This book opens in 14-year-old Kit's speech class. It's the end of the school year, and it's Kit's turn to give her final speech of the year. The topic is teenage shoplifting, and just as she's finishing up by telling the other kids not to shoplift because they WILL get caught, one of the boys in the class challenges her speech. He claims that it's easy to get away with taking stuff, and that Kit is dead wrong. Miss Fenton, the teacher, asks Kit if she wants to defend her speech. Kit hesitates; if she doesn't defend, her grades suffers. If she DOES defend, everyone in the class will know the secret she's been keeping for months....
At this point, the book flashes back in time to the day that the cast list for the school play came out. Kit had tried out for the lead role of Frankie in The Member of the Wedding, and she heads to school that morning, she's relatively sure she'll see her name on the cast list. Nope; Kit didn't get a part at all. Marcia Homer, little miss perfect, got the part instead. Kit's best friend, Tracy, got a small role, so she encourages Kit to help out backstage. Kit doesn't really want to; she's pretty disappointed about not getting the lead. She and Tracy had promised each other beforehand that if one of them got a role and the other didn't, the one who didn't would work on the crew. At the first crew meeting, Kit volunteers to make the publicity posters. She figures that she won't have to be at many rehearsals in order to do that, and won't have to watch someone else in "her" role.
Kit's still in a crummy mood when she gets home from school that afternoon. She has big plans to give herself her "Triple B Treatment:" Bath, Book, and Bag of chocolate stars. That doesn't happen, though. Her stepfather, Wayne, is on another one of his drinking binges, and Kit's mom, Dorothy, is too busy enabling him and covering his tracks to see that Kit is unhappy. Kit takes the bus to the mall, and decides to look at all the fancy clothes she can't afford in one of the department stores. Unfortunately, she runs into Marcia Homer while she's there. Marcia's dad is buying a present (a 24 karat gold present) for getting the lead in the play, and she wants Kit's help picking it out. Kit is instantly drawn to one of the bracelets, but she doesn't tell Marcia that. The last thing she needs is for Marcia to get yet another thing that Kit herself wants. Marcia ends up choosing a gold choker, and while the salesperson is busy ringing up the purchase, Kit's attention is drawn back to the bracelet. All of a sudden, her anger and frustration about losing the lead role, Wayne's drinking, and Dorothy's inability to see that there is, in fact, a problem at home, boils over. Kit decides to keep the bracelet, and she almost makes it out of the store before she's stopped by security. The woman takes Kit into her office, and Kit confesses everything. After all, she was SEEN taking the bracelet. Dorothy is called to pick Kit up, and she's definitely not happy.
The next day at school, Tracy can tell that Kit's not okay, but Kit doesn't feel she can tell her about what happened. She's afraid that Tracy won't like her anymore if she knows what happened. There IS one bright spot in the day, though: Miss Fenton pulls Kit aside and explains to her that not getting the lead doesn't mean that she's not a good actress; it just means that she wasn't chosen this particular time and that she is, in fact, talented. That evening at dinner, Wayne is actually sober, so Kit thinks that it might be a good time to try talking to him about her arrest. When she tries, though, Dorothy cuts her off. Later, she tells Kit that since Wayne was "sick" when this happened, there's no need to worry him about it.
A couple of weeks later, Tracy asks to meet Kit before school. She's excited about her upcoming birthday party, which is going to include a hot air ballon ride and a picnic, and she wants Kit to have her invitation before anyone else. Unfortunately, the party falls on the same day that Kit is supposed to appear before a committee that will decide her punshiment for stealing the bracelet. If she doesn't appear, she'll have to go to court and could possibly be arrested again. Kit tells Tracy that she can't go, but not WHY she can't go. Kit still doesn't want anyone to know about her crime. Tracy is pretty upset....
The day of Kit's hearing arrives. She and Dorothy tell Wayne that they're going to a meeting at school, and he buys it. When Kit is brought into the room where the committee meets, she gets the shock of her life. One of the members of the panel is Miss Fenton, her speech teacher. Miss Fenton asks if Kit would rather she be replaced with someone that Kit DOESN'T know, but Kit decides to go ahead with things rather than drag the process out. Since the group feels that Kit is not likely to reoffend, they offer her the chance to do some community service and pay a fine. If she does that and stays out of trouble until she's sixteen, her record will be cleared.
