What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film starin Bollywood! Now she's traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India's most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.
About the Author
Varsha Bajaj is the author of several books for children including How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight? and T is for Taj Mahal. She lives in Texas with her husband and two kids. This is her first middle grade novel.
Read an Excerpt
Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood
By Varsha Bajaj
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2014 Varsha Bajaj
All rights reserved.
Be careful what you wish for
The one thing I want most in my life ...? Hmm.
Miss Cooper needs to know that? Really?
My eyes dart from Zoey on my right to Priya diagonally across from me to the clock directly above Miss Cooper's head. Three minutes to the bell. Unlike me, my friends are scribbling furiously.
We're studying characters in literature and their deepest desires. I've read Because of Winn-Dixie every year since fifth grade. India Opal, my favorite character, wants to meet her mother. Miss Cooper said in her PBS voice, "Understanding your own desires will help you know the characters in novels better." When Miss Cooper orders and assigns, you do her bidding or go to detention.
I gnaw my pencil. Ever since I fell in love with the violin,
I've imagined a string quartet, the full enchilada—a cello, two violins, and a viola—providing a sound track to my life. I told Mom about it and she laughed. "Oh, Abby, you're funny! Most kids have an imaginary friend. You have a string quartet."
Mom gets me. It's always been Mom and me. We go together like the violin and the bow or apples and piecrust. We'd look like clones born twenty-one years apart except her hair is dirty blond and mine is as dark as the night. She says I have my dad's hair. He's Indian—as in, from India. And her lashes are a need-mascara length while mine are so thick and long, they look fake. But our brown eyes both turn lighter when the sun hits them.
As I reread and ponder the question, my string quartet picks up their bows and plays a deep, thoughtful song.
The bell buzzes.
I hurriedly scribble, The one thing I want most in my life is excitement.
Liar! My inner voice bursts out like an annoying pop-up on a computer screen and surprises me. The thing you want most is to meet your father! the inner voice accuses.
I strangle the voice. That is too personal. I could never whisper it, let alone write it down for a school assignment.
My life is a plate of perfectly edible but ordinary scrambled eggs. I want them savory, creamy, cheesy, and maybe with bacon on the side.
I don't want to seem ungrateful or anything. Life is okay, just too normal. Nice mom, adorable grandparents, decent school sprinkled with a few teachers I love and some I can't stand, and friends withexciting lives.
Zoey joins me as I threw things into my paisley-printed backpack. "Abby, you going to the Yogurt Cup with Priya and me?"
Priya bounces over. "Race you to the bike stand!"
Juvenile, I think but race anyway.
We bike in silence down the winding suburban road lined with crape myrtle. Our bikes cut through the humid, still air as we make our way to the Yogurt Cup, our haunt during the summer. Frozen yogurt is our way of crushing the Houston heat that holds us hostage July through September and sometimes even longer.
The short ride has us sweating already, as if our bodies are screaming, Need to cool down! Why are you outside? It's ninety-eight degrees! So what if it's early October and school's already started?
When we reach the store, we lock up our bikes out front. "Our exchange student from Norway arrives in six days," says Zoey. "Her name's Ingrid. She's a senior in high school."
Now that defines excitement. Why can't my family host an Ingrid from Norway?
"Should I have a party? Invite a bunch of people to welcome her?" Zoey knots her thick, straight hair.
"Yeah," says Priya. "It'll distract me from the fact that my sister's baby was due yesterday."
That also qualifies as excitement. Priya's older sister and her husband are expecting a baby.
Our bikes secured, we walk in and hug the cold air like a long-lost friend. The scent of peach blossomy cleaner greets us. The décor is candy colored and futuristic like a Jetsons cartoon, only cooler.
Besides the air-conditioning, Counter Guy is the other reason we love this place. Zoey has the biggest crush on him. Today she's wearing her favorite outfit, neon leggings and an oversized T-shirt with a swirly pattern, in case Counter Guy looks her way or telepathically guesses she wants to talk to him. He's a high school senior—grades out of Zoey's league, but so what?
