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Kirkus Best Books of 2019 * Kids’ Indie Next Pick List * Bookpage Best Books of 2019: Middle Grade

“Beautiful, mysterious and deeply satisfying.” –Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal-winning author of When You Reach Me and Goodbye Stranger

The world tilted for Elodee this year, and now it’s impossible for her to be the same as she was before. Not when her feelings have such a strong grip on her heart. Not when she and her twin sister, Naomi, seem to be drifting apart. So when Elodee’s mom gets a new job in Eventown, moving seems like it might just fix everything.

Indeed, life in Eventown is comforting and exciting all at once. Their kitchen comes with a box of recipes for Elodee to try. Everyone takes the scenic way to school or work–past rows of rosebushes and unexpected waterfalls. On blueberry-picking field trips, every berry is perfectly ripe.

Sure, there are a few odd rules, and the houses all look exactly alike, but it’s easy enough to explain–until Elodee realizes that there are only three ice cream flavors in Eventown. Ever. And they play only one song in music class. Everything may be “even” in Eventown, but is there a price to pay for perfection–and pretending?

“Engrossing.” –New York Times Book Review

“Enchanting, heart-rending, and bittersweet.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“An emotionally complex and wonderfully told story.” –School Library Journal (starred review)

“Thought-provoking.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)



Fresh Start

Jenny Horowitz likes horses and the color pink and asking lots of questions about things I don't want to talk about. Today she's got one of her favorite horse T-shirts on, a pink one, and she's asking me about The Move, even though every time she mentions it I turn to Naomi and ask a question about multiplying fractions, which we're learning about in math class. Jenny, Bess, and Flora should all know that if I'm talking about multiplying fractions, I must really not want to talk about The Move.

Of the two of us, Naomi is the harder twin to read. I love talking, but she's quiet all the time—when she's happy or sad or scared or anything else. I can see the little differences. When she's happy she blushes, and when she's sad she stares out windows, and when she's scared she leans in close to me, like I might protect her.

And I would. I would try to protect Naomi from just about anything.

I'm just not so sure who's going to protect me when we're in our new town.

"Do you think the other kids will like you?" Jenny asks. "Are the kids different there? Mom says everything's different there."

"What's one-fifth times two-fifths?" I ask my identical twin sister. Naomi shrugs even though I'd bet anything she knows the answer. She looks up at the ceiling and crosses her arms. She is angry, but no one else can tell.

When I'm angry, everyone knows it.

And I'm starting to get angry right now.

Naomi sees it and gives me a look that reminds me to act normal. Naomi and I have found that if you act normal when you're out in public, you can save all your sad and sorry and worried feelings for home.

At home, when it's just us, we do a lot of being sad and sorry and worried.

But at school Naomi is That Amazing Gymnast and I am The Girl Who Makes Weird Cookies and we are both in The Group of Girls Who Most People Pretty Much Like.

Lately, though, I've been having a harder time pretending to be The Girl Who Most People Pretty Much Like (Even Though She's a Little Loud and a Little Weird Sometimes). I know I'm supposed to be Elodee from Before and Naomi is supposed to be Naomi from Before, because otherwise we have to be something much, much worse.

Still, it's hard to be from Before when you are in Now. I am not doing the best job at it. Last week, I yelled at Jon in the middle of English class. I used a bad word. One of the only words Dad says we can't use. I said it right in front of the teacher.

I got in trouble of course, but Jon did, too, because everyone heard what he said to me. It was something very, very mean.

It made Naomi sad. Things that make me angry often make Naomi sad, and that's the part of being twins no one really understands. Especially me.

"Why are you moving in March?" Jenny asks. "Shouldn't you wait until the summer and move then?"

"What about dividing fractions?" I ask Naomi. "Is that even harder than multiplying?"

Naomi nods. "Dividing is really hard," she says. She looks out a window and I know the sentence has made her sad. I wish she could get angry with me instead.

"Have you even seen your new house? Have your parents even seen it? Don't you have to see a house before you move into it?" Jenny is relentless. She's speaking so loudly that other people are turning and looking at us, and no amount of shushing from Bess or nudging from Flora seems to be stopping her.

"Fractions are weird. I like regular full numbers better," I say.

"Me too," Naomi says. I'm running out of things to say about multiplying fractions, and I'm hot under my arms and all over my chest.

Flora and Bess are exchanging glances that they think I don't notice, but I do. I notice the way they roll their eyes at the weird things I do and the way they sometimes lean away from me like they don't want other, more popular girls, more normal girls, to know that we are friends.

