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A Genius with a Problem
Every morning as they walked to the bus stop, Sophie Simon and her parents had the same conversation.
"Have fun at school today, lamb chop," her mother would say, straightening out Sophie's blouse.
And Sophie would wrinkle her cute button nose at her mother and tell her, "School is not for fun. It's for learning."
But that Friday morning, instead of simply patting Sophie on the head and nodding, Sophie's parents did something that surprised her.
"Snickerdoodle," Sophie's father replied, "your mother and I have been thinking. Perhaps today you might try to make some friends."
Sophie tugged at the straps of her backpack. "No, thank you," she said. "I don't need friends."
"But, walnut," Sophie's mother said, taking hold of her hand as they crossed the street. "Don't you even want one or two friends? All of the other children seem to have them."
"That's true," said Sophie's father.
Sophie scowled at her parents.
She was not like other children.
Sophie Simon was a genius.
By the time Sophie Simon was two, she could recite the alphabet backwards and forwards. The russian alphabet.
By the time she was four, Sophie had dismantled her parents' broken toaster and turned it into a working radio.
And at the age of seven, Sophie had successfully performed open-heart surgery on an earthworm in the front yard.
Since earthworms have five hearts each, this was a pretty difficult task.
You would think that having a genius for a daughter would have made Sophie's parents delighted.
It did not.
Aileen and Maxwell Simon worried that their daughter wasn't "well-adjusted."
They were always quoting the famed child expert Doctor Wanda, who told parents on her TV show that the worst thing they could do was push their children to grow up too quickly.
To Sophie's parents, growing up too quickly meant doing anything Sophie found interesting.
If Sophie crafted a working robot out of toothpicks and rubber bands, her parents sighed and told her that well-adjusted children made birdhouses.
If Sophie taught herself to speak Japanese from a textbook, her parents shook their heads and said that well-adjusted children spoke pig Latin.
And if Sophie composed her own concerto on the neighbor's grand piano, her parents rubbed their temples and complained that well-adjusted children played the kazoo.
Sometimes Sophie wondered if maybe her parents weren't really her parents. Maybe, Sophie thought, she had been switched with another baby in the hospital. A well-adjusted baby. Maybe her real parents were out in the world somewhere right now, wondering why their daughter wanted to play with dolls instead of encyclopedias.
But really, Sophie knew that the people who walked her to the bus stop every morning were her real parents. Because Sophie had her mother's wavy hair, blond like straw. And she had her father's blue eyes, and the same curvy earlobes. So she most definitely had not been switched at birth.
"Gumdrop," Sophie's father said as they reached the bus stop. They were the first ones there, as usual. "Isn't that nice boy from your class having a birthday party this Sunday?"
"Why, yes," Sophie's mother said. "That charming little boy we met at parents' night. Owen Luu. The one who was afraid of paste. He seemed extremely well-adjusted."
Sophie rolled her eyes.
If Owen Luu was well-adjusted, then she was the president of Finland.
"That's the one," Sophie's father said. "An invitation for the party came in the mail last week. Wouldn't you like to go, marshmallow? It's going to be a ‘birthday pool-party extravaganza.' There will be an eight-layer ice cream cake, a high-dive contest, and an old-fashioned taffy pull."
"Oh, peanut, doesn't that sound delightful?" her mother exclaimed. "It would be a perfect opportunity to make friends."
Sophie didn't answer. She had never been to a birthday party, and she never wanted to go to one, either. And she certainly didn't want any friends. Sophie knew for a fact that she didn't need friends.
Friends did things like hang from the monkey bars and trade stickers.
Friends told each other secrets and laughed at silly jokes.
Having friends sounded like a waste of time.
"You know," Sophie said, trying to change the subject, "you really don't have to walk me to the bus stop anymore. I'm old enough to come by myself."
"Oh, bean sprout!" her mother said. "We could never let you walk all this way by yourself !"
"It's three whole blocks!" her father agreed. "What if you got lost?"
At dinner the night before, Sophie had built a topographic map of Zimbabwe out of her mashed potatoes. She would not have gotten lost.
