Excerpt from True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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True Believer

by Virginia Euwer Wolff

True Believer
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2001, 272 pages
    Sep 2002, 272 pages

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I am lucky,
born under a good star, maybe.

Of the bad things that happened
the worst, top of the list of all time, is my dad got killed
when I was so little.
It is a burden like they say.
And nobody, my mom nor nobody
knows how this private burden weights on me.

But at least I had a dad. And he loved me gigantically.
In the picture on my bedroom wall,
holding a little version of me in his arms,
we are in matching baseball caps,
that is a happy man grinning.

And my friends. I am lucky in them.
Myrtle & Annie, they were with me
all the way through.
Myrtle and me were helpful to Annie all we could be
when she had that divorce in second grade,
and then the second divorce too,
in sixth.
And the way Myrtle's family takes drugs is a crime.
Very often she did not even want to go home.
Till her father went to rehab
when we were in eighth grade,
he is in there again now, too.
He promised Myrtle he would make it this time.
Still, she holds her breath.
Me and Annie are sympathetic.
But sympathy won't make her life different.

My friend Jolly got things complicated last year,
Myrtle & Annie rolled their eyes
about her. Jolly couldn't help it. I kept telling them.
It wasn't her fault she was pregnant
before she was old enough to see straight.
It was a dangerous world she got born into
with hardly never a chance for niceness in her life.

But when Myrtle & Annie got cleaning jobs at the church
and got invited into the Jesus club there,
first Myrtle, then Annie,
they acted like Jolly was dirt down beneath them.
Then Jolly ended up a slight hero
so they were wrong about her,
even if they never said so.

But they are still loyal to me for life, and me to them.
We don't have to say it in words, it just is.
It's true the pavement around here is filthy from side to side,
the alleys reek
and they are full of deadly events that could happen any minute.
High school students shoot their classmates
and if you even take one glance at the science of the world
you would want to never get out of bed in the morning,
birds and beasts are going extinct,
the rivers are poison, the fish are dying,
there is dangerous rain.

But I have these friends,
and my mom even took a harder job so I can get out of here
when I'm grown up.

And my hope is strong like an athlete.
Every morning when we walk through the metal detectors
to get into school
I know in my heart it may feel like a day of just waiting in lines
and hearing bells ring
and watching teachers try to keep order
among those wrongdoers in the classes.
It is an important day
of dues-paying so I can go to college and be out of here.
I'll pay.


And I am lucky to have a room of my own,
instead of sleeping on a fold-out
like Annie in her house.

My room is my private territory
complete with my special ceiling design.

My ceiling above my bed is cracked like a tree hanging over,
and last summer when I was restless one rainy day
I painted branches on,
and put a bird nest up there too
and little baby birds peeking out
with their eensy skinny feathers
and their all-mouth look like on a science show.
I used my watercolors from way back in childhood,
my 10th birthday present from the aunts.
The set has six different greens
and enough odd hues and shades
to do branches and a good tree trunk.
I am quite proud of my painting.
Well, my mom came home and saw the wall and ceiling
and her mouth went into shock
as a rent-payer.
"Oh, LaVaughn, look what you did," she says,

Copyright © 2001 by Virginia Euwer Wolff

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