Your wonderful new book, Halfway Normal, was inspired by an experience from your real life; can you talk about how this book came to be? My oldest son has cancer—and a few years ago, when he was receiving treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, a doctor there asked me what I was writing […]
During a class trip to DC, twelve-year-old Tally and her best friends, Sonnet and Caleb (a.k.a. Spider) are less than thrilled when they are assigned roommates and are paired with kids who are essentially their sworn enemies. For Tally, rooming with “clonegirl” Ava Seely feels like punishment, rather than potential for fun.
But the trip is full of surprises. Despite a pact to stick together as much as they can, Sonnet pulls away, and spider befriends Marco, the boy who tormented him last year. And Marco just might “like” Tally—what’s that about?
But the uneasy peace in Ava and Tally’s room is quickly upended when Tally begins to suspect something is off about Ava. She has a weird notebook full of random numbers, and doesn’t seem to eat anything during meals. When Tally confronts Ava, Ava threatens to share an embarrassing picture of Tally with the class if Tally says anything to anyone about her suspicions. But will Tally endanger more than her pride by keeping her secret?
This is one class trip full of lessons Tally will never forget: how to stay true to yourself, how to love yourself and embrace your flaws, and how being a good friend can actually mean telling a secret you promised to keep...
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Everything I Know About You
WE GOT TO SCHOOL IN the dark that morning, already fifteen minutes late.
By then, cars were headed in the opposite direction, doggy heads hanging out the passenger windows, horns honking good-bye. Ms. Jordan was standing by the fancy bus, wearing jeans (she owned jeans?), checking her clipboard. She looked up; now I could see she was talking to Ava Seeley and her mom, a blond woman dressed head to toe in beige, like she was about to go on a safari.
Suddenly I had the feeling Ava was glaring at me. I mean, my brain told me she wasn’t; we were maybe thirty feet away from her, in a car, and probably she couldn’t even see me through the windshield. But she was the head clonegirl of our grade, basically my enemy, so I was always on the lookout for her nasty expressions.
“Gug,” I said, my stomach knotting.
“Tally, don’t decide this will be bad before anything happens,” Mom said.
“Yeah, well. Too late.”
“Come on, honey, you got this.” Mom gave me a pep smile, which usually worked. Although not this time. “Just share the goodies Dad baked you; that’ll help with the bus trip. Oh, and here’s a present from me.”
She handed me a small sandwich bag. Inside were two red things that looked like cap erasers.
“Earplugs,” Mom explained. “For the bus. And the room, if Ava’s a snorer.”
“If she is, she couldn’t be louder than Spike.” My dog was a champion loud breather, so I was an expert at ignoring snores. Obviously, Mom meant the earplugs for more than snoring.
I stuck the bag in my pants pocket and threw my arms around her. “Thanks, Mom.”
She smooched my cheek. “You’re welcome, Daughter. Text me when you get there, okay? Tell Spider to text his mom too. And let me help with the bakery boxes.”
We stepped out of the car into the sharp, chilly air. It didn’t even feel like September, really—although maybe that was because it still seemed liked night. Maybe once we were on the road, and the sun was up, it would feel like a normal fall morning in Eastview.
But not yet. I shivered.
Mom carried two of the boxes, and I carried one, plus my duffel bag. The bus had this huge underneath storage compartment, but by now it was completely crammed with everyone’s stuff for the next four days. So we had to wedge my duffel in sideways, probably squishing all the extra cookies Dad had packed.
Then we walked over to Ms. Jordan.
“Good morning, Tally!” Ms. Jordan greeted me too energetically, as if she’d had an extra cup of coffee for breakfast. “I was starting to worry you wouldn’t make it. You’re Mrs. Martin?” she asked Mom.
Mom caught my eye. Because I’m so much bigger and taller than the rest of my family, people say stuff like this sometimes. Maybe Ms. Jordan didn’t mean it as an actual question—Are you really Tally’s mom?—but it was hard to tell.
“Yes, I am,” Mom said, smiling at everyone. Even at Ava, who didn’t bother to smile back.
But Ms. Jordan did. “Quite a daughter you have there. Full of character.”
Mom nodded. You could tell she was trying to figure out whether that was a compliment.
Meanwhile, Ava’s mom was reaching out her hand to shake Mom’s, completely ignoring the fact that Mom was holding two bulging bakery boxes. “Good morning. I’m Ellen Seeley,” she announced. “I’m the parent chaperone for this trip.”
The parent chaperone? But there were three other parents going, I was sure of it.
“Oh yes,” Mom said pleasantly. “We’ve already met, Ellen. How nice of you to volunteer! Tally, could I please give you these boxes? The car is in a no-parking zone, so I really can’t stay.” Her eyes were begging; she obviously wanted to escape Ellen Seeley.
“Sure,” I said, stacking Mom’s boxes on top of mine. “You’d better hurry, so you don’t get a ticket.”
