The Battle of Darcy Lane


By Tara Altebrando

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It is summertime, and twelve-year-old Julia Richards cannot stand the anticipation. Everyone on Darcy Lane seems to be holding their breath waiting for the cicadas to emerge, but what Julia and her best friend, Taylor, want is some real excitement. Which arrives in the form of a new neighbor named Alyssa, who introduces a ball game called Russia . . . and an unwelcome level of BFF rivalry. Suddenly nothing stands unchallenged-not Julia’s friendships, her crush, or her independence. But while Julia realizes that she cannot control all the changes in her life, she hangs onto the hope that everything will go in her favor if she can just win one magnificent showdown. Acclaimed author Tara Altebrando’s middle-grade debut features a voice that is true to the adolescent experience, where everything is felt acutely in a whirlwind of all-or-nothing emotion.



Title Page



























Author's Note: How to Play Russia


About the Author




For Ellie and Violet


Taylor and I were sitting on my front porch pretending to be millionaires as the afternoon turned into evening. It was only the second week of summer vacation and already boredom was like a pesky mosquito that we were swatting away.

"Only boring people get bored," my mom had already said like a hundred times. "Life's what you make it."

We'd spent the day in my pool and lounging on the deck out back, and planting some seeds in my vegetable garden, then playing tetherball and now Millionaire. From where we sat on the swinging bench, with tall glasses of lemonade, there was still no sign of the cicadas and it was like the whole of Darcy Lane—the whole town, too—was holding its breath.

Dad was predicting there would be mayhem—car crashes caused by swarms, that sort of thing—when the huge, beady-eyed bugs finally showed. My mom, a teacher, was mostly interested in the educational aspect of the whole spectacle. I was lucky I hadn't officiallybeen quizzed yet—about the cicada's life cycle, about the forty-three countries where people eat them like popcorn.

I was in believe-it-when-I-see-it mode. Which, come to think of it, was how most people on the block had felt about the rumor that people were finally going to be moving into the new house across the street. But here, at long last, were our new neighbors. So at least something was happening.

"She looks like she might actually work for a living," I said, when the new mom appeared at their front door.

Taylor fanned herself with a magazine. "Oh, the poor woman!"

"There goes the neighborhood!" I said, and we laughed in a fake-stuffy, rich person way. This was pretty much how you played Millionaire.

Right then, the movers—who had so far carried in a lot of boxes plus a very large television, an extremely large fish tank (empty), and a huge stuffed giraffe—pulled from the truck a plushy hot-pink chair with the name alyssa stitched into it so big we could read it from all the way across the street.

"Wow," I said.

"Yeah," Taylor said.

We were hoping that before dinner we'd get another glimpse of the new girl, whom we hadn't seen since about 4:00 p.m.—almost two hours ago—when she'd gotten out of a car and gone inside.

"My mom met the mom," Taylor said. "The grandmother died last week. They came home from the funeral yesterday, and the moving truck was waiting for them."

"Jeez," I said. One of my grandmothers, my mom's mom, had died a long time ago and I didn't really remember her.

Taylor stretched her legs out in front of her and I did the same. She flicked away a little pebble stuck to her calf and said, "Then because of all that rain yesterday after-noon, the movers couldn't move their stuff in because it would all get ruined, so they had to sleep on the floor last night."

Taylor looked horrified but I said, "Sounds sort of fun."

I thought about borrowing some of the details for our game, imagining a massive mansion and us with sleeping bags.

"Their grandmother died." Taylor rolled her eyes at me. "She was supposed to live with them and everything."

I rolled my eyes back, but not so that she could see.

I hadn't noticed anybody walking across the street—I'd been stirring my drink with my straw and thinking of funny things a rich person might say about lemonade—but then she was there, on the path leading up to my porch.

The new girl.

Taylor stood up.


A little over a year ago, I had been the new girl moving onto the block and Taylor had come over to say hi. She'd shown me how to suck the nectar from the blossoms on the honeysuckle vines that grew through the fence next to her house and that had been that: best friends.

We hadn't been in any of the same classes at school last year, but after school and on weekends we'd been pretty inseparable—riding our bikes, playing cards, painting by numbers, and trying to flirt with Peter (me) and Andrew (Taylor) from the next street over. We were beyond excited to finally have the whole summer to just hang out again—and now we'd have a new person to do it with. Since our first sighting of the new girl, we'd been playing Millionaire, yes, but also talking about the possibility of new clothes to trade and borrow, and slumber parties in a house neither of us actually lived in. Maybe the new girl even had cute boy cousins from towns not so far away who'd come by all the time for pool parties.


