Evie is different. Not just her upbringing—though that’s certainly been unusual—but also her mindset. She’s smart, independent, confident, opinionated, and ready to take on a new challenge: the Institution of School.
It doesn’t take this homeschooled kid long to discover that high school is a whole new world, and not in the ways she expected. It’s also a social minefield, and Evie finds herself confronting new problems at every turn, failing to follow or even understand the rules, and proposing solutions that aren’t welcome or accepted.
Not one to sit idly by, Evie sets out to make changes. Big changes. The movement she starts takes off, but before she realizes what’s happening, her plan spirals out of control, forcing her to come to terms with a world she is only just beginning to comprehend.
J. J. Johnson’s powerful debut novel will enthrall readers as it challenges assumptions about friendship, rules, boundaries, and power.
|Publisher:||Peachtree Publishers, Ltd.|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||717 KB|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
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This Girl Is Different
By J. J. Johnson
Peachtree PublishersCopyright © 2011 J.J. Johnson
All rights reserved.
Life is a daring adventure or nothing. — Helen Keller, author and activist, 1880–1968
I manage to grab the snake, but not without twisting my foot and falling butt-first into the creek. When I stand, lightning shoots through my ankle.
I take a long, deep yoga breath, an Ujjayi ocean breath, to be calm. Steady. Strong. Hopping on one foot, I hold the wriggling snake and scramble over to a large rock. As I unshoulder my backpack, the snake flicks its tongue at me. It must think I'm crazy.
I can think of worse things. Better crazy than mild. Or timid, or meek, or boring.
From my backpack, I pull out the mason jar I brought for snake containment. "Your temporary quarters." He slithers in, curls up at the bottom. After popping the ventilated lid on, I hold him up for a better look: velvety black, yellow lines running the length of his back. Garter snake, or ribbon? I sniff the jar. A bit skunky but not overwhelming. Probably ribbon. "Either way, you're a beauty." I set the container down.
Now, to call for help. I flip my cell phone open. It doesn't chime. Of course I forgot to charge it.
Lightning shoots through my ankle again when I shift weight. It's already getting puffy and it's throbbing. Gingerly, I lower my foot into the creek so the cool water can help the swelling.
The snake, nonplussed, watches me. I unzip my backpack and move aside my drawing journal, the tin of colored pencils, the jar of filtered water. Ah, here it is: an emergency kit, packed by Martha. Score one for Martha, and moms everywhere. Hello, blister pack of ibuprofen! I swallow a couple of tablets with a swig of water and paw through the rest of the kit: band-aids and an ace bandage, a whistle, waterproof matches, a mirror. Plus, I packed two homemade oatmeal bars and a jar of peanuts and raisins. At least I won't starve.
Stranded, hurt, but I can handle it.
No freak-outs. No worries. This girl is different.
I wrap the ace bandage around my ankle and dip it back into the water. Crimson maple leaves float by, brown dappling their curling tips. They swirl and laze in the eddy from my foot. I might as well try to slow down too; it will be a while before Martha realizes I'm hurt. After her shift at Walmart, she'll probably stop at the food co-op and the library and who knows what else. Plus, it would take her a long time to hike this far along the creek. So even if she gets home early, and she notices my note and doesn't just assume I'm in the barn or doing yoga, I'm stuck here well past sundown. At the earliest.
From the position of the sun, it's not yet noon. Which leaves eight or nine hours to wait, or to come up with a better idea. Just me and my new friend Ribbons.
Hours later, still without an exit strategy, I take a break from drawing in my journal to check my sketches against Ribbons in his container. I ought to let him go, but I like the company. Sighing, I run my fingers over the smooth glass. I should probably try to find him a tasty worm or cricket to eat —
Wait. Voices in the woods.
A twig snaps. The voices get closer. I can pick out a male voice, some words: school, shop, classes. Is it two people out there, or three?
"Hey!" I call. "Hello?"
The voices go silent.
"I'm down by the creek!" I regard my throbbing ankle. "Actually, I'm pretty much up the creek!"
