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Young Adult Fiction Friendship

Gravity Brings Me Down

by (author) Natale Ghent

Publisher
PRH Canada Young Readers
Initial publish date
Aug 2009
Category
Friendship, General, Coming of Age
  • Paperback / softback

    ISBN
    9780385667326
    Publish Date
    Aug 2009
    List Price
    $14.95

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Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 12 to 18
  • Grade: 7 to 12

Description

A smart and thoughtful story about self-discovery, acceptance, and finding friendship — all in the places you’d least expect.

Sioux Smith is sharp, funny, and wry, and is pretty certain that she sees the world of high school differently from everyone else — a belief that is cemented when she makes an uneasy discovery about one of her school’s “popular” teachers. And while she feels alone at her high school and in her unique slant on small-town life, Sioux finds a kindred spirit in the most unlikely of people: an elderly stranger, who has more insight despite her progressing dementia than anyone else in Sioux’s life. What Sioux and “Miss Marple” learn about each other over tea, illicitly secreted wine, and Coronation Street, makes for a novel with heart and grit in equal measure.

About the author

Natale Ghent is an award-winning journalist and the author of No Small Thing, also published in the US and the UK, and The Book Of Living And Dying, a novel for young adult readers. No Small Thing has been critically acclaimed in Canada and internationally. Nominated for four Canadian children’s choice awards, including the CLA Book of the Year for Children award and the Silver Birch award (Honour Book), No Small Thing was also chosen as a Junior Library Guild selection in the US and a Borders Original Voice. Born in Brookfield, Illinois, Natale Ghent moved to Canada as a small child. She lives with her family in Toronto.

Natale Ghent's profile page

Awards

  • Short-listed, White Pine Award

Excerpt: Gravity Brings Me Down (by (author) Natale Ghent)

Deep Thoughts

It’s a typical day with the usual conclusions: life sucks, and the only way out is the final exit, the big blue beyond. I’m not thinking of killing myself, really. I’m just weighing the possibilities. I like to know what my options are, especially when things get intolerably dull – which they do – a lot. It’s kind of a rock, paper, scissors game I play with myself: pills, guns or trains.

People think it’s morbid to talk about dying but, personally, I find it very liberating. It’s all about choice and individual expression. It’s also the biggest “F-U” a person can send out to the world. I find that comforting. I’m sure there are concerned committees and legions of high school principals who would be horrified by my attitude. They’d point a self-righteous finger at my parents and decide I wasn’t loved enough, or that they fed me too much sugar or cholesterol or something, but that’s just a load. What can I say” I was born on a Wednesday; I’m full of woe.

The truth is, my parents aren’t that bad – unless you call being completely naive a bad thing. They’re just a couple of hippies who love the planet and everyone on it. They belong to all kinds of societies and groups to save the environment, which is a waste of time if you ask me because it never seems to make any difference. People keep harpooning whales and polluting the water and driving bigger, stupider cars as if global warming were just a rumour. And that’s only the tip of the melting iceberg. Yet my parents keep trying to save things. It’s like I’m the only one on earth who can see things as they truly are. And it’s not as if this is a recent revelation for me or anything; I’ve been wearing black since I was three. I mean, my favourite book was Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. And he wrote that back in the Seventies. I must have read it five thousand times as a kid. I had it memorized. Even then I realized that people are awful and the world is doomed. But nobody else seems to get it, especially my parents.

Here’s some background:
• Mom’s a part-time English teacher who tutors ESL students for free on her days off.
• She majored in Dead White Guys at university.
• She thinks it’s funny to talk like Shakespeare. (It’s so embarrassing, especially when she does it in front of my friends. I think she really wanted to be a writer but she made the mistake of having kids instead. She’s all hopeful for me because I like to read and spend all my time writing in my journals.)

Dad, on the other hand, would rather I “become” something. He’s a lawyer for Social Services, providing legal counsel for people who can’t afford a real lawyer. For every person he helps, there are at least a thousand more waiting in line. It’s so pointless.

