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  • Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature
  • Written by Robin Brande
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  • Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature
  • Written by Robin Brande
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On Sale: January 13, 2009
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On Sale: August 28, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7393-5574-9
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Your best friend hates you. The guy you liked hates you. Your entire group of friends hates you.

All because you did the right thing.

Welcome to life for Mena, whose year is starting off in the worst way possible. She's been kicked out of her church group and no one will talk to her—not even her own parents. No one except for Casey, her supersmart lab partner in science class, who's pretty funny for the most brilliant guy on earth.

And when Ms. Shepherd begins the unit on evolution, school becomes more dramatic than Mena could ever imagine . . . and her own life is about to evolve in some amazing and unexpected ways.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

One

I knew today would be ugly. When you’re single-handedly responsible for getting your church, your pastor, and every one of your former friends and their parents sued for millions of dollars, you expect to make some enemies. Fine.

It’s just that I hoped my first day of school—of high school, thank you, which I’ve only been looking forward to my entire life—might turn out to be at least slightly better than eating live bugs. But I guess I was wrong.

I knew I’d be seeing some of these people today, but in first period already? And it has to be none other than my former best friend and the pastor’s daughter—two of the people who have cause to hate me the most.

Having Teresa and Bethany in English might not be so bad if they’d just ignore me, but at the start of class when Mr. Kuhlman called, “Mena Reece,” and I croaked out my “Here,” Teresa had to turn her blond, spiky head around and shoot me the Look of Death, and I got that combined feeling of needing to throw up and possibly pee my pants.

Think positive. Think positive.

Why didn’t my parents let me transfer? There are plenty of charter schools around, or they could have sent me to live with my aunt in Wyoming or with strangers in Alaska for all I care. But I know they want to see me punished. They pretend they’ve forgiven me, but I know deep down inside they hate me for writing that letter, just like everybody else.

It’s only been half an hour, and already I can tell this is going to be the worst day of my life. I don’t know why I’m so surprised. I knew seeing everyone today would be hard. It’s only been a month since they were all served with the lawsuit, and even though I’ve gotten plenty of hate e-mails and phone messages since then, it’s not the same as having to deal with these people in person.

I just didn’t realize I’d be so scared. It’s pathetic. What do I have to be afraid of? My conscience is clear. I didn’t do anything wrong.

No, correction: I did the right thing. And someday the truth shall set me free.

Just not, apparently, today.

Two

Okay, at least second period wasn’t so bad.

Maybe the only good thing about going to New Advantage High School (motto: “Let brilliance find you”—whatever that’s supposed to mean) is they count yoga as PE. Also archery, tai chi, and kickboxing. But I’m glad I picked yoga. If ever a girl needs an hour between English and biology to chill out and breathe deeply and try to prevent her oncoming heart attack, that’s me. Plus, I don’t know a single person in my yoga class, for which I am truly grateful.

I wasn’t sure my parents would let me take yoga. Pastor Wells was on this funk last year about how chanting during yoga or meditation is idol worship, because you’re focused on a word or an image that isn’t God and you’re basically praying to it. He said the only acceptable way to meditate is to picture the Lord in front of you, his arms wide, a gentle smile on his face. Some women from the church even started their own class to teach us how to do it.

So this morning while our teacher, Missy, led us through the pranas and the asanas, I thought about Jesus the whole time. I pictured us on a hillside together, lying back on the grass while his flock grazed all around us.

I talked Jesus’s ear off, but he smiled and let me go on. And when I had unloaded everything that was on my mind, he gave me a hug and called me Little Sister and told me everything will be all right.

It will, won’t it? It felt so good to believe it.

Toward the end of class, Missy taught us some posture that I swear can only come in handy if you ever want to shave your own back. But our reward for pretzeling was that for the last twenty minutes of class she let us lie on our mats with our eyes closed, thinking our most peaceful thoughts.

I am in the woods, beside a calm, serene lake. The birds are singing. I can smell the pine. I am completely invisible. No one can find me. I’ve never heard of Denny Pierce.

And then the bell rang. Happy time was over.

I dressed as boring as I could today—plain jeans, a faded black T-shirt—hoping it would help hide me somehow. Right. As if I could walk even two steps down the hall without someone I know recognizing me and giving me the total Hairy Eyeball.

I kept my head down and plowed through, and had almost made it to my third-period biology class without bodily harm when someone hip-checked me into the wall.

