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Leanna! Leanna , wake up!
Leanna Van Haver squeezed her eyes shut and covered her head with her pillow. But it didn't help. The shrill screams of her half brothers--no, half monsters, she corrected herself--pierced the pillow and stabbed into her eardrums.
Tomas and Juan were annoying enough one at a time; it was completely unbearable when they tortured her in stereo.
"I want to go home," Leanna wailed into her pillow. But the muffled sound didn't deter the boys at all as one set of tiny hands began pulling on her arm, while the other tickled her ribs.
"Leanna, wake up! Leanna, wake up!" Their constant chanting was almost as bad as the pulling and tickling.
If my fairy godmother were to appear right now, Leanna thought, I know exactly what I'd wish for. I'd be home in Fair Oaks, in my own bed, sleeping till noon with the door locked. And Juan and Tomas would be transformed into toads!
Fortunately, her wish would come true tomorrow. All except the toad part, of course. She was going home to Fair Oaks, California--a suburb of Sacramento--where she could sleep in peace without being annoyed by Tomas and Juan.
Throwing off the pillow, Leanna sat up in bed. "Listen, you little creeps--"
But she couldn't finish the sentence. Leanna's heart melted at the sight of the two small boys, their upturned faces turned toward her adoringly. Tomas, age six, had high cheekbones, dark, tanned skin, and slender limbs. He and Leanna resembled their father, Carlos Malig. Four-year-old Juan was a small, plump replica of his mother, Dora Malig, who was Leanna's stepmother. Both boys were so cute--Tomas looking like a little man, and Juan abrownskinned angel--that Leanna didn't have the heart to threaten to sell them to the circus, or to give them any of the other hideous punishments she thought they deserved when they were acting particularly obnoxious.
They're just excited. They've never had a big sister before, Dora had explained to Leanna earlier in the summer. And Leanna had understood. Until that summer, she'd known her father, Carlos, only through letters, phone calls, and her mother's stories. Carlos's new wife and sons had always been random faces in photographs.
The Maligs had always lived in the Philippines, while Leanna, her mother, and stepfather had lived in northern California. But now Carlos was teaching in a school in San Diego.
When Carlos had invited Leanna to spend the summer with him and his new family in San Diego, she was eager to meet them all. Eager and nervous too. Having little brothers was a totally new experience. Back home in Fair Oaks, Leanna's only sibling was her stepsister, Kelli, who was a few months older than she.
Leanna reached out and tousled Juan's hair. "So you guys want me to get up, huh?"
"Yeah," Tomas replied. Juan nodded. "Ma says we can go to the Philippine Festival when everybody's ready."
Leanna grinned. "She did? But I don't want to get up so early. I guess you'll just have to make me."
Shrieking with delight, the boys dove onto the sofa bed Leanna had slept on all summer, rattling the metal frame and rumpling the covers. Leanna tossed a blanket over Juan's head, then pinned Tomas with one hand and began tickling him mercilessly with the other.
"Boys! Para! Stop! Leave your sister alone!"
Leanna's stepmother, Dora, appeared in the arch between the kitchen and the living room, her youngest son, two-year-old Toby, balanced on her hip. Dora's dark eyebrows were drawn together in what Leanna assumed was a scowl. Far from striking fear into Leanna's heart, Dora's expression made
Leanna giggle. Her stepmother was much too young and pretty to look fierce, especially with Toby grabbing at her dangling silver earrings.
"I told them to see if you were awake," Dora apologized. "I'm sorry they turned it into a wrestling match."
"I don't mind. Besides, I was winning." Leanna hugged one half brother in each arm. "They weren't bothering me, honest."
"They know better." With a few sharp words in Tagalog, Dora sent her sons scurrying down the hall to their bedroom. Then she smiled at her stepdaughter and said, "Magandatng uma'ga."
"Uh...good morning?" Leanna guessed. Since she'd arrived in San Diego two months ago, Carlos and Dora had tried to teach her Tagalog, one of the most common languages of the Philippines. Leanna was half Philippine half American, and after two months of mispronouncing every word in Tagalog, she'd concluded that her tongue was part of her American half.
Dora clapped her hands. "Correct! You wait, Leanna, soon you'll be speaking Tagalog like a native."
"But I'm going home tomorrow," Leanna reminded her.
"There's always next year. You can practice with the tapes your father bought you. That way, when he sees you next time, he'll be so proud of how much you've learned."
