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Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face

Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face

4.0 2
by Paul Acampora

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Zachary's mom just up and disappeared from their home in Copper Lake, Colorado. The good news is that Zachary and his dad are trying to move on, and Falls, Connecticut is just the place for a fresh start. With the help of a new friend, Rachel, and her brother Teddy, Zachary is learning about new beginnings, the power of forgiveness, and the quirky people that make


Zachary's mom just up and disappeared from their home in Copper Lake, Colorado. The good news is that Zachary and his dad are trying to move on, and Falls, Connecticut is just the place for a fresh start. With the help of a new friend, Rachel, and her brother Teddy, Zachary is learning about new beginnings, the power of forgiveness, and the quirky people that make life interesting.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Acampora follows his debut novel, Defining Dulcie, with another moving story about a parent and child reinventing themselves to cope with loss. After 14-year-old Zachary's mother walks out without saying goodbye, he and his police officer father leave Colorado for a fresh start. The small town of Falls, Conn., is populated with suitably offbeat residents—a Polish couple who keep their taxidermied German shepherd at their ice cream store, a know-it-all librarian named Fines, and, most important, next-door neighbor Rachel and her older brother, Teddy, a lovable trumpet virtuoso who has an unspecified disorder (autism?) that forces Rachel into the protector role. Zachary's father assesses people by what he adjudges their superpower to be, and he thinks Rachel's is rage, fueled by anger at the universe (her mother died giving birth to her). Over the summer, Zachary grows to understand both Rachel's real superpower—her "ferocious" love of Teddy—and the depth of the wound his own mother left him with. Acampora's light touch with weighty issues makes for a highly appealing read—readers will want to spend more time with these well-crafted and complex characters. Ages 8–12. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

“What distinguishes this story is Acampora's light touch with a weighty subject--this is a very funny book.” —ReadKiddoRead.com

“Fans of small-town color and happy endings will take heart in this ultimately hopeful tale.” —BCCB

“Quirky characters, small-town hominess, and frequent touches of humor create a Joan Bauer feel with cross-gender appeal.” —SLJ

“An outstanding, humane coming-of-age tale of loss, yearning and forgiveness.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Acampora's light touch with weighty issues makes for a highly appealing read--readers will want to spend more time with these well-crafted and complex characters.” —Publishers Weekly

School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—In this warm and funny novel, a move to Falls, CT, lets Zachary and his dad begin over after Zachary's mom leaves them to follow her own dreams. Zachary, at 14, has plenty to adjust to but finds himself in a warmly inviting community. Rachel, an expert on detention, and her older, special-needs brother, Teddy, become constants in Zachary's life and the three forge strong bonds. With a supportive dad and new friends, Falls begins to feel like home. From the elderly Polish-American couple who sent their beloved deceased dog to a taxidermist and keep him in their ice-cream shop so he can continue to welcome customers to the very pregnant band teacher who lets all her students feel the baby kick, the characters and the historic town with its leafy green streets form a safe and comforting ambience. Zachary himself is agreeably average and eminently likable. A change from problem novels filled with emotionally distant adults and troubled teens, this is a welcome respite. Quirky characters, small-town hominess, and frequent touches of humor create a Joan Bauer feel with cross-gender appeal.—Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library District, Elgin, IL
Kirkus Reviews

New friends ease a young teen's adjustment to his mother's sudden absence.

After Zachary's mom abandons them, he and his father move to a small Connecticut town, where he makes friends with 14-year-old Rachel and her mildly mentally disabled older brother, Teddy. Teddy is a musical prodigy but less capable in other areas. Rachel has always vigorously defended him from local bullies, but her assiduous care has limited his ability to develop to his fullest potential. Juggling his growing friendship with Teddy and his increasing desire for a deeper relationship with prickly Rachel, Zachary also faces his unresolved grief and anger over his mother's sudden departure. From a quirky pair of local restaurateurs to a pregnant teacher to Zachary's loving father, each character is given a personality, and even those just lightly sketched come off the pages as real people. Realistic dialogue and poignantly amusing situations—Teddy steals his mother's ashes from their resting place in a teapot in the family diner in order to "let her out," leaving Zachary to try to save the day without hurting anyone's feelings—all come together to gently flesh out a few months in the lives of people readers will savor getting to know.

