By Susan Lubner
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Living in the small town of East Thumb, Maine, upstairs from her family’s diner, twelve-year-old Lizzy Sherman searches for signs to guide her and perhaps guarantee her a bump-free path through life. She pays attention to the clouds in the sky, the ice cubes in her water, the heart-shaped puddle of the juice her friend spilled. If only she can figure out what the signs are trying to tell her, she’ll know what to do next.
When Lizzy and her best friend go searching for a stray cat and find a runaway girl instead, they want to help. And when Lizzy notices a tiny four-leaf clover tattooed on the girl’s hand, she knows it’s a sign. Lizzy hides the girl inside her bedroom closet, convinced the girl will be able to protect Lizzy’s family from tragedy. But signs can be tricky, and what the girl has to offer may be more valuable that luck.
I’D BROUGHT HOME STRAYS BEFORE. PLENTY OF cats and a one-eyed poodle. But never a human. And not without my parents knowing.
The day started like a regular fall Saturday: dark and cold. November suns always took their sweet time rising. My cat Fudge had woken me once already when it was still pitch-black. Here he was again, marching across my pillow and pulling my hair. At least now it was light outside.
“Are you kidding me?” I asked. “It’s a good thing you’re cute.” I reached over my head and pulled him close, pressing his nose against mine. He purred and dropped his head against my cheek. I kissed his fuzzy striped face. Then he stared at me with his green eyes and tapped me on the chin with a paw.
Below my bedroom, plates clattered, muffled voices shouted out orders, and every once in a while I could hear the scuff of feet or the scrape of a chair move across the black-and-white checkerboard floor. We live on the west side of East Thumb, Maine, on the corner of Abbott and Greenleaf and right smack on top of our diner, the Thumbs-Up. Dad had long gone downstairs to work. Usually, Mom would have been with him at the diner already, too, and by the time they opened at five thirty, Dad would take charge of the griddle, and she would take charge of pretty much everything else.
“Fill the water glasses before the customers’ butts hit the chair,” she’d tell the servers. “Cut the potatoes into wedges. They look tastier,” she’d tell Dad, even though the little squares cooked faster.
These days, with her belly full of baby again, Mom didn’t get to work until close to ten, and she took Saturdays off altogether. She didn’t freak about half-empty water glasses or the shape of fried potatoes anymore, either. The baby was due to arrive in seven weeks, and Mom smiled at everything because of it—the rain, the bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter, stupid bumper stickers on cars. I hoped her smiley state of mind was a good sign. That we’d be lucky and all would go well this time with this pregnancy.
Fudge wiggled out of my arms and went back to standing on my hair. Life seemed pretty easy for a cat. All you needed was a half-decent place to sleep and some food. Not like my life, which lately seemed the opposite of easy. Thinking about it, my brain felt snarled and tangled like a sticky ball of spaghetti.
First, I worried about Mom and the baby a lot. A couple of weeks ago, Mom thought she had felt a contraction. It scared the daylights out of all of us that she could have been going into labor way before she was supposed to. Thankfully, it turned out to be a false alarm. But ever since it happened, she’d seemed extra tired and looked kind of pale.
The other thing I couldn’t get out of my head was the stray who I’d seen going in and out of the empty apartment house across the street. What if she had kittens? I once read in a book that pregnant cats will seek out shelter. Maybe that’s why she liked that apartment? And had she found the small pile of tuna I had left for her yesterday? I guess life wasn’t always so easy for cats, after all.
My bed shook when the door to the diner opened and slammed shut. A sign. Get up! Get going!
I dressed, brushed my teeth, and then poked my head into my parents’ room. Mom snored in her sleep, and I could hear her nose whistle from the doorway.
Our other cat, Reuben, snoozed at the far end of the bed. Waffles, our poodle, had learned the hard way to keep his distance from that cat. He snuggled against Mom in a neat ball. His tail batted against the quilt when he saw me with his one eye.
“Shhhhhh…,” I told him, and closed the door gently.
In the kitchen, I pulled a hunk off of last night’s chicken and wrapped it in foil. Then I grabbed my coat and bag from the rack, tossed on a scarf, and scrambled outside into the cold sunshine.
The wind pushed me like it had hands. Was it saying hurry up?
I never used to wonder what it meant when the wind blew against my back, or if an acorn dropped from a tree and knocked me on the head. I never studied the shape of a cloud and thought that the sky might be trying to tell me something. But since the car accident two years ago, I had started paying attention to everything.
