Razzle

( 6 )

Overview

Razzle Penney, an oddball teen who works at the town dump, befriends Ken Baker when he and his parents first move to Cape Cod. Ken is drawn to Razzle's eccentricities, and she inspires the best photographs he has taken. However, she also introduces him to her nemesis, Harley, a boy-crazy beauty who gets what she wants and she wants Ken. As Ken's friendship with Razzle and his relationship with Harley both stumble, Razzle's mother comes back to town, with a revelation about Razzle's past that devastates her. ...
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Overview

Razzle Penney, an oddball teen who works at the town dump, befriends Ken Baker when he and his parents first move to Cape Cod. Ken is drawn to Razzle's eccentricities, and she inspires the best photographs he has taken. However, she also introduces him to her nemesis, Harley, a boy-crazy beauty who gets what she wants and she wants Ken. As Ken's friendship with Razzle and his relationship with Harley both stumble, Razzle's mother comes back to town, with a revelation about Razzle's past that devastates her. Razzle wants to turn to Ken but finds that he, too has hurt her, and she may never be able to forgive him.

As she did in her award-winning novel, Hard Love, Ellen Wittlinger shows that while love and friendship are critical, neither is easy to sustain.

When his retired parents buy a group of tourist cabins on Cape Cod, fifteen-year-old Kenyon Baker's days are filled with repair work until he becomes friends with an eccentric girl and makes her the subject of a series of photographs.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When his parents retire, the 15-year-old narrator begrudgingly moves with them from Boston to Cape Cod, where he meets eccentric Razzle. "Readers will relate to the strained relationship he has with his parents, especially his mother who raised him on `automatic pilot,' " wrote PW. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
When his parents retire, Kenyon, the 15-year-old narrator of Wittlinger's (Hard Love) uneven new book, begrudgingly moves with them from Boston to the Cape Cod beach community, where they plan to renovate and run a cottage colony for tourists. He meets eccentric (and equally lonely) Razzle at the Truro town dump where she works. While their relationship develops smoothly and realistically, other characters and plot points come off as flat. As Ken gets more involved in Razzle's chaotic life, she teaches him not to be a "perwin" ("person without imagination") and instead to be someone visible. He also learns though a little late the value of loyalty. Some of the plotting is spot on (for example, when Ken, a budding photographer, is manipulated by a loose local knockout to showcase cheesy photos of her along with his soulful shots of Razzle at the end-of-the-summer art show). Readers will also relate to the strained relationship he has with his parents, especially his mother who raised him on "automatic pilot." Other points are less successful, such as Razzle's alcoholic mother's dramatic confession about what happened to the father of her children, and a few supporting characters, including a gay plumber and an old artist who stays at the cottages, seem too scripted. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
To quote KLIATT's September 2001 review of the hardcover edition: By the author of Hard Love, an ALA Best Book for YAs also set in the Boston area, Razzle tells of one pivotal summer in the life of Kenyon Baker. His parents retired and moved them to Cape Cod. Kenyon's main interest is photography and he has always gotten along without many friends. Razzle works at a recycle operation at the dump. Their friendship grows but is thwarted when Kenyon falls for Harley (named after the motorcycle), the sexiest teenager in town. The nuts and bolts of the story is the understanding Kenyon gains about love and friendship, and about the creative process. Each character is interesting (well, Harley is just a beautiful bimbo type), and Kenyon for the first time connects to people, especially other creative people. The truth about Razzle's parentage is a main theme, with the denouement coming at the end of the novel accompanied by plenty of histrionics, especially those supplied by Razzle's drunken mother. Wittlinger's teenage characters are smart, creative, and eager to understand their world. Their conversations are intelligent and probing, as are Kenyon's musings (the story is narrated in the first person by Kenyon, with plenty of opportunity for him to mull over things). By the end of this eventful summer, Kenyon is forced to move on, but he knows the summer has changed his life forever (always a good solid YA theme). An ALA Best Book for YAs. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, Simon & Schuster, Pulse, 248p.,
— Claire Rosser
Children's Literature
