A poignant, deeply funny coming-of-age story about first love, first loss, and the power of history to give life meaning.
* "[An] impressive debut...John Green fans will gobble this one up." Kirkus, starred review
History buff Ray knows everything about the peculiar legends and lore of his rural Connecticut hometown. Burgerville's past is riddled with green cow sightings and human groundhogs, but the most interesting thing about the present is the new girlwe'll call her Jane Doe.
Inscrutable, cool, and above all mysterious, Jane seems as determined to hide her past as Ray is to uncover it. As fascination turns to friendship and then to something more, Ray is certain he knows Jane's darkest, most painful secrets and Jane herselffrom past to present. But when the unthinkable happens, Ray is forced to acknowledge that perhaps history can only tell us so much.
Mixing humor with heartache, this is an unmissable coming-of-age story from an exciting new voice in YA.
|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Michael Belanger is a debut young adult author and high school history teacher. He is a member of the Westport Writers' Workshop and faculty advisor to Greenwitch, a high school literary magazine that has published talented young writersincluding Truman Capotefor over a hundred years. He currently lives in Connecticut.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof*** Copyright © 2018 Michael Belanger
61 DAYS AFTER
I don’t have cancer and both of my parents are still alive. I just thought I’d get that out of the way so you’re not disappointed. While we’re at it, I might as well tell you that I’m not a vampire, I don’t have magical powers, and the closest I’ve ever come to fighting a war against an evil dystopian government was in a video game.
Now that you’re no longer expecting a story about orphaned vampires fighting an oligarchy of terminally ill wizards—although come to think of it, that does sound pretty cool—I’ll tell you why I’m writing this. It’s not to “document my feelings” or “look for self-destructive patterns,” like my therapist, Rich, suggested. I guess you could say I’m a history buff, but don’t worry, this isn’t a story about the Civil War or little houses on the prairie. History has enough stories already, things way more interesting than anything I could make up—the epic battles, rumors about people playing games with severed human heads, all of the unsolved mysteries involving rocks and ritual sacrifices. I know people say history repeats itself, I just hope I’m not around when it does.
The truth is, I’m writing this mostly to help me understand everything that happened over the past year between my (ex) girlfriend Jane and me. When you read as much history as I do, you start to wish real life also had textbooks, the kind with illustrated chronologies and “Did You Know?” sections that make everything so simple and easy to understand. Any good historian knows that the past is a lot more complex than cause-and-effect charts and corny acronyms make it out to be; but Jane, a person more complicated than any revolution, more confusing than any war, and more life changing than any invention—and I’m including the lightbulb and chocolate chip cookies when I say that—deserves her own volume. And so, in a way, I guess you could say I’m writing one for her.
Since she’s been gone, I’ve been scouring documents, text messages, her bizarre drawings inspired by the boredom of biology—anything to help me shine a light on the history of Jane. The only obstacle has been my mom, who has started checking on me every hour to either annoy me or make sure I’m still alive.
As if on cue, I hear her walk down the hallway, the wooden floorboards creaking as she makes her way to my room. She knocks lightly, and when I don’t answer, her knocks become more aggressive.
“Dinner’s ready,” she says through the door. She jiggles the doorknob.
“It’s locked,” I say, just because I know it will irritate her.
She hovers outside the room, a presence more terrifying than anything found in a horror movie: a mother who has dinner ready.
“Are you coming down?” she asks.
“Yup,” I say. “Right after I finish summoning Lucifer.”
“Can you bring me my dinner like I’m a prisoner?”
I hear her footsteps recede down the hallway. She sighs as she goes.
I know I’m being a jerk, but I can’t just smile and pretend everything’s okay. Even though I know that’s what everyone wants.
Before I forget, I should tell you that everything I’m about to write is true. It’s not one of those made-up stories that has morals and plot devices and well-crafted metaphors. History doesn’t have room for all that. Facts are facts, whether you like them or not. I’m only changing one name: hers. It just didn’t feel right to use her real name, so I’m calling her Jane, as in Jane Doe.
