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The Mystery of the Missing Book
It all started the day my favorite book went missing from the library.
I didn’t know it was missing. Not yet. In my mind, it was still sitting there all alone on the shelf like a kid in the cafeteria waiting for her one and only friend to come and find her. Waiting for me to find her. All I wanted to do was run to the library and check out my favorite book before homeroom, but Rebecca, my one and only real-life friend, was still talking about trademarking our names.
“Have you ever thought about registering AmyAnneOllinger.com?” Rebecca asked me.
“No, Rebecca, I have never thought about registering AmyAnneOllinger.com. I am nine years old. Why in the world would I bother to register a Web site with my name on it when my parents won’t even let me use Facebook yet?”
That’s what I thought about saying. What I said instead was, “No.”
“You should,” Rebecca told me. “You’ve got a unique name, but even so, somebody could register it, and then what would you do? RebeccaZimmerman.com is already gone! I’m ten years old, and already my future intellectual property is being snapped up! Jay Z and Beyoncé trademarked their baby’s name less than a month after she was born. You’d think my parents would have known enough to do the same.”
Rebecca’s parents were both lawyers, and she wanted to be one too when she grew up. I couldn’t imagine a more boring job.
Instead I said, “Yeah.”
I was still itching to get to the library and check out my favorite book. I opened my locker to stuff my backpack inside and gave my mailbox a quick look. Nobody knows how it got started, but everybody at Shelbourne Elementary has these cardboard boxes taped to the inside door of their lockers, just below the little vents they put on there in case you get stuffed in your locker by a bully. If you want to leave a note for somebody you just slip the piece of paper in the slot and it falls right into the little cardboard box. It’s such a tradition that Mr. Crutchfield, the custodian, just leaves the boxes in the lockers from year to year.
As usual, my mailbox was empty. Which I’d expected. My one and only friend doesn’t believe in writing notes. “Never leave a paper trail,” Rebecca says. More advice from her lawyer parents.
“Did you hear about Morgan Freeman, the actor?” Rebecca asked. “Somebody who wasn’t named Morgan Freeman registered his name at morganfreeman.com, and he had to sue them to get it back! Now that’s an interesting case—”
“I can’t imagine anything less interesting, Rebecca! I don’t care anything about trademarks or registering domain names. I have to go check out my favorite book before somebody else does!”
That’s what I wanted to tell her. Instead I held up a handful of books like a shield and said, “I have to return these books to the library before class!” and backed away before she could tell me more about the court case. “I’ll see you in homeroom!” I called.
Normally I would already have my favorite book checked out and in my backpack, but our librarian, Mrs. Jones, has a rule that you can only renew a book two times in a row, and then it has to sit on the shelf for five whole school days before you can check it out again. She says it’s to make sure other people get a chance to read it, but I think she made that rule up just to make me read other books, which I would have done anyway.
I dumped last night’s books in the book return and waved good morning to Mrs. Jones on the way to the fiction shelves.
“Amy Anne,” Mrs. Jones called. “Honey, wait—”
“Just let me grab my book,” I called back. I turned into the H–N shelves and hurried to where I knew my favorite book would be waiting for me.
Only it wasn’t there.
I looked again. It still wasn’t there. I looked behind the books, in case it had gotten pushed back and was hidden behind the others like they sometimes do, but no. It really wasn’t there. But my favorite book was always on the shelf. Could somebody else really have checked it out?
I was about to go and ask Mrs. Jones when she turned down the row. Mrs. Jones is a big white lady with short brown hair and rhinestone granny glasses that hang around her neck on a chain when she isn’t reading. Today she was wearing a red dress with white polka dots. Polka dots are her thing.
“Where’s my book?” I asked her.
“That’s what I was trying to tell you, honey,” Mrs. Jones said. “I knew you’d come in for it first thing.”
“It’s been five days,” I told her. “I marked it down on my calendar. I get to check it out again after five days. You said so. Did somebody—did somebody else check it out?”
“No, Amy Anne. I had to take it off the shelf.”
I frowned. Take it off the shelf? What did she mean, take it off the shelf?
