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Selling Hope

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Overview

It’s May 1910, and Halley’s Comet is due to pass thru the Earth’s atmosphere. And thirteen-year-old Hope McDaniels and her father are due to pass through their hometown of Chicago with their ragtag vaudeville troupe.  Hope wants out of vaudeville, and longs for a “normal” life—or as normal as life can be without her mother, who died five years before. Hope sees an opportunity: She invents “anti-comet” pills to sell to the working-class customers desperate for protection. Soon, she’s joined by a fellow troupe...

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Selling Hope

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Overview

It’s May 1910, and Halley’s Comet is due to pass thru the Earth’s atmosphere. And thirteen-year-old Hope McDaniels and her father are due to pass through their hometown of Chicago with their ragtag vaudeville troupe.  Hope wants out of vaudeville, and longs for a “normal” life—or as normal as life can be without her mother, who died five years before. Hope sees an opportunity: She invents “anti-comet” pills to sell to the working-class customers desperate for protection. Soon, she’s joined by a fellow troupe member, young Buster Keaton, and the two of them start to make good money. And just when Hope thinks she has all the answers, she has to decide: What is family? Where is home?

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Tubb deftly ingrains a thoughtful ethical question into the story (is Hope really helping people by assuaging their fears or simply ripping them off?) but never overdoes it in this bouncy tale populated by a terrific cast of characters.” --Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“[An] oft-engaging, pleasantly romantic romp through a fascinating time in America’s entertainment history.” --Kirkus Reviews

 

“Even though readers will anticipate the benign outcome of the fateful date, they’ll find themselves drawn in by the countdown to possible doom and intrigued by Tubb’s subtle examination of the fine line between offering hope and dealing deceit.” --BCCB

“Tubb uses rich historical material well in this clever story… a good show with heroes, villains, and heart.” --School Library Journal

"Tubb’s inventive heroine comes across as a female version of familiar characters, such as Gary Paulsen’s Harris or Robert Newton Peck’s Soup. This homespun tale, full of folksy humor and based on historical fact, will appeal to young fans of Deborah Wiles’ and Ruth White’s books."--Booklist for Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different

Children's Literature - Amanda Ledbetter
In 1910, the Earth was heading straight into the path of Halley's Comet, and residents of Chicago feared for their lives. This landscape is where thirteen-year-old Hope finds herself when the small vaudeville circuit with which she and her father travel arrives in the city. Hope longs to be free of traveling, to settle in one city and to live a normal life, but she knows they will need money to help them get started. After listening to speculations about the comet's effect on the Earth, Hope hatches a plan. She creates Hope's Anti-Comet pills, guaranteed to protect users from the evils of the comet, and peddles her wares to the anxious citizens. Her partner in this scheme is a teenage Buster Keaton, who also travels with the vaudeville troupe and who becomes Hope's first real friend. As the fateful day of intersection with the comet approaches, Hope struggles with her own fears about the comet and with her conscience concerning the impact of her ruse on her customers, who see her truly as their hope. Each chapter in the book represents a day in the countdown to the "end of the world," as many believed it was, and includes a news headline that was actually printed in 1910. Tubb creates memorable and believable characters as she melds historical and fictitious figures in this delightful tale. Hope's upbringing in the vaudeville circuit sparks an inner dialogue of one-liner wisecracks and a dialect full of period slang. The inclusion of Buster Keaton and his family may draw a new generation to learn about this legend of the silver screen, and the recommended readings provided in the back matter would facilitate that discovery. Reviewer: Amanda Ledbetter
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Magician Nick McDaniels and his 13-year-old daughter have been on the vaudeville circuit ever since his wife died. Spending her time on trains and in grubby boardinghouses, Hope longs to settle down in Chicago, their hometown, and desperately wishes for a blue notice telling them that their magician act is no longer wanted, but how would they support themselves? She needs money to tide them over until her father finds another line of work. In May 1910, Earth is about to pass through the tail of Halley's Comet, and people are panicked. With the help of Buster Keaton, a lanky boy also on the circuit, Hope hatches the idea of selling anti-comet pills to gullible "Coins," who will do anything to save themselves. Tubb uses rich historical material well in this clever story whose time line is a 17-day countdown to the comet catastrophe. Not only are Keaton and his family part of the scene, but so are Bert Savoy, a comedian in drag; Benjamin Franklin Keith, an impresario; and the Cherry Sisters, a dull act regularly pelted with rotten fruit. Wisecracks, most of them vintage, are interspersed in a way that makes readers feel Hope is muttering them in response to what is happening. In this lively first-person tale, Hope isn't always completely believable because the language and vocabulary of her internal thoughts are sometimes too adult for a girl her age, even one with a father who spouts Walt Whitman. Still it's a good show with heroes, villains, and heart.—Barbara Scotto, Children's Literature New England, Brookline, MA
Kirkus Reviews