My BFF Joss waved to me from the top of the alley that ran beside the diner. We were both wrapped up to our noses in identical Joss-knitted scarves.
“Hey, Lizzy,” she said. “Did you bring food?”
“Of course.” I patted the outside of the bag slung across my hip.
“I brought a meatball,” she told me.
“She’ll love it. What about the cat sweater designs?”
“What about them?” Joss whipped a roll of papers out of her back pocket and waved them around.
Joss and I had come up with an idea to knit and sell sweaters for cats. We were doing it to raise money for the Community Lodge for Cats & Dogs (the fancy name for the East Thumb animal shelter) where we volunteered. Next Saturday, we were having a cat sweater sidewalk sale in front of the diner. Franny, the Lodge director, was helping us out with it. She thought our idea was awesome. But not Phil, who worked with Franny. He said cats were too temperamental to be “keen” on wearing sweaters. And I could tell that Sid from the diner was iffy, too, just by the slow way he had nodded his head and said, “Oh really,” when we first told him about it.
“Dogs wear sweaters all the time, why not cats?” I had told all the haters. And our teacher, Ms. Santorelli, not only wanted a sweater for her cat, but she wanted us to talk about our fund-raiser to the class on Monday.
We crossed the street. Abbott Avenue was noisy with traffic and dotted with gas stations and convenience stores, but Greenleaf Lane was quiet and lined with fat trees, chain-link fences, and apartment houses.
Sandwiched between two dirt lots, diagonally across from the Thumbs-Up, a three-story apartment house loomed like a mangled shipwreck in front of us. A huge tree, which still had a lot of faded leaves hanging from its branches, crowned the roof as if it were trying to help pretty up the place.
We stopped on the sidewalk in front of the porch. A rusty number 4 dangled off an even rustier mailbox attached to a piece of siding. A couple of long planks of wood had been nailed across the door. KEEP OUT was painted on one of the planks in orange paint. If paint could talk, those two words would be screaming at us.
“The last time I saw the cat, she jumped in there.” I pointed to a loose sheet of plastic over a first floor window.
Joss rewrapped her scarf. Even without our matching knitwear we looked like a pair. Shoulder-length brown hair. Blue eyes. Freckles.
“Come on,” she said, grabbing my hand. We hurried up the rickety steps. “The tuna is gone. She must be here.”
We moved closer to the broken window. I peeked in.
“Wait,” Joss said, taking a step back, “is this like breaking in? I don’t want to go to jail or anything.”
“It’s okay to break the law to save a life. Lives if there are kittens, too,” I said. “Plus, they don’t put twelve-year-olds in jail.” Though I wasn’t positive about that.
“What makes you so sure the cat has kittens?” Joss asked me.
“Why else would she keep going in there?”
“How about to get out of the cold?”
“Maybe. But if you were a hungry cat,” I said.
“Which I’m not.”
“But if you were, wouldn’t you hang out at the back door of a diner instead of here? That’s just common sense.”
The wind grabbed a bunch of dried up leaves that were piled in the corners of the porch and whipped them around our feet. A big fat warning sign? Trouble is swirling around me? Or maybe opportunity at my feet! Which was it?
Joss watched me watching the leaves. “They’re just leaves. Nothing else,” she said as if she could read my mind, which I really believed she could sometimes.
“Let’s go,” I said.
I checked the rotted windowsill for broken glass that might be sticking up, then I pulled back the tattered plastic and stepped through. Joss followed.
“It’s not so bad in here compared to how dumpy it is on the outside,” I said, looking around.
“I was thinking the same thing. Except for the dead leaves.” There were little mounds of them everywhere.
The room we stood in was round. Sun poured through tall windows, and we both squinted. There was a plaid recliner with the stuffing coming out of one arm next to a massive fireplace that took up half of one wall. A mirror hung over the mantel, with a few cracks zigzagged through its glass—a sign of bad luck for someone—though I didn’t break it, so not me! A pair of doors with fancy glass knobs opened up into a hallway.
“No cat here,” Joss said, checking underneath the chair.
The house turned way darker and a whole lot colder as we walked down the hallway, away from the sunny round room. There were fewer windows, and most were boarded up or covered in plastic.
In the kitchen, I peeked inside an open cabinet under the sink. One of the doors had fallen off and it looked like a nice hiding spot for a cat. But all I found was a dirty towel and a box of damp matches.
