Little Chicago is an unblinking look at the world of a child who has been neglected and abused. It portrays head-on the indifference and hostility of classmates, teachers, and even Blacky’s mother, once these people learn his “secret.” Like Sura in The Buffalo Tree and Whensday in The Copper Elephant, Blacky is one of Adam Rapp’s mesmerizing voices, more so because it is a voice so rarely heard.
|Publisher:||Open Road Distribution|
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|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Rapp is also the author of a number of young adult novels, including Under the Wolf,Under the Dog, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist and winner of the Schneider Family Book Award; 33 Snowfish, an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults; and Punkzilla, which was named a 2010 Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Additionally, Rapp is the author of the upcoming adult novel Know Your Beholder (Little, Brown, 2015), the adult novel The Year of Endless Sorrows (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2006), and the graphic novel Ball Peen Hammer (First Second Books, 2009).
As a filmmaker, Rapp wrote and directed Winter Passing, starring Zooey Deschanel and Will Ferrell. He has begun production on the film version of Red Light Winter—starring Ben Foster and Olivia Wilde—which he adapted from his play. Scott Rudin is producing the movie.
A graduate of Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa, Rapp won the Lila Acheson Wallace Playwriting fellowship at Juilliard.
Read an Excerpt
By Adam Rapp
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 Adam Rapp
All rights reserved.
From the woods my house is so blue it's almost purple.
It is after the night and a light has been left on in the kitchen window.
The moon is still in the sky. It looks gray and heavy.
There's the night and there's after the night but the name for this keeps getting lost in my head.
The path is hard to follow but my legs move through the plants and sticks. There are rocks and garbage, too. The trees smell like pepper.
My legs are okay, I tell myself. My legs are good.
The air is cold and I'm shivering so much I wonder if I'll be able to stop. It's like when you get the hiccups.
I see some birds and this helps matters. They are black with small eyes and when they spring from a branch they shriek like people.
It's the morning, I tell myself. It's the morning.
When I come out of the woods I walk through the field and past the dead Ford Taurus. The mud is hard and black and there are shriveled cornstalks everywhere.
The sky looks metallic. The clouds are flat like fish.
My legs are still okay, I tell myself. My feet sting but my legs are okay.
In the back seat I see an empty case of Milwaukee's Best beer and several smashed cans. The early morning light makes the Ford Taurus look like it grew right out of the field. Like a farmer planted a car seed and never came back to harvest it.
Someone has stolen the steering wheel.
What would you do with a steering wheel? What would you use it for?
I touch the antenna. It is chilly and numb-feeling.
And there's my hands, too, I tell myself. My hands are okay, too.
Our backyard is swampy with dew. The grass is brown and colder than I thought it would be. The slime comes up through my toes. But it's a small yard and there's not much farther to go.
I walk under the swing set and past the poplar tree.
There's a cat up in the branches. He's gray with white stripes and he's staring at me like I'm the cat and he's the human.
Hey, I say to it with my mind. I try to use my mouth but it's not working.
I slip through the patio doors and stand in the kitchen.
I am breathing, I tell myself. There is air in me and I am using it.
The kitchen smells like tuna and dirty dishes. On the stove someone has left a glob of Velveeta Shells & Cheese in a pot. I poke at it and it's hard like a rock.
From my reflection in the window I can see that there's a brown leaf stuck to my chest. My hair is wet and matted. When I touch the leaf I can feel my heart squirming like an animal.
My heart's still working, I say. My heart works, too.
My feet sting more now and there's blood so I wrap them in Bounty paper towels with two-ply absorbency.
The refrigerator hums like it's praying. I look inside. There is a package of bologna and other items but my stomach feels sick so I close it.
The clock over the toaster says six-thirty but I know this is not the right time cause it's been stuck this way forever.
I peel the leaf off my chest and put it in the sink like it's a plate.
My fingers are okay, I say. My fingers work, too.
I walk down the hall and knock on my sister's door. I can hear her sleeping on the other side. Her breathing is deep and warm-sounding.
I knock again cause I feel like I'm disappearing. Somehow the knocking keeps this from happening.
My hands are scraped raw from the woods.
When Shay opens the door she leans against it like her bones are too heavy. She is wearing her Moby shirt and nothing else. The Moby shirt is red with blue letters and it goes down to her knees.
Her toenails are red. The other day I saw her coloring them with a Sharpie permanent marker.
She says, What time is it, Blacky?
Her eyes are half closed and mascara is smeared below her lids. She smells like cigarettes and hairspray.