The new girl had long dark brown hair with the sides pulled up to the top of her head in a butterfly clip, and her top lip looked like it had been pinched and gotten stuck in a permanent pucker.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

Taylor said, "We're just hanging out," before I had a chance to explain that we were pretending to be millionaires. "I'm Taylor and this is Julia."

The new girl studied us. "Are you sisters?"

Taylor pointed. "No. I live two houses down."

"Yeah, didn't think so."

It was true that Taylor and I looked nothing alike but for some reason it sounded like an insult.

The new girl bounced a tennis ball I hadn't noticed in her hand. "You don't really believe in unicorns, do you?"

The T-shirt I was wearing said save the unicorn above a drawing of one. "No," I said. "It's a joke."

"I don't get it." Then the new girl seemed to lose interest because she said, "Do you guys know how to play Russia?"

"No." Taylor stood up and walked over to the top porch step, almost stepping on my foot. "How do you play?"

"First you go like this." The new girl threw the ball against my garage door and caught it. The sound was a deep thump.

"Anybody can do that," I said. I knew unicorns weren't real. I still liked the idea of them, though.

"Well, there are thirteen moves you have to do," the new girl said. "They get harder and harder, and you have to do the second move twice and the third move three times and so on. And if you drop the ball even once you have to start over with the first move. The first person to finish all the moves the right number of times without dropping the ball wins."

"Let me try," Taylor said, and the new girl threw her the ball.

"I'd rather sit here and count my piles of money," I said in my best fancy accent, but if either of them heard me, they didn't let on.

Taylor threw the ball against the wall and caught it.

Big deal, I thought. Even a monkey could do that. "Come on, Taylor. We were playing Millionaire!"

"What's Millionaire?" the new girl asked, and now she was the one that sounded snotty.

Taylor said, "Just a dopey game Julia made up."

"It's not dopey," I said, but nobody cared.

Taylor asked, "Hey, what's your name?" and the new girl answered, "Alyssa."

Then Alyssa started to talk and talk and talk, and we found out that she was twelve like us and that she'd moved from a town right across the bay. The house there had been really small and not that nice but her father had gotten a big promotion and then her grandmother had up and died and now here they were. Except her dad had left that morning for a business trip and pretty much traveled all the time.

"Wow," Taylor said.

"Yeah," I said. "Wow."

I looked away and did that eye-rolling thing again. I had a feeling there was going to be a lot of eye rolling now that Taylor was all gaga for Alyssa.

"So this time you let the ball bounce and then catch it." Alyssa took the ball back from Taylor and demonstrated. "It has to bounce between the wall and a line—like this line in the cement here—and if it goes out or you miss it, you have to start over with onesies. This is twosies. You do it twice."

"Twosies?" I snorted. "What are we, babies?" I put on a silly baby-talk voice. "Twosie, woosies. Coochie coochie coo."

I was about to say something about the stuffed giraffe we'd seen going into Alyssa's house because, really, who had stuffed animals at our age? But then I remembered the stuffed monkey Peter had given me for my birthday last year because he thought I was a good climber. There was also the not so small matter of my unicorn poster; Alyssa would like that about as much as she liked my shirt.

Taylor looked at me funny and turned to Alyssa—"Let me try"—and held her hand out for the ball, which Alyssa bounced to her. Taylor did the move twice. "Okay, what's next?" She bounced the ball back to Alyssa.

"Throw the ball in the air, clap three times, then catch." Alyssa did just that.

I had to hold back a snort.

Then someone we couldn't see but who must have been Alyssa's mother called her name.

"I gotta go." Alyssa snatched up her ball. "I guess I'll see you around, neighbors."

I watched her walk away, afraid to say anything before I knew she was out of earshot. And I worked hard to think of the exact right thing as I studied her hot pink tank top and too-tight, too-short shorts. Why did it feel like Alyssa had already lived on Darcy Lane forever and I was the new girl again?

"I don't know," I said after Alyssa disappeared into her house. "She seems sort of stuck up."

"I think she's cool," Taylor said with a longing look across the street.

"Cool?" I laughed.

"You're just jealous," Taylor said.

"Of what?"

Without my noticing her doing it, Taylor had moved her own clip from the back of her neck, where it had been holding her blonde hair in a low ponytail, to the same high position where Alyssa was wearing hers. She couldn't seem to find an answer to my question and only said, "Calm down, Julia."

"Why's the game called Russia anyway?" I blew hair out of my eyes with a quick puff.

"Don't know, don't care," Taylor said.


"Big night for pizza," my mom said, after she pulled into the driveway and got out of the car. It was true she'd left a long time ago.

"Julia's dad's on his way," she said to Taylor, who was staying for dinner. We followed my mom inside as the empty moving truck pulled away.

