Ruby Electric

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When the lights go dim and you're sitting in the dark with your popcorn — that's the magic time that Ruby Miller loves best. And then the music creeps in, and the lion roars, or maybe the moon kid goes fishing....
For Ruby, age twelve and a half, movies are better than real life. The ones she writes, why, those are the best of all. Those stories work out. The dads in her movies always show up when they've promised. The moms don't hold on to secrets. The little brothers don't ...

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When the lights go dim and you're sitting in the dark with your popcorn — that's the magic time that Ruby Miller loves best. And then the music creeps in, and the lion roars, or maybe the moon kid goes fishing....
For Ruby, age twelve and a half, movies are better than real life. The ones she writes, why, those are the best of all. Those stories work out. The dads in her movies always show up when they've promised. The moms don't hold on to secrets. The little brothers don't curl up with sorrow over some missing stuffed animal. All right, it's Ruby's fault he's missing.
But the terrible red-painted graffiti on the concrete riverbanks — it that her fault too? She's blamed for it. And here she is on a chain gang with two stupid classmates — the Dumb and Dumber of the Hayes Middle School — doing community service to make up for it.
If she were writing the script, the setup would be intriguing, the middle exciting, and the ending a complete and happy surprise. She has seven pages ready for Spielberg. But real life keeps interrupting.

Twelve-year-old Ruby Miller, movie buff and aspiring screen writer, tries to resolve the mysteries surrounding her little brother's stuffed woolly mammoth and their father's five year absence.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly, starred review Smart and funny, Ruby will surely have the audience lined up for her next starring role.

Kirkus Reviews, starred review Positively fizzes with emotion.

Publishers Weekly
Ruby, a 12-year-old aspiring screenwriter, uses her skills to fabricate heroic scenarios of what happened to her absent father, and also imagines the Los Angeles River restored to its original glory. PW wrote in a starred review, "The threads of the tale twine together in surprising and inventive ways." Ages 10-12. (Dec.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Ruby, her little brother, Pete, and their mother have moved to California following the sudden absence of Ruby and Pete's father. Her mother is reluctant to explain her father's disappearance, so Ruby, who loves movies and dreams of becoming a famous screenwriter, rationalizes his absence with dramatic scenarios involving accidents or undercover work for the CIA. A straight-A student, Ruby is paired for a seventh-grade project with Big Skinny and Mouse, two boys whom Ruby regards as morons. Intending to spend the summer writing her screenplay, Ruby winds up working off a community service sentence with Big Skinny and Mouse after the three are caught during a prank involving graffiti. Ruby is humiliated, insisting her part was due completely to "extenuating circumstances." As if that's not enough, Ruby must also cope with a landlady who walks around with her parrot, Lord Byron, perched upon her head, and her mother's boss, who seems to be spending more and more time with Ruby's mother. Author Theresa Nelson does an outstanding job of intercutting the day-to-day story with snippets of Ruby's screenplay. She also shows a deft hand at balancing the funny, sad, and ultimately touching story of a young girl learning to accept sometimes-complicated realities. 2003, Atheneum/Simon & Schuster,
— Linda Ruble
Five years have passed since twelve-year-old Ruby Miller has seen her father, and she has decided that he must be a deep cover agent for the CIA. Her distinct flair for the melodramatic, coupled with her romantic notion that writing screenplays is easy, propels her fertile mind toward her fictitious interpretation of her father's sudden disappearance. Using Ruby's screenplays as a framework, Nelson creates a world where loss is explained and chaos is put in order. Ruby's little brother, Pete, was only two when their father went away, and his memory of his father is of a man who was a master of the yo-yo. Ruby remembers much more, of course, and she is constantly trying to make sense of where he has gone and why. Eventually the missing father reappears, and his absence is explained by a prison sentence and a betrayal of trust that had sent the children's mother reeling into depression and flight. By the novel's end, Ruby comes to understand her father enough to forgive him, and she is also able to forgive her mother for hiding the truth for so long. Secondary characters give shape to Ruby's engaging personality, and the Los Angeles River, which runs through a concrete channel near the family's duplex, provides the catalyst for the story to reach its climax. Middle school girls will identify with Ruby and her yearning for her lost father, and some will see themselves as the budding writer that Ruby hopes to be. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2003, Atheneum/S & S, 272p,
— Leslie Carter
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Living near the concreted Los Angeles River with her mother and little brother, 12-year-old Ruby misses rivers that actually have water in them and her mysteriously absent policeman father. In her mind, he is on secret missions; but, painfully, she is always expecting him to show up anywhere and everywhere. Adding to the busy dialogue in her head are her movie scripts that she wants Spielberg to produce. She must also figure out why her mother refuses to discuss her father and how to gain city support for an art project to cover the river's surface, and come to terms with her mother's new boyfriend. Ironic humor makes for delightful relief from the serious issues. Ruby, the smartest, best-behaved girl in the school, is paired for a school project with two boys, Big Skinny and Mouse, who specialize in armpit "noises" and looking like versions of Dumb and Dumber. Nelson is superb in covering serious topics, but what really centers her work is the amorphous boundaries of nontraditional family and that those boundaries can still encompass great love. Her heroines often search for fading or disappeared father figures, managing to find satisfying substitutes in unexpected ways. Softer edged than The Beggars' Ride (Orchard, 1992) and much funnier, this novel will have wide appeal.-Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A budding screenwriter, full of dreams and longing, finds a place for herself on the edge of the drainage ditch that was once the Los Angeles River. Aside from writing movies, 12-year-old Ruby Miller’s primary goal is to find her father, who disappeared from her life five years ago. Her pursuit of her goals is somewhat hampered by the gentle demands of her mother and little brother, and greatly hampered by the unwanted interest shown in her by her two loser classmates, Big Skinny and Mouse. In the way of things Hollywood, plot elements from Ruby, Big Skinny, and Mouse’s apprehension for vandalism, little brother Pete’s loss of his beloved mammoth puppet, their prissy landlady’s determination to clean up her little part of the world, and her mother’s new and alarming interest in her podiatrist boss coalesce in a marvelously Andy Rooney-esque climax. Punctuated by snippets of Ruby’s scripts, the present-tense narrative positively fizzes with emotion and goodwill. The happy ending is just honest enough not to be pure Hollywood, and thus is all the more satisfying. Thumbs up. (Fiction. 10-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689871467
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 12/1/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Age range: 10 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 750L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Theresa Nelson has written eight books for young readers, and at least six as-of-yet-unproduced screenplays. Four of her novels have been cited as Best Books of the Year by School Library Journal: The 25¢ Miracle, And One for All, The Beggar’s Ride, and Earthshine, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book. She lives in Los Angeles, California, and is married to actor Kevin Cooney. They are the parents of three grown sons.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Pow! Pow! Pow!



