Survival Strategy #50: If You Can, Be Brave
It's easy to be brave when your eight-year-old sister, Billie, looks up to you as her protector. Twelve-year-old Liberty feels it's her job to look after Billie once they are sent to live with their father, whom they haven't seen since they were very young. Dad is unpredictable on his best days, but when he abandons the girls at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, Liberty's courage is truly put to the test.
As she and Billie struggle to make it home on their own, they encounter a cast of both helpful and not-so-helpful characters, including a man with caterpillar eyebrows, a lady dressed entirely in lavender, a tattooed trucker with a soft spot for cats, a kid who is a little too obsessed with Star Wars, and a woman who lives with a houseful of nontraditional pets. Along the way, they learn that sometimes you have to get a little bit lost to be found.
About the Author
Jen White wrote Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave based on her own childhood experience of being left accidentally at a gas station herself, along with her sister. Luckily, their parents realized the girls were missing before they went on a wild adventure like Liberty and Billie. Jen holds an M.F.A. in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in San Clemente, California, with her family. This is her debut novel.
Read an Excerpt
Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave
By Jen White
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2015 Jen White
All rights reserved.
Survival Strategy #1: FAKE IT
That's definitely number one in my notebook. All people do it. Faking it could save your life.
Just then, I was faking it. Writing in my notebook, like I had a purpose. A reason for being here. Like I had all the time in the world to sit outside this sun-scorched gas station, waiting. I should have known better. All my natural instincts told me not to trust him.
"Where's Daddy?" Billie asked. At eight, she was four years younger than me and forever wishing he would turn into the dream dad she'd always hoped for. So all right, we had both hoped for. But after everything that had happened, now I knew better. Even if I wanted to cry (and I'm not saying I did), I couldn't let Billie see me.
Now I was just angry. Angry like the sun that burned a hole in the desert sky, so hot and bright, it might just eat us up.
"Liberty, where is he?" whispered Billie, a crease of dirt, like a lightning bolt, slashed across her swollen cheek. I reached for it, but she shrugged me away.
"I don't know. Don't worry, he's coming back," I said, trying to hide my fear and convince both of us he was coming back. What else could we do but sit on the curb and wait?
I patted Billie's hair and forced a smile. "He's coming." I hated faking it with her, even though sometimes I couldn't help it.
"What about this morning?" she choked out. The whites of her eyes were slippery with tears. "It was an accident."
"He knows that, Billie. Don't worry. Come sit with me." I curled my arm over her back, nothing but angles and lines, and willed my tears to return to their ducts. Stupid tears; they would not scare Billie.
"I'm hot," she said, pushing free of me. She wandered toward the shade over near the gas pumps.
A car rolled past the gas station, and Billie stood on her tippy-toes to see over the JIFFY CO. GAS STATION sign.
A brown Jeep.
Not our camper. Were we in Arizona? This morning we had been in Arizona — the Grand Canyon State (at least that's what the sign had said) — but one of the weird things about living in a camper is that you can fall asleep in one state, wake up in another, and not even know.
Dad stopped here at the Jiffy Co. to fill up over an hour ago. Billie and me went inside to use the bathroom. When we came out, he was gone. Already, we had been waiting too long. My heart bumped.
I tried to distract my brain and opened my notebook again, scanning the pages of animal facts. Already, I felt better. The only thing to do now was to be purely logical, and wait. I could do that. I could do that for Billie.
From where we sat on the curb, the glass on the gas station door looked smudged with countless sweaty hands. It hadn't opened in a while. Three whole cars had creaked across the gravel road and deposited themselves in front of the gas pumps, shiny with oil.
A million bat wings beat against the lining of my stomach. I might throw up.
Stop it, Liberty. Facts only.
Did you know a cow has four stomachs? I saw that on Animal Planet, back before —
I balanced my notebook on the tips of my knees.
Another car drove past.
I scooched around on the curb to the side of the cinder-block building, keeping my eye on Billie. What had Mom always said? You're in charge, Liberty. Mom hadn't had a brother or a sister, but she'd always wanted one. That's why she had two children, so Billie and me would have each other. Sisters forever. But being the oldest can be hard. Billie didn't always appreciate everything I knew.
Mom took it for granted that I did what I should. Twelve going on twenty-one, she had said. But what she didn't realize was that I was always responsible because I had to be. At least, almost always.
A line of ants crawled over a potato chip from the bag I bought from the vending machine after Dad left, what felt like years ago. I wrote in my notebook:
1. Ants, red.
2. Playing follow the leader.
3. Never alone. Always together.
I didn't know what my hypothesis was about ants yet, but they looked like good friends. Maybe a family.
Did ants fake it?