67 DAYS AFTER
I live in the sprawling, barely suburban wasteland of Williamsburg. No, not the Williamsburg where people wear funny hats and visit old buildings. That one’s in Virginia and was named after King William III, affectionately referred to as King Billy and admired for his work in the Glorious Revolution—otherwise known as the most boring revolution in the history of the world, a sort of happily-ever-after fairy tale where hardly anyone got decapitated and the king gave everyone their rights. Nice to live through, boring to read about.
I’m not talking about the Williamsburg in Brooklyn either, where people dress in tight pants, point out the irony of the modern condition, and, well, wear funny hats. That Williamsburg was named after Colonel John Williams, a revolutionary war veteran who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jabba the Hutt.
I’m referring to the lesser-known Williamsburg of Connecticut, home of that guy who knew a guy who had a cousin who sat next to (insert famous celebrity) on a bus. Our Williamsburg’s name comes from an unfortunate coincidence: the rise of the middle class and, shortly later, the invention of the hamburger. Originally called Burgherville because the word burgher means middleclass, the town found itself the butt of too many jokes. Newspaper articles referred to the various neighborhoods of Burgherville as cuts of beef, extending from the Marrow outward to the Rump. People in the town were ranked according to their looks: well-done, rare, or if you were extremely unfortunate, ground beef. By the end of the 1950s, everyone was sick of it and the mayor called an emergency meeting to rename the town. At the time, the hero of Burgherville, a local football star named Frank Williams, had just been killed in a car accident. A motion was made to call the town Williamstown, at which point another council member, in probably his most important contribution to mankind, put the two words together, and so Williamsburg—albeit the lesser Williamsburg—was born.
Most of us still call it Burgerville, though, and spell it like it sounds.
When I told Jane that story she thought I was making it up. Her exact words were, “I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone.” But I think that’s how Jane felt most of the time. Like she didn’t really belong, no matter where she was.
254 DAYS BEFORE
NOW YOU’RE IN KANSAS
I first saw Jane a little under a year ago, in biology. Mr. Parker was explaining the difference between RNA and DNA, using visual aids that depicted each as a superhero, when the door slowly opened. The girl standing in the doorway looked lost. Not in the sense that she didn’t know if she was in the right class, but lost in general. Seeing all of our heads turned to the doorway, Mr. Parker stopped his lecture and nodded, like he’d been waiting the entire class for this moment.
“There you are,” he said excitedly, but it sounded over-the-top, kind of like the way people talk to their dogs. “Class, we have a new student. This is Jane Doe.” On the screen in the front of the room, Mr. Parker had left a picture of a strand of RNA wearing a cape and tights with the caption: “Quick, DNA needs our help!” Jane turned to the screen and looked back at the class, as if to say, What kind of school is this?
“You can sit anywhere you like,” Mr. Parker said, before realizing there was only one empty seat in the class—right next to me. The confused look on Jane’s face gave way to a sinister smile, like we had an inside joke. She nodded and began walking toward me, my heart racing as she approached.
My mind became a camera, cataloguing every detail of the mysterious stranger as she made her way to the desk. Her pale face was framed by long black hair streaked with red, which may not sound that weird to you, but for Burgerville she might as well have had 666 stamped on her forehead. As she brushed a few strands of hair out of her eyes, I noticed her nails were painted all different colors. When she reached the halfway point, we locked eyes and I had to immediately look away; something about the way she looked at me made me feel like she could read my mind. As she got closer and I began to seriously consider using my lunch bag to stop myself from hyperventilating, I worked up the courage to look at her again. A black T-shirt hung loosely around her body and bracelets covered her wrists. The name of a band I’d never heard of—Pineapple Melody—was inscribed above a pineapple-shaped guitar, the slogan Folk You scrawled beneath. By the time I scanned all the way down to her shoes—heavy black leather boots with neon-green laces—she had already taken her seat.
Mr. Parker then began to ask her a series of questions, which always makes me really uncomfortable, but it didn’t seem to faze Jane at all. Really, Mr. Parker was the one who seemed uncomfortable.
