Eleven-year-old Suzy just can't win. Her brother is a local hero for calling 911 after seeing their elderly neighbor collapse, and only her best friend was able to win a role in the play they both auditioned for. Feeling cast aside from all angles, Suzy sees a kindred spirit in Emily Dickinson, the subject of her summer project. Suzy decides to escape from her disappointments by emulating the poet's life of solitude: no visitors or phone calls (only letters delivered through her window), no friends (except her goldfish, Ottilie), and no outings (except church, but only if she can wear her long white Emily dress).
But being a recluse is harder than Suzy predicted. Will she find a way to fold Emily into her life while also remaining true to herself?
About the Author
JOANNE LEW-VRIETHOFF graduated from the Art Center College of Design in 1995 and began her career creating characters for children's television. In 1997 she became the art director for New York's DiVision Studio, creating award-winning designs for various hi-profile clients. Since then she has moved to the Netherlands where she continues to forge her talents as a designer and illustrator. Joanne is married and has two children.
Read an Excerpt
Mrs. Harden nearly died today.
I know because I was there.
I saw her slumped on her kitchen floor looking white as an egg.
I wasn't there from the beginning, though.
Only from the time my little brother, Parker,
It seems Parker wanted to drive somewhere on his new trike.
He's only allowed to go one house up each way.
And only if he tells someone where he's going.
He obeyed the first rule.
(Mrs. Harden lives next door.)
But he forgot the second rule.
He told no one.
He drove to Mrs. Harden's.
He parked in her driveway.
He knocked at her back door.
She invited him in for a cookie.
That's how it started.
Before Mrs. Harden could reach the cookie jar,
she had what grown-ups call
Parker saw her collapse.
He remembered his safety lessons.
He climbed on a chair.
He reached for the phone.
He dialed 911.
This is where I come in.
I find him shouting to the dispatcher:
HELP IS ON THE WAY
I'm here because
Mrs. Harden and I
are supposed to paint posters for her women's club bake sale.
Paints and rags and poster board are sitting on her craft table.
Mrs. Harden and I do lots of projects together.
She is sort of an honorary grandmother to me.
(My real ones live across the country.)
I crouch on the floor next to her.
I take her hand.
It's cold and clammy.
I pat it.
"It's me. Suzy," I tell her.
"Don't worry, Mrs. Harden. Help is on the way."
THE LITTLE HERO
The ambulance comes.
The EMTs carry Mrs. Harden off on a stretcher.
Now Dad is in the driveway asking what happened.
Neighbors mill around shaking their heads,
Mrs. Capra pats Parker on the head.
"So you're the little hero."
Dad calls Mrs. Harden's nephew, Paul.
Mrs. Harden is a widow. No children.
A couple years ago she gave us
Paul's phone number "just in case."
Paul says for us to lock up his aunt's house.
He asks us to hold her mail,
take in her newspapers,
keep an eye on things until he finds out what's what.
Parker is all monkey-faced
(which is what he calls being upset).
I give him a hug.
"Don't worry," I tell him.
"Mrs. Harden will be okay.
She's in good hands now."
(I don't tell him how worried I am.)
"Yes, but Mrs. Capra called me a little hero.
I'm not little, Suzy.
I'm four and a half.
I'm a big hero."
Parker pumps his (little) fist in the air.
"I'm Hero Boy!"
Wait till Mom finds out.
She likes Mrs. Harden almost as much as I do.
Mom's in Arizona right now,
taking care of Grandma Fludd,
who recently had a bad fall.
Geetwo people I know in the hospital.
My best friend, Alison,
says bad things come in threes.
Uh-oh, I think.
MOM FROM ARIZONA
Dad puts Mom on speakerphone so Parker and I can hear too.
She says she hopes Mrs. Harden will be okay.
She says she is proud of her "big boy"
for dialing 911.
She says: "Thank you, Suzy Q,
for helping out with things."
("Things" is code for Parker.)
She says she is trying to convince
Grandma Fludd to move to Pennsylvania.
Up pipes Grandma Fludd:
"What? And freeze my patootie off in the winter? Forget it!"
wiggles his little behind.
Watch me shake my bootie!"
There's a voice mail from Alison.
She sounds all breathless:
"Sooze, I heard about Mrs. Harden.
The whole town is talking.
I hope she's not dead.
I call Alison.
"Tell mequick!" she says.
I tell her: "We got a message from Mrs. Harden's nephew.
She's going to be okay."
"Whew! What a relief,"
"Just imagine if she died.
You'd be neighbors with a dead person!"
HOW WE STARTED
I was in second grade when Herbie Sizemore pushed me up against the playground fence.
"Say it!" he ordered.
"It" was a bad word.
A very bad word.
The very, very worst.
"No," I told him.
I tried to push past him.
He wouldn't let me.
Suddenly a girl appeared,
She stared Herbie right in the nose.
"Let her go," she snarled.
