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After Ivy's stepfather disappears, Ivy's mama begins waitressing at Dining Divinely to make ends meet. She also takes in a boarder―twelve-year-old Caleb, who's the same age as Ivy and is the weirdest guy she's ever met. With Mama working full-time, Ivy has to babysit her little brother, JJ. She also has to fend off the nosy Pastor Harold; stop Caleb from filling JJ's head with lies; and keep her best friend, Ellen, from knowing anything about her embarrassing situation at home.
Ivy has always found out all she needs to know by lurking in the shadows (some might call it "eavesdropping"). But as things at home become more complicated, she learns to step into the light and not only listen but speak up.
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Chris Woodworth is the author of Double-Click for Trouble, Georgie's Moon, and When Ratboy Lived Next Door. Georgie's Moon has received both the award and honor for the Best Book of Indiana for Children's Literature. Her other books have also been chosen for several state reading lists. She has lived in Indiana for most of her life, and now resides in Mooresville, North Carolina with her husband and children. Like Ivy, Chris learned at an early age not to repeat anything she wasn't supposed to hear.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Some say you get your best education in school. Others say it’s through life. I got my best education early on eavesdropping at Mama’s feet while she talked to my aunt on the telephone.
She wasn’t really my aunt. Not by blood. She’d been Mama’s best friend since they were little girls living in the same neighborhood in Temperance, Indiana. Then they grew up. Mama and Aunt Maureen liked to joke that they would have stayed in their hometown if Temperance hadn’t practiced what it preached. When I asked Aunt Maureen what that meant, she just said, “Can you say boring?”
So Mama got a scholarship and went to a community college across the state in Hickory, and Aunt Maureen got married and moved to Georgia. Even though a good part of the USA was between them, they’d stayed best friends for eons, which is a word I learned because my mama always said it when they talked about how long it had been.
“Eon” wasn’t the only word I learned the meaning of by listening in. I learned my first cuss words that way, too, but I won’t tell you what they were because the best way to get that education I told you about is to act like you’re not hearing anything. You just have to be quiet and stay in the shadows. You go and repeat something you weren’t supposed to hear, then, buddy, it’s all over.
Listening to Mama and Aunt Maureen is how I learned the secret to making angel food cake so light you’d swear it would float away before you could slice it; it’s all in the beating—plenty but not too much.
I learned that sheets under 300 thread count weren’t worth spit, even though they were a whole lot cheaper. They’d pill and then you’d have to shave them.
I learned the most important thing last year when I was eleven. That’s when I heard Mama say that Jack Henry, my stepfather, was having himself a good old time with someone other than my mother. Probably someone with less than 300 thread count sheets, too, if that’s what Mama meant by her being cheap.
Mama cried and cried to Aunt Maureen.
“That’s what I get for marrying a guitar player who makes his living singing in a bar,” she’d sobbed.
It’s a good thing Jack Henry wasn’t there to hear her. He always said he wasn’t just a saloon singer. He was a star on the rise and singing at Harmony Street Blues was just the first step toward fame. He’d get real mad if someone didn’t call him by both his first and last name. “So people won’t forget that talented guy is Jack Henry,” he’d say.
Together Mama and Aunt Maureen came up with a plan. First Mama called McDermott’s Lock and Key and had new locks put on the doors. Then she took everything Jack Henry owned and threw it out on the lawn with a sign that said “Free.” I know because she let me paint it.
When he came home late that night after playing at Harmony Street Blues, he hollered and banged on the door for Mama to let him in. But she just kept up a running monologue of what he was yelling to Aunt Maureen on the telephone as she went from window to window, peeking through the curtains. “I’m staying strong. I’m not letting him in,” Mama told her. I knew Jack Henry was toast as long as Aunt Maureen stayed on the line.
He finally gave up, dragging away the few of his possessions that were still left in the yard.
Sixty days later, Mama hauled me and my little half brother, Jack Jr., to divorce court. She pulled me by the hand to stand before the judge and picked up my brother, eyes blinking, thumb deep in his mouth, and plopped him on the judge’s desk. When the judge asked her why she wanted the divorce, she said it was bad enough that Jack Henry had been kissing up some other woman but he did it in the shirt she’d bought herself and washed and bleached to keep it snowy white. She said the least he could have done was take that shirt off.
When the judge banged the gavel declaring her a free woman and giving her custody, she settled my brother on her hip, grabbed my hand, pulled us out of that courtroom, and never looked back.
