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  • Written by Alison McGhee
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780763626174
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"Children will come away thinking they have heard something quite profound about love, fear, and hope for the future."
- Booklist (starred review)

Eddie Beckey makes lists for just about everything and everyone in her life. And for matters of real importance, she wears (and snaps) an array of colored rubber bands on her wrist. Unfortunately, the world is not always so orderly and knowable. No list can help her cope with what's happening to her best friend, Sally - or change the course of things for Sally's grandmother, whom Eddie has grown to love and depend on as well. With subtlety and insight, novelist Alison McGhee tells the story of a young girl's first encounter with grief, and of the enduring power of friendship.


Sally Hobart is my best friend.

Here is a partial list of what I know about Sally:

Name: Sally Wilmarth Hobart.

Favorite smell: Wood smoke.

Favorite kind of cheese: Limburger.

Favorite season: Spring.

Favorite color: White.

Best friend: Eddie Beckey.

Favorite food: Chocolate-covered sprinkle doughnuts from the bakery at the back of Jewell’s Groceries.

I know so much else about Sally: her favorite books, the contents of her locker, the fact that on cheese pizza day she will buy, instead of bring, her lunch. Her preferred Monopoly piece, the only piece she will play with? The dog, because she’s always wanted one.

She used to suck her thumb but forced herself to stop.

Her favorite class is earth science.

Favorite body of water? The meander that twists its way through the meadow below her house.

Favorite place in the world? The Cabin, where every summer we go camping.

I could make a list of everything I know about Sally. But I wouldn’t because Sally says that my lists are "spontaneity crushers."

* * *

Willie says that Sally is a sugar fiend.

"Sally," Willie says, "consider the cave children. Did they wake up in the morning craving chocolate-covered sprinkle doughnuts?"

"Cave children probably ate bloody chunks of raw meat for breakfast," Sally says. "And they lived in caves. I’d rather live in a house and eat sprinkle doughnuts."

Willie thinks of herself as an anti-sugarist.

Given a choice between salty and sweet, Sally’s grandmother -- Willie -- will choose salty every time. That’s why she prefers crackers over cookies. She bakes them herself. She rolls the cracker dough out thin on a cookie sheet and pricks it all over with a fork. After the dough is baked, when it’s brown and cool, she breaks it into pieces. She bakes all kinds of crackers: cracked-pepper Parmesan, plain soda, Vermont cheddar with maple syrup. Sometimes I look up cracker recipes in the library so as to test her with the names of weird ones. Crackers I had never even imagined the existence of, Sally’s grandmother knows all about.

But still, she buys sprinkle doughnuts for Sally.

"One of these days I’m going to stop and buy chunks of raw meat instead so that you can work on your cave-girl technique," she says. "You just watch."

She’s been saying that for years.

What Sally loves most: Willie.

What Willie loves most: Sally.

I once would have thought there was nothing I didn’t know about my best friend, but on the last day of sixth grade, that changed. Sally and I were riding the bus home to North Sterns, out here on the Remsen border, where the foothills rise up purple and shadowy, and it came to me that I hadn’t seen Sally’s grandmother for a while. Where was she? Why was she not tromping her way south along Route 274, scissoring both her arms at us to say hello as we passed her? Where was she, Willie, with her green pail and her keep-away-the-dogs stick?

I realized that I had not been to dinner at Sally’s house in a while. I could see the red-and-white checked tablecloth that Willie spreads in my honor, and I could smell the spaghetti sauce she makes for us, her hours-long spaghetti sauce whose secret ingredient is V8 juice -- yes, V8 -- bubbling away on the stove.

"Sally? Where’s your grandmother?"

Sally was next to me on the long green vinyl seat of the bus, eight seats behind Shari, the driver. Sally had opened up her lunch box and was eating the apple she hadn’t eaten at lunch. She usually saves something for the bus ride. It’s a long one, especially the way Shari drives. You would think, looking at her, that Shari would drive fast and curse a lot, but no.


Sally munched on.

"Is she sick?"

"She’s fine," Sally said, around her mouthful of apple.

"Why isn’t she out walking, then?"

Sally sat there next to me on the green vinyl seat, crunching away on that apple. She didn’t look at me. Something flitted through me, a shadow of a feeling that made my stomach flutter. I gazed out the bus window and willed Willie to appear. I willed her arms to be up in the air, waving her hello to us. I willed her to be around the next curve, her big smile and her green pail. She wasn’t.

Sally didn’t say anything. I felt for my purple rubber band.



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