I patted the cover of my notebook. It was still new and shiny in some places, but worn around the edges. It felt smooth and soft. Notebooks were good. Something to touch and hold. I wrote everything in my notebook because every good scientist had important observations. I wasn't a scientist yet, but I was going to be one someday.
I opened my book and read an entry in the middle from about six months ago — when Mom took Billie and me to the aquarium in La Jolla. The Birch Aquarium was, by far, my favorite place.
Spotted Wobbegong Sharks.
Dive and Live Feeding Schedule:
Mondays 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.
I'd begged Mom to take me back to watch the live dive. I couldn't believe someone could actually get into the shark tank and feed them. Mom said maybe. Maybe we could go next week. But I never saw those sharks again.
I shut my book. I didn't want to think about sharks, either. So I watched the ants. Hundreds of little skinny ant arms grabbed the chip and dragged it toward the gash in the asphalt parking lot, just as the sun reached its highest point in the sky.
A truck (the fourth one we'd seen) pulled into the gas station with a low, squeaky whine. Blue, dusty, ancient. An old man with a ponytail and a huge belt buckle got out and stared at us. Billie ran over and crouched behind me. My heart vibrated. But then I remembered, I was faking it. I was supposed to scare off potential predators.
A bearded dragon has a chin full of spiky armor it uses to intimidate. It inflates its body, opens its mouth, and puffs out its lethal throat. Then the attacker thinks twice about messing with that lizard.
I took a deep breath, stood as tall as I could, and stared right back at the man — without blinking. He turned, opened the door, and went inside.
That's right. Go inside and buy your gas. Me? I haven't a problem in the world. I stood tall in front of Billie and shaded my eyes from the hot desert sun.
Billie poked her head out from behind me. "You still watching for Dad?" she asked.
I pulled her hair back to get a look at her cheek, but she jerked away.
"He'll be back. I know it. He'll be back for us," she said.
Billie didn't know anything.
But still, she was my baby sister. Stringy white hair, dark blue eyes. Pure gold. That's what she was. Ever since Mom died, Billie reminded me of pure gold, not that fake kind you buy as a souvenir in old tourist mining towns, or mixed in with the semiprecious stones at an Indian gift shop. The real thing, fourteen karat.
After living in a camper for the past two months, San Diego felt light-years away. Like we had slipped through a crack in the atmosphere and dipped ourselves into this strange summer, sticky with newness. And still after everything, we were alone. Just the two of us roasting in clay on this quiet, dusty road.
The JIFFY CO. GAS STATION sign swayed and creaked. It didn't matter how long I sat here writing in my notebook, faking it — he wasn't coming back.
I had to fix it.
Survival Strategy #2: ACT NORMAL
So far my plan was to fake it, of course. But then what?
1. Act normal.
2. Take care of Billie.
I could do those two things.
"Billie!" I yelled. "Quit picking your nose."
"Get in the shade! You're turning red like a lobster."
Heat radiated from the blacktop, making the gas pumps look all wiggly. Billie ignored me. Her black sparkly flip-flops might melt right into the asphalt. Then she turned and looked me full in the face, her blue eyes deep and solemn, like a deer I'd seen once on the Discovery Channel.
Billie walked toward me, bunching the extra material of her sweatshirt up into her hands, like she was holding a ball.
"Don't you have a T-shirt under that?"
She shook her head. A single trickle of sweat crept down her face. She pushed it away with the back of her hand.
"Will you please come sit in the shade, away from that window?" I asked. I was sitting on the left side of the gas station so prying eyes couldn't see us. So far, we were lucky that the creepy gas station attendant hadn't come out asking any questions. We had been inside twice — once to use the bathroom and once to look for Dad — and I didn't want to push our luck.
"Where'd he go?" she asked.
That was something I could hardly think about.
Yesterday he said we were on our way to Four Corners, the only place in the United States where you could stand in four states at once. Utah. Colorado. New Mexico. Arizona. Actually, I really wanted to do that. It seemed almost to defy science; it shouldn't be possible to be in four places at once. But in Four Corners you could be — like magic, but provable. Now, after what happened this morning, even if Dad did come back, I wouldn't go with him. But I couldn't tell Billie that.
"He probably just went to get ... to get ..." I stopped.
"To get ice cream!" Billie finished. "It's so hot that Dad went to get us ice cream."
I nodded. Ice cream right now sounded good, real good. And the lie seemed easier than the truth. I almost convinced myself we had nothing to worry about. We were just two sisters waiting at a gas station for our dad to bring us a scoop of triple fudge ice cream. That's the thing about faking it: it's pretty easy to do if you're good at it. But I knew I was just pretending, because it didn't look like there was a store for miles.
We were surrounded by miles of emptiness — and my brain really wanted to panic. But an animal that panics is as good as dead. Like a deer at night, blinded by headlights. Frozen and then — bam. How many animals had I seen busted along the side of the road over the past two months? I couldn't count. Trust me, panic is not your friend. I pushed the fear back into the tiny crack in my head where it lived and tried to think about ants, or deer, or anything else.