What they don't know is that I don't care about any of that anymore.

What they don't know is that it's Jenny who is being awful by not stopping her question asking when I obviously don't want to answer. I am angry at all of them with their tiny, almost-invisible dismissals and the not-so-tiny ways they tell us that they want everything to go back to the way it was before, not because they want us to be less sad, but because they want their own lives to be easier.

Sometimes I'm so angry at my friends I wonder if I even have room for other things like sadness and happiness anymore.

I wonder why Jenny can't see it, simmering under my skin. Pricking my eyes, making me sweat.

"I heard my mom talking to my dad, and she says it's really good you guys are leaving and you should have left right away because your family really needs a fresh start so that you can be okay again and leaving here is the best way for you to do that."

It happens so fast, I could almost pretend it didn't happen at all.

I shove Jenny Horowitz against the wall. My hands press hard into her shoulders, my elbows bend, and I let it all go—The Move, the last few months, Jenny's stupid horse shirt, the fact that Naomi's a gymnastics star and I can't do a cartwheel, Bess's birthday party last month where she invited Flora and Jenny to sleep over but didn't ask me and Naomi, the way my shoes pinch because I need a new pair and Mom keeps forgetting, Dad's bad moods, Jenny's incessant questions, the way people say the words fresh start and how it sounds more like a threat or a punishment than some great goal to work toward, Naomi's quietness getting even quieter, and everything else that's made the last few months feel like something I'm carrying around and not something I'm moving through.

With all that going into the push, it's a wonder Jenny doesn't fly right through the wall, into the janitor's closet on the other side.

Instead, her glasses—pink, of course—fall from her face, and her shoulders meet the wall with a thump, and the other kids around us gasp, their hands over their mouths and their eyes moon-wide, like cartoon characters instead of real people.

It takes about one second for Ms. Marley to rush to the scene, as if she knew something like this was going to happen.

I didn't know, though. I never seem to know what's coming.

It didn't feel good, shoving Jenny. It didn't feel good calling Jon the bad word, either. It felt inevitable, though.

Sometimes I think feelings are bigger than people. More powerful. They make people do things that can't be undone. I used to think feelings were part of a person, but lately I've been thinking they are separate beings, that they come like aliens and invade people's bodies and cause destruction.

Naomi didn't agree or disagree when I told her my theory. But I heard her sniffling in the top bunk later that night, and I thought, Yep, there's an alien, taking over Naomi's body for the night. What a jerk.

After shoving Jenny, I sit in the principal's office and make fists with my hands and keep all my muscles very, very tense. Sometimes I hang my head and take deep breaths, but I don't cry and I don't yell and I definitely don't shove anyone else.

The principal doesn't get mad at me. She doesn't punish me since it's my last day of school anyway.

I have always liked the principal. She wears dresses with cat patterns and bird patterns and giraffe patterns, and she makes goofy jokes that kids make fun of but I sort of like. She has never treated me any differently than she did last year.

"Some days are harder than other days," she says with a sigh, like she knows the same things I know, like she's shoved someone, too, like she's sat in a little room like this one and gotten a headache from the effort of trying to be okay. "Isn't that right, Miss Lively?"

I don't say anything. I don't make any noise at all. But I nod at the way a principal in a dress covered in elephants can say something so simple and so true.


The Only Pretty Thing in Jupiter

The next morning, our last full day in Juniper, I help Dad in the yard with the rosebush.

The rosebush is the prettiest thing in all of Juniper. It might be one of the only truly pretty things here, in fact. Bess thinks the glass elevator at the mall is pretty and Flora thinks the skyscrapers we can see from the highway are pretty and Jenny thinks the big white houses in the center of town are pretty, but I'm not so sure about any of that.

"Are there roses where we're going?" I ask Dad while he grunts and digs and gently touches the reddest petals.

"You remember," he says. "There are roses everywhere in Eventown. You said it was prettier than Juniper could ever be. You're the one who said you wanted to live there."

I do remember. I remember everything, because when something happens I turn it over and over and over in my head a thousand times until I am sure I understand it. And sometimes I make a cake or a cookie or even a pot roast based on the thing that happened. When Mom got her new job offer with Eventown tourism, I made a celebration vanilla cake with confetti sprinkles on top but a confused strawberry-raspberry-peanut-butter center. When I called Jon the bad word, I made apology cookies with bitter coffee bits inside. When Bess "forgot" to invite us to sleep over after her party, I made spicy, angry pasta with lots of chili pepper and even a dash of Tabasco in the sauce and jalapeño bread instead of garlic bread. For dessert I made the sweetest chocolate pudding with the fluffiest marshmallow whipped cream because Dad said even the angriest days can have sweet moments.