Thirteen-year-old Hope McDaniels, a magician's daughter, hates vaudeville and fantasizes about abandoning the itinerant life and saving enough money to settle down with her widowed father in Chicago. Her father, conversely, fervently espouses Thoreau's ideals, pronouncing, "Wherever you are—that's your home!" Taking matters into her own hands, Hope decides to cash in on 1910 America's terror that Halley's Comet will destroy the Earth. She enlists the help of the handsome 15-year-old Buster Keaton and begins a booming business in minty-fresh "Hope's Anti-Comet Pills." (Her mission becomes significantly less mercenary in the 17-day countdown to the comet's predicted arrival.) Hope has a sort of vaudevillian Tourette's—her "internal voice" is peppered with wisecracks that appear frequently, offset in bold and italics, and they are insufferably corny or, worse, baffling: "Chicago is so windy, a chicken here once laid the same egg six times!" Unfortunately, these quips—however reflective of the humor of the era—detract mightily from this oft-engaging, pleasantly romantic romp through a fascinating time in America's entertainment history. (author's note, acknowledgments, recommended reading) (Historical fiction. 11-14)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312611224
  • Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
  • Publication date: 11/9/2010
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,413,890
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: 780L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

KRISTIN O'DONNELL TUBB is the author of Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different. She describes herself as “basically a dork who would still be going to school if they’d let me. But they won’t (cause that’d just be weird), so I write instead. All of the research, none of the quizzes. It’s heaven!” She lives in Tennessee with her family.

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Read an Excerpt

May 1, 1910

Seventeen Days

till the End of the World.

News Headline

Earth Will Pass Through Comet’s 24-Million-Mile-Long

Tail on May 18

Cross-Eyed Jane poked her head into the tent. Her kinky yellow hair puffed in after her.

“We gots fifteen more minutes with the tarot cards before she and Nick go on.” Cross-Eyed Jane addressed me as “she,” even when she was talking directly to me. This, coupled with the fact that she was cross-eyed, often made it difficult to know who Jane was talking about. But I was the only other person in the tent, so I assumed her “she” was me. I smiled.

Jane smiled back, her wrinkled face carving into deep ruts, and gazed over my shoulder. I moved my head up and to the left to where I thought she was looking, but those crawly eyes of hers crept right past me. Erm…left past me.

I’m tellin’ ya, the old gal was so cross-eyed, when she rolled her eyes, she hit her ears!

Huck. There it was—the surest sign that I needed to leave this vaudeville circuit once and for all: those awful wisecracks. I guess everyone has a little voice inside his or her head, pointing out all of the things that are funny and fantastical and odd. But my internal voice? Equipped with the kind of one-liner jokes that made vaudeville famous. Not exactly the conscience of your average thirteen-year-old.

I adjusted my robes, the ones I had “borrowed” from the costume trunk, so I’d look more like a true medium. The robes were crafted of a thick red tapestry and weighed upward of twenty pounds. It took half my strength just to keep them draped across my tiny frame. But the robes added an air of mystery to our booth, accented by the massive candles, which threw skipping yellow light across the canvas walls, dripping colorful wax on the dusty ground beneath. Did I know how to put on a show! I should—I’d learned from the best.

Jane and I had set up shop—and by shop, I mean our little canvas booth—next to the other peddlers, just outside the vaudeville theater in Des Moines, Iowa, our latest tour stop. There was a row of us who made a little extra green that way. The actors and stagehands peddled everything from sheet music to medicinal elixirs to stuff they’d purchased in the last town, plus 20 percent. The theatergoers loved this makeshift storefront; for them it was part of the vaudeville experience. And too, Mr. Whitting and the other managers took a healthy cut of our profits, so they saw our little side businesses as just fine and dandy.

“Lead the first Coin in,” I whispered to Cross-Eyed Jane. She clicked her tongue at me; she hated it when I called them that. I began to hum, quietly at first, then letting it grow into a noisy, low moan. I told myself I was getting into character. Plus, the moaning sounded good to the Coins. That’s what I called our customers—the Coins.

Hummmmmmm. Farewell, Hope McDaniels. Greetings to Mademoiselle Ari, Gifted Child Medium and Foreseer of the Future.

Cross-Eyed Jane ducked out of the smallish tent, then back in again, goading a female Coin before her. Jane cupped her hand about the Coin’s elbow, trying to lead her to the table where I sat. The Coin yanked her arm from Jane’s grip and shot her a look of utter disgust, as if she might somehow contract Jane’s crazy eye “disease.” This particular Coin was so big, she almost knocked over three of my candles entering our booth.

I’m not sayin’ the gal was overweight, but she was plump in places where most folks don’t have places!

Jane jutted her chin at me. “That’s her,” she whispered to the Coin. “She’s young, doncha know, but her youth allows her channels to be fully open to the future.” Jane tried winking her spacey eye at me, but it appeared as if she were winking at the heavens instead. I cleared my throat to stifle a giggle. That “open channels” bit always got me.

