I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the HOW TO SAVE A SUPERHERO by Ruth Freeman Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Title: HOW TO SAVE A SUPERHERO
Author: Ruth Freeman
Pub. Date: October 19, 2021
Publisher: Holiday House
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Find it: Goodreads,Amazon, Kindle, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, TBD, Bookshop.org
Ten-year-old Addie knows that Superheroes aren’t real, and that they certainly don’t hide out in retirement communities, but she may just have to change her mind.
Addie and her mom never stay in one place too long. They’ve been up and down and all around the country. When her mom, Tish, gets a new job at Happy Valley Village Retirement Community in Pennsylvania, Addie believes they’ll be on the road again in a month. But this time, something is different–make that, someone. Mr. Norris, a grumpy resident of Happy Valley and. . .a former superhero?
Well, that’s what Marwa, whose mom also works at Happy Valley, would try and have Addie believe. Addie and her friend Dickson know better even if there are things they can’t explain. Like the time Mr. Norris was about to get hit by a car and was suddenly on the other side of the road or the way his stare seems to take root in Addie’s stomach.
When a man starts prowling the Happy Valley grounds, claiming to be the great-nephew of a resident, Addie, Marwa, and Dickson soon stumble into a grand conspiracy involving the Manhattan Project, a shady weapons company, and the fate of the human race, in this smart, funny middle grade novel.
Praise For HOW TO SAVE A SUPERHERO:
★ “Featuring a cast whose distinct personalities are clearly built out, Freeman’s imaginative, suspenseful, and well-paced novel of intergenerational friendship will keep readers guessing.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Behind an uncommonly savvy, redoubtable protagonist, Freeman stocks her cast with a diverse array of equally vivacious characters, including as lively and hilarious a group of resident seniors as ever was. . . . A clever, lively romp.”—Kirkus Reviews
Two friends. One pact. The performance of their lives.
Hannah Abbott is stuck in a dead-end relationship and at a job she loves but that barely pays the bills. The four walls of her tiny New York City apartment have never seemed so small. She’s barely toasted her thirtieth birthday when her old college friend Will knocks on her door with an unexpected proposal.
Will Thorne never forgot the marriage pact he made with Hannah, but he also never imagined he’d be the one to initiate it. One ex-fiancée and an almost-career-ending mistake later, however, he finds himself outside Hannah’s door, on bended knee, to collect on their graduation-night pinky promise.
With both of their futures at stake, Hannah and Will take a leap of faith.
Now, all they have to do is convince their friends and family that they’re madly in love. As long as they follow the list of rules they’ve drafted, everything should go smoothly. Except Will has never been good with rules, and Hannah can’t stop overthinking the sleeping arrangements. Turning thirty has never been so promising.
The map was no help at all. Fat raindrops fell from the trees overhead, hit the ink drawing, and turned the lines into blurry blue rivers and splotches. Wet leaves blew down and stuck to her raincoat like postage stamps. Everything around her smelled lost and lonely.
Was this really the right way? Uncle Tim and his brother-in-law, Matt, had said to follow the stream. Was that what they called this ditch going down between the trees with a trickle of dirty water in it? Addie wished her mom had shown her the way instead of giving her a pat, and a bit of a push, on the back and a “You’re good at maps, Addie. You’ll figure it out. You always do. And I’ll see you when you get there.”
A squeaky voice behind her made her jump.
“I’ve seen the most unusual insects in September.”
It was this little kid with a huge backpack coming
up behind her. Because he never took his eyes off the ground, he had to push his glasses up his nose about every other second.
He talked in a slow, precise kind of way like he was some scientist in a lab coat.
“Once . . . I found a caterpillar . . . with white bristles . . . and red spikes on its tail . . . like horns.” And he walked extra slow too, prying up stones and rotten sticks with one toe. When he squatted down to get a closer look at something, his backpack made him look like one of those million- year- old tortoises.
“Want to see a slug?” Not getting an answer, he looked up, his excitement fading. “Is that a map? Are you lost or something?”
“No, I’m good,” said Addie, turning and walking away into the woods.
“Okay. Well, see ya.” He launched his backpack into place and began to wander off.
Addie stopped. Face-to-face with one tree after another, she had to admit she had no idea where she was going.
