Lucy Peevy has a dream--to get out of the trailer park she lives in and become a famous scientist. And she's already figured out how to do that: Build a robot that will win a cash prize at the BotBlock competition and save it for college. But when you've got a mama who doesn't always take her meds, it's not easy to achieve those goals. Especially when Lucy's mama takes her, her baby sister Izzy, and their neighbor Cam away in her convertible, bound for parts unknown. But Lucy, Izzy and Cam are good at sticking together, and even better at solving problems. But not all problems have the best solutions, and Lucy and Izzy must face the one thing they're scared of even more than Mama's moods: living without her at all.
Perfect for fans of Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons, Jerry Spinelli's Maniac Magee and Katherine Paterson's The Great Gilly Hopkins.
Praise for CHASING THE MILKY WAY
"Chasing the Milky Way takes readers along for the highest of highs and lowest of lows. A much-needed addition."--School Library Journal
"A poignant story filled with chaos, deep affection and hope."--Kirkus Reviews
"An empathetic portrayal of mental illness full of sensitivity and, ultimately, hope."--Booklist
"Moulton...writes freely about children forced to assume adult responsibilities while remaining in touch with their idealism, and the possibility of everyday magic."--Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Sunnyside Trailer Park has exactly one rooster. It belongs to Mr. Blinks and his name is Chuck. Mr. Blinks sold the whole coop and this one, too, but Chuck found his way right back to Sunnyside. That’s typical. Once you’re in Sunnyside Trailer Park, it’s hard to leave, and it’s not because of the good cooking or family-friendly folks. It’s because it’s a black hole of a place. The gravitational pull is so strong you never get out. At least not in one piece. That’s what I’m thinking about as soon as Chuck starts bawling at 4:30 a.m. That’s what I think about at this time every morning. Getting out of Sunnyside.
I make myself sit up, push my blankets down. The house still smells like old tomato soup. Last night’s dinner. I stretch my legs and put my feet on the floor, glance out the window. Darkness is draping over the world like a big ratty blanket. Tiny holes strung up in the shape of constellations. I feel around for my flashlight. My little sister, Izzy, flips over in the bed next to mine. The springs squeak under her slight weight.
“Time, Lucy?” Izzy says.
“Not yet,” I whisper. I pull a pair of jeans up off the floor and throw them on. “Just Mission Control time.”
I lean over and give her a kiss on her forehead.
“Me too?” she says.
“Nah, you sleep. We can play after school.” I flick the flashlight on and jump out my window onto the ground. I walk over to the carport and pull back the tarp. The early morning dew makes the tarp cool and damp on my fingertips. I slide inside, tuck myself up along the junked-up Mustang and over to my Mission Control station. It’s not much to look at. Just a run-down desk that Mr. Blinks got at work. He works at the junkyard, so he finds all sorts of great stuff.
I stifle a yawn and sit down at the desk. I pick up Walkie One and put it to my mouth. Press the speak button with my index and middle fingers.
“Mighty Hawk, this is Juniper Ray, captain of Vintage Carrier twenty-five twenty-five. You out there? Over,” I say, letting my fingers off the button. I put the walkie up to my ear and listen. From outside, Chuck gives another wake up call. I hear a clatter as Mr. Blinks hurls something out his window, but nothing comes in through Walkie One. I reach over for a pencil, wondering what is taking Cam so long. Then, just as I’m about to give up and carry on solo, the walkie crackles to life.
“Juniper Ray, this is Mighty Hawk. On my way. Over.” The walkie goes silent, then comes back to life. “Did you get that joke? On my way. Over?” he says.
I slide the walkie from ear to mouth. “Hilarious, Cam.”
His voice crackles through. “See you” shhh “in a few” shhh “over.”
I place the walkie back in its spot and pick up our notebook, pulling it across the desk. The carport lights up with a green tint as I switch the desk lamp on. I press my fingers to either side of my watch so it flips from the current time to countdown. I’ve had a timer set for the past month. T-minus thirty-six hours from liftoff and T-minus seventy-five hours until competition. I glance to the corner of my desk where there is a picture of Gram staring out at me.
It’s been a year since she went on an infinite voyage, jumped ship to another world. I give the picture a halfhearted wink and hug her memory close to me. I have promises to keep.
My fingers find the edge of my Mission Control notebook. I open it and scan the page for the one-hundredth time.
