Rosie and her mother coexist in the same house as near strangers. Since Rosie's father abandoned them years ago, her mother has accomplished her own disappearing act, spending more time with her boss than with Rosie. Now faced with losing her grandfather too, Rosie begins to visit him every day, traveling across town to his house, where she helps him place the things that matter most to him "In Trust." As Rosie learns her grandfather's story, she discovers the role music and motion have played in it. But like colors, memories fade. When Rosie stumbles into the House of Dance, she finally finds a way to restore the source of her grandfather's greatest joy.
Eloquently told, National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart's House of Dance is a powerful celebration of life and the people we love who make it worthwhile.
Distinguished more by its sharp, eloquent prose than by its plot, Kephart's (Undercover) second YA novel probes the fear of loss by introducing a heroine who overcomes it. Abandoned by her father years ago, emotionally distant from her mother, who is caught up in an affair with her married boss, 15-year-old Rosie spends much of the summer before junior year with her terminally ill, widower grandfather, helping him sort through his belongings, all of them stuffed with mementos. As his health rapidly declines, Rosie realizes: "You cannot buy a man who is dying a single meaningful thing. You can only give him back the life he loved and awaken the memories." Determined to retrieve the time her grandfather misses most, when music filled the evenings and he could watch his wife dance, Rosie sets about throwing a dance party at her grandfather's house. Poetically expressed memories and moving dialogue both anchor and amplify the characters' emotions. Ages 12-up. (June)
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May 26, 2008
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Excerpt from House of Dance by Beth Kephart
In the summer my mother grew zinnias in her window boxes and let fireflies hum through our back door. She kept basil alive in ruby-colored glasses and potatoes sprouting tentacles on the sills. On her bedroom ceiling she'd pressed glow-in-the-dark dots into constellation patterns, so that the stars, as she put it, would always be near. Andromeda. Aquarius. The major and minor Ursas. Pisces. Creatures with wings or with horns.
When I was younger, I'd lie beside her, with all those stars pressing in like tattoos. I'd listen for the wind through the trees, or a finch with a song, or music from the Burkeman house next door. "Not a word, Rosie," she would say. "Let the day be," and my thoughts would float until they drifted toward something that was fixed and sure. My mother cleaned windows for Mr. Paul. She spent her days looking through other people's worlds. In her own house, she said, she needed quiet to remember who she was.
"Not a word, Rosie. Not a single one." You could get a lot of thinking done when you were with my mother. You could ask yourself a million questions.
I was nine and ten and eleven and twelve. My dad, who had left us years before for what he called a scratchy itch, had never made it home. He sent me twenty dollars every week. Proof, he wrote in his notebook-paper scribbles, that he loved me still. I kept the cash in a shoe box in the bottom of my closet, behind a crate of used-up toys. Proof, I'd have said, if he had asked me, that love cannot be bought.
I was thirteen, I was fourteen, I was fifteen. My mother still cleaned windows, still left the house every day in her stained overalls, her cantaloupe-colored rubber gloves, her denim visor. Except that now she and Mr. Paul were what she called partners, and her days were that much longer, and there were no more potatoes with octopus tentacles on the sill. Sometimes Mom didn't get home until midnight. Sometimes she was, in the softest voice, singing. Sometimes she forgot that I was there at all, and that is why what happened happened. Because I had been put in charge of myself, and my grandfather was dying.
He didn't live far; he never had. He'd always been where he was, on the other side of the train tracks, on the opposite end of town, at the final step of a twenty-minute walk. You'd go down to the end of my street. You'd turn. You'd walk beneath the big stone railroad bridge, where there was wetness no matter what the temperature was, something like stalactites daggering down. You'd get back out into the windswept air and go up the hill and turn left onto the street of shops: Whiz Bang, the balloons and party favors store; the deli named Pastrami's; Sweet Loaves Bread; Mr. Harvey's Once-Read Books; Bloomer's Flowers; the hardware store that had become a discount drugstore that was now a sort of everything store, where the mannequins never changed the clothes they wore and the same rocking chair kept rocking.
It was all redbrick on either side, and above the ground-floor retail there were second-story rooms where people I never did see lived, hung their birdcages on curtain rods and umbrellas out their windows, left their happy birthday signs and colored streamers for months and months on end.
My grandfather lived at the edge of all that, in a house of six rooms and one attic, the first house past retail, he called it. When I was little, he would sit in a chair on his porch all summer, watching the cars and the bikes and the buses go by, reading his National Geographic magazines and expedition catalogs. My grandmother had died before I was born. I'd known him only as a man who said there had been places he might have gone, regrets that he'd got stuck with, times that had slipped away like sand. I'd known him only as my mother's father until the summer he got sick. "Rosie," my mom said, the night she told me, "he's going to need you now."
"What do you want me to do?"
"What you can, Rosie. Whatever you can."
My mother had long, dark hair. It was her shield, her protection. She turned her face and I couldn't see her eyes, and I could not for the life of me guess what it was she planned to do. "How sick, Mom?" I asked.
"Multiple myeloma, Rosie."
"What does that mean?"
She sighed, and it was a very sad sound. She looked away from me. "That he's tired. That he'd like to see you. That I need you to help him through this. Help me."
My mother was an only child like I was an only child. I stared at her black, silky profile. "I bet he'd like to see you, too," I said.
"Rosie," she said.
And I was quiet. Because of course I knew that they had had their falling-out, that they hadn't been speaking, not lately. Of course I knew. Still, he was dying. Still, she was letting their argument, or whatever it was, be bigger than the love she felt inside. That was how I saw it anyway.
Truth of it was that school had let out two weeks before, and I was still angling for a purpose. My best friend, Leisha, had gone off to the shore to play nanny to her cousins, who were three, four, and five and hot spikes of trouble. Nick Burkeman from next door was working at his father's shop, lying under cars all day and staring at their bellies, even though what he loved most was the great outdoors, something his father called useless. Everyone else I knew had gotten some kind of gainful employment--at the pool or the mall or the movie theater--or was prepping for the SATs with a tutor who came to breakfast. "Your tutor eats breakfast at your house?" I'd said to Rocco, in May, in disbelief. "Yeah," Rocco had answered, rolling his eyes. "Yeah. That's right. He does. Barks vocab words at me when I'm buttering my toast."