I open my mouth to talk but no words come out. Instead I sort of baa like a sheep.
Shay wipes snots from her nose and looks at me for a second. Her nostrils are pink and raw.
How come you're naked? she says.
I make a fist in front of my genitals.
She says, Do you realize you're naked, Blacky?
I try to speak again but my throat feels like there's a fist in it. I want to tell her how I found a newspaper in the woods and how I was using it like clothes. I had it wrapped around my waist but it was wet and it kept falling apart.
Shay squints and says, And your feet. What happened to your feet?
I open my mouth and baa again.
I saw a sheep at a petting farm once. It had a face like a president.
Shay takes my head between her hands. Her breath smells like Doritos Cool Ranch tortilla chips and alcohol.
Talk to me, Blacky, she says. Talk to me.
Feeling her hands on my face makes me pant.
I was over at Al's, I finally say between breaths.
My voice sounds small and dead. I have to swallow that fist to talk again.
I just got home, I say. I was over at Al's.
You just got home?
I nod so hard my chin hits my chest.
Shay says, It's five-thirty in the fuckin morning, Blacky.
My neck works, too, I think, nodding more. My neck still works.
Ma let you spend the night on a Sunday?
I say, I had my toothbrush. Al was gonna drive me to school.
Shay looks like she's shrinking right there in her doorway. Like someone's pulling her away with a rope.
I want to go to her bed and climb under the covers. I want her to tuck me in and fluff the pillow.
Blacky, what's wrong with your feet? You're bleeding all over the place.
I feel an ache in my chest like I might cry.
They got cut in the woods when I crossed the creek, I explain. I was staying the night.
Shay crouches down and examines the paper towels.
She says, You got scratches all over your legs. Do you see how many cuts you got? She touches them and says, They're everywhere, Blacky.
There's black polish on her fingernails, too. Either that or they got smashed.
I say, Is Ma home yet?
She don't get home till seven-thirty, Shay says, standing back up. Her hair is red and wavy like Ma's. And her eyes are bluer than the house.
Shay says, Blacky, did somethin happen at Al's?
I was staying the night and then I woke up, I explain. I was staying the night ...
Shay takes me by the shoulders and looks me square in the face. Her pupils look like they're shrinking.
She says, Did Al do somethin to you, Blacky?
But I just go blank.
What did that motherfucker do?
Sometimes I wish I was a fish. This way I could breathe when I'm drowning.
I left my clothes there, I say. My Bears jersey and my toothbrush. I couldn't get my Nikes, either.
Shay says, Forget your Nikes!
I need em for Gym, I say. I need em.
This is so fucked, she says. I'm callin Betty and we're takin you to St. Joe's.
Then Shay turns and pulls on a pair of sweatpants and her green flip-flops.
For a second it's like I'm there but I'm missing at the same time. There's a poster on her wall but I can't figure out what's on it. I used to know this information. I even knew it yesterday.
Shay says, Go put some clothes on, Blacky. Go now!
When I try to turn toward my room I have to stop cause I realize that I'm urinating on the floor. It just comes out like water through a spout.
Shay says, Oh no, not in the hall, not in the hall.
Then she hugs me and helps me to the bathroom and my head goes real heavy but I aim so the last bit makes it into the toilet bowl.
Shay is crying and hugging me and saying, It's okay, Blacky. Everything's gonna be okay ...CHAPTER 2
When I wake up I'm lying on a padded hospital table with paper on it. The paper is cold and crinkles.
My head hurts.
My mouth is dry and tastes like a spoon.
A nurse in a white uniform is standing over me. She smells like gum and Jergens lotion.
I'm wearing clothes now and the light is harsh.
Somewhere I can hear Shay's and Betty's voices like bees buzzing on a window.
Hello, Blacky, the nurse says. She is tall with brown hair and she has a face like a hawk's.
Where am I? I say.
The nurse says, You're on the second floor of St. Joseph's Hospital. Your sister and her friend brought you in a little while ago.
Her voice is gentle and strong at the same time.
Shay must have got the clothes on me, I think. Shay did it.
I am wearing a pair of jeans from T.J. Maxx, a white T-shirt from my laundry pile, and my black Sunday shoes. The shirt smells damp and moldy. My shoes feel tight in the toes.
Would you like something to drink? the nurse asks.
I nod and she gives me a 7-Up with a straw. Like she saw it in her head and then it just appeared in her hand that way.
There's a black blood-pressure thing wrapped around my arm. While I drink from the straw the nurse puffs it up and makes it leak. My muscle swells so thick I think it might burst.