BotBlock Jr. Robot Challenge
June 15th 2013
15 Ocean Avenue
*Maze Runners (remote control)
My gaze lands on the final line. The most important one:
Round Robin Winner Receives $5,000 and 15% of college tuition
Me, Mama, Gram, and Izzy went to the seacoast every year since I was eight, not counting last year, due to tragedy. This year we’re going, and this year is going to be different. One, because Gram isn’t coming with us, not literally. Two, because this year I intend to compete in the robot competition. We usually just watch it because I’ve never been old enough, and the registration is expensive. “No how, now way, no money,” I hear Mama’s voice ringing in my ears. But you have to put some money in to get something out. This year Cam’s coming along too. We’re skipping out on a day of school and going to the coast to win some prize money. We have to. We have to because no one needs it like we do.
I turn the page to our Mission Control Protocol for Optimum Achievement. It’s gone through some revision.
Find our dads and start new life
1) Save up registration money
2) Complete, practice, and program PingPing200
3) Go to BotBlock Challenge (and win)
4) Make dreams come true (see dream charts, p. 7 and 8)
The plan for taking control of our lives is in place. . . . The only problem is we still haven’t crossed off number one on our list, Save up registration money. Or number two on our list, Complete, practice, and program PingPing200. And three and four can’t get done until the other two are done. But we’ll figure it out. Cam and I have been saving up the money for registration since last year. And we almost have enough. We mowed lawns, raked leaves, and even accepted some charity.
I glance down at our robot. “We’ll get it done. Right, PingPing?”
He stares straight ahead with his LED eyes, but I know he’s on my side. “Somehow,” I add. I swivel to have a better look at him. He’s genuine junk. I mean it in the best way. All of his parts are from the junkyard. It started with a broken remote control pickup truck. We tore off the sides, so that just the wheel and truck bed base were left, then attached a big body made from a Cheese Balls barrel. Cam found a deflated football and sliced it in half, so PingPing has a genuine pigskin head. We poked two holes in it and ran power to two LED lights that serve as eyes. Of course, we had to rig up a new battery, a motor, a receiver, and a brain. You can see all his wiring right in his stomach. He looks like a trashy R2-D2, but I like to believe he has the same type of noble heart. We completed his arms last week, but we’ve still got a ways to go.
I flip the battery on. His eyes send bright beams toward the back of the carport. Wuw-whir, Wuw-whir. His claws and elbows jolt as he fires to life. I hear the tarp crinkle and look over my shoulder. Cam walks in and falls back, shielding his face with his arm. I turn PingPing to the side so it’s not a direct hit.
Cam stumbles away from the light, around the other side of the Mustang.
“You escaped?” I ask.
“Good one!” he says coming over to the Mission Control station. The truth is, Cam doesn’t have to sneak. His mom doesn’t have a clue where he is, and doesn’t care either. Cam is one of what my ma calls “Mrs. McKinney’s seven feral children.” They range from four months to twelve years and are white to black. Cam’s the oldest and the blackest. He’s also my best pal.
“Mighty Hawk at your service, Cap’n.” He pulls a crate over and sits on it. His white T-shirt glows in the stark light. I unhook the remote control from its spot around PingPing’s neck and put the lanyard around my own. I flip it on.
“We have a ton to do.” We’ve come a long way, but we still need to practice for the remote control maze run. We need to finish his program for the rescue mission. And, if Mr. Blinks comes through, we need to attach a metal detector for the unique attributes part of the competition. I toggle to the right and inch to the left, then hit the joystick forward. PingPing speeds along the side of the Mustang. I slide over the door and into the driver’s seat so I can see all around the car to maneuver him.
“Hey, Juniper Ray, you wanna stop for a minute?” Cam jumps up next to me in the car.
“Do I really need to remind you that we’re running way behind on our Protocol for Optimum Achievement?” I say.
“It’ll just take a second. I got you something.” I let up and PingPing halts at the passenger side door. I lean up against the seat and look at Cam. He pulls a rectangular block from his pocket. Flips it over. Hershey’s, it says.
I let go of the remote control and let it hang around my neck. My mouth starts watering. “Cam, you shouldn’t have bou—”
“Who said I bought it! I said I GOT you something.” A smirk plays across his face.
“You stole it?” I whisper, taking the bar from his hand.
“Not from the store. Just from someone who didn’t deserve it!” he says.
He must have taken it from his mom’s current boyfriend, Dwayne. We pronounce it D-Wayne. D standing for dimwit, doofus, dumb-as-a-doornail.
