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A move from an impoverished tenement to an unfinished suburban development turns thirteen-year-old Socko's world inside out.
A move from an impoverished tenement to an unfinished suburban development turns thirteen-year-old Socko's world inside out.
Socko pushed open the front door of their apartment building and instantly noticed—the Temporarily Out of Order sign on the elevator was gone!
"They fixed it!" Damien yelled, leading the charge across the lobby—sometimes Socko thought they shared a brain.
As he skidded to a stop, Damien slapped the Open Door button.
Nothing happened. Socko reached across and popped the button again. The door of their personal amusement park ride was taking its time opening. "Maybe somebody stole the sign." He was ready to walk away when the door slid back with a groan. "After you," he said, then followed Damien into the musty wooden box they called "the Hurtler."
"Don't trust it, boys," called the old guy who always sat in a plastic chair beside the bank of mailboxes. "It's a death trap!"
The boys exchanged glances as the door closed behind them.
Even under normal operation the ancient elevator broke down all the time, trapping people between floors, sometimes for hours—and what Socko and his friend had in mind wasn't "normal operation."
Socko hit the 5 button and the elevator began its wheezy climb to the top floor. He felt tremors through the thin soles of his sneakers, like the "Hurtler" was going to have a heart attack any second—but they had to celebrate somehow.
School had ended less than an hour ago. "Free at last!" Damien had yelled as they ran down the mildew-infested halls of Grover Cleveland Middle School. If they got trapped joyriding in the "Hurtler," big deal. They had all summer.
The elevator heaved a sigh and stopped on the top floor. "Ya ready?" Socko's thumb hovered over the launch button.
Damien tapped the S on his Superman ball cap. "Hit it."
Socko punched the button for the basement.
A flicker of light jumped from one numbered button to the next as the elevator dropped. "Five ... four ... three ...," they chanted.
"Now!" Damien roared.
Socko smacked the Open Door button, triggering an instant malfunction. Like a yo-yo hitting the end of its string, the falling box stopped with a jolt. Socko got a sudden taste of pizza—his last free school lunch of sixth grade.
Damien slapped a hand on top of his cap. "Sweet!"
"Again?" asked Damien.
"Yeah!" Socko hit the 5. Instead of starting the climb to the top, the elevator cable let out a loud twang.
Damien scrambled to grab the bar that ran along the walls of the elevator. Socko's breath caught. If the cable snapped, they'd hurtle for real—down the shaft to the basement where the rickety box would explode on impact. But when nothing worse followed the scary twang, Damien reached across and popped the 5 button again. This time the box went down instead of up, dropping fast.
"What the heck!" Socko slapped a button. The cable twanged again, louder this time as the elevator lurched to a stop. The box shuddered, then stilled.
In the shivering silence, Socko could hear his own rapid breathing.
"Try it again," said Damien.
"You sure? What if the cable breaks?"
Socko punched the 5, then slouched against the wall like he hadn't just been a wuss. High overhead, the motor let out a muffled whirr. A split second later, the gasp of a dying motor echoed down the shaft.
Socko popped the 5 button half a dozen times, secretly relieved when nothing happened.
"Allow me." Damien tapped the red S on his cap again, revving up his superpowers, then thumbed the button. When the magic of the S failed, Damien kicked the door.
"You think we broke it?" Socko thought of his mother, Delia, who would have to puff and blow her way up four flights of stairs after a day on her feet at Phat Burger.
"You kidding? It breaks all the time!" Damien tried the Open Door button. The door ground open, revealing the side of the elevator shaft with a space about a foot wide at the top. "Oh, man. Stuck between floors." He grabbed the edge of the floor over his head and pulled himself up. His chest resting on the floor above, he rolled through the opening.
For Socko, who was taller and heavier, getting through the gap was a squeeze.
"Come on, Burger Boy." Damien latched onto his arms and yanked.
Socko was being dragged out of the elevator when he saw the old guy's brown slippers and baggy socks. They were on the ground floor again.
"Need this?" A wrinkled hand held the Temporarily Out of Order sign.
"Thanks, Mr. Marvin." Damien jammed the sign into the crack at the edge of the door that had just closed behind them.
"We didn't bust it," said Socko. "It just sort of happened."
Mr. Marvin turned the newspaper in his lap their way. "Everything's broke." He tapped the headline. "Unemployment Tops 9 Percent." The hardware store where the old guy had worked for twenty-seven years had closed months ago. He crossed his legs. The slipper on his foot jiggled nervously up and down. "The world's a mess, boys."
Socko could tell he was just warming up. "See ya, Mr. Marvin." He started for the stairwell door, then glanced back. "Damien?"
