It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Barbour Books (January 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Angie Brillhart of Barbour Books for sending me a review copy.***
Jean Fischer has been writing for children for nearly three decades, and has served as an editor with Golden Books. She has written with Thomas Kinkade, John MacArthur, and “Adventures in Odyssey,” and is one of the authors for Barbour’s Camp Club Girls series. A nature lover, Jean lives in Racine, Wisconsin.
List Price: $5.97
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Barbour Books (January 1, 2010)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
“Watch out!” someone called near Sydney’s ear.
But it was too late. The pent up explosion of the water landed square against Sydney’s back, knocking her to the ground.
Dazed, she rolled onto her back and looked up into the hot summer sky. The water swirled around her whole body. From a distance she heard happy shouting and water gushing onto the street.
A fireman’s face appeared above her. “Are you okay, little girl?”
Little girl? Little girl! I’m twelve years old! I’m not a little girl, Mister.
The indignation snapped Sydney out of her dazed condition. She looked up and saw that two firemen were now looking at her anxiously. Carefully they helped her to her feet.
“Are you okay, little girl?” She looked in the fireman’s face. He seemed so worried that her irritation melted.
Sydney looked down at her soaking gray tank top and shorts. “Yes, sir, I’m fine,” she said. “Thank you,” she added, remembering her manners.
Sydney Lincoln had been talking to one of her neighborhood friends. She hadn’t even noticed the firemen at the fire hydrant behind her. And she sure hadn’t realized she was in the direct line of the nozzle the men were releasing.
Still out of breath from the shock of the water, Sydney dropped onto the curb in front of her house. She tore off her running shoes and socks, and stuck her bare feet into the gutter. She watched as the water from the hydrant down the street shot into the air and out the nozzle. The neighborhood kids laughed and splashed in its flow.
As Sydney’s clothes began to dry in the torrid sun, the water rushed along the curb like a river. It streamed between Sydney’s toes and sent goose bumps creeping up to her knees.
Sydney lived in the middle of a row of brick houses. The two-story tall houses were connected so they looked like one long building. The only windows were in the front and the back. The houses were close to the street, and each had a narrow front porch with three steps leading to a tiny front yard and the sidewalk.
The screen door on Sydney’s house swung open, and her mom stepped outside. “Sydney, have you seen your Aunt Dee yet?” Her curly, black hair was pulled back with a blue band to keep it off of her face.
“No, Mom,” Sydney answered. “I ran past the Metro station looking for her, but she wasn’t there.”
“Well, when she gets here, you two come inside. Dinner’s ready.”
Sydney dipped her fingers into the water and splashed some onto her long, thin arms.
“Don’t you want to come in by the air conditioning?” Her mother fanned herself with a magazine. “Aren’t you hot in the sunshine?”
“No, mom,” Sydney answered. She didn’t think it was necessary to tell her mom about her little brush with the explosion of water.
The cell phone in the pocket of her pink shorts buzzed. Sydney took it out and found a text message from one of her best friends, Elizabeth Anderson. It said: Almost packed.
Sydney tapped a reply on her keypad: Can’t w8 til u get here.
Sydney and Elizabeth had met at Discovery Lake Camp, and although Elizabeth lived in Texas, they talked every day. Four other girls had been with Sydney and Elizabeth in Cabin 12B. They were Bailey Chang, Alexis Howell, McKenzie Phillips, and Kate Oliver. When camp ended, Kate set up a web site so the girls could stay in touch. It was password protected, so it was like their own secret cabin in cyberspace. They’d all bought web cams with baby-sitting money, chore payments, and allowances so they could see each other and talk online. The Camp Club Girls—as they liked to be called—made web cam calls, sent IMs, and frequently met in their own private chat rooms.
Sydney continued typing her message: Will pic u up @ d aport @ 4 2MORO.
“Sydney, I really wish you’d come inside.” Sydney’s mother crossed her arms.
“Okay, in a few minutes, Mother!” Sydney said, without looking up.
The screen door slammed shut.
This was the worst heat wave Washington D.C. had seen in twenty-five years. Everyone had air conditioners blasting. The energy load was way too much, and the night before, the power had gone out. Sydney hated being in total darkness. She was relieved that today seemed normal.
Pack shorts, she typed. Really hot here!
While she sat texting, Sydney heard the thump thump thump of music getting closer and closer. A green jeep raced around the corner, and the booming bass from its stereo echoed inside Sydney’s chest. In the passenger seat, Aunt Dee held on to her tan park ranger hat to keep it from flying off of her head. The jeep screeched to a halt in front of Sydney’s house, and her aunt hopped out.
“Thanks for the ride, Ben,” she yelled over the music. “See you tomorrow.”
The young driver waved and drove off.
Gotta go, Liz, Sydney wrote. Ant D’s home.
Sydney stood and wiped her feet on the grass. “You’re late again,” she said. “Mom’s mad.”
“I know,” Aunt Dee apologized. “There was trouble at the Wall.” She took off her ranger hat and perched it on Sydney’s head. Aunt Dee always blamed her lateness on her job at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. Sydney didn’t understand how she could be so enthusiastic about a long, black wall with a bunch of names carved onto it.
