When twelve-year-old Maya’s parents sell their house and move the family into the world’s ugliest RV to travel the country, Maya’s only goal is to get back home—and fast. No way is she going to miss the chance to audition for Dueling Duets, the singing competition show that’s going to surely propel her—and her cowboy-hatted crush—to country stardom.
Operation Maya Goes Home, or OMGH, turns out to be more complicated than she had expected, so Maya sets out on a secret one-day, one-hundred-mile bike ride through Yellowstone National Park with her know-it-all little sister, a cute nature boy, and blue-haired, earbud-addicted Shiver (a.k.a. the most annoying girl ever). Somewhere between the worst muscle ache she’s ever experienced and losing half of their group to a flat tire, Maya starts wondering if maybe, just maybe, it’s possible to find home in the last place you expected.
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Out of Tune
93 days until Dueling Duets auditions
Dad putters up to our house in an ancient, rust-spotted motor home. He’s grinning like he just watched the Tennessee Titans win the Super Bowl—and that’s when I know he’s completely lost it.
I’m in my room, practicing for the most important moment of my life, when I hear the thing through my open window. I stop right smack in the middle of singing to my reflection in the mirror and run downstairs. Mom’s acting like a traffic cop. She motions Dad this way and that to keep him from plowing down the mailbox. I stand on the sidewalk next to my little sister, Bug.
Mom windmills her arms. “CUT THE WHEEL!”
“What is that?” I ask.
“An RV. Maybe we’ll go camping every weekend now!” Bug stands on her bare tiptoes as she tries to see inside the ginormous hunk of metal Dad’s driving.
“I know it’s an RV. I mean, why is it here?”
“Stop. STOP!” Mom pounds on the door.
The thing jerks to a halt. Dad climbs out and struts around the front to meet us on the sidewalk. He kicks the front tire like he just drove home a Mustang instead of the ugliest RV on the planet. My best friend Kenzie’s brother drives an old red Mustang with one brown door. He kicks the tires every single time he gets in the car, as if they’re going to pop or something before he drives off.
Dad stands with his hands on his hips and beams. “So what do you think of our new home?”
“Our what?” I ask.
“This rig,” he says as he pats the side of it. “It’s our new home on wheels.”
He really has gone crazy. I glance at Mom. She’s smiling too.
“We’re going to live in it?” Bug practically squeals, as if she’s six instead of nine.
Is crazy contagious?
Dad rubs his hands together, the way he always does when he’s cooking up some awful plan to ruin my life. “It’ll be fun! We’ll camp all over the country.” He and Mom link elbows, and they look at each other all gooey-eyed.
I hold up a hand. “Wait. Let me get this straight. We’re going to live in this thing like it’s a house?” I knock on the side of the RV and wait to see if it’ll collapse in a dusty, rusty heap and end this whole whackadoo idea.
“We talked about moving a few months ago, Maya. Remember?” Mom says.
“I remember. And now we’re going to camp all the time!” Bug’s face lights up.
My stomach feels swirly. Of course I remember. Mom and Dad announced that they were thinking about moving, but I assumed that meant to an apartment or something. And then Dueling Duets announced it was going to hold auditions right here in Nashville this summer, and then Jack asked me to audition with him, and so I didn’t really think much more about the whole moving thing. Mostly because I never thought it would be to something like this. “What about our house?”
“We’re going to sell it. No more mortgage payments.” If Dad could smile any wider, his lips would be touching his ears.
Mom puts her hand on my shoulder. “We can’t afford the house anymore. Dad and I needed to act before things got really bad.”
“And this is so much better than some old apartment!” Dad adds.
I cannot believe this is actually happening. I eye the RV. “But if we sell our house, where will we put our stuff? No way will it fit into that.”
“We’re going to simplify,” Mom says.
“Simplify. . . . Meaning get rid of a bunch of things?”
“Yup! Isn’t it great? Come aboard.” After a couple of good yanks on the door, Dad disappears inside. Mom and Bug follow.