The voices return, low and quiet, like they're discussing what to do. Branches move, leaves rustle. A boy about my age, in cutoff cargo shorts and hiking boots, pops out of the trees. I've seen him before, in town — once in the library, a few times at the coffee shop. You can't help but see him. He is that kind of beautiful. A crunchier, leaner version of Kumar from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. His hair is glossy black, his eyes dark.
Blood rushes into my cheeks.
"Hi," he says. The frays of his shorts brush against his legs when he moves. His leather hiking boots are scuffed and worn into whorls of color, whipped cream melting into milky coffee.
"Hi." I will not sound like a damsel in distress. Although, technically, with a sprained ankle and no cell phone, I kind of am.
But where is the source of the other voice, or voices?
As if on cue, someone else stumbles out from the woods.
Kumar turns to catch the jumble of limbs. Coltish legs steady themselves and unfold to reveal a girl, very pretty. I've seen her around too.
"Hi." I fan a small wave. "I'm Evie." My heart won't stop pounding.
"Hi!" The girl is all eyelashes and toenail polish, in flip-flops and a short sundress. Not the most practical hiking attire, but who am I to judge? After all, I'm barefoot. The girl is petite and thin and gamine, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, but with richer, tawny brown skin. Indian maybe, or Latin American?
"What's up?" She pokes her fingers into her short, jet-black hair, like she wants to fluff and spike it.
"I hurt my ankle. It won't take weight, and no one really knows where I am."
Kumar looks around. What's he looking for? Is some - one else with them?
Audrey Hepburn asks, "You came out this far alone?" and I realize she is voicing Kumar's thoughts. She says it like it's unimaginable, like, You just flew back from the moon?
I shrug. "I live about five miles downstream."
"You live here?" the boy asks. They look at each other.
The girl juts out her hip, sets her hand on it. "Did you, like, just move or something?"
I know what they're thinking. Our town only has one high school, so everyone knows everyone. Well, obviously not everyone. I shake my head. "I've lived here two years. I'm a homeschooler."
They look at each other again. They are saying a lot with those looks.
"I'm normal, I swear!" I smile to reassure them. "I'm actually going to school this year. Starting Monday." Only three days away. I can't wait. I want to see what it's like; Martha is horrified that it will ruin me. It took a protracted battle to convince her to let me enroll. I finally wore her down — a brutal campaign of attrition — with ceaseless appeals for my own empowerment and personal decision-making. Also I convinced her I could be a gonzo journalist and treat high school like ethnographic research.
"I'll be a senior." I lift my foot out of the creek so I can turn all the way around to face Kumar and Audrey.
"That's awesome!" says the girl. She wiggles her thumb at herself and the boy, "Us too."
The boy's eyes go wide; he is staring at my ankle. It looks swollen even with the ace bandage.
"You weren't kidding about your ankle. Nasty sprain." He steps closer and bends down to look at it. "All right if I have a look? I've had some experience with these."
I nod. He kneels in front of me. My heart is thumping. Please tell me he can't hear it. The closer he gets, the harder it hammers. These two are probably together, they're a couple. Isn't that what I'm supposed to assume? I'm not really an expert at this kind of thing.
"Can I unwrap the bandage?"
I swallow hard, and nod again, and hope that my heart can take the strain of him touching me.
Audrey tucks her dress behind her knees and dips into a knees-together, ladylike squat next to Kumar. Her eyes skim my bare feet, slide up to my cutoffs and tank top, stop at my makeup-less face. Why do girls always look me over like this?
My heart sinks. Which makes me feel lame, because my life is not about feeling insecure. But if Audrey is the kind of girl Kumar likes, he would have zero interest in me. Petite I'm not. I'm not fat, I'm just ... built. Muscled and solid and tall. As for girly? Put it this way: I'm proud of being a girl, but girly? Not so much. I glance at my bare feet and unpolished toes, the light hairs on my unshaved shins, and I reach back to tighten my long brown ponytail. Whatever. I am what I am.
Besides, if they're together I shouldn't even be thinking these things.
Kumar cups the back of my foot and lifts it. I take a deep breath because it hurts, and because my heart is beating so hard.
