In the year 2000 Melly and Anny Beth had reached the peak of old age and were ready to die. But when offered the chance to be young again by participating in a top-secret experiment called Project Turnabout, they agreed. Miraculously, the experiment worked -- Melly and Anny Beth were actually growing younger every year. But when they learned that the final treatment would be deadly, they ran for their lives.
Now it is 2085. Melly and Anny Beth are teenagers. They have no idea what will happen when they hit age zero, but they do know they will soon be too young to take care of themselves. They need to find someone to help them before time runs out, once and for all....
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Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
May 01, 2002
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Excerpt from Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix
April 21, 2085
My sixteenth birthday. Sad, sad day. What I mind most -- what I've been dreading most -- is losing my license. I could still pass for being older for at least another year or two, but the agency won't let me. Against the rules, they say. We know best, they say. How can they be so sure when this is all new territory?
At least Anny Beth can still drive, since she's only eighteen. I don't know what I'd do without Anny Beth. I don't know what we'll do when she hits sixteen. And beyond that...
The agency lady called this morning to make sure I was ready for her annual visit. She said, "You still seem to be holding up."
I said, "I don't like the other choices."
She didn't laugh, the way I meant her to.
I told her my Memory Book was done, and she said, "It's not easy, is it?"
How do you answer a question like that?
My body feels good. Healthy. Teeming with life and possibility. I remember this feeling from the last time. I had such hope for the future then.
It's not the same when my body feels hopeful and my mind knows that the future is only sixteen more years of loss.
April 21, 2085
Melly and Anny Beth went out dancing to celebrate Melly's birthday. They hardly needed any excuse for dancing anymore. It was like some rhythm sang in their bones all the time, secretly urging, "Dance. Run. Move. Get going!" Melly went jogging every morning now, and Anny Beth did aerobics three or four nights a week, but somehow that wasn't enough. They'd talked about it; neither one of them remembered the dancing urge being quite so powerful the first time.
"But there were always chores then," Melly had said. "All those buckets of water I had to lug up the hill...all the grain we thrashed by hand...I used to fall into bed too worn out even to sleep."
"Not me," Anny Beth had said, with her usual ornery grin. "I always had energy at night."
Melly had playfully slugged her.
They were acting more like kids now. Melly knew that. She thought about Ms. Simmons's pursed lips and knew how she'd view Melly and Anny Beth's behavior. But what was she going to say -- "Act your age"? Which age?
They stepped into the dance club now, their silver boots gleaming in the strobe lights. The crowd in front of them was a blur of tie-dye, neon polyester, and smiley-face prints. Melly figured that this was about the fifth time in her life that the fashions of the 1970s were "in." What was so enduring about all those psychedelic daisies that they kept coming back? This time, though, the look always had to be paired with what Anny Beth called "futuristic Reynolds Wrap." No one else in the dance club remembered foil, of course, since aluminum had been mined out years ago. Melly caught a glimpse of herself in the mirrored walls. With her short, fitted silver dress and glittery eye shadow and multi-colored hair, she looked just like a "Predictions of the Future" fashion display she'd seen several decades ago. Had the fashion futurists been so wise that they knew what was coming, or had these fashions come into style simply because that was what people predicted? Were all successful prophecies self-fulfilling?
Melly thought about sharing her musings with Anny Beth, but decided against it. "What are you doing, thinking again?" Anny Beth would say. "It's your birthday. We're at a club. Dance."
It was too loud to talk anyhow. Melly threw herself into the music, jerking her limbs alongside dozens of other anonymous bodies.
Hours later Anny Beth leaned over and shouted in Melly's ear. " -- eat?" was all Melly caught. Melly nodded. They went to a restaurant next door and ordered the largest platters of burgers and fries available. Melly's ears were still ringing when their food arrived.
"If I really were a teenager with decades ahead of me, I would not be ruining my ears like that," Melly said. "I can't believe what those kids do."
"Oh, don't be such an old lady," Anny Beth said. "Irresponsibility is what adolescence is all about."
Melly snorted. "Which psychology book did you read that one in?"
That had been one of their latest projects, reading about adolescence so that they could blend in better. They'd mostly found the books hilarious, as if describing a species of animal they'd never encountered. Each of them had been a teenager before, each of them had raised teenagers -- but they'd never seen anyone act like the books said all teenagers behaved.