Mrs. Jones sighed and wrung her hands. She looked like she was about to tell me my dogs had died. “Because some parents got together and said they didn’t think it was appropriate for elementary school, and the school board agreed with them.”
“Wasn’t appropriate? What does that mean?”
“It means I can’t check it out to you, honey, or to anybody else. Not until I talk to the school board and get this nonsense overturned.
“It means, Amy Anne, that your favorite book was banned from the school library.”
Did I Just Say That?
I felt like the carpet under my feet was turning into quicksand, and I was sinking fast. I grabbed hold of the bookshelves so I wouldn’t fall over. “But—it isn’t inappropriate! It’s very appropriate! It’s a great book! It’s my favorite book!”
“I know, honey. I agree. Nobody but your parents has the right to tell you what books you can and can’t read. I promise you, I’m going to fight this. But in the meantime I have to abide by what the school board decides, or I could lose my job.”
All I could do was nod. I felt like crying, which was stupid. It was like somebody had come into my bedroom and taken my stuff without asking. Which was even more stupid, because it was a library book. Library books belong to everybody.
“You can help get it back, Amy Anne,” Mrs. Jones said.
I wiped a tear from my cheek. “How?”
“There’s going to be a school board meeting Thursday night, and I’m going to be there to tell them all how wrong they are. It’d be even better if they heard it from you.”
My eyes went wide. “Me?”
“Just to hear why you like that book so much would mean a lot.”
I swallowed hard. “Are you crazy, Mrs. Jones? Me, get up in front of a bunch of adults and tell them why that book is my favorite book? Do you have polka dots on the brain? I can’t do that!”
That’s what I wanted to say.
Instead what I said was, “Okay.”
My Favorite Book (And Why)
The late bus dropped me off in my neighborhood and I stood by the curb, looking down the street at my yellow house. Inside that house right now were Thing 1 and Thing 2, my two annoying little sisters. I closed my eyes and shuddered at the thought of having to spend one more minute with them. You haven’t met them yet, but trust me—if there was a prize for Worst Siblings of the Century, Alexis and Angelina would rank right above Fudge Hatcher, Stink Moody, and Edmund Pevensie—and Edmund Pevensie basically sold his brothers and sisters out to the White Witch for a plate of desserts.
Right then and there I thought about running away from home, just like the main characters in my favorite book.
Did I tell you what my favorite book is? The one that got banned from the Shelbourne Elementary Library? The one I said I would go to a school board meeting and talk about? Out loud? In front of other people? It’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. I like a lot of other books too, especially Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain, Hattie Big Sky, The Sign of the Beaver, and Julie of the Wolves. Basically any story where the main character gets to live alone. Indian Captive is pretty great too, even though Mary Jemison has to live in an Indian village. But I would rather live with Indian kidnappers than live with my two stupid younger sisters.
I turned away from my house and looked down the road that led out of my subdivision toward the four-lane. Papa Taco, our favorite Mexican restaurant, was just fifteen minutes away by car. I could run away to there. How long would it take me to walk it? I shook my head. Even if I made it, what was I going to do?
In From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Claudia and her little brother Jamie run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and hide out every night in the bathrooms so the security guards don’t find them. I could hide out in the Papa Taco bathroom until they locked up for the night, but then I’d just be stuck in a Mexican restaurant all night. Now, if I could somehow get to the library …
My dreams of running away died as my mom’s car turned into the subdivision and came my way. I waited until she stopped alongside me and rolled down her window.
“Hey, stranger. Thinking about running away?”
“Of course I was thinking about running away. Every day I stand here and think about how I could fill my backpack with a change of clothes and all the money I have—which isn’t much, because you don’t give me enough allowance—and ride the late bus until it dropped me off somewhere closer to the mall, where I could sleep every night on the beds in the department store.”
That’s what I wanted to say. But of course I didn’t. Instead I said, “No.”
Mom was lighter-skinned than me, with frizzy hair and big dimples in her cheeks when she smiled, like she was now. “Hop in,” she said. “How was school?” she asked as we cruised the thirty seconds to our driveway.