Audrey and Kumar confer. Their words seem to float between them, bubbles that glint and pop.
"OHMIGOD!" The girl scrambles backward.
The boy frowns at my ankle. "It's not that bad."
The color has drained from her face, leaving it ashy. In terror, she points at the jar. "Snake! Snake!"
"Oh no. I'm sorry! I should have warned you." I hate that people are afraid of such wonderful creatures. I don't want to be the cause of any snake-hate. "He's just a little ribbon snake. Completely harmless."
She shakes her head, apparently unconvinced. She takes another step back.
"Would it be better if I let it go? Or do you want me to keep it contained?"
"Con ... contained."
"Okay. Don't worry. I'll keep it in the jar and —"
The boy rolls his eyes at Audrey. "Don't be such a wuss." He turns to me and asks, "Planning on keeping it?"
"No. I was just doing some —"
"Drawings." He's spotted my journal. "Wow. Can I see?"
He picks it up and thumbs through the pages. "Holy crap. These are amazing."
"What?" The girl tries to see without moving closer.
"Drawings. The snake and other stuff." He flips my journal shut and hands it to me, then turns to the girl. "Jay, why don't you start back? We'll wait until you get far ahead before we let the snake loose."
"No no no no no no no. I am not liking your plan. Trudging back through the forest alone? I don't think so." She wraps her arms around herself. "There might be more snakes or other various reptiles. Or what if I take a wrong turn and get lost forever?"
The boy groans.
"How about this?" I say. "On the count of three, you run, and I'll let the snake go in the other direction —"
"And I'll carry you out of here," Kumar says.
Oh yeah. My ankle. He's going to carry me, like I need to be rescued? How humiliating!
Plus, can I handle being that close to him? His beauty is pathological. Which pisses me off, really. Me being all swooning and hyperventilating — it's so lame.
But he's already counting: "One, two ..."
The girl takes off, and I hurry to let Ribbons the snake go. The boy picks me up, grunting a little with the effort. Yeah, I'm not small.
"I'm not a damsel in distress, you know."
He laughs. "Trust me: the thought did not occur."CHAPTER 2
You know there are moments such as these when time stands still and all you do is hold your breath and hope it will wait for you. — Dorothea Lange, photojournalist, 1895–1965
Audrey Hepburn's real name is Jacinda and beauteous Kumar is Rajas.
Rajas. He's carrying me piggyback to his car, which he says is parked on the state forest access road not too far away. When the trail is wide enough, Jacinda walks beside us. She scrunches her nose as she picks her way through the flora. "Tell me if you see any snakes." She laughs. "Actually, don't tell me if you see any snakes. Just tell me to run."
"Got it." I keep an eye out for any slithery movement. My nose is scrunching too — out of frustration at my heart, which continues to jump around because of Rajas. It won't listen to me, even though I'm a strong woman with strong morals. If the dude's taken, he's taken. Stop it, heart. Then again, I can't blame you too much, heart: I am straddling the boy's back, my thighs are rubbing against his arms. And he's so warm. And he smells so good.
"What brought you two out this way?" I ask Rajas and Jacinda, to distract myself from my heart (and/or pheromones).
Rajas's attempt at a shrug suffers under my weight. "Just looking around."
"Raj dragged me out here."
"Because it's good for you," Rajas tells Jacinda. "Clear your head from all that girly crap you're into."
"Hey," I interrupt. "Girly doesn't necessarily make something crap."
"Yeah." Jacinda smiles. "Girls rule, boys drool."
"Way to take the conversation back to second grade, Jay," Rajas says. "Besides, Eve doesn't seem like the girly type."
Okay ... is that good or bad? In his eyes, I mean. Dang! What is wrong with me! Why do I care?
"What about you?" Rajas asks me. "Why were you out here? Alone?"
"Yeah, do you, like, hang out here all the time?"
"I do," I answer. "I feel most at home when I'm outdoors."
They respond simultaneously: Rajas says, "Nice." Jacinda says, "Ew. I cannot relate." She swats at an invisible insect. "Get me inside already. Seriously. I never thought the Blue Biohazard would seem so appealing."