Anny Beth paused to smile suggestively at a guy a few booths away. He smiled back but didn't approach. Melly wondered how she and Anny Beth could look and act so much like typical teenagers, but still give off such forbidding vibes.
A camera crew walked up the aisle and stopped beside the guy Anny Beth had smiled at. "And now," one of the men in the crew said dramatically into a microphone, "more about Peter's life! We'll follow him all night long! See every second of his existence!"
Peter beamed into the camera.
Anny Beth rolled her eyes. "Just another publicity hound."
Melly counted the other camera crews in the restaurant -- there were ten in sight, and probably at least that many out of her view.
"Isn't everyone a publicity hound now?" Melly asked.
"No," Anny Beth said. "Not you and me."
Melly shook her head and tried to remember when she had first noticed people becoming such exhibitionists. She'd heard of people having their own Web sites back in the early years of the twenty-first century, where they kept cameras trained on themselves twenty-four hours a day. But that had been a rare occurrence; back then, even celebrities had tried to avoid the cameras sometimes. Nowadays everyone seemed to want to reveal everything about themselves to the entire world, and modern technology had practically made that possible. It made no sense to Melly, because the extreme exposure often got people in trouble. The police had only to scroll the public-access video sites to catch criminals; divorce courts never had to prove adultery, because it was always on tape. Melly shivered thinking about what her and Anny Beth's lives would be like if their secret were ever exposed. They'd never have a moment's peace.
Anny Beth lost interest in the camera crew. "So," she said. "It's your birthday. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed."
It was an old-fashioned saying, one Melly hadn't heard in years. Unbidden, tears sprang to her eyes as she remembered all the kisses she'd be forgetting now. She and Roy had started dating when she was fifteen. They'd exchanged their first shy kisses under the apple tree on Roy's father's farm the day he proposed....
"Don't do that," Anny Beth pleaded. "I'm sorry. I can't take you getting mushy on me."
Melly brushed the tears away and grimaced. "Do you ever regret not volunteering for the Cure?" she asked.
"You mean, do I wish I were dead? Of course not."
"Maybe it would have worked for us -- "
Anny Beth made a face. "I doubt it. And it wasn't worth the risk to find out. Is this birthday getting to you? Remember -- you've got a lot of good life ahead of you. At least, I do, and I want you to keep me company in it."
Melly couldn't help smiling at Anny Beth's mocking selfishness. But she couldn't match Anny Beth's banter. "Maybe the agency's right," she said.
"Them? Never," Anny Beth said reflexively. She took a huge bite of hamburger, sucking in a dangling strand of onion like someone reeling in a fishing line.
"No, really," Melly said. "What are we going to do when -- you know. When you can't drive anymore. When we get too short to reach the top cabinets in the kitchen. When we forget how to tie our shoes. When I'm back in diapers -- " She was whispering now, partly because she didn't want anyone to overhear, and partly because the tears were threatening to come back.
"First of all, start taking the bus," Anny Beth said, chewing on the onion. "Use the step stool. Wear Velcro shoes."
"And the other?" Melly spoke so softly she knew Anny Beth couldn't hear her. But Anny Beth knew what she meant.
"That's years away. You were potty trained pretty young, weren't you?"
Melly grimaced and didn't answer.
Anny Beth placed her hamburger down on her plate with unusual care. "Look, I know it's not going to be easy. But it's not worth ruining our lives now with fretting. We'll worry about that when the time comes. We'll think of something. I assure you, I have no intention of going back to any sort of institution. I lost too much of the other end of my life in one of them places."
Melly always knew Anny Beth was totally serious when she slipped back into bad grammar. It was sort of comforting. But Melly refused to be comforted. "Fine," she said. "You fiddle while Rome burns. I'm going to find someone to take care of us."
"Tonight?" Anny Beth asked.
"Soon," Melly said. She hated it when Anny Beth deflated her grand pronouncements.
"Shouldn't it be 'fiddle while Rome unburns'?" Anny Beth asked. "Because that's pretty much what we're doing. Ever watch a fire video on rewind? It's really awesome to see a house put itself back together...."
Melly let Anny Beth's chatter envelop her like a cocoon. Anny Beth was probably right -- she should just enjoy herself tonight. But tomorrow -- she'd start her search tomorrow.