An outstanding, humane coming-of-age tale of loss, yearning and forgiveness. (Fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Roaring Brook Press
Publication date:
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File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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Read an Excerpt

Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face

By Paul Acampora

Roaring Brook Press

Copyright © 2011 Paul Acampora
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-7680-0


For several days, after dad and I discovered that Mom had gone, we tried very hard to lie. We pretended that she would be coming back even though we both knew better. Dad said things like, "We should paint the kitchen before Mom gets home." I said, "Don't forget to pick up some tea for Mom at the grocery store."

But we couldn't keep it up for long. We never did paint the kitchen. We never did buy the tea. And one night, when Dad put a bowl of spaghetti on the table between us, I said, "Mom wouldn't like this."

Dad took a bite. "Too plain?"

I nodded.

"Your mother's a lot of things," said Dad, "but she's not plain."

Once a week, Mom tried to serve up some kind of complicated recipe made out of strange textures and exotic spices. More than half of those concoctions ended up in the trash.

"You know the difference between my cooking and your mother's?" Dad said.

"Yours tastes good?" I said.

"You got that right."

Dad spoke with a Louisiana drawl he got from growing up in New Orleans. That's where my parents first met. Dad was finishing college and paying for school by playing trumpet with six or eight different bands. Mom was on vacation and noticed my father on the stage of some club. She went to see him play every night until finally he said hello. A few months after that, Dad moved to Copper Lake, Colorado, Mom's hometown. I was born a year later in a spare bedroom at my grandfather's old ranch house.

"Did you and Mom ever think about moving back to New Orleans?" I asked Dad.

"I wouldn't have said no to New Orleans," he told me.

Dad and I ate the rest of the spaghetti without speaking. When we were done, we cleared the table and washed our things in the sink. Finally, I said, "She's not coming back, is she?"

My father hesitated for just a moment before he answered. "No, Zachary. I don't think so." We returned the pot and plates to their shelves, then we stepped outside to watch the setting sun throw strange, brown shadows across the desert. "How about we go for a ride?" asked Dad.

"Okay." I stepped into the passenger side of our old Jeep, and Dad slid behind the wheel.

"Buckle up," Dad told me.

"Don't want to get a ticket, huh?"

"The police around here don't give tickets," said Dad. "They just shoot you."

I rolled my eyes. My father was Copper Lake's lone police officer. "I don't think we'll have to worry about that."

The Jeep started, and we headed west. After a short ride, we pulled onto an old dirt access road and bounced a little farther into rough, open space. Dad shut off the engine, and the two of us stepped outside to sit on the front bumper and stare at the desert. A deep, heavy quiet settled around us. "I never really liked this view," Dad finally said.

"Did you like it when you thought the land might be yours one day?"

Before I was born, my Mom's father owned all the land around us. After he died, my parents discovered that the old man hadn't paid taxes in living memory. Rather than inheriting a thousand Colorado acres, Mom and Dad got a postage-stamp sized lot and the aluminum-sided trailer where we lived.

Dad considered my question. "Honestly," he told me, "I can't say that I did."

At night, Mom used to study maps and memos hoping to find a loophole that would require the government to return the land to our family. "Was there ever really a chance of getting it back?" I asked.

"Nope," said Dad.

I can't say I was disappointed. On one far corner of the property, an abandoned mine pond held an orangey-brown chemical slick that made rainbow patterns in the sun. I saw a duck land in the pond once. The bird gave a frantic quack, a couple flaps, and then it collapsed dead in the water. I wouldn't want to be responsible for that.