I had to hand it to Jane. When she came up with this idea of a “child medium,” I was skeptical. Adults forking over a jitney to hear a thirteen-year-old talk about money and love and death? Most of the adults I knew didn’t even pause to hear me discuss the weather, much less pay an entire nickel to hear it. But Jane was right—the Coins loved me. I relaxed them, as though I was simply peeking ahead in a lighthearted parlor game of Ouija board, as though I couldn’t possibly be the bearer of bad news. And I must admit, I loved the power that came with telling adults what they should worry about.

Our partnership was a good one, mine and Jane’s. I asked her once why she didn’t just read the cards herself and keep all the money, instead of just half. She’d snorted, she’d laughed so hard.

“Me, read fortunes?” she’d said with a cough. “People want to see their futures as fresh and lively, like Hope, lassie. A withered old grouch like me don’t exactly set the proper backdrop for a prosperous road ahead, eh?”

Yes, Jane was no spring chicken. She was so old, she looked like she gave her pallbearers the slip!

Jane and I split all money fifty-fifty. And there was nothing like having a wad of cash stashed in your grouch bag. Because I would never—never—not have money again.

Jane now folded herself out of the tent, and the Coin she’d procured perched on the caned chair opposite me. Her knees wouldn’t fit under the tiny folding table between us, so she sat sidewise. I began flipping tarot cards onto the shimmery tablecloth, placing the worn papers into a large, deliberate cross. The middle of the cross I left bare, for the moment. I’d come to discover that flipping that middle card is the Grande Finale and should be coaxed slowly. Coax and hoax rhyme. Huh.

The pips that I turned for this Coin were all minor characters, like The Page and The Queen. What. A. Bore.

“Mmm. Mmm-hmm,” I muttered, and nodded knowingly. The Coin shifted, and the tiny chair moaned. I flipped another card: Judgment.

“Oh!” I said. The Coin gasped.

Did I mention? I didn’t know the first thing about reading tarot cards. The cards themselves were beautiful—blues and purples and reds and oranges that swirled and twined in inky vines, taking forms such as The Empress and The Hanged Man and Death. Each card was a masterpiece. The worn, beloved deck belonged to Cross-Eyed Jane, but she always said, “Lovey, these cards tells me they belong to her.” (That would be me.) When I was ten, she’d allow me to play with them like they were paper dolls. Now I played with them for money.

Next from the deck: The Magician. One of my least favorite cards, not because my father was a magician, but because his love of magic rendered me essentially homeless. I groaned.

The Coin’s eyes grew wide. “What is it?”

The cross of cards was complete, except for that final middle card. Now for The Show.

I placed the remainder of the cards on the edge of the table. Then I rubbed my hands together and blew on them, as if they were icy cold. I swirled my hands mere inches above the incomplete cross, feeling their energy. The Coin ate up this hooey like, well…apparently like she ate up everything: with gusto.

“You are…” I closed my eyes for a moment. “Unhappy.”

The Coin nodded.

Zing. Well, honestly, that one was common sense. The only people who went to a medium were unhappy people. I always started with that one, and I always got it right.

I narrowed my eyes and studied my Coin. Wedding ring, decent clothes, furrowed brow. Pretty, in a plump sort of way.

“You’re worried about something.”

The Coin nodded again. She leaned forward in the tiny chair, and her brown eyes widened. She apparently thought I was on to something.

“You’re worried about your marriage.”

But the Coin shook her head and her shoulders slumped ever so slightly. I knew I’d guessed incorrectly before she even spoke. “No. No, I have a wonderful husband.”

“Yes, yes, of course. You’re worried about money.” Always the next one I tried.

The Coin shook her head again, more fervently this time. Her eyes blazed, and her face screwed up like a twisted dish towel. “No, money’s not an issue, you imp!” she shouted, and pounded the table with the palm of her hand. “I knew this was a waste of my time!”

Money’s not an issue? Fancy that! Money’s an issue for everyone, lady. I felt a little flame of anger ignite inside me at this sudden turn. No money problems! Pah!

But I needed this nickel. “You’re worried about…,” I continued. My hands hovered over the bland cards that this Coin received for her reading. I wasn’t quite sure what to try next. Awful marriages and money problems covered almost everyone. “You’re worried about…your health.”

The Coin drooped in her chair, and I thought for sure that I’d lost her, that she’d had enough of this hoax. But she surprised me. “Yes,” she whispered into her lap. “Is it going to kill us all?”

My mind whirred. It? Kill us all? The only thing that could be was…

“Halley’s Comet?”

“Yes!” The Coin bolted upright and gripped my wrists so tightly my skin turned white beneath her fingers.