Back in the hall, Joss tapped her cell phone and turned on the flashlight. The floor lit up in front of us, and we stepped inside a bathroom. The tub was full of grime and enough dead leaves to hide under.
“This bath needs a bath,” Joss joked.
Above us, something made a loud snap. We both jumped.
“What was that?” Joss grabbed my arm.
We heard it again, but this time it was softer. I pointed to the torn plastic over a broken window just above the toilet. “I think the wind must have caught it,” I said.
We were back in the hallway heading toward another room when Joss stopped suddenly. I smacked into her.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I heard a little squeak.”
“Heeeere, kitty, kitty,” I sang in a high-pitched voice. I unwrapped the chicken.
We peered inside a bedroom. “Look!” I pointed to a hole at the bottom of a closet door. We walked closer, and the gray cat jumped out at my feet. “Hey, you! There you are!”
“She looks hungry,” Joss said, kneeling to pet her. But before Joss or I had a chance to offer it food, the cat scooted back inside the closet.
“See! I bet she has kittens in there!” I opened the door. Joss shined the light inside. Right away I saw the bulging backpack.
Two yellow sneakers that I nearly stepped on.
Two jean-covered knees tucked under a chin.
A small hand with a tiny tattoo.
Joss screamed and dropped her cell phone. I screamed, too. The cat shot out of the room like a rocket.
And the girl in the closet said a single word:
“WHAT’S IMPOSSIBLE?” I ASKED. MY HEART WAS still pretty revved up and it raced against my chest.
“Kittens,” she said.
“Lizzy! Let’s go!” Joss pulled at my arm. But I didn’t budge. The girl hugged her bag against her body and wiggled backward a bit, trying to press herself closer to the wall inside the closet. Her huge eyes stared up at me, never turning away from mine. If she was afraid, she was trying hard not to show it.
“It’s dark in here! Where’s my phone?!” Joss bent down and swiped at the floor.
“It’s over there.” The girl pointed to the left. Joss quickly found it. She tapped the flashlight back on, which seemed to calm her down. Then, she aimed it at the closet. The girl put her hand up to block the light from her eyes.
“Joss! You’re blinding her!” I saw that the girl had red hair the color of a penny. It stopped just above her shoulders and she had it tucked behind her ears. Her bangs stuck up in a few places across her forehead. Her face was angled like an upside-down triangle with wide bony cheeks and a pointed chin. It was hard to tell how old she was. Our age? Older?
“Sorry,” Joss said to her. “I was just looking for kittens.” She turned the light toward a corner, but there was just empty space, no cat or babies.
“Kittens are impossible for that cat. It’s a he-cat not a she-cat,” said the girl. She was staring at the chicken I held in my hand.
“Do you want this?” I asked her.
“Can I?” Her voice was soft.
“Want this, too?” Joss offered her the meatball.
The girl took the food and pushed it into her mouth. “Fnanks,” she said, chewing. The cat was back. She saved a little piece of the chicken and meatball for him, which he quickly gobbled up.
“So the cat’s a he?” I asked.
“We thought the cat had some kittens in here because she was coming in and out of the house,” Joss explained.
“He,” the girl said. She smiled. Her eyes crinkled at the edges, like it was kind of funny that we kept forgetting she was a he.
“Is this where you live?” I asked her.
“Not really. Well, sort of. For now, I guess.”
“Why are you here?”
“How come you’re here?” she asked me back. She tipped her head to the side.
Joss stepped closer to me and whispered, “Maybe we should go.”
I shook my head no. “We told you why we’re here. We thought there might be kittens in this house.”
“Nope. Just me and Smoky.”
“Smoky?” I asked.
“The cat. Because he’s gray,” Joss said. “Smoky gray.” He curled himself around my leg as if to say, Yup! That’s me!
“Do you have anything else to eat?” she asked. “Please.”
“I can get you something else,” I told her.
“Really?” She hopped up onto her knees and unzipped her backpack, digging inside it for a second. She pulled out a large paper bag. “If I have to be, I’m okay.” She peeked into the crumpled sack. “I only brought peanut butter and jelly with me. I’ve eaten three of the ten sandwiches already. I’m so sick of peanut butter. Oh, and I brought this.” She held up a sorry-looking banana covered in brown spots. “And I forgot to pack a drink.” She stuck her tongue out. Then she smiled again. But, this time, her eyes weren’t smiling. I saw that they looked sad.
