- Pub. Date:
"I'm not a human jukebox," Kira tells her dad, "or a dancing doll, or a puppet, where you press a button and I'll entertain you!" Yet since arriving in New York City, she's had to sing "Amazing Grace" and "Me and Bobby McGee" with him and her two little brothers, Chris and Charlie, for handouts on a subway platform. Singing like an angel. Wanting to stop singing forever.
Jake sings, but only in his dreams. In real life he'll do anything to keep his mouth shut because of his stutter.
Eugene's greatest dream is that the world will laugh with him and not at him. Eugene sings like a foghorn.
Ms. Hill, the school's music teacher, has ambitions for them all.
"My alto section could use some boys," she tells Jake and Eugene after they've been thrown out of the lunchroom for a kimchi incident, and she spots them eyeing her poster:
is there a singer inside you trying to get out? you know you want to sing. join the chorus!
"Uh, I don't think that would be us," Eugene says. "We're nonjoiners. Trust me. This works for everyone."
Until Jake meets Kira.
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|Publisher:||Atheneum Books for Young Readers|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
About the Author
She splits her time between New York City and upstate New York, where she and her husband have raised one son, three cats, and four ducks. Read more about Lucy and her books at www.lucyfrank.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Lucy Frank
Atheneum/Richard Jackson BooksCopyright © 2005 Lucy Frank
All right reserved.
Grandma was wrong. Dad's there, right where he said he'd be on the platform when I step off the train. "Look at you! All cute and grown-up!" he says. "Guys!" he tells my little half brothers. "Say hello to your big sister! Ki, I got you something!"
Before my emergency contact card is back in my pocket, he reaches into the bag on Charlie's stroller and pulls out a long, fluffy, feathered scarf. The feathers are crazy county-fair colors: peacock blue, acid green, yellow, purple, hot pink. He winds it around my neck. It's soft and tickly against my chin.
Grandma warned me not to expect a present from him. She was wrong about that, too. I throw my arms around him. "It's great, Dad! I love it."
He holds me at arm's length and looks me over. "I don't know," he says, checking out the jacket Aunt Phyllis got me for Christmas. He's wearing his same leather jacket. He's got his same ponytail and his cowboy boots. "It don't exactly go with that lavender."
"It's not lavender, Dad," I inform him. "It's periwinkle. With vapor gray." That sounded so cool when Aunt Phyllis read it to me from the catalog. I can't believe how lame it sounds now. At least I ditched the snow boots. The first thing I did, the second the train pulled out, was take off the giant clumpers and shove them under the seat. Where they remain. I'm probably fooling myself that they'll still be there waiting when I go back to Claryville. But, hey, Dad was here waiting, and I've got four days till I have to worry about it.
"I like your beard, Dad," I tell him. "The boys are huge!"
"You hear that, guys?" Dad pulls Chris's thumb out of his mouth, then leans down and lifts Charlie's cap up off his eyes. "Come on, Chazman! Give Ki a smile. Tell her all the things we're gonna do. None of that corny tourist stuff, Ki. I told them, we're gonna show you the real New York music scene. From the inside. Right, guys?"
Charlie pulls the cap over his face again. Chris looks at me like I might bite.
"What, you've forgotten how to smile?" Dad says. "You remember Kira!"
"It's fine," I say. The boys haven't seen me since Dad brought them up to Grandma's last summer. That's a long time when you're three and five. "You don't have to smile if you don't want," I tell them.
Dad folds the stroller and picks up Charlie so we can get on the escalator. Once we're at the top he grabs my bags and hangs them on the stroller. I refused to take the flowered suitcase. My clothes are rolled up in my backpack. But I have two shopping bags filled with other stuff Grandma's bought them at various times and then was too pissed to send, plus a gigantic bag of Christmas candy. All the diabetics and people with, like, denture problems at Pine Manor, where she works, gave us theirs.
"You hungry, Ki? You need something to eat?" Dad shouts as we start walking. You have to shout to be heard in here. Penn Station is echoey and blarey. And huge. It's mind-boggling how many people there are milling around. And so many stores and stands and kiosks. All of which are smelling good to me. I did really well staying out of the Pine Manor chocolates on the train. Just breathing this burger-y-doughnut-y air makes my stomach growl.
"I'm starved!" I shout back.
"Excellent! You ever had real New York pizza?" he says.
"How would I have had real New York pizza, Dad? I've only been here once, remember?" Five years ago. "And you were too busy marrying Tammy to get me any."
"Well, we'll have to rectify that, won't we, guys!" he tells the boys.
First, though, we stop at a pay phone. I use the pocketful of change Grandma gave me to call her at work and tell her about the scarf, and that the train ride down the Hudson was as gorgeous as everyone has said, and that Dad and the boys look great.
"Well," Grandma says. "I'm glad to hear it! Did he give you the money for your ticket?"
"Grandma, I just got here."
She's having a hard time forgiving him for not calling on Christmas day. And for waiting to invite me till the day after. Also for asking me if I'm still short enough to get by with a half-fare ticket. I haven't been twelve in three months. I knew he was just yanking her chain, but I should never have told her about it.