“Wait!” she called before the kid got too far away.
“Do you know where Happy Valley Village is?”
“Sure,” he said over his shoulder. “That’s where I’m going.”
And that was how Addie found her way: by following this kid called Dickson down the rocky path he called the ravine to the retirement place where his mother and Addie’s mother both worked. She also found out, though she certainly hadn’t asked, that he was in fourth grade, a year behind Addie, he had skipped first grade because he was so smart, and slugs have green blood.
Following him was slow going, since he kept stopping to poke around in the dirt. At least Addie didn’t have to talk to him. While Bug Boy droned on with some new bit of information, Addie looked at the trees that arched over her, shutting out most of the afternoon light. It wasn’t like Mount Repose, Maine, where she and her mom, Tish, had lived with Granny Lu. That was spruce country, where zillions of needles combed the wind soft as a sigh and the air smelled of Christmas trees. Here, in Pennsylvania, there were leaves. Leaves rustling like colored paper, falling thick like pencil shavings and sticking to the soggy ground, where they settled into the mud and smelled of mold.
She and Tish had lived with Granny Lu ever since Addie was born. Addie’s mom was the youngest after four brothers. Definitely the baby of the family, until she grew up and had Addie when she was seventeen.
Addie was short for Adelaide. The story was that Granny Lu had cornered Tish one day when she was pregnant.
Addie could just picture it: Granny Lu asking in her gravelly voice, which did a good job of hiding the tenderness inside:
“So, Tish, got any baby names in mind?”
Knowing Tish, she had probably shrugged and tried to ignore her mother. As the one and only girl in the family, Tish had been named after Granny Lu’s own dear, sweet mother, Letitia, maybe because Granny Lu was hoping to pass some of that sweetness on to her baby girl.
Granny Lu went on to say that if Tish’s baby girl was named after one of Granny Lu’s dearly beloved sisters, Granny Lu would leave all her money to Tish and Addie.
Well, Tish always said Granny Lu had a sense of humor. Tish didn’t think anything in Granny Lu’s house was worth more than $3.50, but you never can be sure, can you? So Adelaide it was, and Addie she became. Which, in the long run, wasn’t so bad, since the other sisters were Eunice and Leona, and, thank goodness, no one had suggested using Granny Lu’s real name, which was Lucretia.
Life with Granny Lu had been pretty good, especially when she and Tish were getting along. Granny Lu had opened Lulu’s House of Hair in her extra bedroom even before her husband died young. There was one chair for clients in front of a jeweled mirror, one chair at a sink, and one attached to a dome hair dryer. Twinkly lights went across the ceiling. A tinselly pink Christmas tree came out in November and stayed till February, when the strings of red hearts came out. Granny Lu was into seasonal decorations and bought way, way too many things on Home Shopping TV.
As soon as she was old enough, Addie was put in charge of decorations and sweeping up for an allowance. She loved leaving the school bus behind and running up the walk to chat with Mrs. Donald about the weather, or make Ms. Schmidt a mug of tea, or see the latest pictures of Mrs. Leroux’s cat.
The one unbreakable rule was that no client was kept past 4 p.m., because that was when Granny Lu and Addie had business to attend to. Some days it was Home Shopping TV. “That commemorative coin is going to be worth a jackpot someday . . . just you wait and see!” And some days it was exercising with their favorite videos, such as Bollywood Dance Craze. Addie and Granny Lu had matching rainbow leggings. Granny Lu was all about keeping up with the latest styles in clothes, haircuts, and eye shadows, and she tried to pass this along to Addie, without much success. Addie didn’t care much about looking good, but she definitely liked the dance routines, and the decorations for each season, and she loved Granny Lu.
Then Granny Lu died and everything changed.
Since then, Addie and Tish had bounced around to each of Tish’s brothers, with a few cousins thrown in. They were on the last ones: Nice Uncle Tim and Crazy Aunt Tina. Aunt Tina had a brother, Matt, who worked in landscaping at the Happy Valley Village Retirement Community, which was how Tim got his sister, Tish, a job there. Owing to a few minor run- ins Tish had had with the law, it wasn’t easy, but Tim and Matt convinced them to try her for a month. So they had one month to make it work.
