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Authors: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Jumpstart the World

BOOK: Jumpstart the World
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2010 by Catherine Ryan Hyde

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hyde, Catherine Ryan.
Jumpstart the world / Catherine Ryan Hyde. — 1st ed.
p. cm.
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Elle falls in love with Frank, the neighbor who helps her adjust to being on her own in a big city, but learning that he is transgendered turns her world upside down.
eISBN: 978-0-375-89677-4
[1. Moving, Household—Fiction. 2. High schools—Fiction. 3. Schools—Fiction. 4. Transgendered people—Fiction. 5. Apartment houses—Fiction. 6. Mothers and daughters—
Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.H96759Jum 2010

Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.


For my good friend Douglas.
May you live a long and
healthy life


Title Page
Chapter One - How My Weird Cat Got His Weird Name
Chapter Two - Isn’t Annie Lennox Straight?
Chapter Three - The Heartbreak of Too Many Guys Named Bob
Chapter Four - I Don’t Even Know What a Trans Man Is
Chapter Five - When Your Hair Turns Sweet Sixteen
Chapter Six - How to Freeze the World in One Easy Lesson
Chapter Seven - I Don’t Even Know What Top Surgery Is
Chapter Eight - Frank Who?
Chapter Nine - Right?
Chapter Ten - Clothes. And Control.
Chapter Eleven - A Special Kind of Idiot
Chapter Twelve - Information, and Other Things That Fly
Chapter Thirteen - Mascara, and Other Things That Run
Chapter Fourteen - Mocha Almond Fudge and Loss. The Perfect Companions.
Chapter Fifteen - Say Something Brilliant Before You Go
Chapter Sixteen - So, After About Two Months of Small Talk

How My Weird Cat Got His Weird Name

his is a
cat,” my mother said. She was staring into a cage at about eye level.

I sidled over just enough to get a peek at the cat in question. A long-haired silvery Persian mix. He was beautiful all right, in an aloof sort of way. I’m not a big fan of aloof. Besides, I already had a cat in mind. I just hadn’t found the nerve to announce it yet.

Here’s the first thing I need to tell you about my mother: she uses the words “beautiful” and “ugly” a lot. And I do mean a lot. I think she does it unconsciously. I try to tell her how much she does it, but she says I’m exaggerating. Sometimes I feel like I want to make a secret tape of one of her monologues about the world. I could count the number of times she used those two words. I could prove it to her.

Lately I’ve been noticing how people have these ways of accidentally letting you see what’s important to them.

I know it doesn’t sound like any big deal. But it is to me. Because I’m not beautiful. And we both know it. Anyone with eyes knows it.

My mother and I were at the Department of Animal Services shelter, choosing a new cat to keep me company in my new place. I’d lost custody of our cat, Francis, in the move. No matter how much I argued matters of fairness, Francis would stay with my mother. Why I thought I would win that point, I’m not sure. I never won any others.

She’d tried to talk me into a cat from our fancy, expensive midtown pet store. The pound was my idea. I think it’s indecent and inhumane to spend hundreds of dollars on a pedigreed cat while all these sweet, deserving animals are dying because nobody wants them. It’s just so unfair.

Finally. A point I could win.

“I want
one,” I said.

My mother had a way of moving across a room. I’m not sure how to describe it. Except … you know the way an actress floats onto the stage to accept an Academy Award? Like that. She was wearing shiny black tights and her short red leather jacket. There were multiple things wrong with this picture. The first was a leather jacket on an eighty-degree day. Then there was the issue of the tights. Only nineteen-year-olds should wear black tights with nothing on over them. No, I take that back. Nobody should.

I guess she figured she could pull it off because she’d had a lot of plastic surgery. Probably even
didn’t know the whole of it. She’d begun lying to everyone, taking what she called “spa vacations” and coming back with fewer wrinkles and a smaller butt.

I held my ground and continued to point into the cage that held my new cat. He was huddled in the back corner, like he
was trying to disappear. At the front of the same cage was an ordinary-looking orange tabby blinking at me.

“Okay, now please tell me why that one. That cat is so … There is nothing distinctive or beautiful about that cat. I wish you would look at this beautiful Persian mix again. Why you would settle for that plain-looking tabby …”

“Not that one,” I said. “The black one. The guy in the back.”

In the silence that followed, it was all I could do to keep from smiling. This was the cat that would drive my mother crazy. This was the choice only I could make.

First of all, he had only one eye. The other was just closed forever, like nothing had ever been there. And he had a big chunk bitten out of his right ear, and patches of missing fur. He looked like his hair had been falling out in clumps.

