Grass Angel

Grass Angel

by Julie Schumacher

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780440419235
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 05/24/2005
Pages: 196
Product dimensions: 5.26(w) x 7.72(h) x 0.51(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Julie Schumacher is an associate professor of English at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of two books for adults and stories which have appeared in The Best American Short Stories and in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards anthology. This is her first novel for young people.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read an Excerpt

chapter one

Summer camp, Frances Cressen understood, was for kids--not for their parents. Parents were supposed to send their kids away for a couple of weeks in July or August and miss them a lot while they were gone. And even though the kids might get lost out in the woods, or almost drown in a marshy lake, or get mosquito bites and poison ivy all over their bodies, they wouldn't miss their parents. Not very much. Their parents were supposed to be missing them.

But Frances' mother seemed to have the whole thing backward. She was going to camp. She had signed up for a retreat in Oregon. Two weeks of adult camp at the end of July.

"I don't get it," Frances said. "I thought I was going to camp. Here in Ohio."

"You are, but that's earlier. Yours starts on July sixth." Her mother was speaking with a certain determination, a quiet patience. When her mother sounded patient like that, Frances knew that her patience was actually wearing very thin.

"Why are you going?"

"I am going because it's my turn. And because I have the opportunity. You and Everett are coming with me." Frances' mother was a high school English teacher. She always spoke in full sentences. In only eight days, she and Frances would both be out of school for the summer.

"So what kind of camp is it again?"

Her mother sighed. She was doing laundry. She seemed to hate doing laundry. She often accused Frances and her brother, Everett (correctly, of course), of throwing perfectly clean clothes into the hamper to be washed, just so they wouldn't have to put them away. "It isn't a camp, Frances. I already told you. It's a retreat. A spiritual retreat. It's called Mountain Ash."

"So it's just like church." Frances picked up a clump of dryer lint and squeezed it.

"No, it isn't just like church. If it were just like church I could do it at home."

Frances sneezed. Little puffs of lint were floating around in the air in front of her. "I think you should do it at home. I want to stay here. I already have my summer planned."

"It isn't too late to change your plans," her mother said. "You need to be flexible."

"I think you should be flexible," Frances mumbled, low enough that her mother couldn't hear.

"I thought you might like a change of scenery." Her mother slammed her hip into the dryer, which made it start. "You always tell me that we never go anywhere."

Frances sulked. It was true that she sometimes complained about being stuck in Whitman, Ohio. She had been to Maine once, to see the ocean, and she had been to Washington, D.C., but almost every other day of her life had been spent inside a small red dot on the map, one hundred miles south of Cleveland.

"Two weeks at the end of July?" she asked. Mentally she subtracted fourteen days from her seventy-eight and a half days of summer.

Her mother nodded. "We'll drive there," she said. "We'll see the country. It'll be nice."

Frances subtracted six more days. Fifty-eight and a half days left. "How much Bible study is there?" She had gone to a Bible camp the previous summer. For two hours every afternoon, during the hottest part of the day, she and a dozen other kids had sat in a dusty basement and read aloud from the New Testament. Frances had fallen asleep during the birth of Jesus.

"None. It isn't a Bible camp. It's ecumenical. Nondenominational."

"What?"

"There's no Bible reading," her mother said. She tossed some clothes into the washer, then poured a cup of snowy powder on top.

"Okay, good," Frances said. "But what do we do all day? For two whole weeks?"

"For heaven's sakes, I can't tell you hour by hour, Frances. I'll show you the information. I have some pamphlets. There's a Learning Center, and they have a lake, and there's a children's program that goes up to the age of ten."

"I'll be twelve in September," Frances reminded her.

"They also have a junior baby-sitting program for people your age."

Frances didn't like the way her mother said "people your age," as if Frances was only an acquaintance, one of a large number of eleven-year-olds whom her mother had met. "I don't want to baby-sit all summer. I already baby-sit for Everett." Using her toe, she carved an F for Frances into a little pile of soap flakes that had landed on the floor.

"You very rarely baby-sit Everett," her mother said. "Besides, that doesn't count. He's your brother."

"If it doesn't count, I guess I don't need to do it, then," Frances said.

Her mother rested both hands on the edge of the dryer and looked down at its metal surface. Frances knew she was counting--at least to ten, and probably twenty--so that she wouldn't shout or say something she might later regret. Frances thought about taking back what she had said. Sometimes she felt as if a small and terrible person lived inside her and spoke with an ugly voice and had only ugly things to say.

"I think we should talk about this later," her mother said.

Frances said she didn't care if they ever talked about it at all.

They didn't for several days. But the subject came up again on Sunday, when Frances' mother wasn't home. She had been gone for only fifteen minutes when Frances' aunt Blue slammed through the door. "Tell me about Oregon," she said.

Frances looked up from the kitchen table, where she was reading the comics. Her mother had left her a note asking her to empty the dishwasher and sweep the floor, but she had tucked it under the sugar bowl and ignored it. "What about Oregon?" she asked. She wasn't particularly happy to see her mother's sister. Aunt Blue was clumsy and weird, and she sometimes said rude things about Frances' mother. She came over only on Sundays, when Frances' mother was at church. Everett and Frances used to go to church, too, but they had changed congregations so many times in the past few years that their mother had decided to let them stay home to avoid being confused.

"I heard you were going there this summer," Blue said. "I just wanted to hear it from the horse's mouth." She set a white paper bag in the middle of the page that Frances was reading.

Whenever Blue visited, she brought donuts, which Frances knew her mother wouldn't approve of. Her mother hadn't bought or eaten anything with sugar in it for several years.

At the sound of the bag opening, Everett raced into the kitchen in his truck-and-train pajamas, his straw-colored hair sticking up in tiny haystacks. He tore at the white paper sack and stuffed part of an enormous chocolate Žclair into his mouth.

"There's got to be something to tell me," Blue said. "Are both of you looking forward to the trip?" She began unrolling a cinnamon roll with her fingers. Blue lived alone in a sagging house behind Whitman's graveyard, and made a living doing something with computers. She worked at home. She was "brilliant. Amazingly bright," Frances' mother always said. "But awkward with people. She's very shy."

"It doesn't matter if we're looking forward to it or not," Frances said.

From the Hardcover edition.

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