Fifteen-year-old Kenyon Baker believes he is in for the dullest summer of his life. His retired schoolteacher parents have uprooted him from Boston in order to run a cottage colony on Cape Cod. With all the chores he has to do to get the cottages in shape, Kenyon feels like little more than a hired hand. Then Kenyon meets Razzle and nothing, he knows, will ever be the same. Razzle, whose name means "Angel of mysteries," is as tall and gangly and unpopular as Kenyon is, but her directness and vivaciousness is unlike anyone he's ever met. And she is the best model Kenyon has ever had for his photography. Living up to her name, Razzle provides Kenyon with several mysteries—Who is her father? Why doesn't she want to learn his identity? What's the story behind her feuding mother and grandmother? With the help of Frank, a gay plumber who befriends Kenyon and Razzle, they begin to solve the mysteries. Deftly layered and textured, with characters uncommonly well-drawn, this novel shines where so many others fall short. The island of Cape Cod is depicted with such grace you can smell that peculiar brand of sunshine; you can feel the sand between your toes. Delightful to read, this book is a gem. 2001, Simon & Schuster, $17.00. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Christopher Moning
VOYA
Gawky fifteen-year-old Kenyon Baker, the late-life last child of his older, tired parents, is doing his best adjusting to their new life as owners of a rundown resort in Truro on Cape Cod. He is spending the summer helping his parents repair the broken-down cottages in exchange for using one of them as his living quarters and darkroom. Despite his uptight mother's disapproval, he befriends Frank, the gay plumber from nearby Provincetown, whose roots are in Truro. On a trip to the town dump, Kenyon meets Razzle, an endearing oddball teenager full of energy and secrets about her boozy, wayward, too-young mother; cranky grandmother; and unknown father. Kenyon and Razzle cement their friendship when he takes a series of stunning photographs of her that he plans to exhibit at the Dump Dance and Art Show. Enter trampy Harley, sworn enemy of Razzle since the second grade. Despite plenty of warnings from Harley's castoffs, Kenyon falls under her spell. Wounded, Razzle is caught in an even bigger emotional eddy when her mother comes clean about Razzle's father, who was Frank's best friend when they were all in high school together. Wittlinger, author of Hard Love (Simon & Schuster, 1999/VOYA April 1999), has a gift for portraying likeable, flawed teenagers who realistically balance unexpected maturity with believably boneheaded adolescent confusion. This book is recommended highly for public and school libraries. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, Simon & Schuster, 256p, $17. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Beth E. Andersen
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10-Adept characterization takes the lead in this absorbing narrative told by teenager Kenyon Baker, whose family has just moved to Cape Cod from Boston to take over a group of vacation cottages. Ken's voice throughout is candid, sensitive, humorous, and a bit sarcastic. On his first visit to the town dump, he meets Razzle, an independent teenager with definite opinions about almost everything. Ken looks back on this as a turning point in his life, which had been a "long snooze" until then. A close friendship develops between the two, which helps Ken figure out who he is and what's important to him. Razzle inspires his artistry as a photographer and helps him adjust to his new life. In spite of this appealing friendship, readers watch helplessly as Ken allows himself to be seduced by Harley, a beautiful but manipulative girl who has been Razzle's nemesis. Wittlinger fills the story with a cast of intriguing, offbeat characters, and her crisp style enlivens them and their actions. Razzle would really like to know who her father is even though she pretends not to care. She and her brother live with her eccentric maternal grandmother. Her alcoholic, foul-mouthed mother had been a promiscuous, irresponsible teenager, and her occasional visits to Truro spark tension within the family. Frank, a patient, wise plumber from Provincetown who was hired to fix up the rundown cabins, spends a great deal of time with Ken. His homosexuality adds to the focus on tolerance. Just as in her previous novel, Hard Love (S & S, 2001), Wittlinger evokes caring in readers and gives them plenty to think about.-Renee Steinberg, Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780613618113
  • Publisher: Turtleback Books: A Division of Sanval
  • Publication date: 3/1/2003
  • Pages: 247
  • Product dimensions: 5.66 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Ellen Wittlinger is the critically acclaimed author of the teen novels Love & Lies: Marisol's Story, Parrotfish, Blind Faith, Sandpiper, Heart on My Sleeve, Zigzag, and Hard Love (an American Library Association Michael L. Printz Honor Book and a Lambda Literary Award winner), and the middle-grade novel Gracie's Girl. She has a bachelor's degree from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. A former children's librarian, she lives with her husband in Haydenville, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Looking back, I'd have to say my life was one long snooze until the day I met Razzle Penney at the Truro dump. Mom had forced me to go with her that morning. She rationalized my servitude by telling me lifting junk would bulk up the muscles in my scrawny arms. Like I cared.

