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  • The Chain Letter
  • Written by Julie Schumacher
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307517111
  • Our Price: $5.99
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The Chain Letter

Written by Julie SchumacherAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Julie Schumacher


List Price: $5.99


On Sale: April 23, 2009
Pages: 208 | ISBN: 978-0-307-51711-1
Published by : Yearling RH Childrens Books
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Livvie isn’t superstitious like her best friend, Joyce, who thinks everything is bad luck. So Livvie isn’t worried about tearing up the chain letter and throwing it away–until she’s humiliated in gym class, falls down her back stairs, and gets invited to Thanksgiving dinner at Peter Finch’s house. Peter’s dad has crooked teeth, a plastic wonderland in his front yard, and some kind of secret up in his study. There is no way Livvie wants Phil Finch to date her mom.

But it’s hard work keeping their families apart–especially when Livvie is assigned to work on the sixth-grade snow maze project with Peter. Clearly, Joyce was right: breaking the chain was a huge mistake. And the only way to set things straight is to find out who sent the letter in the first place. . . .

Rich in humor and suspense, Julie Schumacher’s absorbing novel is about friendship, choices, and the kind of luck that really matters.

From the Hardcover edition.


Livvie and Joyce got the chain letters in November. They didn't know who had sent them. Dear friend, the letters started. This chain letter has not been broken for fifteen years.

"Right," Livvie said. "Who do they think they're kidding?"

Joyce was sitting at the kitchen table at Livvie's house, copying the letter onto notebook paper. Her handwriting was short and square, as if every word had been squashed. "The only other chain letters I've ever gotten have been on e-mail," she said. "But a girl I met at camp last summer told me those aren't as powerful. You're supposed to write every single copy by hand. Otherwise it's bad luck."

"It's bad luck just to get a chain letter," Livvie said. "They're a waste of time. Besides, you think everything is bad luck." She opened the refrigerator. She wanted something sweet and hot--maybe a warm brownie with hot fudge and nuts and whipped cream--but her mother had some unexplainable bias against chocolate. Livvie couldn't remember what it was.

"I don't think everything is bad luck," Joyce said. "Just some things."

"Black cats," Livvie said, staring into the refrigerator. "Ladders. The number thirteen. Opening an umbrella indoors."

"And mice," Joyce said. "Mice are bad luck. Most people don't know that." She tore another piece of paper out of her notebook. "Also worms when it isn't raining. When it's raining I think they're all right."

"It's weird that we both got these letters on the same day," Livvie said. They had walked home from school together, stopping first at Joyce's house, where the mail carrier had been stuffing the metal box full of catalogs and bills. Joyce had found her letter in the middle of the stack and brought it with her. A second, identical letter had been waiting for Livvie, at Livvie's house.

"I wonder why they're typed--and not signed," Joyce said. She finished her sixth handwritten copy and began on the seventh. "Who do you think they're from?"

Lazily and without enthusiasm, Livvie looked at her envelope. The postmark was blurry, and there was no return address. "It looks like somebody dropped mine in a snowbank." She looked over Joyce's shoulder. "I hate the way these letters always try to make you feel guilty. Don't break the chain! This letter began one hundred thousand years ago when it was scratched into stone by cavemen! You will be a very bad, bad person if you don't send it to all your friends!"

"Better to send it to your friends than bring all that bad luck onto yourself," Joyce said. "I'm almost finished. Only three left." She had taken off her glasses, and now she was leaning so close to the table that the tip of her nose almost touched the letter.

"Well, hurry up," Livvie said. "I'm hungry, and there's nothing good to eat around here." Livvie's mother wouldn't get home from work for another hour and a half. She was a physical therapist and worked with disabled kids, and she didn't have a lot of sympathy for people who complained about a lack of snack food. "I'm reminded every day," she told Livvie at least once a week, "how incredibly fortunate both of us are."

"When are you going to copy yours?" Joyce asked. "I think you really are supposed to do it the same day you get the letter."

"No way," Livvie said. The few times she had been suckered into taking part in a chain letter, she had been told that she would soon be receiving dollar bills in the mail. First a few, trickling in, and then bucketsful! Hundreds! She would be rich! But all she got after forwarding her letters were dirty looks from some of the people she had included in the chain. Her mother, for example. "Take my name off that list," her mother had told her. "I did my time on those horrid things when I was your age. I'm not going to answer them anymore."

