The Opposite of Music

The Opposite of Music

by Janet Ruth Young
The Opposite of Music

The Opposite of Music

by Janet Ruth Young


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when i am well
i will take you

At first Billy's father just seemed distant, as if he had something on his mind. Then he stopped listening to music, saying it hurt his ears. After a while he stopped eating and sleeping. And after that he just stopped. Stopped being Billy's father and his friend and became someone else. Someone who was depressed and withdrawn and wouldn't respond to treatments.

Determined to help their father, Billy and his family devise a series of unconventional therapies for him. But the strain of looking after Dad begins to wear on them all. Billy stops writing songs and starts avoiding his friends. His sister wants to suicide-proof the house. And his mother worries about losing her job because she takes so much time off. Taking care of Dad is starting to sap the strength they need to keep him alive.

The Opposite of Music is a powerful and realistic debut novel about the lengths a family will go to in order to save one of their own, and the strength it takes to learn how to ask for help.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416958239
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 05/20/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Janet Ruth Young is the author of the teen novels My Beautiful Failure, Things I Shouldn’t Think (previously published as The Babysitter Murders), and The Opposite of Music. She lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Visit her at

Read an Excerpt

hands across the sea

Resting one hand on the corner mailbox, I balance different ways on my bike. A stream of cars goes by before I see the school bus.

Our town has changed in the last five years. Some of the new kids from other places think they're too upscale for Hawthorne. When I tell Mom this, she thinks I'm misinterpreting the signals. She says I should be attuned to regional differences, that in other parts of the country people have different ways of approaching one another and making new friends. She says I should think of myself as an anthropologist, studying various subcultures of the United States and never forming a value judgment that says my way is better. But I think that if someone sits next to you in class for three weeks and never says anything, the message isn't regional boundaries. The message is they don't want to know you.

Gordy is the big exception. When I wave to the bus driver, Gordy hops down the steps with his jacket over his shoulder, his backpack and music case in the other hand. I don't have much planned. We're going to practice for a vocabulary test, but that won't take long.

"So that's your bike," he says.

"Want to ride it? I could carry your stuff."

"No, thanks."

I like to watch and evaluate the new people who come into town. I've been watching Gordy. In my eyes he is royalty. He is always in his element. He absorbs goings-on without alarm. His hair is always exactly the same length, as if he gets it cut every Tuesday and Thursday. I like to look for people to admire. Otherwise, how will you know who to become?

While Gordy is outstanding in the good sense of the word, I sometimes wonder whether I stand out in the bad sense. My arms and legs seem to grow longer every week, and I am starting to suspect that I may bob up and down excessively when I walk. I say this because a few days ago there was an incident in which I was passing a group of new kids on my way to class and without saying anything they all started bobbing, as if on a prearranged signal. And some of the kids have started calling me Bob.

I wonder what Gordy will think of the house. Our front door is bright orange, with a brass door knocker in the shape of a salamander. On the door we have an artist's palette dotted with hard, shiny puddles of tint, which my sister Linda made from wood scraps. She also painted our name and house number — Morrison 32 — in medieval letters on a white rock at the foot of the driveway. Members of my family try hard to be distinctive.

Dad's Neon is in the driveway. The palette clatters when I open the door.

"Hey, Dad?" I call. "What are you doing home?" Mom is still out. It's two-thirty and she usually doesn't get home from work until four.

But Dad doesn't come to the door as he normally would if I brought someone home. We hear his footsteps at the far end of the house.

"Dad," I say again. Then I see him go by, looking straight ahead, like he needs something from the other end of the house. He's rubbing his hands and whistling between his lower teeth.

"Hi, Mr. Morrison," Gordy says. Dad sees us but doesn't acknowledge us in any way. Gordy and I have stopped within two feet of the door. Something tells me not to go farther. Lately Dad has seemed worried. But he looks even worse than when we left him this morning. I realize, without entirely knowing what it means, that he probably never left for work.

"Dad, I'm home. Gordy's here."

Dad passes by again. The whistling is not like he's enjoying whistling but like he has to whistle. I don't detect a tune.

"I'm sorry, Gord, I guess my father isn't — "

Gordy steps into the living room, into the square of white couches and chairs Mom calls the conversation area. "Mr. Morrison, did you lose something?"

Dad doesn't acknowledge him.

"I can help you look. You know," Gordy continues, "sometimes when you lose something, you keep looking in the same places over and over again, and a stranger can be the best person to help you find it."

"I'll — " I move past Gordy into the hall to see if I can intercept Dad. Dad is known for riddles and charades. It looks like he's pantomiming "chase," "mechanical," or "shooting gallery."

"Dad," I plead, "stop! Talk for a few minutes. Gord, I don't think my father feels like talking. Maybe we should turn around and..."

But just as I suggest going, Gordy stops watching Dad and turns to me. Gordy, so superb in ways both like and unlike me, youngest co-captain ever of the All-State Band. Who has performed twice on the White House lawn, and who I hoped to make into a friend.

"Is that Sousa he's whistling?" Gordy asks. "'Hands Across the Sea'?"

I had expected both Dad and Mom, when they got home from work, to greet Gordy the way they greet my friend Mitchell. Dad usually has a joke, a riddle, a quote of the day, or a piece of music that he wants Mitchell to hear. Of course, my parents have known Mitchell for fifteen years, and they don't know Gordy at all, so it wouldn't be the same. And they might sense how exceptional Gordy is (champion French horn player, youngest co-captain ever of the All-State Band, two-time performer on the White House lawn), and that could make them, especially Mom, eager to impress.

But walking away?

At breakfast this morning, whenever Mom spoke to Dad, it took him a few seconds to answer. It seemed his mind was chasing something. And now it seems his body is following his mind. Whatever his mind was chasing was so important that he stayed home from work and chased it all day.

"Sorry, Gord," I say. "I guess my father is a little..."

Gordy nods before I even say the word "preoccupied."

"I guess we should just be alone right now."

I hand him his coat and backpack. "See you tomorrow?"

"Sorry if I've upset anyone. I didn't mean to." Paralyzed by politeness, he doesn't want to leave without saying — even shouting — good-bye to Dad.

I close the door behind Gordy. Sandbagged by embarrassment. Could someone have prepared me for this? Like Mom? Sometimes she goes on about a topic until you could strangle yourself. Other times she says nothing when it could be important.

Or does she even know? I sit in the chair nearest the door and wonder what in the world I'm going to say to Dad.

Copyright © 2007 by Janet Ruth Young

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