Addie didn’t have high hopes, as Granny Lu would have put it. Tish wasn’t one to put down roots and stick around anywhere for too long. This new school was Addie’s eleventh, if you counted preschool.
“Wait till Wilma sees this millipede!”
Dickson was holding something with a lot of legs. Addie gave a snort.
“She’s in for a real treat. Who’s Wilma?”
“You’ll see. She works at Happy Valley Village . . . HVV, for short. There it is.”
Addie stopped. At the bottom of the ravine the trickle had grown into a full- fledged stream and flowed into a wide, round pond. It was surrounded by a lawn that stretched up a sloping hill to the biggest old house Addie had ever seen. There was a round tower sticking up at one end, and a long grassy terrace edged by a low stone wall. On both sides of the old house were modern buildings stretching out from it like giant arms.
What made Addie stare, though, was how, at that moment, the sun burst from under the dark gray clouds like a spotlight turning every window to a blinding melting gold. Maples beside the house blazed like rubies and topazes.
Addie could barely breathe. Maybe it’s a sign, she thought. Maybe things could turn out all right here. She thought she could feel something good starting down in her toes. . . .
She shook her head. Whoa, who was she kidding? Granny Lu always said, among other things, “Don’t get your high- flyin’ hopes flyin’ too high.”
Push that door buzzer three times. That’s how they know it’s me.”
Dickson had his hands full of millipede.
They were standing at what Dickson called the back door, a heavy metal door next to a loading dock and big trash containers. As they waited, he held the millipede up to the remote camera staring down at them.
The door was yanked open by the biggest brown-skinned woman Addie had ever come face-to-face with. Actually, it wasn’t Wilma’s face, which towered over them, but Wilma’s generous chest that Addie stood in front of.
“Hi, kids,” said Wilma, out of breath. “Okay, listen up.” She bent down so her face was suddenly inches away from them. She had a big, husky whisper. “We are deep in Crazy Time here. You won’t believe the trouble. Hey,” she said, looking at Addie, “you’re the new girl. What’s your name?”
“Okay, Addie, hi there. I’m Wilma, head nurse on this hall. We’ll get better acquainted, but for now you’ve both got to hide.” She wiped her shiny forehead.
Dickson started to say, “What . . . ?”
But Wilma didn’t miss a beat.
“Dickson, honey, ditch the worm. We got a new resident today, the dude I was telling you about, and he’s gone and disappeared. Everybody’s hunting for him. Security, nurses, companions, even Mrs. Sloat herself. If she sees you there’ll be all kinds of questions. Take Addie here and head right downstairs. Got it?”
Addie had just enough time to see a long carpeted hallway that looked like a fancy hotel before Wilma whisked them through a door marked stairs.
“I’ll come get you two as soon as I can,” she said.
“And don’t worry, Addie, I’ll tell your mom you’re here. What a first day on the job she’s having!” She shut the door firmly behind them.
Dickson led the way down the stairs to the floor below. This hallway was nothing like the one above. Weak fluorescent lights in the ceiling flickered and hummed. On one side the wall was bare cinder blocks with no windows; on the other there were floor-to-ceiling wire cages.
“Hey, what is this, a prison?”
“Nah,” said Dickson. “It’s where the residents store their stuff they don’t need. See? Each one has a room number on it. This is the one we want. Mrs. Firillo lets me use hers while I wait for my mother after school.”
He fished a hidden key out through the chicken wire and opened the padlock. He swung the wire door open and disappeared into the darkness. In the thin, flickering light, Addie couldn’t see where he’d gone.
Then a lamp switched on.
“Okay, come on in,” he called.
She stuck her head in the doorway. Dickson was scrunched up at one end of a comfy sofa. The light from a standing lamp helped him see what was in a plastic tub beside him.
“Do you want chips or cookies?” he said, looking up. “Des from the kitchen leaves snacks here for me. And there’s bottles of juice too. The food here is great.”
Addie settled at the other end of the big brown sofa. This place was definitely weird and creepy, but pepperoni- pizza- flavored chips could make anything a little better.
“How long do we have to stay here?” she said.
Dickson hunched over a book, stuffing fistfuls of chips in his mouth.
