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3.2 38
by Francine Prose

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What really happened at the back of the bus?

Did they, or didn't they?

Did she, or didn't she?

Something happened to fourteen-year-old Maisie Willard—something involving her three friends, all boys. But their stories don't match, and the rumors spin out of control. Then other people get involved . . . the school, the


What really happened at the back of the bus?

Did they, or didn't they?

Did she, or didn't she?

Something happened to fourteen-year-old Maisie Willard—something involving her three friends, all boys. But their stories don't match, and the rumors spin out of control. Then other people get involved . . . the school, the parents, the lawyers. The incident at the back of the bus becomes the center of Maisie's life and the talk of the school, and, horribly, it becomes news. With just a few words and a touch, the kids and their community are changed forever.

From nationally acclaimed author Francine Prose comes an unforgettable story about the difficulties of telling the truth, the consequences of lying, and the most dangerous twist of all—the possibility that you yourself will come to believe something that you know isn't true.

Editorial Reviews

Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)
“An incisive and compelling novel... Readers will be fascinated by this convincing tale and the questions that it raises, from its gripping first chapter to its poignant and surprising conclusion.”
Lori Atkins Goodson
High school freshman Maisie Willard has been through plenty already—her parents' divorce, trying to adjust to new stepparents, and moving between households to decide where she feels most welcome. When she returns to her father's home, she's reunited with her three best friends—three boys who've been best buddies with her as long as she can remember. But something's changed. And soon, a touching incident with the boys in the back of a school bus becomes a communitywide issue, further shattering Maisie's world. But, as the "truth" comes out, stories change, and even Maisie's not sure what really went on. Students will be able to identify with the ambiguity of perceptions—and defining what truth really is. Prose provides a realistic portrayal of a teen's life made uneasy following her parents' divorce, only to be escalated when rumors build about the incident on the bus. Reviewer: Lori Atkins Goodson
Publishers Weekly

Prose offers a nuanced meditation on how stories of abuse can confuse and obscure the truth. When Maisie returns to her father and stepmother's home after a year living with her mother, she reunites with three childhood friends, Shakes, Chris and Kevin. But things are different. It is the summer before high school, one of them has a girlfriend and they all notice Maisie's newly developed breasts. It is Shakes, who has a mild palsy, whose devotion not only remains but grows into a relationship that is tenderly described ("It sometimes felt we were-like two halves of the same creature," Maisie thinks). But this friendship is shattered when the boys take physical advantage of Maisie. The incident spirals out of control through rumors, bullying and a complaint filed by Maisie's overzealous stepmother. A therapist helps Maisie unravel the many versions of the story and come to terms with the truth, that the "period of grace" with her best friend is over, that his courage has limits. Prose's (Bullyville) adept narration and shunning of easy answers will hold readers' interest. Ages 14-up. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
VOYA - Jamie S. Hansen
Maisie, Shakes, Chris, and Kevin have been friends since preschool. No one ever seemed to think it strange that three boys and girl could be best friends, through play dates to birthday parties, hanging out, and saving seats on the school bus. Maisie is convinced that the relationship among the four will stay the same forever. She does not realize that as people change, the bonds between them are stretched and tested. Sometimes these links endure, but often they do not. One terrible day, something happens in the backseat of the school bus that tears their friendship apart. A potent combination of peer pressure, teen hormones, and unreal expectations changes four children into young adults. No one seems to be able to tell the truth about what really happened. Maisie tells one story, whereas the boys tell another. In fact, Maisie repeats the account so many times to the school administration, to her family, and to her counselor, that soon she can no longer remember what really occurred. Prose offers young adults an incisive and compelling novel that explores the unreliability of memory and the very nature of truth, within the framework of a story about boy/girl friendship. Is Maisie a victim or a manipulator? Does she hide the painful truth behind a tangle of partial untruths? Readers will be fascinated by this convincing tale and the questions that it raises, from its gripping first chapter to its poignant and surprising conclusion. Reviewer: Jamie S. Hansen
Children's Literature - Jillian Hurst
Maisie has been friends with Chris, Kevin, and Shakes her whole life. The four of them were inseparable until she moved home after a year of living with her mom and her self-obsessed husband in Wisconsin. The boys immediately treat her differently because of the new breasts Maisie developed while she was gone. When Maisie and Shakes start getting closer, sneaking kisses in the back of the bus, it is obvious that their foursome really is falling apart. So one day, when something awkward, inappropriate, and damaging happens on the back of the bus, Maisie is shattered. Does she keep quiet and let them get away with it? What does she do when she finds out they are spreading horrifying rumors? When Maisie's high-strung stepmom gets involved, the offensive incident leads into a legal battle, but now that Maisie needs to tell everyone what happened, she cannot remember what actually happened versus what she felt like when it happened. Maisie is a relevant, down-to-earth protagonist who may relate to teen girls who have been touched inappropriately and never knew how to feel about it. Touch pushes boundaries while remaining realistic and convincing. This novel may join the ranks of Speak and Cut with its controversial but honest storyline. Reviewer: Jillian Hurst
School Library Journal