I turned to see my former—don’t know what to call him, really. Crush? Pre-boyfriend? The guy I was stupid enough to like last year and thought I might actually go out with once I’m allowed to date?—snickering and snuffling to himself. Yeah, Adam, that’s so impressive. People must think you’re really cool for tackling some girl you outweigh by a hundred pounds.

But I didn’t say anything, of course. Just mumbled, “Don’t,” and hurried into class. Way to stick up for yourself, Mena. You showed him.

And then as if having Adam in that class isn’t enough, guess who else? Teresa, of course, because apparently having her in English just isn’t enough torture. For all I know, she’s probably in all my classes except yoga, and tomorrow she’ll transfer into that, too, just to make sure I’m living my own personal hell.

I grabbed a seat as far away from her as possible, but Teresa still managed to throw me a look like would I do everyone a favor and just die.

If the day keeps going like this, I might.


From the Hardcover edition.
Robin Brande|Author Q&A

About Robin Brande

Robin Brande - Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature

Photo © Courtesy of the Author

In Her Own Words

Not being a science girl myself, I knew if I were going to write a novel like Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature, I’d better spend a proper amount of time doing research. So I’m sorry to say I gave up many lazy summer days (okay, maybe weeks) to plow through Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, highlighting and underlining and giving myself some massive headaches, before I realized there was a much easier way to go about it.

So that fall I went back to high school. I sat in on freshman biology classes for a month. And not only did I pick up the science I needed, but I also had the glorious experience of being back in high school and not caring whether I impressed anyone. Do you know how liberating that is? Who knew it was possible to walk those halls without worrying about your skin, your hair, your clothes, your braces, that stupid thing you just blurted out in chemistry, that boy you just totally humiliated yourself in front of–I mean I had no idea it was possible to actually walk upright and look people in the eye. Fascinating.

I just finished writing another novel that again “required” me to go back to high school. I hope nobody notices I’m making a habit of this.

The other element to Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature–the religious part–came more naturally. I grew up fundamentalist Baptist, and I have enough stories from that to last me quite a while. I loved, loved, loved my religious upbringing, but there were definitely some odd times, including the one that ultimately led to me being banished from my church. But that’s a whole other story.

The thing that I enjoyed most about writing this novel was articulating for myself what it is I believe about God and evolution. It’s something I never really threw light on until I had to put it in the mouths and the heads of the various characters in this book. I understand why the debate exists, and why people get so exercised about it, but I hope that the resolution Mena comes to in the end is one that will be helpful to other people in sorting through the issue themselves.

If not, then I hope I’ve at least added something useful to the dialogue. And given people a few laughs and a little romance to enjoy along the way.

Author Q&A

Q: What prompted you to write this book?
Two things: First, I’m fascinated by the balance between faith and reason. I grew up in a fundamentalist religion, and learned that Genesis was the only explanation for how the universe was created. We didn’t question it. Later, when I heard about evolution, I had to reconcile my religious beliefs with the plain facts in front of my face. I’m a true believer in the separation of church and state. I think children should be free to learn in an environment where they’re not made to feel uncomfortable for their religious beliefs--or lack thereof.

Q: How did your experience with your own church influence the story?
One of the things I appreciate about my religious upbringing is that it inspired me to read the Bible every day. I love to find ways to incorporate Bible stories into my novels, as I did in this one. But the downside of my early church experiences is that I saw how some people use religion as an excuse for their own prejudices and hate. You'll see some of that in the novel as well. And like Mena, I was banished from my church when I was a teenager, though my crime was far more ridiculous and less noble than hers.

Q: Why do you think this topic is of such interest to so many Americans right now?
I think the issue of evolution versus creationism has always been out there—it was in Darwin’s time, and it still continues. Maybe it’s because in some ways, the Bible makes it so easy for us: read this, believe it, case closed. Science is messy. Science is always in your face, making you question the things you thought you already knew. But that’s what makes it so necessary— we can always find out more. For me, believing in both God and science makes sense. Science is a way of honoring the creation of our universe by discovering as much as we possibly can about it. Evolution is part of that explanation.
Q: Like Ms. Shepherd, do you need your daily fix of Starbucks before you can start writing?
Ha! I absolutely must have my Starbucks fix every morning.
Q: While growing up did you raise puppies like the Connor family?
I wish! I had to wait until I was an adult. Last summer my good and faithful Labrador retriever died, and I had to get a new puppy right away before my heart broke to smithereens.


From the Hardcover edition.

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