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An Israeli immigrant's journey to become a "real" American
With their mother caring for relatives in Israel and their father driving a cab all hours of the day, Roxanne and her sister, Gayle, spend a lot of time watching television reruns of Little House on the Prairie, The Brady Bunch, and Wonder Woman?perfect examples of perfect Americans. Roxanne is desperate to be like them.
When Liat, a fellow Israeli, moves into the ?Cursed House? next ...
An Israeli immigrant's journey to become a "real" American
With their mother caring for relatives in Israel and their father driving a cab all hours of the day, Roxanne and her sister, Gayle, spend a lot of time watching television reruns of Little House on the Prairie, The Brady Bunch, and Wonder Woman—perfect examples of perfect Americans. Roxanne is desperate to be like them.
When Liat, a fellow Israeli, moves into the “Cursed House” next door, things begin to change and Roxanne realizes that maybe real life isn’t like TV—maybe it’s even better. The novel is set on Staten Island, New York, in the early 1980’s.
It's not a scary or ugly house, like those haunted houses you see in the movies, but it is different. It's the biggest house on the block, and the only one painted bright pink. And the backyard leads to the woods, which are scary. Nobody else's house leads to the woods.
My sister, Gayle, and I are walking home from school when we see the sign:
House for Sale Contact Appleseed Agency
Neither of us says anything. Finally Gayle asks, "What kind of weird name is Appleseed?"
"I dunno," I reply. "Maybe it's ..." But I trail off, because I can't think of an explanation. We stare at it for a few more seconds in silence, then finally start for our house.
Gayle walks straight into the kitchen, turns on the TV, and gets out the cereal. "Do you think anyone will buy it, Roxanne?" she asks as she dumps a rushing stream of Cocoa Pebbles into her bowl.
"Yeah, I guess so," I say. I make sure the TV is tuned to Channel 5, which shows the best reruns after school.
We sit at the kitchen table watching TV and eating cereal, but my mind drifts from The Brady Bunch to the Cursed House. I think about all the awful stories we've heard about the people who lived there—like the one about Stood-Up Serena. Stood-Up Serena was a high school senior who was stood up by her date on the night of the senior prom. She walked into the woods in her lavender prom gown and never came back.
Then there was the time the FBI swarmed over the house in the middle of the night with flashlights and guns. The family who lived there got busted for something major, but no one ever found out what.
Four months later, the Brinns moved in. They were there only a week when their youngest daughter fell down the stairs and broke her neck. On the way to her funeral, the whole family died when a milk truck plowed into their car on the Staten Island Expressway.
The Staten Island Advance splashed the story on its front page, describing the accident scene as "a haunting shade of bright pink"—spilled milk mixing with spilled blood. It also mentioned that the house the family had lived in was bright pink, but it didn't say it was called the Cursed House. The house has been empty ever since.
"Do you really think it's Cursed?" Gayle asks.
"Yeah, it seems like it," I reply.
Gayle stops her spoon in midair. "Do you think it's pink because of blood?"
"Yeah," I say again.
"How come the Curse doesn't come to our house?" she asks, and although she says this nonchalantly, I can tell the idea makes her anxious.
I pause, because I really don't know. Finally I say, "I guess Curses don't work that way. I guess Curses just stay where they are."
Gayle nods, satisfied with my response.
Truth is, even though the Cursed House has always been right next door, it isn't a big part of my life and I don't worry about it.
This is a list of the things I do worry about:
a. eddie b. gym c. my hair d. being Israeli
I make a lot of lists. They help me think. I sometimes write them down, but mostly I just make them in my head.
After eating a second bowl of cereal, I go upstairs to put away my school things. The first thing to greet me when I walk into my room is my poster of Prince Charles and Lady Diana on their wedding day. Gayle bought it for me on my thirteenth birthday. Gayle's birthday—she turned nine—is the day before mine.
"Roxanne!" Gayle suddenly screeches. "Come quick!"
"What? What?" I yell as I run down the stairs.
Gayle is standing in front of the window in our living room, pointing outside, her mouth frozen into a giant O.
A blue station wagon is parked in the driveway of the Cursed House. A woman with a fluffy mound of carrot-orange hair, wearing a brown skirt and yellow jacket, is pulling a sign out of the trunk.
