Cricket Cohen is not a liar. She just enhances the truth. Often. Cricket is a natural-born storyteller. She is also a part-time geologist, a Greek professor, and a certified brain surgeon with a thriving private medical practice. Yes, her patients are all stuffed animals, but the work is still very demanding.
Despite her busy schedule, Cricket always has time for Dodo, her equally imaginative grandmother. And one Manhattan weekend when Cricket finds herself in hot water with her teacher and thoroughly fed up with her controlling parents, she and Dodo hit the pavement. What could possibly go wrong when two people with a habit of confusing fact and fantasy take off looking for adventure? Lots, it turns out, and eleven-year-old Cricket finds herself face-to-face with some hard truths about love, family, and getting home again.
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IF ONLY SOMETHING WOULD FALL OUT OF THE SKY
Cricket Cohen was dreading summer vacation. Her mother, Bunny Cohen, had signed her up for surfing camp with Lana Dean. Cricket would rather swallow a big ball of snot than do anything with Lana Dean. Lana Dean had very long and curly eyelashes and she acted like having long and curly eyelashes was something to be envied the world over, like her being born with them was a giant accomplishment. But Lana Dean had nothing to do with her eyelashes. Eyelashes were genetic. And Cricket had no interest in surfing. She didn't want to skim the surface of the ocean, because all the interesting, important stuff was deep down, way down underwater.
Cricket was rarely interested in what other people were interested in. That's why she was usually alone in the school yard during recess, thinking about stars. About how instead of twinkling, twinkling in the sky like in the lullaby, stars actually pelted the infant earth like bombs. They exploded, shrapnel flying everywhere, lava flowing like water. Gas and flames covered the ground she sat on right now. The whole planet was on fire. In such an inhospitable world, Cricket wanted to know, why did life start?
She knew how. The flames died and the temperature dropped and oxygen and hydrogen found each other and formed water. After that, life was inevitable. Single-celled shapes swam around and multiple-celled organisms joined the march and here we are today: society, the human race, middle school, summer vacation in two days, and surfing camp with Lana Dean.
But why? What gave life the big idea to give it a go?
This she could not figure out.
A fast-moving object swiped through her peripheral vision. Cricket's heart raced. A meteor! Something worthwhile was happening. Finally, and she was in the right place at the right time. For once.
But it was just a softball.
Vincent Lee and Sara Paul, the team captains of the softball game taking place in the center of the school yard, looked over. Cricket detected the usual worry in their eyes. Like they couldn't predict what crazy thing she would do with their stupid softball. Cricket may have been odd, but come on, she knew what to do with a ball. She picked it up and threw it at them. Vincent and Sara ducked and then seemed relieved. Cricket sat back down and drew an amoeba on the concrete with a pebble.
The origin of life was, without a doubt, the most interesting thing in the world to think about. Which was why no one in her sixth-grade class thought about it at all. All they cared about was organized sports or being popular. What was wrong with the youth of today? Maybe she was too hard on them. Maybe she shouldn't sell them short. Some of the kids in her class were more advanced and were able to care about both sports and being popular. At the same time.
Cricket longed for the olden days of lower school, when recess in nearby Central Park was the best period of the day. When after read-aloud the teacher brought out the rope with the loops and you held on. The teacher looked out for trouble so you didn't have to. The teachersaid when to cross the street, when there was dog poop or stranger danger, and when it was time to let go of your loop and play.
Cricket and Veronica Morgan had always held opposite loops because they were best friends. They climbed the rocks. They had a jewelry store. They collected treasures. They worked in a coal mine. They were astronauts. They lived in a castle.
Vincent Lee yelled, "Safe!" and suddenly everyone was yelling and arguing and Cricket had to wonder when playing — when life, for that matter — had gotten so strict and so boring. The rules and the nets and the bats, the bases and the goals, the penalties, the different-shaped regulation-size balls. Oh, forget it.
Cricket liked games where she made up the rules. That's why she usually stood in the center of the playground waiting for an asteroid to hit her on the head or near the chain-link fence pretending to be in a prison- break movie digging a hole to freedom with a plastic cafeteria spork.
