An Occasionally Happy Family

An Occasionally Happy Family

by Cliff Burke
An Occasionally Happy Family

An Occasionally Happy Family

by Cliff Burke


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Gordon Korman meets The Great Outdoors in this funny and moving debut about a boy who goes on a disastrous family vacation (sweltering heat! bear chases!) that ends with a terrible surprise: his dad's new girlfriend.

There are zero reasons for Theo Ripley to look forward to his family vacation. Not only are he, sister Laura, and nature-obsessed Dad going to Big Bend, the least popular National Park, but once there, the family will be camping. And Theo is an indoor animal. It doesn’t help that this will be the first vacation they’re taking since Mom passed away.
Once there, the family contends with 110 degree days, wild bears, and an annoying amateur ornithologist and his awful teenage vlogger son. Then, Theo’s dad hits him with a whopper of a surprise: the whole trip is just a trick to introduce his secret new girlfriend.  
Theo tries to squash down the pain in his chest. But when it becomes clear that this is an auditioning-to-be-his-stepmom girlfriend, Theo must find a way to face his grief and talk to his dad before his family is forever changed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780358325673
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,150,880
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.90(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Clifford Burke grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. He worked as a house painter, a parking lot attendant, and a sign-twirling dancing banana before graduating from the College of William and Mary. He currently teaches English in the Bay Area.

