Twelve-year-old Dom has a knack for swindling kids out of their allowances and talking them into cleaning out the chicken house for him. At least, when he’s not pranking them. When Taylor moves in next door and picks a fight, Dom shows him what’s what. A girl Dom doesn’t know comes to town, and he wastes no time impressing her. Summer in Millville is his for the picking.
Then, while out squirrel hunting, Dom stumbles onto an argument between a local outcast China Jin and a deputy. Before he can sneak away, he witnesses China Jin stab the cop and hears the murderer command his ferocious dog to finish the job.
Unsure of whether China Jin saw his getaway, Dom has nightmares and ducks out of sight every time he spots the China man in town. Soon, Dom convinces himself that the murder never happened. That is, until Taylor’s pocketknife is found at the crime scene and Taylor’s arrested. Dom must decide whether to swallow his guilt and let an annoying, if innocent, jerk go to juvie, or take the stand and risk his neck by revealing what he knows.
Targeted Age Group:: 10-15
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I remember reading an article about how tween and teen boys aren't reading as much as they used to. The article motivated me to write an adventure story with enough danger and excitement to interest that audience. I also had a conversation with a teacher friend who told me how hard it was to convince her students to read the classics, and how a lot of classic American literature were under fire for racism and other concerns. I longed to rewrite a classic in a modernized version that grappled with controversial and relevant topics.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Every character I create comes to me before the plot does. Usually they are fully developed in my mind before I figure out what obstacles they have to overcome. Dom and his brother especially inherited some quirks from my husband and his brother, who I knew when I was eight years old. Other characters from this novel took on traits from childhood friends or community members in my small home town. However, I mixed, changed, or amplified all of them to suit the story.
I snuck in the front door of our new house with a gopher snake dangling in my hand. Pops had to be in there somewhere. Searching between shafts of July sun from the holes in the ceiling, I found him hunched over a map on the kitchen table.
“What are you doing?” I asked, slipping the snake into the pouch pocket of my sweatshirt. He’d come in handy later. The map made me think of treasure quests and hunting trips.
“Well, Ol’ Red’s gas tank is nearly empty, Son.” He pointed out the window to our rusted truck squatting in the driveway. “And Mom don't get paid ’til Monday. But I’ve got an idea.” He pointed to the map. “When we go through town and ’round to the mill, it’s fifteen miles. But look.” He dragged his bony finger down the blue-inked lines of the creek, around the mill and South. Then he stopped, pointing to our property.
“If we drive through the crick…” I started.
“It's only ’bout two miles,” he finished.
“Will we make it?” Visions of white-water rapids rushed around my mind.
“Should. Gotta avoid any deep spots. Mom’s off work soon. Load Rosie, and we’ll go get her.”
It’s not every day I got to ride up a creek in a truck, but my excitement dimmed. Pop's wild ideas never panned out. The thumb-stump on his left hand proved it.
My terrier’s blonde tail wagged as I lifted her, and then she sniffed my pocket. The snake shifted as I pushed Rosie aside and climbed into the cab.
Pop crept Ol’ Red around the hunched house and slumping shed. We’d only spent a night there, and already it felt like home. My brother Reed pumped his fist the night before after turning the shower lever and nothing came out. Pop had warned us that we’d have a busy summer ahead fixing things, but I didn’t mind. This place was a million times better than the tiny cabin we’d rented last year.
Even as Ol’ Red crawled down the slope between our fields, I noticed something else that needed mending. The single-wire fence hung lifeless to the ground. We’d have to fix that when I finally got a horse. The truck tires bounced over gopher holes and overturned rocks, and the seat squeaked as it tossed us around. I kept my hand in my pocket, tracking my stowaway. Maybe I could sneak it onto the seat before Mom hopped in. I smirked. She’d be so freaked out. Gopher snakes look enough like rattlers to scare anyone who can’t see the difference right away.
We stopped at the bank and got out to examine the depth of the water.
“I think we’re good. It stays shallow for a ways,” Pop assured no one in particular.
“Yeah,” I reluctantly agreed.
We plopped back onto the red bench seat. I made a show of snapping my seatbelt together and pulling Rosie into a protective hug. Pop grinned at me, double-checked our location on the map, and then waved it in the air like Charlie with Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. I laughed at him.
I held my breath as we eased upstream. The front tires slipped. Dad shifted into reverse then moved forward again, circling around a big rock. I gazed out the window at the rising water, showing our progress. Pop did a great job of avoiding any major roadblocks and keeping calm. I stroked a panting Rosie with one hand and the scales of the snake with the other. Eventually, I rolled the window down for all of us and took in the view of the woods beyond our property.
Pop noticed my interest. “Lotta that land is a federal preserve. You guys can play up there but be respectful of it.”
“Yes, Sir.” Before I could say more, my feet felt wet. Pop detected it, too, and we both panicked. Creek water seeped under the truck doors. I pushed Rosie onto the bench beside me and clasped my knees to my chest.
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