“What brings you to Williamsburg?” he asked, his cheery voice blunted by Jane’s somber expression.
“My parents are punishing me,” she said.
Mr. Parker looked around, unsure how to proceed. Then, as if reading from a book of common English phrases, he robotically asked, “Where are you from?”
“The Williamsburg in Brooklyn,” she said. “I guess my parents thought it was ironic.”
“That’s quite a coincidence,” Mr. Parker said, struggling to keep a smile on his face. “How do you like our town so far?”
“Can it really be called a town?” she asked.
Mr. Parker gulped. “What are your interests? Remember, this is biology.” He laughed uncomfortably as the class continued to stare.
“Folk music and conspiracy theories.”
The class began to whisper. Mr. Parker held up his hand for silence.
“That’s . . .” He struggled to find the right word before finally settling on interesting. “Very interesting,” he repeated, sounding relieved now that the interview was almost over. “And is there anything else you’d like the class to know about you? Maybe something you did this summer?”
Jane paused to think. “I visited Mount Rushmore.”
“I love Mount Rushmore,” Mr. Parker said, happy to be on familiar ground. “What’d you think?”
“It’s amazing that these rocks somehow look exactly like the presidents. Kind of spooky when you think about it.”
I laughed, then quickly caught it. Mr. Parker didn’t seem to get the joke. Same for pretty much everyone else in the class.
“Oh,” Mr. Parker said. “I could see why you’d think that, but Mount Rushmore is actually manmade. It was finished in . . .” He snapped his fingers, trying to remember the date. “Help me out here, Ray.”
My reputation for history was well-known, but I didn’t see this one coming. It was like I’d suddenly entered a TV show. I cleared my throat. “1941,” I said. “But I’m pretty sure she was being sarcastic, Mr. Parker.”
I glanced at Jane. She mouthed thank you. I was so nervous I couldn’t even attempt to move my lips.
“Of course,” Mr. Parker said, forcing a laugh. “I was being sarcastic too.” But I don’t think anyone believed him. After a moment of awkward silence, he loosened his collar and said, “Well Jane, welcome to Williamsburg, or as we like to call it, Burgerville.” At which point he proceeded to give a speech about how much she would like it, how friendly the people were, how he definitely understood sarcasm, and if there was anything she needed to just let him know.
But I could tell she wasn’t really listening. Instead, she took out a notebook and started to draw. I looked at her desk and watched as she created an idyllic landscape with cows and chickens and for some reason, a minotaur. In the background, two evil-looking eyes peered over the landscape like a sinister sunset. But my favorite part about it was the billboard in the back. It said: Now You’re in Kansas.
Jane must have seen me looking at her, because as Mr. Parker continued his lecture about Captain RNA and DNA Man, she scribbled something in the margin of her notebook and slid it to the edge of her desk. Is this place as weird as it seems? it said.
I couldn’t figure out which part of Burgerville she was referring to. The name? The other kids in class, all with the same exact outfit, what I’d come to think of as Children of the Corn–casual? Mr. Parker’s strange comic book approach to science?
It was hard to know. For me, Burgerville had always occupied a gray area, a place where history meets one of those horribly depressing fairy tales. Sort of, I wrote in the corner of my notebook. We made eye contact once again and I thought my head might explode. As if she could hear my thoughts, Jane smiled and went back to finishing her drawing.
I turned to Mr. Parker and closed my eyes. As he continued to drone on about our genetic makeup, all I could think about was the mysterious stranger to my right.
88 DAYS AFTER
Outside my window, I see an old oak tree. Its branches claw and scratch against the glass when the wind picks up. The sun is setting, the sky turning a bright shade of orange before an inky black creeps in from the horizon. A full moon sits at the edge of the sky, passive, an observer watching day turn into night.
The window, the tree, the moon. All roads lead back to Jane. History, the subject that used to feel so liberating, now feels suffocating, my year with Jane weighing down the present. Weighing down me.
