"I'm wild about Sasha . . . You'll like her, too." - Gregory Maguire
Meet Sasha Abramowitz: smart, funny, resourceful. Aspiring writer and pastry chef. Good listener (usually), good talker (when she feels like it), good friend (most of the time). Good sister? Well, that's more complicated. You see, her brother has Tourette's syndrome, which is really his problem, but in a way it's Sasha's, too (he can be pretty embarrassing at times). Let's just say she's working on it. Anyway, he's away at a special school (until a fire sends the students home, unexpectedly). But with her baseball-loving professor dad, a mom who teaches neuroscience, a babysitter who's the star shortstop for the Krieger Cats and doubles as a magician and card trickster, an ex-babysitter who becomes her substitute teacher, and an on again-off-again best friend, Sasha is not alone. As she struggles with changing friendships and feelings about her older brother, learns her lines for her part in Cheaper by the Dozen, gets to know James, the quiet boy who plays opposite her, and helps the doctors solve a medical mystery, she comes to see herself and her life in a different light.
In this original novel, Sasha tells her story, complete with footnotes, card tricks, appendixes, and all her best vocabulary words, with brio.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|File size:||393 KB|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
About the Author
Sue Halpern is the author of a novel for adults, The Book of Hard Things, as well as nonfiction books.
Introducing . . . Sasha Abramowitz is her first book for young readers. She lives in Ripton, Vermont.
Sue Halpern is the author of a novel for adults, The Book of Hard Things, a novel for young readers, Introducing . . . Sasha Abramowitz, as well as two nonfiction books. She lives in Ripton, Vermont.
Read an Excerpt
Introducing ... Sasha Abramowitz
By Sue Halpern
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2005 Sue Halpern
All rights reserved.
Call me ... Sasha. Sasha Abramowitz. That's my name, pretty much. Officially it's Sasha Marie Curie Abramowitz, but I think it's weird having someone else's name sitting right in the middle of my own, even if it is the name of the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only one to win it twice. (And get this, Marie Curie was married to a man who also won a Nobel Prize, and they had a daughter who won a Nobel Prize, and that daughter married a man who won a Nobel Prize. So don't you just wonder how her other kid, the only member of the family not to win a Nobel Prize, felt? I'll bet nobody has her name parked in the middle of theirs.)
My parents thought it would be inspirational, adding Marie Curie's name to mine, as if somehow her greatness would rub off on me. When I used to complain, my father would shake his head regretfully and say, "You know, Sasha, we came very close to giving you her maiden name, too, but there just wasn't room enough on the birth certificate." I guess you have to be thankful for the little things. Like not being named Sasha Marie Sklodowska Curie Abramowitz.
Though it's probably too early to say for sure, I don't think their plan is working, because even though I'm only eleven, I kind of doubt I'm going to grow up to be a chemist (Marie Curie's Nobel Prize #1) or a physicist (Nobel Prize #2). I want to be a writer. A writer and, maybe, a pastry chef. Personally, I think they should have given a Nobel Prize to the person who discovered double fudge brownies. The kind without nuts. Putting nuts in brownies was a very bad idea and, not to be too mean, I truly hope the person who came up with it lived to regret it.
My mother, believe it or not, loves nuts — walnuts, in particular. She says that viewed sideways they sort of look like the hippocampus, which she also loves. When I was really little I thought the hippocampus was some sort of large African mammal (how it also looked like a walnut, I couldn't tell you). It turns out, though, to be part of the brain, which is what she studies — the parts of the brain that have to do with memory. (You should see her lab. It's gross.) Mom and Dad are both teachers at Krieger College, which is where we live, in a dorm. They're the dorm parents, which means that when dopey Caroline Fleck locks herself out of her room again, or when sad sack Tommy Mendoza is dumped by his girlfriend (also again, though I don't think I'm supposed to know that), or it looks like Jillian Kramer, who has perfect hair and perfect skin and perfect clothes, is not going to pass Spanish, my parents try to help them out. They unlock Caroline's door, and give Tommy a hug and a glass of chocolate milk, and get Jillian a tutor. Kids bang on our door day and night, but especially night, which always makes our dog, Tripod, howl, with one exception: when she smells Frank Benjamin coming. Tripod always knows it's him and lies down, rolls over, and madly waves her three legs in the air before even one of Frank's knuckles has touched wood. (Fact: No one ever says what happened to the other leg. By the time I came along, it just wasn't there.) Frank says that for his senior project he is going to make a fourth leg for Tripod that will work and look just like a regular leg, but actually will be a small computer. The only problem with this, I keep telling him, is that then Tripod can't be called Tripod, because she will no longer be a three-legged dog.