I wanted to say, “It was awful! My favorite book got banned and Mrs. Jones asked me to come to a school board meeting and talk about it and I said yes and I don’t know how I’ll ever do it!” But instead I just said, “Fine.”
“Don’t put your braids in your mouth,” Mom told me for the millionth time. My whole head is covered in braids, some of them with little beads at the bottom. I suck on them when I get nervous. Which is a lot.
Mom pulled in beside Dad’s truck. I got out and stood by the car, reluctant to go inside.
“Oh, come on,” Mom said. “It’s not that bad.”
“Oh yes it is,” I wanted to say. But of course I didn’t.
Ponies and Pink Tutus
Our two huge rottweilers, Flotsam and Jetsam, met us at the door to lick my face. They were so tall they came up to my armpits.
“Off. Off,” I said, trying to pet them so they knew I had said hello. They barked and wagged their tails, squirming around in front of us so much I couldn’t move. I had to follow my mother like she was an icebreaker ship, pushing past the dogs into the kitchen. Dad was there stirring two pots on the stove and baking something in the oven and making a salad. Dad was tall and thin, with skin as dark as mine and muscular arms from laying bricks all day. He had his opera music playing loud again, some Italian lady singing like somebody was shaking her by the shoulders the whole time.
“Spaghetti in fifteen minutes,” he told us. “Alexis!” he yelled. “Come set the table! I’ve asked her three times.”
“I can’t!” Alexis called from our room down the hall. “I’m changing for ballet!”
“Amy Anne, will you do it, honey?” Dad asked.
“No. Alexis always has some excuse not to do what she’s told. Make her do it.” That’s what I wanted to say. But I knew from experience it didn’t make any sense to argue. It never had. It was easier for everybody concerned if I just went ahead and did it. I dumped my backpack on the floor and went to the cabinet for the plates. Mom disappeared down the hall to change out of her work clothes.
“How was chess club?” Dad asked me, and I cringed a little. I took the late bus home every day because I told my parents I was staying late for different clubs, but I wasn’t really in the chess club, or the anime club, or the robotics club. I wasn’t in any club. I just sat in my favorite corner of the library and read books until I had to leave. It was the only time I ever got any peace and quiet.
“Fine,” I lied.
Angelina, my youngest sister, came galloping into the kitchen on all fours. She was a pudgy five-year-old with Mom’s dimples, Dad’s darker skin, and her hair pulled back into a fuzzy ponytail on the back of her head. Angelina had decided she was going to grow up to be a pony, and for the past few weeks she’d been practicing all day. She made a pbpbpbpb sound with her lips and nudged me with her head.
“Hello, Angelina,” I said.
“Rainbow Sparkle!” she told me. Rainbow Sparkle was her pony name. I was definitely not calling her Rainbow Sparkle.
The dogs thought Angelina was playing with them, and they started hopping around and barking at her right where I was walking. I had to hold the plates up high not to drop them as I squeezed back and forth. Angelina and the dogs got under Dad’s feet, and he stepped back from the stove with a scowl.
“Okay, I need all ponies and dogs out of the kitchen while I finish dinner,” Dad said. “Amy Anne, can you do something with them?”
“Why am I supposed to do something with them? I’m not the one crawling around on the floor getting them all riled up!” That’s what I wanted to say, but of course I didn’t. I just grabbed Roller Girl out of my backpack, led Angelina into the hall by her imaginary lead, and called Flotsam and Jetsam to follow me to the room I shared with Alexis.
Alexis’s clothes were all over the floor of the bedroom—even on my side of the room—and she was holding onto the corner of my bed to practice arabesques in her pink tutu. Alexis, the middle sister, was a pretty brown color somewhere between Mom and Dad, and had her pink-highlighted hair cut short and straightened. A pop song blasted from her CD player.
I kicked her clothes across the imaginary line that separated the two sides of our room. “Use your own bed!” I told her for the thousandth time.
“I can’t!” she told me for the thousandth time. “Your bedpost is exactly the same height as the ballet barre!”
“Too bad,” I said, but she didn’t let go. I punched the eject button on her CD player, nabbed the CD, and jumped up on my bed.
