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That's Life, Samara Brooks

That's Life, Samara Brooks

4.0 4
by Daniel Ehrenhaft, Jessica Almasy (Read by)

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Is playing blackjack in the school cafeteria that bad? Samara Brooks doesn’t think so. She isn’t out to hurt anybody. She just wants to create some drama. And she does. Drama . . . and trouble.

When the principal threatens to call her parents, Samara proposes a way to save herself. She’ll prove she’s not a bad person by conducting a


Is playing blackjack in the school cafeteria that bad? Samara Brooks doesn’t think so. She isn’t out to hurt anybody. She just wants to create some drama. And she does. Drama . . . and trouble.

When the principal threatens to call her parents, Samara proposes a way to save herself. She’ll prove she’s not a bad person by conducting a scientific experiment to show that she has the same DNA as one of the friendliest girls in school: class president Lily Frederick. But then Nathan Weiss, a kid obsessed with UFOs and mysterious codes, gets involved. And things get really weird. . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This funny, inventive book stars 13-year-old Samara Brooks, who was adopted at birth and sometimes questions her identity: “If I wasn’t Mom and Dad’s biological daughter, then I wasn’t really... the Samara Brooks I’d thought I was.” Encouraged by her parents to make an effort to fit in, Samara starts a gambling ring in the middle-school cafeteria. Determined to prove she’s not a bad person when she’s discovered, Samara proposes an experiment to prove that her DNA is not so different than that of good girl Lily. But when photo negatives of Samara’s DNA are stolen, the authorities think Samara is the thief, and she, Lily, and science geek Nathan set out to find the person responsible. Ehrenhaft (Dirty Laundry) delves into major themes of science, religion, and destiny, but his tone is light and never preachy. Lily and Nathan occasionally take over the story’s narration, which rounds out their characters, though Samara’s voice remains most prominent. She ends up fitting in—though not how she or her parents anticipated—and readers will likely be heartened by her growth, discoveries, and newfound friendships. Ages 10–up. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
Ridiculous theories of science and the paranormal destroy a promising story of nature vs. nurture. Samara Brooks heads a gambling ring in the cafeteria of her middle school. When she's caught, she strikes a bargain with the principal: He won't call her parents, and she'll conduct a science experiment with the school's never-used electron microscope, comparing her DNA to that of her friend and class president Lily Frederick. If Samara's DNA is structurally identical to Lily's, this will prove that she's not a bad person. Weirdness ensues when classmate Nathan Weiss spots a pattern in Samara's DNA that resembles clues to a 600-year-old extraterrestrial mystery. The multiple plots of gambling, adoption, aliens, religion and politics never jell. Plotlines are introduced then abandoned before their resolution. Even thinner than the plot are the characterizations. The teens are indistinct, and the adults are one-sided. A few funny, touching moments cannot save this convoluted mess. (Fiction. 12 & up)
Children's Literature - Jillian Hurst
Samara Brooks identifies herself as a con artist. She has a knack for trickery, a poker face like no other, and the capacity to tell a bold-faced lie. She goes into the school year planning to cause a little drama by starting a gambling ring in the school cafeteria. Although Samara never intends to collect on her bets, she knows she is in trouble when the school administration finds out. So she devises her next con: to use the school's fabulous electron microscope to prove—with DNA—that she is not a bad person. This experiment leads to a whirlwind of stolen school property, police involvement, and mysterious DNA patterns. The book's narration swaps between Samara, Lily Frederick (the "perfect" class president) and Nathan Weiss (a student who is trying to prove alien existence). Author Daniel Ehrenhaft has a unique take on female narration, but the voice he creates isn't entirely convincing in the central character of Samara. The storyline is entertaining and captivating, but cluttered with too many irrelevant themes. Combining gambling, extraterrestrial life, scientific experiments, and skewed theology, this eccentric story may be too "alien" for the average teenage girl. Reviewer: Jillian Hurst
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—To Samara, 13, who isn't in it for the money, setting up a blackjack table at lunch seems like a good way to make friends. Then, when she gets called to the principal, she proposes to use the school's electron microscope to show that she and the other kids are just the same, at the genetic level, so they should be punished in the same way. When Samara's DNA ends up looking like symbols in the ancient Phaistos Disk and the Voynich Manuscript, everyone has questions about her identity. These questions remain largely ignored when the results are stolen, with Samara and her pals Lily and Nathan the main suspects. Told in three alternating points of view, the story touches on issues of science versus religion (with both looking ridiculous). It is a funny, fast-paced read, with some lingering questions about belief, science, and the supernatural for readers to mull over.—Jennifer Rothschild, Prince George's County Memorial Library System, Oxon Hill, MD
School Library Journal - Audio
Gr5–8—Samara Brooks, an adopted 13-year-old, has no friends at school. As a way to meet new people, she sets up a gambling table in the school cafeteria. Inadvertently, she not only creates gambling problems for some students, but her actions lead to vandalism, police chases, questions about whether a Christian God or aliens created life on Earth, questionable parenting, aggressive newspaper reporters, school safety issues, and friendship. Daniel Ehrenhaft's strange novel (Delacorte, 2010) covers so many topics that it becomes bewildering. About halfway through, it suddenly takes a science fiction tone that was wholly undeveloped up to that point. Jessica Almasy voices Samara as a quirky, enthusiastic, curious narrator with frequent pauses between words for emphasis. While this works well for Samara, it isn't as successful in the chapters narrated by her friends Lily and Nathan. The fast-moving plot might attract reluctant readers who need lots of stimulation.—B. Allison Gray, Santa Barbara Public Library, CA