I leaned my head back and watched twinkling stars reveal themselves above us. I wish I could say that I knew all the constellations, but my attempts to memorize them always failed. To me, the stars looked like ten thousand musical notes sprinkled randomly across the sky. In the darkening light, I turned and glanced at my father's face. A tear ran down his cheek. I'd never seen him cry. I didn't know what to say or do, but then I remembered Dad's trumpet in the back seat. I grabbed the horn and pushed it toward my father. "Play something."

He shook his head. "You do it, Zachary."

I could play, but not like Dad. I pressed the trumpet into his hands. "Play," I said again.

Dad took the instrument and examined the valves and the brass bell as if he'd never seen them before. Finally, he lifted the horn to his lips, took a breath, and then started to blow.

Before I was born, my father played for big time recording stars and no name brass bands. Now, in the middle of nowhere, he made a song just for me. It soared high into the sky then deep down like a punch in the gut. It was a mad, lonely tune that sounded like coyotes in the desert and my mother sneaking away before dawn. Dad played and played then finally let the last whisper of music fade like a prayer into the desert.

We were both quiet for a long time. "That was good," I finally said.

Dad returned the trumpet to me. "I think we should get away from here," he said.

I stood. "Do you mean away from this spot or away from Copper Lake?"

"I think I mean both," said Dad.

I wasn't sure I wanted to leave Colorado, but staying didn't feel like a solution to anything either. I'd lived in Copper Lake for my whole life, but I didn't feel especially connected to the place. With school a bumpy, forty-five minute bus ride away, my group of friends was small and not particularly close. I'd certainly never had anything even vaguely resembling a girlfriend. And living in a metal box at the edge of town did not put us in the mix of whatever social life even existed in this tiny corner of the world. Now that Mom was gone, leaving felt as sensible as staying.

A few days later, my father told me about a town in Connecticut that needed a police officer. "What do you think?" he asked.

I sat at our kitchen table. The walls around me were covered with posters that Mom left behind. They were pictures and paintings of faraway places and cruise ship destinations. Months earlier, she'd announced that it had always been her dream to work on a cruise ship. Now I held a short letter that contained Mom's cell phone number, her new e-mail address, and a short note explaining that she'd decided to get away and follow that dream.

"I think that it's not fair that Mom might be in Cancún or Bermuda or Fiji, and we're still checking our shoes for bark scorpions in the morning."

Dad nodded.

"What do you want?" I asked my father.

"I want us to be happy," he told me.

"That's all?"

"That would be enough."

I glanced around our kitchen, which looked like the break room in a travel agent's office. I recalled the arguments, some quiet and some not, between my parents during the past year. There'd been weeks when no more than a couple words passed between them and days when the orange poison pond had been a more pleasant spot than any place inside our house. I turned to my father. "Happy would be nice," I said. "Let's try it."


Dad and I arrived in Falls, Connecticut, on a Saturday. We'd crossed ten states in three days, and we were both ready to get out of the Jeep. Now it was the last day of April, and we were in a place that was as green as Copper Lake was brown. We found tree-lined streets and a pretty downtown. We drove around until we found the tidy, lemon-colored house that Dad rented for us over the Internet. A key beneath the welcome mat opened the front door. Inside, we found hardwood floors, pine cabinets, and soft, scuffed furniture. Ceiling-high bookshelves held dictionaries and children's books and paperback novels all bunched together.

Dad pulled a tattered Winnie-the-Pooh off the bookshelf. "The Web site said fully furnished. They weren't kidding."

I ran a hand over the fireplace mantle. "Mom would like this."

"I doubt it." Dad wouldn't speak badly about Mom, but he couldn't hide the fact that he was angry and hurting.

"Why not?" I asked.

"It's no cruise ship. There's no dolphins, no sea breezes, and no shuffleboard tournaments. What's for her to like?"

"No sharks, no tidal waves, and no seasickness," I suggested.

