What do you get when you cross the Virgin Mary with Brooke Shields, add a trash-talking beauty queen wannabe and throw in a couple of talking nipples? One of the most laugh-out-loud books you’ll read all year.
Peter Paddington is 13, overweight, the subject of his classmates’ ridicule, and the victim of too many bad movie-of-the-week storylines. When Peter’s nipples begin speaking to him one day and inform him of their diabolical plan to expose his secret desires to the world, Peter finds himself cornered in a world that seems to have no tolerance for difference.
Peter’s only solace is “The Bedtime Movies” perfect-world fantasies that lull him to sleep every night. But when the lines between Peter’s fantasy world and his reality begin to blur, no one is safe from the depths of Peter’s imagination especially Peter himself.
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About the Author
Brian Francis has worked as a freelance writer for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including NOW and Xtra. In 2000, he was the recipient of the Emerging Author Award, presented by the Writers’ Union of Canada. He lives in Toronto. Fruit is his first novel.
Read an Excerpt
a novel about a boy and his nipples
By Brian Francis, Jennifer Hale
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2004 Brian Francis
All rights reserved.
My name is Peter Paddington. I just started grade 8 at Clarkedale Elementary School. Six days a week, I deliver the Sarnia Observer and the other day, my nipples popped out.
I've always had boobs, but not girl-boobs. More like the "I need to lose weight" kind. I'm not thrilled about them, but they're pretty easy to hide under my sweatshirts, and it's not like I ever jog or anything, so they stay in place. Besides, I know I won't have them for much longer because I'm planning to start my diet any day and be thin and normal by Christmas.
I know that I've got my work cut out for me, because there are lots of things about me that need fixing. For starters, I'm big-boned, which is a nicer way of saying "All my pants have elasticized waistbands." When I stick my finger into my belly button, it goes just past my second knuckle. That's my own test to see if I've gained weight or not. Last year, my stomach only went to my first knuckle, so I've put on a knuckle's worth of weight this year.
There are plenty of other things wrong with my body. Last year, I started growing hair on my legs and in my armpits, which was pretty disturbing. I was already having a hard enough time getting over the new hairs around my dink. Before that, I had peach fuzz, which I didn't mind at all because it was soft and blond, like the hairs inside a corn husk. But then it turned brown and curly and now the hair looks like the stuff that comes out of the tops of corn husks, all dried up and burnt by the sun. I thought about shaving my dink hair off once, but then I read somewhere that if you shave a part of your body, the hair grows back thicker and bushier. And then you're really in a pickle, because even though you're shaving like crazy, the hair will keep coming back like an angry weed until one day, you can't even see your dink anymore. That's how hairy you'll be.
The hair on my legs is softer than the hair around my dink, but it still grosses me out. I wish my legs were bare and tanned, like James MacDonnell's. He's adopted and sits two rows over from me. He has a tan the whole year through, even in the wintertime. He must be Mexican. Or maybe Greek. James came to school the other day wearing a pair of navy blue short shorts and I couldn't stop looking down at his legs. I had to be careful that I didn't get caught, especially by Brian Cinder. He sits behind James. So I pretended to study the patterns in the linoleum tiles. Was that a cow I saw? And over there, wasn't that the face of Jesus? I chewed my lower lip to look really convincing.
Anyways, I couldn't stop thinking about James' legs and I was so jealous of them. There he was in his tube socks and short shorts, not even thinking twice about what people thought of his legs. I haven't worn a pair of shorts since grade 6, mainly because I don't want to gross anyone out. Maybe my legs wouldn't look so bad if they were tanned like James' legs, but then, how are they ever going to get tanned if I never wear shorts? And since I never wear shorts, my legs have pimples on them from rubbing against my pant legs all summer long. So my legs have three strikes against them.
The only other boy in my class with hairy legs is Andy Dover, but he's pretty hairy all over. He's the tallest student in our class, too. Even taller than Mr. Mitchell, our teacher. I wonder if Andy is really thirteen, because he looks older. Sometimes, I think that Andy is a spy investigating our school. Maybe he's a secret agent and has to prove that the chocolate bar money we raised last year wasn't for new curtains for the stage. Instead, the money went to Mr. Grey, our principal, so he could buy drugs. Or maybe Mr. Mitchell stole the money to buy a new van for his wife and seven kids.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that there's no way Andy could be a secret agent. He's pretty stupid and spends most of his recess making fart noises under his hairy armpit. A secret agent would find better things to do with his time.
The morning I noticed my nipples, I was getting ready for school. I couldn't decide what to wear, since it was still hot outside. My grey sweatshirt would be cooler, but I wanted to wear the new black one I got through the Sears catalogue.