But there I was at the dump at ten o'clock lugging garbage out of the station wagon, then heaving it over the railing into the big container that would truck it off into oblivion. Make it disappear. So people didn't have to look at piles of discarded crap and think about how quickly their new piece of plastic from Wal-Mart or that cute little Gap outfit had turned into trash.

Okay, I was in a cynical mood that morning. It was the mood I'd been in for two weeks, ever since we'd relocated to that skinny little town with the unpronounceable name way out near the end of the sandy finger of vacationland called Cape Cod. We'd moved here from Boston, where I'd grown up in blessed invisibility in the shadow of the Hancock Tower and the Prudential Center, protected on all sides by insurance.

And now I was being turned into a sanitation engineer because the cottage colony my parents had just purchased came with enough broken-down furniture to redecorate Transylvania. Mom intended to refurbish the places in "a simple style that emphasizes the view." I guess that subscription to Travel & Leisure magazine wasn't wasted on her because the view is absolutely the only aspect of these cottages that would make anybody in their right mind vacation here.

The little houses are lined up right along a main road, so the bedrooms are always lit up by headlights from cars that seem to be driving right through the living rooms. Of course, on the other side they open up on to the beach, the whole line of them, right on the curve of Cape Cod Bay where you can watch the sun rise over Wellfleet and set over Provincetown. Which even I enjoyed the one time we came here as tourists and weren't responsible for anything but getting tan.

Owning the place was a different story altogether. The old mattresses, squeaky bed frames, and plywood bureaus with drawers that stuck like they'd been glued shut had been hauled away last week by an odd-jobs guy with a big truck. What was left for us to bag and discard were mostly the "decorative" items, the seagull paintings and filthy curtains, and various guest leftovers: moldy sheets, moldy towels, moldy swimming suits, moldy condoms. It was not the first time I'd thought about how the guy who sold us these rattraps must be laughing his ass off over the city slickers who'd bought thirteen rotted-out shacks with bad plumbing.

Once we'd gotten rid of our junk, I looked around at the dump. I had to admit, the one thing this town had going for it was great photographic opportunities. Everywhere I looked there were weird vistas and odd juxtapositions, and the dump was no different. I hadn't brought my camera, but I took it all in anyway, the giant stuffed cat guarding the door of a recycling shed while a small pink pony trotted across the top door frame; aluminum cans crushed together into two-foot squares and stacked like Andy Warhol's idea of stairs; and a crooked little shack that looked like an outhouse without a door and had KEEP OUT written across the side in red paint.

An elderly woman wearing a raincoat, pink hair rollers, and fuzzy slippers that looked like small spotted cows got out of an ancient Dodge to toss three or four plastic ginger ale bottles into a container that read: REFUNDABLE BOTTLES AND CANS — A FRIENDS OF THE TRURO COUNCIL ON AGING PROJECT. How could she be in such a hurry to contribute her four bottles that she'd go out in public looking like that?

How could I be a mere two and a half hours from Boston? Everything, everybody seemed different. The sun was brighter. The wind was stronger. And the people I'd seen so far seemed...bigger. Not in size, but in personality or something. They all seemed to stick out in ways I never noticed people sticking out in the city. Maybe it didn't have as much to do with cow slippers as with the fact that there weren't as many of them, so they spread out more, took up as much space as they wanted to.

I should have known better than to go out without my camera, but I think I was half afraid Mom would pitch it into a Dumpster too in her frenzy to unload everything in sight. She'd already gotten back in the car when I noticed the girl walking toward us. She was as tall as me but even skinnier, and even though she was walking fast, her long arms and legs seemed to sort of swirl around her in this lazy way, like all the joints weren't connected up quite right. Her buzz cut hairdo and the black short shorts and tank top added to the vision of a leggy bug or a jellyfish swimming over to us.

"Let's go, Kenny. I've got lots more to do today," Mom said.

"I think somebody wants to talk to us," I said.

"Who?"

By that time the girl had gotten close enough to yell. "Did I see you guys pitch a lamp in the Dumpster?"

Mom leaned out the window. "Yes, we did. Is there a problem?"

"Whyn't you bring it to the Swap Shop? Somebody mighta used it." I was glad her glare was directed toward Mom.

"The what?"

The girl pointed in back of her to a low, gray-shingled structure with a wheelchair ramp leading inside. "The Swap Shop. You should bring your good stuff in there. Then people who need things can get 'em free."

Mom laughed. "Oh, honey, that old lamp didn't even work."

Our interrogator was not impressed. "So? Anybody can fix a goddamn lamp."