I was surprised.
She was in the other second-grade class.
We never played together.
Herbie growled: "This is nunna your beeswax."
"I'm making it my beeswax,"
said the girl.
She pulled a sparkly pink phone from her pocket.
"I have the state police on speed dial."
"Yeah, right," said Herbie.
The girl punched a button.
Herbie backed off.
When he was gone,
I said: "That's a toy phone,
The girl wagged her finger.
"Nunna your beeswax."
I laughed. "You rescued me."
"I'm Alison Wilmire," she said.
"I'm Suzy Quinn," I said.
We shook hands.
We've been best friends ever since.
Which is pretty amazing since we're so different.
Alison is curly blond wonder-hair.
I'm mousy brown ponytail.
She's pink sandals and short skirts.
I'm red Phillies cap and jeans.
She's hip-hop dance lessons.
I'm "Go Phillies!"
She collects bracelets.
I collect rocks.
She wants to be an actress when she grows up.
I don't have a clue.
Dad says Alison and I
are a perfect example of the old saying
Mom says while Alison and I
may be different on the outside,
we are a lot alike on the inside where it counts most.
"You both have heart,"
"That's the best thing
I can say about a person."
When Mom first went to Arizona,
Parker got all stubborn about bedtime.
Dad and I tried extra bedtime stories.
New stuffed animals.
Old stuffed animals.
until I came up with
I started creeping into Parker's bedroom step by step,
waving Mom's feather duster.
"Here comes Tickle Monster,"
I only had to tickle Parker's big toe before he would giggle and beg:
"Stop! Stop, Tickle Monster!
I'll sleep now!"
But this night when I creep into his room,
he's all curled up with his stuffed owl,
snoring like a little eggbeater.
I guess it's exhausting being a hero.
I'm tired too.
I get into my nightie.
I open my window wide.
There's a cool June breeze blowing.
It feels like it might rain.
I tell Ottiliemy goldfishabout the day's excitement:
"Mrs. Harden nearly died today.
But Parker called 911.
And now she's going to be fine.
And the Phillies won against the Pirates
even though I missed watching the whole game on TV.
And we talked to Mom and Grandma Fludd."
Ottilie swims closer to the glass in front of her tank.
Her tiny fish mouth sends me kisses.
I think she enjoys our nighttime chats.
Ottilie is just a goldfish and goldfish don't know anything.
But I read about goldfish before I got Ottilie.
Goldfish can recognize their owners.
They react to light and different colors.
I trained Ottilie to eat fish flakes from my fingers.
Ottilie knows plenty.
Dadwho teaches history at Ridgley Community College
told me that in 1939
a fad was started by a Harvard University student who swallowed a live goldfish.
The fad spread to other colleges.
Eventually, Dad said,
the president of Boston's Animal League decreed that goldfish swallowers should bewould be
arrested if they didn't stop this behavior.
My sentiments exactly.
This morning Gilbert Lenhardt stops by.
He heard about Mrs. Harden.
He was supposed to weed her herb garden and pull out a dead holly bush.
He is wondering if he should go ahead.
Dad tells him yes.
Gilbert does a lot of odd jobs around the neighborhood.
He's thirteen. Not old enough to get a regular job.
According to Alison, Gilbert really needs the money.
His dad drinks a lot and probably spends his money on beer instead of his family.
For a kid with a father like that, Gilbert is always cheery. Always whistling.
You can hear him a block away.
Dad says they are songs from the 1940s.
Oddbut nice too.
One thing I've learned from Dad is to appreciate ancient history.
KNOCK AT THE DOOR
Ten minutes later,
there's a knock at the door.
"Hi," says a lady in a gray suit.
"I'm Marsha Levine, reporter for the Ridgley Post."
She introduces the man next to her
"And this is Joe Perchek, photographer.
We're here to see the little boy who called 911 yesterday.
The little hero."
Dad says it's okay for them to talk to Parker for a few minutes.
And to take a couple pictures for the paper.
Parker says: "Wait!"
He runs upstairs,
comes back wearing his Superman T-shirt and his Count Dracula cape from last Halloween.
He posesarms out like he's flying.
Ms. Levine tweaks his cheek.
"You're the cutest little boy ever."
Parker squawks: "Don't call me little!"
PASSING MRS. BAGWELL'S
I head over to Alison's.
I pass Mrs. Bagwell's.
Mrs. Bagwell is chasing after something with her big green flyswatter.
Mrs. Bagwell is always after something
kids trying to retrieve balls from her yard,
beetles nibbling her roses,
the Kims' gray cat, Shady.
This time it's a crow.
I wave. "Good morning, Mrs. Bagwell."
"Dang crow," she growls.
GARNET OR CHARM?
When I get to Alison's,
she is still getting dressed.
She dangles two bracelets under my nose.
"Which one, Soozegarnet or charm?"
I groan. "Who cares? We're just going to the library."