While I was standing there in my underwear, trying to make up my mind, something in the mirror caught my eye and I turned to look. My nipples looked like two little cherries.
"That's not right," I thought to myself and frowned. My nipples were round and puffy and not the two pink raisins they used to be. I ran my finger over the left one. It was soft as a rose petal. I turned sideways in the mirror and went from my nipples to my big white stomach to my dink with its burnt corn husk hair to my fat, pimply, hairy legs.
"This is the last thing I need," I said.
Then my mother banged on my bedroom door. "Hurry up or you're not going to have time for breakfast!"
It was hard to pay attention at school. I was afraid that someone might see my nipples poking out from under my sweatshirt. When my pencil tip broke during math class, I should've gone up to the pencil sharpener. But I just couldn't. So I finished off my questions using the broken lead stub, which wasn't easy, and my fingertips were all black by the time I finished.
While I was delivering papers later that afternoon, I kept my fingers crossed that Mr. Hanlan wouldn't see me. He usually keeps a lookout for me from his living room window. But he has to be careful that his wife doesn't catch him or she'll blow up and start screaming at him.
Mr. Hanlan is my favourite paper-route customer. He lives on Evergreen Street and works as an electrician. He's younger than most of my customers and has the brownest eyes I've ever seen. His wife, Mrs. Hanlan, is evil. She tricked him into marrying her because there's no way Mr. Hanlan would ever marry someone as ugly as her. She's so skinny, her arms look like toothpicks and her boobs look like acorns. She's got a very bad perm, too.
Mrs. Hanlan pretends to be all nice to me whenever I come collecting.
"Oh hi, Peter. Is it that time of the week already?" Or, "You must be awfully hot today. Do you want something to drink?"
"Keep your poison to yourself," I think.
I feel bad for Mr. Hanlan because I'm the only bright spot in his day. When he sees me coming up his driveway, I can just imagine the smile on his face. But if he ever finds out that I have a medical condition and my nipple disease might kill me, he'll get so depressed.
"What's the point of getting out of bed if someone has stolen my sun?" he'll ask.
"Shut up and go make some money!" Mrs. Hanlan will scream.
Anyways, while I was walking up the driveway, I noticed that Mr. Hanlan's car was gone, so he still must've been at work. Probably working overtime so that he can afford to get Mrs. Hanlan a new perm. I folded up the paper and stuck it in the mailbox before Mrs. Hanlan had the chance to run out and offer me a cup of bleach or something worse.
Tonight, I had trouble concentrating on my homework. I kept sneaking peeks down my pajama top to see if anything had changed. But my nipples were the same. Maybe even bigger. I snuck out of my room and went to the kitchen to grab some ice cubes.
"Peter, what are you doing?" my mom called out from the living room. She always thinks I'm up to something.
"I'm getting a drink," I said.
"It better not be pop. No pop after nine. You know that."
I put two ice cubes in a Kleenex and tucked them into my hand. Then I made my way back to my room, shut the door, and stuck my desk chair under the door handle, like I always do when I need top security. Then I unbuttoned my top and rubbed little ice cube circles on my nipples. Sure enough, they crinkled right up, like flowers blooming in reverse. So for a few minutes, I thought I might have cured myself. But it wasn't long before they got warm and swelled up again. Cherries on top of two scoops of vanilla ice cream. Thinking that gave me a craving so I went back out to the kitchen and scooped two balls of Heavenly Hash into a bowl and hurried back to my room before my mom noticed.
After putting the chair back under the door handle, I sat down on the floor with my ice cream and leaned back against my bed. I was scared about the future. Grade 8 had just started. How was I ever going to make it through the year with deformed nipples? How was I going to make it without anyone finding out my terrible secret? I was so worried that I almost didn't finish the ice cream.
"Why are you acting this way?" I asked my nipples, but they didn't answer.
My sister Nancy noticed my nipples the other day. I just know she's going to say something to Christine. They're always bugging me, calling me a Momma's Boy and that I'll end up like Uncle Ed, which isn't true at all because I know how to work a washing machine and the only reason I'm nice to my mom is because she's going through The Change and needs a lot of sympathy.
