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Following the death of his parents, 16-year-old Simon moves into his grandparents' claustrophobic bungalow, which quickly becomes a refuge from his bullying peers. United by their voracious appetite for books, Simon and his grandmother stumble across the Great Big Book Exchange—a bookshop with a difference. There they meet impulsive, gothic Kelly and her boss, Terrance—and the friendships forged in the Great Big Book Exchange result in startling and unsettling consequences for all of them.
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Paul Magrs is the author of several books, including Aisles, Doctor Who: Sick Building, and Strange Boy.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
They started laughing as soon as they saw him. Simon could hear them from miles away, and he knew he would have to walk past. He would have to brave it out as they laughed their heads off. They'd be jeering and pointing at the tartan shopping bag he was pulling along behind him. It was on wheels and it belonged to his gran.
Why had he let her talk him into taking her shopping bag? Why hadn't he just used normal carrier bags from the supermarket? Everyone else did. Only old pensioners used shopping bags on wheels to fetch their groceries from the shops. Not sixteen-year-old lads. Not unless they were freaks. Freaks who let their grans talk them into using pensioners' bags and who got laughed at in the street by all the other kids.
Kids who don't even know me, he thought. I've only been in this town a couple of months. They don't know anything about me. What gives them the right to go yelling at me?
He knew, though. He knew what it was that gave them the right.
I'm an easy target, he thought.
There he was: down the cheap supermarket, after school, making himself useful and picking up a few bits and bobs for his gran. And then pulling them home in his gran's old tartan shopping bag. The little wheels were trundling away behind him on the wet pavement. He was all buttoned up and mortified in his anorak. He looked like a daft lad, he knew. Soft in the head. And that's how all the kids hanging around the town marketplace saw him.
He sighed and steeled himself to trundle right past them. He tried keeping his head down. If he'd had a snorkel hood he'd have pulled it up.
What did they know? They didn't know anything about him. They didn't know anything at all. Nothing beyond this tiny, run-down place they lived in.
Look at them, he thought. Thinking they were dead cool. There was about six of them. Kids from his year group at school. He recognised a face or two, but didn't want to stare back at them for long. That would only aggravate them. The oldest boy had already left school. He was the hardest one of the lot: wolfish and lean. He swaggered about with a bravado that Simon couldn't help noticing. It really rankled with him, the way that older boy was free to hang around the town centre all day long, if he wanted. He sat on walls, with the others when they skived school, swigging the very cheapest, tartest cider straight from two-litre bottles. He would smoke cigarette after cigarette, fixing Simon with a penetrating, mocking stare whenever Simon passed by.
Rough lads, his mum would have called them. Rough lads and nasty girls. Don't take any notice of them. So Simon tried not to.
His mum had always been relieved that he'd shown no signs of running off and joining the likes of them. Simon was amazed that anyone would ever want to. What was so great about hanging around on the streets? Especially on damp, mizzly November nights like this, when you couldn't even tell whether night had fallen. The mist had settled so thickly on the town. The kids shouting at him seemed trapped in their cone of sickly yellow street light.
And what was so great about hanging around the phone box? That was the saddest thing. There was nothing for that lot to do round here, so they got their kicks hanging around the only phone box in town, in the corner of the market square. It was trashed, of course. Someone had smashed the phone, leaving only the leads dangling. So they couldn't even amuse themselves making hoax calls to the fire brigade or the police or just random numbers. The kids simply sat on the wall beside the box. They smoked and scowled, bitched and slurped at their cider. Then they waited for the likes of Simon to come by so they could shout at him.
Tonight they made a meal of it, because of his gran's tartan shopping trolley. The wheels made a terrible racket on the slick paving stones and he cringed.
Soft lad. Daft lad. Weirdo. Creep.
Maybe these were just the kinds of things they always called new kids. He had only been in this town, living with his grandparents, for about half a term. Seven weeks or something. Hardly any time at all. It was all new and he was still a stranger to the kids in his school. This town was small: stuck up on its hill in the middle of the countryside. Maybe they weren't really used to anyone new coming in. This was just how they reacted. Suspicious. Even slightly hostile. At least, for a while. But that would wear off, wouldn't it?
Fat get. Tosser.
Gradually, he thought, they would get to know him. Slowly but surely, they would come to accept him and he would belong.
Snigger. Snigger. One of the girls - fearsome-looking, skinny, hair in a scrunchy - popped gum in his face as he went by. He flinched and plodded on, determined not to seem as if he was hurrying. Don't let them see that you're rattled: that's what his dad would have said. That would be his advice. Be brave. Show them that you're just as good as they are.