"No need to be so literal, Sasha," my father says. "The world has room for a four-legged Tripod."
That is typical of my father, who is a poet. He writes poetry for two hours every day at the barbershop downtown. They even have a special chair reserved for him. He says it's the best place to write because it has "atmosphere." He says his office at the college, where he teaches English, is too dull. "It's not a good medium for fermenting the creative juices," he tells people, which makes it sound like he's making cider, not poems.
My father likes words. He likes how sometimes there is only one word in the whole world that will say the thing that needs to be said — and how sometimes words are runny like watercolors. Since I was little we've played the "Like" game, which is not about what I like (double fudge brownies, obviously) but about making word pictures. We started with clouds: "That cloud looks like ... a dolphin. That cloud looks like ... a peach. That cloud looks like ... Mount Shasta." Then we moved to trees and bushes: "That tree looks like hands reaching out to God. That tree looks like an arrow. That bush looks like an old woman wearing a housecoat." Everything is fair game: "Those olives are staring at me like a pair of vacant eyes," Dad said to me one night when we were putting out vegetables and dip for a college party. "The wind is howling on the other side of the door like an impatient wolf," I told him during a really bad storm.
It's a good game. We play it a lot in the car, especially when we're driving to Massachusetts to visit my brother. That's another thing about me: I have a brother. His name is Daniel. He's six years older than I am and goes to a special school for kids who are sick. Not sick in the throwing-up kind of way, but sick as in their minds don't work quite right. So that's the last thing you should know about me, at least for now: I have a brother and he has "problems."CHAPTER 2
Don't feel sorry for me or think I'm a freak just because my brother is who he is. And don't feel sorry for him or think he's a freak, either. That's what my parents say: "Don't feel sorry for him, Sasha; what is, is," even though I do feel sorry for him. I feel sorry for him every single day of the year, and especially on his birthday, when I wonder if he feels sorry that he was even born. "He doesn't think that way," my mother says, but how does she know? Even if she studies the brain, does that make her a mind reader?
Here's the thing about Danny: he didn't always go to Trannell Academy, and we didn't always live in the dorm at Krieger College. Danny used to live with us, in our house, which was a real house, a three-bedroom split-level with a pretty big backyard and one of those aboveground swimming pools with a redwood deck around it. The people we bought the house from put it in and they would have taken it away with them, too, if they weren't moving to Idaho or Montana, I don't remember which, but someplace cold. And if they had taken the pool, we might still be living there and Danny wouldn't be at Trannell, though you can never know these things for sure. Still, I think it was the pool that did it, the pool that got things going in the direction they went. "The swimming pool is like a snowball," I said once to my father, but he said, "No, I don't see it. You haven't painted a clear enough picture." But how clear did he need it to be? A snowball rolls down a hill, picking up more and more snow, getting bigger and bigger, mowing down everything in its path. He, of all people, should have known that.
We moved to that house when I was two and Danny was eight, so I don't really remember living anywhere else, even though we came from New York City, which you would think might have impressed itself on my brain. All those taxis honking their horns, all those car alarms, all those streetlights, all those restaurant smells. My mother didn't want to make the move. She had grown up there and didn't see why we shouldn't, too. It was where she had gone to grade school and high school and college and graduate school. She had a good job there, at Columbia University, which is where she met my father, who had grown up in New Jersey.