I could call them names back and say things like "Does Mom know you have a copy of Playgirl in your drawer, Nancy?" but I don't because that wouldn't be Christian and if Jesus had sisters who got on his case all the time, he'd still turn the other cheek and pray for their dirty souls. Plus, I'm afraid of my sisters. They're both older than me and once you get on their bad sides, you don't have much of a chance. Like a few weeks ago when Christine caught me in her room. I wasn't snooping. I was only looking for a pen. But she got pretty hot under the collar, calling me a "snoop" and saying "who keeps pens in their underwear drawer so don't even try that with me." The next night, I was in the bathroom, waiting for the tub to fill up. I was naked and bent over, checking the water temperature when I heard a click and then a scream. Nancy and Christine had picked the bathroom door lock with a hairpin and I turned around to see them standing in the doorway, pointing at my dink and screaming their heads off. I started screaming back at them and grabbed the only thing I could — my mom's hand mirror — to cover my dink. Then they raced down the hall and I slammed the door so hard, it cracked down the middle and my dad had to replace it.
"Not so funny now, is it?" he said as he screwed the new door into place.
"Dad, I'm not laughing, am I?"
"Are you sure your mother wasn't behind this? She's been on my back about a new bathroom door for weeks."
If my mother had her way, she'd make my father replace everything in our house. She wants to change the shag carpeting to low-pile, she wants sheers for the living room window instead of curtains, and she wants new cupboard doors for the kitchen.
"We've had these since the early seventies, Henry," she always says.
"So? They still open and close, don't they?"
If my father had his way, he'd want everything to stay the same until it either broke or the world blew up. He doesn't even change his washcloth. It hangs off the curtain rod like a sad flag. Every now and then, I'll get a whiff of it. My mom keeps telling him he should wash it, but he says he washes it every time he's having a bath, which is once a week.
"That's not washing it, Henry," my mom says. "You're not washing anything if you're cleaning your arse with it."
Anyways, I know that Nancy noticed my nipples, even though she didn't say anything. We were sitting in the living room. I was watching TV and eating Cheezies. Nancy was eating a row of Fudgee-Os, waiting for her boyfriend. André was half an hour late and Nancy was freaking out.
"Are you sure he didn't call?" she yelled. Her teeth were brown with Fudgee-O icing. But no one answered her because André is always late picking up Nancy.
Nancy and I were sitting there and I dropped a Cheezie. So I bent down to pick it up and as I grabbed the Cheezie, I looked up and caught Nancy looking down my top. She did it really quickly, but I'm pretty sure of it. It takes a lot to pull the wool over my eyes. I was wearing one of my old sweatshirts with a loose neck so she could've seen my nipples very easily. I sat back up and pressed one of the couch pillows against my chest. Nancy coughed, looked at the living room clock, and started working on a new row of Fudgee-Os. She wasn't going to admit to seeing my nipples, so I sent her a mental telepathy message.
"I'd watch it if I were you," I said as loudly as I could in my head. "One word and I'll tell Mom how long you and André were parked in the driveway the other night."
Just then, André's car pulled into our driveway and Nancy jumped up.
"Finally," she said, grabbing her jacket from the hall chair. As I watched her and André drive away in his blue car, I got a mental telepathy message back from her.
"Everyone's going to find out your secret sooner or later."
Today after school, I walked to the Shop 'N' Bag and bought some Scotch tape. The Shop 'N' Bag is in the Westown Plaza, which is a five-minute walk from my house. I think of the Westown Plaza as my second home, the one I go to when things are bothering me or a place to go on a Saturday afternoon if there's nothing on television. There's a Big V, a butcher shop called "Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe," a Bi-Way, two empty stores that have had "For Lease" signs in the windows for as long as I can remember, and "Papa Bertoli," the restaurant that Daniela Bertoli's dad owns. There's also a pet store called "Kathy's Kritter Korner." Daniela calls it "Kathy's Killing Korner," because she said that Kathy shoots the kittens and puppies she doesn't sell, but I don't think that's true because Kathy wears a gold cross around her neck. And I've caught Daniela telling lies to me before, like when she told me her dad tried to strangle her mom.
"I had to hop on his fuckin' back to get him off her," she said. "You can still see the bruises on her neck."
So I grabbed my binoculars and spied on the Bertoli's house the next day and when Mrs. Bertoli came out, wearing her Blue Jays toque and a T-shirt, there was not a single bruise on her neck.
The Shop 'N' Bag is at the very end of the strip. It's a small variety store that sells candy and chips, as well as birthday cards, roach traps, canned vegetables, hair gel, shoelaces, clothing dye, and black velvet paintings of sombreros. The man who owns the Shop 'N' Bag is Mr. Bernard. He has no hair but he's always very nice to me. That's because I'm a preferred customer. When the new 7-11 opened down the street, I made my mind up to keep shopping at Mr. Bernard's store, even though the 7-11 was closer.
"You still have the best selection in town," I told him one afternoon. He laughed and said "Thank you" and threw a Crispy Crunch into my bag, which already had a Sweet Marie and a chocolate milk in it. "Compliments of the house," he said.