It was hard, though. Especially once he'd gone by them and he could no longer see them, sitting there on their wall. He couldn't be sure if they weren't coming after him, creeping up, ready to set upon him, once he'd turned off from the market square and down the alleyway that led to the street where his grandparents' bungalow was.
Simon gritted his teeth and kept on trundling. He resisted the temptation to look round behind him. The rumbling of the shopping bag's wheels seemed to fill his whole head.
How did I end up here? he groaned. This lousy place. This rotten town.
Every single thing about his life had changed, these past two months. And none of it for the good.
His mum and dad were dead.
There. He let the words reverberate inside his mind.
The words didn't hurt. They didn't make him flinch or choke up. He could listen to that cold statement inside his mind and know that it was true. Six months after the fact, and did that mean he was accepting it? That he was getting over it?
No. It didn't mean that. That fact was too huge, too weird to take in. Even now. It was still too soon.
But Simon knew that nothing else could hurt him. Not really. Not beside the massive, irreversible fact of his mum and dad being dead. All of his life could crash in flames around him, and still nothing would hurt him or have any impact.
So really, he didn't care what the kids round here did to him. They could yell at him and follow him around down these back streets if they wanted. Even if they beat him up, it didn't really touch him. It was like there was some strange barrier between him and all these new people and this new place. A solid but transparent barrier. OK, so they didn't want him and wouldn't accept him into their school or their town. They thought he was weird and different to them. Well, he was. Simon felt like he wasn't even in the same species as them. As anyone else.
He felt like he was in a different species even to his grandparents. He had moved in with them, lived in their bungalow and, by rights, he belonged to them now. But they weren't quite real to him, even so.
This was his life now. He tried to grasp hold of it. To know where he was. In this shabby, misty town, Friday teatime, pulling along a tartan shopping bag containing corned beef, full fat milk, sliced white bread, cream cakes. The last was his gran's suggestion, so they could share a proper Friday night treat together.
'Is that you, Simon...?' His gran was calling from her kitchenette. She knew it had to be him. There was only him and her and Grandad who had keys to the place. She'd have heard the scraping of his Yale in the porch lock. Grandad would still be down his pub, the Legion, having a couple of pints with his cronies before supper.
Their pattern was set in stone. That was something Simon had learned about his gran and grandad. They didn't half like their routines. Maybe all old people were like that. Wanting to know exactly when every little thing was going to happen. Never any surprises. That's what old people preferred. No shocks, he thought. Weak hearts. They couldn't go round getting shocks and surprises: jolting their poor old hearts.
Living here was like being in a trance. Or being brainwashed. Simon was being forced into the shape of their lives. The repetitious, endless, downward slope of their lives. It was just like the days themselves, growing shorter and darker and less eventful: sliding remorselessly into winter.
He pulled the awkward shopping bag over the doorstep, through the porch, dropping slimy dead leaves behind him.
Inside the bungalow it was too stuffy and warm. His gran liked the heating to be turned up full blast, now the bad weather had started. Hang the expense, she said. Nothing was worse than feeling that misty cold creeping into your bones.
She was standing there in the kitchen doorway, rubbing her hands on a tea towel. She was smiling at him uncertainly. A hesitant, hen-shaped woman in a black knitted pullover. Her hair had been freshly set and rinsed lilac by Rini in the town centre. There were two pink spots on her face from the kitchen heat.
'There you are. There's not every lad who'd go and fetch things from the shop for his gran. Your grandad would never do it. He doesn't even know where the supermarket is.'
'Hm,' said Simon, hefting the shopping bag across the living room and round the coffee table, careful not to let the wet wheels touch the thick pile of the carpet. 'I wish I'd never taken this thing with me. I looked a right idiot. Pulling it along after me...'
'Oh,' chuckled his gran. 'It's better than them plastic bags. They can split and you can strain your back heaving them about. Who's going to see you, anyway? This time of night. Who's going to be looking at you?'
'Kids were,' he said. 'From my year at school. And older ones. They think I'm daft or something.'
'You needn't listen to that lot.' His gran was bending stiffly, emptying the basket onto the kitchen bench. 'They wouldn't help anyone. They'll come to nothing. Was it the ones round the phone box?' ...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Simon & Schuster UK, 2008. Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P111416916636
Book Description Simon & Schuster UK, 2008. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M1416916636
Book Description Simon & Schuster UK, 2008. Paperback. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX1416916636