Touchby Francine Prose
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/blockquote>… See more details below
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, 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.
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.
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
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.90(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.70(d)
- Age Range:
- 14 Years
Read an Excerpt
"Are the boys who assaulted you present in the courtroom?"
"Your Honor, I object to counsel's use of the word assault."
"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?"
"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.
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