“Joss and I have to work at my parents’ diner until three thirty. Then we can bring you something. Can you wait that long?” I checked my cell phone for the time. Almost nine thirty. “Or I could go home and bring you back something now.”
“I’ll be okay. Do you think you can bring me some more chicken?” she asked. “I love chicken. I mean, whatever would be great. Anything but peanut butter, you know?”
“I can get you chicken,” I told her.
“And something to drink. Do you have Coke? Please.”
“Sure,” I said.
“I never get to drink it at home,” she told us. She waved her hand slightly. I saw a flash of the tattoo. It was right above the V between her thumb and index finger. It was green, but that’s all I could see that it was.
“What’s your name?” I asked her. “I’m Lizzy.”
“Joss.” Joss waved.
The girl didn’t answer. It seemed like she was thinking it might not be a good idea for us to know. Then she said, “I’ll tell you after you bring me more food, okay?” She sat back down, pulling her bag onto her lap and hugging it close.
“Okay,” said Joss. “We’ll be back. Come on, Lizzy. Let’s go.”
“Hold on,” I said. I unwrapped my scarf and dropped it around the girl’s neck. “Here. You can keep this. I have another one.”
“Good idea,” Joss said to me. I was glad she didn’t mind, since she had knit it for me.
“Thanks. It’s so cold in here,” the girl said. It seemed like it took an extra wrap around her neck to get it on right. She was small.
In the shadowy light she reminded me of a rare bird I had seen in a book, with the scarf under her bony face and the way some of the hair across her forehead stood up in little spikes, like it was exasperated.
“You can’t tell anyone I’m here,” she told us.
The sound of her voice felt like a kick to my stomach. I didn’t even know her, but somehow I suddenly wanted to protect her. “We won’t,” I said.
“I’m serious.” The girl rubbed her nose with the back of her hand. She was wearing a coat that didn’t seem ratty at all. Someone must have cared enough about her to make sure she had a nice warm jacket. Or maybe not, I reconsidered. She had run away, after all.
“We won’t say a word. We promise,” Joss told her.
Outside, we walked quickly toward the diner. “This is weird,” I said. “How long do you think she’s been there?”
“For as long as it takes a banana to turn brown?”
“I guess,” I said. “How long is that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was almost brown when she got here. Maybe it’s only been a day or two,” Joss said.
I hoped so. “I can’t picture having to stay in that cold house by myself even for one night.”
“Someone must be sad not knowing where she is,” Joss said. She kicked a rock and it made a clink when it hit the fence.
“Maybe she ran away for a good reason,” I said. “Maybe she had to.”
“I don’t know. I’ve seen stuff on TV before about parents who hurt their kids.” That was harder to think about than living in a dark house and eating only peanut butter and rotting bananas.
Joss stopped walking for a second. “I’ve seen stuff like that, too,” she said. She put her hand across her mouth as if she had just realized something that made her feel scared and uneasy.
I was feeling pretty uneasy myself. A girl hiding in a closet. A cat named Smoky. They had to be signs of something.
I wondered what.
“HEEEEEEEEEEY! IT’S LIZZY PANCAKES AND HER matching sidekick!” Sid Valentine carried a tray full of omelets so fat the guts were spilling out. Sid was tall and skinny and as bald as a cue ball, with a beard and a mustache like a pirate. When he zipped by, he popped his fake front tooth out and back in, and Joss and I laughed. Sid did that whenever we asked him to (and sometimes when we didn’t). But he always made sure no customers were looking, and he used his tongue not his hands, so no germs were involved.
“You should get a gold tooth,” Joss told him once. But Sid was way too nice to be a pirate, anyway.
The Thumbs-Up was always crowded. Joss and I waited by the door for two stools to free up at the counter. The counter ran parallel to the kitchen, down one side of the diner. On the other side, four booths with shiny red seats took up the entire wall. In between were eight tables, most with two or four chairs, except for the one where a couple of the tables had been pushed together to accommodate a bigger party.
Most of the Thumbs-Up’s walls were covered in old Coke and Pepsi signs my mom and dad had collected from flea markets, plus a colorful metal sign mounted over the kitchen that read: EAT HERE, THE FOOD IS GOOD. And hanging from the ceiling, in the center of everything, was the front half of an old Chevy, because a whole car was too big to fit. It was black with white wheels to match our checkerboard floor.