The Vanishing Point, it's called. "The Little Café with the Big Screen Flavor." It might seem familiar. There's a fake Hollywood restaurant for every mini-mall in the San Fernando Valley.

This one's right next door to Pagliacci's Rent-a-Clown, all but hidden behind their Bozo banner. A person could pass by and never even know it.

That's what has Ruby worried.

Her mother gives her a look. "You okay, honey?"

Ruby stares at her chopsticks. "Sure."

She sinks back in the bamboo seat.

Closes her eyes.


At first you can hardly hear the tapping. It's only the ghost of a sound. Away off in the dark somewhere, a distant drumming, gradually growing louder:



FADE IN...slowly...

Now you can see it, too. A single hand, sending out Morse code on an old-time telegraph machine:




Now the camera PULLS BACK, showing more of the picture. The hand belongs to a girl. A beautiful girl. A beautiful, blue-eyed, golden-haired girl. No freckles. Quite tall for twelve. (You can tell this right away, even though she's hunched over the machine, tapping with all her might.)


SOS! SOS! Come in! Come in!

Don't you hear me? SOS! SOS!

Somebody, anybody, please!

CUT TO a long shot of a ship in distress. Lights flickering, people shrieking, icy water pouring through the portholes.

MOVE IN CLOSER: On the deck (tilted now at a sickening angle) the lifeboats are being lowered. But not enough. Not nearly enough. Any fool can see that. As frantic passengers claw their way toward them, and crew members struggle to keep order, a band of brave musicians plays a lilting melody:

Yankee Doodle went to town,

Just to ride a pony,

Stuck a feather in his cap

And called it maca —


Still the tireless TALL GIRL in the telegraph office pounds out her tortured message:


Come in, please!

Rat-a-tat —


The ship disappears. The band stops playing. The chopsticks rap out a sharp staccato on the edge of the café table.



Rat-a —

Pearl Miller reaches across a plate of egg rolls and touches her daughter's wrist. The chopsticks freeze in midair.

"Thank you," says Pearl. "Have an egg roll."

"No, thanks."

"Come on. Just one. They're delicious."

Ruby shakes her head. It's a very red head. She squints behind her glasses, trying to change the picture again....

No use. She's still wedged in a half-size corner booth by the window with her mother and her little brother, Pete, still sitting there staring at the pair of them across the soy sauce.

"Not much longer," Mama says. "Another five minutes, maybe. We'll give him another five minutes."

