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  • How It Happened in Peach Hill
  • Written by Marthe Jocelyn
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307495990
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How It Happened in Peach Hill

Written by Marthe JocelynAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Marthe Jocelyn

eBook

List Price: $10.99

eBook

On Sale: December 18, 2008
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-307-49599-0
Published by : Wendy Lamb Books RH Childrens Books
How It Happened in Peach Hill Cover

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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE PRAISE
EVENTS EVENTS
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Annie's mother has special powers.

Annie's mother is a master at drawing out secrets.

Annie's mother is the one and only, the irresistible Madam Caterina.

Annie and her mother come to Peach Hill, the latest in a string of towns where Mama sets herself up as a spiritual adviser who can put people in contact with the "dearly departed." Fifteen-year-old Annie is Mama's invisible secret weapon—she gathers important information about clients by pretending to be an idiot. After all, people will say anything in front of an idiot.

But Annie isn't invisible, she's smart as a whip, and she longs to break out of this role and into a real life with friends and school. Annie may be under Mama's spell—but not for long.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

1

Put salt on the doorstep of a new house and no evil can enter. Mama taught me to lie.

Some would say that Mama went to jail in Carling, New York, because of lies, but we had other ideas.

We knew that the truth came in different varieties and that most people had a favorite. Same thing with untruth. Anyone could decide what to call a lie, so sometimes there'd be a misunderstanding.

Mama made claims to being clairvoyant: able to "see clearly" what was unseen by everyone else. She had what she called a sensitive way with the spirit world. I was her assistant. We offered services that only we could perform. Mama cultivated her talents to help people seeking solace, or relief from a predicament.

When a gentleman, for instance, misplaced a gold watch and offered a reward for its recovery, Mama's psychic ability was almost certain to detect the missing object. Particularly when her beguiling smile and her nimble fingers had caused the misplacement to begin with, and I had selected the discovery site. When the gentleman reclaimed his property, we were handsomely paid, and everyone was content.

Until an incident of faulty timing led to a watch being observed in our possession.

That day in Carling, I was fifteen. I watched Mama being dragged away by the police with her stockings torn and her feet scrabbling to touch the ground. I saw her hat flung to the pavement, with the ostrich feather snapped under a boot. I wanted to howl and kick somebody. That sickening scene played over and over in front of my eyes, like at the moving pictures with the pianist gone home.

And while Mama languished for two days and nights in the stone cellar of that Carling police station behind a wall of iron mesh, I was confined to the sheriff's home. The sheriff's wife was a more formidable jailer than any of the young men with pistols who were watching over Mama.

"We've had villains in here before, Miss Annie Grey." She jabbed her finger at me. "But never one so young, nor so unrepentant!"

Well, what was I supposed to be repenting for? We didn't want the watch, we wanted the money for its recovery, and we never got that, so how could we repent?

"You sit right there and read aloud from the Good Book. Your mother has some nerve, with her claims to see into the future. No one but the good Lord can say what awaits us! I know what awaits you, young lady. You will read, without moving, from the moment you finish your breakfast until I put your supper on the table tonight. . . ."

At first I didn't think it was much of a punishment. There are some great moments of drama in the Bible, storms and miracles, plenty of evil doings and heroic characters.

" 'And God divided the Light from Darkness!' " I thundered, waving my fist in the air, " 'and God called the light Day and He called the dark Night. . . .' "

But the sheriff's wife didn't want my interpretation. She wanted my piety and she wanted it plain.

"Don't you get fanciful and don't you rest."

I had no wish to repeat that experience as long as I lived. I chose to have an epileptic seizure at the same moment that Mama agreed to marry her guard, and so between us we negotiated our freedom.

Luckily, Mama prided herself on always being prepared for trouble. Our savings were neatly arranged in the false bottom of our trunk and hadn't been disturbed by the rude officers who had searched our belongings. We left town the very hour Mama was released, and we swore not to repeat our errors. Mama said soon we would have enough money to buy a home of our own. She said we could settle down, just as I'd been begging for, so long as I could remember.

We arrived in Hawley feeling breathless, as if we'd run all the way from Carling in our fine leather Hi-Cuts, instead of sitting in a first-class compartment with a Thermos of chamomile tea and a two-pound box of coconut macaroons. We stayed in Hawley just long enough to come up with a new twist to our old game.

"One of our strengths is your sweet and innocent face," said Mama. "We'll take it one step further and turn you into a dim-witted angel. You will be clucked over and then ignored by heartless women who think only of themselves. This will put you in an excellent position for eavesdropping."

