Agnes has been encouraged not to question authority by her mom—but that’s especially hard in religion class, where it bugs her that so much gets blamed on Eve and that God’s always pictured one way. Fortunately, Agnes’ anthropologist neighbor, Gracy, gets Agnes thinking after they rescue an opossum together. Playing dead didn’t serve the opossum well, so maybe it’s time for Agnes to start thinking for herself. And when Agnes learns that some cultures picture God as a female, she feels freed to think—and write—about things from new perspectives. As she and her best friend, Mo, encourage each other to get out of their comfort zone at school as the quiet kids, they quickly find it’s sorta cool seeing people react when they learn you are very much full of thought-provoking opinions. Ann Braden has written a fast-paced, funny novel that will resonate with anyone who’s ever been afraid to say what they think or question the status quo.
|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Lots of kids have to get braces, but not everyone needs them because their adult canine teeth won’t descend from the roof of their mouth. Weird, right? Just be glad you weren’t there a few weeks ago when they excavated mine like I was a human archaeological site. And it doesn’t help that the neighbor who brings me to all my orthodontist appointments is always sitting in the waiting room reading an archaeology magazine when I come out.
Today as my orthodontist tightened my braces, he joked that I was probably extra sweet since my sharpest teeth were buried so deep. I just nodded. It’s not like I could say anything with all that equipment in my mouth anyway.
I didn’t have anything to say as we drove home either. My mom was so relieved when Gracy, the neighbor lady, agreed to bring me to these appointments since my mom can’t take time off from work. But it’s awkward. Gracy tried starting conversations at the beginning. “How’s school?” “Fine.” “What’s your favorite subject?” “Lunch.” We didn’t get much further since I was pretty sure there’s not much someone around seventy has in common with a twelve-year-old kid. Now we mostly drive in silence.
Until this afternoon, when Gracy screams: “Opossum!”
She slams on the brakes, and immediately the guy behind us starts honking. But instead of driving forward, Gracy turns off the engine and actually gets out. In the middle of the road!
“What are you doing?!” I call after her.
She says something, but I can’t hear because of the honking. She pops the trunk and starts rummaging around. What could she possibly be doing? Maybe my mom shouldn’t have been so eager to hand me to the first warm body with a car she found. I sink down into the seat so no one can see me.
But then Gracy opens my passenger door. She’s wearing thick blue rubber gloves and points to something lying in the road.
“An opossum,” she says. “We’ve got to save it.”
What reality is this? I peer over the dashboard at the opossum lying in front of us. “Isn’t it dead?”
“Probably just frightened into a state of shock.” Gracy hands me a pair of gloves. “Agnes, if you help, we can move it to the edge of the road so it stays safe. There might be babies in the pouch.”
“They have a pouch?” I say.
“Yes, they’re our continent’s only marsupials. Let’s check.”
I glance back at the line of cars forming behind us and the guy still honking his brains out. Everyone will see me if I get out of this car. I can’t.
But what if there are babies in the opossum’s pouch and it’s my fault they don’t make it?
I pull on the gloves and join her beside the motionless opossum.
My breath catches in my throat as she gently opens the opossum’s pouch to reveal what look like a dozen tiny, squirming babies. And I wanted to keep sitting in the car!
I squat down, and together Gracy and I carefully pick up the mama opossum’s stiff body and start moving her toward the side of the road.
The guy behind us sticks his head out the window and yells, “Gross!”
That’s probably what I’d have said a minute ago, too, but even though this opossum smells like a dumpster full of rotten trash, all I can picture are those babies. Do they deserve to be called gross?
We set the mama’s body down away from the road, under some bushes at the edge of the woods.
“Do you think she really might still be alive?”
Gracy nods. “Opossums have evolved to ‘play dead’ when threatened since most animals won’t eat one that’s already dead. But this instinct isn’t great if your predator is a line of traffic ready to run you over. Can you wait here while I move our car out of the way?”
I nod and study the mama opossum. Her teeth are bared, and they look super sharp.
Once Gracy’s car is parked on the shoulder, the angry guy takes off, still yelling as he goes.
But Gracy doesn’t seem bothered. She simply takes the gloves back from me. “I always keep supplies in my trunk for situations like this.”
Really? Who is this woman? Maybe I should be talking to her after all.
I watch her as she calmly puts everything back in the trunk. “Why doesn’t the opossum know to not cross such a busy street?”
Gracy gestures at an apple core on the edge of the road. “Part of the reason they’ve been a successful species for nearly sixty million years is because they follow the smell of food.”
“Even if it means crossing a road with cars?”
Gracy shrugs. “Cars have only been around for a hundred years, and evolution is a slow process. The opossum certainly isn’t the only animal that does what it’s done for years, even if it doesn’t make sense.”
