Sophie Hartley and the Facts of Life

BOOK: Sophie Hartley and the Facts of Life

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Clarion Books

215 Park Avenue South

New York, New York 10003


Copyright © 2013 by Stephanie Greene


All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003 Clarion Books is an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.


The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:

Greene, Stephanie.

Sophie Hartley and the facts of life / by Stephanie Greene.

pages cm

Summary: “Sophie, 10, doesn't want to turn into a moody teenager like her older brother and sister, and she certainly doesn't want to see the
(about gross adolescent body changes) at school. On the other hand, she doesn't want to be considered immature by her classmates.”—Provided by publisher.

ISBN 978-0-547-97652-5 (hardcover)

[1. Puberty—Fiction. 2. Maturation (Psychology)—Fiction. 3. Family life—Fiction.]  I. Title.

PZ7.G8434So 2013

[Fic]—dc23  2012041489


eISBN 978-0-547-97818-5





For Amy Radwan, who shrieked


“I hate my hair!”

Sophie took a pair of socks out of her top drawer and counted to herself silently.
One, one thousand . . . two, one thousand . . .

“I HATE MY HAIR!” Her older sister, Nora, shouted it louder this time. Then she slammed the door of the bathroom cabinet before turning on the hair dryer full blast.

Even the hair dryer sounded furious.

Sophie sat on the end of her bed and reached for her sneakers. There once had been a time when the next thing to happen would have been Nora's storming into their room, hurling her hairbrush onto the dresser, and snarling, “Don't talk to me,” before Sophie had even opened her mouth.

Then Sophie (the old Sophie) would have tried to cheer Nora up by saying something dumb like “I have curly hair, too, and I like it.”

Sophie couldn't believe how much she'd matured in two short months.

Since Nora had moved up to the attic and Sophie had turned ten, Sophie had started seeing things in such a new light that she felt as if she could easily be eleven.

Or even twelve.

The thing was, Sophie wasn't in a rush to be eleven or twelve. It would bring her that much closer to being fourteen. After observing Nora for the past few months, Sophie had decided that fourteen was a very emotional age. She would have liked to keep a list of all the things that made Nora furious so she could start practicing not letting them bother her when
was fourteen. But ever since last year, when Sophie had discovered that everyone in the family had been reading her lists even though she'd kept them carefully hidden, she had given up lists.

One particular day last fall had made it final.

She and Nora were still sharing a room. Sophie was sitting at Nora's desk, intently reading something written in purple ink that she'd found in the desk drawer Nora had labeled
!, and didn't realize her sister had come in until Nora shrieked.

Then Sophie, who was so shocked by what she'd read that she completely forgot she'd taken the key to the drawer from its hiding place taped inside Nora's winter boot at the back of the closet, looked at her sister and said, “‘Mr. and Mrs. Ian Bishop'? ‘Mrs. Ian Bishop'? ‘Nora Hartley Bishop'?

“Nora!” Sophie had cried. “You're

Looking back, Sophie couldn't believe how young she'd been when she was nine. While Nora pounded on the door of the locked bathroom where Sophie had sought shelter, Sophie had sworn off lists for the rest of her life.
Hers or anyone else's.

Lately, though, she wished she hadn't been so hasty. In order to remember everything, she had to walk around muttering, “Hair, boys, parties, nose, thunder thighs, Lisa Kellogg—hair, boys, parties, nose, thunder thighs, Lisa Kellogg,” under her breath. Since the day Nora had overheard her and gotten mad about
because she said Sophie was making fun of her, Sophie had been forced to repeat that list in her head. Since her head was already crowded, it meant there was hardly any room left.

All she knew was that noses should be small, hair should be straight, and boys and parties were good unless they didn't like you or you didn't get invited to one. Then they were bad. She wasn't sure what Lisa Kellogg had done to make Nora hate her, or what thunder thighs were, but they were both definitely on the list. It was all very complicated.

What worried Sophie most of all, though, was something Nora had said a few weeks earlier. She and Mrs. Hartley had been arguing about a pair of expensive jeans that Nora said all the girls in middle school wore and Mrs. Hartley said they couldn't afford. Sophie was only trying to help when she said, “You should do what I do, Nora. Sew or glue things on your old jeans to make them look different.”

“Butt out, Sophie,” Nora said.

“Nora!” said Mrs. Hartley.

“It's none of her business.”

“We're in the kitchen,” Sophie said. “When you're having a conversation in the kitchen, anyone can join it.”

“Oh, is that right?” Nora sneered at her in the way she'd perfected in middle school. “You think everything's so hunky-dory all the time. Just you wait, Little Miss Sunshine.
time will come.”

Nora had stormed up to her room before Sophie could ask exactly
Nora thought Sophie's time would come and what would happen to her when it did.

“She means you're going to become a teenager.” Mrs. Hartley got up to put her mug into the dishwasher and muttered, “Heaven help us,” under her breath.

“I heard that,” said Sophie. “It doesn't help, on top of Nora.”

“Sorry.” Her mother flashed a fake smile. “Who knows, Sophie? Maybe you'll be the first adolescent in history to become a teenager who doesn't have temper tantrums or grow a mustache!”