"If there are so many rosebushes there, why do we have to bring this one with us?" I ask. I love this rosebush, but I also feel a little sad about taking away the only pretty thing in Juniper. Once this rosebush is gone, the prettiest thing in Juniper will probably be the pond over by Flora's house, but it's an ugly brown color and slimy when you stick your feet in. I always look for goldfish in there—a flash of orange would make the pond so much nicer. But there are only ever tadpoles.

"It's the family rosebush," Dad says. "We can't leave without it." He's sweating onto the handle of his shovel, onto the ground, onto his shoes. From inside, Mom and Naomi watch, Mom shaking her head and Naomi with the look on her face that she's had for weeks—like she's thinking too hard but no thoughts are coming.

I have my own shovel and a pair of gloves Dad gave me for Christmas. I don't love gardening and dirt the way he does, but I like the smell of flowers and grass and the way Dad's face relaxes when he's out here, his worried eyes un-worrying themselves, his fists turning back into regular hands.

Plus, I have to be extra-helpful after the Jenny Incident. When Mom and Dad got off the phone with the principal, they didn't punish me or yell at me or even talk to me about what had happened. Mom sighed and handed me a cardboard box and told me to start packing up the kitchen. Dad said he'd need help in the garden. I, of course, didn't argue with either of them.

Still, it's strange to do something so big and not get in any trouble for it. Lately everything Naomi and I do is okay. Even when what we do really, really isn't okay. Parents and teachers and all the adults in Juniper seem nervous around us. Like it would be dangerous to get too mad at us.

Even Mom and Dad don't have much to say to us anymore. It feels like there's a list of things we aren't supposed to talk about or even think about or feel, and I'm trying my hardest not to talk or think about any of them. Not even with Naomi. Not even with myself.

But it's not easy.

It's uncomfortable, like the whole world tilted just the tiniest bit to the right and gravity and all the other laws of the universe aren't working quite right anymore.

The world did tilt, I guess.

We almost fell off the edge, I think.

I shiver, not wanting to think about tilting worlds or the principal's sad-pitying-nervous face.

I gesture at Naomi to come outside, waving my hands. Naomi sticks her tongue out at me. I stick my tongue out at her. She gets a look on her face that's filled with mischief, and before the look fades, she disappears below the window frame. A moment later, her feet are in the window, dancing and wiggling in the air.

It makes me laugh.

In the midst of everything, Naomi can still make me laugh. She turns herself back around, and when her face is back in sight, it's red and beaming.

"Your turn," she mouths. This is the Naomi no one else really sees. She doesn't like other people seeing that she's goofy and silly and funny. She keeps it all locked up, and I'm the person who gets to see it.

Still, I wish I had someone to be silly with out in the world.

I put my hands on the ground and fling my feet in the air. They fling themselves right back down. It hurts and I'm muddy and grass stained, but Naomi's laughing and I'm laughing and it's a joke that no one else thinks is funny but us.

Which makes it the best kind of joke there is.

Every once in a while, Naomi and I make each other laugh, and it almost feels like everything might be okay again someday.

Maybe in Eventown, it will be.

I start to shovel alongside Dad. He grunts every time his shovel hits the earth. At one point he takes off his glove and gets stuck by a thorn. He leaps away from the pain and laughs at himself. He's always saying, Elodee, roses are fickle. They require care and seriousness. Their thorns can hurt you. Their petals can wilt. But if you do everything right, they're beautiful.

It sounds like a lot of pressure to me, which is partly why I don't love gardening so much. It's too precarious—that's a word we learned a few weeks ago. It means things might fall apart at any second, if you're not careful. Sometimes, things are precarious and you don't even know it.

I didn't know the word precarious earlier this year, but I wish I had. It would have explained a lot.

With gardening, no matter how hard you try, you might do something the tiniest bit wrong and ruin everything. Dad tried to teach Naomi and me to be gardeners, but we weren't very good. We planted wallflowers once, and watered them all the time, but wallflowers hate lots of water. We tried ferns next, and spritzed them every few days with Dad's little spray bottle, but the ferns dried up, begging for more. I wanted to keep trying more plants, but it made Naomi too sad, to mess up like that.