Gr 7-9

Maisie, Kevin, Chris, and Shakes have been best buds since preschool. But something changes after Maisie spends eighth grade in Wisconsin, living with her mother. When she moves back with her dad and stepfamily to start high school, she finds that her friends are awkward around her, and well...she has boobs now and the boys don't quite know where to look. It's the start of a landslide of changes that confuse, attract, and ultimately blow apart the once impenetrable foursome. Over the course of the novel, Maisie looks back, struggling to understand the events that led up to one particular morning on the school bus and to define or perhaps to deny what really happened when the boys touched her breasts. Was it assault? Did she say "No"? Did Shakes really hold down her hands so she couldn't stop the others? What is hardest for Maisie to admit is that she might have played a role in what happened. It is easier by far to cry victim and she has the support of some angry adults to do that. But while readers will be as outraged as she by the events, something greater lies ahead as Maisie puzzles out the shards of her experience and builds a whole and more honest understanding of what really happened. Continued friendship might not be possible, but discovering her own integrity is worth the effort. This novel portrays early adolescence with all the confusion, denial, delight, and potential that it entails.-Carolyn Lehman, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA

Kirkus Reviews
After a trial living arrangement with her unstable mother and her mother's self-obsessed boyfriend, ninth grader Maisie returns home to her father and their blended family-with new "gigantic mega-boobs." She immediately notices differences in her best (and only) friends since preschool: an aloofness from Chris and Kevin and a budding physical relationship with Shakes (nicknamed for his disability). The tension among them comes to a head when the boys harass her and touch her breasts in the back of the school bus. The boys are telling one story; Maisie has several versions. All are true on some level, but Maisie must work through her trauma-of the incident itself, the loss of friendship and the heartaches of growing up-to determine which one is fact. Maisie's role as a victim, her blame from the students and administration and her hypocritical stepmother's ethics are rich fodder for discussion, but her plot-driven rehashing of the events turns the story into an "issue book" that fails to spark any emotional attachment in readers. (Fiction. YA)
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Prose keeps capable control of Maisie’s voice...Middle schoolers attempting to negotiate the same territory will appreciate this chance to narratively explore some of its troubling regions.”
Booklist (starred review)
“Caught by Maisie’s immediate first-person narrative, readers will race through the story...Riveting.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"Prose keeps capable control of Maisie’s voice...Middle schoolers attempting to negotiate the same territory will appreciate this chance to narratively explore some of its troubling regions."
"Caught by Maisie’s immediate first-person narrative, readers will race through the story...Riveting."
The Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books
“Prose keeps capable control of Maisie’s voice...Middle schoolers attempting to negotiate the same territory will appreciate this chance to narratively explore some of its troubling regions.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Prose keeps capable control of Maisie’s voice...Middle schoolers attempting to negotiate the same territory will appreciate this chance to narratively explore some of its troubling regions.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.20(h) x 1.10(d)
820L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

"Are the boys who assaulted you present in the courtroom?"

"Your Honor, I object to counsel's use of the word assault."

"Objection sustained."

"Are the boys who molested you present in the courtroom?"

"Objection, Your Honor. Molested is inflammatory."


"Are the boys who touched you inappropriately on the school bus here today in the courtroom?"

I wait for the sputtery lawyer fight that will save me from having to answer. But this time, it doesn't happen. The courtroom is silent. No one moves. Someone coughs. Everyone's staring at me.

