Stealing Henryby Carolyn MacCullough
"The night Savannah brains her stepfather with the frying pan is the night she decides to leave home for good."
Fleeing from her stepfather's wrath, Savannah and her half brother, Henry, travel north toward their mother Alice's childhood home. As the runaways embark upon their journey, another story begins to unfold: glimpses of Alice as a teenager, caught in
"The night Savannah brains her stepfather with the frying pan is the night she decides to leave home for good."
Fleeing from her stepfather's wrath, Savannah and her half brother, Henry, travel north toward their mother Alice's childhood home. As the runaways embark upon their journey, another story begins to unfold: glimpses of Alice as a teenager, caught in poignant first love and completely anaware of all the consequences love can carry.
Read an Excerpt
The night Savannah brains her stepfather with the frying pan is the night she decides to leave home for good.
She has already cuts lumps of butter into the skillet and set it on an unlit burner. And she has almost finished dicing an onion when Jack comes into the kitchen. She feels his presence spread in prickles across the back of her neck and she inclines her head slightly to gauge his mood. He has been drinking after work beers down in his workshop in the basement, although the term's relative since he had lost his job at the garage a while ago.
He takes a long drink from the beer can in his hand, watches her for a minute, asks, "Dinner ready?"
She still can't pin his mood yet, so she doesn't speak, opens the spice cabinet door, begins hunting for the salt and pepper and powdered garlic.
Halfway into her search, he knocks against her head with his knuckles, which makes her tighten her hold on the pepper shaker before setting it down on the counter, then picking up the knife.
The blade sweeps through the last bit of onion. Refrigerator light spills across her hands as he swings open the door. She holds out a foot, to keep the door from swinging against her hip. The hinge is broken again, eluding Jack's latest repair efforts.
"Godammit," he says, slams the door closed. The rattle of condiment jars and then silence. Savannah tightens the calf muscles of one leg, then the other, over and over. She thinks it's the broken hinge that has set him off until he says, "Where's the beer?"
"I don't know," she says, feeling safe to inject enough bewilderment in her tone. Four years ago, Savannah remembers her mother, Alice, got rid of every bit of alcohol inthe house. After that night, she had never tried that again.
Now she glances at the blue plastic clock on the wall. As if reading her thoughts, Jack shrugs. "Corner store's closed." He leans against the fridge. "Why didn't you buy any?"
This time the bewilderment is genuine. "I can't? I'm underage?" She reminds him of this like she is reminding him that two plus two equals four. She knows this isn't exactly smart, but sometimes she can't resist flipping a little sarcasm his way.
She can stand a slap or two. She can't stand the idea of becoming like her mother.
"That's bullshit," he mutters, holding his last beer can, up against his eye, which is bloodshot. She wonders briefly if he is talking about the law against underage buying, decides she doesn't care and reaches over to the stove. She lights it, adjusts the flame until it's a steady burning blue.
Jack is now holding the beer can against the bridge of his nose and she remembers that he suffers from migraines. When she was little and learning, she used to make ice packs for her mother to take into the darkened bedroom. Those times felt like a vacation because she was mostly left by herself and she could pinpoint exactly where Jack was at all times. "You're telling me you and your friends never drink?"
She blinks up at him, one part of her thankful that she got the chicken out of the refrigerator, before he came in so she wouldn't have to reach around him. "I remember you and that boy sitting on the step here, drinking one of my beers."
"Matt?" she asks and then wishes she hadn't. When they first became friends, Matt used to stop by unexpectedly. Sometimes he dropped her off after school and once he had walked her to the step, then inside. He had ambled through the kitchen in his loose- jointed way, opened the fridge and said "Mind if I have a beer?" She should have said no, instead she found herself sitting on the outside with him on the concrete steps, watching him drink his stolen beer, opening and closing her fingers together, until he glanced down at her, told her to relax and tipped the bottle down her throat. Foam had fizzed over her shirt and they were both laughing when Jack arrived home.
"Yeah. You probably drank my beer all the time with him."
"He's gone," she says after a minute because Jack seems to be waiting for an answer. She tilts the cutting board over the pan, begins flicking the chopped onion into the pan.
"Yeah? He find another girl?"
"No," she says coldly. "He went to college." She is careful not to look at him as she lays the chicken flat on the cutting board and begins to cut it into strips. The meat has lost its first vibrant pink shade and she can't remember how old it was when she bought it. It feels clammy against her fingers and she tries not to mind.
Jack grunts. "Found a college girl then.
"Probably," she agrees, attempting a tuneless humming as he searches for another angle.
"Probably," he mimics. He steps forward, cornering her between the counter and the hot stove. "So he left you, huh? Just left you high and dry. What'd you do?" His voice has dropped, softening like the butter in the pan behind her. He runs a hand down her cheek and she tilts her head away, when his fingers reach her lips. She looks at the ceiling as if there is something fascinating in the web of cracked paint. "Such a young girl," he whispers, pushing his tongue against the thin gap in his front teeth. "So young and so bad." He examines her face. "But you're never going to be pretty like your momma."
She's heard this before, but somehow it does still find its way. "Yeah?" The smell of burning butter fills the air around them. Something is beginning to crack open inside of her. "Look at all the good it did her."
Jack's eyes narrow and he leans his head back from hers. "What?" his voice shoots up three decibels and she reminds herself not to flinch. "What the fuck kind of thing is that to say?"