As soon as she hears a swear word Mom switches into schoolteacher mode — it's an easy transformation — she taught ninth-grade Spanish for twenty-four years. (I took French.) No more "honey" for our new friend now.

"I don't think it's really any of your business what we do with our old furniture!"

"It's my job," she said. She sounded kind of surprised that we didn't already know this. "I run the Swap Shop. People come in all the time looking for lamps. And then you throw one away, just like that!" She whipped one long arm up in the air as if heaving an unwanted object casually over her shoulder.

"Is it your job to harass people?" my mother said.

She shook her head. "I'm not harassing you. I'm just telling you."

"Well, thank you for the information." I knew Mom was pissed; she looked over at me still standing outside the car, admiring the lip this kid was giving her. "May we go now, please?"

"Have you even been inside the Swap Shop?" the girl asked me. It made me nervous that she was addressing me now. She stuck her hands on her hips where they formed perfect triangles with her curveless body.

"Me? No. We just moved here. We didn't know about it." What I was really saying was: Don't shoot! I'm innocent!

But she nodded. "I'll show ya then." Her wave turned into a crawl stroke as she turned and walked toward the gray building. "Come on."

What else could I do but follow? Besides, the place was just strange enough to appeal to my photographer's eye. And so was she. It would be great to get a shot of her swimming along past the recycling shed — from down low so the shed would loom above her as her thin arms floated out at her sides.

"Ken, where are you going?" Mom yelled after me. This is how being such a good kid all the time turns against you; your parents start to think you'll never do anything without their written permission.

"I just want to see the place. One minute." She'd be ready to roast my butt by the time I got back, but what the hell? All I'd been doing for two weeks was working on those stinking cottages — like I was a partner in their stupid idea or something. Most high school kids spent their summers taking trips, or going to camp, or at least getting paid for working. I was lucky if I got a lunch break. And this girl was the first person under thirty I'd laid eyes on since we got here.

"This is where people drop off stuff they don't want," she said as we came into an entry hall. There was a table along one wall with several grocery bags full of clothing on it and some rusty fireplace tongs. A huge bulletin board hung over the table with tacked-up appeals for lost pets, notices for tai chi classes and art openings, offers to sell fishing rods and Chihuahua puppies, and lots of apartment-wanted signs with tear-off phone number strips hanging from the bottom like fringe.

I was reading a paper that said WILL SWAP COUCH FOR TV, trying to figure out which item the writer already had and which one he wanted, when an old guy with a white beard came shoving in the door past me, grabbed the fireplace tongs, and whooped.

"Just what I wanted! Who brought these in anyway?"

"Hi, Eddie. I don't know — somebody left them by the door overnight."

"Perfect, just perfect. Any other iron come in today?"

"Not today. Just that old bedstead and you didn't want that."

"No, no. It's not junk yet. Somebody could use it." He turned to go. "Okay then. See you tomorrow, Razzle."

"Bye, Eddie." She beckoned me into the main room. "I've got it all organized in here. See? Things used to be stacked anywhere, but now it's all got a place."

"How come he wants iron stuff?" I asked her.

"Eddie's a sculptor. He welds old iron pieces into statues." She started pointing things out again. "So, I sort the clothes into these bins, the shoes go on that rack over there, books along the back wall..."

But I wasn't really paying attention to the tour. People out here were so peculiar. "Did he call you Razzle? Is that your name?"

"That's it."

"I've never heard that name before."

She shrugged. "My mother was into angels. Still is, I guess. Raziel is the Angel of Mysteries. But she thought nobody would be able to spell it or pronounce it right, so she just called me Razzle. My brother Ezra is named for the Angel of Writers. That's what my mom wanted to be, back in the day. Before she was just a screwup."

She turned back to the job at hand. "I put all the breakable kitchen stuff, like dishes and glasses and blenders, high up on the back wall. The electronics, toasters and coffeemakers and stuff, are on the low shelves — I figure kids can't break that stuff any more than it's already broken. And the toys are all together in that little enclosed space."

Razzle paused and looked squarely into my eyes. I wasn't sure what she expected me to do — praise her for her organizational skills? The place just looked like a roomful of junk to me.

"So," she said, "do you like it?"

I shrugged. "Sure. I guess it's a good job, huh?"

"It's a great job. And now they even pay me for it."

"They didn't always?"

"I started doing it last year because I liked seeing all the stuff that came in. Then I started fixing the place up because I like things to be organized. So pretty soon the selectmen voted on it, and now they pay me."