"Yes," I say.

"Can you identify the boys who touched you, Maisie?" I hate the way the lawyer speaks to me, as if I'm three years old, or as if I'll shatter in pieces if she speaks in the normal voice a normal person might use when that person happens to be talking to a halfway intelligent ninth grader.

I look over at the table where the three defendants sit jammed together with their lawyers. It's crazy that now they're defendants. Shakes and Chris and Kevin are my friends. Or anyway, they used to be my friends. When they were my friends, they wore baggy jeans and T-shirts and baseball caps. Now that they're defendants, they're wearing suits and ties and short haircuts. All three of them are hunched up tight so their shoulders won't touch their lawyers.

Chris and Kevin won't look at me. But Shakes and I make eye contact, or as much steady eye contact as you can make, considering Shakes has that funny twitch or tremor that keeps throwing him out of focus.

I'm trying to send Shakes a message. I'm sorry. I can't help this. Pleasedon't hold it against me. But it's not getting through. Looking at him is like talking into a phone that you suddenly realize has gone dead.

"Will the witness answer the question, please?"

I try to speak. Nothing comes out.

And then, as always, my eyes blink open, and I wake up with the judge's voice echoing inside my head.

"So what do you think the dream means?" Doctor Atwood asks.

"I don't know." I shrug. It doesn't take a rocket scientist...or even a therapist, like Doctor Atwood...to figure out what the dream means, and to come to the logical conclusion that I'm pretending not to get it.

I look out the window. It's snowing. It may sound kind of egocentric, but sometimes I can't help thinking that lately the weather's been keyed in to my personal calendar. Every time I go to Doctor Atwood's office, it snows. It's only February, but already it seems like the longest winter in human history. In fact, it's a record breaker, the harshest winter in Pennsylvania history. I'm trying not to take it personally.

"Maisie," says Doctor Atwood. "Stay with the dream. What are you thinking? What does it mean?"

I'm thinking: Is she kidding?

My three best friends touched my breasts on the back of the school bus. Someone told the principal, and the whole thing kind of blew up. Now my family...my stepmother, Joan, mainly...is suing the school board for denying my right to an equal education. She wanted to charge my friends with sexual harassment or assault and battery or attempt to inflict emotional damage or whatever. Fortunately, her lawyer told her those cases are often harder to prove. Frankly, I was really relieved. As mad as I am at what my former best friends did to me, I still don't want to see them in jail. Joan said, "These cases are all about he said, she said. And in your case, Maisie, it's he said, he said, he said, she said." Which was fine with me. Because there are all these different versions of the story of what happened on the bus. First I denied that anything happened, and then I told everyone that actually it was worse than what people were saying.

There's plenty to look at in Doctor Atwood's office, which is lucky because it saves me from having to stare back into her cocker spaniel eyes staring into mine. It's almost as if she wants to peer straight into my brain.

Half the time, I want to let her. Because the truth is, I'd be interested in knowing what's going on in there. The rest of the time, I'd prefer a little privacy. So I look away and check out her collection of African statues and masks. I like to imagine that, every evening, after the last patient has gone home, Doctor Atwood takes the sculptures off the shelves and dresses them up like dolls. I imagine her ordering pizza or take-out Chinese food and feeding the masks as if they were babies, coaxing them to open their grinning mouths and jagged teeth, and take a tiny taste.

"Maisie?" she repeats, in her maddeningly calm voice. "Do you think the dream is trying to tell you something?"

"Do you?"

"There's no need to be hostile," she says. "I'm only trying to help. You know that, Maisie, don't you?"

"Actually, I do," I say. "So help me figure this out. My dad is paying you to keep me from being permanently damaged by my big traumatic experience. And to tell the court or the judge how crazy I am because of what happened on the bus. So if you're asking me what my dream means, my dad should be paying me."

"Maisie, I don't think you're crazy at all."

"I'm glad someone doesn't," I say.

"No one does," says Doctor Atwood.

"That's a comfort," I say.

"Just for the record," Doctor Atwood says, "I won't be testifying at any sort of hearing. I will write a report of some kind. But I want to promise you, I won't betray anything you tell me in the privacy of this office."

I say, "Like Las Vegas?"