Well, Livvie wasn't going to answer them anymore, either--especially if they were supposed to be so much work. "Watch this," she said. When Joyce looked up, Livvie tore her chain letter in half and threw the pieces in the trash beneath the sink.

Joyce stopped scribbling and put on her glasses, as if she couldn't believe what she was seeing. "That's definitely bad luck. Very definitely, Livvie. That's very bad."

"Sure. Whatever. I guess I'm cursed." Livvie studied her friend. It was hard sometimes to know whether to look at the right side of Joyce's face or at the left. Joyce had mismatched eyes: One was bright blue, the other brown. She was like two people combined into one. "There's no one I could have sent it to, anyway," Livvie said. "I can't send it to you or to my mother, and I don't want to send it to anyone at school."

"What about Peter? He likes you."

Livvie scowled. "He doesn't like me like that. Besides, Peter wouldn't answer a chain letter." Livvie had known Peter since they were very small. Livvie's mother and Peter's father were both single parents and had been in a babysitting group together. When Livvie was four, she had spent two afternoons a week at Peter's house.

"Just don't blame me when the lousy luck starts coming your way," Joyce said in a singsong. She licked the envelopes and stamped them with Livvie's mother's stamps, then tapped them against the tabletop to straighten them.

Joyce's confidence made Livvie nervous. "How about we just act like we got the one letter and you answered it for both of us?" she asked.

"Nothing doing."

"Fine, then. I don't care." Livvie wiped the eraser crumbs off the table. The letter wasn't really part of a chain anyway. It didn't have any power. It was just a piece of paper delivered to an address in the middle of St. Paul, Minnesota, the city itself just a star on a map. "I'm not superstitious. So I'm not going to worry about it," she said.

From the Hardcover edition.
Julie Schumacher

About Julie Schumacher

Julie Schumacher - The Chain Letter

Photo © Tim Fransisco Photography

I was born and raised in Delaware, a place many people remember driving through on their way from Washington to New York. A few facts about Delaware: it was the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution; at its narrowest point, it is approximately nine miles across; and its official state macroinvertebrate (huh?) is the stonefly.

I wasn’t a very good reader when I was younger (my sister likes to remind me of the day when I came home from elementary school and said, “Hey, look! I got my report card and I only got three Ds!”), but I have always written things down. I started by keeping a diary in fifth grade. Then I moved on to writing poetry. I had a series of pets that kept dying–turtles, rabbits, fish–and I wrote sad rhymes about them when we buried them in the backyard.

In high school and college, I started writing fiction when I discovered that most of my poems were like tiny unsatisfying stories. At Oberlin College, I took a class in which the professor asked everyone to write a “family tale.” I wrote a story that exaggerated a few curious and amusing details about my parents, and I turned it in. The professor suggested that I send it to a literary contest, which I did, and the story went on to be reprinted in The Best American Short Stories. By this time, I had graduated from college and was working as a secretary, and when the publication finally caught up with me I thought, I have to quit my job.

I did quit. I went to graduate school at Cornell to get an MFA degree in fiction. An MFA is what some people might call a useless degree. It doesn’t get you a job as a business person and it doesn’t make you a scholar. What does it do? It buys you encouragement and time. It helps you to believe that it might be possible to dedicate a significant portion of your life to forming sentences on a page. It motivates you to believe that spending a significant portion of your life forming sentences might be a good way to live. It’s easy to sneer at an MFA. Sneering is easy. Writing good sentences is not.

At present I’m writing books for adult as well as younger readers, and I have found that there is not as great a difference between the two as most people might think. There is a greater directness and a stronger sense of story in books for younger readers. But children’s literature is not necessarily simpler. As C. S. Lewis said, “I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.”

My books for younger readers include The Book of One Hundred Truths, The Chain Letter, and Grass Angel, a PEN Center USA Literary Award Finalist for Children’s Literature. I live in St. Paul, Minnesota, and am the director of the Creative Writing Program and a professor of English at the University of Minnesota.

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