A Certain Strain of Peculiar

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-04-28
  • Publisher: Candlewick
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This is the last time Mary Harold will have a panic attack at school when kids call her "the grossest girl." If Mom won't move back to Alabama, her thirteen-year-old daughter will just have to drive herself 691 miles to Grandma Ayma's farmhouse and a whole new life. With Ayma's loving support, Mary Harold is soon strong enough to help Bud, the Cherokee farm manager, wrangle the cows, and confident enough to stand up for his daughter, Dixie, a girl with a strain of peculiar that makes her whinny and stamp like a horse to keep the world at bay. Mary Harold still misses her mom, but has started to have dreams of the Black Warrior Forest that are offering clues. As she listens to their message, and to her own heart, she discovers how powerful and surprising the bonds of family can be.

Author Biography

Gigi Amateau is the author of Chancey of the Maury River and Claiming Georgia Tate. She lives in Richmond, Virginia.


Chapter One

What happens to my mind sometimes is complicated. First, my nose completely bails on inhaling. Then, it's like I even forget how to open up my mouth to take a breath. All respiration stops and my brain panics. If it worked right, my mind would slow down and remember: the nose, mouth, and lungs are waiting to hear, "Go."

Once I realize I need air, my brain screams to me, "I can't breathe!" the respiratory parts hear, "can't", so they don't. My mind thinks I must be dying. Some smallness in me is usually right there, whispering: calm down, open your mouth, breathe, calm down, open your mouth, breathe.

But the thought of dying grows so big, so fast, that my chest starts hurting, maybe from lack of oxygen. Then, I think that I am having a heart attack. I am only thirteen; I am afraid to die.

Mom thinks this is a panic attack; I call it my fear of dying. I don't think that's really what it is though. I think it's more a fear of never belonging.

I am looking at the back of drew Walker's head. Even now, after everything, I want to touch the waves of his hair. There is not a girl who doesn't love him, who doesn't imagine being kissed by him, who doesn't rush to enter a doorway just in front of him. he likes to place his hand in the small of girls' backs as a protective gesture -except mine. Not once has he placed his hand in the small of my back. Well, he did once, but it wasn't for real.

I force myself deaf to the too-close-to-me sound of drew telling his friends about a girl he met over the weekend. I hear where this conversation will end. I look for a way to really go deaf, just until I can get home. I pick up my hands, all casual, and put them under my hair, over my ears. Then my leg itches and as hard as I try not to scratch it, I reach down just to touch the spot on my left calf that itches and I hear the rude boys again.

"Was she like, hot at all?" one of them asks.

Drew laughs, "no, she was disgusting."

"Like a three?"

"Worse than a three," Drew answers.

Without lowering his voice, the worst of those boys asks, "Was she as bad as Mary Harold?"

I keep my silence and scratch my leg. For the fifth consecutive school day, I keep my silent vigil. Then I stop breathing; my chest pinches so tight that I feel sure I am having a heart attack this time. I wish had my phone to text mom to help me because the smallness is able to ask for help from mom.

"I'm afraid of dying," I might manage to squeak out. Mom can always look at me and see how tense my neck is, how frightened my eyes are, and see I am in a world of trouble.

the boys sit right in front of me, wondering right out loud, if there could ever be a girl more disgusting than me. My face turns violet, I'm sure of it, because I fear that my skin will not hold in all of the blood rising up into my face. I seal myself completely inside my hair canopy, so no sound can get in and no sound can get out.

People shouldn't bind their hair to stupid promises. Even five year old people should know better, but my ex-best friend Krystal and I made a hair pact in kindergarten. Back when we both had real short hair, back when we both said I love you, we vowed that as long as we were friends, we would never cut our hair. Krystal cut her hair a long time ago, even before she dropped me. My hair has kept growing.

I hide deep in the silence of my long black hair. drew and his posse aren't talking about the gross weekend girl. They are talking about me and my favorite sweater and ripping about how my mom must never do laundry.

I wear this navy pullover every day to cover my boobs because they're getting big. I'm the one who forgets to wash the sweater; I do our laundry since Mom works so hard. The stupid sweater is hand wash only. I hate hand washing; we have a shitty laundry roo

Excerpted from A Certain Strain of Peculiar by Gigi Amateau
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