"Knock, knock," Billie said.
Jokes were our thing. We used them to pass time while Dad searched for the perfect shot.
"Liberty! Knock, knock."
My stomach grumbled. "Ice cream who?"
"Ice cream when I see your underwear!" She laughed like it was the funniest joke she'd ever heard, even though we'd recited it at least one hundred times.
"Get it? I scream."
"Yeah, I get it. That's a good one, Billie."
The door to the gas station opened. The old man came back out. He turned and looked at us. "Afternoon," he said, tipping his hat.
He seemed nicer now. Should I say something? Maybe he could help us. His truck door creaked open, he paused for a second, stared at us, and then ... it was too late. He slammed the door and drove away. I glared at his bumper, wishing I had an invisible string to attach to it so he could drag us along.
The desert sand rolled around us like giant waves in the ocean. Up and down. Down and up. I had never seen red sand in person before, until Dad came and got us. At first it had seemed pretty, but now, being left in it, it felt like being lost at sea — a red sea made out of sand.
Survival Strategy #3: BLUE SKIES DO NOT MEAN HAPPINESS
The last time I saw the ocean, we'd sprinkled Mom's ashes across the water. Our boat had bounced on top, like how the fish food bounced after I fed our goldfish, George and Martha. And I had started to feel a little sick. And it had only been nine days since Mom had died. And maybe I didn't want to believe it was all true.
So I'd stopped watching the waves roll up and down, and instead I looked at the sky. The sun glowed bright against the blue with little white sheep clouds floating everywhere. Little lost sheep clouds. It was a perfect beach day. Mom's funeral on the best beach day ever.
Julie had said, "You need a bucket, Liberty?"
"Joe. You have a bucket around here?"
The man named Joe driving the boat shook his head and pointed to the water. I couldn't throw up in there because that's where Mom was going. And I didn't even know this man Joe, who Julie said she paid to take us out in the ocean so Mom could be "put to rest" where she'd always wanted to be resting.
I didn't know Mom always wanted to rest in the ocean.
I thought she always wanted to be with us.
But Julie said Mom did want to be resting in the ocean.
And since my grandma and grandpa were dead before I was ever alive and the only other family we had was Dad and we didn't know where he was, I had to listen to Julie. Because:
1. She was Mom's boss at work.
2. She was our neighbor.
3. She was Mom's best friend.
So Julie said what Billie and me had to do.
Which you would think would be okay because at Julie's condo she had a lot of candy. A lot. Not old, stale butterscotches, but jars of candy — the good kind, like M&M's, and Twix, and Starburst, and even some that I didn't recognize from Canada, like Coffee Crisps, and Sweet Maries (Billie liked those), and Wunderbars, all stuffed into jars across her kitchen counter. I'm sure all that candy wasn't good for her and that's probably why she was kind of fat, but what was I supposed to say about that?
Billie and me always liked the candy, but I didn't think just because she gave us candy, and took us to SeaWorld once, she should be the boss of us. But she was, because there was no one else who wanted two sisters to live with them for always.
At our condo, I'm-Sorry-You're-Dead flowers from Mom's friends at the hospital lined our island in the kitchen. My favorites were the purple snapdragons from Dr. Hammond, Mom's onetime (I think not-divorced) boyfriend. She didn't date him long but I liked the flowers he sent. She said dating with kids was too complicated. Once at the grocery store Mom showed me how if you squeeze snapdragons on their sides, their mouths open up like baby birds'. Snapdragons were my favorite talking flower.
Joe stopped the boat right next to an old buoy because he said the waves were getting rough. Seagulls stared at us with their give-us-some-food eyes.
Julie said, "That's far enough." And she handed me a big vase with cats on it.
"Mom doesn't like cats," said Billie.
I nodded. It was true. She didn't. Allergic.
Julie had two cats named Snickers and Runts. They were very fat and picky and ate only tuna out of a can. Before Mom died, I cat-sat for them twice when Julie went to Canada to visit her brother.
"Of course she does, sweetie," said Julie, patting Billie on the top of her head.
"No, she doesn't. She's allergic," I said.
"Well, these aren't real cats. And we're not leaving the urn. Just your mom's ashes," she said, taking off the lid.
Billie and me peered inside. It couldn't be Mom. It looked like dirt.
"I thought she would be pink," said Billie. "Mom loves pink."
Julie wasn't listening. Instead she was staring out at the ocean like she might cry. Then she pulled a paper out of her pocket and read a poem about flowers and clouds and heaven.
And I took a handful of what-was-Mom-and-looked-like-dirt-but-felt-soft-and-slippery and sprinkled it across the water. Billie didn't want to touch it. And really, I didn't, either. But Julie told me to.