When Priya once suggested that Zoey talk to him, Zoey almost fainted. Priya, on the other hand, is waiting for the day when Taylor Lautner gives up acting and enrolls in our school. Me? I don't trust guys that much—other than my grandpa, of course. A smiling stork didn't drop me swaddled in a pink blanket with Abby Tara Spencer embroidered on it into Mom's arms from a puffy cloud. At thirteen, I know
better. I have a father, but I've never met him.
Now, if my father suddenly burst into my life, that would be excitement. But that's as likely to happen as winter in July.
As I consider having a crush on a boy to introduce some thrills into my uneventful life, Zoey pokes me. "So, did I tell you guys that Ingrid from Norway plays the violin too, and she doesn't know much English?"
"She and Abby can speak through their music," Priya says in a Mrs. Cooper-PBS voice.
I reach for my favorite yogurt flavor, yellow cake mix. Mirroring her accent, I say, "My violin playing is as important to me as blood is to vampires."
Distracted, I fill too much yogurt in my cup, and it oozes onto my hand. At forty-two cents an ounce, yogurt puts a dent in a girl's money fast. I work hard for my yogurt money by helping at my mom's coffee shop, Slice of Muse. It's a coffee-for-your-zing, pie-for-your-tummy, and poetry-for-your-soul place.
"The two of you will bond through the purity of your vibratos." Zoey adopts the most pathetic excuse for an English accent.
I smack her with my pink plastic spoon. "We're doing Mrs. Cooper's voice, not Simon Cowell's!"
Yesterday I picked mango, strawberries—my fave fruit—and fruity pebbles. So today I choose different flavors. I pile
on the toppings without really thinking. Chocolate chips, itty-bitty cheesecake things, and other stuff. If I'm going to pay for extra ounces of yogurt, I'm going to get my money's worth of toppings.
"It's not fair. You guys have all the excitement in your lives," I whine.
"You could have your name tattooed on your forehead or start playing your violin outside Target," suggests Zoey.
"Or I could dye my hair purple," I say, getting into the spirit.
"That will be three twenty-five," says Counter Guy, and Zoey turns red. You'd think he said, "You're cute. What are you doing Saturday evening?"
We pay and look over at our table. A group of kids has stolen it. Don't they know it belongs to the ZAP trio? Zoey, Abby, and Priya. In third grade, Zoey and I stood up for Priya when the popular girls called her mint-chutney-and-cheese sandwich moldy. Since then, we've been a team. Our team finds a different table.
Priya looks into my yogurt cup and says, "I read yogurt cups."
"Like tea leaves or tarot cards?" Zoey giggles. "Yep." Priya looks serious.
I push my cup toward her. "Tell me my future, oh, all-seeing one."
Priya waves her spoon-wand and stares into my yogurt's soul.
"Are you a magician or a psychic?" I ask.
Priya shushes me. "I see you ruling the world one day ..." "While playing the violin," chimes in Zoey.
I grab my cup back and tasted a spoonful of yogurt before it melts. Ice cold pleasure. The toppings all work together today. Some days they don't. Like when I got peanut butter morsels and strawberries.
Ooh, I taste something different. I dig around my cup to trace the new taste. Coconut flakes. I always thought I hated coconut—don't ask me why—so I've never chosen it before.
For a few minutes, we savor our yogurt in silence. Then an itch on my cheek orders, Hey! Scratch me.
I put my spoon down and obey. My cheek feels hot. The itch takes possession of my forehead and arm.
Uh-oh. Frantic scratch, scratch, scratch.
Priya looks up from her yogurt, "Abby, your face! Did something bite you?"
Zoey tears her eyes away from Counter Guy. "Oh my God, you have big red splotches on your face!"
The itch mushrooms to my arms. I stare at my skin in the reflective tabletop. I look like a horrid picture of a diseased plant from a science textbook!
My lips are numb and the itch squeezes its fingers around my throat. I try to take a deep breath and can't.
Priya stands over me. "Oh my God, Abby. Your lips are huge."
"Like a cross between Angelina Jolie and Nemo," says Zoey, flailing her arms in the air.
I search for more air. I inhale the deepest breath possible but can't get enough. I inhale again and again. Am I hyperventilating?
Where has all the oxygen disappeared?