In any case, my parents are pretty harmless compared to most. The only thing I can really resent them for is sticking me with the most boring name in the universe: Sue Smith. It’s like they were so concerned about the environment and everything else, they just couldn’t be bothered thinking of something more original to call me. In my opinion, this mortal coil is hard enough to take without the added burden of some lame name. To make matters worse, they called my little sister Peggy. So together, we’re Peggy—Sue. How sad is that” Naturally, I felt obligated to change my name as soon as I was cognizant. I call myself Sioux. That way everyone is happy. And that’s the great thing about homonyms.

Anyway, thinking about the final exit is a fascinating sociological study if you choose to look at it that way. And I do, because I have an assignment due for Cultural Paradigms and I need a topic that interests me or I may as well just drop out of high school altogether. Which would be absolutely fine by me. I don’t see the value in school, even though I’ve been a straight A student from kindergarten all the way to grade 11 – my current year. It’s not that I don’t like to learn. But high school is just a primate zoo, a giant Barrel of Monkeys with intricately balanced chains all swinging independently of one another.

Rarely, if ever, do the chains intersect. There’s the jock chain, and the PIB chain (people in black). There’s the goth chain, the stoner chain and the geek chain, the skater chain and the loser chain. And then there are the strays: monkeys so marginalized they never even make it out of the barrel.

The teachers are another story. Half of them are just putting in time, while the other half are certifiable. My philosophy teacher, Mr. Chocko, falls into the second category. I’m convinced he’s truly bent. He pretends to be all “free and easy” and nice, playing music in class and droning endlessly about nothing under the guise of getting us to “think outside the box.” He has a goatee and he’s always talking about football and hockey with the jocks but I’m sure he’s never played either – ever – judging by his armchair physique. He has a reputation for having parties at his house with students, which I’m sure parents would love to know. He’s got everyone fooled into thinking he’s so fabulous and great. Except me. I think he’s demented. I mean, what kind of teacher wears sunglasses in class” So I’ve taken it upon myself to be his personal nemesis – mostly because it’s one of my favourite words. If you look it up in the dictionary, you’ll find something like this:

Nemesis ('nemisis) n., pl. — ses (-,si:z). 1. Greek myth. the goddess of retribution and vengeance. 2. (sometimes not cap.) any agency of retribution and vengeance. {C16: via Latin from Greek: righteous wrath, from némein to distribute what is due}

And this goddess is determined to distribute what Chocko has due. Consequently, he’s always trying to pin me down. Which would be a problem if I were a monkey like everyone else. But I’m not. I’m a bird, flying overtop of everything.

I like to imagine I have wings instead of arms, and feathers where my fingers should be. Sometimes, I feel like I could actually fly if I concentrated hard enough. But I would never tell anybody that. They think I’m a monkey like everyone else. So I play along to keep up appearances. My friend, Sharon, she’s definitely a primate, but she’s not a total knuckle-walker. Mostly, she shows signs of intelligent thought, though I do have my doubts. I think she secretly likes living in Sunnyview, which, in my world, is a sign of psychosis.

Simians aside, if you want to know the truth, I don’t believe in anything, really. Except gravity. It’s the only thing of value I learned at school. Invisible forces, manipulating everything. It’s the biggest mystery of all time. No one’s figured out how it works. Not Newton or Einstein or anyone. At one time, people were burned at the stake for trying. Of course, I have my own ideas: somewhere, in the universe, there’s a diabolical machine, belching out black clouds of gravity. And depending on the day, or whose hand is on the lever, the levels fluctuate wildly.

Obviously, I would never tell anyone this, either. Especially not my physics teacher, Dr. Armstrong. He has a more banal take on the world. Here’s what he wrote on the board in class:
Gravity is the general force of attraction between two objects with mass, independent of other forces. Not only Earth has gravity, but the Moon, planets, stars and all other objects with mass in the universe have it as well. The larger the mass, the greater its gravitational pull. Weight is a measure of gravity. Even light and time are subject to its force.
So everything exerts influence on everything else. What more do you need to know” In my opinion, nothing. But if I ever want to escape this crappy town, I’d better graduate, which means I have to do my Cultural Paradigms project for my teacher, Miss B. And I think dying is a good place to start, especially since there are relevant gender issues.

