What Became of Her by M. E. Kerr, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
What Became of Her

What Became of Her

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by M. E. Kerr
     
 

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What became of Rosa Fitch?

In Serenity, Pennsylvania, everyone wondered what would become of Rose Fitch, and then they forgot about her, the way you put bad news out of your head. But Rose never let herself forget about them...and now she's back. She's rich. She's bought a house she calls Peligro. With her is her niece, Julie, and a companion, Peale, who's almost

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What became of Rosa Fitch?

In Serenity, Pennsylvania, everyone wondered what would become of Rose Fitch, and then they forgot about her, the way you put bad news out of your head. But Rose never let herself forget about them...and now she's back. She's rich. She's bought a house she calls Peligro. With her is her niece, Julie, and a companion, Peale, who's almost human. He's two feet tall, made of leather, and known for his tailor-made clothes, his handmade shoes...and his way of bringing bad luck. But nobody told that to fifteen-year-old E.C. Tobbit....

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In a Pennsylvania town called Serenity, 16-year-old E. C. Tobbit is not having a good year. His father has died of cancer, his girlfriend has dumped him, and his mother has started dating his shrink. In fact, the only good thing to develop recently -- and to come out of his therapy with Dr. Darwin C. Duke (whom E. C. privately calls The Duck) -- is his friendship with Neal Kraft, whom E. C. met during a group therapy session. Neal's father committed suicide, and together, E. C. and Neal bond over their recent losses and a shared reverence for Stephen King novels. But E. C. and Neal's friendship takes a new turn when they meet an unusual girl named Julie Slaymaster. After knowing Julie, E. C.'s life will never be the same.

"Aunt says no matter what you see for yourself in the future, you'll always be way off the mark," Julie tells E. C. -- an ironic comment, considering E. C. is named after a psychic. Julie's aunt and adoptive guardian, Rosalind Slaymaster, is the town's eccentric billionaire widow; a former Serenity outcast who recently returned to lord it over the place and people who once treated her like dirt. One night, the imposing Mrs. Slaymaster invites E. C. and his mother, Ann, an astrologer, to dinner at her mansion, which has come to be called Peligro. Why this powerful woman has summoned E. C. and his mother to her home is anyone's guess -- E. C. is just along for the ride. Julie is also present at the strange gathering, as is Peale -- a large leather doll, dressed as intricately and lovingly as if he were a real person. Apparently, to Rosalind Slaymaster, Peale is much more than a doll -- he is a talisman. She is certain that Peale can grant wishes and makes dreams come true. "I'm never without him," she tells her dinner guests. "He goes wherever I go. He even has his own passport." She asks E. C.'s mother to do Peale's astrological chart -- a bizarre, almost unfathomable request, yet Ann Tobbit cannot refuse Rosalind Slaymaster. Few people can. To sweeten the deal, Mrs. Slaymaster invites E. C., his mother, and a guest of E. C's choice, to her annual Christmas Eve party at the mansion. E. C. decides to invite Neal.

After the dinner at Peligro, E. C. takes more notice of Julie Slaymaster. He feels bad that she's not treated well at school, but then, most new kids aren't. Rosalind Slaymaster's Christmas Eve bash is extravagant, almost overwhelming. In the hands of M. E. Kerr, the party comes vividly to life. You can hear the music, taste the food, and share E. C.'s carefully hidden awe at his opulent surroundings. He enjoys hanging out with Julie, and when Mrs. Slaymaster asks him to keep an eye out for her niece while she is away for New Year's, he agrees. Later, when Neal shows up, E. C. overhears one of the older guests telling Neal that his father would practically roll over in his grave if he saw Neal at the Slaymaster house. E. C. isn't sure what that's all about, but he is soon distracted when he witnesses Neal stealing an engraved silver lighter from one of the rooms. He recalls his mother's superstition about stealing: When you steal from someone, you steal the person's bad luck along with the object you are taking.

Soon Julie has a crush on Neal. Neal deals with his ambivalent feelings toward her by always inviting E. C. to tag along with them. He also uses E. C. as a shield between him and Mrs. Slaymaster: "She wouldn't like a Kraft taking her niece out, and I don't want to give her the satisfaction of telling me I can't." A pivotal juncture in the fate of the threesome's friendship comes on New Year's Eve. Taking advantage of Mrs. Slaymaster's absence, they spend the night at Peligro. E. C. documents their celebration with his camera, producing photos that will come back to haunt him. And he's not the only one taking pictures: Julie tells them that the surveillance cameras in the house are sometimes turned on and that the cameras had even caught someone stealing from the house during the Christmas party, but her Aunt hadn't been able to identify the thief.

Later that night, when everyone else is asleep, E. C. finds an old scrapbook and journal belonging to Mrs. Slaymaster. At this point, What Became of Her switches gears and temporarily becomes Rosalind Slaymaster's account of her tormented adolescence in Serenity. Although shifts in narrative so late in the story can sometimes disrupt a novel, the change works here. After pages of mystery surrounding the motives of Rosalind Slaymaster, the segue into her own story is seamless and immensely satisfying. When What Became of Her returns to E. C.'s story, it's hard not to yearn for more of the beleaguered but ultimately triumphant young Mrs. Slaymaster. As for E. C., the journal offers pieces to a puzzle he hadn't even known existed, including information about Mrs. Slaymaster's ties to Neal's father and why she has every reason to seek revenge on Serenity.