I figured Mom was probably laying eggs out in the car by now. I made a slight movement toward the door. "Well, I better..."

"What's your name? You didn't say."

"I'm Kenyon. Kenyon Baker."

"Razzle Penney," she said, sticking out her long, thin arm so that her bony hand could grab mine and pump it up and down. She smiled, too, a lopsided, tomboyish kind of smile that made me think of a girl I used to play with in kindergarten. I liked that kid; we made monster drawings together. Kaitlin hadn't turned out to be a neatnik junkmeister, though; last time I saw her she was smoking dope behind the school with some other losers.

"You here for the summer?" she asked.

"I wish. We've moved here. Bought a cottage colony on the bay."

"Oh, you must be the ones who bought the Landmark Cottages on 6A! Right? God, I didn't think he'd ever sell those places."

"He finally found some suckers."

"They'll be fine once you fix 'em up."

"I don't know..."

"Sure! You got a 180 view and sand outside the back door. People will come even if the toilets do back up."

"How'd you know...?"

But right about then my mother charged in the door; she'd obviously spent a little too much time in a hot car parked between two garbage barges. "Ken! What are you doing? I told you I need to get back!"

"Sorry. I was talking to Razzle."

"Who?"

"Razzle. This is Razzle."

"Oh." Mom glared at her, then leaped back and brushed at her arm. "Ooh, a spider! It was right on my shirt! Where'd it go? I hate spiders!" She kept brushing at herself and looking around.

"This place is full of spiders, but most of them are harmless," Razzle said. "The average person swallows eight spiders in their lifetime. Usually at night. Without even realizing it."

"Thank you. There's a fact I would rather not have known," Mom said, shivering. You could tell the spider incident had gotten on her last nerve. "Ken, you can talk to" — she waved her hand in Razzle's direction — "this girl some other time."

"Razzle," she said to refresh Mom's memory. "I'm here nine to three, Monday through Thursday, and sometimes Saturday mornings, unless I'm at the flea with Billie."

"Okay I'll come back," I said.

"Come tomorrow," she ordered. "Thursdays are always good."

"I'll try." She made me laugh, but I have to confess, I wasn't quite sure if I was laughing with her or at her.

"Bye, Kenyon," she yelled after me. "I like your name!"

"She's funny, isn't she?" I said as we climbed back into the car.

"Funny?" Mom tromped on the gas pedal, and we wheeled out onto the highway.

"She's downright strange. Much too outspoken for a young girl. Says whatever comes to her mind. I don't know why you told her you'd come back. She's very...odd."

I didn't argue. The truth was, if Razzle hadn't been odd she wouldn't have asked me to come back. If Mom had been paying attention the last few years, she'd know that. But I guess she got tired of paying attention to teenagers after years of arguing with my sisters and then dealing with all those high school Spanish students, too.

And, of course, she didn't exactly ask for a third child. I was, as she put it, a surprise. Which sounded kind of nice until the time Dad threw her a surprise birthday party, and she walked in the door crying because she'd just hit a squirrel with the car, and thirty people jumped out from behind the furniture to scream at her. After everybody left she kept saying, "Don't you ever do this to me again, Ted. I hate surprises!"

"She's so tall and skinny," Mom said, still ruminating on Razzle as we turned onto our road.

"So am I," I reminded her.

She glanced over at me, as if she'd forgotten that. "Well, yes, but you're a boy," she said, as though one gender made a more acceptable skeleton than the other. Or, more likely, she just wasn't cutting any slack for a girl who could fix a goddamn lamp.

Copyright © 2001 by Ellen Wittlinger

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Looking back, I'd have to say my life was one long snooze until the day I met Razzle Penney at the Truro dump. Mom had forced me to go with her that morning. She rationalized my servitude by telling me lifting junk would bulk up the muscles in my scrawny arms. Like I cared.

But there I was at the dump at ten o'clock lugging garbage out of the station wagon, then heaving it over the railing into the big container that would truck it off into oblivion. Make it disappear. So people didn't have to look at piles of discarded crap and think about how quickly their new piece of plastic from Wal-Mart or that cute little Gap outfit had turned into trash.

Okay, I was in a cynical mood that morning. It was the mood I'd been in for two weeks, ever since we'd relocated to that skinny little town with the unpronounceable name way out near the end of the sandy finger of vacationland called Cape Cod. We'd moved here from Boston, where I'd grown up in blessed invisibility in the shadow of the Hancock Tower and the Prudential Center, protected on all sides by insurance.

