Calma Harrison is in love. Not just with herself, but also with the handsome checkout guy at Crazi-Cheep. So stocking shelves at the Crazi- Cheep seems like the perfect job--until that annoying customer tries to hold up the store. . . .
And then there's the small matter of the rest of Calma's life, which is fast falling apart: her absent father turns up after five years and wants to "talk," her mother is clearly living a secret second life, and her new best friend is hiding something horrible.
Calma is sure she knows exactly what's going on. And clearly her direct, personal intervention is required to make things right.
Except . . . if she's wrong. And then her butting in will make everything much, much worse.
Am I Right or Am I Right? is a whip-smart, wise-cracking, big-hearted novel about a girl who is learning that things are not always what they seem, and how to start again when you've gotten it all so very wrong.
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Knopf Books for Young Readers
February 12, 2007
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Excerpt from Am I Right or Am I Right? by Barry Jonsberg
It was a wet-season day in the tropics. Swollen clouds swept in from the south and squatted over my house. A massive clap of thunder shook the floors and gave the signal for the clouds to discharge their load. A gentle drumroll of rain on the roof built to a thrumming crescendo. The temperature dropped instantly by ten degrees. Through the window I could see water flooding off the roof, a curtain enveloping the house. The roar of rain drowned out all other noises.
No one deserved to be outside in that.
The doorbell rang. It usually had the decibel count of a nuclear warning siren, but I could barely hear it against the background clamor. I put down my book and peered out the front window. Even under the best viewing circumstances you could see only a small portion of anyone standing at the door. Perhaps a profile of buttocks and, if you were lucky, the back of a head. But with the rain the way it was, I couldn't see anything.
I hesitated. Mum was at work and I was home alone. Not normally a problem, but the weather made me wary. Who would be out in such a downpour? To my mind, there were only two possibilities--a mad axe murderer or a religious fundamentalist. If I was really unlucky, it would be the latter. I suppose I could have pretended not to exist, but I'm a person with a social conscience. The weather was foul. I'd have let in a cane toad for shelter and a mug of cocoa.
So I opened the door.
The man was below medium height. Actually, well below medium height. He was wearing a white shirt and a broad silk tie decorated with Santa Clauses. He held a dripping bag in one hand and swept sodden, thinning hair from his eyes with the other. Niagara Falls flowed over him. His clothes stuck to his body and as he shifted position I heard the squelch of rainwater in shoes. He looked at me and blinked rain. A small smile, hesitant, unsure, played around his lips.
"Hello, Calma," he said.
"Dad!" I yelled. "My God! Dad! Don't stand out there in the pouring rain, Dad."
His smile broadened.
"No," I added. "Piss off!"
And I slammed the door in his face.
My local grocery store glories in the name of Crazi-Cheep. It's one of those places that advertises on local TV channels by assembling a cast of plug-ugly employees dressed in spectacularly nasty uniforms and forcing them to sing a song with banal lyrics, written by a tone-deaf lower primate. The employees all look embarrassed, and so they should. You could force slivers of red-hot bamboo up my fingernails and lash me with rusty barbed wire and I still wouldn't do it.
The employees are very young, presumably so the company can pay them about two dollars an hour and pass on the savings to customers. Crazi-Cheep closes the checkouts by degrees during peak times, so ultimately there is a line of fifty people at one register, staffed by a pubescent operator prone to pimples, lank hair, and narcolepsy. You can visibly age in one of their lines. Not that anyone would notice, because most of the customers are so old they'd be candidates for carbon dating.
Crazi-Cheep is not high on my list of not-to-be-missed shopping experiences.
This, however, was an emergency. I braved the depress- ing canned music--a compilation CD probably entitled Major Manure of the Seventies--and took my place in a line whose length might have been justifiable if they were handing out free hip replacements. The old lady in front of me was certainly a worry. It was only the fact that she wheezed from time to time that indicated she was still breathing.
Time passed. I grew a few centimeters and the old lady shrank a few. The CD was on repeat and a particularly annoying track came on again. Finally it was almost my turn to be served.
In Sicily they call it the thunderbolt. I read about it somewhere. It's when you see someone and all these hormonal reactions kick in. Your heart thumps, you sweat profusely, your stomach dips to your shoelaces, and bits and pieces you didn't know you possessed start tingling like you've been plugged into an electric socket. Well, that's what happened to me when I saw . . . him.
I don't want you to think I am a shallow, superficial person, so I won't start with his physical appearance.
Stuff it. Of course I will.
He was tall and rangy. As I watched him scan a tin of Spam (and he did it so effortlessly, with such grace and ease of movement, like a balletic sequence), I caught the hint of lean muscles flexing beneath the uniform. I could picture him on a beach, the sun reflecting off defined biceps and pectorals you could graze your knuckles on. His face was classically sculpted, high cheekbones framing a pert and flawless nose. His eyes were deep brown, liquid with sensitivity and hidden passion; his olive skin gleamed beneath the overhead fluorescent lights. During a particularly tricky scanning maneuver, involving shrink-wrapped bok choy, he parted his full lips to reveal faultless, even teeth.