Product Details

Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 6.50(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

That's Life, Samara Brooks

By Daniel Ehrenhaft

Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Copyright © 2010 Daniel Ehrenhaft
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780385904414

Our Common Language

Before I get beyond the basic stuff you need to know about me--my name (Samara Brooks), my age (thirteen), my hair (black), my weight (forget it), that heinous mole next to my nose--there is one thing I'd like you to know about a certain theory of the universe. The theory goes: If humans ever come into contact with an alien intelligence, our common language will be math.

Say a UFO lands and a strange creature walks out. Odds are that we won't be able to welcome it with a big "Hi!" The creature might not even speak. It might just snort, or gesture with whatever limbs it may have, or try to beam its thoughts telepathically. So we will have to find a way to break the ice. And almost every Nobel Prize-winning scientist out there believes that math is the only natural extraterrestrial icebreaker. In short: Once we figure out a way to count to five with, say, a fire-breathing land squid, pleasant chitchat is sure to follow. "Sweetie, I'm so glad you visited Earth. And that outfit is so cute on you. It matches your tentacles!"

I mention this because math is also the common language of con artists.


Just so you know, I will be conning you for the remainder of this story. I think it's only fair that I tell you up front. On the otherhand, I will also be completely honest. That may sound like a contradiction, but it isn't. I will be conning you in the sense that I'll try to get you to see things from my point of view, so I might leave out certain vital information that would allow you to see things differently.

In other words, I won't lie. I just might not tell the whole truth.

Here's an example: I've already left out some vital information. When I was speaking about an alien intelligence, I was also speaking about God.

You know who else leaves out certain vital information, other than con artists?


Okay, I realize that some people might be offended that I call God an "alien intelligence." Some people might also be offended that I decided to run a gambling ring out of my school's cafeteria at the beginning of eighth grade, and that I nearly swindled my class president out of sixty-three bucks. If you fall into either of these categories, please put this book down and go buy Chicken Soup for the Soul or some such and live happily ever after. But if you enjoy a good con, stick around.

An Outstanding Balance of $441.50

It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the insanity began, but I figure it's probably best to start with my first big creative writing assignment of eighth grade. As scribbled on the board by my English teacher, Mr. James, it read: Make me laugh! Describe the funniest moment of your summer vacation!