And now I was being turned into a sanitation engineer because the cottage colony my parents had just purchased came with enough broken-down furniture to redecorate Transylvania. Mom intended to refurbish the places in "a simple style that emphasizes the view." I guess that subscription to Travel & Leisure magazine wasn't wasted on her because the view is absolutely the only aspect of these cottages that would make anybody in their right mind vacation here.

The little houses are lined up right along a main road, so the bedrooms are always lit up by headlights from cars that seem to be driving right through the living rooms. Of course, on the other side they open up on to the beach, the whole line of them, right on the curve of Cape Cod Bay where you can watch the sun rise over Wellfleet and set over Provincetown. Which even I enjoyed the one time we came here as tourists and weren't responsible for anything but getting tan.

Owning the place was a different story altogether. The old mattresses, squeaky bed frames, and plywood bureaus with drawers that stuck like they'd been glued shut had been hauled away last week by an odd-jobs guy with a big truck. What was left for us to bag and discard were mostly the "decorative" items, the seagull paintings and filthy curtains, and various guest leftovers: moldy sheets, moldy towels, moldy swimming suits, moldy condoms. It was not the first time I'd thought about how the guy who sold us these rattraps must be laughing his ass off over the city slickers who'd bought thirteen rotted-out shacks with bad plumbing.

Once we'd gotten rid of our junk, I looked around at the dump. I had to admit, the one thing this town had going for it was great photographic opportunities. Everywhere I looked there were weird vistas and odd juxtapositions, and the dump was no different. I hadn't brought my camera, but I took it all in anyway, the giant stuffed cat guarding the door of a recycling shed while a small pink pony trotted across the top door frame; aluminum cans crushed together into two-foot squares and stacked like Andy Warhol's idea of stairs; and a crooked little shack that looked like an outhouse without a door and had KEEP OUT written across the side in red paint.

An elderly woman wearing a raincoat, pink hair rollers, and fuzzy slippers that looked like small spotted cows got out of an ancient Dodge to toss three or four plastic ginger ale bottles into a container that read: REFUNDABLE BOTTLES AND CANS -- A FRIENDS OF THE TRURO COUNCIL ON AGING PROJECT. How could she be in such a hurry to contribute her four bottles that she'd go out in public looking like that?

How could I be a mere two and a half hours from Boston? Everything, everybody seemed different. The sun was brighter. The wind was stronger. And the people I'd seen so far seemed...bigger. Not in size, but in personality or something. They all seemed to stick out in ways I never noticed people sticking out in the city. Maybe it didn't have as much to do with cow slippers as with the fact that there weren't as many of them, so they spread out more, took up as much space as they wanted to.

I should have known better than to go out without my camera, but I think I was half afraid Mom would pitch it into a Dumpster too in her frenzy to unload everything in sight. She'd already gotten back in the car when I noticed the girl walking toward us. She was as tall as me but even skinnier, and even though she was walking fast, her long arms and legs seemed to sort of swirl around her in this lazy way, like all the joints weren't connected up quite right. Her buzz cut hairdo and the black short shorts and tank top added to the vision of a leggy bug or a jellyfish swimming over to us.

"Let's go, Kenny. I've got lots more to do today," Mom said.

"I think somebody wants to talk to us," I said.

"Who?"

By that time the girl had gotten close enough to yell. "Did I see you guys pitch a lamp in the Dumpster?"

Mom leaned out the window. "Yes, we did. Is there a problem?"

"Whyn't you bring it to the Swap Shop? Somebody mighta used it." I was glad her glare was directed toward Mom.

"The what?"

The girl pointed in back of her to a low, gray-shingled structure with a wheelchair ramp leading inside. "The Swap Shop. You should bring your good stuff in there. Then people who need things can get 'em free."

Mom laughed. "Oh, honey, that old lamp didn't even work."

Our interrogator was not impressed. "So? Anybody can fix a goddamn lamp."

As soon as she hears a swear word Mom switches into schoolteacher mode -- it's an easy transformation -- she taught ninth-grade Spanish for twenty-four years. (I took French.) No more "honey" for our new friend now.

"I don't think it's really any of your business what we do with our old furniture!"

"It's my job," she said. She sounded kind of surprised that we didn't already know this. "I run the Swap Shop. People come in all the time looking for lamps. And then you throw one away, just like that!" She whipped one long arm up in the air as if heaving an unwanted object casually over her shoulder.