"I must have heard you wrong," growls Rajas, "because that sounded like you are disrespecting my baby."
Did I miss something? Is he really mad? "The blue what?"
"Biohazard," answers Jacinda. "Raj's car. He gets snippy if you don't bow down and worship it."
"You don't need to worship her. Polishing her hubcabs would suffice."
I lean closer to Rajas's ear. I'm fully supportive of naming inanimate objects, but still. "The Blue Biohazard?"
"Blue, for obvious reasons. Biohazard, because she averages a stately five miles a gallon." Rajas puffs out his chest in a show of pride.
"And because it, like, leaks fluids everywhere."
"Just my baby's way of sharing the love, Jay."
"Wow." I lean back a little; Rajas shifts his hold to adjust to my weight shift. More skin against skin: it sends a tingle. "Five miles a gallon? I think that might be worse than a Hummer."
Rajas laughs. "You know it. Figured I'd save myself the sixty thousand, and just drive grandpa's car until it falls apart."
We all settle into happy quiet. Around us, nut - hatches and chickadees skitter on tree branches. Rajas's boots pad softly on the earth. Jacinda's flip-flops thwup thwup thwup against her soles. While I study the shafts of sunlight filtering through the evergreens, Rajas shifts again. Tingle.
"Am I getting too heavy?"
"You're fine." Rajas pops me up to shift my weight a couple of inches higher.
"I must say, this is quite the ..." I trail off, trying to think of a word other than rescue.
"Quite the non-rescue?" Rajas suggests. "Because you're a non-damsel in non-distress, right?"
I laugh. "Right."
"I always considered myself a non-hero," Rajas says.
"Yeah, non-problem whatso-never," Jacinda says.
"Still. You guys don't even know me," I say. "That could've been a really long wait back there if you hadn't come along."
"Well we love non-rescues, don't we, Raj?"
"Of course." Sweat dews on Rajas's shoulders and chest; our bodies are starting to slip and stick where our skin touches. "We're almost there now."
"Blue Biohazard, here we come!" Jacinda picks up into a jog.
"Fantastic," I say, but really, I wouldn't mind more walking — miles more — so I could be with Rajas like this for a long, long time.
"Turn here." I point to the gravel road. "My driveway's up the hill."
"Roger that." Rajas turns the car onto the pitted road. The Blue Biohazard is the perfect name for his enormous, leaky, rusty, rickety old boat of a car.
"I shudder to think of the havoc we're wreaking on the environment," I say, "but ... this is a great car. Tons of personality." I'm riding in the front, next to Rajas, because of my ankle. I suppose Jacinda usually sits here. God, I wish my heart would stop pounding. But he is so beautiful. And so nice. With a great sense of humor. And he and Jacinda seem to get my jokes, which isn't a small thing, isn't a common thing at all. I haven't had many friends my own age.
"Thanks." Rajas pats the steering wheel. "My sweet, sweet baby. 1976 Buick Skylark."
"I have a feeling you might appreciate my own vehicular transportation."
"Oh yeah?" he asks.
"Mmm-hmm. Martha — that's my mom — and I have a 1961 Volkswagen minibus."
"No way. That is a sweet ride."
"Ugh." Jacinda pops into the space between the front seats. "You two cannot be serious! You are, like, two of a kind with your old piece-of-junk clunkers!"
Two of a kind? If you say so! Sweat prickles my forehead. "That's what we call her. The Clunker."
Jacinda rolls her eyes and groans; Rajas elbows her back to her seat.
"But you have me beat," I tell Rajas, "with all your elite universities." College stickers coat the Biohazard's rear window.
Rajas squints at me like he's trying to tell if I'm serious. "Yeah," he says. "Lends an air of grandeur."
"Very prestigious," I say.
"He's being ironic," Jacinda chimes in. "Because his car is such a heap? And they are such good schools?"
Excerpted from This Girl Is Different by J. J. Johnson. Copyright © 2011 J.J. Johnson. Excerpted by permission of Peachtree Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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