Damien stood, fists stuffed in his back pockets. "Found another one." He stared at the closed elevator door. Gouged into the wood was a crude drawing of a spider. "Rapp," he muttered.
Socko walked back for a closer look. He ran a hand over the scarred wood—which felt strangely cold in the warm lobby. Rapp, the teen who always traveled with a knife in his pocket, lived in 2B—a radioactive danger zone that kept Socko and his friend off the second floor. The danger zone seemed to be growing.
Just the day before they'd found a similar spider painted on the sidewalk in front of Donatelli's, the convenience store across the street from the apartment building.
"Bunch of punks," Mr. Marvin said. "Know why Rapp named his so-called gang the Tarantulas? He had a pet spider when he was a kid." He shook his head. "He's making things up as he goes along. Heck, he's seventeen. What does he know about running anything? Those boys are just playin' at this gang business."
Mr. Marvin picked a speck of lint off the knee of his pants. "Still ... Rapp has a temper and don't you ever forget it. My advice to you boys? Steer clear of the whole lot of them."
"Sure thing," said Socko. "Come on, Damien." He pushed open the heavy door to the stairs and listened.
"Nobody," said Damien, listening too. The elevator was dangerous, sure, but the dark stairwell wasn't exactly safe either.
Socko trudged up the steps, breathing through his mouth. This place never smelled good. Today it smelled like a restroom—and not the air freshener part.
"What you wanna do tomorrow?" Damien asked.
Even though it was the first day of summer vacation, Socko couldn't come up with much. "Hang out on the roof and work on our tans?" he joked.
"Genius idea! You turn red like a stoplight, then peel like a banana. And me?" Damien held out one skinny arm. "I'm naturally tan."
"True and true." Socko was what Damien called "beyond white," and although Damien's mom was white, he definitely took after the black dad he'd never met. "You got any genius ideas?"
"I'm working on it." Damien loped ahead, his footfalls echoing.
Socko was watching the toes of his sneakers on the gray steps when he bumped into Damien.
"Another one." Damien pointed to the wall.
The spray-painted spider was so new it was still shiny. Socko took a quick look and kept climbing.
"Seriously, man!" Damien caught up to Socko on the second-floor landing. "Mr. Marvin says steer clear. How're we supposed to do that?"
"I don't know. Die young?"
A while back Socko had been flagged to run an errand for Rapp. It was no biggie. He'd delivered a folded piece of paper to a guy on the corner of Baker and Elm. When he reported a successful handoff, Rapp had put a sweaty hand on the back of his neck. "Ya did good, Big Red."
All winter Socko had worn a hoodie to keep his stupid red hair from attracting attention. What he needed was cryptic coloration so he could blend into his surroundings like the moths and lizards he'd seen on the Nature Channel.
Size was Socko's other attention-getting problem—he'd gladly give his short buddy Damien some of the extra inches he had picked up in the last few months. Showing no sign of quitting, his growth spurt was putting him in Rapp's face a little more each day.
"Seriously." Damien slapped Socko's arm. "Sooner or later we're gonna have to join. Probably sooner."
A tingle ran down Socko's spine. "They ask you?"
Socko started climbing again.
"Got any food at your place?" Damien asked.
"Probably." Socko's mom could bring home anything that had been under the heat lamp for more than two hours—one of the few advantages of working at a fast-food place that wasn't a chain.
"Burgers? Fries? How about a couple of those little pie thingies with the greasy crusts?" Damien cut in front of him, climbing the stairs backwards. "I could be a runner for the gang—you know I can really pump on my skateboard."
"You want to end up in jail?" Socko heard his mother's words come out of his mouth.
"So? I hear they eat regular in jail."
That morning Socko's mom had stood at their window, looking down on Rapp and his boys loitering on the sidewalk in front of Donatelli's. "Jobs," she'd said. "That's what those punks need."
Jobs. Like that was going to happen. Out Of Business signs were taped to windows all over the neighborhood, not just Mr. Marvin's hole-in-the-wall hardware store. The evening news his mom watched spewed reports about people losing jobs like water from a busted pipe.
"Third floor." Damien pushed open the stairwell door. "Gotta drop off my pack." He stuck his head around the door and listened. Apartment 3A was the first on the left. The fight going on inside was coming through loud and clear.
"Or not." Damien pulled his head back and eased the door shut.
"You think your mom's okay?" Socko asked.
"She's fine." Damien jogged up the next flight of stairs. "I'd help her if she was really in trouble, but she picks out these guys, not me. This one's really big. I'm not messing with him." He stepped into the fourth-floor hallway.
Socko's apartment was one floor above Damien's—they signaled each other with a broom handle banged against Socko's floor or Damien's ceiling. Socko lifted the key string from around his neck and unlocked the door.