“Ray,” my mom yells from downstairs, “Simon’s here.”
Simon Blackburn and I have been best friends since middle school. Simon looks like your textbook definition of a nerd—think glasses and T-shirts that say things like Does not play well with others. But Simon’s really not a nerd at all. He’s terrible in math and knows next to nothing about comic books. His nerdiest attribute would have to be his love of vampire fiction, which is also the reason he used to occasionally wear fangs to school.
As Simon climbs the stairs, I try to muster up some happiness, a shred of the old Ray. If not a smile, then at least an expression that doesn’t make it look like I’m constipated.
Simon makes his way down the hallway and peers into my room. “Ray? You okay?”
At first I’m slightly annoyed that concern and worry has become an appropriate conversation starter. Then I remember I’m sitting in the dark. In the corner of my room.
“I’m fine,” I say.
Simon inches into the dark. I swivel my chair around to face him, realizing too late that I’m behaving an awful lot like an evil supervillain.
“So . . .”
These awkward pauses haven’t always been there. The spaces Jane used to fill. We’re still adjusting, recalibrating, waiting for time to shrink or expand or whatever it does.
Simon hits the light switch and automatically shields his eyes, a habit he picked up from reading too much vampire lit. “I can’t believe tomorrow’s the first day of senior year,” he says.
“Don’t remind me,” I say. Another first day of school. Everyone’s favorite day to show off new sneakers, industrial-grade binders, and pens that write in more than one color of ink. But what people forget is what happens after first days: second days and third days and fourth days. And Jane won’t be there for any of them.
“Remember those shoes that light up when you walk?” Simon asks. “Well, I found an outlet in Canada that sells them in adult sizes. The website says they’re coming back in style. You don’t think Canada has different fashion than America, do you?”
“There are no borders when it comes to cool shoes,” I say.
“That’s what I thought,” Simon says. He takes a seat on my bed and looks around the room, a barren landscape of my dirty laundry, plates riddled with crumbs, and open history books lying facedown on the ground, stuck on various episodes of Burgerville’s history.
“Do you want me to pick you up tomorrow?” Simon asks, looking worried.
“Are you sure everything’s okay?”
This time, I decide to take a different approach: I close my eyes and begin to snore.
“Okay, I know you don’t have that disease where you immediately fall asleep”—Simon pauses—“or do you? And you’ve just been keeping it a secret from me this whole time?”
I open my eyes. “I don’t have narcolepsy.”
“Good to look on the bright side,” Simon says. “That’s the worst disease. Body parts literally fall right off.”
“Um, Simon, you’re thinking of leprosy,” I say. I laugh and let my head fall back onto the chair. It must be the first time I’ve laughed in days. My cheeks hurt. Chest heavy. Those muscles haven’t been getting much of a workout.
We make small talk for a little while, topics ranging from a weird dream Simon had where he was eating a gigantic mango— “But then I realized, it was me. I was the mango”—to Mr. Parker’s recent pictures in the Burgerville Gazette dressed as Batman, then Simon stands up and tells me to get excited for the first day of senior year—mostly because we’ll now be occupying the lunch tables closest to the dessert line.
“I’ll do my best,” I say.
Simon walks over to me and grabs my shoulder.
“I miss her too,” he says. After an awkward pause, the moment heavy with all of the things we wish we could say but don’t, Simon turns and walks away, almost tripping over a book about the colonial history of Burgerville as he makes his way out the door.
To be honest, I’ve never been the type of person to get excited about the first day of school, but now it’s especially hard, even to fake it. Being around other people is difficult. Rich says I’m isolating myself, letting my “cognitive distortions” push people away. That’s when I usually start zoning out, nodding politely as I visualize my next meal.
But still, it’s good to see Simon, even if it’s just to laugh for a little while. He’s always been really good at cheering me up. It’s a skill I credit to his family’s history, a long lineage of people who had no choice but to look on the bright side and cash in on their shortcomings.