She rolls her eyes at me. "I repeatgarnet or charm?"
I point to the garnet bracelet.
She scowls. "You're only saying that because it's red.
Like the Phillies."
She flips both bracelets into her jewelry box.
She pulls out a purple beaded one that matches her nails.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH READING?
I coaxed Alison into signing up with me for
Tween Time at the Ridgley Library.
Every Tuesday morning at eleven.
She fought it.
She said she reads enough during the school year.
I told her: "Tween Time isn't just about reading.
It's crafts too. And games. And field trips."
Anywaywhat's wrong with reading?
I happen to love it.
It's in my DNA.
I get it from my mom,
who is totally addicted to books.
MOM'S BOOK ADDICTION
I mean nobody
loves books more than Mom.
She breathes booksliterally.
She holds them up to her nose,
takes deep whiffs.
"Each book has a scent all its own," she says.
"Ink, tree bark, a hint of thyme,
Dad pipes up: "Mold!"
He's remembering when Mom bought six cartons of books from someone's half-flooded basement.
Mom sleeps books.
She keeps one under her pillow.
I'm not kidding.
She got into the habit when she was a kid.
She used to wake up at night and read by moonlight.
I won't be shocked if one morning
I come down to breakfast and find Mom in one of her fogs,
eating a page of a book with a dollop of strawberry jam.
MEET AND GREET
We tweens, ages ten to twelve,
meet in the Bennett Room of the Ridgley Library.
One of the librariansMs. Mott
stands in the doorway.
She's wearing a black bonnet and a blue fringed shawl.
She's twirling a parasol
(which is an umbrella for sun).
"Welcome, tweens," she says,
chirpy as a bird.
Alison gives me a dark look.
"Give it a chance," I whisper.
There are three other kids in the room.
Two girls and a boy.
Alison and I don't know them.
Ms. Mott sighs.
She looks at her watch.
I think she was hoping for a bigger crowd.
Finally she closes her parasol.
She smiles and makes an announcement:
"The theme for Tween Time this summer is everyday life in the 1800s."
Alison slumps in her seat,
hisses at me:
"I hate history!"
Q AND A
"Any questions?" asks Ms. Mott.
No one raises a hand.
I feel bad for her.
So I raise my hand.
"Was there baseball back then?"
Ms. Mott brightens. "Indeed there was.
But the field was smaller.
And players didn't wear gloves.
And batters were called strikers.
And runs were called aces."
The boy raises his hand.
"Were there cars?"
"Yes," says Ms. Mott.
"As a matter of fact, in 1895
there was a total of four cars in the entire country."
"Holy cow!" says the boy.
The girl in green asks,
"What did kids do for fun?"
"Simple things," says Ms. Mott.
"Roller-skating, kite flying,
sledding, checkers, kickball,
"What's hoop rolling?" asks the girl with the pigtails.
"You'll see," says Ms. Mott.
"We'll be trying some of these things in the weeks to come."
Alison mutters under her breath:
By the time we are dismissed,
we've learned quite a bit about the 1800s.
We know thataccording to stagecoach etiquette
it was considered bad manners to point out where horrible murders had been committed.
We know that some people in the 1800s made toothpaste out of honey and pulverized charcoal.
And that tomatoes were thought to be poisonous.
And that "some pumpkins"
or "very good at."
As we left, Ms. Mott chirped:
"When it comes to paying attention,
you kids are some pumpkins."
Alison grabs my arm.
"Let's skedaddle," she says
which in 1800s talk means
"Let's get the heck out of here!"
Dad makes grilled cheese for lunch.
I tell him about the Tween Time theme.
Of course he's pleased.
He waves his sandwich at me.
He says what I've heard a hundred times before:
"History is life. Its purpose is a better world."
"I know, Dad," I say.
Parker pipes up: "I know something too!"
"Mrs. Bagwell got robbed!"
THE THIRD BAD THING
"You missed it, Suzy," says Parker.
"Cops came and everything."
"Only one police officer," says Dad.
"Seems Mrs. Bagwell wanted to report a stolen ring."
"There's robbers in town!" says Parker.
"We don't know that," says Dad.
I get to thinking about bad things happening in threes.
Grandma Fludd falls.
Mrs. Harden has a spell.
Mrs. Bagwell is a crime victim.
Maybe Alison was right.
BIKES ACCORDING TO ALISON
After lunch, I get on my bike.
Alison gave hers away last year.
"Bikes are for babies," she told me at the time.
"Tell that to Mr. Capra," I said.
"He rides his bike to work every day."
She ran her nose up the flagpole.
"Okaybabies and old people."
INTO THE BREEZE
It's a bright afternoon.
I ride my bike into the warm breeze,
away from the house,
along the bike path.
Trees ripple green.
The light is golden.
The sky is blue.
And I am a bird flying . . .
flying . . .
Alison doesn't know what she's missing.