Twelve-year-old Mike -- short for Michaela -- loves the ocean. The sights, sounds, and smells of her coastal home are embedded in her very soul.
But Michaela loves her brother, Red, even more.
Then one day Red disappears. One minute he's there, the next...gone. No warning. No time to prepare. And Mike must come to terms with that loss or risk never finding comfort in what remains of the life she and her brother once shared.
"I think it's like walking barefoot in a room full of broken glass, when someone you love goes away," notes the bereaved young narrator of Johnson's (Heaven) penetrating novel set in a seaside town on Cape Cod. Mike (short for Michaela) initially tells readers, simply and rather enigmatically, that "one day my brother, Red, just disappeared from us forever." Yet as Mike, a middle-schooler, weaves scattered recollections of time spent with her sibling into an affecting account of how she, her parents and Red's closest friends, Mona and Mark, are dealing with their pain, she slowly brings the particulars of the tragedy into focus: only in the conclusion do readers learn of Mike, Mona and Mark's private burden of guilt. As Mike and Mona had cheered them on, Mark had struck a deal to give Red his car if Red swam from shore to a buoy and back but Red disappeared under the water in the attempt. Mike finds solace in intermittent visions of her brother and memories that emerge from the silence with which she often surrounds herself: "I've been listening again to things not spoken. I've been quiet the last few days 'cause I'm waiting to hear." While the elegiac pace and impressionistic prose may challenge many readers, those mourning a loss are likely to find Mike's incisive observations familiar and comforting. Ages 10-up.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
October 31, 2003
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Excerpt from Looking for Red by Angela Johnson
The first time I knew my brother, Red, was still around was the day Frank and Cassie broke down outside Boston with two flat tires. It's only now that I think that it was all Red's doing. He needed time to let me know that he is...Just us again.
Two flat tires. One after the other, and me at home waiting for them.
People see missing persons all the time and don't know that they are. They sit beside them at movies and shop beside them in stores and pass them on the street. You don't know these people, so how could you recognize that someone, somewhere, is missing them?
So I'm telling Caroline all about it now, 'cause who else would believe me?
Caroline says that her and Frank used to tell each other stories that scared them so bad that they had to sleep with the light on.
The winter stories were scarier than the summer ones because of the quiet of the falling snow. Not a sound sometimes. Not one. And no kids running around late through the projects where they lived, ignoring their parents yelling for them to come into too-hot apartments for the night.
Caroline says that what my dad believed in then was no indication of what a doubting old man he'd turn into.
She said it real sad, like it was the worst thing in the world. She said -- and let me get this right -- that Frank used to suspend disbelief. Now he was just a disbeliever.
Caroline says that sometimes being old has to be just about the most boring thing in the world to be.
Now it's the beads and fishing with Caroline and not being home enough to be reminded.
Now it's sitting in the window looking out at the water, feeling Red within the waves, hearing him in the surf. Now is me not wanting to be anywhere or with anybody, or to know anything about what is going on in the world.
Before now was all the times with me and Red. Like the day before he disappeared, when I didn't know a damned thing about how life without him would be.
That day Red smoked a cigarette behind the garden shed and blew smoke rings at me while I tried to inhale them. When he saw me trying to inhale, he put the cig out with heel of his boot and shook his head, smiling that Red smile at me.
I saw him again today, leaning against the garden shed. No cigarette, though. Red leaned against the north wall and looked relaxed. I sat on the back of the couch in the living room and looked down at him and knocked at the window to get his attention. I knocked for about ten minutes, until Cassie screamed that she would go out of her natural mind if I didn't stop that noise.
I wanted to tell her that Red was down there, standing against the shed.
Not smoking, like the last time I saw him there.
Not smiling, like the last time I saw him.
And not alive, like the last time I saw him there.
But he was gone.
Red's girlfriend, Mona, has big brown eyes and always puts her arms around me when I get close enough. She smells like powdered sugar and strawberry licorice.
"Sweet," Red used to call her. He said she was and always would be.
And he was the only one Mona said she would ever love, and she knew it once he was gone.
"Hey, beautiful thing," she calls to me as I am walking past the Ice Kreem Kastle over by the Tides Motel. She sits underneath a table umbrella sipping something and waving away flies.
"Come on over here and give me a hug."
"How you been, beautiful?" Then she puts her fingers down into her cup and flicks whatever it is at me.