Simon’s great-grandfather, for example, served in World War I until he fell in the first battle fought by Americans. And when I say fell, I mean he literally fell straight onto his bayonet. But that didn’t stop him from becoming a war hero. No, sir. Because his impalement happened only a few seconds after the first shots were fired, he spent the rest of his life bragging to any reporter who would listen about his heroic exploits as the first American casualty of the Great War.
Simon’s grandfather followed the war hero tradition and became a decorated Korean War veteran, famous for his heroic charge against a battalion of North Korean soldiers in the darkest days of the war. But it turns out most of his war stories weren’t exactly true. First, he charged a group of South Korean soldiers. Whoops! And although the press reported him saying, “We will never surrender!” he actually screamed, “We surrender!” After people found out the truth, the government stripped him of all his war medals and he wrote a book chronicling his journey to infamy. It’s called From Hero to Zero: America’s Most Hated Soldier and it topped the Burgerville bestseller list three years in a row—an accomplishment Simon is proud to point out paid for his braces.
That’s probably why Simon can be excited about senior year. Why he can miss Jane and still talk about buying shoes. In the world of the Blackburns, misfortune is just an inevitable stumbling block on the road to fame and fortune.
For some people, though, the past is too heavy; you can only move so far until you start to sink.
Or, since Rich is always correcting my use of second person: I can only move so far until I start to sink.
253 DAYS BEFORE
The first time I actually spoke to Jane was during class the day after she made her grand entrance. Mr. Parker was out sick, which wasn’t a surprise, considering his illnesses usually coincided with various comic book conventions. He’d lined up Mr. Coots as a substitute, a man who had perfected the art of taking naps in public places, with schools being his specialty. Coots lost his pinky finger in the Vietnam War and typically spoke as if he were yelling over a helicopter. He always appeared on edge, like he expected the class to rebel and take over. He would read the newspaper and eventually fall asleep, at which point the class would descend into chaos until the bell rang. Sometimes he’d wake up, look disoriented, as if still caught in a dream, then share the story about how he lost his finger. “You know what I was doing when I was your age?!” he’d bark at the class. Everyone would stop what they were doing and listen.
“I was in ’Nam!” he’d yell. Blank stares.
“Vietnam!” he’d yell again. “Fighting the North Vietnamese Army! That’s how I lost this!”
He’d hold up the stub of his finger and make a biting motion. “Damn NVA soldier bit ’er right off!”
Someone would work up the courage to ask him what happened to the soldier, and the story was different every time.
The gratuitous: “I bit off his finger and cooked it in a stew!”
The inexplicable: “We’re good friends now!”
The simple: “He’s dead!”
The mind-fuck: “There was no NVA soldier!”
On this particular day, he was still asleep, reclining far back in his chair, eyes closed, lightly snoring. Spitballs littered his desk, the result of a five-dollar bounty for the first person able to hit him right between the eyes.
I finished the worksheet—a comic strip of RNA rescuing DNA—and proceeded to zone out, imagining ways I could find an excuse to talk to the mysterious stranger who now sat next to me. Every so often, I’d glance at her, pretending to look at the clock. It made me feel daring, like I was stealing fire from the gods.
She had on a huge pair of headphones that looked like earmuffs. Instead of doing the worksheet, she was drawing something in her notebook. She tapped her foot on the floor in a double-time rhythm, the nervous patter syncing up with the faint sound of acoustic guitar escaping her headphones.
Then a miracle happened. She took off her headphones and placed a folded piece of paper on my desk. I opened it with the awe of a pirate receiving a treasure map. On it, there was a drawing of Coots peacefully napping at his desk, drool spilling out of his mouth, hair coming out of his ears, while outside the window what looked to be a nuclear explosion billowed into a mushroom cloud. On the bottom, Jane had written: Trade you this fine piece of art for the answers?
I laughed and turned to look at her. She pointed at the worksheet, where Captain RNA and DNA Man were rambling on about mitochondria and alleles and all of their heroic exploits in the human body.
I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I nodded and handed her the worksheet. She looked almost disappointed as she took the paper and began copying down the answers, like she was waiting for me to say something.
