Someone Else's Shoes

Someone Else's Shoes

by Ellen Wittlinger


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Tackling divorce and suicide with a warmth and sensitive humor that refuses to be weighed down, Someone Else's Shoes chronicles a road trip that unites three young people in search of family and acceptance. Fans of Sharon Draper, Jo Knowles and Counting by Sevens will be moved by this tale of what brings us together when things fall apart.

Twelve-year-old Izzy, a budding stand-up comic, is already miserable about her father's new marriage and the new baby on the way. Then ten-year-old cousin Oliver and his father, Uncle Henderson, move in with Izzy and her mom because Oliver's mother committed suicide only a few months ago. And to make matters worse, Ben, the rebellious 16-year-old son of Izzy's mother's boyfriend, winds up staying with them, too.

But when Uncle Henderson—who has been struggling with depression after his wife's suicide—disappears, Ben, Izzy, and Oliver set aside their differences and hatch a plan to find him. As the threesome travels in search of Henderson, they find a surrogate family in each other.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781623541132
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Publication date: 10/22/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 10 - 12 Years

About the Author

Ellen Wittlinger is the author of fifteen YA and middle-grade novels. Her novel Hard Love won both a Printz Honor Award and a Lambda Literary Award. Her books have been on numerous ALA Best Books lists, Bank Street College of Education lists, and state award lists. Wittlinger has taught at Emerson College in Boston and in the Simmons College Writing for Children MFA program. Ellen is also the author of Saturdays with Hitchock and Parrotfish. She currently lives in Haydenville, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