I picture what could have happened if Gracy hadn’t stopped. How ridiculously unfair. All the opossum wanted to do was eat the apple someone must have thrown out their window.
I kick the apple core as far as I can into the woods. If anyone should be angry, it’s the opossum. Is it her fault she did what millions of years of ancestors have done? And look what almost happened.
Gracy and I stay, watching the opossum from the car, until finally, she stirs, stands up, and walks into the woods, taking her babies with her.
When my mom gets home from her job at the bank, I’m at the kitchen table looking at opossums on my phone. I never gave them a second thought before, but now I can’t get them out of my head.
“Did you know that an adult opossum can eat five thousand ticks a year?” I say.
“That’s a lot of ticks,” my mom says as she drops her purse on the counter and starts going through the mail. “How was the orthodontist?”
“Fine.” At least the appointment was. I don’t have a word to describe what happened afterward.
My mom tugs off her stockings as she always does the minute she comes in the door. My mom hates stockings, but Mr. Adams, her boss, likes his female employees to wear skirts and stockings. It’s not a written rule or anything, but my mom says that doesn’t matter. So guess what she wears every day? Tight, itchy, sliding-down stockings.
“There it is!” my mom says, pulling an envelope from the mail pile. “I didn’t want to miss it because we’ve got to fill this out and drop it off at church this weekend.”
“What is it?”
“Now that you’re twelve, we can sign you up for confirmation classes.”
“What?! Do I have to?” I didn’t have the best experience at Sunday school a few years ago when I made the mistake of asking what original sin was. I learned that (1) I should totally have known the answer already, and (2) everything bad was Eve’s fault from when she bit into that apple in the Garden of Eden. And to think I’d been excited that we were finally talking about a Bible story with a girl. Good times. I didn’t ask another question in that class.
Plus, it bothers me that everyone at church is positive there’s a heaven, and while I want there to be one, I’m not sure. I can’t count the number of times someone’s told me my dad is in a better place. Maybe that made them feel good, but I’d sure prefer if he was here. I wish I could even remember him, but I was too young when he died.
“Sorry,” my mom says as she starts to fill out the form. “It’s nonnegotiable. Not with your grandmother counting on you to be confirmed as a full member of the church . . .”
My grandmother—also named Agnes after St. Agnes—is super religious. But Florida is a long way from Connecticut. I start to say that, but my mom is still talking.
“And certainly not with Mr. Adams being president of the church board and talking for years about their membership targets.” She finishes the form and tucks it in an envelope. “Maybe we can’t give much to the annual fund, but we can give him one more church member for his charts.”
Rick Adams, president of the church board of trustees and president of the First Whitefield Savings and Loan bank where my mom works, has way too much control over our lives.
“Do we really have to care about his charts?” I ask.
My mom starts doing the dishes. “We do if I want to get promoted, and considering how much your braces are costing . . .”
“Yeah, I know,” I say. “The promotion isn’t optional.”
I head to my room wondering why my mom insists on dragging me to church every Sunday (wearing stockings for the sixth day of the week!) when I’m not even sure she likes going. Not to mention, what was she thinking naming me after her super-religious mother?
Perhaps that opossum isn’t the only one stuck in the middle of the road.
- - - - -
In my room, I look for my writing notebook before I realize it’s my best friend Mo’s turn with it. We do a lot of co-writing. Making up stories together is our thing. Specifically, stories about shopping carts. Basically, whenever we see an abandoned shopping cart, we write a story from the shopping cart’s perspective. We’ve been writing them since fifth grade, and now we have three notebooks full of stories.Shopping Cart Stories, More Shopping Cart Stories, and The Continuation of Shopping Cart Stories.
But now I have a new inspiration—what about writing from an opossum’s point of view? What would that mother have said today if she could talk? “Who are you calling gross? Are you carrying a whole bunch of babies around in your pouch? Have some respect!”
I find another notebook, lie down on my stomach on my bed, and start writing.
The Opinion of an Opossum
Let me tell you how much I hate cars. We opossums have lots of jokes about them . . .
“Why did the opossum cross the road?”
“She didn’t. She was smooshed before reaching the other side!”
And yeah, I’m sure it doesn’t seem so smart to play dead in the middle of the street. Well, it’s not my fault. I’ve been playing dead in the face of danger for sixty million years. Do you know how long cars have been around? About a hundred years. Do you know how much bigger sixty million is than a measly hundred? A lot. And do you know how hard it is to break a habit? Let’s take for example a habit that human beings are quite used to—DRIVING CARS.
Now, most of the people who drive cars know that it’s bad for the environment. But do they stop? No. Because they need to get to the grocery store.
So don’t you be judging the opossum that walks to the edge of the road to eat that apple core.