Bean (née Pearl) and Henry, misfits and best friends, have the strangest mothers in town. Henry's mom Sally never leaves the house. Bean's mom Lexie, if she is home, is likely nursing a hangover or venting to her friend Claire about Bean's beloved grandfather Gus, the third member of their sunny household.
Gus's death unleashes a host of family secrets that brings them all together. And they threaten to change everythingincluding Bean's relationship with Henry, her first friend, and who also might turn out to be her first love.
About the Author
Jo Knowles is the author of the novels Jumping Off Swings and Lessons from a Dead Girl. She lives in Vermont with her husband and son.
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By Jo Knowles
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)Copyright © 2011 Jo Knowles
All right reserved.
Henry and I get comfortable in our usual Days of Our Non Lives positions on his mother's scratchy plaid couch in their tiny living room. We're just in time for the familiar hourglass. Sally hushes us for the opening voice-over.
Like sands through the hourglass ...
Henry and I look at each other and telepathically exchange a single, familiar phrase: We are pathetic.
... so are the days of our lives.
The small air conditioner duct-taped into the only window in the cramped living room hums mournfully over the tragedy about to play out on the TV, as well as the sagging couch the three of us sit on--Sally in the middle, as always. I close my eyes and feel the cool air against my sweaty face as the opening scene starts.
Sally leans forward to watch. Her huge breasts rub over the top of the metal mixing bowl filled with Doritos she holds in her lap. She grips the edges of the bowl, her dimpled arms blocking Henry and me from reaching in to grab a chip, as if we don't know the rule or might try to break it: No eating during Days. Sally says the crunching is too distracting. Instead, we wait for the commercials and crunch during the ads while Sally fills us in on whatever we've missed since the last episode we watched with her. Her face always gets a warm glow when she talks about TV love, like it's going to ooze into her own life any day now. Sally believes with every molecule that makes up her large pink body that somewhere out there is the perfect man for her. Henry always looks sad when his mom says this. Neither of us believes it. Even if that man did exist, how could he find Sally when she never leaves the house? There is only one man who knows where Sally is, and he left fifteen years ago, two months after Henry was born.
Henry doesn't know much more about his father than I know about mine, and maybe that's how we got to be such good friends, sharing our soap-opera-like dreams about who our real fathers are and how they might come back into our lives. The only things I know about my father are the hints I get from listening at closed doors. Not that I get that many opportunities. But sometimes, when my mom comes home particularly late from her waitressing job, I can get lucky. Whenever she's late, it means she's spent her extra tips at the bar on half-priced booze. If her keys jingle in the lock for more than fifteen seconds, I know it's a night to listen for information. The first thing my mom does after going to the bathroom is head to her bedroom and call her best friend, Claire, to recap the last fifteen years of her life and all the places it's gone wrong.
One night three years ago, the keys were jingling in the lock for nearly a full minute before I heard Gus, my grandfather, rush down the hall. As soon as his footsteps thundered down the stairs, I inched out of my room to the top of the stairs to listen.
"Where the hell have you been?" he roared when he opened the door for her. "Have you forgotten you have a twelve-year-old daughter upstairs? Have you forgotten how she came to be?"
"I haven't forgotten," my mom said in the resentful voice she used when she talked to him. "I haven't forgotten that it wasn't my fault!"
Gus gave a doubting grunt.
"You think I asked for it? You think I wanted to be attacked?" My mom's voice shook with anger and drunkenness.
"I don't know what you expect, Lexie. I don't know what you ever expected. You come out of work late every night, drunk, dressed like--"
"Don't. Don't you dare!"
"I'm asking you, Lexie. What the hell did you expect?"
I leaned farther over the stairs, waiting for my mom to reply. I hated it when they fought, which was practically every time they were in the same room. Luckily, that wasn't very often if they could help it.
"Nothing," she finally said almost in a whisper. "I didn't expect a goddamned thing."
I scooted back to my room as soon as she neared the stairs, then pressed my ear against the wall that separated our bedrooms.
"Damn that Bill. Damn him to hell!" she kept crying on her side of the wall. She was telling Claire all about the horrible things Gus had implied. "That bastard thinks Iwanted to get pregnant?" she asked.
I can still remember how her words punched my chest. I quickly tried to piece them together, hoping some image of the truth might emerge. Attacked. Pregnant. Bill. Twelve years. But there were still too many missing pieces.
Up until then, Henry and I had been pretty satisfied with the stories we'd concocted about our dads. Mine was a pilot who disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. Henry's had been kidnapped by terrorists. These scenarios were a lot more interesting than the unsatisfactory ones our moms fed us up to that point: My dad was simply a "mistake" and better off gone, and Henry's dad "disappeared" when he was still a baby. We needed our dads to have names and lives, and--most important--futures with us. I wasn't expecting the story about Bill.