“Let go, please.” I said it softly, so as not to alarm Cross-Eyed Jane, who might very well enter the tent with a cocked pistol if she thought I was in danger. The Coin tightened her grip, her fingernails piercing my skin. Her eyes shifted between my face and the cards sprawled on the table between us, and there was a black spot of—fear?—that hadn’t been there before. My heart raced like a locomotive.

“Are we all going to die?” she said. “Will the poisonous gasses suffocate us? Will the comet ram into our world? Why, the impact alone would…”

I shook my head in disbelief, wriggling to free myself from her grasp. Sure, I knew Earth was going to travel through the tail of Halley’s Comet later this month; everyone had been talking about it since the turn of the new year. But kill us? Pah! The newspapers said the world’s top scientists didn’t believe that, so neither did I.

This Coin is such the fool! What a shame I’m not a mind reader. I could charge her half price.

I freed myself quickly from her grip. My “real job” as a magician’s assistant required me to don handcuffs quite often. That rarely had its benefits, but this was indeed one of those times.

My wrists were tender to the touch, perhaps bruised. I rotated them in circles to regain feeling in my fingers.

The Coin had commenced to gripping the edge of the table and swaying to and fro in the tiny, groaning chair. I picked up the deck of cards and shuffled through them in my lap, hand-selecting the Grande Finale card:

The World.

I flipped it into the center of the X and widened my eyes like I truly saw death and destruction in this Coin’s future. “It’s—it’s…too black! Too black! No light! I…can’t…breathe!” I raised my hands to my throat, gagging and choking and making an all-too-obvious spectacle of myself.

The Coin leapt to her feet, toppling the table of cards and kicking aside the tiny chair. She shoved her way under the wall of the tent, rather than ducking through its flap, and dragged down two burning candles in the process. Blazing candles touched dry canvas and the tent ignited. Flames were soon eating our booth from the bottom up.

I had one pitcher of water, which I threw on the fire, dousing part of the blaze.

“Jane!” I yelled. “Water! Quick!”

Cross-Eyed Jane came in but moments later with a bucket of water, and the fire was soon nothing but a steaming pile of wet, reeking canvas. I was shaking, partly the result of being so near a large fire, and partly the result of having to defend my self against this unstable Coin.

“Lovey! She’s all right?”

I had a gaping hole in my booth caused by a desperate Coin who thought the world was going to end in seventeen days, and my funds would be largely depleted after I paid Jane for the damages. I lived in teeny railroad cars and shabby boardinghouses scattered about the country, and my best friend was a fifty-two-year-old cross-eyed gypsy. I wore twenty-pound robes that stank like smoke, and now my father needed my help performing magic tricks, a feat that he believed might allow him to someday change the course of the world. Honestly, he believed his sleight of hand was a gift that could unite the masses. Illusion or disillusion? You tell me.

I threw off my charred costume, revealing the next costume underneath.

“I’m the candy, Jane. Really,” I sighed. “Does Nick need me onstage yet?”

I loved backstage. It was quiet, except for the occasional burst of howling laughter from the audience that penetrated the lush, velvety curtains. Stagehands rushed on tiptoe and communicated with gestures and pointing. The illumination was secondhand, provided solely by the few rays of light that bent around corners from the searing-hot stage. If only the entire world were like this—muffled and dark and once removed.

I had this little routine that I conducted before I went onstage. I didn’t do it for good luck nor to ensure a good performance. No, I did it so I could remember the things I felt I was in danger of forgetting.

I unfolded the square of red flannel and rubbed it against my cheek. It was gritty, not as soft as it once had been. Likely from years of absorbing apologies.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” I whispered into it. “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.”

I smelled the flannel, too. It smelled like…well, grubby fabric. Still, I imagined I smelled my mother in there. I do not remember what she smelled like.

I worried about this, but Cross-Eyed Jane assured me that I would be a marvel if I remembered anything about her. I was only eight when she died. Nick never discussed her. Never. I had a gritty red square of quilting fabric that was hers. Everything else was pawned before we left. One must travel light on the vaudeville circuit.

Speaking of traveling light, did you hear the one about the boy who did just that? All he packed was kerosene and matches!

Oh, thank you, folks. Thank you. No applause, please. Just throw money.

Standing onstage was akin to standing in a box of sun: bright, hot, and full of squint and sweat. Beyond the perimeter of the stage dwelled the murky outline of the heads of the audience members. I stood next to my father in a pose that, if it were struck anywhere but a magic act, would be beyond odd: one arm lifted in the air, one arm outstretched toward the shenanigans, one toe pointed forward—a deranged ballerina. Absurd.

I suppose there is no need to underscore the fact that I was not a performer at heart.

My father, however…his eyes were shut and his fists were balled and raised to the heavens, as if he were gripping the air above his golden head. Nick was more alive here than anywhere else on the planet. Not here, as in Des Moines, Iowa, but up here, in the box of sun.

