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Isabel of the Whales
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Isabel of the Whales

Written by Hester VelmansAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Hester Velmans
| Yearling | Trade Paperback | July 2006 | $6.99 | 978-0-440-42025-5 (0-440-42025-3)
Also available as an eBook.
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Call me Isabel. That's my name, though in my family you'd never know it. Someone please tell me why, when your parents have picked out a perfectly good name for you, they then turn around and call you something totally dumb instead, like Unchkins or the Bonz or Jellyman? In my case, it was Izzy at first, when I was a baby, but as soon as I could talk it got to be Lizzie, which later turned into (thanks to my brilliant big brothers) the Lizard--you know, all slimy and cold, with a forked tongue.

So I was the Lizard for a while, but then my brothers decided that was boring, and they came up with a new name for me. Iguana. Not a cute little lizard, but a big ugly lizard. Ig for short, which rhymes with pig. By the time I was eleven, I was Iggie most of the time. Which I didn't mind as much because it wasn't so far removed from Izzy, or Isabel.

We live just outside Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod. Our house is a shingled Victorian that at one time or another has been painted all these different shades of blue. It has a wide front porch, a narrow back porch, and lots of rooms all opening up into each other, which is great for hide-and-seek. My room is the smallest room in the house. It's on the third floor and what's special about it is that it has a three-sided window inside a small turret stuck onto the side of the roof--like a tower for a princess. It has a window seat, and if you lift out the screen you can climb onto the roof and have a great view of all the backyards on our street. On a clear day, you can see the sea. Even though I don't have my own bathroom up there, I wouldn't want to change rooms with any other kid in the world. That year I had a rainbow-colored sign on my door that read:

2. Do Not Enter
3. Girls Only Allowed
4. And I mean it!

On a Saturday at the end of May, Kristen and Molly came over to my house. The three of us have been best friends since kindergarten. I don't remember who first came up with the idea, but somehow we decided on a game of Truth or Dare. We lay sprawled on my bed, staring up at the ceiling.

Since it was my house, it was my turn to ask first. "Okay, Molly!" I said.

"Me?" said Molly, already in a giggly mood.

"Yes, you. Ms. Molly Masterson. Tell us . . . please tell us who you like."

"Who I like?" asked Molly, playing dumb. "Well, I like Kristen, I guess, and I like you . . ."

"Which boy you like," said Kristen patiently.

Anyone with eyes in their head could see that Molly liked my middle brother Jacob. She was always trying to get us to bake cookies or something because that way we'd be downstairs, in the kitchen, where we might bump into him. When we did, she would start playing with her pale curly hair, twirling it around her fingers or folding it into a bun, as if she were a model posing for a magazine cover. I had even caught her throwing a sultry glance or two in Jacob's direction, with this silly coy expression on her face. It was kind of pathetic. Jacob totally ignored her, of course--my brothers always ignored my friends--but from the way he strutted when she was around, you could tell he'd noticed, all right. Molly really annoyed me sometimes, even though she was my best friend. I hated it when she put on that silly-little-blonde act. It made me feel like such a big brown lump, compared to her.

"I don't like anyone!" she squealed now, pulling at her hair and twisting it into a ponytail.

"Are you sure?" I wheedled.

"Of course I'm sure!"

"Ohh-kay," I said, sort of sarcastic. "Be like that. Fine. She refuses to tell the truth. What dare do we have for Candidate Number One?"

"Uh," Kristen said. "I can't think of anything."

"Wait," I said. "I know! Molly has to go downstairs, sneak into the boys' room, and throw Jacob's pillow out the window."

"No!" screeched Molly. She was getting all red.

"Truth or dare," Kristen chanted, "truth or dare! You've got to do it, Molly!"

We had to help her, of course, to make sure the coast was clear, and I had to point out which bed was Jacob's. The pillow landed way up in the apple tree behind the back porch. I thought I was going to crack a rib, we were laughing so much, and Molly acted like she was about to faint, but in the end the whole joke sort of fizzled out, since it seemed my brothers had gone to baseball practice and they weren't around to get mad at us. I'd be the one to get it later, at bedtime, when Jacob figured out what had happened to his pillow.

"Me next," said Molly when we were back in my room. "I dare both of you to tell me--have you ever thought you were really, you know, special?"

"What do you mean, special?" I said.

"I mean, different. I mean, like, not really who you really are--living here, in Provincetown, going to Veterans Memorial School, being just, you know, ordinary."

"Oh! I know!" exclaimed Kristen.

"Yeah?" said Molly.

"Yeah! I used to think I was adopted," Kristen confessed. I had to pinch my nose hard to stop myself from laughing. I couldn't help it. Kristen is the fifth of six children, all redheads like her mom. You could say there's a distinct family resemblance.

Excerpted from Isabel of the Whales byHester Velmans Copyright © 2006 by Hester Velmans. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.