Dad lowered himself into a rocking chair. "We're less than an hour's ride from the ocean, Zachary. Anything's possible."

I'd never seen the ocean, and I was about to ask Dad if we could go there when the doorbell rang.

"Who could that be?" said Dad.

Both of us hesitated. We didn't know anybody in this town, and suddenly, I worried that it was my mother at the door. Dad sent her our forwarding address before we left Colorado, and it would be just like her to show up out of the blue.

"Do you want me to get it?"

"Sure." A little Louisiana faded out of Dad's voice, and a bit of police officer crept in. "I'll come too."

I crossed the small living room and swung the front door open. Instead of my mother, a slender, black-haired girl stood on the stoop. With both hands on her hips and her feet in a sort of ready-for-anything stance, she made me think of a sumo wrestler, if sumo wrestlers could be small, pretty, and female.

"Are you the new neighbor?" she asked.

"I guess so," I said.

She turned and pointed at a low-slung, red brick house. "I live across the street."

"Hi," I said.

"You must be Rachel Spinelli," said Dad.

She looked over my shoulder. "How'd you know that?"

I wondered the same thing.

"I'm going to be Falls' new police officer. It's my job to know stuff." My father held out his hand. "I'm Officer Beatrice." He nodded toward me. "This is Zachary."

Rachel shook Dad's hand. "So my reputation precedes me?"

"I'm afraid so," Dad told her.

"Excellent," said Rachel. She turned my way. "Do you know about me too?"

I shook my head. "Should I?" I couldn't help wondering if she was a murderer or a bank robber or something.

"Good question." She glanced over my shoulder and into the house. "Do you have brothers or sisters or anything?"

"It's just us," I said.

"I have a brother," said Rachel. "That's what I came here to talk to you about."

"Would you like to come in?" asked Dad.

Rachel stepped into our new living room and looked around. "This is nice."

"We've done what we can in the two minutes that we've lived here," Dad told her.

That made Rachel laugh.

"What's the story with your brother?" Dad asked.

"I watch out for him," said Rachel. "I always ask new neighbors to keep an eye on him too."

"He's a handful?" asked Dad.

"You could say that."

"Tell us what to look out for," my father said.

"Teddy has dark hair. Brown eyes. He's about six-and-a-half feet tall."

"Six and a half feet?" I said. "How old is he?"

"He just turned seventeen."

"Am I going to be writing speeding tickets at the end of my own driveway?" asked Dad.

"Teddy doesn't drive." Rachel said it as if the thought of her brother behind a steering wheel was the most ridiculous thing she'd ever heard.

"Okay," said Dad. "So if I understand what you're telling us, you've got a six-and-a-half foot, seventeen-year-old brother who doesn't have his driver's license, and he needs you and the whole neighborhood to look out for him."

"That's about right," said Rachel.

"What's wrong with him?" I asked.

"There is nothing wrong with my brother," Rachel shot back. "At school, some people say that he's stupid. They're the ones that are stupid. Can you just keep an eye out for him?"

"No problem," said Dad.

Rachel turned to me. "What about you?"

"Sure," I said.

"And you won't be stupid?"

"Zachary's not stupid," said Dad.

Rachel nodded. "That's good to know."

"You should bring Teddy over so that we can meet him," my father offered.

"Okay," said Rachel, "but not today."

"Why not?" I was curious about this giant mystery boy who was perfectly normal according to Rachel but needed his own personal neighborhood watch.

"I've got to go to work," said Rachel.

"You're old enough to work?" I asked.

Rachel headed toward the door. "I'm fourteen."

"Same as Zachary," said Dad.

"I work for my father," Rachel explained. "He runs the Falls Diner downtown. My parents started it before I was born."

"Does Teddy work there too?" I asked.


"And your mom?"

"My mom sits on a shelf inside an old coffee pot that we keep above the cash register."

Neither Dad nor I knew how to respond to that.

"It's her ashes. She's dead."