“Depends. Until our mothers are done work. I’ve even taken a nap in here once or twice if my mother had a late meeting. If it’s quiet upstairs, Wilma gets me, and we watch TV up in the lounge. But today, with all this stuff going on, who knows?”
He looked up from his book.
“That reminds me,” he said, pointing at her. “I’m not supposed to be here. If you meet my mother, you CANNOT tell her I come over right after school and hang out here, okay? I’m supposed to go to an after- school program called Future Economists, Entrepreneurs, Business Owners, and Learners, FEEBOL for short, but I hate it. I hang out here instead.”
“Fine with me.” Addie shrugged. She couldn’t care less about him.
Dickson went right back to his book. He was done talking. It must be a good book, but Addie noticed that the big, splashy pictures weren’t insects.
Unscrewing the top of a juice bottle, Dickson caught her staring. He showed her the cover.
“WWE,” he said.
Addie didn’t know what that meant.
“World Wrestling Entertainment,” he said. “Just my MOST FAVORITE thing in the whole world! Look at this!”
He held up his right arm and made a fist, squeezing until his face turned red.
“See that?” he said, holding his breath. “That’s muscle!”
Addie looked at the skinny arm poking out of his oversized T-shirt, which read I’ve got the power! In lightning- flash letters. It wasn’t worth a comment.
“Haven’t you ever watched WWE on TV?”
Addie shook her head. She had no interest in keeping the conversation going, but he was waiting for an answer.
“My grandma and me were more into Home Shopping and Fitness TV.” Though, Addie thought to herself, Granny Lu might have gotten a kick out of those bare chested guys in crazy costumes and spandex.
The look he gave her showed Dickson thought the conversation had clearly run out of gas. He went back to reading.
Cooped up with Bug Boy, Addie had nothing to do but look around the storage compartment. She wondered if Mrs. Firillo might be into Home Shopping TV too. Every inch was taken up with stuff. Chairs piled with boxes were crammed next to a coatrack filled with clothes bags. A birdbath held up a large clock with no hands. On the floor were bags of dog food and potting soil beside stacks of flowerpots. A tangle of Christmas lights lay on top of a bureau with a dusty mirror hanging above it.
Addie fished her map notebook out of her backpack. That was what she did when she got bored . . . say, for instance, if she found herself spending time in an old lady’s storage compartment with nothing to do. Dickson might have his WWE, but she had her maps.
She flipped through the pages. There were maps of her old bedroom, Granny Lu’s living room, the hair salon, the garage where they’d open the big door on hot summer afternoons to drink ice tea and watch TV or exercise. There was a map she’d made of the campsite by the ocean where Tish had taken Addie for what she called “glamping . . . glamorous camping!” after she’d had a fight with Granny Lu. By then Granny Lu was pretty sick and thin, and when they came back a week later, she was in the hospital.
Addie had wanted to show Granny Lu the map of the campsite and put it into the Dream Box where she and Granny Lu kept their special things. Addie had made the campsite over- the- top beautiful, way more beautiful than it really was. Granny Lu would have loved it. But when they got back, the house was filled with family coming and going to the hospital, friends and neighbors bringing food. When Addie saw Granny Lu in the hospital, she was still and very sleepy. She patted Addie’s hand and couldn’t say more than a few words. Later, Addie asked different people in the house about the Dream Box, but no one had seen it.
When they left the house two years ago, after it was rented out, she’d made maps of the roads they took to each of Tish’s brothers’ places so that, one day, she could find her way back. Kind of like a trail of bread crumbs in one of those old fairy tales. Addie thought Granny Lu would like to know she was keeping her bearings, keeping her feet on the ground, and holding on to some sense of direction.
She turned to a blank page. What would she draw now? She didn’t feel like drawing the storage compartment. Maybe a map of Uncle Tim and Aunt Tina’s house. She could draw their living room and use it for a treasure hunt map for Bella, who was two and a half. Addie had never lived with little kids before and wasn’t sure at first what it would be like, but she found it was kind of fun to come home at the end of the day and be in a two- and-a- half- year old’s world. She got Bella to dance along to music, sometimes getting eight- month- old Logan to join them in his wheely walker. Aunt Tina even said no one could keep them busy like Addie.