The next day at school, Miss Fenton approaches Kit and asks if she needs to talk about anything. Kit had left the part about Wayne's drinking out of what she told the committee, and Miss Fenton could tell that Kit was hiding something. The whole story comes pouring out, and Miss Fenton makes Kit promise that she'll tell someone if things get out of control.
Kit's first day of community service happens not long after that. She's been assigned to work at the Humane Society, and she's asked to socialize some dogs. That means talking to them, playing with them, letting them out in the excersise yard for awhile. Right off the bat, she falls in love with a little terrier mix named Lady. After a couple of visits, Kit decides to ask her parents if they can keep Lady. Dorothy seems agreeable to the idea, but Wayne steamrolls her as always. Kit decides to try and find Lady a good home, so she posts a notice at school. A few days later, who should approach Kit with permission from her parents to take Lady home? Yep, Marcia Homer. Kit isn't too thrilled with that turn of events, but she knows that Lady will be taken care of. Marcia and her parents agree to meet Kit at the Humane Society after school that day. When Kit gets there, she heads for Lady's cage...but Lady isn't there. She checks all the cages, but no Lady. Could she have already been adopted, or has something else happened? Kit rushes for the office and finds the manager. Sure enough, Kit's worst fears have come true: Lady was euthanized. She'd been at the shelter too long, and they had to let her go. Kit so upset that the manager offers to credit her with her full 20 hours of community service. Kit refuses the offer; she WANTS to finish her time.
The next day, Kit is in history class when she's called down to the office. Her mother has been admitted to the hospital, and Kit is needed there right away. The principal drivers her there, and they find Wayne in the waiting room. He's really worried about Dorothy, and he's afraid that all the tension that exists between him and Kit caused her to have some sort of heart attack. When a doctor comes out to tell them what's wrong, though, it turns out to be appendicitis. Dorothy will need emergency surgery, though. She ends up pulling through okay.
The next day, Kit gets home from her humane society work to find Wayne drunk. He tries to order her around, but Kit is having none of it. She stands up to him, and takes off to Tracy's house for the night. Kit tells her mom when she sees her next that Wayne is drunk again, and Dorothy finally sees that she needs to insist on his getting help. That becomes even more clear two days later: Wayne tries to drive drunk and ends up in the hospital with a skull fracture and a broken arm, among other things. When he comes home from the hospital, he continues to insist that he can handle his drinking, and doesn't have a problem. Dorothy, FINALLY, won't take any of his lame promises and Wayne starts going to AA.
The end of the school year is approaching, and the story returns to the place where it started. Each kid in the class drew a speech topic out of a fishbowl, and it was just dumb luck that Kit happened to get assigned the topic of shoplifting. She decides to defend her speech when her classmate challenges it, and tells her story to the class. Her honesty earns her one of the few A grades that Miss Fenton ever gives out, and things are finally okay between Kit and Tracy. When the end of the year awards ceremony rolls around, Kit is surprised when she's awarded the Ninth Grade Scholarship. The money will pay for two years of college, and when Kit is asked what she plans to study, she's more sure than she's ever been: she'll be going to vet school so she can work with animals.
Thoughts and Things
- This book is really good; I can't recommend it enough. It DOES get a little cheesy at times, particularly when Wayne is being confronted about his drinking, but overall, it's great. Things aren't wrapped up in a neat little package; bad things happen, and the characters are still going through the process of healing at the end of the book.
- I really liked Kit. She was real, not some stereotypical bad kid who you would think would shoplift. Her reactions to things, her thoughts, and her actions made it easy to identify with her.
- The author, Peg Kehret, lives in Washington State! :) At least, she did when this book was published. In fact, it's even dedicated in part to the Human Society of Seattle/King County.
- Kit wasn't the only one getting weepy when Lady died....
- Oh, lord, am I ever softhearted when it comes to pets! I couldn't get through all the grim animal shelter survival rate statistics without getting upset. Most of the shelters in the Seattle area have gone no-kill, but I know that isn't true everywhere. It still just doesn't seem FAIR that so many good animals are unwanted. :(