"Here, dumpling," her mother said. "I made some cupcakes for your lunch. Let me put them in your backpack." She tugged at Sophie's zipper.
"Mom," Sophie said, "I've told you. I don't like cupcakes."
Sophie's favorite dessert was flan, a Mexican custard that her parents said looked like refrigerated cat food.
"Don't be silly, graham cracker!" her mother said as she opened Sophie's backpack. "All well-adjusted children like cup—"
She did not finish her sentence.
"Sophie!" she screeched, her head halfway inside the backpack.
"What?" Sophie's father asked. "What is it?"
"Oh, Maxwell, you won't believe what I found in our daughter's bag! It's a …" She pulled out the object, and her husband snatched it from her.
"No!" he gasped.
"Yes!" Sophie's mother cried.
"It's a textbook!"
"A college textbook!"
"Mom," Sophie said. "Dad. I—" But she didn't get a chance to explain.
"Advanced Concepts in Modern Calculus," her father read. "Oh, Aileen, just imagine! Our well-adjusted daughter, exposed to this … educational material ! The kind of stuff most adults don't understand!"
Sophie's mother put a hand on his shoulder. "Now, Maxwell, calm down. We don't even know if this book belongs to Sophie. Someone could have slipped it into her bag without her noticing. Let's give her a chance to explain before we get so worked up." She turned to Sophie. "Sugarplum?"
Sophie shrugged. "I just wanted to look at it on the bus," she said. "That's all."
Sophie's mother sucked in her breath. "Sophie!" she cried. "All this time you promised you'd only spend your free time reading comic books!"
"May I have my book back?" Sophie asked. "I want to study before school starts."
"Oh, Maxwell!" Sophie's mother wailed, grabbing her husband's arm. "Where did we go wrong?"
Sophie's father was shaking his head. "You try so hard to be a good parent," he said. "And then you find out your eight-year-old daughter is studying calculus."
Sophie puffed out her cheeks.
Other children were beginning to join them at the bus stop.
"But calculus is interesting," she tried to explain.
Sophie's father pointed an angry finger at her. "Don't you tell me calculus is interesting, young lady. I happen to know that calculus is not interesting. Calculus is math."
Sophie's father was right about one thing. Calculus was math. A very complicated kind of math. It involved long equations with letters and numbers and symbols so confusing that most people avoided looking at them directly, in case their brains turned to mush. There were graphs and charts and formulas and silly words like tangent.
Sophie loved it. She loved it more than any subject she'd ever studied before. Sophie loved calculus the way other children love roller coasters and trips to Disneyland.
She stayed up past midnight studying under the covers.
She thought about equations while her parents made her watch TV.
She even dreamed about calculus.
But there was one problem.
If Sophie really wanted to study calculus, really and truly, she needed a special kind of calculator.
"Mom? Dad?" Sophie asked as the Number 17 bus appeared over the hill in the distance. "Will you buy me a graphing calculator? I want the Pembo Q-60. It's the latest model. It costs one hundred dollars."
There was a pause.
A very short pause.
And in that pause, Sophie imagined what it might be like to have parents who understood her.
Parents who said, "Yes, dear, of course you may have a graphing calculator. Would you like a new set of notebooks and some fresh pencils to go along with it?"
Parents who let her study in peace and stopped bothering her about pointless things, like making friends.
But then the pause ended.
"Oh, Maxwell!" Sophie's mother sobbed. "What would Doctor Wanda say?"
Sophie's father shook his head. "You try so hard to be a good parent," he said with a sniffle. "And then your eight-year-old daughter tells you she wants a calculator."
Sophie heaved a deep sigh.
"So you won't buy me a Pembo Q-60 then?" she asked.
"No," said her mother.
"Absolutely not," said her father.
The bus slowed to a stop at the corner.
"May I at least have my book back?" Sophie wondered.
"No," said her mother.
"Absolutely not," said her father.
"But it's from the library!" Sophie protested. "I have to return it."
Excerpted from Sophie Simon Solves Them All by Lisa Graff.
Copyright © 2010 by Lisa Graff.
Published in 2010 by Farrar Straus Giroux.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.