He felt himself unclench as soon as they were locked inside. And double-locked. And chained.
Except for the steady drip in the kitchen sink that had left a rusty bull's-eye on the enamel, the apartment was quiet. Delia wouldn't get off her shift at Phat Burger for another hour.
Socko's backpack hit the floor, then Damien's. They pried off sneakers, peeled off socks. Damien wiggled his toes and sighed, but it was Socko's toes that were celebrating. Delia could get clothes to keep up with his growth spurt out of the Help Yourself closet at St. Ignatius, the Catholic church down the street—you didn't even have to be Catholic to help yourself—but shoes that fit cost money.
Damien padded across the gray linoleum and stuck his head in the fridge. "Pretty empty." He stood on his toes, reached into the cupboard over the sink, then stared at the box of microwave popcorn in his hand. "No butter? This is so bogus."
"Delia's trying to lose weight."
"Wish my mom was fat." Damien tore the clear wrapper off a packet of popcorn with his teeth. "Fat moms don't have boyfriends." He opened the microwave door and fell back a step. "Whoa! Mega roach!"
The cockroach faced them, antennae raised.
Socko eyed the can of Raid on the counter, but he didn't want to blast bug killer into the microwave. Plus, he wasn't crazy about killing things, even roaches.
Damien slammed the microwave door and hit the 1-minute button. "Death by laser!" Palms on the edge of the counter, he watched the roach stroll across the rotating tray.
"They're indestructible," said Socko, secretly pulling for the roach. "Been around since the Cretaceous."
The roach stopped in its tracks and began to spark.
Damien gaped at the oven window. "I wasn't expecting that. Were you expecting that?"
Damien popped the microwave door. "Dead roach flying!" He flicked the crisp bug across the room.
Socko dodged it. The nuked roach landed legs up and skidded to a stop under a chair.
Damien put the bag in the microwave, selected Popcorn, and hit Start. "Our snack lives!" he said, rubbing his hands together as the popcorn bag began to jiggle.
So Delia wouldn't freak when she saw it, Socko picked up the roach by one stiff leg and dropped it in the trash.
They tossed the hot popcorn bag back and forth as they charged the sofa. Damien had possession when they vaulted the sofa back and whumped down on the gray-green cushions. While Damien was ripping the bag open, Socko snagged the remote and hit Power. Instantly a black-and-white face filled the screen.
"Not nature again!" Damien stuffed a humongoid handful of popcorn into his mouth. The panda on the screen did the same with a bunch of bamboo shoots. "I'm so tired of nature!"
"How can you be? You never see any."
"I see plenty of cock-a-roaches." Bits of popcorn sprayed out with his words.
"Roaches don't count." Socko reached into the popcorn bag and stuffed his own mouth. He chewed. The panda chewed.
"Hey, Socko!" Damien pointed at the screen. "That's you, man. You're the panda."
"What're you talking about?"
"The panda's big, but harmless—like you. I mean, a panda's a bear, but all it eats is leaves."
"I don't see you acting like a superpredator."
"Look at me!" Damien spread his arms. They stuck out of his T-shirt sleeves, as skinny as pick-up sticks. "I weigh, like, eighty-seven pounds, so what am I supposed to predate on?"
"I don't know." Socko propped his feet on the coffee table. "Algae?"
"Algae, huh?" Damien dug into the bag, considering. "What does algae taste like?"CHAPTER 2
A lion pride was circling a baby wildebeest when Socko heard the stairwell door hit the wall. The bang was followed by a groan.
"The Burger Queen is in the building." Damien tipped his head back and shook the last few kernels into his mouth.
Socko vaulted off the sofa. He twisted dead bolts, dropped chains, and opened the door. "Yo, Mom."
"Yo, Socko." A wavy strand of black hair hung over one of his mother's eyes. Hands full, Delia stuck out her lower lip and blew. The damp strand lifted, then settled back over her eye.
He tucked the hair behind her ear. "How was your day?"
"Super. A guy threw up on the counter and I had to clean it up—the girls said it was my job since I make the big bucks."
Socko snorted. As day manager she made two dollars over minimum wage. He took the purse clutched to her side.
"And I had to get tough with Rapp. He thinks he's entitled to sit in the booth all day." She held out her arm. "Take this too. How can that elevator be broke again?"
As he lifted the plastic bag of supper from his mom's wrist, he swore to himself, no more hurtling.
The arm remained outstretched. The fingers wiggled. "Report card?"
Socko put the purse and the Phat bag on the counter and went to his fallen pack. "Check out math last."
She stared at the paper he put in her hand. "Math's a C+. The rest, all Bs!" She smothered him in a hug that smelled like fries and the cheap rose perfume he'd given her last Christmas. "This place is not going to eat you alive," she whispered fiercely. "My boy's going to college!"