With girls in Burgerville, I’d always operated under the assumption that the less I spoke, the better. When I got nervous, I tended to tell really long and depressing stories about history. (What? You don’t want to hear about another brutal form of torture from the Middle Ages?)
But not Jane. She seemed like one girl who might actually be interested in learning about the Head Crusher or Pear of Anguish. It reminded me of this documentary I’d recently watched called Alternative Dimensions. They had a bunch of scientists and people in bow ties talking about how there are a million different universes out there with people just like us, only slightly different. After it ended, I had this sneaking suspicion that I was born in one of the bad dimensions—not nearly as bad as the one with giant insects, but still, not my first choice either. But when Jane entered the picture, it was like I suddenly found myself in the right dimension.
That day in class, I decided that no matter what, I had to talk to her. Even if I could only grunt or make high-pitched squeals, I’d force sound to vibrate off my vocal cords. I owed it to the Ray in one of the other dimensions who was out sick that day for eating an expired pudding the night before.
The clock ticked, her pencil moved furiously across the paper, and just when she was nearing the end of the worksheet, ready to scroll through her music and shut me out in a wall of sound, I asked the most idiotic question possible, muttered to new kids thousands of times every year, but still, at least it was English. “How do you like Burgerville so far?” The words stumbled over one another, vowels and consonants mixing into a gloppy soup.
She stopped writing and handed me the paper. “I don’t like it,” she said.
“Me neither.” I would’ve agreed with anything she’d said right then.
Instead of saying something more—that would have been the normal thing to do—I reverted to my usual tactic with girls, a staring contest that only I knew about. It’s not like I didn’t have any questions to ask her, it’s just that none of them were related to anything going on in the moment. Like her favorite flavor of ice cream (strawberry, as I found out), her favorite book (The Bell Jar), whether she liked the Star Wars prequels (oddly enough, yes), the type of animal she’d most want to be (“A hedgehog, but a badass hedgehog, the kind that would attack you if you ever tried to put a hat on me”).
“You know, Burgerville’s actually not all bad,” I found myself saying, almost as a reflex, a way to fill the empty space. And then a thought came to me as I scrolled through the history of Burgerville. “You said you liked conspiracy theories, right?”
Her eyes narrowed.
“Burgerville is home to one of the biggest conspiracies in the country. And no one outside of this town even knows about it.”
I could tell Jane thought I was lying, but instead of calling me out or putting her headphones back on, she simply paused to think. By then Mr. Coots had woken up. He looked around the room, confused, on high alert for any signs of a communist sleeper cell. The class had stopped pretending to work and was involved in various forms of guerilla warfare against the system: Some kids were paying a boy named Peter Simmons to eat a moldy sandwich found in an abandoned lunchbox; others were recording videos of Coots to upload to the Facebook page entitled “Nap Time with Coots”; one kid was taking items out of Coots’s bag and hiding them in various places around the room, a sort of cruel scavenger hunt for the elderly.
Coots rubbed his eyes. “What’s going on in here?! Do you know what I was doing when I was your age?!”
After Coots finished telling us the story about his finger again, this one including an interesting twist about the NVA soldier immigrating to America and marrying Coots’s sister, Jane turned to me and said, “Who are you?”
The way she said it I couldn’t tell if she meant my name or what made me tick, the person underneath the labels.
“Raymond Green,” I said, and put out my hand to shake. She stared at my hand, then placed hers in mine.
“Pleased to meet you, Raymond Green,” she said in a somewhat mocking tone. “I’m Jane Doe. So, are there a lot of weird places in this town?”
“Oh yeah, Burgerville’s history will make you rethink everything you know about the past. And reality, for that matter.”
Then, as my bravery began to leave me and I considered retreating, she said the most magical thing I’d ever heard: “Maybe you can show me?”
The universe collapsed and I found myself in a place I knew very little about: the dimension where good things happened.