“If you live in doubt and fear,” Nick was saying. He tucked his hand behind the lapel of his jacket and rummaged around for his prop. While so doing, he shot me a quick wink. I smiled. I actually liked this bit; it was one of the few acts in which I was little more than another of his props—and, yes, being a prop was fine by me. It beat the alternative, by which I mean taking an active role.

“If you dwell in a state of constant fear and dread…” Nick was having some trouble with this trick. He fumbled around inside the breastplate of his jacket until…yes!

He pulled an object from his jacket. The audience strained to see it. It was…it was…

A snake!

“If you cannot break free from the shackles of fear and dread, you contribute naught! You bite and suck but give nothing! You are a drain on the kingdom!” He steered the black snake deftly toward the front row of attendees, and it hissed as if on cue. Wheesh. Nick was on fire tonight.

“But…” Nick jabbed the air with his finger, and his voice dropped to a near-whisper. The audience took its cue and hushed itself after the excitement of the snake. “If you accept goodness and light into your life…” I handed him a folded newspaper, which he flipped open with his left hand while still gripping the snake with his right. He gently wrapped the snake in newspaper and placed it on the table in front of him as if it were frankincense and myrrh.

“If you yearn for justice…,” Nick said.

Then he pulled a tattered book from—where? The audience murmured at this point, as they always did. Had that book been behind him the whole time?

A book. That was new. He usually used a brick in this bit.

Nick raised the book above his head, the title Leaves of Grass facing out toward the crowd. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, a poet, philosopher, and the reason why Nick believed that a two-bit magician and his daughter plodding about the country could alter the cosmos. “Alter the cosmos”—Nick’s words, not mine. Well, Walt Whitman’s words, actually.

“You. Can. Transform!”

At that, Nick slammed the text down onto the newspaper. The crowd shrieked. He then lifted the book and placed it gingerly next to the damaged package. He unfolded the newspaper piece by piece, reeling in the audience like a giant, singular fish gasping for air.

“You can…transform,” he whispered, and the wad of crumpled newsprint he held in his palm quivered, producing a sensuous white dove. It then flew, circling the wildly applauding crowd once, twice, thrice, before perching on Nick’s shoulder.

“Leaves of Grass?” I mouthed when we took our bows.

Nick beamed. “Brilliant, is it not?” he shouted above the applause. We bowed to the other side of the dingy theater. “Far better than the brick we used to use. A brick—what kind of message were we sending, anyway? Why, we might as well have shouted, ‘Use violence, you brute!’ No, indeed. But a book! The power of knowledge! To the masses!”

Nick thrust a fist in the air and practically floated offstage. I shook my head after him, but I couldn’t help but grin. Leave it to Nick to worry about educating the masses in a crummy vaudeville theater. And he truly believed it could be done, city by city. Nick was out to alter the cosmos.

My father was a river rock, worn soft and smooth by years of tumbling water. Not like me, a rock that had been chipped and chiseled into something other than its original form.

Yes, Nick was flowery and flighty and, I believed, fragile. And yet here we were, in the midst of a band of con artists traipsing about the country.

Good thing he had me.

SELLING HOPE Copyright © 2010 by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

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First Chapter

Selling Hope


By Kristin O' Donnell Tubb

Feiwel & Friends

Copyright © 2010 Kristin O' Donnell Tubb
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312611224