“Why are you running?” Oliver called to her.
         “Why are you such a slowpoke?” Izzy answered.
        Lately a small, gloomy shadow followed Izzy Shepherd everywhere she went. His name was Oliver Hook, and he was her cousin. Marching through downtown Coolidge, Izzy was at least three strides ahead of the kid.
         “Are you running away from me?” Oliver yelled.
         “No.” Of course she wasn’t running away from him. But a little pinprick of guilt made her slow down anyway. “I don’t see why I have to go with you, is all,” she said.
         “I never bought a pair of shoes by myself,” Oliver said.
        Izzy stopped walking and turned to stare at him. “You’re ten years old, and you’ve never bought a pair of shoes by yourself?”
         “That’s not weird. My mom always went with me. You always try to make me sound weird, Izzy.”
         “It’s not that hard to do,” she mumbled, hoping that Oliver couldn’t actually hear her. It wasn’t his fault he was suddenly her responsibility. She knew it wasn’t fair to take it out on him. She was really mad at the grown-ups, but they had so much else going on, they didn’t even notice.
        The sun bounced off the storefront windows, hit the sidewalk, and exploded into her face. She’d forgotten her sunglasses, and the dazzling light made her squint. All around her, people were rolling up their sleeves to enjoy the end-of-summer sun on their skin, but Izzy could feel the approach of autumn racing toward her, and she hunched her shoulders against it. She didn’t like change. In her experience, it never made things better.
        What was this, now? Some guy in baggy trousers, a striped shirt, and bright red lips on a white-painted face zigzagged through traffic and hopped onto the sidewalk behind Oliver. He wore white gloves and a big black hat and had red circles painted on his cheeks. Oliver wasn’t paying attention, but Izzy caught the movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to watch the man dragging his feet in obvious imitation of her cousin.
        Ugh, he must be a mime from the festival in the park. Why did people think mimes were funny, anyway? Nobody appreciated comedy more than Izzy, but she liked humor to come from words and ideas, not imitation. Mimes just exaggerated everything that was odd or silly about a person. That wasn’t funny—it was mean.
         “Stop following us!” she yelled at the guy. “You look ridiculous!”
        Oliver turned too, surprised to see the clownish figure. He smiled briefly, and the mime returned the same smile.
         “He’s making fun of you,” Izzy hissed, and then sped up again, hoping Oliver would too.
         “Why would he do that?” Oliver asked.
         “Because that’s what mimes do!”
        The man passed Oliver so that he occupied the space on the sidewalk between the two cousins. His shoulders pulled back and his neck stiffened as he matched Izzy’s aggravated gait.
        Oliver’s sudden, barking laugh surprised Izzy. She hadn’t heard a sound like that the entire three weeks the kid had been staying at her house. “He’s walking just like you do!” Oliver said. “Like you’re trying to get away from something.”
        Izzy put on the brakes so fast, the mime ran into her. “Go away!” she yelled at him. He shrugged and began to immediately follow a woman walking in the opposite direction. She had a big handbag over one arm, and he leaned to the right with the weight of it, just like she did.
         “Who is that guy?” Oliver asked. “He’s pretty funny.”
         “I don’t think so. All kinds of nutballs are hanging around the park this week, pretending to be artists.” If Oliver thought that guy was funny, Izzy would have to show him some of her DVDs. Wait till he saw Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire.
         “We don’t have stuff like this where I live,” he said. “Our town’s too little.”
         “You’re lucky.” But then, because Izzy knew good and well that Oliver was certainly not lucky, she felt embarrassed and steered the conversation back around to herself. “Just because I’m a natural leader,” she said, “doesn’t mean I want to be followed by somebody.” Maybe her cousin would get that she didn’t only mean the mime.
         “Here,” she said, turning in to the shoe store. She held the door open while Oliver dragged his fingers along the window glass, ogling the merchandise. “Come on!”
        She’d never felt impatient with Oliver before— not until he and his dad had moved into her house. But Izzy thought it was better to feel annoyed with him than to feel sorry for him. Nobody wanted that, did they? In Izzy’s experience, pity made you feel like a mangy dog that people might throw some food at but certainly didn’t want to touch.
        Inside the store, Izzy’s attention was captured by a pair of pretty ballerina flats that came in lots of colors, including a sparkly silver. The silver shoe on display was just her size, so she slipped it on and admired the way it made her ankle look long and slim. If only her mother had given her enough money to get herself a pair of shoes too, but she hadn’t.
        Izzy needed new school shoes—her toes were squished in her old sneakers and the soles were coming loose. In fact, none of her old shoes fit right anymore—her feet must have grown over the summer. But her mother had hardly listened when Izzy had told her about her shoe requirements. All her mother seemed to have time for these days was worrying about her brother— Izzy’s uncle Henderson—and Oliver. Apparently there was a rule that if your mother was a nurse, she had to help everybody else on earth before she had time to listen to your problems.
        Oliver stood in front of her, holding a very ugly pair of brown sneakers with Velcro straps across the front.
         “I like these,” he said.
         “Are you kidding? Only babies wear Velcro.”
         “That’s not true.”
        Izzy blew out a stream of exasperated air. “You’re starting a new school next week, Oliver. You want the kids to think you’re cool, don’t you?”
         “How can shoes be cool? They’re just shoes.”
         “Also,” she continued, “don’t tuck your shirt in so tight. It makes you look nerdy.”
        Oliver shrugged. “I don’t care what anybody thinks. We’re probably not staying in Coolidge that long anyway.”
        Izzy hoped he was right about that, but she had her doubts. She found a pair of the kind of shoes boys were supposed to wear. Black high-tops with fat laces. When a salesman came over, she handed him the sample. “We need these in a size six.”
         “But I don’t like laces,” Oliver said. “They come open.”
         “God, Oliver, you’re going into fifth grade. You can tie your shoes, can’t you?”
         “You’re so bossy!” he said, but she could tell he was giving up the fight.
        Am I bossy? Izzy wondered. Is it bossy if you’re just helping somebody for their own good? Ten minutes later they left the store with the hightops in a box.
         “I hear music,” Oliver said as they walked out of the shopping district toward Izzy’s house. “Can we go listen?”
        Izzy groaned. “There’ll be a million people in the park.”
         “You always exaggerate. Maybe a hundred.”
        They might as well go to the park. As soon as they got home, Izzy’s mother would just come up with some other boring task that fell under the heading of “being extra kind to Oliver these days.” She’d ask Izzy to “rise to the occasion,” as if she hadn’t been doing that for weeks already. Izzy was quite sure that being extra kind to her cousin wasn’t going to make a bit of difference to him anyway. Not six weeks ago Oliver’s mother had killed herself, which was about the worst thing that could happen to a kid. Nothing anybody could do for him was going to change that.
        Izzy felt bad for Oliver—how could she not? But his problem was so enormous and overwhelming, there wasn’t any room left for anyone to care about her smaller troubles, which didn’t feel all that small to her.
        They stood in the sparse circle that surrounded the guitar player, a middle-aged man wearing cowboy boots and a trucker hat. He could strum his instrument well enough, but his raspy voice grated on Izzy’s last nerve. Man, she thought, they let anybody play here.
        Oliver wasn’t impressed either. “My dad’s a lot better than that guy,” he said as they left the park.
         “Well, yeah,” Izzy said. “Your dad’s a professional.” Or he was, anyway.
         “I wish Dad would play his guitar again,” Oliver said. “He hasn’t even touched it since . . . you know.”
         “My mom says not to rush him. He’ll start performing again eventually.”
        Izzy didn’t actually hold out much hope for Uncle Henderson resuming his career as a singer-songwriter anytime soon. The man had barely even left the bedroom her mom had assigned him when he and Oliver moved into their big, creaky old house three weeks ago. He didn’t play his guitar. He didn’t sing. He just sat in the rocking chair and stared out the window, as if his dead wife were likely to come walking up the front sidewalk any minute.
        It was awful to say, but Izzy hadn’t been that surprised when she heard about Aunt Felicia taking the pills. Aunt Felicia had always spooked Izzy a little bit. She was quiet and nervous—just the opposite of Uncle Henderson—and when she smiled, it never seemed like a real smile, but more like a mask she didn’t want anyone to see behind. Izzy’s mother said that Aunt Felicia’s depression was an illness, and that mental illness was not that different from physical illness. She said Aunt Felicia wasn’t just sad—it was a lot worse than that—but Izzy still didn’t really understand it. She’d had a great husband, a smart little kid, and a job she liked as a gardener. Why wasn’t that enough to make her happy?
        Izzy was not a psychologist like that Cassie Clayton woman her mother had made her see for a while, but she was twelve years old, and she knew plenty. For one thing, she knew there was no point being overprotective of Oliver just because a bad thing had happened to him. Izzy knew that life could be hard, and sometimes you were going to get hurt. A person needed to toughen up to be able to stand it. That’s what she’d had to do when her dad left, and she intended to teach her cousin to toughen up too.
         “Izzy?” Oliver said shyly, cocking his head. “When we get home, will you swing me in the hammock?”
        She sighed. Her job was not going to be easy.

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