98 DAYS AFTER
THE CIVIL RIGHTS FITNESS MOVEMENT OF RICHARD DAWSON
Twice a week I go to see Rich. When I first started seeing him, I looked him up on the internet to learn about his history, this guy who I’m supposed to be sharing all of my deepest, darkest secrets with. It turns out Rich was named after his grandfather Richard Dawson, a famous civil rights leader in the neighboring city of Centerville.
Richard Dawson started his career as a weight loss guru in the early 1950s, pioneering an exercise regimen built around everyday household activities. According to him, everything was an opportunity for getting in shape: chopping vegetables, turning doorknobs, vacuuming, mowing the lawn, even chewing, if done properly. At first people laughed at him, but when his clients began to see dramatic results, he landed a TV show on Burgerville County Public Access Television and became the first black television host in America.
During the Civil Rights Movement, he took his skills as a fitness motivator into the realm of race relations. He held marches like “Ten Miles for Equality” and organized a “Thirty-Day Challenge” where each day he urged people to do one thing to lessen racial inequality. His message was the same as his advice in fitness: Small steps matter, which is why he was such a big believer in marches and bus boycotts (though he disagreed with sit-ins for obvious reasons). And the cool thing is, even though some people criticized his simple approach, his strategies actually started to work. Centerville became the most integrated city in America. (And the fittest too.)
Sometimes it feels like Rich’s therapy techniques come directly from his grandfather’s playbook.
“Each day, I want you to do one thing that brings you and your mom closer,” he said at our last session.
I rolled my eyes. I was sitting with my back to him at the time, in this big green leather rocking chair he must have bought at a tag sale. Pretty much everything in his office is old, which is probably why it smells like a cross between a gym locker and an old-age home. Faded motivational posters line the walls, a collection of cliché messages like Every Journey Begins with a Single Step and You are the Creator of Your Own Destiny.
“You mean like ‘Ten Days to be a Better Son’?” I asked.
“However many days it takes,” Rich said.
I turned around to face him. I expected to see him playing a game on his cellphone, but instead he was staring straight ahead, a yellow notebook in his lap covered in writing.
“People are worried about you, Ray.”
“Should they be?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
Rich leaned forward; an alarm had been set off.
“I’m not gonna kill myself, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“Have you had thoughts about it?”
I sighed. “No. I didn’t mean people should worry about that. I just meant in general. Like will I pass math and that sort of thing.”
“How can I trust that you’re telling me the truth?” I’d never seen Rich so serious before.
“Relax,” I said. “Jeez. You know I’d never do that.” He kept looking at me. “I’ll call you if anything changes, okay?”
“Day or night. And if not me, then your mom, your dad, Simon, anyone.” He rummaged through his bag and handed me a pamphlet with a bunch of phone numbers and facts about suicide.
I folded it up and put it in my pocket. I just wanted the conversation to end.
“Now let’s brainstorm some strategies to help you and your mom get along better,” Rich said.
“How much time is left?” I asked. I could tell that kind of annoyed Rich, because he sat back and let his notepad fall to the floor.
“I can’t do all the work,” he said.
“But you’re the only one getting paid,” I said.
Excerpted from "The History of Jane Doe"
Copyright © 2019 Michael Belanger.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had a feeling where this story might go just from the title. What I wasn’t prepared for was how quick I'd swept up in this story and invested I would become once I started reading. Ray is such a believable character. He’s the kind of guy you’d want to talk to for hours on end, be friends with, and would trust with anything. I would totally date a guy like him too. I would love listening to his stories about “the history of Burgerville” and him coming up with his most random images possible. Then there’s Simon. The best, best friend I have seen so far in a story. He was just as funny, lovable, and believable as Ray was. And I loved his weird thing for milk! I swear, in real life I do know someone like him. And Jane, whoever she really may be. She was just as believable and easy to love too. I’m not gonna say much more because I don’t want to spoil the story, but what I will say is if you’re thinking about passing on reading this story you are making a big mistake. Michael Belanger has quite the gift with creating such realistic characters, an engaging story line, and fine details that I found myself wondering a few times if I was still reading fiction. I’m looking forward to reading more stories from this author. If he keeps writing like this, he has a very bright future.