Mom tiptoed to kiss my cheek. “Have fun, sweetheart, and remember those earplugs,” she murmured. “Tune out whatever you need to, okay? And don’t forget to text.” Then she raced off.
Mrs. Seeley turned to talk to Ms. Jordan, as Ava narrowed her eyes at me. “So what’s in the boxes?” Ava asked.
“Oh, these?” I said. “Binoculars. Pickaxes. Flashlights. You know, assorted extremely high-tech devices for exploring our nation’s capital.”
“Huh,” Ava said. She never appreciated my sense of humor. “It looks like bakery stuff.”
“We’re allowed to bring snacks,” I informed her. “Not that I am.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means bring whatever you want, Tally. However much you want. I really don’t care what you do, all right?”
“That’s so funny, Ava,” I replied. “Because you always act like exactly the opposite.”
Now Ava definitely was glaring, and I glared right back at her. She was teeny, maybe ten inches shorter than me, so I had to stoop a bit to make eye contact. But it’s hard to stoop while balancing three bakery boxes, so I sort of teetered in her direction.
Finally she said, “Well, you’d better get a seat. You’re late, and we’re about to leave.”
And we know you’d hate to leave me behind, wouldn’t you, Ava?
I climbed on board, my heart banging so loudly I was sure you could hear it over the bus engine.
Because here it was. We’d now arrived at the moment I’d been dreading for the past two weeks.
The moment I’d find out if my friends had shown up.
Or if I’d have to do this thing—all three days and four nights—stuck in a room alone with Ava Seeley.
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to
Everything I Know About You
By Barbara Dee
About the Book
Talia “Tally” Martin knows her upcoming class trip to Washington, DC, is going to be a nightmare. To foster seventh-grade unity, the teachers have assigned Tally and her best friends to share hotel rooms with their enemies! But the three-day trip is full of surprises. Alliances are made and broken, and Tally begins to suspect something is off with her “perfect” roommate Ava, who keeps a weird notebook full of random numbers, disappears regularly, and doesn’t seem to be eating anything during meals. Tally needs to decide what to do with her suspicions about Ava while also dealing with changing friendships and finding ways to express her offbeat personality. This is a trip full of lessons that Tally won’t forget, including how to love yourself and embrace your flaws, and how being a good friend can mean telling a secret you promised to keep.
1. Why do you think Ava is obsessed with how she looks? Why does she expect too much from herself, not just where calories are concerned? Is it because of the fashion magazines she reads? Is it because of her relationship with her mother? Tally wonders if it must be hard to be Ava, “so careful and perfect.” Do you agree? Can people have different definitions for perfection? Do you think perfection can have positive and negative connotations?
2. Tally remembers a time in fifth grade where she overheard her mother and a friend talking about her body. She says: “That was the first time I’d thought about my ‘body type.’” Do you think Tally is unusual in that she doesn’t seem to worry very much about this issue? Why do you think many girls do focus on this? Do you know any boys who have struggled with their body images?
3. Discuss the complicated connection that develops between Tally and Ava after Tally confronts Ava about her eating problems, and Ava threatens to share Tally’s embarrassing photo with their classmates. Why is Tally mad at herself for being worried about Ava? Why do you think she lies to Ava’s mother to protect Ava? Why does Ava feel she has to protect her own secret at any cost? What did you expect would happen if either secret were made public?
4. Why is Tally so happy when she sees Spider and Sonnet on the bus to Washington DC? Does having friends beside you make things easier? Look around at your classmates: How many of them do you know? How many have you talked to about their families, their hobbies, their likes and dislikes? How might you learn more about them?
5. Tally says, “My family took care of me, and I took care of Caleb; the world just made sense to me that way. The thing was, I always knew I was adopted, so I always had this idea that love was choosing to take care of someone—not just family, but friends too.” Describe Tally’s home life and her relationship with her family. How does she feel about being adopted? How can you tell?
6. Talk about Tally’s feelings when Sonnet starts to hang around with the “clonegirls.” How do Sonnet and Tally see the group differently? Do you understand why Tally views them as the enemy? Do you understand why Sonnet wants to be included? Do you think it’s okay to want to make new friends, even when you already have great friends? Do you think you and your friends can remain close, even if you don’t have as much in common as you used to? What have you learned from Tally, Spider, and Sonnet’s friendship?
7. Ms. Jordan tells Tally that she is a strong individual. Do you agree or disagree with Ms. Jordan’s analysis? Can you name scenes from the book where the author demonstrates Tally’s uniqueness? Is Tally’s originality something you admire? Name some of the ways Tally is different from her friends and classmates. How can being different feel like a detriment? How can it feel like an asset? Why might you see yourself differently than someone else sees you?
8. Tally tells Ava: “‘I love how I look! I think I’m beautiful and unique, and I’m really proud I’m so big and strong. I also think there’s a lot more to me than how I look.’” Can you name other instances in the story where she declares this or behaves in a way that shows she believes this? Can you find any scenes where her actions contradict this statement? For example, if she doesn’t care at all what people think, why does she hesitate to tell Ava’s secret, even if it means that the embarrassing photo becomes public?