May 1, 1910
SEVENTEEN DAYS
till the End of the World.
NEWS HEADLINE
Earth Will Pass Through Comet’s 24-Million-Mile-Long
Tail on May 18
Cross-Eyed Jane poked her head into the tent. Her kinky yellow hair puffed in after her.
“We gots fifteen more minutes with the tarot cards before she and Nick go on.” Cross-Eyed Jane addressed me as “she,” even when she was talking directly to me. This, coupled with the fact that she was cross-eyed, often made it difficult to know who Jane was talking about. But I was the only other person in the tent, so I assumed her “she” was me. I smiled.
Jane smiled back, her wrinkled face carving into deep ruts, and gazed over my shoulder. I moved my head up and to the left to where I thought she was looking, but those crawly eyes of hers crept right past me. Erm . . . left past me.
I’m tellin’ ya, the old gal was so cross-eyed, when she rolled her eyes, she hit her ears!
Huck. There it was—the surest sign that I needed to leave this vaudeville circuit once and for all: those awful wisecracks. I guess everyone has a little voice inside his or her head, pointing out all of the things that are funny and fantastical and odd. But my internal voice? Equipped with the kind of one-liner jokes that made vaudeville famous. Not exactly the conscience of your average thirteen-year-old.
I adjusted my robes, the ones I had “borrowed” from the costume trunk, so I’d look more like a true medium. The robes were crafted of a thick red tapestry and weighed upward of twenty pounds. It took half my strength just to keep them draped across my tiny frame. But the robes added an air of mystery to our booth, accented by the massive candles, which threw skipping yellow light across the canvas walls, dripping colorful wax on the dusty ground beneath. Did I know how to put on a show! I should—I’d learned from the best.
Jane and I had set up shop—and by shop, I mean our little canvas booth—next to the other peddlers, just outside the vaudeville theater in Des Moines, Iowa, our latest tour stop. There was a row of us who made a little extra green that way. The actors and stagehands peddled everything from sheet music to medicinal elixirs to stuff they’d purchased in the last town, plus 20 percent. The theatergoers loved this makeshift storefront; for them it was part of the vaudeville experience. And too, Mr. Whitting and the other managers took a healthy cut of our profits, so they saw our little side businesses as just fine and dandy.
“Lead the first Coin in,” I whispered to Cross-Eyed Jane. She clicked her tongue at me; she hated it when I called them that. I began to hum, quietly at first, then letting it grow into a noisy, low moan. I told myself I was getting into character. Plus, the moaning sounded good to the Coins. That’s what I called our customers—the Coins.
Hummmmmmm. Farewell, Hope McDaniels. Greetings to Mademoiselle Ari, Gifted Child Medium and Foreseer of the Future.
Cross-Eyed Jane ducked out of the smallish tent, then back in again, goading a female Coin before her. Jane cupped her hand about the Coin’s elbow, trying to lead her to the table where I sat. The Coin yanked her arm from Jane’s grip and shot her a look of utter disgust, as if she might somehow contract Jane’s crazy eye “disease.” This particular Coin was so big, she almost knocked over three of my candles entering our booth.
I’m not sayin’ the gal was overweight, but she was plump in places where most folks don’t have places!
Jane jutted her chin at me. “That’s her,” she whispered to the Coin. “She’s young, doncha know, but her youth allows her channels to be fully open to the future.” Jane tried winking her spacey eye at me, but it appeared as if she were winking at the heavens instead. I cleared my throat to stifle a giggle. That “open channels” bit always got me.
I had to hand it to Jane. When she came up with this idea of a “child medium,” I was skeptical. Adults forking over a jitney to hear a thirteen-year-old talk about money and love and death? Most of the adults I knew didn’t even pause to hear me discuss the weather, much less pay an entire nickel to hear it. But Jane was right—the Coins loved me. I relaxed them, as though I was simply peeking ahead in a lighthearted parlor game of Ouija board, as though I couldn’t possibly be the bearer of bad news. And I must admit, I loved the power that came with telling adults what they should worry about.
Our partnership was a good one, mine and Jane’s. I asked her once why she didn’t just read the cards herself and keep all the money, instead of just half. She’d snorted, she’d laughed so hard.
“Me, read fortunes?” she’d said with a cough. “People want to see their futures as fresh and lively, like Hope, lassie. A withered old grouch like me don’t exactly set the proper backdrop for a prosperous road ahead, eh?”
Yes, Jane was no spring chicken. She was so old, she looked like she gave her pallbearers the slip!
Jane and I split all money fifty-fifty. And there was nothing like having a wad of cash stashed in your grouch bag. Because I would never—never—not have money again.
Jane now folded herself out of the tent, and the Coin she’d procured perched on the caned chair opposite me. Her knees wouldn’t fit under the tiny folding table between us, so she sat sidewise. I began flipping tarot cards onto the shimmery tablecloth, placing the worn papers into a large, deliberate cross. The middle of the cross I left bare, for the moment. I’d come to discover that flipping that middle card is the Grande Finale and should be coaxed slowly. Coax and hoax rhyme. Huh.
The pips that I turned for this Coin were all minor characters, like The Page and The Queen. What. A. Bore.
“Mmm. Mmm-hmm,” I muttered, and nodded knowingly. The Coin shifted, and the tiny chair moaned. I flipped another card: Judgment.
“Oh!” I said. The Coin gasped.
Did I mention? I didn’t know the first thing about reading tarot cards. The cards themselves were beautiful—blues and purples and reds and oranges that swirled and twined in inky vines, taking forms such as The Empress and The Hanged Man and Death. Each card was a masterpiece. The worn, beloved deck belonged to Cross-Eyed Jane, but she always said, “Lovey, these cards tells me they belong to her.” (That would be me.) When I was ten, she’d allow me to play with them like they were paper dolls. Now I played with them for money.
Next from the deck: The Magician. One of my least favorite cards, not because my father was a magician, but because his love of magic rendered me essentially homeless. I groaned.
The Coin’s eyes grew wide. “What is it?”
The cross of cards was complete, except for that final middle card. Now for The Show.
I placed the remainder of the cards on the edge of the table. Then I rubbed my hands together and blew on them, as if they were icy cold. I swirled my hands mere inches above the incomplete cross, feeling their energy. The Coin ate up this hooey like, well . . . apparently like she ate up everything: with gusto.
“You are . . .” I closed my eyes for a moment. “Unhappy.”
The Coin nodded.