"Like what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."

Doctor Atwood lets a minute pass. I look at a mask that seems to have blood dripping down its teeth. What a weird piece of art to have in a child psychologist's office. Oops. Doctor Atwood's lips are moving.

"What were you saying?" I ask. "Sorry."

She almost looks annoyed, then remembers she isn't supposed to. Probably the first lesson they teach you in psychotherapy school is don't look annoyed and act really interested even if you're completely bored.

She says, "You understand that your family thought it was a good idea if you started coming to see me. No one's forcing you..."

"I'm not angry." I mean it. I know that she's my expensive new paid best friend. But now that I no longer have any real friends, at least she's someone to talk to. "Maybe the dream is telling me that I'm nervous about the trial."

"Good," says Doctor Atwood. "Stay with that."

"Stay with what?"

"Your feelings about the trial."

"It's not a trial," I say. "It's a hearing."

"The hearing," she says. "I'm sorry. Trial was your word, Maisie."

"The hearing," I say.

"And your feelings about it are . . . ?"

"My feelings? I feel like total crap! I wish it wasn't happening. I wish it never got started."

I want to tell her how the whole mess often seems to me like one very long, very complicated bad dream, or like some evil chain email message that you don't take seriously, so you send it on to six friends, because it seems funny. And then each of your friends sends it on to six of their friends, and before you know it, the entire country is being told that they'll be run over by a freight train unless they send a dollar to a certain address. And finally someone breaks the chain and doesn't send the dollar. And that person gets run over by a freight train.

The reason I denied that anything happened at first was because the guys were my friends. And then I found out something totally insulting and gross. So I said: Okay. Fine. It happened. Then I said, Guess what? The incident on the back of the bus was worse than everyone thinks.

"And why do you think it is happening?" Doctor Atwood says.


"The hearing. The case."I say, "Ask her. It was all her idea."

"By her you mean your mom?" Doctor Atwood says. "Joan?"

"Joan is not my mom," I say. "Joan is the Wicked Stepmother."

"Should we talk about that?" asks Doctor Atwood.

Whenever we get anywhere near a Big Important Subject...and obviously Doctor Atwood thinks that my feelings about my stepmother are a Big Important Subject...she'll keep quiet and give me as much time as I need. Now I wonder if she'll give me so much time that I can get through the rest of the session without saying another word. I open my mouth and make little sputtering sounds, then close it again and frown as if I'm thinking really hard.

Doctor Atwood waits. I wait. More time goes by. My plan seems to be working. Because I hear a door open and shut, and sounds...throat clearings and assorted honkings and snorts...coming from the waiting room. The office is set up so that you enter through one door and leave through another, which means that you never have to meet the patients with appointments before and after you.

Touch. Copyright © by Francine Prose. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Francine Prose is the author of twenty works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director's Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her most recent book is Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. She lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

New York, New York
Date of Birth:
April 1, 1947
Place of Birth:
Brooklyn, New York
B.A., Radcliffe College, 1968