9. Tally admits to herself that one of the reasons why she dressed oddly was because she “was kind of daring them to laugh.” Ava tells her, “‘You should care what people think about you. It’s immature not to, you know?’” Which girl do you most agree with? Is it better not to care, or is that an immature way of thinking? Can you share your reasons?
10. Tally says that Ava “never appreciated my sense of humor.” In fact, Ava thinks that Tally always wants “to turn everything into a fight.” What do you think is happening here? Is Tally funny? Is her sense of humor genuine, or is it hiding something? If you agree that Tally is looking for a fight, what do you think her reasons are? If you fight someone to protect a friend, like Tally does for Spider, does that make it okay?
11. Have you ever had an adult offer you what they thought were helpful hints, like when Mrs. Seeley suggests Tally might want to think about her diet and add some new outfits to her wardrobe? Mrs. Seeley says, “‘Women need to look their best if they want to succeed.’” Why might Mrs. Seeley have believed Tally needed her advice? Can one person’s lifestyle choices not be the right fit for someone else? Tally thinks Ava often sounds like her mom and wonders if she sounds like her own mom. What traits/behaviors might you have picked up from your parents or caregivers? Are they good traits, bad traits, or both?
12. When Tally is dreading boarding the bus to Washington, her mom tells her, “‘Don’t decide this will be bad before anything happens.’” Why do you think Tally has such a pessimistic attitude toward the trip? Is this surprising to you, especially since she tells Caleb he should adopt the name Spider and “‘to stop being a negative, just turn it into a positive’”? Overall, does Tally come across as a positive or a negative person? How about you? Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Where do you think that trait comes from?
13. What do you think about Tally and Spider’s friendship? Is it an equal partnership? Give some examples that explain your answer. Why does she feel so responsible for what happens to him? Why does she have such a hard time understanding that he might want to make new friends and try new things? Why can caring for someone also mean letting them go? Does the fact that Spider is a boy and Tally is a girl explain any of their recent disagreements? Can boys and girls be friends?
14. On the trip, former bully Marco is friendly to both Tally and Spider. In your opinion, can bullies change? Do they deserve a second chance, as Ms. Jordan says? Should they be forgiven if they show new behavior?
15. Tally says Spider “basically [would] become invisible, and that’s not the worst thing, if you’ve been bullied.” Do you agree with this statement? What do you think are positive things about flying below the radar? Does it feel safer? Can you list some reasons why you think it’s not a good thing to be invisible?
16. How did you feel about Tally and her friends’ decision to spy on their roommate enemies? Is it natural to be curious and want to know the juicy details about other people’s lives? Given Ava’s big secret, is it always wrong to invade someone’s privacy? How would you feel if you caught someone snooping through your things?
17. Discuss the issues of choice and responsibility when it comes to Tally telling on Ava. Do you think that after Tally discovers Ava’s secret but doesn’t tell, that she then becomes responsible for Ava? How much responsibility do we have for helping others against their wishes? Do you sympathize with how difficult it is to make a choice that’s not popular, like telling someone’s secret? How might you handle a choice like that?
18. Is it “crazy to worry about someone who hates you,” as Tally wonders? Is it ever a bad thing to take care of someone else? Give some examples from the book that might support your answer. Are you a caretaker like Tally? Do you feel that gives you the right to tell other people what to do?
1. Write a letter to the editor of a fashion magazine asking them to include models with more realistic body types. Give them your reasons for asking.
2. Choose a website from the resources listed below or from the list included in the book. After reading through the information there, create an activity that your class can do together that would educate everyone about eating disorders. For example, create a list of facts about eating disorders and treatment that your classmates must answer as True or False, or ask your classmates to help you role-play a conversation between two friends or a parent and child, one who is struggling with an eating disorder.
3. Write an opinion essay explaining what you admired about Tally and what might have frustrated you about her, and what you might have done similarly or differently if you were in her situation. Include specific examples from the book to support your thoughts.
4. Design and draw a poster that includes the warning signs of an eating disorder, and post it in your classroom to help raise awareness.
5. Choose one of your friends and classmates, and make a “What I Like About You” poster. Then make a “What I Like About Me” poster!
6. As Ms. Jordan says to Tally, “‘Words are powerful tools.’” Use your powerful words to write a letter to an imaginary friend with an eating disorder, persuading them to get help.
The following websites, and those included by the author in the book, will help you learn more about recognizing and preventing eating disorders:
About Eating Disorders, from TeensHealth
How Can I Talk to My Parents About Getting Treatment?
Addressing Eating Disorders in Middle or High Schools
National Eating Disorders Association
Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center
Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness
Academy for Eating Disorders
Guide written by Bobbie Combs, a consultant at We Love Children's Books.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.