“So what was the trouble?” Sydney wondered.
“I’ll tell you at dinner,” said Aunt Dee. She linked her arm through Sydney’s. “It’s hot out here, girlfriend. Let’s go inside.”
By the time Sydney washed and sat at her place at the table, Mom and Aunt Dee were already eating. Sydney had learned at camp to pray before every meal. So, she bowed her head and said out loud, “Dear Lord, Make us truly grateful for this meal and for all the blessings of this day.” She noticed that her mom and Aunt Dee stopped eating and bowed their heads, too. “And please keep Dad safe,” she said. Sydney always added a blessing for her dad who was serving in the military overseas.
“Amen!” Mom and Aunt Dee chimed.
Sydney poured iced tea into her tall glass and scooped pasta salad onto her plate. “So, what happened at the Wall?” she asked, reaching for a piece of French bread.
“Someone spray painted the sidewalk last night,” Aunt Dee replied. “Graffiti.”
Sydney’s mom got that look on her face—the one where her forehead turned into wrinkled plastic wrap. “You mean vandalism,” she said. “I think it’s just terrible what kids do these days—”
“How do you know it was kids?” Sydney interrupted. Her mouth was full of creamy macaroni. “Kids aren’t the only ones who do bad stuff.”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” said Aunt Dee.
“Most times it is,” her mom argued. “Just look around our neighborhood,” She waved her hand toward the kitchen window. “Vandalism everywhere! Who do you think did all that? Not the adults. The kids don’t care about our community. Do they care that this neighborhood used to be a military camp to help slaves that escaped from the South? No! They just want to mess up the nice things that good folks worked so hard to build.” Sydney’s mother sighed and took a long drink of her iced tea.
Mrs. Lincoln worked at the local historical society, and she was very protective of the neighborhood and its landmarks. She liked to talk about how, in the old days, kids had manners and didn’t do anything wrong. Sydney hated it that her mom blamed everything on the kids in the neighborhood.
“There are good kids, too,” Sydney argued. “You don’t see my friends and me running around spray painting everything. Give us some credit!” She looked at her plate and pushed the rest of her pasta salad into a neat little pile. “We care what happens.”
“We don’t know who did it,” said Aunt Dee, trying to stop the argument. “Someone painted GO 64 in front of panel 30W—in orange paint. Ben and some other volunteers scrubbed it this morning. They’ll work on it again tonight when the air cools off some. They’re having a hard time cleaning it. Pass the bread, please.”
“What does GO 64 mean?” Sydney asked, handing her the basket of bread.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Aunt Dee answered. “We’re wondering if the number 64 is a clue to who did it. Ben said that in some rap music, 64 means a 1964 Chevrolet Impala. Another volunteer plays chess and said 64 is the number of squares on a chessboard. We don’t know what it means.”
“Maybe it’s Interstate 64,” Sydney’s mom suggested. “There’s construction on that freeway and plenty of orange construction cones. Maybe the orange paint is to protest all that.”
“But if it’s about the freeway, or a car, or a chessboard, why would they complain by painting graffiti at the Vietnam Wall? Besides, Interstate 64 is in Virginia,” Aunt Dee said.
“Yes, but there’s some military bases out that way,” Mother said. Then she added, “It’s probably just kids.”
The air conditioning kicked in again, and a cool draft shot from the air vent making the kitchen curtains flutter.
“The Wall’s lighted at night,” Sydney said. “And the Park Police keep an eye on all the monuments. So, why didn’t anyone see who did it?”
“The lights were out,” Aunt Dee reminded her. “The whole city went dark for a while, and the Park Police were busy with that. That’s when it happened, I’m sure. Anyway, it’s a mess, and we have to clean it up fast. The TV stations are already making a big deal out of it.” She dipped her knife into the butter container and slathered butter onto her French bread. “I had such an awful day at work. Everybody blamed everyone else for letting it happen. Like we would let it happen! People don’t know how hard the Park Service works—“
“May I be excused,” Sydney asked, swallowing her last bite of pasta.
“You may,” her mother answered.
Sydney put her dishes into the dishwasher. Then she went upstairs to her room.
The computer on Sydney’s desk was on, and her screensaver cast an eerie blue glow on her yellow bedroom walls. Syd’s bedroom had no windows, so it was always dark. That was the trouble with living in a row house. If your room was in the middle of the house, you had no windows. She flipped the switch on her desk light and tapped the spacebar on the computer. The monitor lit up, and Sydney noticed that McKenzie Phillips was online. She sent her an IM: Talk to me?
The phone icon on the computer screen jiggled back and forth. Sydney clicked on it, and McKenzie’s freckled face appeared. She was sitting at the work island in her family’s kitchen. “What’s up?” she asked.
Sydney turned on her web cam. “Not much,” she said. “I just finished dinner.”
“Me, too,” McKenzie replied. “Well, almost.” She held a slice of cheese pizza in front of her face so Sydney could see it. “We ate early because Dad and Evan have to drive some cattle to pasture. Then they want to practice for the rodeo this weekend.” She pointed to the blue baseball cap on her head. Its yellow letters said: Sulfur Springs Rodeo.