Zing. Well, honestly, that one was common sense. The only people who went to a medium were unhappy people. I always started with that one, and I always got it right.
I narrowed my eyes and studied my Coin. Wedding ring, decent clothes, furrowed brow. Pretty, in a plump sort of way.
“You’re worried about something.”
The Coin nodded again. She leaned forward in the tiny chair, and her brown eyes widened. She apparently thought I was on to something.
“You’re worried about your marriage.”
But the Coin shook her head and her shoulders slumped ever so slightly. I knew I’d guessed incorrectly before she even spoke. “No. No, I have a wonderful husband.”
“Yes, yes, of course. You’re worried about money.” Always the next one I tried.
The Coin shook her head again, more fervently this time. Her eyes blazed, and her face screwed up like a twisted dish towel. “No, money’s not an issue, you imp!” she shouted, and pounded the table with the palm of her hand. “I knew this was a waste of my time!”
Money’s not an issue? Fancy that! Money’s an issue for everyone, lady. I felt a little flame of anger ignite inside me at this sudden turn. No money problems! Pah!
But I needed this nickel. “You’re worried about . . . ,” I continued. My hands hovered over the bland cards that this Coin received for her reading. I wasn’t quite sure what to try next. Awful marriages and money problems covered almost everyone. “You’re worried about . . . your health.”
The Coin drooped in her chair, and I thought for sure that I’d lost her, that she’d had enough of this hoax. But she surprised me. “Yes,” she whispered into her lap. “Is it going to kill us all?”
My mind whirred. It? Kill us all? The only thing that could be was . . .
“Halley’s Comet?”
“Yes!” The Coin bolted upright and gripped my wrists so tightly my skin turned white beneath her fingers.
“Let go, please.” I said it softly, so as not to alarm Cross-Eyed Jane, who might very well enter the tent with a cocked pistol if she thought I was in danger. The Coin tightened her grip, her fingernails piercing my skin. Her eyes shifted between my face and the cards sprawled on the table between us, and there was a black spot of—fear?—that hadn’t been there before. My heart raced like a locomotive.
“Are we all going to die?” she said. “Will the poisonous gasses suffocate us? Will the comet ram into our world? Why, the impact alone would . . .”
I shook my head in disbelief, wriggling to free myself from her grasp. Sure, I knew Earth was going to travel through the tail of Halley’s Comet later this month; everyone had been talking about it since the turn of the new year. But kill us? Pah! The newspapers said the world’s top scientists didn’t believe that, so neither did I.
This Coin is such the fool! What a shame I’m not a mind reader. I could charge her half price.
I freed myself quickly from her grip. My “real job” as a magician’s assistant required me to don handcuffs quite often. That rarely had its benefits, but this was indeed one of those times.
My wrists were tender to the touch, perhaps bruised. I rotated them in circles to regain feeling in my fingers.
The Coin had commenced to gripping the edge of the table and swaying to and fro in the tiny, groaning chair. I picked up the deck of cards and shuffled through them in my lap, hand-selecting the Grande Finale card:
The World.
I flipped it into the center of the X and widened my eyes like I truly saw death and destruction in this Coin’s future. “It’s—it’s . . . too black! Too black! No light! I . . . can’t . . . breathe!” I raised my hands to my throat, gagging and choking and making an all-too-obvious spectacle of myself.
The Coin leapt to her feet, toppling the table of cards and kicking aside the tiny chair. She shoved her way under the wall of the tent, rather than ducking through its flap, and dragged down two burning candles in the process. Blazing candles touched dry canvas and the tent ignited. Flames were soon eating our booth from the bottom up.
I had one pitcher of water, which I threw on the fire, dousing part of the blaze.
“Jane!” I yelled. “Water! Quick!”
Cross-Eyed Jane came in but moments later with a bucket of water, and the fire was soon nothing but a steaming pile of wet, reeking canvas. I was shaking, partly the result of being so near a large fire, and partly the result of having to defend myself against this unstable Coin.
“Lovey! She’s all right?”
I had a gaping hole in my booth caused by a desperate Coin who thought the world was going to end in seventeen days, and my funds would be largely depleted after I paid Jane for the damages. I lived in teeny railroad cars and shabby boardinghouses scattered about the country, and my best friend was a fifty-two-year-old cross-eyed gypsy. I wore twenty-pound robes that stank like smoke, and now my father needed my help performing magic tricks, a feat that he believed might allow him to someday change the course of the world. Honestly, he believed his sleight of hand was a gift that could unite the masses. Illusion or disillusion? You tell me.
I threw off my charred costume, revealing the next costume underneath.
“I’m the candy, Jane. Really,” I sighed. “Does Nick need me onstage yet?”
I loved backstage. It was quiet, except for the occasional burst of howling laughter from the audience that penetrated the lush, velvety curtains. Stagehands rushed on tiptoe and communicated with gestures and pointing. The illumination was secondhand, provided solely by the few rays of light that bent around corners from the searing-hot stage. If only the entire world were like this—muffled and dark and once removed.
I had this little routine that I conducted before I went onstage. I didn’t do it for good luck nor to ensure a good performance. No, I did it so I could remember the things I felt I was in danger of forgetting.
I unfolded the square of red flannel and rubbed it against my cheek. It was gritty, not as soft as it once had been. Likely from years of absorbing apologies.
“I’m sorry, Mama,” I whispered into it. “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.”
I smelled the flannel, too. It smelled like . . . well, grubby fabric. Still, I imagined I smelled my mother in there. I do not remember what she smelled like.
I worried about this, but Cross-Eyed Jane assured me that I would be a marvel if I remembered anything about her. I was only eight when she died. Nick never discussed her. Never. I had a gritty red square of quilting fabric that was hers. Everything else was pawned before we left. One must travel light on the vaudeville circuit.
Speaking of traveling light, did you hear the one about the boy who did just that? All he packed was kerosene and matches!
Oh, thank you, folks. Thank you. No applause, please. Just throw money.
Standing onstage was akin to standing in a box of sun: bright, hot, and full of squint and sweat. Beyond the perimeter of the stage dwelled the murky outline of the heads of the audience members. I stood next to my father in a pose that, if it were struck anywhere but a magic act, would be beyond odd: one arm lifted in the air, one arm outstretched toward the shenanigans, one toe pointed forward—a deranged ballerina. Absurd.