He hoped the words, hot in his ear, hadn't been heard by his friend on the couch. Who from around here went to college?
Besides, the report card wasn't that great. His mother only thought it was great because she'd never finished high school. He was wishing he had gotten at least one A for her when something crash-landed in the apartment below, followed by muffled yelling.
Delia rested her chin on Socko's shoulder. "You wanna stay for supper?" she asked Damien.
"I wouldn't mind."
"What're we having?" Socko asked, kind of hoping his mom would let go.
He heard Damien cross the room to check out the contents of the Phat Burger bag.
"Specialty of the house," Damien said. "Bun Busters."
Delia gave Socko one last hard hug and turned him loose. "How was your report card, Damien?"
Damien grabbed a burger and shrugged. "Mrs. DeLuca liked me so much she's gonna keep me in sixth another year."
"What happened, Damien?" Delia took the Bun Buster out of Damien's hands and put it on a plate. "You're a smart kid!" She handed the plate back to him.
"It's not that big a deal," Socko said. When it came to giving out free advice about "getting an education," his mother didn't know when to quit. "I flunked second, remember?"
"I blame myself for that," she said.
Socko and his mother had camped at a friend's place most of that school year, sleeping on the floor. The only good thing was the apartment was near the Y, so he had learned to swim.
With a mother like Louise, Damien was bound to lose a year here and there. This was the second time he'd been held back—and he couldn't even swim.
"I know it's tough," said Delia as the sound of yelling from the apartment below grew louder. "But you just have to work harder!"
"Why?" Damien asked. "It's not like I'm going anywhere."
She grabbed his shoulders and gave him a little shake. "What are you talking about? Look at the president! His mom's white, like yours. His dad's black, like yours. You're both skinny—both good looking." She tried to catch his eye but he looked away.
"Bet he didn't suck at reading."
"Aw, baby ..."
Socko could tell that his mom wanted to hug Damien, but the burger plate was in the way. Instead she rubbed his arms like she was trying to make his blood move faster. "You gonna do summer school?"
"Can't. Summer school got cut. No money."
"It's canceled for real?" Socko was used to things being cut at home, but at school?
Excerpted from Summer on the Moon by Adrian Fogelin. Copyright © 2012 Adrian Fogelin. Excerpted by permission of Peachtree.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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It’s been so long since I was head-over-heels for a children’s novel that I was beginning to think the problem wasn’t the books but me becoming old and bitter.
Then I read “Summer on the Moon” by Adrian Fogelin, and – what a relief! It turns out I’m fine, and the books were the problem after all.
The opening of “Summer on the Moon” illustrates its high originality, grit and authenticity. Just released for the summer, middle schoolers Socko (short for Socrates) and Damien come home to their seedy Florida apartment building and avail themselves of their “personal amusement park ride,” an ancient elevator, which they call The Hurtler.
To play, you ride to the top and punch all the buttons, which makes the elevator malfunction and drop-drop-drop until – just as death seems imminent – you hit the “open door” button, causing the elevator to brake with a heart-wrenching jerk.
I don’t know if it’s possible to use an elevator this way or not (readers, please don’t try this at home!) but Fogelin depicts The Hurtler convincingly just as she does the cockroaches, gang members, and drug-addled parents that inhabit Damien and Socko’s grim and dangerous world.
But then a near miracle occurs. Socko’s widowed, disabled grandfather offers to buy him and his mom a house if in exchange they will take him in and take care of him. Mom, who works at a fast-food joint, jumps at the chance, and soon the family leaves Damien behind and moves into a beautiful new house in Moon Ridge Estates, a gated subdivision where all the other houses are vacant.
In a nice, timely touch, Moon Ridge Estates is bankrupt, and the developer, nearly bankrupt himself, moves in with his family across the street. The family includes an attractive formerly rich girl Socko’s age, Livvy.
No surprise that Socko feels a romantic attraction – his first – to Livvy, or that Socko’s grandfather turns out to be a curmudgeon with a heart of gold. What distinguishes the book for me is the authenticity of the detail as well as Fogelin’s effective use of hard-working metaphors that further the plot and also make sense in the context of Socko’s world.
Besides The Hurtler, there’s the moonscape that is Moon Ridge Estates. Pivotal plot points take place in an empty swimming pool and the unfinished skeleton of a house.
The emotional heart of the book is not Socko’s relationship with Livvy but his distress at leaving Damien to fend for himself in the mean streets of the old hood. “Summer on the Moon” is timely and literary and deals with serious social issues, but it’s also a total page-turner and at times very funny. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Newbery Committee members – are you listening?