Seeing the panic in my eyes, Priya reaches for her cell phone. And can't find it. She grabs Zoey's. It has a low battery signal.
"Abby, are you dying?" Zoey shouts, panicked.
Counter Guy runs to our table with his cell phone in hand. I itch, gasp, and try to feel my numb lips all at once. Priya grabs the cell phone and jabs 911. Zoey hops around and
holds my hand.
"We need help at the Yogurt Cup on the corner of Chestnut and Rice," Priya orders. "My friend can't breathe. She's sick. Hurry!"CHAPTER 2
I gasp. Each breath is a struggle. The emergency medical people arrive within minutes of the 911 call.
They shoo everyone away from me, take my pulse, stare at my impression of a fish on a steel hook, radio the nearest ER, hoist me onto a stretcher, and head to the ambulance.
Priya and Zoey gather my stuff and scurry beside me. All I want is a big gulp of oxygen and my mom. "Call
Mom," I wheeze in Priya and Zoey's direction.
"We did already," says Priya. "And so did the EMT. She's on her way."
"We can't allow you to ride in the ambulance, but her mom is on her way," says the EMT. "Your friend is not alone." "Don't worry, Abbs," says Zoey. "Text us the minute you
The world around me swirls. The ambulance is like a dinosaur in the parking lot. People stare. I could die of embarrassment if whatever is happening to me doesn't kill me first. I should've worn my new crisp underwear, not the old comfy ones with faded pansies on my butt.
I'm only thirteen—too young to die. I haven't even had a boyfriend.
The doors to the ambulance close and we start to drive. I hear the EMT talking on the phone or radio or whatever. I hope God realizes nothing bad could happen to me; I need more time to trace my DNA.
If I die now, I'll have to come back as a creepy, frustrated ghost and haunt Mom. Like spirits with unfinished business do.
The EMT turns to me. I hear him through layers of sludge. Focus, Abby, focus.
"Are you allergic to anything?" he asks. "I don't know."
Was that raspy, high-pitched voice mine?
When we hiked in the mountains in Colorado, I remember feeling like air was in short supply. This is a gazillion times worse.
A needle pierces my skin. A shot. Mercy of science. Medicine injected directly into my veins and I can breathe a little bit easier. But the red blotches on my skin still feel angry.
The ambulance stops and the doors open again. The EMTs wheel me into the ER. Mom arrives moments after us. She must have driven like Roadrunner with Coyote on her tail.
"Oh, honey! Oh, honey!" she chants. Her hair flies in all directions like the hay hair on our Halloween scarecrow. Her forehead is creased with worry, but her steps are determined. She's in Supermom mode, efficient and taking charge.
I take a breath and surprise myself. Abracadabra. Oxygen. I'm breathing normally. Was it the shot or having Mom with me?
They wheel me into a room and draw the green privacy curtain around us. Needles pinch me.
"We're putting in an IV and a heart monitor and checking your pulse and oxygen levels," the nurse explains. I have more wires and cords dangling from me than our computer at home.
The only shots I've had before this were immunizations when I was a kid. I'd clutch Mom's hand, squeeze my eyes tight, and turn my head sideways. After, we'd get ice cream on the way home to freeze out the memory of the stick. I'm not a kid anymore but we still got ice cream last year for old times' sake.
Here I am, with all these needles in my arm. It will take a lot of Rocky Road to freeze this memory!
Mom stares at the monitors. "Thank goodness, you can breathe. I called Grandpa and Grandma. They're coming too."
My grandparents, Mom's parents, live a street away from us. Even though we live in separate houses, our lives were one.
A dark-haired doctor walks in and introduces herself. "Abby, you scared a few people and yourself, today didn't you?" she says, patting my arm.
After checking me out and scanning my chart, she says, "You are both lucky. Abby had an allergic reaction and went into anaphylactic shock, but it wasn't full blown. Otherwise, we would've had to put in a breathing tube to help her breathe. Abby, did you eat or drink anything for the first time?"
I shake my head.
"Are you sure, honey?" Mom asks, massaging my hand. "Did you take any medicine for the first time?" asks
"No," I say.
Then I remember the heap of coconut flakes on my yogurt.