Mama was sharp; no mistake about that. She was a fake as far as hearing from the dead, or even seeing the outcome of a situation ahead of time, but she had a sensitive way about her, when required professionally. She was a master at drawing out secrets. With a little background information, she easily appeared to see straight into the hearts of forlorn and desperate seekers--usually women--who spent heaps of money to hear the advice of a stranger. And Mama was so pretty, people tended to trust her without thinking about it.

So, in Hawley, I sat for hours holding Mama's mirror with the tortoiseshell handle. I perfected the ability to cross one eye while my mouth stayed open. I breathed out with a faint wheeze so that my lips dried up or even crusted. Once in a while I'd add a twitch.

If anyone had looked through the window, they would have heard Mama scolding me, "Get rid of that smart glint in your eyes. And let your lips gape!"

"It makes me thirsty, having my tongue lolling out."

"Try honking through your nose when you laugh. That will give your mouth a rest."

I experimented on the streets of Hawley. People would take a first look at me and shiver with disgust. They'd look again and think, Oh, the poor thing, thank the heavens she's not mine. And then they'd ignore me, just as Mama had predicted, out of politeness, maybe, or embarrassment.

That was the moment I could go to work.

While in disguise I planned to gather gossip and bring it home to Mama. She would put it to use in little ways, giving it back to the very same people, only shaped differently and in exchange for money. Lots of money, over time.

We moved on to Peach Hill toward the end of summer, to start fresh. The days were still hot and I wished we could go closer to the shores of the Finger Lakes, but Mama said resort towns attracted more sophisticated people. We were better off in Nowhere, New York.


From the Hardcover edition.
Marthe Jocelyn

About Marthe Jocelyn

Marthe Jocelyn - How It Happened in Peach Hill

Photo © Tom Slaughter

When I was a child, I liked to read books about ordinary children who stumbled across enchantment. I really thought that if I looked hard enough, I might find a magic nickel or a secret room behind the bookcase or a gnarled gnome whom only I could see. As I grew older, I felt the same thrill of seeing mysteries unveiled when I went to the theatre or read a book. In my childhood activities, I played with dolls way past the normal age, made dioramas out of junk scraps, directed backyard plays with casts of neighborhood kids, and was always, always reading–only as an adult can I clearly see my pursuit of illusion.
When I was 14, I spent a year in a Quaker boarding school in England, encountering a world utterly different from my own, no magic necessary. I learned the advantage of being a stranger; I created a new character for myself, far from my family and not dependent on anyone’s preconceptions. This later fed my approach to fiction: My heroines are small part “me” and large part invention of who I’d like to be, or to have been.
My earliest chapter books (the Invisible trilogy) were about an ordinary child who stumbles across enchantment. My next several books were historical novels (Earthly Astonishments, Mable Riley, and How It Happened in Peach Hill), set in worlds utterly different from my own. It’s easy to see in retrospect that exploring alternate realities began as a game in childhood and eventually became a consuming pastime, otherwise known as research. I love doing research. I depend on what I learn not only for flavor and accuracy of details, but also for the occasional serendipitous discovery that alters the plot of a story.
But then we come to my most recent novel, Would You. It is a complete departure from any of my other stories, because its inception was in the accident that gravely injured my sister when I was 20 years old and she was 27. Paula was hit by a car and remained comatose for several weeks. When she emerged, she was severely brain-damaged and a paraplegic. Ten years later, she was again hit by a car–in her wheelchair–and killed.
Friends were concerned that Would You would be too difficult to write. In fact, it was the easiest book I’ve tackled yet. I didn’t have to worry about plot! The characters are teenagers and the main challenge was to capture their irreverence and humor alongside the tragedy.
The friendship between the sisters, Natalie and Claire, is inspired by that of my own two daughters. As a mother, I delight in the love they have for each other. It is impossible not to think about my own sister and what I have lost. But here I am, 30 years later, having a fine life, and surrounded with the alternate reality that only teenagers can provide. I hope that I have written an elegy for my sister and an homage to my children.
Praise

Praise

Starred review, The Horn Book Magazine, March/April 2007:
"Annie's strong voice creates a unique character--one with enough gumption, skepticism, and wry humor to resist, ultimately, her mother's narcissistic influence."

Starred review, School Library Journal, April 2007:
"Readers will not soon forget this unconventional mother-and-daughter team."


From the Hardcover edition.
Marthe Jocelyn

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Marthe Jocelyn - How It Happened in Peach Hill

Photo © Tom Slaughter

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