I’m still standing on the grass next to the curb. Sell our house? Live in this piece of junk? Camp out all over the country? And—I can barely even think about it—miss my one shot at Dueling Duets and ultimate fame and fortune as the newest and brightest star of country music?
“I’m not going!” I yell into the RV.
I cross my arms and wait for an answer. I shouldn’t have been surprised that Dad chose this awful thing over something normal, like a cheaper house or an apartment. Ever since he got laid off in January, he’s been acting weird. Like spending tons of time reading library books about nature when he couldn’t find a new job. And whittling this tree limb he found in the backyard into a walking stick. He also stopped shaving for a couple of weeks, until Mom refused to leave the house with him. When I asked Mom if Dad was ever going to get another job, she’d get this sad look and start talking about regrets and unfulfilled dreams.
“Hello? Did you hear me?” I call through the open door.
Still no answer.
I grip the handrail and climb the steep steps. The RV smells like old bananas and mothballs. Kind of like my grandparents’ house, if they ate bananas 24/7 instead of tuna and pickles.
I move past the front seats into a living room–type area, where Mom, Dad, and Bug are standing around and jabbering. It’s brown. All brown. Brown couch, brown armchairs, brown floor. Even the ancient TV is mounted in a brown metal frame on the wall.
“I need to ask Aunt Kim about new upholstery,” Mom says as she whips out her phone, like that’s going to improve this place.
This is not the home of someone destined to win Dueling Duets. Well, maybe if it was all glitzed up and had my name splashed across the side, like a tour bus. But even Kenzie’s brother’s old Mustang is better than this thing. “It’s the same color as dirt,” I whisper to Bug. “The Dirt Den.”
Bug snorts. “Look!” she yells as if I’m not standing right next to her. “This is where I’m going to sleep.” She scrambles up a ladder from the Dirt Den to a little nook with a bed that sits over the front seats. There’s even a miniature (brown) curtain to shut off the world’s tiniest bedroom from the rest of the (brown) trailer.
Mom sinks into one of the (brown) chairs as Dad marches down the length of the RV. I trail after him and check all the corners for cobwebs. Because there is no way I’m sharing this thing with spiders. If I was going, that is. Which I’m not.
“Kitchen. We can have cozy little meals right there.” He points to a table with two narrow (brown) benches that look like school bus seats. I take a step closer. They smell like school bus seats too. I bet there’s old gum stuck to the bottom.
Dad takes a single step up from the kitchen into the middle section of the RV. On each side of us is a bed set up high with a ladder, and a row of drawers and a cramped closet underneath. This would be pretty fun for a sleepover or a weekend trip. But not to live in all the time.
Then I realize there’s only one bathroom.
“No. No way.” I stand in front of the Polly Pocket–sized room complete with a little accordion door and cross my arms. “We can’t live with just one.”
Bug appears beside me. “Yeah, Maya takes FOREVER in the bathroom.”
I elbow her. “I do not.”
“Yes, you do. We’ll all have to go out the windows while we wait for you to put on your silly mascara.”
“You don’t know how hard it is to get right!” Mom just started letting me wear mascara when I turned twelve. It’s really tough to put on without getting tons of clumps in your eyelashes or stabbing out your eyeball.
“Girls, enough.” Mom’s voice echoes from the Dirt Den.
Across from the bathroom, there’s a closet, and then in the very back of the RV is a bedroom.
“How come you and Mom get a whole bedroom and we’re—supposedly—stuck with little cubbyholes?” I ask Dad.
“Because we’re the parents and you’re the kids and that’s just how life is,” Mom shouts from the front.
I check out one of the hallway beds again. The mini-closet is barely a closet, and there are hardly any drawers in the dresser. Where will I put my books? Or my stuffed cat collection? All my notes from Kenzie back before we got cell phones? Or my signed posters of Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, and Miranda Lambert? I go to sleep every night with the Talented Trio of Treble (or TTT, for short) watching over me. I know Taylor’s not so country anymore, but that’s where she started out.
