The day Lutie Painter takes the city bus north instead of the school bus west, cutting class for the first time ever, her aunt and uncle have no idea what she is up to. They cannot prevent her from riding into danger.
That same morning, Lutie's pastor, Miss Veola, whispers as always, "This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it."
A block from Miss Veola and up a hill in Chalk, Train Greene, thin and hungry, burns with anger. He has a decision to make, and he's running out of time.
A few miles away, among finer houses, Kelvin Hartley yawns and gets ready for another day at school, where he is a friend to all and makes an effort at nothing.
And Doria Bell, who recently moved to the South from Connecticut, walks to the bus stop, hoping the high school kids who live nearby will say hello.
All of these lives intertwine and--in surprising ways--become connected to Lutie's ancestors, who are buried in the cemetery in Chalk. Who would have dreamed that the long-dead Mabel Painter, who passed down the Laundry List songs to her great-great-granddaughter Lutie, had passed along a piece of American history that speaks to so many who feel lost and need hope. Big changes are in store for all, and things will never be the same.
In this luminous novel, Caroline B. Cooney delves deeply into a Southern community. Cooney reveals the comfort, inspiration, and hope its members draw from the power of faith, the glory of music, and the meaning of family.
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Delacorte Books for Young Readers
October 11, 2011
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Adobe DRM EPUB
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Excerpt from The Lost Songs by Caroline B. Cooney
Lutie Painter had never skipped school before. Not once. Never faked being sick, never lied about where she was going. She had friends who averaged a day or even two days a week when they shrugged off school and did something else. Not Lutie.
But the dawn phone call from Saravette had gone through Lutie's heart like birdshot. Saravette used a telephone only if she needed something. It was never Lutie she called. Lutie was excited and frightened. In a minute, she was up and dressed, telling lies and racing out the door. She caught the city but north instead of the school bus west.
Lutie's aunts would never have allowed her to do this. When her aunts were forced to refer to Saravette, their lips pinched and their voices tightened. A person on crack and crystal meth was not rational or safe. Her aunts rarely referred to Saravette as their sister.
Lutie had not stopped to think about clothing. She liked a different look every day of the week. Yesterday had been slinky: black and silver and armloads of bracelets. Today was pink: pink and white book bag on her back, little rose-puff purse with a ribbon shoulder strap, cute little pink sneakers and sweet cotton-candy-pink hoodie. She probably looked twelve. Did this make her more or less safe?
The bus route into the city was long and the bus driver did everything he could to shorten it. He was definitely a NASCAR fan. He stopped with neck-snapping lurches when somebody signaled from the curb, and then roared forward with such disregard for traffic that Lutie, also a race fan, had to close her eyes.
Lutie's grandmother had ridden this very bus to work six days a week. Imagine doing this twice a day all your life. Lutie studied her fellow riders. Anybody taking a bus must have the same daydream: to own a car. It required such patience to ride a bus. Why was patience a virtue? What was the good thing about patience? It was impatience that paid off. Impatient people got stuff done. Patient people were still standing there waiting.
She thought about Saravette, who didn't have virtues.
On the phone, Saravette's voice had been thready and weak, as if she were ill. But one sentence had been strong and sharp. "You have to know," said Saravette suddenly.
And when Saravette disconnected, Lutie did have to know. What, after all this time, did Saravette need to tell her?
The bus sped through remnants of farmland. In the last ten years, the population of the county had tripled. Every time you turned around, bulldozers had cleared another mile of woods. A minute later a network of paved roads crisscrossed the red dirt. An hour after that, two hundred new houses with identical landscaping were on the market. All those families needed stores and banks and fast food. Buildings leaped into place, as if they had been waiting in the wings like actors. The original village of Court Hill was hard to find, swallowed by this flood of housing and schools and churches and Walmarts.
The bus roared past sprawling malls, vast retirement villages and strings of town-house developments, each with its pretend British name--Therrington and Land Brooke and Churchill Meade. It stopped at medical centers and factories and the campuses of corporate offices. Everything was tidy. Each prim little tree had a careful donut of pine straw mulch. The buildings and landscaping and charming low brick walls were so similar that Lutie could not tell where she was.
Like my heart, she thought. I can't tell where it is either.
She never liked thinking about Saravette. She never liked picturing Saravette.
It would take an hour to get to the far side of the city, so Lutie slid her shoulders out of her book bag and riffled through the contents, thinking she might use the hour fruitfully and master a few facts for chemistry. Lutie loved school. Actually, everybody loved school, but most kids were sorry that school had to go and include class. Lutie used to feel sheepish for studying so much. This year, she was mostly in AP and honors classes, though, and it was easier to learn when the rest of the class liked learning too.
The bus was now on a boulevard, miles of island dividers planted with a single row of crape myrtle trees and beds of pansies eternally smiling at traffic. Somewhere in this neighborhood, Lutie's grandmother had kept house for a family she was very fond of. They'd paid MeeMaw better than most housekeepers were paid. They hadn't paid into Social Security, because they never thought of it, and MeeMaw had never thought of it either, and in fact had never paid taxes, because she was vague on how that was supposed to happen. When the couple moved away to be closer to their grandchildren, MeeMaw had nothing. Lutie's aunts had arranged Supplemental Security Income, which provided a few hundred dollars a month, and then they had paid the rest of the bills themselves. There hadn't been many. MeeMaw's joys had been church, cooking, the front porch and, above all, Lutie.
The bus approached a swell of tall office buildings, and most of the remaining passengers got off. The strangers had been a comfort. Now Lutie's courage collapsed. So did the city. The buildings got lower and weaker. The sidewalks were cracked and the streets full of litter. Stores existed here and there, half of them boarded up or wrapped in crime tape.
It was difficult to tell if the parked cars were abandoned or if people actually drove those dented paintless hulks. There weren't many people. Even the grim city housing projects seemed empty. Maybe if you were the loitering type, you weren't up yet.
The only other passenger now was a skinny young man with an excess of tattoos. His eyes were closed and his head waved on its stalk, as if his neck were only a temporary connection to his body.
Lutie counted down the streets. Ninth. Eighth. Seventh. This is it, she thought. She raised her hand to touch the stop sensor, then panicked. Forget it. She couldn't get off here. She'd ride to the end of the route instead, safe inside the bus, pay the driver again, and take it all the way home.
And then she saw Saravette leaning against a telephone pole.
Lutie realized that she had not actually expected Saravette to be here. Saravette, who forgot everything or lied about it to start with, was not usually where she was supposed to be.
Lutie's lungs filled in little spurts, as if she were breathing in code. She signaled for a stop. The brakes on the bus squealed. Lutie tottered down the long empty aisle. The driver raised his eyebrows and nodded toward the neighborhood. "You know what you're doing?"