I did, though. I looked back at Jack Henry. He lifted his sad face, his thick dark hair falling over one of his tear-filled eyes, and said, “Bye, Jack Junior.” It would have been a moment to thaw the coldest of hearts if I hadn’t known that Jack Henry was such a con artist.
He came around home every so often after the divorce, but not what you could call regular. Definitely not the every-other-week visitation schedule the judge declared. He’d never paid much attention to me when he lived with us, but then he didn’t tell me what to do or scold me, either. I considered it a fair trade. Now he didn’t acknowledge me at all.
You’d think he would have paid more attention to Jack Jr., but I guess Jack Henry wasn’t particular whether you were his stepchild or his kid by blood—his parenting skills were the same.
After the divorce, though, he’d come around saying he needed to see his boy. He’d wrestle with Jack Jr. and tousle his hair. But then it was easy to figure out the real reason he came, which was to beg Mama to take him back. She almost caved in a time or two. I could tell because she’d go all soft-eyed while he was there and wouldn’t put up much fuss when he hugged her, especially when he’d sigh and say, “Oh, Cass.” She looked like she’d almost melt, and I figured she was a goner. He’d whisper something in her ear and she would hold her hand over her mouth and laugh. But then he’d eventually say, “I can’t pay all the support this week, baby,” and her face would set hard, like stone. He’d leave, promising to make it up the next week.
Mama would immediately get on the horn to Aunt Maureen. The two of them would talk about Jack Henry in a way that made a person almost feel sorry for him. Mama would be in such a state it didn’t matter if I just sat there and listened outright without pretending. I learned lots of new words that I probably wasn’t supposed to on those days.
I also learned that Mama was a “serial marrier.” At least that’s what she called herself to Aunt Maureen. I could tell Aunt Maureen was doing her best to talk Mama up but Mama wouldn’t have any of it. “You know it’s true, Maureen. Between the two of us we’ve had three husbands and counting! Why we’re a regular soap opera!”
I knew Mama had been married to my dad, Travis Greer. She’d left community college because she was “in a family way,” which meant she was pregnant with me only she never said it just like that. So my daddy made husband number one, although he took off before I was born. Jack Henry made husband number two. Aunt Maureen was married to Uncle Sonny, an over-the-road truck driver with a big tummy and the warmest hugs I ever got from anybody. That made three husbands. I wondered what the “and counting” meant.
The last time we saw Jack Henry was in July and he didn’t seem different from any other time. He tried to sweet-talk Mama again. He gave her some of the support money—not all—with the promise to make it up next time. When his check didn’t come the following week, Mama, acting on Aunt Maureen’s advice, packed us kids in the car and hightailed it to the trailer court where he’d moved. Sure enough, his trailer was empty and his landlord didn’t even know he’d gone until Mama told him.
She dragged us to Harmony Street Blues. It wasn’t Saturday, but to make ends meet, Jack Henry worked as a bartender on weeknights. I had to keep Jack Jr. outside. He cried for his daddy, but I explained that the sign said “No Minors Allowed” and that meant us. I cupped my hands to peer through the window, though. I could see the owner shaking his head no to Mama and shrugging his shoulders, which I took to mean that he didn’t know any more about Jack Henry’s whereabouts than we did.
That day was the last time Mama called my brother Jack Jr. From then on she called him JJ. It’s what she put on his registration papers when school started in August, and when Mrs. Wilton, his kindergarten teacher, asked Mama what the initials stood for on the first parents’ night, Mama looked her straight in the eye and said, “J.” Then she hesitated a good long beat and said, “J.”
With Jack Henry running off and not paying child support, a lot of phone calls were going down with Aunt Maureen, and I didn’t like them.
“Oh, I don’t know, Maureen. I hate to uproot the children. They’ve been through so much.”
Well, now, I didn’t think we’d been through that much. With Jack Henry gone, there was a lot less hollering. It was that “uproot” part I didn’t care for. It sounded like we were weeds you’d pull out of the ground and then toss aside.
“I know you could put us up for a while but you only have the one extra bedroom. And what if I can’t find a job right off? You can’t take care of us forever,” Mama continued.
But even I knew that if Jack Henry wasn’t paying any support and Mama wasn’t working, we had to get money from somewhere. I tried not to miss any of their calls, seeing as how their plans affected my future, too. I must have missed a few, though, what with Mama not having the money to make as many calls anymore and me never knowing when Aunt Maureen would call her.
Mama said we needed to start going to church again. Mama, Jack Henry, and I had gone to the Hickory Presbyterian Church when they were first married—until I heard Mama tell Jack Henry that we were going as an upstanding family and that meant she wasn’t going back until he could attend without a h...
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Book Description Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2013. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0374335664