Alexis scrambled after me, reaching for the CD. “Mom! Mom, Amy Anne took my music again!” Alexis yelled.
“It’s my room too, and I want to read!” I told her.
“Amy Anne,” Mom called. “Amy Anne! Give your sister back her CD.”
“Why? It’s half my room too,” I wanted to say, “and I don’t want to listen to Taylor Swift while I read!” But I knew it wouldn’t do any good. Alexis always got to practice her ballet whenever she wanted to. I tossed the CD like a Frisbee onto Alexis’s bed, and she dove across the room for it. I called the dogs, and they followed me as I stomped into the hall. Mom had changed clothes and was headed to the kitchen when her phone rang.
“Don’t answer that!” Dad yelled.
Mom took her phone out of her pocket and looked at it. “It’s the office.”
“Definitely don’t answer that!” Dad yelled.
Mom answered it. “Hello? Yes? You’re kidding. Redo the presentation? Really? Before the end of the day tomorrow? But it’s not due until—no—I’m home already. About to sit down with my family and—” She covered the phone with her hand and called out to my dad. “Jamal, can you please turn that music down?”
“Told you not to answer it!” Dad said. He didn’t turn down the crazy opera singer.
Flotsam and Jetsam tried to run into the kitchen again to mooch for food, and I had to drag them with me into the living room. But I couldn’t even hide out there. Angelina had pulled all the cushions off the furniture to make a barn for herself, and she’d used Mom’s paper shredder again to slice up paper to make fake hay. Today she’d found something to build a fence out of too.
“My books!” I said. The few books I owned were all propped up against each other in a half circle outside her “barn,” the spines twisting out of shape. I started to snatch them up, and Angelina wailed.
“No! No! I need those! I need those!” She tried to grab them back from me. “You’re not using them!”
“Well, you’re not using your room,” I told her. “How about I just go in there and read?”
Alexis and I shared a room because five years ago Mom and Dad decided our house wasn’t crazy enough and they needed another kid. So Angelina got a room all to herself because she was the baby and had a different bedtime. I would have been happy to go to bed at eight o’clock every night and read if it meant I could have my own room, but I knew there was no way Alexis and Angelina would share a room together.
I marched toward Angelina’s room with my armful of books.
“No! No! That’s my room! You can’t!” Angelina screamed.
Mom stuck her head in the room. “Girls, please. I’m on the phone with work.”
Angelina wrapped herself around my leg. “Amy Anne took my fence, and now she’s going in my room!” she wailed.
“Amy Anne, I need you to be the mature one here,” Mom said.
Mom mean-frowned at me. “Fix this,” she said, and went back to her phone call.
So I had to give Alexis’s CD back, but Angelina didn’t have to give me my books back? How fair was that? And Mom didn’t understand why I wanted to run away.
I turned away from Angelina’s room and shoved the books back at her. “Here. And if you bend any of the pages or covers, you’re a dead horsey. Understand?”
“Pony,” Angelina said, arranging the books back into a fence.
“Amy Anne?” Dad called. “I thought I asked you to keep these dogs out of the kitchen! They’re licking the floor again!”
I drooped. The dogs had slipped away from me while I was arguing with Angelina.
“Flotsam! Jetsam! Come!” I yelled.
In the hall, Mom put a finger to her other ear and frowned. “I’m sorry, can you say that again?”
I led the dogs into the bathroom and shut the door. It was the only place left where I could get away from everyone. I sat down on the closed toilet seat with a huff and pulled Jet and Flot to me, hugging them. They were the only ones who ever really listened to me. With everybody else, I’d just stopped trying.
“I don’t suppose you guys have found a magical rabbit hole I can fall down or dug up an enchanted amulet in the backyard that leads to another world, have you?”
Flotsam and Jetsam licked my face and wagged their stubby tails, which I took as a no.
“At least we can hide out in here until dinner,” I told them.
The door rattled. “Mom! Mom!” Alexis yelled. “Amy Anne is hogging the bathroom and I have to pee!”
Copyright © 2017 by Alan Grantz
Reader’s guide copyright © 2017 by Tor Books