Before I can make out what the sign says, I know what it is. I have seen this exact situation in countless commercials. The woman is a real estate agent, and the sign she slides slowly into place reads:
After the real estate agent with the carrot-orange pompadour drives away, a knot of neighborhood kids gathers around the sign on the lawn of the Cursed House.
Eddie runs his hands over the sign, as if by feeling it he will be able to magically tell us who has been crazy enough to buy the Cursed House. It's not an ugly house, really. Even the bright pink isn't so bad. Except the lawn is kind of gross right now—scattered with old cigarette butts and beer cans.
I stare at Eddie from where Gayle and I stand with our neighbor Kathleen, admiring his white-blond hair and how good his butt looks in his tight jeans. When he turns to look at me, my heart catches in my throat. That always happens when Eddie looks at me. I don't remember exactly when I started liking him. I think I always did. He's so All-American. His gaze rests on me for only a second, though, before searching out Kathleen's face.
"What do you think, Kathleen?" he asks, his blue eyes flashing like a car's high beams.
Kathleen smiles. "You tell me, Eddie," she answers coolly.
I wonder for the hundredth time what he sees in her. Kathleen is the definition of ordinary. There's nothing special about her average face, her average brown hair, her average brown eyes. But Eddie has the biggest crush in the world on her. And the funny thing is, Kathleen likes letting Eddie think he has a chance, but she doesn't give in to him. And this has been going on for five months!
Part of me likes Kathleen and considers her my friend—maybe my only friend, besides Gayle, who doesn't really count. Another part of me wishes she'd disappear. A third part of me has a feeling I hang out with her only because wherever she goes, Eddie goes.
Eddie glances at me. "What do you think?" he asks.
I'm so startled, I feel momentarily numb. I finally manage to mutter, "Uh ..."
"Uh ...," Joe mimics, making a funny face at his friends.
The boys around Joe laugh. I feel my cheeks burn. I have to remind myself that Joe is only eight, even if he is nasty.
"Shut up, Joe," Kathleen snaps.
Joe's gap-toothed grin vanishes immediately, and his friends stop laughing all at once, as if a switch has been turned off. I'm sorry I wished Kathleen would disappear a moment ago.
"Say you're sorry," Kathleen demands.
"Yeah," Eddie joins in. "Say you're sorry." He trudges to where Joe and his little friends stand on the lawn. The boys disperse like cookie crumbs as Eddie towers over them. He grabs Joe by his shirt collar and drags him over to me.
Joe laughs and whimpers at the same time. Eddie shoves Joe toward me—so hard that Joe tumbles to his knees at my feet.
"That's right, on your knees," Eddie says heartily, giving me a wink.
My heart nearly pops out of my chest. This is the most attention Eddie has given me—ever. I smile uncomfortably.
"Say you're sorry," Eddie growls as he stands over Joe.
Joe is crying. I can make out a tiny "Sorry" as it comes out of his mouth. Without any warning, Eddie suddenly brings his fist down, sprawling Joe across the ground. I gaze at Eddie in disbelief.
"Say it louder," he snarls.
"Eddie, stop," Kathleen says, reaching down to help Joe get up. "Are you okay?" she asks him.
Joe sobs and sniffles.
Eddie looks morosely at Kathleen, not sure what to do.
I study the ground, wishing I was the one who had saved Joe, even if it meant yelling at Eddie.
"I'm gonna take Joe home," Kathleen says. She glowers at Eddie, who looks at the ground. Then she walks away, leading Joe by the hand.
I shuffle my feet, not sure what to do now that I'm alone with Eddie. But I don't have to worry about it for long, because a red convertible pulls up in front of the house. It's Margo Defino, who lives in the house on the other side of the Cursed House.
"Wow!" she cries. She hops out of her convertible, whips off her sunglasses, and hurries to the sign. "I don't believe it! It's sold! When did this happen?" she asks, turning in a circle to look at us.
No one answers. Finally Eddie says, "It happened in one day. Today."
"Wow!" she exclaims again, grinning. Then her smile fades. She looks at us curiously. "What are you all doing?" she asks suspiciously. She checks her watch. "It's almost dinnertime. Why don't you all go home?"
Grown-ups don't seem to like seeing a big group of us together. Normally, we'd balk—well, not me, but Eddie or Kathleen would. But this time, in less than a minute, the knot of kids around the Cursed House vanishes into thin air.
Excerpted from the Importance of wings by Robin Friedman Copyright © 2009 by Robin Friedman. Excerpted by permission of Charlesbridge. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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