"Leaves," my father would say, making his case for moving out of the city. (At least, this is what he told me.) "Grass. Fresh air."
"Hay fever," my mother would reply. "Ragweed. Pollen. Mucus." (Actually, I'm not sure she said "mucus," but she probably thought it. That, and "tissues." She is very germ-conscious.)
Even though we eventually left the city, it wasn't because my father had won the argument or my mother had lost. It was because of Danny, when they found out.
My mother says that maybe if she hadn't been a brain researcher, she would have figured out about Danny sooner. "The brain is so various," she likes to say, meaning that because everyone's brain is different, people are different — they behave differently, they are interested in different things, they learn things at different paces. (No kidding: I'm really good at math, but my handwriting stinks and I can't seem to make it any better no matter how hard I try.) My father gets mad when my mother says she should have known sooner, because, he says, she is blaming herself. "It is a pointless exercise," he tells her, which doesn't make her cry any less. (Fact: One good thing about my parents: they don't usually pretend everything is okay when it isn't.)
I think maybe they were sidetracked about Danny because he was so cute. I mean, really. Danny was one of the cutest babies in the history of the world. I've seen the pictures. He had big green eyes and shiny red cheeks and curly black hair. And he was easy. Mom says he was a much easier baby than I was. (Apparently, I had a lot of gas.) He wasn't especially demanding. He actually seemed to like lying on his back in his crib for hours at a time and would get mad if someone tried to move him. Mom says it was like he was thinking, like he was solving one of the great mysteries of the universe or some particularly difficult equation.
"What did I know?" she told me. "I never had children before. I didn't have brothers or sisters. It was all new to me, and of course all parents assume their baby is a genius, the next Einstein."
"You mean the next Marcia Abramowitz," I said, referring to my mom. She is really smart. She's so smart it scares me sometimes.
My mom blushed. She has the same pale skin and curly black hair as Danny. I favor my dad, which is to say I'm not as good-looking as those two. My hair is the color of tree bark, and my eyes are basically black. My parents tell me I'm beautiful, of course, but one night I heard Dad tell Mom that I was going to grow up to be one of those girls people say look "interesting," which I didn't exactly take as a compliment.
* * *
"So how did you figure it out?" I asked my mom. "About Danny, I mean."
You know how in every family there are some stories that get told over and over again — like the time Aunt Ida got locked in the bathroom on the Amtrak train and had to climb out the window at Union Station, or the one about the trip to Disneyland, when Mickey Mouse accidentally stepped on Billy's toe? Well, in our family those stories are almost always about Danny, and my favorite (not favorite because I like it the best, but favorite because I want to hear it the most) is the one where my parents finally understood what was what.
This is how Daddy tells it: He'd taken my brother to a Mets game. Danny was seven. The Mets were losing, and everyone in the bleachers was yelling and screaming. During the seventh-inning stretch, right after they sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," a man on the other side of Danny leaned over to my dad and said, "Pretty unusual kid you've got there." Daddy was just about to thank him, because in our family "unusual" is a synonym for "great," but before he could, the man said, "I didn't know how to cuss like that till I was in the Navy." Daddy had had his headphones on for most of the game, so he hadn't heard Danny himself. (Believe it or not, Daddy listens to the game on the radio even when he's in the stadium watching it so he can hear what the commentators are saying.) But when the game started up again he kept them off, and sure enough, every once in a while Danny let loose a string of words that according to Daddy would make a grown man blush. Later, when Daddy told my mother about it, she said, "Were the Mets winning or losing?" "What kind of a question is that?" Daddy said, pretty annoyed, and then he added, "Losing. But it was very close." And then Mom said, "Coprolalia," and Dad made a joke, saying, "No, Bobby Bonilla was in right field." Then Mom got mad and said, "Get serious, Barney. Coprolalia means repetitive swearing. It can be triggered by stress. It's usually a sign of a serious neurological problem." And the rest is history. (Translation: The rest is everything that happened after that. The doctors they saw, the tests they did, the schools Danny was in, the kids who wouldn't play with him, the medicines he had to take. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.)