So I did.
Then Julie wiped tears from her eyes and emptied the rest of the vase right there into the Pacific Ocean. And Billie cried, too. But I didn't. Not yet.
Because it didn't seem right. How could we be here without her?
The waves went up and down, up and down, and carried Mom out to sea. And instead of wondering about Mom, I wondered what the fish were thinking. Was there a spotted wobbegong shark down there? Did he notice anything different about the specks of dust floating down to the ocean floor? Did he know those specks were my mom?
I didn't like to think about that.
Now, sitting here at the gas station, it was almost three months since we had put Mom in the ocean. I kept track of it in my notebook. And after that day everything changed. Julie found Dad's old address in Mom's papers. I never knew Mom had an old address — like a treasure map — that told us where to find him. When I'd asked where he was before, Mom had always said he was traveling or she didn't know where to find him. But Julie said the person who lived at that old address had Dad's phone number.
So a few weeks after Mom's funeral, on the day Julie volunteered at the free walk-in clinic, she called him.
She said Dad was sad to hear about Mom. And that he would come and get us, even though we hadn't seen him since I was six years old. She didn't say what Dad had said about Billie or me. She just said that he was coming and that he couldn't wait.
Probably that was just Julie being enthusiastic. But still, it made me wonder about everything Mom had ever told me about Dad, especially if she had the old-address-treasure-map and never told us. Mostly, it made me wonder what it would be like to have a real flesh-and-bone kind of dad, like I had always wished for when I sometimes looked at the three pictures I had of him.
Excerpted from Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave by Jen White. Copyright © 2015 Jen White. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Survival Strategy #1: Fake It,
Survival Strategy #2: Act Normal,
Survival Strategy #3: Blue Skies Do Not Mean Happiness,
Survival Strategy #4: Watch Out for Predators,
Survival Strategy #5: Hibernate,
Survival Strategy #6: Fight or Flight,
Survival Strategy #7: Camouflage,
Survival Strategy #8: Escape, If You Dare,
Survival Strategy #9: Timing Is Everything,
Survival Strategy #10: Beware of Traps,
Survival Strategy #11: Sometimes You Should Feel Sorry for the Cobra,
Survival Strategy #12: Nest and Rest,
Survival Strategy #13: Take It,
Survival Strategy #14: Beware of "Skip to My Lou",
Survival Strategy #15: Trust Instinct,
Survival Strategy #16: If It's Good Enough for a Sea Turtle, It Might Be Good Enough for You,
Survival Strategy #17: Acclimate,
Survival Strategy #18: Don't Get Comfortable,
Survival Strategy #19: Never Answer the Door,
Survival Strategy #20: Panic Is Not Your Friend,
Survival Strategy #21: Be Patient, Like a Snapping Turtle,
Survival Strategy #22: If You Look Hard Enough, You Can Find Almost Normal,
Survival Strategy #23: Blend In,
Survival Strategy #24: Run,
Survival Strategy #25: Hide,
Survival Strategy #26: Use Everyone,
Survival Strategy #27: Never Trust Luke Skywalker,
Survival Strategy #28: Oreos Can Be Dangerous, Too,
Survival Strategy #29: Don't Be a Hero,
Survival Strategy #30: Go Back to the Beginning,
Survival Strategy #31: Beware of Sharks,
Survival Strategy #32: Dreams Are Dangerous, Too,
Survival Strategy #33: Accidents Happen,
Survival Strategy #34: Don't Hide, Go Outside,
Survival Strategy #35: Beware of Unexpected Gifts,
Survival Strategy #36: Instinct Can Be Trouble,
Survival Strategy #37: Help Yourself,
Survival Strategy #38: Flee,
Survival Strategy #39: Sometimes They Come Back,
Survival Strategy #40: Sometimes Help Comes from a Tattooed Guy,
Survival Strategy #41: Dr Pepper Can Ruin Everything,
Survival Strategy #42: Eat Food,
Survival Strategy #43: Trust Your Heart,
Survival Strategy #44: Know Who to Trust,
Survival Strategy #45: Beware of Prisoners,
Survival Strategy #46: Bargaining Is Best,
Survival Strategy #47: Beware of Fault Lines,
Survival Strategy #48: Rescue Yourself,
Survival Strategy #49: Make Your Own Pod,
Survival Strategy #50: If You Can, Be Brave,
Survival Strategy #51: Face It,
Survival Strategy #52: New Pods Can Be Golden,
Survival Strategy #53: Corners Can Be the Most Important Pieces,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Best book ever liberty isn't almost brave she is brave! This book is better than counting by sevens! My ex favorite book now. This is the best book ever! I dare you to read this heartwarming book!
Liberty is such a free soul and handels her mothers death greatly. I highly recomend this book.