"Sorry to hear that," said Dad.

"Don't worry. The pot's glued and screwed shut. We can't mix her in with the decaf or anything."

"That's not what I meant," said Dad.

Rachel grinned. "I know. But there's no need to apologize. She died when I was born, which makes it more my fault than yours."

"Newborns aren't typically held responsible for that sort of thing," said Dad.

"Good point." Rachel turned and headed toward the door. Before she left, she noticed my horn case sitting on the floor. "Trumpet?" she asked.

I nodded.

"Who plays?"

"The entire household," Dad told her.

I pointed at my father. "He's better than me."

"Zachary's not bad," Dad said just before he slipped out of the room, leaving me alone with this girl who seemed like she was part tiny Wonder Woman and part big guard dog.

Rachel looked around for a moment. "Where's your mom?" she asked.

"She's not with us," I said.

"Dead like mine?"

"Just gone."

"Sorry," Rachel said.

I shrugged. "Don't apologize. It's more my fault than yours." I wanted to add something funny about how Mom was sealed tight inside a coffee pot on a cruise ship somewhere, but all that came out was a clearing my throat kind of sound.

"Hey," said Rachel, "are you going to play trumpet in the band at school?"

"I guess so," I said without thinking.

"Teddy's in the band."

"What about you?" I asked.

"The only thing I play is the radio."

"I guess I'll meet your brother at school then."

"I'll tell him to look out for you." Rachel stopped in the doorway. "Teddy could use a friend."

"A friend who's not stupid," I said.

"Not stupid is sort of a requirement." Rachel smiled, turned away, and left our house.


I found Dad in the kitchen. "How did you know that girl?"

"I used one of my superpowers," he said.

"Which one?" Dad had this thing about superpowers. He thought everybody had some. Fortunately, he only used his own superpowers for good.

"The one that lets me see into the future and recognize people who are probably going to give me a headache."

"Rachel's a headache?"

"Could be."

"How do you know?"

"I Googled all the neighbors before I rented the house." He opened and closed cabinets and drawers revealing dishes and mugs and cookware. "Not only that, I happen to know a lot of police officers who can check on that sort of thing."

"What kind of trouble does Rachel get into?"

"She gets into fights." Dad lifted a big frying pan from a bottom shelf.

"Are you going to cook up some lunch with that or is it for defending us against the neighbor girl?"

"I expect it's going to take more than a frying pan to deal with Rachel Spinelli. From what I hear, her superpower is rage. As far as cooking, we need groceries first."

"Want to check out the Falls Diner instead?"

Dad thought about it. "Not yet. Mr. Spinelli is probably busy. It would be good to meet him when he's home, and we can talk a little. I may be the cop that has to arrest his kid one day."

Dad put the pan away. "Let's finish unpacking. Then we'll hunt down some food around town."

We went back outside to unload my bike then carry in the remaining boxes and suitcases. The house had four bedrooms, a huge change from our Colorado trailer, and I claimed a neat, corner room with a bunk bed, a desk, and a window that opened onto the front yard. I decided that I'd sleep on the bottom bunk so I could hide any mess up top. Rolling onto the lower mattress, I discovered a star map taped to the bed above me. I ignored the standard list of constellations and traced my own pictures across the sky.

"You about ready for lunch?" Dad called from his room across the hall.

"I guess," I said.

"What are you in the mood for?"


Dad poked his head into my bedroom. "Can I tell you something?"

He was going to tell me something no matter how I answered, so I just nodded.


Excerpted from Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face by Paul Acampora. Copyright © 2011 Paul Acampora. 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

Paul Acampora is an avid reader, an enthusiastic dad, and a ferocious fan of being human. His first novel Defining Dulcie received starred review from Publisher's Weekly, School Library Journal and Booklist, and was a School Library Journal Best Books of 2006 and a VOYA Top Ten. Paul lives in Allentown, PA with his wife and two kids.

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Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really good sample!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was good i recommend