My doctor, who I call the Eraser, even though the sign outside his office reads EDGAR RAYMOND SERKOWSKY, M.D., says the reason I want to hear this story is because I want to make sure that I am not going to turn out like Danny. He has a point, which for me is saying a lot, since I'm not exactly a big fan of the Eraser's. He always wants to talk about my feelings, as if by talking about them they'll go away or something. (Note: That's why I call E. RAYmond SERkowsky the Eraser.) How does it feel to have a brother like Danny, he wants to know. How does it feel to have a brother who has to go to a place like Trannell? How does it feel to visit him there? I know it's not really the Eraser's fault — asking questions like that is just his job — but the truth is, most of the time I'd rather not talk about it. It's bad enough having a brother who isn't normal, but then to be forced to discuss it out loud, with a stranger? Not that he's a stranger anymore. It's been three years, and mostly when I go there we talk about the Eraser's cats, Tom and Jerry, and how he grew up in a lumber camp somewhere in Canada where his father was the foreman, and what books I happen to be reading at the time or what movies I've seen or what's going on at school. I think he thinks I don't notice it when he sneaks in questions about me and my family, but how could I not? The fact is, I've got a kind of radar for questions like that.
I used to be embarrassed to have to see the Eraser twice a month: If someone I knew saw me going into his office, what would they think? I wanted to wear a sign that said I'M NOT COMING HERE TO TALK ABOUT ME. I'M ALL RIGHT. When I mentioned this to the Eraser he said, "So, Sasha, do you resent Danny?" which made me want to scream at him, "Of course I resent Danny. Wouldn't you?" But instead I just looked at him sideways and said, innocently, "Why?"
The Eraser is not stupid. I mean, he knew I was lying.CHAPTER 3
Have you ever noticed how everyone is always telling you to be honest all the time, and then how everyone lies? Either they say things that are just untrue, or they don't contradict someone else who says something that's untrue. (Note: "Contradict" was one of my vocabulary words this year, and my teacher, Mrs. Blank — I'm not lying, her name really is Mrs. Blank — encourages us to use our vocabulary words in our writing.) I'm not saying that I don't do this, too. I mean, look at me and the Eraser. He says, "Do you resent your brother?" and I say no, and pretend I don't have any idea what he's talking about. That's Lie #1. He knows I'm lying and doesn't say anything about it. That's Lie #2. Instead, he changes the subject and says, "Tom got his tail caught in the closet door and had to go to the vet. The vet said we should let him sleep with us that night so we could monitor his pain. Boy, did that make Jerry mad."
"What did Jerry do?" I asked, thinking less about the cat than about the Eraser and his wife lying in bed, and wondering if he sleeps in his underwear like my dad.
"He didn't do anything," the Eraser said.
"He didn't do anything?" I repeated. "If he didn't do anything, how do you know he was mad?"
"It was obvious," he said. "In the morning Jerry wanted nothing to do with Tom. He just pretended Tom wasn't there. Even when Tom sat on Jerry's head, Jerry pretended he wasn't there. Or that he was a hat. I don't know."
Fact: The Eraser is always admitting what he doesn't know. But that's basically a lie, too. "I don't know how you're feeling, Sasha," he says all the time. "I need you to tell me."
But why does he need me to tell him? What does he care?
"He cares because it is his job to care," my father says. "Plus, how could he not care about you? You're Sasha Abramowitz." He says this as if I were Eleanor Roosevelt or Queen Elizabeth — someone famous like that.
"Not famous, Sasha," Daddy says. "Special. You're special."
Excerpted from Introducing ... Sasha Abramowitz by Sue Halpern. Copyright © 2005 Sue Halpern. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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