Leanna didn't reply. It would be rude to tell Dora that she thought learning a foreign language like Tagalog was too much work and not worth the trouble. It would be ungrateful, even cruel, to add that she didn't know whether she wanted to come back next summer. Carlos and his family had done their best to give Leanna a fantastic vacation, but she didn't think of the Maligs as anything more than distant relatives.
Although Leanna had received birthday cards and pictures from Carlos for as long as she could remember, she didn't feel close to him. She'd been a baby when her parents had divorced and Carlos had returned to Manila. And her mother had remarried by the time Leanna had turned two.
Jason Van Haver, Leanna's stepfather, was the only "Dad" she'd ever really known. That was why she called Carlos by his first name--not "Dad" or "Father." Anything else made her feel disloyal to her mother and stepfather. As for spending every summer and some holidays with the Maligs...well, she was afraid she might hurt the Van Havers' feelings. And what about all the fun she'd be missing with her friends back home in Fair Oaks?
When Dora turned and walked toward the kitchen, Leanna wondered if she should have said something positive about being there or learning Tagalog. Leanna didn't want to upset Dora. It was just hard to get excited about a language and a culture she didn't understand or know anything about.
Carlos and Dora acted as if they were still in the Philippines. They ate strange foods, most of their friends were Filipinos, and when they rented videos, it was from a tiny shop that stocked Philippine films in Tagalog. Sure, it was interesting to learn about another culture, but Leanna didn't want to make it permanent. One mother and one father was enough, She didn't need another set of parents, another set of rules.
Leanna climbed out of the sofa bed, pulled up the covers, and folded the mattress back inside the sofa. Only one more night of sleeping in the living room, thank goodness!
Padding into the kitchen on bare feet, Leanna saw Dora frying up a pan of tocino, or Philippine bacon. Toby, clinging to Dora's leg, was chewing on a strip of dried pineapple.
"Oh, Leanna!" Dora turned, a spatula in her hand. "I didn't hear you come in."
"Mmmm, that tocino smells delicious," Leanna lied. Leanna couldn't stand the sweet smell--or taste--of the Philippine bacon. "Can I give you a hand?" she asked.
"Thanks." Dora nodded at Toby, whose sticky hands were wrapped around her leg. "I think he's dirty. The diaper bag is--"
"I know where it is." Leanna pried Toby loose. He let out a wail of protest, but she carried him toward the boys' bedroom, anyway. "When I offered to help, I was thinking of setting the table," she muttered to herself. It seemed as if she'd spent her entire vacation changing diapers. Rather than getting to know her birth father, Leanna had gotten acquainted with the smelly end of a toddler.
"After breakfast, we're going to Balboa Park for the Philippine Festival," Dora called down the hall to her. "We wanted to give you a treat on your last day here."
Leanna groaned loudly. Some treat! Hiking around Balboa Park in the blazing hot sun, eating strange food, and listening to people jabber in a language she couldn't understand! Whoopee!
"Is something wrong?" Dora asked. She sounded genuinely concerned.
For a moment, Leanna considered telling her the truth. Dora--at twenty-seven years old--was only eleven years older than Leanna, more like a sister than a stepmother. She wondered if Dora would understand how she felt. "Yes!" she wanted to shout. "Something is terribly wrong! I miss my mom, my stepdad, my stepsister, and all my friends! I know Carlos loves me, and I want to love him. I want to love all of you, but I hardly know you. I just don't know where I fit in!"
Leanna fastened a clean diaper around Toby's waist, picked up the little boy, and headed back to the kitchen. She'd decided to tell Dora how she felt. But by the time Leanna got there, she found Carlos standing by the counter, wearing a long, embroidered shirt and carrying a wide-brimmed straw hat.
"How do you like my barong Tagalog, Leanna?" he greeted her. "It's the Philippine national costume."
"Uh, are you talking about the shirt or the hat?" she asked.
Carlos chuckled. Dora joined in, and even little Toby giggled.
Leanna hung her head. They were laughing at her. She felt so stupid! She was tired of not fitting in, despite her long, jet-black hair and tanned brown skin.
I'm American, she thought. Why can't the Maligs accept who I am and stop pushing all this Philippine culture down my throat?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I read this book 12 years ago when I was 10 years, and I still remember it to this day. This is the book that convince me that reading is not so bad after all. Now at the age of 21 I can still remember it.