Lana Dean and Juliet Lysander and Heidi Keefe made their third loop around the yard. For reasons Cricket would never understand, walking in a circle while talking was what popular people who weren't sporty did during recess. Cricket would be bored out of her mind walking around in circles. But she had to admit Lana and Juliet and Heidi looked like they were deep in a good conversation. It was almost tempting to join them. But knowing the limits of their intellects, they were probably talking about socks.
Here's the thing. In her humble opinion, Cricket could, if she wanted to, be popular. But being popular meant you liked what other people liked, and that wasn't for her. Cricket was the outlier. And she didn't care. Except she did, a little, because there was no one at school to talk to. Who could she tell what she had heard the astrophysicist say last night on the radio? That if you added up every single sound and word ever made by a person, the number you'd get would be much smaller than the number of planets in the universe. That was an idea worth contemplating. Infinity. Let's face it — infinity was an idea you could think about forever.
Cricket's best friend, Veronica Morgan, was a person with deep thoughts. But she'd gone to a different school last year and Cricket hardly ever saw her. Now Cricket's ideas and the imagination that imagined them were her only friends. No one else trusted imagination anymore.
CRICKET AND DODO PLAY A TRICK
Cricket walked home along Columbus Avenue, pondering the last two school days before the beginning of dreaded summer vacation and trying to distract herself with what to buy for dinner. Her mom, Bunny Cohen, was a renowned fund-raiser and list maker. She was also a terrible cook. That's why she often gave her daughter a shopping list of prepared foods to buy at Bilson's.
Bilson's was a market on the Upper West Side that had survived the Depression. It had also survived, according to her father, World War II, the lefty-liberal days, the young-stockbroker days, the single-room-occupancy days, the families-with-hypoallergenic-dogs days, and was still standing as foreign bankers bought up apartments that they didn't even live in. Cricket didn't know what all this meant, but she did know that a lot of people her family knew were moving to Brooklyn because housing prices in Manhattan were too steep. But Brooklyn wasn't exactly a bargain. One day, Richard Cohen said, Queens would be the new Manhattan. Cricket's father liked reading the New York Times and making grand predictions. Everything, he said, even gentrification, was a cycle that went round and round, repeating itself in some form or other.
As Cricket approached Bilson's, she recognized the hulking form of Abby standing guard outside the entrance. Abby was probably the only person in the world Cricket would be able to identify without her glasses on. Because Abby was basically the size of a tree. If you cut her open she'd probably have two hundred rings inside. Abby was the latest woman hired to take care of Cricket's grandmother, Dodo Fabricant.
"Hi, Abby," Cricket said.
"She won't let me inside," Abby said, clearly frustrated. It was her job to accompany Dodo on errands, but Dodo Fabricant didn't want Abby. Dodo didn't want a handler.
"She told me to wait," Abby said.
She was not amused, but Cricket was. Her grandmother Dodo Fabricant was tiny, and the idea that she could make Abby, who was so enormous, do anything was funny.
"She wants to pretend to be shopping alone," Abby said. "She made me walk behind her. All the way here. Your grandmother ..."
Abby didn't finish the sentence and Cricket thought that best. Cricket didn't like when Abby said less-than-positive things about her grandmother.
The Cohens had a charge account at Bilson's, which meant Cricket could go in anytime and get whatever Bunny told her to. She grabbed a cart and started shopping. Abby may have been mad about waiting outside, but the truth was that Abby probably couldn't fit through the narrow aisles inside Bilson's without knocking everything over. The original Mr. Bilson must have been very small. The place was designed for small people. Even though the store had expanded over the years, the aisles hadn't been widened in the process. They were original. The tiles behind the butcher counter were also original. So was the potato-salad recipe, for that matter. It was from 1927, and was framed behind the butcher counter in Mr. Bilson's wife's handwriting. The current butcher was the third cousin once removed of the original butcher. There was still a fishmonger, a bakery, and the famous counter with prepared foods. Cricket took a deep breath, because the smell of Bilson's rotisserie chicken was one of the best smells in the world. It was the only thing that could compete with Dodo's roast chicken.