Although E. C. has gained insight into Mrs. Slaymaster, he is still susceptible to her wrath. It's not long before Mrs. Slaymaster discovers that Julie has been hanging out with Neal Kraft, and she blames E. C. for bringing the son of her nemesis into Julie's life and for the transgressions that have taken place under her roof. When she threatens to take Julie away from Serenity for good, E. C. is devastated at the prospect of losing his friend. His only hope is an impulsive, drastic plan to keep Mrs. Slaymaster from leaving Serenity -- a plan that has more serious consequences than E. C. could have ever imagined.

As readers of Kerr's 1998 writing guide Blood on the Forehead know, her novels are often based on real-life people and events, and What Became of Her is no exception, inspired by unforgettable true characters. The result is an intricate, compelling look at the limitations family can place on our early lives and how fate often propels us in unimagined directions.

—Jamie Brenner

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780064472104
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/28/2002
Edition description:
REPRINT
Pages:
256
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Out of the blue one winter day, Rosalind Slaymaster asked my mother and me to dinner. The reason for the invitation was a mystery to us.

Mrs. Slaymaster had restored the old Evans house, up on Canal Cliffs. It used to have another name: Evans Above.

That was changed, as the house was.Peligro, the sign said. danger -- because the road that led up to the house twisted sharply around the hill.

One of the Hispanic workers had made the sign as the house was being prepared for its new owner. When Rosalind Slaymaster was finally ready to live there, everyone in town had come to call the place Peligro.

In the town of Serenity, they said it was like her to leave it that way.

Rosalind Slaymaster sat at the head of the table that night. I was seated at the other end, facing her.

She was said to be the richest woman in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She didn't look rich, not then and not when I'd see her around town. But it didn't take very long after talking with her to realize that she wasn't just like anyone else, either. It wasn't only because she had piles of money. It was the toughness of her, the hard twang in her voice, and this walk she had like she was Boss of Everywhere.

She looked and acted more Texan than Eastern. But she'd been born in Serenity, the last one anyone ever thought would come back to lord it over everybody. She still lived most of the time on The Lucky Star, her ranch near Ingram, Texas.

Next to me my mother perched excitedly on the edge of her cushioned chair. On the other side of me sat Mrs. Slaymaster's niece, Julie, age fifteen, a year younger than I was. Red Brillo hair.Thick glasses. Beside Julie was the real star of Peligro. Named for a preacher who'd baptized Mrs. Slaymaster's late husband, he was called Peale.

Peale was not a person, not an animal, but a large leather doll, dressed that evening in a black suit with a bolo tie, a black silk vest with silver threads, and black suede boots.

My mother was as nervous as a dog that knows a thunderstorm's on the way. Everything about Peligro, from its 10,000 square feet (five bedrooms, seven bathrooms) to its imperious owner, was too rich for my mother's blood.

There had been very little conversation through the soup course. Two teenagers who hardly know each other don't promise dynamite dialogue. Mrs. S., as everyone called her, seemed content to eat in silence. I had an idea they didn't talk much at the table, company or not. You know those couples you see out in restaurants sometimes who aren't saying boo to each other unless one needs the salt? I figured that was probably the way they were.

Mom made too much of everything: showering compliments on the meal, on the crystal chandelier hanging from the thirty-foot ceiling, on the white brick fireplace at the end of the dining room, even on the chairs we sat on. Anything she could toss in. She was overwhelmed.

Finally, desperately, after a long silence, she cleared her throat.

She said importantly, “They say I was royalty in another life.”

It wasn't the first time I'd heard it. Mom really believed it, and she resorted to mentioning it times she felt outclassed.

Mrs. Slaymaster did not even look up from her plate. “Who are they?” she asked.

“Those who know about spiritual things,” my mother replied. “Those who make a study of reincarnation.” Mom was little and thin, making me always afraid someone would treat her in a way that would diminish her further.

Mrs. Slaymaster roared, “Cow pie!”

“I beg your pardon?” my mother said, red-faced.

“I don't buy into that crap, Ann!”

“But what is ‘cow pie'?”

“Merde,” Julie spoke up. “Merde from a moo cow.”

“Number two,” I whispered, knowing Mom knew no French.

Mrs. S. said, “We get one crack at life, Ann! We go around one time.”

“One Life to Live,” Julie put in, pushing her eyeglasses back on her nose. “There used to be a soap called that.”

“Is that what you learned to do in your boarding schools?” Mrs. S. asked. “Watch television soap operas?”

“It's what I learned to do in Texas, Aunt. It's what you do when there's no one around for miles and miles and miles. You resort to the boob tube.”

My mother, a world-class viewer of soaps, Rosie -- Oprah -- all of it -- blushed again and offered the information that I rarely watched anything on TV.

“Good for you, Edward.” Mrs. S. looked across at me, almost smiling. I had an idea a smile didn't come easily to those lips.

“Edgar,” Julie corrected her. “But he's called E.C.”

Like Peale, I, too, had been named for someone. Edgar Cayce, a psychic of some importance in that far-out world of crystal balls and Ouija boards.

What Became of Her. Copyright © by M. Kerr. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

M. E. Kerr is a winner of the American Library Association's Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement and the ALAN award from the National Council of Teachers of English. Ms. Kerr lives in East Hampton on New York's Long Island.

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