Addie didn’t know how long they’d be there but, for the moment, it was home. She would need to draw a map of Happy Valley Village when she got to know it better too. If Tish kept her job, that is.
As Addie was thinking about the new map, she didn’t realize she was staring at the dusty mirror on the far wall. One minute she was zoned out, the next minute everything changed with a snap. There was nothing different to see or hear, but she knew. Absolutely. There was someone in the storage compartment with them.
It was the mirror. She held her breath. Everything looked the same as it had a second ago, but in the dusty mirror above the bureau, she saw it. An eye, so dark it seemed to beam a ray of pure energy through time and space. Straight at her.
In front of the bureau and mirror was an overstuffed armchair with its back to her. Seeing the eye reflected in the mirror made Addie notice the tuft of scraggly gray hair sticking up from the chair. Nothing moved, not a hair, not a blink.
Then the hall door opened with such a bang, both Addie and Dickson jumped.
“Dickson, you there?” a man’s voice called.
Dickson bounced off the sofa, crunching over the chips he dropped.
“Yeah, right here!” He shoved his feet into his sneakers without bothering to tie the laces. Dickson filled Addie in. “ Brad. He’s in charge of the gym. He’s helping me train.”
Addie could hear Brad before she saw him, and when he got to the doorway, she could see why. Brad, young and fit in an HVV hoodie and sweat pants, wore an ID badge around his neck with an impressive array of keys. He held a cell phone and heavy- duty flashlight in one hand, a large walkie- talkie that crackled and zapped in the other.
“Hey, Dickson, have you seen anyone down here?” Brad saw Addie on the sofa. “Hi, you’re . . . ?”
“That’s Addie,” said Dickson. “Her mother started working here today.”
“Oh, Tish, yeah, I just met her,” said Brad. “Hey, have either of you seen anyone?”
Addie shook her head.
“Brad, can I help you look?” said Dickson.
“I don’t know. We’ve got a real situation going on here. Maybe it’d be better if you stayed out of the way.”
“Oh, come on, at least let me check things out with you down here.”
Brad thought a second.
“Okay, just the storage units, then I’ve got to do a sweep of the rest of the lower level.”
“Do you have an extra flashlight?”
Brad pulled a flashlight from his bulging hoodie pocket and handed it to Dickson.
“Addie, you want to come?” said Dickson.
Addie thought a second, thinking about that feeling of someone else being in the storage compartment, but shook her head. She must have imagined it. “You’ll be back, though, right?”
“Yeah, don’t worry,” said Dickson. He hopped after Brad, trailing long shoelaces behind him.
Addie could hear Brad’s deep voice and Dickson’s chirps as they went down the hall, taking time to peer into every storage area.
She opened a bag of cookies and wished she had some music she could turn on.
Then she heard it. She caught her breath. A sound deep and low like distant thunder that Addie felt shuddering inside her before she actually heard it. It came again, only this time it was bigger, like breakers from the open ocean pounding the shore.
“Excuse me . . . trying to clear my throat.” A growl of a voice came from the armchair. A hand like a giant claw gripped the chair’s arm, and a head covered with wild hair appeared around the side.
“Is the coast clear?”
Underneath two bristly eyebrows, the old guy’s eyes were startling, they were so dark and penetrating. That was the only word Addie could think of. It was like they had their own force field looking right through her to the other side and back again.
“I said, are they gone? Can I make my escape?”
Addie had turned to stone, but now she made herself breathe.
“Are you escaping?” she said, her voice wobbly.
“Well, what do you think I’m doing? Sitting here for the fun of it?”
Addie was not about to let him get away with that.
“How do I know?” she snapped.
He looked at her with those eyes.
“Stop looking at me like that,” she muttered.
He glared at her, then sat back in the chair. He sighed. “I thought you were helping me make my escape.”
When he spoke again, his voice had lost some of its fierceness.
“Are those cookies you’re eating?” he said.
“Chocolate chip,” said Addie.
There was a pause. She thought he would ask for some, but he didn’t.
“Want some? There’s plenty.”
“I would appreciate it. I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast.”
She unwound herself from the sofa and gathered up a selection of cookies, chips, and juice. She could hear Brad and Dickson far down the hall.