My dad worked in the city at a company that built information systems for hospitals. He had to take a train then a ferry then another train from the office every day, and it seemed to me that the commute alone would be enough to make a person tired, never mind the working part. He came in right as we were sitting down with drinks, and before he even took his suit jacket off, he went to the fridge, got a beer, snapped the can open, and took a sip. He handed it off to Mom, who also took a sip and put it on the table. They liked to share one at dinnertime.

"Well, hello, girls," he said, as if noticing us for the first time. He sat down at the table. "How was your day?"

"It was okay," I said.

"Just okay?" He loosened his tie and pulled it off with one long stretch of his arm. "I think a day spent lounging around playing cards and maybe going for a dip and drinking lemonade would be more than okay."

"I guess." I felt bad about him having to work all day.

"Oh! The people across the street moved in," Mom said. "I'll have to go over and introduce myself, maybe bring brownies." She reached for a slice of pizza.

Annoyed that my mom had reminded Taylor about the existence of Alyssa, I looked at Taylor, trying to read her expression. She was holding a slice, but I hadn't seen her take a bite yet. Taylor never ate much, and it showed in the way her ribs practically poked through her terry-cloth tube top.

"What are they like?" Dad asked, and it was Taylor who answered.

"There's a girl our age. She seems nice."

"Well, that's exciting, huh?" Dad looked at me.

"Yeah." My mouth was full of pizza. "It sure is."

"You shouldn't talk with your mouth full," Taylor said.

"Ah, well." Dad also had pizza in his mouth. "We all make mistakes, eh, Taylor?"

Man, I loved my dad.

"Their grandmother was going to live with them but she died last week," Taylor said.

"Oh, how awful." My mom's hand went to her heart.

"So!" Dad said with some fanfare. "You girls must be pretty excited for your big trip into the city on Saturday."

"Totally!" I said, even though there was still more pizza in my mouth. With all the excitement of the day I'd almost forgotten that Mom was taking us sightseeing and shopping. Taylor and I had been looking forward to it for weeks.

"Yeah." Taylor pulled some thick cheese off her slice. "Should be fun."

She didn't really sound like she meant it, but I didn't care. She'd see. It'd be awesome in every way.

"I just hope the cicadas hold off," Mom said. But the bugs were so late, supposedly because of the cold, wet spring we'd had, that I'd stopped believing they were ever going to come.


I called Taylor later and we talked about Saturday, like how we'd both ride in the backseat and pretend my mom was our chauffeur. She told me how her sister had called from the sleep-away camp where she was working as a counselor all summer to tell Taylor about her new boyfriend who had a motorcycle. We were so jealous. Then Taylor said, "I really miss her," and I said, "We'll have a great summer, don't worry." Everything felt right again.

A few minutes later, Taylor wanted to hang up to watch some new summer miniseries called End of Daze that was about to start. We decided that I'd go ring her bell when I was up the next day and we'd go for a morning swim.

"There's some big new miniseries starting tonight," I said when I walked into the den.

My parents were already in front of the TV. Each of them had a glass of red wine on the table beside them, which meant that this was some kind of big occasion.

"Julia," Mom said before I even had a chance to sit down on the couch next to her. "You have to watch TV upstairs tonight, okay?"

I looked at the opening credits on the screen and, sure enough, they were watching End of Daze. The credits seemed pretty creepy with their pulsing black type and a weird dry landscape in the background. "But I want to watch this."

"It's for grown-ups, sweetie." Dad reclined his armchair. "Why don't you watch one of your movies?"

"Taylor's watching it." I put my hands on my hips.


  • “Altebrando brings rich, realistic depth to all of her characters... It's a smart, sensitive portrait of an age when change is in the air, for better or worse.”
    —Publishers Weekly

    “Altebrando's clear, intelligent writing captures the sweet details that comprise Julia's everyday life… charming and authentic”.
    —School Library Journal

    "This quietly empowering story... is a refreshingly honest take on bullying. Julia is a flawed but earnest girl, and she learns how deal with mean girls at her own pace and with cheer-worthy dignity. Readers searching for something similar to Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume should look no further."

    “This book would be a safe read for girls on the verge of adolescence or struggling with friendships, and would be a good addition to an elementary library or for young middle school readers.”

    “Sweet humor, deftly written characters, and a realistic plot make this a great story that is perfect for an upper grade read-aloud.”
    —Children's Literature

On Sale
Apr 22, 2014
Page Count
208 pages
Running Press Kids

Tara Altebrando

About the Author

Tara Altebrando is the author of several novels, including The Battle of Darcy Lane, The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life and Dreamland Social Club (a Kirkus Reviews Best Book for Teens of 2011). She is also the co-author of Roomies with Sara Zarr. Tara is a Harvard grad living in Astoria, New York, with her husband and two daughters.

Learn more about this author