For instance: women like to leave a beautiful corpse behind, whereas men could care less who sees their stew. In other words, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, as Miss B.’s favourite self-help book says, even when it comes to offing themselves. Examples:

• Marilyn Monroe took pills; Hunter S. Thompson blew his head off.
• Lupe Vélez took pills; Kurt Cobain blew his head off.
• Anna Karenina took the train; Ernest Hemingway blew his head off. (Though Karenina doesn’t really count because she’s fictional.)

Virginia Woolf waded into a river, which seems to be the exit of choice for literary types everywhere (especially poets). I think drowning takes the most guts, although God knows I find water pretty much irresistible. Which is why I’m standing on the edge of the Sunnyview Dam, watching the hypnotic flood of grey liquid gush through its concrete teeth. The water looks thick, like gelatin, with bits of twigs and leaves studded here and there. It’s so mesmerizing, it makes me feel all dizzy and light.

I take up my journal to record my impressions: dark, limitless, nothingness, the vast and endless void. I underline these last words as I ponder one of the great and unanswerable questions in the universe:

Do suicides regret their choice at the last minute” How will we ever know?

I add these thoughts to my notes and continue my research. Taking another step toward the edge of the dam, I feel the spray against my face. The water thunders in my ears. I can barely hear my own thoughts. The air smells funny. My mascara starts to run. I must look horribly tragic. I ponder more questions to put myself in the right frame of mind:

Why are we here “
What’s the point of life “
What’s the point of high school “
Can anyone really know anyone else “
Can we ever know ourselves “
When is my Cultural Paradigms project due “
This pretty much does it for me. I’m ready to throw myself in.

But it’s hungry work thinking about this stuff. I decide to get something to eat before third period and think about dying later. As I turn to go, I notice two things: an old woman who looks like Miss Marple charging toward me, and three squad cars wailing down the road. The old woman is smiling like she knows me, even though I’m sure I’ve never seen her before in my life. The squad cars screech to a stop beside the dam and a bunch of cops tumble out like clowns. One has a bullhorn. He crouches down as though to lure a cat from under a car and all the other cops do the same.

“Don’t do it!” the bullhorn blasts.

A crowd starts to gather. Some geeks from my school show up to rubberneck, including Tod Cummings, top monkey on the loser chain. He thinks he’s in love with me and won’t leave me alone no matter how I try to get rid of him. It’s like he has a homing device in his head or something because somehow, wherever I go, there he is on his stupid moped wearing this giant gold helmet that makes his head look like a thumb stuck in a bowling ball.

It’s not as if he has to try very hard to find me, though. You couldn’t avoid someone in Sunnyview if your life depended on it. It’s not a real city, like Paris or New York or Toronto, where you have all these cool neighbourhoods and landmarks and stores. Our only claim to fame is a giant statue of some prize-winning cow. Every year at Hallowe’en, the yahoos paint it purple, like it’s the funniest thing ever.

Everything in Sunnyview is only a few blocks from everything else. What’s more, we have only one main street, which everyone calls The Drag, for obvious reasons. I mean, it takes less than half an hour to walk to the city limits from my place. A moped is all you really need, end to end. Except that mopeds have to be the lamest transportation on earth. But obviously nobody told Tod. Only a loser would be misguided enough to ride one, let alone own one. But Tod’s proud of the fact. He even keeps a matching gold helmet strapped to the back, just in case he convinces some other loser to take a ride with him, I guess.

He’s the editor of our school newspaper, The Peak, which everyone calls The Puke, because it sucks so bad, and he’s always asking me to submit something. He’s the kind of guy parents call “nice,” but really he’s the kiss of death to anyone hoping for a social life of any kind. I’d be nicer to him if it were possible, but if I so much as glance in his direction he asks me to marry him. It’s so irritating. I feel sorry for him, though, because he has an even worse name than me. There are no homonyms for Tod. The only logical derivative is Toad, which some jock already figured out, and now Tod is stuck with it for life.