"Is it your job to harass people?" my mother said.

She shook her head. "I'm not harassing you. I'm just telling you."

"Well, thank you for the information." I knew Mom was pissed; she looked over at me still standing outside the car, admiring the lip this kid was giving her. "May we go now, please?"

"Have you even been inside the Swap Shop?" the girl asked me. It made me nervous that she was addressing me now. She stuck her hands on her hips where they formed perfect triangles with her curveless body.

"Me? No. We just moved here. We didn't know about it." What I was really saying was: Don't shoot! I'm innocent!

But she nodded. "I'll show ya then." Her wave turned into a crawl stroke as she turned and walked toward the gray building. "Come on."

What else could I do but follow? Besides, the place was just strange enough to appeal to my photographer's eye. And so was she. It would be great to get a shot of her swimming along past the recycling shed -- from down low so the shed would loom above her as her thin arms floated out at her sides.

"Ken, where are you going?" Mom yelled after me. This is how being such a good kid all the time turns against you; your parents start to think you'll never do anything without their written permission.

"I just want to see the place. One minute." She'd be ready to roast my butt by the time I got back, but what the hell? All I'd been doing for two weeks was working on those stinking cottages -- like I was a partner in their stupid idea or something. Most high school kids spent their summers taking trips, or going to camp, or at least getting paid for working. I was lucky if I got a lunch break. And this girl was the first person under thirty I'd laid eyes on since we got here.

"This is where people drop off stuff they don't want," she said as we came into an entry hall. There was a table along one wall with several grocery bags full of clothing on it and some rusty fireplace tongs. A huge bulletin board hung over the table with tacked-up appeals for lost pets, notices for tai chi classes and art openings, offers to sell fishing rods and Chihuahua puppies, and lots of apartment-wanted signs with tear-off phone number strips hanging from the bottom like fringe.

I was reading a paper that said WILL SWAP COUCH FOR TV, trying to figure out which item the writer already had and which one he wanted, when an old guy with a white beard came shoving in the door past me, grabbed the fireplace tongs, and whooped.

"Just what I wanted! Who brought these in anyway?"

"Hi, Eddie. I don't know -- somebody left them by the door overnight."

"Perfect, just perfect. Any other iron come in today?"

"Not today. Just that old bedstead and you didn't want that."

"No, no. It's not junk yet. Somebody could use it." He turned to go. "Okay then. See you tomorrow, Razzle."

"Bye, Eddie." She beckoned me into the main room. "I've got it all organized in here. See? Things used to be stacked anywhere, but now it's all got a place."

"How come he wants iron stuff?" I asked her.

"Eddie's a sculptor. He welds old iron pieces into statues." She started pointing things out again. "So, I sort the clothes into these bins, the shoes go on that rack over there, books along the back wall..."

But I wasn't really paying attention to the tour. People out here were so peculiar. "Did he call you Razzle? Is that your name?"

"That's it."

"I've never heard that name before."

She shrugged. "My mother was into angels. Still is, I guess. Raziel is the Angel of Mysteries. But she thought nobody would be able to spell it or pronounce it right, so she just called me Razzle. My brother Ezra is named for the Angel of Writers. That's what my mom wanted to be, back in the day. Before she was just a screwup."

She turned back to the job at hand. "I put all the breakable kitchen stuff, like dishes and glasses and blenders, high up on the back wall. The electronics, toasters and coffeemakers and stuff, are on the low shelves -- I figure kids can't break that stuff any more than it's already broken. And the toys are all together in that little enclosed space."

Razzle paused and looked squarely into my eyes. I wasn't sure what she expected me to do -- praise her for her organizational skills? The place just looked like a roomful of junk to me.

"So," she said, "do you like it?"

I shrugged. "Sure. I guess it's a good job, huh?"

"It's a great job. And now they even pay me for it."

"They didn't always?"

"I started doing it last year because I liked seeing all the stuff that came in. Then I started fixing the place up because I like things to be organized. So pretty soon the selectmen voted on it, and now they pay me."

I figured Mom was probably laying eggs out in the car by now. I made a slight movement toward the door. "Well, I better..."

"What's your name? You didn't say."

"I'm Kenyon. Kenyon Baker."

"Razzle Penney," she said, sticking out her long, thin arm so that her bony hand could grab mine and pump it up and down. She smiled, too, a lopsided, tomboyish kind of smile that made me think of a girl I used to play with in kindergarten. I liked that kid; we made monster drawings together. Kaitlin hadn't turned out to be a neatnik junkmeister, though; last time I saw her she was smoking dope behind the school with some other losers.