Continues...

Excerpted from Selling Hope by Kristin O' Donnell Tubb Copyright © 2010 by Kristin O' Donnell Tubb. Excerpted by permission.
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.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 22, 2010

    Adventures in Vaudeville

    Readers will root for Hope McDaniels as she tries to cash in on the Halley's Comet mania by selling anti-comet pills. Kristin O'Donnell Tubb spins a fun tale full of Hope's adventures in vaudeville with her pal, Buster Keaton.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    from missprint DOT wordpress DOT com

    May 1, 1910: The world might end in seventeen days when Earth will pass through the possibly lethal tail of Halley's Comet but thirteen-year-old Hope McDaniel isn't too concerned. Her world already ended, in a way, when her mother died years ago and Hope's father, Nick, joined the small time vaudeville circuit.

    Hope is tired of living out of train cars, boarding houses, and not having any friends her own age. She's sick of being a magician's assistant for Nick and reading Tarot card fortunes to unsuspecting customers with their fellow troupe member Cross-Eyed Jane.

    Hope wants out of vaudeville and with the world possibly ending in less than a month, she's willing to try something desperate to get that normal house and a normal life.

    All around her Hope sees hysteria rising as Mr. Halley's comet comes closer and closer to Earth. Everyone is looking for some protection from the comet. So Hope invents just that: anti-comet pills meant to counter the effects of the dangerous comet.

    With the help of another troupe member, young Buster Keaton, Hope has all the tools to market the pills, earn some money, and maybe finally get away from vaudeville. But with the end of the world looming Hope starts to wonder if maybe she's been wanting the wrong things. In fact, all of the things Hope hates--the things she's never wanted--might be exactly what she's needed all along in Selling Hope (2010) by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb.

    This book really charmed me.

    2010 is the hundredth anniversary of the Halley's Comet scare of 1910. The comet was last seen in 1985 and (it is predicted) will not be visible again until 2061. But 1910 was the first time and Tubb has magically bottled the hysteria and wonder created by Halley's comet and used it as a sweeping backdrop for a story about a girl trying to make sense of her world and find her own place in the midst of the chaos her father's choices have made.

    Hope's first person narration, complete with original newspaper headlines at the beginning of each chapter and authentic one-liner jokes interspersed throughout the story, presents a very clear snapshot of the vaudeville circuit and of Chicago in 1910.

    Like all good stories, Selling Hope is peppered with pieces of fact including real vaudeville performers like Bert Savoy, the Cherry sisters and, of course, Hope's rather dashing accomplice Buster Keaton. It's hard to say what was more impressive: making Hope, a fictional heroine, as real and dimensional as the now larger than life Buster or making Buster such an important and believable part of this fictional story.*

    Selling Hope is a rich, fluid story that captures the spirit of a very specific point in history and a sense of shock and awe rarely seen in modern times. On top of that Hope is a delightfully original narrator in a story that's full of surprises.

    *The dynamic between Hope and Buster was so genuine and so convincing that, upon finishing, it was a bit disappointing to remember that Buster Keaton lived a whole different, real, life that had nothing to do with Hope or pills.

    Possible Pairingsº: Murder at Midnight by Avi, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

    ºKristin O'Donnell Tubb has a list of her own recommended reading list at the end of the book--definitely worth a look!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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

    Posted July 6, 2013

    Love books

    This is a sad book because Hopes mother died five years before an shes without her mother. Her fathe isnt doing a very good job but it was a good book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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