"Did you tell Russell that if he disappoints you or lets you down or upsets you in any way, I will personally come down and clean his clock?" she says now.
"No, I didn't!" I tell her. "It's fine, Grandma. Really. Everything's gonna be fine."
"Yeah, well, just make sure your baloney detectors are working," she says. Grandma swears she can smell baloney a hundred miles off, which just happens to be the distance between Claryville and New York City.
"She said to give the boys a big kiss and say hi to Tammy," I tell Dad when I get off the phone. That's another thing Grandma's upset about -- that Tammy always has another reason why she can't come up to visit. And that she didn't call to say how they liked their presents. "I mean, I know he was out on tour," Grandma said. "But that don't excuse Tammy."
"So, how've you been spending your vacation?" Dad asks as we walk through the station. "What's new up there in boony land? You still knocking 'em dead over at the old folks' home?"
"I guess." I hate it when he calls Claryville boony land. But I already told him on the phone yesterday that Aunt Phyllis hired me to sing at her office party this year. And that I sang "O Holy Night" at the Christmas Eve service. "I'm still singing at the Pine Manor Sunday socials, if that's what you mean. And I'm performing at their New Year's Eve party."
Dad laughs. "You and old man Corrigan?" Dad knows Mr. Corrigan. He's a resident at Pine Manor now, but he used to play piano in the bars and clubs around. "Should auld acquaintance be forgot," he sings in a quavery voice.
"He doesn't sound like that, Dad!" Mr. Corrigan may be eighty-four, but he's my friend. I love Mr. Corrigan. "He's still really sharp. And I'm the one who sings."
Dad shakes his head. "Oh, man! I called right in the nick of time, didn't I? Kira, you are in serious need of a life!"
I see his point. So when he says, "What else is doing?" I say, "Other than that, hmmm, let's see. There's beetle patrol." He turns to me blankly. "You know, those little spotted ladybugs that look so cute and smell so bad? The ones that come in through the walls every winter and buzz around everywhere and fry themselves on the woodstove? I vacuumed up two hundred thirty-three yesterday. I counted. And one flew into Grandma's coffee. And this morning one landed in her Raisin Bran, and she didn't have her glasses on."
I've got his attention now.
"And she swallowed it?"
"You mean them?" I nod.
"Uh-oh. Did she blow a gasket?"
"Oh, yeah." I'd punch anyone else making fun of Grandma. She's raised me since I was five. But it feels good to make him laugh. "Oh, yeah!" I say again. "We've got so many ladybugs I've started naming them. "There's Spot, Spotty, Speckles, Spotless...Dot -- "
"Whoa, there!" Dad holds up a hand. "Watch your step, Ki!" Dot's Grandma's name.
"You asked what I was doing. What about you, Dad?"
On the phone last night my two friends couldn't stop talking about Dad's band, asking if I'd sing with him if he invited me, since he did invite me to sing at his wedding, when I was, like, eight. Asking what I'd wear. Saying stuff like, "One day, Pine Manor, the next, the stars."
"Dad, so how's the band?"
"Actually," he says. "To tell you the truth, the band's taking a little breather at the moment. Which is why I thought this was the perfect time to get you down. Hey!" he tells Chris. "I see a pizza place over there. Let's go get Ki some pizza."
"You think they have a bathroom?" I ask as we step up to the counter.
"I doubt it." Dad takes his wallet from his jeans pocket, peers inside, checks the price list on the wall, snorts, and puts his wallet back into his pocket. "Them slices don't look as good as I was hoping," he says. "We'll keep going."
They looked pretty good to me, but we walk on, out of the main train station now, into a long, tiled hallway with a curved-tile ceiling. It's like walking in an endless tube. Dad explains about MetroCards, subway lines, uptown, downtown, locals, expresses. I'm too busy trying to look at everything to get it all.
Fitting two little boys, my bags, and the stroller through the turnstiles is a challenge, but we manage that and the stairs. The subway platform's as packed as the station. The noise level's crazy. So many people push onto the train it's a miracle anyone can get out.
I'm not scared, though. I hold tightly to Dad's arm when he wheels Charlie onto the train, but I don't think Grandma's right about the subway being full of muggers and pickpockets. I see people reading newspapers, listening to music, eating McDonald's. I see a woman reading the Bible, another fixing her eyeshadow, three girls my age flirting with some boys across the aisle. What I don't see is anyone over the age of three in a periwinkle jacket. I'm so glad I ditched the snow boots.
"Chris, hold on to Kira," Dad says when we get off. "Ki, do me a favor. Grab the front of the stroller so we can go up the steps. We're gonna take a little tour now. Ki, you're about to see the stars of tomorrow."
He leads us down another corridor. This one is grimier. It smells like dirt. "What are these nasty black blobs on the floor?" I ask Dad.
"Fifty years worth of chewing gum," he says. "Possibly a hundred. But what are you looking at the ground for?" He nods toward a niche at the top of the stairs where a guy with gray dreadlocks is playing the flute. He's playing jazz.