The cops inch closer.

“We can help you,” the bullhorn blasts. “Life is worth living!”

I try to explain that I’m just researching a sociology project, but a gust of wind hits me and I lose my balance. My notebook flies from my hand into the gushing water, an unrecoverable victim of the gravity machine. The crowd gasps. The old woman keeps coming. I’m flapping my wings like an idiot, fighting the invisible forces, when Miss Marple grabs me by the shirt, pulling me from the mouth of certain death.

She says, “Marie! I’ve been looking all over for you,” in this British accent, then tries to wipe the mascara from under my eyes with a snotty old hanky.

I’m so stunned, all I can do is stare at her. I almost died! My whole body is shaking. I wish I had my journal so I could write this feeling down.

“Dear girl, you were supposed to meet me at the library at noon,” Miss Marple says. “It’s well past one o’clock. Did you forget?”

“I’m not Marie,” I say.

The cops surround us.

“Dear, dear, dear,” the old lady says, stabbing at my eyes with her hanky. “Have you been crying?”

“What seems to be the problem?” the officer asks through the bullhorn, even though he’s standing right next to me.

“Officer.” Miss Marple steps in. “This is my daughter, Marie. She was supposed to meet me at the library this afternoon. It’s just a misunderstanding.”

The cop looks to me for confirmation. I open my mouth to tell him I’ve never seen the old lady in my life when I realize the out she’s given me. So I smile instead, tilting my head back and forth in a noncommittal, I’m-not-lying-but-I’m-not-telling-the-truth kind of way.

The officer turns his bullhorn toward the crowd. “Go home, folks. There’s nothing to see here.”

I have to wonder if this expression is in some kind of manual they hand out at cop school, or if they learn it from old TV shows like Dragnet. I’d like to write that thought down, too, but unfortunately, my journal is at the bottom of the Sunnyview Dam.

The crowd looks downright disappointed that I’m not going to jump to my death today. They shrug their shoulders, kicking pebbles as they slowly leave. A few geeks and younger kids hang around, just in case I change my mind, I guess.

Tod fires up his moped, puttering toward me. I turn to exit, stage left.

“Aren’t you coming for lunch, Marie?” Miss Marple asks.

“I’m not Marie,” I say again.

“I was so looking forward to seeing you, dear.” She reaches for my hand but I pull it away.

“I’m sorry,” I say, as I leave her standing on the dam. I don’t look back because I don’t want to encourage her, and because I know everyone is staring at me. Walking away, I pull out my Gauloise, the preferred smokes of Jean-Paul Sartre. They’re the only good thing available in this lame town. Striking a match, I light a cigarette and inhale deeply. I always use box matches, not a lighter, and never a disposable. Disposables are déclassé. Besides, there were no disposables in Jean-Paul’s time.

Tod cruises up beside me. “Was that your grandmother?”

“As if,” I say, tapping ashes in his general direction.

He swerves to avoid a stone on the road. “Were you really going to jump?”

“What do you think, Tod?”

“I don’t know. But there are people who can help you. Hotlines and things like that. You shouldn’t smoke, you know.”

I want to freak out on his head, but when I turn to look at him, all I can see is the spit collected at the corners of his mouth. He pushes his Clark Kent glasses up on his nose.

“There’s a superhero festival at the Cineplex.”

“Not interested.”

Most people would be put off by this, but not Tod. He just says “Okay,” then continues to coast along next to me. It doesn’t matter how mean I am to him, he just keeps trying. It’s enough to make a person crazy.

“Have you thought about submitting an article to The Peak” ” he says.

I sigh, blowing a particularly large plume of smoke in his face. “I almost died today, Tod.”