“Well, what’s done is done.” I pull a fold until the wrapper drops onto the ground, break a small corner off and hand it to Cam. He throws it up into the air and catches it in his mouth. It clicks on his teeth as it lands. I break another piece and pop it into my mouth.
“Thanks, Mighty Hawk,” I say, letting the chocolate melt on my tongue. He scarfs his down pretty fast and I hand him another, bigger piece. I chew fast, too, so I can get back to PingPing.
When the whole bar is gone, I crumple up both of the wrappers and shove them into my pocket.
“Happy birthday,” Cam says.
“Thanks,” I say as I pick the RC back up.
“Wait! I almost forgot.” Cam digs into his other pocket.
“I’m all ears,” I say, but I press my thumb forward and send PingPing racing around the front of the car.
“This wasn’t stolen. It was won fair and square.” Cam holds his hand up. A dollar is hanging from his fingers. I stop PingPing again.
“Mission Control fun,” Cam says.
“Fund,” I say. “Anyway, where’d you get this one? You should give it to your mom or something.” Of course I don’t want Cam to give Mission Control money to his mom, but I know she could use it. Just yesterday I saw the four-year-old, Mickey, eating a clover on the back step. I don’t know if it was because of the lack of other options or if she just likes the taste, but still.
Cam tilts his head. “Really? You think I’m gonna give this to Professor Evil?”
He grabs my left hand and presses the dollar bill into it. “It’s ours,” he says. Then he cartwheels onto the floor. He doesn’t nail the landing; instead he buckles and rolls into a bucket, which topples over, sending tools everywhere. He lands crumpled in the too-narrow space between the car and the house.
“Not your best move,” I tell him.
“You think?” he says as he stands. He dusts off his blue jeans and lifts the tarp up. “I can’t stay ’cause Brian was up already and not feeling good. I’ll see you in an hour. And I promise I’ll help after school. Happy birthday!”
I nod. Something is always coming up.
“Thanks.” I fold the dollar bill and tuck it into my pocket. Cam ducks out.
“Hey, wait!” I shout. The tarp shuffles and he reappears. “Don’t forget to pack. We leave tomorrow night. And we’re not going late.”
“Got it!” he says, letting the tarp drop.
I steer PingPing around the corner to where the mess of tools is still scattered across the path. “You think we can make it, buddy?” I speed him toward the mess, hard right, soft left, around a wrench, then hard right and straight to the wall, then soft left to a bin. Pretty soon he’s past the tools and heading toward the back of the carport and around the car again.
PingPing and I both stop and look toward the trailer.
“Lucy, where are you?” It’s Mama.
I dig into my pocket and pull the dollar bill out. Then I flip the remote control off and jump out of the Mustang.
“I’ll be right there!” I shout. I kick over an upside down milk crate and pull a paint can from beneath it. Mission Control fund. I feel for the screwdriver in the corner, then jam it underneath the lid and pry until the lid pops off, revealing our money stash. I check the door, making sure no one’s around. I pull out the wad, add the bill. Then I take a little scrap of paper and pencil from the can. I cross out 351.50 and write 352.50. Still short ten bucks. I would ask Mama for the last ten, but the whole reason the registration is a big secret is because money is nowhere to be seen around here.
“Lucy?” Mama says again. I jump and check the door, trying to pinpoint where her voice is coming from. A strawberry-flavored breeze comes my way and my heart rises into my throat. Could it be birthday cupcakes? I push the money into the paint can, grab a hammer, and tap along the outer edge. I flip the milk crate over it and secure the hiding spot. I make my way back around to PingPing, flip him off, and slide him under the work station.
“You’ll have to wait. As usual,” I say.
The sides of his football head seem to tilt down the teensiest little bit. “You just gotta believe in the mission. We’ll finish you up. I promise.” The last bit is more to Gram’s picture than to my robot. I blow a far-away kiss to the great beyond, then flick the light off and head inside.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for CHASING THE MILKY WAY
"Chasing the Milky Way takes readers along for the highest of highs and lowest of lows. A much-needed addition."School Library Journal
"A poignant story filled with chaos, deep affection and hope."Kirkus Reviews
"An empathetic portrayal of mental illness full of sensitivity and, ultimately, hope."Booklist
"Moulton...writes freely about children forced to assume adult responsibilities while remaining in touch with their idealism, and the possibility of everyday magic."Publishers Weekly