“You know I won't,” Sophie said gloomily. “Even Thad changed. Remember how he suddenly grew hair all over his arms and legs and went around giving us beard burns and flapping his arms to show off his hairy underarms?”

“Please.” Her mother picked up her briefcase and started for the hall. “Three teenagers in one house,” she said. “What were we thinking?”

It wasn't very comforting.

What if Nora was right and Sophie had no other choice than to become a teenager who burst into tears one minute and was hysterical with happiness the next? And who argued with almost everyone in her family?

Sophie didn't want to become that kind of person. For one thing, she didn't like to argue. For another, she liked the people in her family. Now that she was fourteen, Nora seemed to hate most of them. She ignored Sophie whenever she could and argued with everyone else, almost every day.

Mr. Hartley was safe because he was on the road so much of the time, and Maura still talked in one- or two-word sentences. Even Nora couldn't argue with a toddler who said only “Wow!” and “Okay!” As for John, he had a way of ignoring everything that went on above his head. Since he was seven and short, he managed to avoid most family arguments.

Nora argued constantly with Thad and their mother. Her temper had started to affect everyone in the family. Mrs. Hartley had been much grouchier than usual lately. After she and Nora had had a particularly heated argument one afternoon, Sophie found her mother in the family room, pacing back and forth and muttering, “Be the rock . . . Be the rock . . .”

“What rock?” Sophie asked.

“Mothers are meant to be the rock their children build their lives on,” Mrs. Hartley said grimly. “On days like this, I feel more like sand.”

Now, as if on cue, Sophie heard the bathroom door open and Nora shout, “Thad, if you use my deodorant one more time, I'm going to kill you!” as she stomped past Sophie's door on her way back up to the attic. Sophie finished tying her shoes and stood up. If she couldn't avoid fourteen entirely (and the only way to do it that she'd come up with was both painful and permanent), she needed to start practicing what not to get annoyed about, right away.

She went over to her art table to take a last- minute look at the collage she was making. Her class had learned how to make collages. Sophie loved cutting pictures out of magazines and words out of newspapers, and collecting anything that grabbed her attention when she was outside, to put on them. Some kids laughed at how Sophie's collages had things sticking out, but she liked them that way.

They were interesting.

She was working on a collage for Alice now. Alice had fallen in love with tie-dyeing a few months earlier, after her mother had bought her a kit. She had tie-dyed T-shirts and belts and hats with different-colored swirls and stripes. She had made an artist apron for Sophie and tie-dyed swirls in different colors all over it. Sophie had based her collage for Alice on tie-dyeing and pasted on color swatches and photographs and all kinds of other things. She had found a small spring, painted it blue, and pasted that on to represent a swirl.

All she needed now was a photograph of Alice to put in the middle. Or maybe a picture of Alice with her and Jenna.

When Sophie heard Thad go downstairs, she realized she was late and quickly checked herself in the mirror on her closet door. Her hair looked ratty in the back, even for her. She'd neglected to take out her ponytail before she went to bed last night. Now a piece of the yellow yarn she'd used in her collage was tangled up in it.

Sophie picked up her hairbrush and then stopped.

she thought firmly, putting it back down. Not worrying about hair was number one on her list. There had to be a positive way of looking at the snarled mess on the back of her head.

She studied it critically from several angles.

If she used her imagination, the mess looked a bit like the bird's nest John had found last summer and kept on his bookshelf.
If she could find a real feather on the way to school, her hair would look exactly like a nest. And since hers didn't have a crushed egg in it, she didn't have to worry it was going to smell bad, either.

Sophie picked up her kitten, Patsy, from where she was sleeping on the bed, and went down to breakfast.


“Red alert,” Sophie said as she walked into the kitchen. “Nora's having a bad hair day.”

“So what else is new?” said Thad. He tore off a piece of his untoasted bagel with his teeth, quickly checked to make sure his mother's back was turned, and took a slug of milk from the container before putting it back in the refrigerator. “When's the last time she had a
hair day?”

“Not one word about it when Nora comes down, please,” Mrs. Hartley told him. “I'd like to get this day off to a peaceful start.”

“Not even an
?” John was carefully arranging slices of banana on a piece of bread smeared with peanut butter and didn't look up. “
's a word.”

The Hartley children had been responsible for making their own breakfasts since January, when Mrs. Hartley had switched from part-time to full-time as a home health care nurse. She'd said she was tired of the way they complained about what she made for them anyway, so except for Maura, “you can all take care of yourselves from now on.” The only rules were that they had to fix something nutritious and eat at the table.

Breakfast had become much more peaceful. They all ate the same things every day.

Peanut butter and banana sandwich for John.

Cheese and untoasted bagel for Thad (“Why heat it up when it's only going to cool down in my stomach?”). Sophie opted for cold cereal, and Nora ate yogurt.

Maura was easy. She ate anything that was put in front of her.

Or left on the floor.

Last week, Sophie had discovered Maura on her hands and knees in the mudroom, eating the food in Patsy's bowl. Sophie had always wondered what cat food tasted like but had never had the nerve to try it herself. She wished Maura could really talk so she could describe it.

It had to taste better than the oatmeal their mother had cooked for Maura this morning. Sophie felt her mouth puckering up when her mother said, “Yum, yum!” and put a bowl of it in front of Maura.

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