"You here for the summer?" she asked.

"I wish. We've moved here. Bought a cottage colony on the bay."

"Oh, you must be the ones who bought the Landmark Cottages on 6A! Right? God, I didn't think he'd ever sell those places."

"He finally found some suckers."

"They'll be fine once you fix 'em up."

"I don't know..."

"Sure! You got a 180 view and sand outside the back door. People will come even if the toilets do back up."

"How'd you know...?"

But right about then my mother charged in the door; she'd obviously spent a little too much time in a hot car parked between two garbage barges. "Ken! What are you doing? I told you I need to get back!"

"Sorry. I was talking to Razzle."

"Who?"

"Razzle. This is Razzle."

"Oh." Mom glared at her, then leaped back and brushed at her arm. "Ooh, a spider! It was right on my shirt! Where'd it go? I hate spiders!" She kept brushing at herself and looking around.

"This place is full of spiders, but most of them are harmless," Razzle said. "The average person swallows eight spiders in their lifetime. Usually at night. Without even realizing it."

"Thank you. There's a fact I would rather not have known," Mom said, shivering. You could tell the spider incident had gotten on her last nerve. "Ken, you can talk to" -- she waved her hand in Razzle's direction -- "this girl some other time."

"Razzle," she said to refresh Mom's memory. "I'm here nine to three, Monday through Thursday, and sometimes Saturday mornings, unless I'm at the flea with Billie."

"Okay I'll come back," I said.

"Come tomorrow," she ordered. "Thursdays are always good."

"I'll try." She made me laugh, but I have to confess, I wasn't quite sure if I was laughing with her or at her.

"Bye, Kenyon," she yelled after me. "I like your name!"

"She's funny, isn't she?" I said as we climbed back into the car.

"Funny?" Mom tromped on the gas pedal, and we wheeled out onto the highway.

"She's downright strange. Much too outspoken for a young girl. Says whatever comes to her mind. I don't know why you told her you'd come back. She's very...odd."

I didn't argue. The truth was, if Razzle hadn't been odd she wouldn't have asked me to come back. If Mom had been paying attention the last few years, she'd know that. But I guess she got tired of paying attention to teenagers after years of arguing with my sisters and then dealing with all those high school Spanish students, too.

And, of course, she didn't exactly ask for a third child. I was, as she put it, a surprise. Which sounded kind of nice until the time Dad threw her a surprise birthday party, and she walked in the door crying because she'd just hit a squirrel with the car, and thirty people jumped out from behind the furniture to scream at her. After everybody left she kept saying, "Don't you ever do this to me again, Ted. I hate surprises!"

"She's so tall and skinny," Mom said, still ruminating on Razzle as we turned onto our road.

"So am I," I reminded her.

She glanced over at me, as if she'd forgotten that. "Well, yes, but you're a boy," she said, as though one gender made a more acceptable skeleton than the other. Or, more likely, she just wasn't cutting any slack for a girl who could fix a goddamn lamp.

Copyright © 2001 by Ellen Wittlinger

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2007

    just okay

    this book was just okay. there wasnt anything that really gripped me or anything. the characters were interesting though. but the other books ellen wittlinger wrote are sooo much better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2005

    A Good Book

    Razzle was a good book because it was interesting and at the same time it had a lot of details the only thing that i did not like was the end because it ended fast and at the same time it ended like there was something missing. The book was really interesting. The book takes place in Cape Cod and it started in boston were they lived and then they moved to Cape cod because Kenyon's main interest is photography,Razzle works at a recycle place. this book is a very good book because it describes about the teenager lifes and what people can pass thru, it makes you think........

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2004

    Recommended

    This book was well written and the characters were very well described. The reason why I only gave this book 4 stars is because I didn't agree with the ending. It kind of just stopped. I wanted a romantic ending in this book, usually I like the kind that leave it to your imagination, but this one I wanted to know soooo badly if they fell in love and lived happily ever after. But otherwise I loved the book, and recommend it!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2003

    A GREAT BOOK!

    This is a great book I have read it twice i love to read and have many books but this is one of my favorites.This book I can relate to in many ways.I think that any teenager who reads this book could really understand it!! I recomend reading this book !!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2002

    Great book

    This book was really good! I am pretty picky about the books i read and this one deffinitely is one of my favorites. You can relate to this book in so any ways.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2011

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