Excerpt from Massachusetts, California, Timbuktu by Stephanie Rosenfeld, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Massachusetts, California, Timbuktu

by Stephanie Rosenfeld

Massachusetts, California, Timbuktu
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2003, 388 pages
    Jun 2004, 416 pages

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One night about a week later, we were sitting in front of the TV watching women's gymnastics, which was a show I didn't like. It wasn't women, first of all, it was girls, and it bothered me that they kept calling them the wrong thing: "These women work so hard"; "You couldn't find a more dedicated group of women." If the camera went up close, though, you could see they were little freakazoids, with big heads and tiny bodies. They looked like seven-year-olds with little breasts and makeup, and they'd say things like how hard it was, but also kind of fun, to be living in their own apartment with a chaperone, in a different city from their parents, and about how they didn't have any friends or do any normal kid things because they worked fifteen hours a day on gymnastics.

"What incredible drive that would take," Mom said, then she said, "Speaking of drives," and she sat up and muted the sound on the TV. She put her arm around Rona and her other arm around me. "Remember when I was telling you about Massachusetts? About what a neat place it is? And how much you liked it there?" Rona was nodding her head; she was such a sucker.

"And Justine, do you remember Marie, my good friend who knew you when you were just a baby?" I was one year old and Rona wasn't born the time we visited.

"No," I answered.

"Oh, sure you do!" she said.

On TV, the girl I liked best was on the balance beam. The reason I liked her was that she was bigger than the others. And even though she was totally coordinated, there was something a little bit awkward about her, too, like maybe her hands and feet were slightly too big for the rest of her, so that it almost looked like a real person might be about to climb out of her strange girl-woman body, like a baby dinosaur out of an egg.

"Well," said Mom, "Marie invited us to Massachusetts. We're going to go stay with them for a while—with Marie and Bill and their kids, who you're really going to like!"

"Goody!" piped Rona.

I wished they'd both be quiet. They were wrecking my concentration. The girl on the beam was getting ready to do something—you could tell by the way her ribs were getting huge, she was breathing in so much air. She looked like she was waiting for something—for the exact right moment, maybe, that she knew was about to fly by like a bird, and when it did, she was going to catch it.

Anyway, what did it mean, that Marie had invited us to Massachusetts?

On the television, the girl suddenly launched into a front flip, the kind with no hands—the kind where, if you mess up, you come down right on the top of your head and either die or have to spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair—and I was so mad at myself: I closed my eyes. I did it every time. When I'd open them a split second later, there she would be, standing with her arms outstretched, and once again I had missed the part I wanted to see.

"Remember Danny Martone?" Mom said. A commercial for Sara Lee coffee cake had come on. Maybe Mom and Danny Martone had once had coffee cake together. Rona had her thumb in her mouth, watching with fascination as the coffee cake got its creamy white glaze poured on.

"You met him at a Germs concert," Mom said to me. "When you were about three. He was in town with his band, and they came to our house to spend the night, remember? He lives in Connecticut now—Hartford, I think. That's right next to Massachusetts."

When she said that, something weird happened. The split second before she said "Massachusetts," I knew what was going to happen: Two days after we got to Marie and Bill's, Mom would suddenly get a burst of energy; she'd start calling 411, writing down numbers, getting out maps. Then we'd go to the library; and the day after that we would go to Hartford, which would suddenly be, according to Mom, a very interesting, historical place we had always wanted to see.

Excerpted from Massachusetts, California, Timbuktu by Stephanie Rosenfeld Copyright © 2003 by Stephanie Rosenfeld. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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