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Touch 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Sorry, there's no cover art available yet for TOUCH by Francine Prose, but I recommend it as a good read no matter what they decide to do with the cover. Prose is the author of such YA titles as AFTER and BULLYVILLE, and TOUCH is sure to please her previous fans and help create new ones. TOUCH is the story of trauma and its ability to manipulate the truth. Maisie has three very good friends - Shakes, Chris, and Kevin. They've been friends since preschool, and even though this friendship between one girl and three guys may seem strange to some, it totally works for them. That is, it works until the year Maisie goes to live with her mom and stepdad. After a bitter divorce that started with Maisie's mother leaving her husband to find a different life, Maisie has lived with her dad and Joan, his new wife. Uncomfortable with her stepmother, Maisie decides to spend her 8th-grade year living with her mother in Wisconsin. As with many such experiments, Maisie learns the grass is not always greener on the other side, and she returns to live with her father when the school year is over. Things would probably have just gone back to normal, except while living in Wisconsin, Maisie has blossomed as a young woman. She returns feeling the same but looking a bit different. She has boobs. Her three childhood friends have changed a bit, as well. They now have a young man's appreciation for things like boobs. Although they try to resume their friendship as before, it is strained at best. Maisie and Shakes have always had a special bond. When school starts in the fall, they find themselves boarding the bus first. As the only two people riding for a good twenty minutes, they head to the back seat. Amazingly, they are able to remain seated there even when the seniors climb aboard. As the weeks pass, Maisie and Shakes stumble across a way to pass the time before the other students are picked up. It begins with experimental kissing and soon turns into twenty-minute make out sessions. They are very careful to time their groping to end just before others begin to board the bus, but one day they are caught. It is quite a shock for everyone, but especially for Chris and Kevin, who never thought about Maisie as girlfriend material. Once the secret is out, the friendship takes a turn that shocks the entire school community. Maisie has become the subject of cruel gossip and speculation because she seems to have allowed the three boys to stray beyond the bounds of decency. What really happened in the backseat of the bus? Can Maisie really remember things objectively, and can her life ever return to normal? Francine Prose takes readers into the mind of a confused young girl. Maisie is trying to justify her actions and the decisions that led to those actions. She battles with her angry feelings toward her friends, her parents and stepparents, her fellow classmates, and herself. Coping with trauma and moving on are the central issues of TOUCH. Teens will no doubt see a bit of themselves and also their peers when they read about Maisie's ordeal.
TeenageBookLover-TBL More than 1 year ago
This book was worst than OK it was ughh.I picked it up looking for a good read, something 2 keep my attention.But i got the exact opposite.Its about this girl who leaves her bestfriends who happen to be boys, goes to live with her mother and new stepdad;total brat, to avoid her annoying stepmom.When she decides to live with her dad and stepmom again her body is developed and her "best" friends are horn dog teenage boys.Their friendship starts to fall apart.....yadda yadda yadda....yadda yadda yadda.They ask if they can squeeze her boobs,..she says no....they do anyway.I know, it sounds good,but trust me its not.The beginning gets you going and you're excited to continue.The middle,just makes you want to burn the book;from boredom.And unfortunately,i cant even tell you about the ending,because i didn't read it,i couldn't,and believe me,i tried to finish it...but...Got the book 2 months ago,and the page i left at is still bookmarked.I struggled to get through what i already read...{im done struggling and pushing myself to read some boring book thats not all itsz cracked up to be}.She complained way to much.I wanted to slap her and tell her to at least try to take control.I know the book does have a message,but its one everyone knows about very well by now.And where im from, a boy squeezes your boob(s) without your consent,you punch/kick them in the balls,or beat the crap out of them..etc (your choice).Its not even a big deal in my school, a boy grabs your butt or boob...you're not labeled as a slut or whore like in the book...and everyone pretty much forgets about it after you do watever to whoever grabbed you.And no therapy needed after words..It could just be a bad book..or its just not my taste.But i can tell you,im upset i wasted my money on this book and im going to avoid ALL Francine Prose books from fear of getting ripped off another $18 dollars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didn't like this book at all. It was very boring. She kept repeating the same things over and over. Nothing new happened in the middle of the book, she just kept restating her feelings. I can't tell you how it ended cause I barely read the ending. I skimmed the end because I was so bored with the book. I wouldn't recommend for anyone to read this book. It wasn't very descriptive either.
Lindsey_Miller More than 1 year ago
Prose does an excellent job of handling what is likely to be considered a difficult topic to address in young adult literature. Even though the main character is 14 and books featuring 14 year olds are typically read by 10-14 year olds, I wouldn't recommend this to anyone younger than 14. The aspects of Maisie's life regarding growing up, trying to find independence with two separate sets of parents, and her changing body are explored with tact and honesty, but everything involving 'the incident' takes it from about 10mph to 70mph in no time flat. There is a level of ambiguity about the incident that plays up the story overall in an interesting way. However, personally I didn't enjoy reading the book, but I suppose that's not necessarily the point. I commend Prose on her courage in addressing difficult issues like sexual harassment and her honesty regarding all parties surrounding them. -Lindsey Miller, www.lindseyslibrary.com
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Touched was a captivating read about a teenage girl discovering the cruelheartedness of adolescents and the impact of telling lies. A very thought provoking first novel.
teen-book-lover13 More than 1 year ago
Touch for me was okay, i love the characters, and the whole entire plot of the story,
megan105 More than 1 year ago
Very good book
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