Read an Excerpt


My goal in school is to be noticed as little as possible. This is difficult because my school doesn’t have walls.
      I mean, it has four walls on the outside, but none on the inside. It’s one of those “open concept” schools where each grade has its own floor and it’s up to the teachers how they want to organize it.
      At the beginning of the year, some teachers tried to build their own walls by stacking books floor-to-ceiling around their teaching areas. I liked these enclosed spaces because they were almost like real classrooms. When I was inside them, I didn’t have to worry about someone making a face or mouthing a curse word at me from the end of the hallway.
      But the walls made of books didn’t last very long. It became popular to treat them like giant games of Jenga, and everyone competed to see who could punch out a book without the wall collapsing. When one of the walls finally did collapse and sent two people to the emergency room with broken toes, they were forbidden.
      After that, the seventh-grade floor looked like a small, messy bus station with chairs arranged in little clusters every ten feet or so. The teachers would wheel stained whiteboards in front of their assigned chair clusters and try to shout over the commotion. The sounds from one class bled into the sounds from the next so that there was a consistent hum of noise just distracting enough to never hear anything that your teacher was trying to yell in your class’s direction.
      I learned to deal with the constant noise and peering eyes by focusing my attention on my notebook. While the teacher shouted and the rest of the class talked, I drew. Sometimes doodles—the classic spirals and sketches of teachers saying things like “Hello, I’m stupid”—but mostly cool stuff like aliens and robots.
      Last year, in sixth grade, I started working on my first graphic novel trilogy. Part one, The Aliens Who Ate People and Never Got Full, debuted at my lunch table on the last day of the school year and was a big hit with my three friends—Liam, Angel P., and Rajneesh. I spent all year working on the sequel, The Humans Who Fought Back by Eating the Aliens Who Ate People, and promised that it would be ready to read on the last day of school. Now that the big day had come, I rushed to finish the final page before lunch.
      I drew the main character, Laurence Stronghouse, lifting the last living alien to his mouth. “Bon appétit,” he says, biting into the alien’s skull and releasing a green goo that spells out The End. As I went over the word bubble with a darker pen, the bell rang. The entire class leaped up and sprinted toward the cafeteria. I waited for the ink to dry, closed my notebook, and joined the herd.
      Rajneesh and Angel P. were already eating when I sat down at our usual table.
      “Today’s the day,” Rajneesh said.
      “I hope it doesn’t suck,” Angel P. added.
      “It doesn’t suck,” I said nervously, hoping that it didn’t.
      “We’ll be the judge of that,” Liam announced, awkwardly slamming his lunch tray onto the table like a gavel.
      I took out my notebook and slid it their way. I watched their faces as they flipped through the pages, trying to gauge whether or not I’d satisfied my three fans. There were a lot of smiles, but not as many laughs as I would have liked.
      “Wellll?” I finally asked.
      “It rules,” Angel P. said.
      “It’s even better than the first one,” Rajneesh agreed.
      “It’s good,” Liam said hesitantly, “but could I offer some critical colleagues?”
      “Critical colleagues” is what our school calls criticism. Whenever we write a paper or finish a project, we have to sit in a circle and offer critical feedback for our “colleagues.” Most people smile and say nice things while the teacher is watching. Then as soon as the teacher turns around they offer feedback like “You think you’re better than me, huh?” while ripping your paper in half.
      “We don’t need critical colleagues,” Angel P. said. “It’s awesome. Seriously.”
      “Yeah, shut up, Liam,” Rajneesh said.
      “You shut up,” Liam said.
      “Both of you shut up,” I said. “What’s wrong with it?”
      Liam was my least favorite of my three friends and someone I never hung out with one-on-one, but I still respected his opinion. Even if it was usually misguided.
      “Nothing’s wrong with it,” Liam said. “I just don’t see where you can go from here. In the first book, the aliens eat people. In the second book, the people eat aliens. What’s going to happen in the third book? There’s no one left to eat.”
      “There’s not going to be a third book,” I said.
      “But didn’t you say this was going to be a trilogy?” Liam said.
      I did say that two years ago, but realized pretty early in the sequel that, as Liam pointed out, there was nowhere left to go. Instead, I told them, I had begun plotting the idea for a new, more realistic series called Bob: The Boy with Perfect Memory, which would tell the story of a boy who remembered every second from every day of his life.
      “That. Sounds. Incredible,” Rajneesh said.
      “So sick,” Angel P. said.
      Liam contorted his face into an expression that meant he didn’t like it.
      “You have a problem with this, too?” I said.
      “Not a problem,” Liam said. “I just don’t understand how that’s a story. Someone remembers everything. So what? What’s the conflict?”
      “Well,” I said, “since he remembers everything, he has trouble, you know, getting over things.”
      “Like what?” Liam asked.
      “Like big things that happen to him.”
      “Can you give an example?”
      “Like when his mom dies,” I mumbled.
      They all looked down at the table. Liam started fidgeting with his milk carton, clearly unsure what to say next. It wasn’t exactly the reaction I was hoping for.
      “Well, that’s certainly . . . a . . . conflict,” Liam muttered while still staring at the lip of his milk.
      “It’s just an early idea,” I said quickly. “A rough draft. We’ll see how it goes.”
      I took a bite of my peanut butter sandwich and waited for someone else to speak.
      After several excruciating seconds of silence, Angel P. finally asked Rajneesh, “So when does Robot Camp start?”
      “It’s not Robot Camp,” Rajneesh said. “It’s Robotics Camp and it starts next Monday. There are still two spots left if—”
      “I’m busy,” Angel P. said. “Camp Earth Death starts as soon as I get home.”
      Earth Death was a new online multiplayer game where you tried to gather as many resources as possible to prepare for the death of the earth. The easiest way to gather resources was by killing people and taking all their stuff. Angel P. was very good at killing people and taking their stuff. So good that he never “risked” letting me play with him.
      “There’s a camp for that?” Rajneesh asked.
      “I’m gonna camp out in my room and play every day,” Angel P. said.
      “Well, I’m going to Florida for a few weeks,” Liam said.
      “No one cares,” Angel P. said.
      “I care,” Liam said.
      “I’m going somewhere too,” I said.
      “Like, somewhere cool?” Angel P. asked.
      “I don’t know,” I said. “My dad said he’d tell me after school.”
      “It’s probably not as cool as Florida,” Liam grumbled.
      “We’re not sitting together next year,” Angel P. said to Liam as the bell rang.

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