Is Shay still here? I ask.
The nurse says, She's next door speaking to Dr. Darius. We're just going to get some of these cuts cleaned up and then the doctor will need to examine you.
My ma works here, I say. She's a radiology technician. She's up on the fourth floor.
But the nurse doesn't register this fact. She's too busy removing the blood-pressure thing from my arm.
Can you take your shoes off for me? she asks.
Okay, I say, but my hands won't move. I stare at them for a second like they're someone else's hands.
Do you want me to help you, Blacky?
I can do it, I say, and then my hands finally move and I take off my Sunday shoes. The nurse sets them on the floor and opens a brown bottle.
What's that? I ask.
It's iodine, she says. It kills germs. We don't want any of those cuts on your feet to get infected.
Her breath is warm and minty-smelling.
This might sting a bit, she says, pouring the stuff over a cotton ball. It's orange and smells like it will hurt.
Just relax, she says. Breathe easy ...
While she cleans my feet I jerk and flinch.
There, there, now, the nurse says. There, there ... Then she dabs at the scrapes on my arm and the backs of my hands. After she bandages my feet I just sit there and drink the 7-Up. It's so cold it hurts my teeth but I finish the whole can in about a minute.
When I look up the nurse is gone and a tall African American man with a mustache is standing there. I didn't even hear the door. It's like he was hiding under the table.
Hello, Blacky, he says. I'm Dr. Darius. His voice is deep like a song.
Hello, I say.
He takes a step closer and takes my hand and looks at the cuts. He says, I bet that smarts, huh?
I nod and then he undoes his jacket and checks his watch. His mustache looks like he bought it at a store.
He says, I understand that you've had quite a morning. How are you feeling?
Okay, I say.
Your sister filled me in on some of the details.
His uniform is so white it almost hurts to look at. I try to drink from the 7-Up again but it's empty and I wind up making slurping noises.
Would you like another one? the nurse suddenly asks.
I have no idea how she got back in the room. I didn't even see the door open.
When I was running through the creek I thought I heard Al Johnson whispering my name. It made me run faster and I slipped and fell in the rocks.
... Blacky? the nurse says.
My hands are okay, I think. My hands are still attached to my wrists and they're working just fine.
Would you like another can of pop? Dr. Darius says.
Yes, please, I say.
Then the nurse leaves and when she opens the door I can see into the hall. Shay and Betty are talking to a woman with frizzy hair. The woman is writing things down on a yellow pad. Shay's doing most of the talking. Betty's just sort of standing there. She's wearing a blue bathrobe and her face looks dead.
When the door closes, Dr. Darius says, Blacky, this might be a little uncomfortable, but I'm going to have to examine you for a moment.
I'm okay, I say.
I know you might feel that way, Dr. Darius says. But we have to make sure.
Then the nurse comes back in the room with my 7-Up and another straw, but she doesn't give it to me this time. She just stands there like the police.
I say, What do you need to examine?
Dr. Darius says, Your rectum.
What's a rectum? I ask.
Your bottom, he says. The part you use when you go to the bathroom.
Why? I say.
Because we have to be sure about certain things.
I'm sure, I say.
I know you're sure, Blacky. But we have to be sure, too. It's part of the procedure. Would that be okay?
My ma works on the fourth floor, I say. She's a radiology technician.
We know that, Blacky. In fact at this very moment she's right next door to this room speaking to a woman from Children's Services. The sooner we get this done, the sooner you can see your mother, okay?
My ma's right next door? I ask.
Dr. Darius says, In the room just to our left, yes.
The nurse nods and makes a kind face.
Dr. Darius says, So if you'll take your pants down for me we'll get this over with real quick. There's nothing to worry about. I promise it won't hurt.
I nod and look down at my feet. The medicine is soaking through the bandages. It looks like spilled orange juice.
While I'm undoing my pants Dr. Darius puts white rubber gloves on. They make his hands look huge and fake.
I lower my underwear. I can see that these were taken out of the laundry pile, too. In fact, I notice from the size that they're actually my little brother's. Cheedle's a small and I'm a medium.
The room is cold and I feel myself shrinking.
Dr. Darius says, I'll need you to bend over for me so I can examine your rectum, okay?
The nurse won't look at my penis. She's looking at the 7-Up instead. She's looking at it so hard I think she might drink it.
Dr. Darius says, Bend down and touch your toes. Can you do that for me, Blacky?
Yes, I say.