She walked slowly around to the front of the chair, not sure what to expect. And there he was. A grizzled old bear of a man in a wrinkly tweed jacket. It was a large chair, but he took up most of it. He wasn’t fat at all. He looked big and powerful and, like a bear, unpredictable. He watched her with those eyes of his.
“Here,” she said, holding up snacks to take his eyes off her. “Chocolate chip, sour cream and chive, pepperoni pizza, French onion, or hot tamale, and juice: apple- strawberry- cranberry or mango- peach- pineapple.”
“For crying out loud,” he rasped, “can’t they keep things simple anymore? Why do they have to go around messing everything up? Plain old apple juice, lemonade, maybe grape juice. That’s all anybody needs.”
“Okay, so here, take the chocolate chip cookies and the apple juice and pretend the strawberries and cranberries aren’t there.”
He grumbled but he took them. Then he had trouble tearing the plastic bag of cookies open and unscrewing the juice bottle. Addie had to help.
“So, why are you escaping?”
He finished the whole bottle of juice first.
“Because I don’t want to be here.” He said it as if it couldn’t be more obvious.
“Then why are you here?”
He kept eating cookies as if he didn’t want to answer.
Finally, it came out.
“All right, I fell several times. I couldn’t get up. So they insisted I come here till I get steadier on my feet.”
“ ‘They,’ who’s ‘they’?”
“The Queen of the Underworld is what I call her. Mrs. Sloat, the director of this place. She decreed I have to be here, and I agreed to do it . . . for a month. But when I arrived today, I changed my mind. Your friend Brad can get me going again at my house.”
Addie noticed two gold- topped canes propped on the chair next to him.
“So, then, you really shouldn’t be escaping.”
“How kind of you to point that out.”
“Well, my mom started working here today, and she’s helped people with that kind of stuff. She only has a month too. To see if they like her.”
He huffed. “Well, good luck to her. But I wouldn’t get your hopes up. Mrs. Sloat doesn’t like anybody.”
“I know, I know. My grandma used to say life is nothing but a cold, wet smack in the kisser, right?”
He looked at her as if he was about to ask a question, then decided against it. He finished the cookies.
“I might try some of those awful chips,” he said.
Addie handed him a bag.
“Where were you going to go if you escaped?”
“My house is just over there.” He leaned his head in one direction. “I live in the old farmhouse. This whole place belonged to my family, but I had to sell it and now it’s . . . this . . . institution.” He snorted. “Happy Valley Village! Ha! It’s not happy, it’s not in a valley, and it’s certainly not my idea of a village!”
He sounded disgusted. “But I get to live here as long as . . . well, Mrs. Sloat is just waiting for me to die so she can get her hands on the whole place. So that’s why I have to get better and move home again.”
He shook his head and growled. “Living here is a misery. I miss having my own things, I miss the peace and quiet, and I miss my workshop. I’m a tinkerer, an inventor, you know. Have you ever heard of the staple remover? The salad spinner?”
Addie said, “Wait . . . you invented those?”
She thought it was more likely he was an inventor of stories.
“Well, I did, but I didn’t get credit for them. I was coming up with a formula for superglue too, but someone else beat me to it.” He finished the bag of chips and made a face. “Can’t anyone make a plain old potato chip anymore?” he grumbled. “And that’s another thing. The food here is terrible. Breakfast is the worst. Limp toast and coffee- colored water! And I really miss my stewed prunes. No one knows how to make stewed prunes anymore.”
Addie had never heard of them before, and they sounded terrible, but that was beside the point.
“Stewed prunes?” she said. “My mom makes great stewed prunes! She’s the best prune stewer ever!”
The things she had to do to help Tish keep her job.
Brad’s deep voice and Dickson’s squeaky voice were coming toward them.
The old man glared at her. He could hear Brad and Dickson too.
“I hate being here,” he growled, “and I suspect you’re lying, but if I could get some decent stewed prunes, then maybe the month wouldn’t be a complete disaster.”
Brad’s tall shape fi led the doorway.
“Wow, there you are, Mr. Norris! Gee, you know everyone’s looking for you?”
Ruth Freeman is the author of One Good Thing About America, which received a Golden Kite Honor Award and was called a “touching novel” by School Library Journal. Ruth grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches English language learners in an elementary school.
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