The next Saturday, I told Mr. Bernard I really liked his sombrero paintings. "They're very high quality," I said. "I'm going to tell everyone on my paper route about them."
Mr. Bernard thanked me again, but didn't put anything in my bag. That kind of cheesed me off, because I spend close to five dollars there every week.
"Don't bite the hand that feeds you, Mr. Bernard," I thought as I walked out.
Today, when I put my Scotch tape on the counter, along with two Mars bars, I told Mr. Bernard I was wrapping presents.
"It's my best friend's birthday," I said. I had made up a whole story to cover my tracks.
"Oh, that sounds nice," Mr. Bernard said. "Do you need any wrapping paper? We have a nice selection of birthday cards over there, as well."
"No, I have all that at home."
"Is your friend having a party?"
"Yes. A big one, actually. Everyone from school is going."
"What did you get for your friend?" Mr. Bernard asked, putting the tape and the chocolate bars into a paper bag. He was asking too many questions, as far as I was concerned. I started to get suspicious.
"A bike? Well, that's quite an expensive gift, isn't it?" Mr. Bernard leaned across the counter towards me. I noticed he had dry skin on his cheeks.
"My paper route pays pretty well," I said and shrugged. I grabbed my bag and got out of there before Mr. Bernard could ask anything more.
When I got back home, I went straight to my room with my Scotch tape. I took off my sweatshirt and made a Scotch tape "x" across each of my nipples. I put my shirt back on and stood in front of the fan. I thought it was very smart of me to fake wind.
The Scotch tape isn't too bad, although it makes my skin crinkle under it. It looks like I have many-pointed nipples now. They're stars, which are better than cherries any day.
Excerpted from Fruit by Brian Francis, Jennifer Hale. Copyright © 2004 Brian Francis. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the story of a 13 year old Canadian boy. Peter Paddington is overweight and secretly gay. In spite of this, he has a strong spirit and most of the challenges he faces with school mates and adults are challenges even thin, straight people can identify with. High school is, for many of us, anything but "the best years of your life".Brian Francis has written a humourous novel that really captures life in Canada in the mid-80s. Peter's struggles and successes are those of everyday people and everything in this book rang true.
Charming, sweet, almost painfully funny.
This book is darkly funny and easy to read, but it also deals with very heartfelt human emotions. Anybody who has ever felt "different", like an outsider, or not one of the cool kids, can definitely relate to Peter Paddington. Probably my favourite Canada Reads book so far.
Everyone, I think, has had problems with body image, and most of up probably still have. Poor, poor 13-year old Peter. Not only is he overweight, unathletic, unpopular, but his nipples have become marshmallowy, cherry-like, sticking out and sensitive. He tries to tape them, and after the corner grocery storeman gets suspicious (in Peter's mind) about the amount of masking tape Peter is buying (for a school project), Peter comes up with the idea of binding them with his Mom's elastic bandage. This is only one of Peter's many problems. His family, his schoolmates, his one-and-only needy friend, his newspaper customers...they all cause unending angst to poor Peter. Fortunately, he has his dreams, his dreams, to keep him going. 'Fruit' was a derogatory name for 'la-de-da' boys when I was a teen. I didn't even know what gay meant or was. Well, neither does Peter. But reading about his teenaged life, I got to like him immensely and I do hope the author comes up with a sequel. I just know Peter will overcome!
When I'm out in public and I see a group of young teenage boys, I try my best to avoid them or ignore them. If I don't, I'll be subjected to fart humour, really dumb attempts at jokes, and foul language (apologies to any articulate, polite young teen boys for making this stereotype, but it's based on my experience). Despite this aversion, I enjoyed reading Fruit, a novel that takes you deep into the mind of a thirteen year old boy. Peter lives in 1980s Sarnia, Ontario, and is friendless, obese and gay. The story is very funny in parts, amusing throughout, and a little sad too. The author, Brian Francis, absolutely nails the details of Canadian life, so if you're looking for a novel that captures typical middle class Canadian culture, this is a good one. Rating: 4/5 stars.Why I read this now: 1. It's one of the five contenders for the upcoming CBC Canada Reads competition, and 2. the library had it available to read from their website without me having to leave the comfort of home, so I read this off the laptop (which is a nice lap-warmer on a winter's evening). I'm not sure WHAT exactly Canada Reads is supposed to be. Does it mean that everyone in Canada should read these books, or at least the winner? If so, I'm not sure if this is the right book for the competition. For one thing, humour is subjective, so while many people will find it hilarious, I know a bunch of people who wouldn't. Also, there is some pretty bad language and very personal and lewd details, so I know some people out there would find this book offensive. Definitely not a book for every reader.