“I didn’t want to hang out downstairs,” Sydney told her. “Someone spray painted graffiti by the Vietnam Wall last night, and Mom blamed it on kids again.”
McKenzie took a bite out of her pizza. “I saw it on the news. Why did she blame it on kids? I mean, anyone could have done it.”
“She blames everything on kids,” Sydney answered. “I think it’s because a lot of the kids around here get into trouble. I try to tell her that we’re not all like that, but she doesn’t listen. Lately she doesn’t listen to anything I say.”
“My mom’s like that, too,” McKenzie said. “Nothing I do is ever right.” Her face lit up. “Hey, the news said it was orange paint, right?”
“Yeah,” Sydney said, fidgeting with her cornrows. “Orange graffiti that said GO 64. So what?”
“So, maybe it’s some crazy nutcase with Agent Orange.”
“Agent who?” Sydney asked.
“Agent Orange!” said McKenzie. “Agent Orange was a chemical they used in Vietnam. I read about it in school. It made some Vietnam soldiers really sick and some even died. So maybe it wasn’t a kid who wrote it. Maybe it’s a guy who got Agent Orange, who’s mad at the government, and wants to get even. By the way, I can’t see you well.”
“You think too much,” Sydney answered. She pulled her desk light closer to her computer and bent it toward her face. “They’re trying to figure out what GO 64 means. My aunt and mom think it could be about some sort of car, or highway, or maybe even a chessboard—“
“A chessboard!” McKenzie screeched. “A person who plays chess won’t spray paint a national monument.”
“I know,” Sydney said. “Some gang member probably wrote it. Anyhow, I don’t care. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“I can see you fine now,” McKenzie said, changing the subject. “So, when is Elizabeth coming?”
“She and her Uncle Dan are flying in from Texas tomorrow,” Sydney answered. “Aunt Dee and I are going pick them up at the airport at four. We’ll take her uncle to his hotel, and then Elizabeth will come here to stay with us.”
“Can Elizabeth’s Uncle Dan get around all by himself?” McKenzie asked. She twisted a strand of her shoulder-length hair around her fingers. “I mean, he’s in a wheelchair and everything.”
“As far as I know, he can,” Sydney answered. “Elizabeth said he plays wheelchair basketball and competes in wheelchair races, so I suppose he gets around just fine by himself. I’m sure once he gets to the hotel, his Vietnam buddies will help him out if he needs help.”
McKenzie reached for a gallon milk container on the kitchen counter. She poured herself a glass. “Well, at least you and Elizabeth don’t have to hang around with him the whole time. He’ll be busy with his reunion stuff, right?”
“Right,” Sydney agreed. “We’ll see him Monday at the Vietnam Wall. Aunt Dee wants to give him the tour, and she thinks that Elizabeth and I should be there. Otherwise, we’re on our own.” Sydney heard strange sounds coming from her computer speakers. “Is that mooing?” she asked.
“Can you hear it?” said McKenzie. “That’s Olivia, our old milk cow. About this time every day, she wanders up to the kitchen window and talks to us. I’ll move the camera, and you can see her.”
McKenzie’s face disappeared from the screen. Sydney watched her friend’s bare feet move across the kitchen floor as she carried the web cam to the window. Then a big, black-and-white cow head appeared. Olivia stood chewing her cud and looking at Sydney with huge, brown eyes.
“Earth to Mac! Earth to Mac!” Sydney called into her computer’s microphone. “Come back Mac!”
Sydney watched McKenzie’s bare feet walk back to the computer. Then her face showed up on the screen.
“Isn’t Olivia awesome?” she said. “You really should come to Montana, Syd. We have tons of animals. I know you’d love it, and we could ride horses and hike, just like we did at camp.”
“Maybe I will some day,” Sydney replied. “But, right now, I’m signing off. I want to clean up my room before Elizabeth gets here from Texas. All of my junk is piled on the other bed. If I don’t move it she won’t have a place to sleep.”
“Okay then,” McKenzie said. “I’ll sign off, too—and eat more pizza.” She picked up the gooey slice from her plate and took another bite. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“See ya,” Sydney answered, switching off her web cam.
Everything in her room looked neat except for the other twin bed. It was hardly ever used, so that was where Sydney stored most of her stuff. It held boxes filled with colorful papers and art materials, magazines, piles of clothes, posters she planned to put up in her room. Sydney had so much stuff stored there that she didn’t know what to do with it all. Under my bed, I guess, she thought.
Before long, the bed was cleaned. Sydney changed the sheets. Then she went to her closet and pulled out a new black and tan bedspread that matched her own. She threw it on top of the bed and tucked it neatly around the pillow.
“Sydney?” Aunt Dee stood in the doorway. She held a long, white envelope. “This came for you.”
The letter was from Elizabeth. Sydney tore open the flap and found a note taped to an information sheet.
Uncle Dan wanted me to send you this so your mom can keep track of him. Just in case of an emergency. It’s his reunion schedule.
Sydney Lincoln read the heading on the sheet of paper. It said, “Annual Reunion—64th Transportation Company, Vietnam.”
A full personal review is coming!!