Naomi's always afraid of messing up.

I'm not like that at all. I mess up a lot. In the kitchen, messing up's okay. Things aren't so precarious. I can add peppers when it says to add tomatoes or cilantro when it calls for basil. Mostly, I don't even use recipes, I just play with what's on the Elodee shelf in the kitchen and hope it turns into something delicious.

Last week, we had a bunch of potatoes and avocados and eggs. I made a delicious scramble for everyone for breakfast and found chives and garlic to put on top. It seemed almost too simple, so I took a look at the Elodee shelf to see if I'd collected anything that might fit in.

"It's good as it is," Naomi said, annoyed that she had to wait to eat her breakfast.

"It's boring," I said. "I know I can make it better." I found cumin and jalapeños and a fancy blood orange olive oil on the Elodee shelf, and I made a sort of salsa for the eggs.

Naomi wouldn't even try it.

Mom nibbled.

But Dad and I knew it made the meal something better than breakfast. It made breakfast an adventure.

I wish I felt as sure about the adventure we have coming up now as I did about the crazy salsa.

"Is there a mall in Eventown?" I ask. "Is there an Olive Garden and a McDonald's and a train station that the big kids hang out at?"

Dad doesn't answer. He just sighs. He sighs at everything lately. Overcooked eggs and coffee that's a little too hot and the weather, even if it's seventy and sunny. He sighs at Mom's efforts to have fun—movie night, pizza night, pottery night, yoga night.

The rosebush and Eventown are the only things Dad seems happy about. Not happy like the old days, but his new happy. Old happy had goofy made-up songs and air-guitar and a silly smile with his tongue inching out. New happy really only means Dad isn't grumpy. New happy is quiet and closed mouth almost-smiles and a different sigh—a relieved one instead of a tired one.

"Help me with this side, Elodee," Dad says. "But be gentle. The root's the most important part."

I nod and go to Dad's side, but I'm uneasy about unearthing the beautiful plant.

Dad prepares a transfer bed for the bush, a place where the plant will go as it travels from the place we've always lived to the new place, where we've only ever visited once before.

When Dad needs a break, I take one, too, and finally Naomi joins me outside.

"Are you all packed?" Naomi asks, sounding like Mom.

"Yeah. It's weird not having anything in the dresser anymore."

"I don't know what to bring. Do you think they dress the same in Eventown? Do you remember?"

"I think so?" We stayed in Eventown for a weekend two years ago, the whole family, and it was the best weekend of my life. And everyone else's. There's an amazing ice cream shop in the center of town, with new flavors every day. There are rosebushes everywhere, and hills on all sides, perfect for hikes that lead to waterfalls or fields for picnicking or gardens of more roses in even more colors. Here in Juniper, I don't like hiking at all. My shoulders get cold while my feet get hot. Bugs bite my thighs and dirt gets in my eyes and the end of the hike only ever leads us back to the beginning.

In Eventown, I loved hiking. It was somehow always the perfect temperature, and the view at the end was always worth it.

"Pack stuff for hiking," I tell Naomi. "Do you remember yelling all our secrets at the top of that one hill? We have to do that again." It was one of the best days in Eventown. The air felt so good and the top of the hill felt so far away from everything that we screamed out secrets at the tops of our lungs. Then a family of hikers came up right behind us and we all giggled, knowing that they'd heard about who Naomi had a crush on and what I really thought of our music teacher and a bunch of other secrets that no one was supposed to actually hear.

Naomi was so embarrassed she threw the picnic blanket over her head, but I didn't mind one bit. I had learned by then that it wasn't so bad when people thought you were strange.

"Being weird is the same as being brave," I'd been told. It felt especially true that day, so I told Naomi. She didn't really agree. She still doesn't. So I try to be brave and weird enough for both of us.

It's not as fun as being brave and weird with someone else.

"I don't have hiking stuff," Naomi says. "I don't want to go." I guess she's not remembering the same things I am. We have the same almost-red-but-really-actually-brown hair and pale freckly skin, the same extra-brown eyes and sharp elbows and crooked front teeth, but sometimes we forget to be the same in all the most important ways.

"Maybe it will be fun," I say. "Maybe Mom and Dad will like it. Remember when we visited, how they danced at dinner, how they let us stay up late to play board games, how no one got burned at the beach?"

"I remember," Naomi says.

"Remember how when we visited you finally perfected a back handspring and I made a cake that didn't fall and everything smelled like roses?"