We do toe touches in Gym. Toe touches and burpies. Coach Corcoran calls out eight counts. He always slows down at around six.
I reach down and touch my toes. Dr. Darius opens my butt. His hands are huge and warm.
Just relax, Blacky, he says. This will be over before you know it.
I feel like I have to urinate. A drop even falls on the floor.
Sorry, I say to the nurse.
But she just keeps looking at the 7-Up in her hand.
How old are you, Blacky? Dr. Darius asks from behind me.
Eleven, I say. I'm eleven but I'll be twelve soon.
When's your birthday?
November seventeenth, I say.
Sixth grade? he asks.
Yes, I say.
He's using something metal to open me up more now. It's cold on my butt. I imagine one of those tools you use in a garden.
He's gardening, I tell myself. It's okay cause he's just gardening ... What's your favorite subject in school? Dr. Darius asks.
I don't know, I say. Not dodgeball.
He laughs. His laugh is on my back like a cat.
Very good then, he says. You can pull your pants up.
I pull up my jeans and stand there for a moment. I don't turn around cause I feel stuck. Shay didn't use a belt and I have to keep my hands in my pockets so they won't fall back down.
I realize that there is no window in this room and it makes me feel trapped.
Are you okay, Blacky? the nurse asks.
I nod even though I'm still facing the other way.
I can feel Dr. Darius trying to communicate with the nurse behind my back. They're talking the way aliens talk. It's all about brainwaves and the eyes.
When I turn around he is gone.
Doctors are magicians in white coats and I think I'm forgetting how time works.
The nurse is still standing there with my 7-Up.
You can put your shoes back on, she says.
I watch my hands for a moment and then I put on my Sunday shoes.
Is Shay out there? I ask.
She left with her friend a few minutes ago, the nurse says.
I say, What about my ma?
She says, I'm not sure, Blacky. But Ms. Wolf from Children's Services would like to speak with you now. So if you'll follow me.
When we go into the hall, Ma is slumped in a chair and she is talking to two policemen.
Ma, I say. Ma.
She looks up at me.
Hi, honey, she says.
Her face is wet and puffy. She is holding several crumpled tissues. The hospital light makes her hair seem redder than it does at home.
She reaches out and squeezes my hand. It makes the scrapes sting but I don't care.
The policemen are huge and their faces look like concrete.
All the people in the hall seem sad and near death with boredom. There's a woman sitting on the floor and she's eating a McDonald's cheeseburger. She is so fat it looks like her body hurts.
And there's this nun walking around with no eyebrows. She's all in black and you can't see her feet. It's like she's floating around vampire style.
Where'd Shay go? I ask.
Ma says, She reeked of alcohol so I told her to go away. She left with Betty.
She blows her nose and starts scratching her arms. She's got this thing called eczema. She uses creams that smell like vegetable soup and metal. Once I walked into the kitchen and her neck was so red it could have been hamburger meat. She was leaning against the refrigerator and clawing away.
Sometimes I imagine her with no skin, just all her veins and various tissues.
Ma's got a depression problem, too. She took medication for a while but she stopped cause she said the pills made her feel loopy.
I think she gets depressed cause she works around all these sad people. Maybe sadness is like chicken pox and other contagious diseases.
Ma, I wanna go home, I say.
My throat gets that ache in it again.
She squeezes my hand again and says, In a few minutes, Blacky. After you talk to Ms. Wolf, okay?
Okay, I say, but I feel stuck.
Ma says, Go talk to Ms. Wolf. She's a nice lady.
One of the policemen says, Follow the nurse now, son.
His face looks less like concrete when he talks but I still have this feeling that he'll arrest me if I don't obey his orders.
Excerpted from Little Chicago by Adam Rapp. Copyright © 2002 Adam Rapp. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really wish there would have been a resolution to the child’s problems or at least some type of solid ending. I feel cheated. I feel like the last third of the book was just left off. I am not happy I had to read this book or spend money on it for that matter.
it was pretty um....different. but not in a bad way. i dont really like Rapp's style of writing, but i think i liked this one. from teh beginning i really didn't know what to think. i didnt know whether i was sad, disgusted. maybe confused. but i actually think its worth the read. i couldnt keep my eyes off it. and after a while i realized that life isnt like a book. its like adam rapp wrote it. endings arent always happy. lifes don't flow in a reasonable series. adn thats why i liked this book. it was realistic in a almost scary way. and i think its worth your read. unless your immature [12 and under/ or just mentally 12 and under] and if your judgemental, because you have to understand the character NOT judge him.