She opens her mouth, feeling a little like the ugly girl in the fairytale who spewed only toads and worms every time she tried to speak. But instead a small voice says, "Dad." Jack's body is blocking her vision, but she doesn't have to see Henry to know he's close to tears. Jack swings around and now she can see her little brother, standing half in and half out of the kitchen doorway. Henry is flushed and sweating, on the verge of being sick.
"What's the matter, buddy?" Jack says, his voice still too loud and jarring, but now forcefully bright. He holds out his arms as if waiting for Henry to run to him.
But Henry is digging one toe into the splintered doorframe. "I heard yelling," he says, and Savannah knows he heard a lot more. Like her, Henry learned to listen in at doorways before entering a room.
"No one's yelling," Jack says, belatedly trying to lower his voice. He advances two steps towards Henry.
"What were you doing, then?" Henry asks. He sounds like he needs to clear his throat.
"Are you crying, bud," Jack says and now his voice is dangerously soft. Savannah closes her eyes, listens to Henry swallow, knows they are lost.
"No," he squeaks. "I just . . . thought . . ."
"Jesus Christ, what a . . . "
But Savannah doesn't hear the rest. It seems that time stretches and fades, replaced by something cold and hard and crystallized in her mind. She snaps back in to hear Henry sob, to see Jack take another turning step away from her, giving her all the space she needs to curve her hand around the hot handle of the skillet. She does not feel the now boiling butter foam across her skin, although she will wonder later at the red blisters on her wrist and forearm. Instead, she feels a rush of blank air, of nothing, as she slams the pan up like a tennis racket, through unencumbered space and into the side of Jack's head.
Beads of butter and onion bits burst across his face and against the red plastic cabinets. Jack grunts, flings one elbow upwards. His fingers open and close on air as he stumbles against the table, slides to his knees. Then his head hits the floor and he is out.
Meet the Author
Carolyn MacCullough is the author of Falling Through Darkness, a New York Public Library Best Book for the Teen Age, a VOYA "Author Talk" selection, and praised by Kirkus as "an emotional page-turner."
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The night Savannah brains her stepfather Jack with the frying pan is the night she decides to leave home for good. It doesn't matter that she has no money and her eight-year-old brother Henry to take care of. It doesn't even matter that her stepfather will probably follow them. Savannah can stand a few obstacles as well as she can a slap or two. What she can't stand is the idea of becoming like her mother Alice. Alice used to be someone Savannah admired, someone she could look up to. But that was another life when Alice was still looking for her own future and finding nothing she expected. Savannah's life wasn't always about listening before entering a room and not making eye contact or talking back. Her childhood homes could fill a road atlas. Savannah and Alice traveled all across the country before the fateful day their car broke down and the party stopped for good. Savannah and Henry are journeying to a house they've never seen. Eighteen years ago certain events conspired to drive Alice to leave that same house for good; events that would eventually determine the course of both Alice and Savannah's lives in Stealing Henry (2005) by Carolyn MacCullough. Stealing Henry draws readers in right from the beginning with a shocking opening line and a truly evocative cover (designed by Rodrigo Corral--the mastermind behind the US covers for the Uglies series). Nothing about Savannah's life is easy and it's simple to assume reading about her won't be either. But the opposite is true. MacCullough's lyrical prose pulls readers in, quickly making Savannah and her unreal life completely believable. Even passing scenes of the local emergency room, Alice's current place of employ, are skillfully written with a high degree of authenticity. Everything about this story is evocative and compelling. I read Stealing Henry shortly after the van incident and a generally not peaceful time in my own life. Reading about Savannah and her own journey was somehow entirely appropriate for that situation and often comforting. Much like MacCullough's later novels, this story is always optimistic. Even at her lowest, Savannah remains hopeful; the writing itself becoming both peaceful and reassuring. Possible Pairings: How to (un)Cage a Girl by Francesca Lia Block, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley, The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff, Little Voice by Sara Bareilles (music album)
Savannah is used to being on the move. She spent the first ten years of her life traveling the country with her mother Alice. Savannah loved her mother with all of her heart and adored everything she did. Even though they didn¿t eat every night and barely got by during those years, Savannah was always happy. But when Alice finally settles down and marries Jack, things drastically change. Savannah gets a little brother named Henry. Jack treats Henry great since he is his own kindred, but Savannah becomes just an extra. With Alice working a night shift, she is hardly around when Savannah is, so Jack can treat Savannah how he pleases. Jack drinks too often and lets his anger out on Savannah. When Savannah has finally had enough, she takes Henry and leaves town. They travel to New York City where Savannah meets up with Matt, an old friend who gives her a place to stay for the night. But when Jack figures out where they are from Matt¿s girlfriend Kurti, things get chaotic. Savannah knows she can¿t stay there because Jack is on his way. Henry and she take a bus to Maine to stay with her great-aunt Jane. Savannah calls Alice and gives her the recent details, and Alice isn¿t happy, but she is happy to hear from her. Jack learns that Alice has talked to Savannah and contacts the police and reports Savnnah and Henry as two runaways. Savannah will do anything possible to avoid going back home to Jack. But how do you escape the police? She¿s not sure, but she sure will give it a good try. Stealing Henry was a really great book. It combined the intriguing adventures of two runaways with a hint of mystery and romance perfectly. It was a book that made you want to keep reading page after page. It was an absolutely awesome book that I definitely encourge others to read!
This is a fast paced story that will appeal to teens and adults alike. MacCullough's style is poetic, and the story is compelling. Highly recommended.