My summer vacation didn't have any funny moments. Seriously, I'm trying to think of one. It wasn't tragic or anything, but "funny" isn't a word that leaps to mind. We didn't go on any funny trips to funny places. We didn't go anywhere, so really, it was more of a summer break than an actual vacation. Plus, my parents were both super-busy. My dad's trying to make partner at his law firm, so he works insane hours. My mom works at a nonprofit organization that tries to help poor people. This is a good and noble cause, of course, but she had to stay late almost every night of the week. Maybe there were more poor people than usual. Sorry if that sounds harsh.

Anyway, I know I'm supposed to make you laugh, but I only laughed-like really, truly "Ha-ha-ha!" out loud-just once. It was at dinner last week, when I swindled my brother, Jim, out of five dollars.

Picture the dinnertime scene: Jim and I were home alone, eating macaroni and cheese in the living room. I was trying to watch Celebrity Poker Showdown. Jim, as usual, was staring into a massive math textbook with a look of panic on his face. His big nose started twitching, the way it always does when he's freaked out.

Jim's nose looks like a beak. Not that this really means anything, but still, I mention his beaklike nose because at times like these, I feel like writing BIRDBRAIN on his forehead. Jim is about to be a _senior and he can barely add two and two. Worse, he's applying to MIT and plans to take AP Calculus this fall. He wants to be a big-shot scientist.

"Just help me with this statistics problem," he begged.

"Not now," I told him. "Come on, I'm watching this. It's the final round. I'll bet you anything that fat guy from Law and Order will fold."

"Samara, if you don't turn off the TV, I'll fart. I mean it."

I hit the mute button. "Jim, your statistics problem isn't the problem in front of you. Your statistics problem is that you don't understand statistics. So here's my help. Statistically speaking, chances are about one in eight billion that you'll get into MIT. So just watch this round with me."

"What kind of seventh grader even talks like you? You're like Dr. Frankenstein."

"Technically I'm an eighth grader now."

"Whatever. If you don't help me, I'll tell Mom and Dad that you lied about giving up Blackjack. COM, and you'll be in big trouble," he said. "I bet they'll take your laptop away."

Since I'm a gambler by nature, I knew that Jim had the upper hand here. I hadn't given up Blackjack. COM. Hardly. I'd been spending at least three hours a day on it, if not more. But what else was I supposed to do? I'm too young to get a job, and my parents didn't want to pay for another year of camp. Best just to quit while I was ahead.

"Fine, I'll help you," I told him. "But I'm upping my fee to five bucks per equation."

"Deal," he agreed.

Ever since I was ten and Jim was fourteen, I've been helping him with his math homework. First algebra, then trigonometry, and now this. He made me swear never to tell Mom and Dad because he doesn't want them to find out that he isn't really the brilliant mathematical genius he claims to be. I'm hoping they'll figure that out for themselves, but who knows?

My starting price when this whole shady deal began was a dollar per equation. Now we were at $4.50 per equation, and that was for an "open-book" final exam, so the answers were right in front of him. Not that I've had much luck collecting. Jim prefers to write me IOUs. In fact, I've only collected $13.50 of fees totaling $455.00.

"You're really willing to pay me five bucks for a statistics problem?" I asked.

"Yeah, but here's the thing," he said, as usual. "I don't have the five bucks on me right now. I spent it on this delicious feast we're eating. Somebody's got to feed us, right? I can hardly even tell if Mom and Dad live here anymore. So here's what: I'll write you an IOU. When Mom and Dad show up, I'll get some money from them and pay you. Deal?"

Jim grinned at me like a con artist. That's when I laughed.


PS: Mr. James, just a suggestion, but wouldn't it be more fun to write a creative essay about a billion-dollar caper or a seedy political cover-up or a spy adventure or something?

From the Hardcover edition.


Excerpted from That's Life, Samara Brooks by Daniel Ehrenhaft Copyright © 2010 by Daniel Ehrenhaft. 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.

Meet the Author

Growing up, author DANIEL EHRENHAFT often wondered about aliens, UFOs, and other wacky mysteries, which he hoped one day to write about in a book.  Along the way, he has written numerous novels for children and young adults, including The Last Dog on Earth, 10 Things to Do Before I Die, and Tell It to Naomi.  He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, author Jessica Wollman; their son, Nate; and two ill-behaved pets.

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