Dodo had taught her granddaughter the art of chicken roasting. They used to pretend they had a cooking show on PBS. They made it very professional. Everything they did they demonstrated and narrated for the home audience, and all their ingredients were measured out ahead of time in little glass bowls on the counter. First, Dodo washed and dried the chicken. Then Cricket sprinkled the inside with salt and pepper. Dodo made Cricket shove her arm really deep into the chicken. Next, Dodo rolled a lemon back and forth on the counter to loosen up its juices. Cricket poked holes in the lemon with a fork. Dodo and Cricket stuffed the chicken with the lemon, a bunch of smashed garlic cloves, and a handful of fresh thyme and rosemary. Then they rubbed the outside of the chicken with softened butter and Cricket put lots more salt and pepper all over the skin. Then Dodo did something magical. She carefully tucked herbs under the skin of the chicken and, as the chicken cooked, the herbs flavored the meat. The chicken roasted in the oven on top of a pile of roughly chopped onions and carrots and turnips. Dodo left the oven light on so Cricket could watch the juices from the chicken baste the vegetables. Dodo's roast chicken was The Best.
In another episode, Dodo taught Cricket how to make an omelet in the style of Julia Child. She said that if Cricket could roast a chicken properly, prepare an omelet, and make a decent vinaigrette, she'd be able to take care of herself. Dodo was a big fan of independence.
Cricket's ringtone chimed. She jumped.
"Cricket?" Bunny asked.
"Yes, Mom, who else would I be?" Bunny always sounded a bit suspicious when Cricket answered her phone, as though it might not be Cricket.
"Where are you?"
"Oh my goodness. I thought you'd been kidnapped. Are you almost done?" Bunny asked.
"I just got here," Cricket said. She'd come right after school. She didn't know what her mother was all wigged out about.
"Well, please don't forget the rotisserie chicken."
"Mom, are you serious? That is the main reason I came here!" Bunny had no faith in her. She hung up and, just to annoy her mother, walked past the rotisserie chickens and straight to the ice-cream freezer.
She stared through the cloud of condensation. Her glasses fogged up almost immediately and it was hard to read the flavors. She took them off and wiped them with her T-shirt. Butterscotch Pudding and Salted Dark Chocolate sounded good, so she put both in her cart. When she looped back to the butcher counter, she found her grandmother holding a basket with a jar of mustard in it. Nothing else.
Dodo was talking to the butcher. She was wearing her signature outfit: a trench coat, sunglasses, and a French silk scarf. She looked like a spy from the Cold War. Or an actress playing one. Dodo always reminded Cricket of an old film star. Dodo loved old movies.
"Billy," she said, "I can't eat a whole chicken. What else is good?"
"Everything is good!" Billy exclaimed. "What about a lamb chop? I got a gorgeous lamb chop!"
Billy had the loudest voice Cricket had ever heard. She wondered what he sounded like when he was angry. He'd probably blow a roof off.
"A what chop?"
"I said, a lamb chop."
"A veal chop?"
"Billy, I asked you, what's fresh?"
"Are you being fresh with me?" Billy said.
Dodo and Billy were about the same age and it was cute how much they liked each other.
"Hi, Dodo!" Cricket said.
Dodo turned around, flustered. "Poopsie!"
Dodo grasped Cricket by both cheeks. She loved those cheeks. "What's the hot gossip? What's new?"
"Well, I'm shopping for dinner."
"So am I, isn't that right, Billy?"
"What's that?" he said, pulling on his left ear as if that would make his hearing better.
"I said, isn't that right?"
"Isn't what right?" Billy said.
"Dodo," Cricket said, "you're coming to our house for dinner. You are one of the people I'm shopping for."
"It's Monday. You always come for dinner on Monday."
"Of course I do. I thought it was Tuesday. Never mind. We used to play bridge on Tuesday, remember?"
"I loved bridge night!" Cricket said. Dodo used to live in California, and Cricket visited. All of Dodo's friends were loud and opinionated and funny. Cricket would lie on the yellow couch listening, soaking it all up. Sometimes she'd sit next to Dodo and try to learn the game. Bridge was a game you played with candy in little dishes. Dodo put small glass bowls of bridge mix everywhere for the Tuesday-night games. Cricket's family never had dishes of candy anywhere. And they never played games. Bunny and Richard Cohen claimed they didn't have the patience for games.
"Hey," Billy said. "What about me? Your granddaughter shows up and I'm chopped liver. I knew you were out of my league."
"Billy, if you're chopped liver, then I'm toast. We go very well together. But I'll see you tomorrow. I have dinner plans with my granddaughter."