Joss and I waved to Cooper and Zoe, friends from school, who were at a table with Cooper’s parents.
I looked beyond the counter and the half wall into the kitchen. Through the open space I saw Dad sweating over the griddle. To the left of that opening, a blackboard hung where yours truly posted all of the specials. Not only was I a whiz at sandwich naming, but I had really neat handwriting, too.
“Order up!” Dad hollered. He slid a plate piled with scrambled eggs and steaming home fries onto the shiny metal countertop in front of him and stuck an order slip underneath.
“Good morning, lovelies!” Bibi hollered to us over two towers of french toast. She hustled to deliver the stacked plates, her dark ponytail swinging back and forth behind her shoulders.
Bibi liked to wear funky-looking sneakers she called practical with pizazz. Today’s pair was covered in leopard spots. Another pair had lemons and limes. She sometimes wore a pair that looked like they had graffiti all over them. But her favorites were the black-and-white checkered sneakers because she got a kick out of matching the diner floor.
She snatched up some menus and scooted over to greet the two policemen who had come in behind us.
“Welcome to the Thumbs-Up diner!” Bibi said to them, like they’d never been in before. That’s how she greeted all the customers, regulars and “newbies.” The whole of the East Thumb police force, all two of them, came in for a danish and coffee about three times a day.
The officers followed Bibi to a table. Each kept a hand on his belt right by his gun, probably ready to shoot, just in case something bad happened. It crossed my mind that maybe they secretly wished something bad would happen, because nothing police-worthy ever happened in East Thumb. Mostly, the cops seemed bored out of their skulls. I’d bet they’d want to know about a girl hiding out in the apartment house across the street.
A couple of stools finally opened up, and Joss and I plopped onto them. Joss pulled out her sweater sketches and unrolled them.
Dad looked up from the griddle. “Hey there,” he said. “What’s happening?”
Oh, not much. We just found a hungry girl hiding in a closet, that’s all. Instead, I told him, “Fudge woke me up again. Twice!”
Dad threw his hands in the air, still clutching a spatula in one. “That Fudge!” He pretended to be angry. “To boldly go where no cat has gone before!” he said, shaking his head. Joss laughed.
- "Short sentences and delightful details create a similar air to recent quirky classics such as Sheila Turnage's Three Times Lucky."—School Library Journal
- "Lizzy's search for signs may be something anxious kids relate to and will hopefully inspire them to reach out to those around them. A good conversation starter for discussions on emotional and mental wellness."—Booklist
- "Readers are in luck! Lizzy and the Good Luck Girl is a lively tale of compassion and self-discovery, with a perfect blend of humor, heart, and hope. Lizzy's optimism, drive, and quirky belief in signs from the universe make her a character worth rooting for."—--Anna Staniszewski, author of The Dirt Diary
"On one hand, Lizzy is about the luckiest girl you ever heard of. She lives over her family's small-town diner, enjoying an endless supply of sandwiches and ice cream sundaes. But Lizzy is also a worrier, constantly searching for reassuring signs from the universe. When a mission to feed a stray cat turns up a runaway girl, Lizzy gains a whole new set of worries. Readers will root for the memorable, kindhearted protagonist in this engaging story about loss and recovery."
—Martha Freeman, author of Zap! and the Secret Cookie Club series
"Lizzy's desperate need for luck tugged at my heart. Bittersweet, beautiful, and recommended for anyone who's searched for a sign that things will turn out okay-or worried that they might not."
—-Kelly Jones, author of Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
"Brimming with small-town charm, quirky characters and clever humor, Lizzy and the Good Luck Girl showcases just how courageous we must be to hold onto hope, especially after loss. Hand this to someone who might need gentle encouragement to love their corner of the world-and to anyone who has ever considered putting a sweater on a cat."
—-Beth Vrabel, author of The Reckless Club, Caleb and Kit, and the Pack of Dorks series
- "Lizzy Sherman is the kind of kid you want to give a hug and a high-five to, as she tries to make the world a better place one lost cat (and one runaway kid!) at a time. I feel very fortunate to have found Susan Lubner's fresh, funny, and utterly unforgettable novel, Lizzy and the Good Luck Girl, which winningly imparts the wisdom that it's not enough to just hold on to lucky things... sometimes, you also need to let go."—-Erica S. Perl, author of All Three Stooges and When Life Gives You O.J.
- On Sale
- Nov 6, 2018
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Running Press Kids