Simplify, Mom said.
Right. There’s no way I’m giving away or selling the stuff that means the most to me. They’ll have to find a place for it, that’s all.
Then something even more important occurs to me. Actually, two more important things.
“What about Hugo?” I can’t leave my cat. “He’s ancient. He won’t know what to do without us.”
“We won’t leave Hugo behind. He’ll live here with us.” Mom joins us in the tiny hallway.
I feel a little better, until I remember they’re turning my entire life upside down.
“Mom! There’s Dueling Duets, remember? I can’t miss it!”
She tilts her head and chews her lip, like she’s thinking of the right way to tell me more horrible news. “I know you were looking forward to that, honey. I’m sorry.”
“I’ve been practicing so much. And Jack is depending on me. I have a responsibility to be there.” Mom’s big on responsibility.
“We won’t be here, Maya. Jack will still have time to find another partner. And you know how many people will show up for those tryouts. It’s unlikely you two would even make it to the front of the line to audition. And if you did, you’d be up against people much older than you who’ve been singing for years and years.”
Okay, first, Jack finding another partner? Not going to happen. Jack asking me to sing with him is pretty much the best thing that’s ever happened to me. And two, I can’t believe Mom doesn’t think we’d even make it onto the show. Of course we’d make it! If we get to audition.
My phone buzzes. It’s a text from Kenzie, asking what I’m up to tonight. “What about Kenzie?” I can’t imagine not seeing my best friend in the world every day.
“You can still talk to her. We aren’t moving to Timbuktu,” Mom says before following Dad and Bug outside.
I glare at her. Texting and Skype are not the same thing as seeing Kenzie every single day.
I look at my phone again, but there are no words to tell Kenzie what’s going on right now. So I trudge outside to find my psycho family behind the RV. Dad’s in the middle of explaining how he’ll hang a rack for our bikes. Which, if Dad does it, means it’ll be hanging at an angle and our bikes will be kissing concrete.
“And we’ll tow the pickup truck behind us,” he says. “This is so exciting, girls. It’ll be something you’ll always remember.”
Sure, like the flu. Or that time Dad chaperoned the school mixer and started headbanging to some old rock song.
Bug throws her arms around Dad and says, “This is the best thing ever! When do we leave?”
Dad laughs. “As soon as possible. I think we’ll head west over the summer, then maybe work our way south for the winter.”
“Winter? What about school?” I ask.
Dad grins at me. “That’s the best part, Maya Mae. You’re going to do school online!”
“No,” I say.
Bug grabs Dad’s arm. “I want to live in the RV, but I have to be back for school. I’m president of the science club next year. And there’s my Girl Scout troop.”
“Sweetie,” Mom says to Bug, “you’re doing something much bigger than science club or Girl Scouts.”
Bug nods. “Maybe I can FaceTime into meetings. And I could collect specimens from all kinds of faraway places and report back to the science club!”
Mom and Dad get crazy happy grins, and they all go inside our real house like some loony family I’m not a part of. I’m by myself, standing in the street behind the motor home, staring at the spare tire hanging on the back. Its cover has this fakey painted nature scene of trees and freaky-eyed deer. In cloudlike letters above the trees, it reads, Groovy Travels with the Unterbrink Family.
I imagine the Unterbrink family, watching their 1970 TV in the Dirt Den and arguing over who’s been in the bathroom too long. The oldest Unterbrink daughter probably stabbed her eyeball out because no one gave her enough time to put on her mascara. Now she’s half-blind and has to wear an eye patch and everyone probably makes fun of her.
We’re going to become the Unterbrink family. Me and Mom and Dad and Bug. All shoved into one rolling house.
No Dueling Duets.
The freaky-eyed doe on the tire cover stares me down, and I run for the safety of my real bedroom.