Mama and Pete are both redheaded too, but otherwise normal-looking. Even somewhat better than normal, in Mama's case. She was almost a beauty queen once. In her younger days back in Texas, she was fourth runner-up for Miss Wichita Falls. Of course she would tell you that's all ancient history; it kind of embarrasses her now. But sometimes Ruby gets chills just thinking how a simple twist of fate might have altered their entire lives. What if the actual winner had been unexpectedly visited by some hideous disfigurement? Attacked by marauding bears, say, during a fun-filled but ultimately tragic vacation in Yellowstone? Would they be sitting here right now if, for any reason, the first, second, and third runners-up had been unable to fulfill their duties?

Ice cubes clink. A fat man laughs. A guy with a beard drops his napkin.

As for Pete — well, Pete is Pete, that's all. Freckles are fine when you're six.

Ruby, on the other hand, has been twelve and a half all year.

"You're sure you're not hungry? You're both bound to be tired. Maybe we ought to — "

"I'm okay, Mom." Ruby's fists (square-shaped, freckles on the otherwise white knuckles) clench around the chopsticks. "We're okay, right, Pete?"

"Pete's gone," says Pete. He holds up a ragged woolly mammoth puppet. "I am authorized to take all messages."

"Give me a break."

"My name is Mammook."

"Just another five minutes," says Mama.

Ruby looks out the window. Not much there, really. Just a pigeon pecking at a bug on the ledge and the traffic crawling by on Ventura Boulevard and the summer sun setting in a smoggy haze behind the Sizzler across the street. Still, from where Ruby sits, she has a clear view of the sidewalk, so she'll be the first to see him, if he comes.

Frankie Miller, that is.

Her father.

When he comes, that is.




The ship is sinking fast now. Salt water floods the telegraph office. Still, the TALL GIRL refuses to relinquish her post, though she's up to her waist in the stinking brine:




Pete gives Ruby a nudge in the ribs. "You're doing it again," he whispers.

"Shut up, Mammook." She pokes him with a chopstick.

Their mother signals the waitress. "Check, please."

"No! He's coming. He promised."

"It's almost eight o'clock, Ruby. We've been here an hour and a half."

"Well, maybe he got lost."

"Oh, honey — "

"Maybe he got tied up in traffic or there was an accident or — "


"Are you finished, miss?" asks the waitress, leaning in to take away the egg rolls.

"Yes...I mean, no!" Ruby grabs the plate, playing tug of war until she wins, spilling half a bowl of fried rice in Pete's lap. "I'm still eating, okay, Mom? I'm hungry now. See? You're right, these are really good."

Mama sighs. She nods at the waitress, who walks away with a shrug.

"Five minutes. Tops." Mama shows her watch to Ruby. "Then we're leaving. Got it?"

"Got it," says Ruby, her mouth full of stone-cold shrimp, her eyes on the little black second hand, ticking away.




CUT TO a second ship, far from the first. Below deck, a YOUNG NAVAL OFFICER is receiving a telegraph signal.

SOS. SOS? Dear God, not the "Titanic"!

He rips the printed page from his telegraph machine and tears out of the office.

CUT TO the ship's bow. The CAPTAIN stands at the rail. Square-jawed. Intrepid. A glint of granite in his keen blue eyes. Clearly a man among men. As he gazes out on the moonlit waves, the YOUNG

OFFICER comes running.

SOS, sir. From the "Titanic." It's just come in.
Well, what are we waiting for, Lieutenant? Turn the ship around!
Yes, sir. Right away, sir. But —
But what? Speak up, Lieutenant! We've no time to waste!
But...well, sir...the radar doesn't seem to be working properly, and unless we can re-wire the throckmorton and decode the coleanthus, I'm afraid that —
Confound it, man, speak plainly!
I'm not sure we can find them, sir.

A blue minivan pulls into the Sizzler parking lot. An enormous family climbs out. Six or seven kids and a worn out-looking mother. Last of all comes the father, talking on his cell phone. Trailing after the others, taking his time. He's still deep in conversation when the littlest kid (a tiny girl in a ridiculous pink tutu) turns around and comes skipping back to him. She pulls on his shirt sleeve. He doesn't notice her. She pulls again. Now he looks down and sees her looking up at him, waiting. Ruby figures he'll get mad, but he doesn't seem mad. He smiles and touches the kid's wild curls and signs off on his call. Then he hoists her up on his shoulder and carries her inside.


On the doomed ship, the last dim light begins to die. The end is near, but the TALL GIRL isn't crying. You might think she is, but you're wrong, okay? She grits her teeth. She's no crybaby.

Why didn't we go to the Sizzler?

All you can eat and a sign as big as Dallas.

"Ruby? It's time."

Anybody can find the Sizzler....

"We're waiting, Ruby. Don't you hear me?"

Don't you hear me?




Copyright © 2003 by Theresa Nelson

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