The next morning I crept into my mom's room and gently woke her up. Her eyes were puffy from crying, and she smelled like hangover.
"Who's my father?" I asked her, trying to sound like I meant business. "Tell me who Bill is."
"I heard you," I told her. "Last night. I know his name is Bill, and I want to know who he is."
She closed her eyes for a minute, then opened them again and looked me straight in the face. "Please don't ask me about him. Please don't say that name." She rolled over and put her pillow over her head.
"Is he my dad? Where is he?"
She lifted the pillow. "Some things are better left unsaid," she said to the wall. "Trust me."
"I have a right to know," I told her.
She put the pillow back over her head. "There's nothing to tell," she mumbled into the pillow.
"Liar," I whispered.
"I heard that! And stop listening in on my phone calls!"
I left her and went to my room where I shut my door, got back into bed, and put my own pillow over my head. Later, when I told Henry what had happened, he was as disappointed as I was. I selfishly suspected it was because he realized if the father we'd invented for me could turn out to be a sham, so could his.
* * *
When the phone rings, Sally motions for Henry to answer even though the only people who call here are me and telemarketers, and I'm sure Henry would prefer to just let the machine pick up. Sally refuses to be put on the Do Not Call list. I think it's because she's so lonely she actually likes to have a chat, even if it pains her to refuse to give money after the five-minute spiel she's just been patient enough to listen to.
Henry grabs the phone off the coffee table and heads down the hallway so Sally's show won't be interrupted. As soon as the door to his room clicks shut, a commercial comes on.
Sally and I reach for a handful of Doritos and crunch quietly. Then we reach in again. My orange fingers collide with the back of her puffy white hand, leaving an orange print. She pretends not to notice. We're crunching through a Jenny Craig ad when Henry returns.
"That was your mom, Beany," he says casually. "She says come home she has something to tell you."
"My mom?" I ask. Never, in the history of our friendship, has my mom ever called me at Henry's house. I didn't even know she knew Henry's last name to look up his number.
Henry shrugs, failing to recognize the significance.
"Come with me," I say.
He looks at the rattling air conditioner longingly, but nods okay. Sally's show is back on so it's understood we don't need to say good-bye. We leave the cool cave of their living room and step into the blinding, baking sun.
Henry wipes his forehead with the back of his hand and pulls his T-shirt away from his body as we trudge along. He has a thing about sweat spots. Even though he puts two layers of deodorant on, he still sweats through three shirts a day in the summer. He says he must have inherited overactive sweat glands from his father because Sally never sweats. I don't point out that Sally never moves enough to work up a sweat in the first place.
"Why would my mom call me?" I ask him for the third time.
Henry shrugs and fans his shirt.
We walk the rest of the familiar two blocks in silence, except for the steady smack of my flip-flops sticking to my sweaty feet and Henry huffing disagreeably, flapping his T-shirt. The old, run-down houses that line the street are quiet in the still, hot summer air. Time seems to have stopped thirty years ago on our road. Gus says ever since the economy tanked in the late eighties and the rich people moved out, the neighborhood has gone to seed. There are just a handful of old folks from his day who still live here. The rest are from "away" as he likes to say.
As we walk, I look at each house, thinking about the stories Henry and I have made up about each family living inside. When we get to my house, I think about the real stories it holds, and wonder what new drama my mom is about to add to it.
This can't be good is all I can figure.
Text copyright © 2011 by Jo Knowles
Excerpted from Pearl by Jo Knowles Copyright © 2011 by Jo Knowles. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When I first added Pearl to my to be read list, I initially thought it was a paranormal read without reading the summary. The cover of Pearl is deceiving since Pearl isn't a supernatural read whatsoever...it's contemporary. I have to remind myself all the time to not judge a book's pages by it's cover. Pearl is a story about two very flawed, imperfect, and dysfunctional families, dysfunctional may be an understatement. Many secrets and lies are hidden among both families who are connected by Henry and Pearl(aka Bean). I love how close and comfortable Henry and Bean are since they've been best friends since they were seven and have their fathers being absent from the lives in common. They both only have each other has friends which makes them even closer. What occurred in the pages of Pearl, I wasn't expecting. I'm not sure what I was expecting while reading this or even beforehand, probably a love story of some sort, but that's far from what I read. No complaining is coming from me because at certain points while reading Pearl, I was a bit stunned. I had my mouth hung open in astonishment at one point while reading Pearl, If I was to tell you what it was, it would ruin the book for you. Pearl is a book if you mention too many things, you will be very spoiled and I try to stay away from those pesky spoilers. How could you love and hate someone at the same time? Sometimes you have to take things back before you can let them go. One time Gus told that me when I was learning to talk my mom tried to teach me to call her Lexie, not Mom. I swear Gus thought this was funny. But now looking back, I just think it's really sad. Because even then, my mom didn't really want to be my mom. If you're looking for a quick contemporary read with some shocking secrets spilled among the pages, pick up Pearl.