Abby was standing right outside where Dodo had left her.
"All right, Mrs. Fabricant," she said. "Let's go. Will you hold on to my arm?"
"No," Dodo said, "I will not."
Cricket laughed and got a dirty look from Abby. Abby acted like Dodo was in her protective custody and Dodo acted like Abby was nuts. "My granddaughter will take me. Abby, you can go home now."
"Mrs. Fabricant, my shift is not over and I am not going home."
"Abby, I don't want you. My daughter is the one who wants you. Please show a little respect. I am a grown woman."
"If your daughter wants me, there must be a reason," Abby said.
"There is a reason. You're quite right. The reason is that she is controlling."
"Abby," Cricket said, "I'll walk her."
"And I will walk behind you," Abby said. "But I'm not going home."
"Oh! I forgot mustard. Abby, will you please go in and pick me up a jar of Dijon mustard?"
"Yes," Abby said, lumbering inside. As soon as the doors closed behind her, Dodo said, "Let's make a run for it!"
The light was hard and bright and Cricket wished she had a pair of sunglasses, like Dodo. They were escaping, after all; they should both be incognito.
"What's the gossip, Poopsie?" Dodo said.
"School is over in two days."
"That's good, isn't it?"
"Yes. Except Mom signed me up for surfing camp. I don't want to go to surfing camp. I want to go to geology camp or at least science camp. It's so dumb I have to get up at the crack of dawn for two weeks during my vacation to do something I don't want to do."
"Your mother is very bossy. I don't want Abby. She signed me up for that. I didn't want to live in New York, but she made me do that, too. I was perfectly happy with my own life in California," Dodo said.
Cricket had been happy when Dodo moved to New York City a year and a half ago. She liked having Dodo right down the hall. She wished Dodo were happy about it.
"Remember when we used to have adventures?" Dodo said. "I want to take you somewhere. To Paris. I want to see you."
"You're seeing me tonight. You're coming to dinner, remember?"
"Dinner, yes. But I mean an adventure. Remember when we used to have adventures? We used to tell stories. Remember?"
"Mrs. Fabricant!" Abby screamed from down the block. "I see you!"
"Quick, let's make a run for it!" Dodo said.
The next day the sporty kids divided up into teams while Cricket recovered her contraband spork. She had stolen it from the cafeteria and wrapped it in a napkin and hidden it under some plants. That was very authentic. If she were in prison planning an escape, that was what she'd do. Occasionally some of the other kids looked over at her.
She wished they'd quit looking and help her. It was hard to dig a secret escape tunnel through the sunbaked dirt under the chain-link fence. Her spork barely had any prongs left.
Usually in a prison break you had a little help from another inmate. But no one in this prison wanted to get out.
She was surprised to discover that Lana and Juliet and Heidi had mixed things up today. They were walking counterclockwise. They were such rebels.
The truth was, Cricket could be judgmental. Plus she and Lana were about to be surfing buddies. Maybe Lana and her amazing eyelashes weren't as vain and annoying as Cricket thought. She decided to abandon her scraping and join the girls on their loop around the playground. She felt like a hobo jumping a freight train.
Excerpted from "The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen"
Copyright © 2017 Catherine Lloyd Burns.
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
1. If Only Something Would Fall Out of the Sky,
2. Cricket and Dodo Play a Trick,
3. Recess Revisited,
4. Watching the Clock,
5. Bears and Squirrels and Hot-Air Balloons,
6. Abby's Threat,
7. She's Losing It,
8. Escape to the Park,
10. Brain Surgery,
11. The World's Youngest Professor of Greek,
12. Abby Quits,
13. Cricket Offers to Help,
14. Fateful Friday,
15. The Yellow Couch,
16. Art and Science,
17. A Walk in the Park with Dodo,
18. The Pierre,
19. Old Movies,
21. The Mix-Up,
23. What Happened at the Restaurant,
24. The Barneys Basement,
25. Officer Coolidge and Officer Bryant,
26. The Nineteenth Precinct,
28. The Waiting Game,
29. Bunny's Big Moment,
30. Breadsticks and Marbles,
31. "The Erratics of West Sixty-Fourth Street" by Cricket Cohen,
Also by Catherine Lloyd Burns,
About the Author,