Naomi nods. I'm not sure about the move either, but Mom and Dad want us to be positive about it, and I want Mom and Dad to be happy, so I work on my smile and a chipper voice and hope Naomi comes around too. I focus on all those happy Eventown memories and hope that maybe, maybe, living there will be as good as visiting was.

"What are you going to miss most?" I ask. I'm thinking maybe if I know what it is, I can make sure we have it in Eventown. Saturdays at the mall, the same strip of duct tape across our bedroom for her to practice her beam routine on; I'll even let her keep the top bunk and I'll stay on the bottom one.

Naomi starts to cry, and I know what that means. I scoot closer to her and it feels like I could cry, too, but I work hard not to. Naomi and I promised that we'd be sad one at a time, so that there's never too much sadness in one place. I make all the room in the world for Naomi's tears now. I don't even let myself sniffle from all the things I might miss too.

Naomi walks over to the rosebush. She peers into the hole we've dug.

"Careful!" I say. Naomi's clumsy everywhere except the gym, and I'm terrified of her hurting Dad's plant. I get the feeling that if something happened to the rosebush, Dad might not even be able to muster New Happy for a long, long time.

"I'm careful."

"The roots are the most important part," I say in my teacher voice. I am six minutes older than Naomi, and that means sometimes I get to boss her around. This time, though, Naomi doesn't even roll her eyes. She sits on the ground, staring at the plant, half in the ground, half out. It's getting overcast and it might rain, which will make getting the rosebush out even harder, but I know Dad will find a way. Naomi looks this way and that, trying to see all angles of the plant—the flowers, the roots, the thorns, the exact angle it's set in the ground.

"If roots are so important," Naomi says at last, "why are we moving ours around?"


Moving Day

Mom and Dad are packing up every room in the house but one, the green stripy one at the end of the hall.

I don't notice the one not-packed room until Sunday morning, when we're almost ready to go.

"We don't need to bring any of that with us," Mom says, and I guess that's the end of the discussion because no one argues with her about it. We close the door.

The house is dusty once we move things around, and Naomi can't stop sneezing. I'm trying to sweep the living room floor, but her sneezes keep startling me into dropping my broom. Naomi's sneezes are high pitched and impossible to ignore. Some days it's funny, but today, Moving Day, I can't stand it.

"Why aren't we bringing the TV?" Naomi asks, before another enormous sneeze zooms out of her.

"Stop with all the sneezing!" I say.

"I can't!"

"Yes, you can! Hold it in!"

"You're not supposed to hold in sneezes. It's dangerous."

"That's a myth."


"Oh my GOD."

"Shut up, Elodee. People sneeze."

"You shut up!"

"GIRLS." Dad's the one to finally interrupt us, not Mom, who is checking things off on an enormous pad of yellow legal paper. She has her fancy purple pen and her reading glasses perched on her nose and a very serious look on her face. She counts things out on her fingers and scans the room over and over.

"Sorry," Naomi and I mumble together. She's my best friend in the world, but we fight at least once a day. Sometimes it's about little stuff like sneezes or snores or the last cookie in the jar, and sometimes it's about bigger things, like who is closer friends with Bess Patrickson or who Mom and Dad are easier on.

"We don't need to bring the TV," Mom says, finally answering Naomi's question.

"We don't? There's one there?" I say.

"Nope." Mom smiles. I haven't seen Mom's smile much lately, so I want to grab it from her face and put it in my pocket, for safekeeping.

"I don't get it," Naomi says.

Dad gives Mom a Look, one that says she should stop talking or change the subject or offer us sundaes as distraction, but Mom doesn't notice the Look.

"No one watches TV in Eventown. Don't you girls remember that?"

Naomi and I wait for Mom to laugh or Dad to roll his eyes. They don't. Dad looks at his hands and Mom smiles like no TV is the normalest thing in the world.

I hadn't remembered that we didn't watch TV in Eventown, but I guess we didn't. I know that Naomi and I read a bunch of books we'd brought from home—a whole series about a girl pirate and another one about firefighting cats. We loved them both. Maybe Mom's right. I don't recall a movie night while we were there or hours of cartoons or even Mom and Dad watching the news and telling us to play outside.

I wonder if there's a movie theater in Eventown. The one in Juniper has sticky leather seats and smells like day-old popcorn and only ever plays movies with lots of cars and shooting and earthquakes and cartoon princesses. I won't

On Sale
Feb 12, 2019
Page Count
352 pages