"Wow. What's he doing down here?" I say. "He's really good!"
Dad grins at me. "This is what I'm saying! Welcome to New York, Ki! You want to meet him?" He wheels the stroller over. "Yo, man, whassup?"
The guy stops playing. "Hey, Russ, what's happening?" he says as he and Dad go through a whole complicated handshake. "Whassup, big man?" he says to Chris. "How you doin', Shorty?" he asks Charlie.
"I'm not Shorty," Charlie tells him. It's the first thing I've heard either boy say.
"Meet my daughter," Dad says. "Kira, say hello to Malik."
I try not to stare at Malik's beard, which has a little skinny braid in the middle of it. The braid has a blue and white bead on the end. "Hey," I say.
"Kira's a singer," Dad says as Malik shakes my hand. "This here's the little girl with the big pipes. Kira can sing anything."
"Not really," I tell him.
"Don't listen to her," Dad says. "So, how's business? Where're all your tapes and CDs today?"
"Sold 'em." Malik smiles at me. "I like that feather boa, young lady. Thank you, baby," he tells a girl who's tossed a dollar in his flute case, which is filled with bills and change. Then he goes back to playing.
"How do you know him?" I ask Dad as we keep walking.
He laughs. "It's a small world, this music world. Malik does real well down here. Picks up some gigs from it too. Club dates, parties..." He nods toward an old man in filthy pants and broken-down shoes sitting on the floor with a sign next to him: please help me get something to eat. i got hit on the head. i suffer from blackouts. The man has no socks and no coat. I think about giving him some money, but all I have is the twenty-dollar bill Grandma's pinned to the inside of my shirt. "It used to be mostly guys like that down here," Dad says. "Now, everywhere you turn there's music. It's a whole underground world of music."
At the next set of stairs I pick up the front of the stroller before he asks. I'm hearing more music now. A hip-hop beat. The thump of a drum track. There's a big circle of people, clapping and whistling. We have to say "Excuse me, excuse me!" to get close enough to see. It's break dancers -- four skinny boys in tank tops and big jeans and do-rags. One of them, who I doubt is any older than me, is walking on his hands. Charlie is starting to get fussy, but we watch them for a long time.
"Amazing, huh?" Dad says. "I see them here a lot." He nods toward two girls stepping up to drop money in their box. "They rake it in, too."
More stairs, more tunnels, another train, more music: an old man this time, doing a crazy tap-dance thing, clacking two spoons together, tapping them on his arms, his legs, his cheeks, his nose. No more places to eat, though, and no bathrooms. At the other end of that station, or maybe it's another station, a man dances with a doll as tall as he is, with long, black curly hair and a short, ruffly skirt. Her high heels are glued to his shoes and his hands are in her pockets, so that when his hips move, hers wiggle too. "She's hot, right?" Dad says as the man tilts her backward, dips her, swings her around. People keep stepping up and tossing money in his box. Some people speaking a foreign language are videotaping him. Everyone except Chris and Charlie is smiling and laughing. Dad hands Charlie a pacifier, and says something in Spanish to the man. He answers, calling Dad "Russell."
"How do you know all these guys?" I ask Dad. "I didn't know you spoke Spanish."
"Sí, mi amor! There's a lot of things you don't know about me," he says, grinning. "Welcome to New York, Ki. You ready to check out one more station? We can shoot across to Grand Central. There's always really cool acts over there."
"Sure!" I say, even though my stomach's growling nonstop now. And if I'm dying for a bathroom, I know the boys must be.
By the time we come out, we've seen a man singing "La Bamba" in the middle of the platform, a man playing a violin that looks like it's made of glass, a man drumming on a bunch of upside-down plastic buckets. Dad would have kept going, but Chris and Charlie have totally had it. It's almost dark. My backpack feels like it's filled with cement.
"I hope you're not expecting, like, Trump Tower," he says as we turn off a big, wide, busy street onto a smaller one.
"Long as it has a bathroom," I tell him.
It's not as big as the building he lived in the last time we were down, but that could be because I was so much smaller. It's brick, with fire escapes on the front, and a wide flight of stairs leading up to a big, carved wooden door.
He doesn't go up those stairs, though. After he unbuckles Charlie and folds the stroller, he takes out a bunch of keys and unlocks the padlock on the gate that's part of this fence enclosing a flight of metal steps.
I follow him down the steps to a narrow paved area under the building stairs.
It's like going down into a cave. A cave filled with trash barrels.
He flips on another light and unlocks another iron gate. We step into a little entryway. There are no garbage cans in here. But there's a rusty birdcage, a pile of flowerpots, a squashed-in shopping cart, and an old ironing board. It doesn't smell like garbage, but it smells a lot like the subway.
"This is where you live?" I ask as he unlocks the door. I don't know what I was expecting. Not Trump Tower. But not this, either.
My heart sinks even more when I see inside.
One thing: I'll be safe down here. No one can break in. But how can I tell Grandma?
Copyright © 2005 by Lucy Frank
Excerpted from Lucky Stars by Lucy Frank Copyright © 2005 by Lucy Frank. Excerpted by permission.
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