We’re getting dangerously close to school and I’m about to tell him to moped along when I notice he’s driving straight toward a manhole cover that’s missing a big chunk from one side. Before I can say anything, it’s already too late. He hits the hole and dumps his ride. I’m so embarrassed, all I can do is cross the street and leave him flopping like a fish on the ground.

Back at school, the skaters are in their usual spot, making relentless attempts at impossible manoeuvres along the retaining wall at the front of the building. It doesn’t matter how many announcements the principal makes, they just do it anyway. I have to admire their indifference. I nod to the PIBs in their strategic location across the street, then run the gauntlet past the groups of stoners and jocks who line the sidewalk leading to the stairs. One of the stoners whistles as I go by. One of the jocks calls me a freak. I could care less what they think; I just hope they didn’t see me with Tod.

I haven’t even reached the stairs when Chocko draws first blood, bursting from the school.

“Smith! You know the rules about smoking on school property!”

I toss my cigarette to the ground, grinding it beneath my shoe.

“Pick up your trash,” he demands, pointing at the spent butt.

I pick it up and toss it into the garbage.

“That’d better not start a fire,” he says, trying to get a rise out of me.

But he’s wasting his time. I totally ignore him as I walk past, cool as a retributional goddess can be.

The second I step through the school doors, my friend Sharon grabs me.

“Oh my God, I heard what happened at the dam. Steve Ryan said you almost jumped. Hey, your mascara looks great – in a Marilyn Manson kind of way.”

I notice instantly she’s got a purple nylon wrapped around her wrist. Sometimes I really wonder about her.

“Steve Ryan is an idiot. Why are you wearing nylons on your arm?”

Sharon holds up her hand. “My aunt gave me all her fishnets from the Seventies. I’m wearing it in honour of our bra-burning sisters of old. I brought one for you, too.”

She produces the withered leg of an old stocking from her purse and begins wrapping it around my wrist, securing it with a knot as the bell rings. The zombies flood into the school and we have to fight our way to our lockers. When I get to mine, I see something sticking out of the grille. It’s the corner of a small envelope. I pull it out and discover my name printed neatly on the outside in gold metallic ink.

Librarian Reviews

Powerful

The relationship that develops between Sioux and Mabel is heartwarming and lovely. Sioux is a witty and entertaining narrator whose growing concern for Mabel is deeply touching. Readers will enjoy discovering, along with Sioux, that people are full of surprises, just like life itself. And while Sioux is left with more questions than answers about Mabel and what will become of her, her outlook on life is profoundly affected by their friendship.

Gravity Brings Me Down

When it comes right down to it, Sioux Smith just knows that she is a bird in the midst of the “barrel of monkeys” that is high school. She takes pride in her individuality and her fairly cynical world view, and considers it her mission to serve as her philosophy teacher’s nemesis. Between trying to avoid her lovesick admirer Tod and infuriating one of the jocks in her class on a semi-regular basis, Sioux seems to have her hands full.

However, she still manages to form an unlikely friendship with elderly Mabel Wilson after a bizarre encounter while doing research for a school assignment on suicide. Mabel mistakes Sioux for her own daughter Marie and, despite Sioux’s attempts to just forget about her, she can’t help but worry about the lonely old woman. As the two start spending time together, Sioux gains some valuable insights into life from her new friend. However, there comes a point where she finds herself powerless to give Mabel the help that she wants and needs.

The relationship that develops between Sioux and Mabel is heartwarming and lovely. Sioux is a witty and entertaining narrator whose growing concern for Mabel is deeply touching. Readers will enjoy discovering, along with Sioux, that people are full of surprises, just like life itself. And while Sioux is left with more questions than answers about Mabel and what will become of her, her outlook on life is profoundly affected by their friendship.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Winter 2010. Vol.33 No.1.

Gravity Brings Me Down

Sioux is a quick, wry and comical girl. Her belief that she views high school differently from other kids is confirmed when she makes an uncomfortable discovery about a popular teacher. While she feels alone at school and in her particular view on small-town life, she finds a kindred spirit in the most unlikely person: an elderly woman.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. 2010.

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