beginning, the novel held my attention because Betsy is so incredibly relatable. I haven't experienced something as tragic as the loss of a parent, but so many of her thoughts are thoughts that I hear in my head as well, and her reaction to situations are reactions that I could see, have seen, in myself and my friends. The characters are great. I hate how, in many books, the main characters will do things and say things that just make you groan and say, 'Nooo! Why'd you do that?!' Why do I want to read about a person who does things that annoy me? In here, Betsy makes mistakes, says things she shouldn't say, but you can see where she's coming from. I didn't find myself angry at her every move (although there were times, but that's to be expected in any chick lit book). Then there's Liza, the unexpected friend. I love how Betsy makes amazing friends at the most unexpected place, which is the job she started out hating. Liza, supposedly a rebel and a freak, turns out to be more of a friend than Betsy's usual gang, and isn't afraid to be honest, tell it like it is. The other character I fell in love with: James. In Sarah Dessen's books, there is always something that makes me feel light and airy, and that's that I always want the guy for myself! This, I can say, is the same case in The Pursuit of Happiness. I love James! He carves things for Betsy, teaches her how to surf, encourages her to remember her mother through stories. But he's also by no means perfect. I don't want to give anything away, though, so I'll have to stop there. ) Lastly, Betsy's art project (cutting pictures out of black construction paper) is one of the most original ideas I've read. Usually, it's running or sports or music or drawing, but just paper? She finds peace in this project and through it is able to come to terms with her relationships between family and friends, which is really awesome. It's sort of made me want to try it out for myself (but I know I that shouldn't, as I am by no means that artistic). Overall, I really did love this book. It drew me in, causing me to (I admit) blow off my homework, just so that I could finish reading it. Perfect for a day when you just want to sit down and read a book from cover to cover. :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2009

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