He was perfect. He was my cat.

Long, long silence.

“Okay,” she said. Quietly. Then, measuring every word: “You’re angry with me. I understand that. I’m not even saying I blame you—”

“I’m taking that cat. I want the black one. You can’t talk me out of it, so don’t even try.” I was already starting to understand him. To feel for him. Or maybe even to feel
him. He was scared. He was not cuddly. He was not beautiful. If I didn’t take him, he was as good as dead. He was about to be given the death penalty for not being beautiful. Someone had to come along and love him just the way he was. I was that someone. “It’s not about being angry with you. Everything isn’t always about you, Mother.”

But, truthfully, somewhere in the back of my mind I think I knew it was both. Probably so did she.

*    *    *

This next thing that happened is important. It was one of those moments. I’m fascinated by moments like this. Always have been. The kind where you think something really ordinary is happening, so ordinary that you’re barely even paying attention. But then, looking back, you see it wasn’t ordinary at all. It was maybe the most important thing that ever happened to you. But at the moment you lived it out, it barely even blipped onto your radar screen.

I go back a lot and think about the time I first met Frank. It’s sort of mind-boggling, to compare how important it turned out to be with how important I thought it was at the time. But I guess it doesn’t help to go on and on about weird stuff like that.

Anyway, we were walking down the hall. My mother and me. Walking down my new hall, toward the door of my new apartment. I was lugging the cat carrier, which was getting pretty heavy. I kept thinking my mother would offer to take it from me for just a minute. Give me a chance to breathe. But maybe she was still mad that I didn’t take the beautiful Persian. Either that or she was afraid ugliness might be contagious.

The door of the apartment next to mine opened, and there was Frank. Only, I didn’t know it was Frank at the time, like I was saying before. He was just this little guy, standing out in the hall. He was probably even an inch or two shorter than me. But then I’m pretty tall—about five nine. I figured him to be maybe thirty or so. He had dark hair that was cut really short, short enough that it stuck straight up on top, and little round wire-rimmed glasses. Pretty thick glasses, too. There was something kind of elfin about him. At least, I remember thinking that at the time. Now I look back and can’t imagine seeing him as anything but
brave and big. But at the time, I remember getting images of pixies and leprechauns.

“Moving in!” he said. “Welcome.” He had a funny voice, like he’d been sucking helium. Well, not that funny. I’m exaggerating. But it definitely reinforced the elflike image. He made “welcome” sound like the short version of “Welcome to Munchkin Land.” And as far as the “moving in” comment goes, I tend to have issues with people who restate the obvious. At least, when my mother does that, it drives me crazy. But it was hard to fault a guy like Frank, and I don’t just mean in hindsight. I mean even at the time. He had a big, friendly smile, and there was something cute about him, but in a soft sort of way. Hard to explain what I mean by soft. Gentle, I guess I mean. He made you try not to find fault with him for some reason. The kind of guy it’s hard not to like.

“Need any help? I’m small, but I’m strong.” He flexed a bicep, pulling up his T-shirt sleeve. Not the biggest muscles in the world, I guess, but definitely muscles. And besides, it was sort of funny and nice, the way he did that.

“Thank you, young man,” my mother said, totally humiliating me. I mean, who calls someone young man, anyway? It’s so demeaning. And besides, he was only about ten years younger than she was. I felt my face flush red. “But we’ve hired moving men. The boxes have already arrived.”

“Well, if there’s anything I can do for my new neighbors …”

My mother just continued to sweep down the hall to my new apartment door. In that weirdly dramatic way she has of doing things.

I stood in front of my new door with this heavy cat, waiting for my mother—who had the key—to actually let us in. But she threw me a curve, hanging a sudden U-turn and sweeping back
down the hall to New Neighbor Guy. I set down the cat carrier and sighed.

“There is
thing you could do for me. My daughter will be on her own for the very first time. And in this big, ugly city, too.” There it was again. Ugly. I had begun counting. “And she’s so young. Turned eighteen barely a minute ago.” She cut her eyes back to me. We had a quick little argument, just with our eyes and our faces. With my eyes and face I said, You’re a liar and I can call you on it anytime. And with her eyes and face she said, This is for your own good, hush, and then my eyes and face said I didn’t believe a word of what her eyes and face had just said. Mother and I fought so well we didn’t even need to talk anymore. Fighting with actual words was optional. “Maybe I could leave you with an emergency number. Just in case. I
worry about her.”

BOOK: Jumpstart the World
5.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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