There was a whole lot to like about this book. I decided to read this book largely because I was intrigued by the cover. I mean why would a green cow be on the cover of this book? I had to know. Once I started reading the story hooked me right away and I didn't want to set the book aside. There is a so much more to this book than the green cow on the cover. This was an emotional story filled with wonderful characters I wanted to pull into a big hug before I turned the final page. I am so glad that I took a chance and decided to read this wonderful story. This book is told in alternating chapters of before and after which I think worked really well. From the start, you know things around going to work out the way you would want. But you also get to see everything as it starts and the comparison was very powerful. The book does handle a lot of difficult topics and I think it does a really good job keeping everything realistic. I liked Ray and his friend Simon from the first page. These characters were just fantastic and you couldn't help but cheer them on. Jane fit in with the pair almost perfectly. There was a bit of mystery around Jane and it was apparent early on that she was hiding a few things but her friendship with Ray and Simon felt very authentic. It was so easy to envision this group of teens trying to navigate life in Burgerville. I think that Simon and his love of milk caused more than a few laughing fits from this reader so expect a dose of humor in the story as well. I would highly recommend this book to others. This book deals with so many difficult issues in a seemingly expert manner. I fell in love with the characters and wanted to see things work out in their life. I will definitely be reading more from Michael Belanger in the future. I received a digital review copy of this book from Dial Books via First to Read.
Where to start with this beautiful book? I lost track of the number of times I laughed out loud at Simon’s often oblivious goofiness and Ray’s stories of the weird history of his town. I also lost track of the number of tissues I literally blew through as I was finishing the book. The last few chapters made me a sobbing mess. I somehow did not catch on to the inevitability of the “zero days before” until I was reading that chapter—I think I was trying to ignore that growing panic in my chest that things were not all milk and cookies and first kisses in Burgerville. Ray’s voice—his humor, his know-it-all-history-nerd-ness, his bursts of desperate anger—felt so real. I also loved loved LOVED Jane; when she was “up,” her dry, cutting humor made me feel like she’s exactly the kind of girl I’d want to be friends with. And when she was “down”…well, that felt real, too, as did Ray’s frustration with her for being down. One part that really got me was when Jane apologized for being "such a bummer lately,” the kind of brush-off, please-don’t-prod apology that feels true to my own experiences with depression. It’s an understatement that reveals why Ray might have such difficulty understanding why Jane is the way she is. It’s hard to understand depression unless you’ve experienced it yourself. After “day zero,” Ray struggles with his own mental health issues, and working through them with the help of his therapist makes him see Jane—and himself—more clearly. The structure of the book is not linear; the year leading up to “day zero” (focused on Ray’s relationship with Jane) and the year afterward (focused on Ray’s strained interactions with his therapist, friends, and family) are intertwined. The climax of both carefully constructed and paced storylines happens in the last pages of the book (hence all my crying). Ultimately, that’s what I loved about the book; it made me cry, it made me laugh, and it felt effortlessly authentic in provoking those emotions. Well done, Mr. Belanger—I will definitely pick up your next book!
3.5 stars Ray might not be the coolest kid at his Connecticut high school or the star athlete, but he is an ace when it comes to history. A new student, Jane Doe, enrolls at school and the two teenagers bond as Ray shares the local legends about the town they live in called Burgerville. As the two become closer, Ray realizes that Jane might be hiding some dark secrets. So the book alternates between the present time and the past when Ray first meets and becomes friends with Jane. This is actually done pretty well by the author although it is fairly easy to see early on where the story is headed. But being surprised at the ending isn't exactly the point of this book anyway. The beginning of the book was a bit of a struggle for me because I thought the humor was just a tad too much at times to the point where it didn't feel natural. I like quirky characters but it did take awhile to warm up to Ray and his friends. The book deals with some serious subjects such as mental illness and divorce and it's because of how these topics are dealt with that I do recommend this as a good read. Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read an advance digital copy! I was under no obligation to post a review and all views expressed are my honest opinion.