The best book ever
Bean (née Pearl) and Henry, misfits and best friends, have the strangest mothers in town. Henry¿s mom Sally never leaves the house. Bean¿s mom Lexie, if she is home, is likely nursing a hangover or venting to her friend Claire about Bean¿s beloved grandfather Gus, the third member of their sunny household.Gus¿s death unleashes a host of family secrets that brings them all together. And they threaten to change everything¿including Bean¿s relationship with Henry, her first friend, and who also might turn out to be her first love.I'm not sure how to review Pearl. On one side, I really like this book, as a coming-of-age novel it's wonderfully well written and flows really well. On the other side, I hate it. I find it dull and the plot predictable and the characters stereotypical. So, I will write what I enjoyed about it, as I rated it four stars, which means I did like it a lot.Pearl is an an engaging character, she's never really had any relationship with her mother and her Grandfather's death really gives her that chance to get closer to her. Pearl is just growing up and her feelings for Henry are no longer that of a playmate, so it's nice reading about her exploring that. Henry's character, for me, however, doesn't really have me interested. He's there, but if he disappeared I don't think I'd actually notice. He's quite a background character.In a lot of ways this book is really about growing up. As I mentioned, Pearl is growing up and after Gus dies, so is her Mother. Just not in the right way. Her Mother, finally feeling free lets her friend pretty much move in and they do all the stuff that you would expect teenagers to do - pyjama parties, hair dying, you get the idea.Henry's and Pearl's relationship isn't what you'd expect from seeing the cover. Their relationship is closer to that of a brother and sister, so I'd like to see in a sequel if their relationship can work. One extra thing I should mention for YA fans - do you look at the cover and think, I know that cover! You should check out Matched by Ally Condie, you might be surprised. Needless to say, Pearl is nothing like Matched.
When I first added Pearl to my to be read list, I initially thought it was a paranormal read without reading the summary. The cover of Pearl is deceiving since Pearl isn¿t a supernatural read whatsoever¿it¿s contemporary. I have to remind myself all the time to not judge a book¿s pages by it¿s cover. Pearl is a story about two very flawed, imperfect, and dysfunctional families, dysfunctional may be an understatement. Many secrets and lies are hidden among both families who are connected by Henry and Pearl(aka Bean). I love how close and comfortable Henry and Bean are since they¿ve been best friends since they were seven and have their fathers being absent from the lives in common. They both only have each other has friends which makes them even closer.What occurred in the pages of Pearl, I wasn¿t expecting. I¿m not sure what I was expecting while reading this or even beforehand, probably a love story of some sort, but that¿s far from what I read. No complaining is coming from me because at certain points while reading Pearl, I was a bit stunned. I had my mouth hung open in astonishment at one point while reading Pearl, If I was to tell you what it was, it would ruin the book for you. Pearl is a book if you mention too many things, you will be very spoiled and I try to stay away from those pesky spoilers.
This book is really fast read for me. I was able to easily step in to the story cause of the major drama going on. The plot line of this book is simple yet significant.Lots of secrets, floating around revealing themselves one by one that you are hooked on it like a Spanish novella.I love the main character Bean. She demanded answers and got them. Even though they weren't what she expected she handle it the best that she could. She knew her mother held secrets, she just never thought it would affect her life so greatly. I have to admit, that what the mother did was just, crazy. T he secrets she held cause so much trouble not only in her life but in her daughters as well. I felt like the mother was selfish and didn't take the chance to even help daughter. One thing t hat I also like in this book is the one stable relationship Bean had. I believe that without Henry, Bean would just be lost. I am happy that she had someone that she cared for there for her and honest with her. He didn't judge her or get angry with her. Instead he stood by her like the best friend he is and just held her. Their friendship could stand the test of anything and they both get through it. Pearl is a filled with dark secrets that finally come to light. Secrets that have been held for so long that they busted from the seem of the book blinding the reader. I gasped like I don't know how many times! At times it was intense, with angry emotions and saddness. Other times, you were finally happy the truth is out and everyone can just breathe.
Like many people, I picked this up because the cover was intriguing (and reminded me of Crossed), but the book is nothing like any sort of dystopian novel. I enjoyed this book because it was a short tale, but realistic. It's the story of two friends and their totally messed up families -- and their lives can be intertwined together, both on purpose and by accident. It's also about how important it is for parents to talk to and pay attention to their kids.