"Wait! Coconut flakes! I ate coconut flakes for the first time on my yogurt. Could that have done it?"
"You've never eaten coconut before?"
"I don't think so," I say, looking over at Mom. "Have I?"
"I remember you ate a bite of coconut cream pie when you were little. You hated it and spit it out."
"Are you allergic to it?" the doctor asks my mom. "Allergies can be hereditary. Not always though."
"No one in my family is allergic to coconut," says Mom. "What about Abby's father?" the doctor asks.
Mom looks bewildered, as if she's never considered the other half of my DNA.
The words echo like in a movie. What about Abby's father?
What about Abby's father?
What about my father? Is he allergic to coconut? My brain magnifies the questions and projects them onto a massive baseball stadium screen.
When my mom doesn't answer, the doctor says, "We'll keep you for a couple hours to monitor your vitals. We've also given you some Benadryl, so you'll feel drowsy. The red blotches will take a day or two to fade. I'm glad your breathing is back to normal. For now though, stay away from coconut in all forms, and, Abby, if you think of anything else you might have eaten, let us know. Mrs. Spencer, we will refer you to an allergist so you can pursue allergy testing."
As always, Mom lets the Mrs. Spencer fly.
"And the allergist will want to know Abby's father's medical history," the doctor says before patting me on the arm again and walking out.
Grandma and Grandpa Spencer rush into the room, their eyes shadowed with worry. When they hear I'm going to be fine, they sigh in relief.
I'm alive, and we exchange hugs and high fives. We'll celebrate when we get home.
For a brief moment, I'd imagined a full throttle violin concerto with me in first chair, wailing as the doctors diagnosed me with some horrible disease.
Wait a minute. Can I be the first chair and the patient? Whatever. That's what Benadryl does to your imagination.
I fumble through a text to Priya and Zoey. I'm fine. Talk L8R. Did you remember my bike?
As the Benadryl defeats me in the battle to stay awake, the doctor's question rings in my woozy mind. What about my father? Does he have mile long sweeping lashes? Does he wonder if his daughter has his hair? Does he also hate coconut cream pie? Why has he never visited? Does he hate me?CHAPTER 3
Excitement is exhausting
Mom and I drive home from the hospital in the vast, humid night. Can a question become so real that it can breathe? The one about my father rides home with us. My groggy mind clings to it like a Snuggie on a cold night—a little weird since it's so hot outside.
I'm still drowsy. I think my Benadryl shot was meant for the baby hippo at the Houston zoo. Also, it's two a.m. and a brush with death is exhausting. My imaginary string quartet snores.
But the ER visit and the doctor's reference to my dad have struck a nerve. My mind is racing with questions.
"How come my father never comes to visit me?" I ask Mom.
"Abby, are you unhappy?" she asks.
"No, I'm fine," I say. I'm not unhappy. Except I'd be happier if I knew my father. That's what I should have said.
Excerpted from Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj. Copyright © 2014 Varsha Bajaj. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Mera naam Russell hai. Oh! Forgive me. I was just practicing my Hindi. Varsha Bajaj’s delightful novel Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood is filled with Hindi phrases that could come in handy someday—like when you finally get to the Taj Mahal or your new best friend in school is an Indian foreign exchange student. But lest you think that ASGTB is just a language lesson, I can quickly dispel that idea. Bajaj’s novel is a cleverly told tale with a smart, quirky, precocious heroine, Abby Spencer herself. Abby is a thirteen year old with her own life soundtrack playing in her head, a perfectly wonderful personal curse word (that has not even a touch of profanity attached,) a zest for life, and a sense of humor that is totally refreshing. Bajaj has created a character with a voice that is distinctive and highly entertaining. And Abby propels a story that is inventive and instructive. Besides learning a bit of Hindi, the reader gets lessons in the rich history and culture of India. And they are far from being dry and boring. The novel is an answer to a question that many single parent children must often ask: What if my father, whom I’ve never known, is someone who is quite important in a profession that sets him apart from 99.99% of the rest of the world? Author Bajaj answers that question with so much fun! Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood should be on everyone’s reading list, especially young girls and those who love them. Read it, yaar!