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That's Life, Samara Brooks

That's Life, Samara Brooks by Daniel Ehrenhaft
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"FUNNY! I'm officially jealous."--Gordon Korman, author of ONE FALSE NOTE

Is playing blackjack in the school cafeteria that bad? Samara Brooks doesn't think so. She isn't out to hurt anybody. She just wants to create some drama. And she does. Drama . . . and trouble.

When the principal threatens to call her parents, Samara proposes a way to save herself. She'll prove she's not a bad person by conducting a scientific experiment to show she has the same DNA as one of the friendliest girls in school: class president Lily Frederick.   But then Nathan Weiss—a kid obsessed with UFOs and mysterious codes, gets involved. And things get really weird. . . .

"If you like your mystery with a side of science and some delightful snark, you're in the right place," says New York Times bestselling author Libba Bray. And Leslie Margolis, author of Girls Acting Catty and Boys Are Dogs says, "Hilarious, wacky and charming."




From the Hardcover edition.
Random House Children's Books; February 2010
ISBN 9780375895951
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: That's Life, Samara Brooks
Author: Daniel Ehrenhaft
 
Excerpt
Our Common Language

Before I get beyond the basic stuff you need to know about me--my name (Samara Brooks), my age (thirteen), my hair (black), my weight (forget it), that heinous mole next to my nose--there is one thing I'd like you to know about a certain theory of the universe. The theory goes: If humans ever come into contact with an alien intelligence, our common language will be math.

Say a UFO lands and a strange creature walks out. Odds are that we won't be able to welcome it with a big "Hi!" The creature might not even speak. It might just snort, or gesture with whatever limbs it may have, or try to beam its thoughts telepathically. So we will have to find a way to break the ice. And almost every Nobel Prize-winning scientist out there believes that math is the only natural extraterrestrial icebreaker. In short: Once we figure out a way to count to five with, say, a fire-breathing land squid, pleasant chitchat is sure to follow. "Sweetie, I'm so glad you visited Earth. And that outfit is so cute on you. It matches your tentacles!"

I mention this because math is also the common language of con artists.

God

Just so you know, I will be conning you for the remainder of this story. I think it's only fair that I tell you up front. On the other hand, I will also be completely honest. That may sound like a contradiction, but it isn't. I will be conning you in the sense that I'll try to get you to see things from my point of view, so I might leave out certain vital information that would allow you to see things differently.

In other words, I won't lie. I just might not tell the whole truth.

Here's an example: I've already left out some vital information. When I was speaking about an alien intelligence, I was also speaking about God.

You know who else leaves out certain vital information, other than con artists?

God.

Okay, I realize that some people might be offended that I call God an "alien intelligence." Some people might also be offended that I decided to run a gambling ring out of my school's cafeteria at the beginning of eighth grade, and that I nearly swindled my class president out of sixty-three bucks. If you fall into either of these categories, please put this book down and go buy Chicken Soup for the Soul or some such and live happily ever after. But if you enjoy a good con, stick around.

An Outstanding Balance of $441.50

It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the insanity began, but I figure it's probably best to start with my first big creative writing assignment of eighth grade. As scribbled on the board by my English teacher, Mr. James, it read: Make me laugh! Describe the funniest moment of your summer vacation!

THE FUNNIEST MOMENT OF MY SUMMER VACATION

BY SAMARA BROOKS

My summer vacation didn't have any funny moments. Seriously, I'm trying to think of one. It wasn't tragic or anything, but "funny" isn't a word that leaps to mind. We didn't go on any funny trips to funny places. We didn't go anywhere, so really, it was more of a summer break than an actual vacation. Plus, my parents were both super-busy. My dad's trying to make partner at his law firm, so he works insane hours. My mom works at a nonprofit organization that tries to help poor people. This is a good and noble cause, of course, but she had to stay late almost every night of the week. Maybe there were more poor people than usual. Sorry if that sounds harsh.

Anyway, I know I'm supposed to make you laugh, but I only laughed-like really, truly "Ha-ha-ha!" out loud-just once. It was at dinner last week, when I swindled my brother, Jim, out of five dollars.

Picture the dinnertime scene: Jim and I were home alone, eating macaroni and cheese in the living room. I was trying to watch Celebrity Poker Showdown. Jim, as usual, was staring into a massive math textbook with a look of panic on his face. His big nose started twitching, the way it always does when he's freaked out.

Jim's nose looks like a beak. Not that this really means anything, but still, I mention his beaklike nose because at times like these, I feel like writing BIRDBRAIN on his forehead. Jim is about to be a _senior and he can barely add two and two. Worse, he's applying to MIT and plans to take AP Calculus this fall. He wants to be a big-shot scientist.

"Just help me with this statistics problem," he begged.

"Not now," I told him. "Come on, I'm watching this. It's the final round. I'll bet you anything that fat guy from Law and Order will fold."

"Samara, if you don't turn off the TV, I'll fart. I mean it."

I hit the mute button. "Jim, your statistics problem isn't the problem in front of you. Your statistics problem is that you don't understand statistics. So here's my help. Statistically speaking, chances are about one in eight billion that you'll get into MIT. So just watch this round with me."

"What kind of seventh grader even talks like you? You're like Dr. Frankenstein."

"Technically I'm an eighth grader now."

"Whatever. If you don't help me, I'll tell Mom and Dad that you lied about giving up Blackjack. COM, and you'll be in big trouble," he said. "I bet they'll take your laptop away."

Since I'm a gambler by nature, I knew that Jim had the upper hand here. I hadn't given up Blackjack. COM. Hardly. I'd been spending at least three hours a day on it, if not more. But what else was I supposed to do? I'm too young to get a job, and my parents didn't want to pay for another year of camp. Best just to quit while I was ahead.

"Fine, I'll help you," I told him. "But I'm upping my fee to five bucks per equation."

"Deal," he agreed.

Ever since I was ten and Jim was fourteen, I've been helping him with his math homework. First algebra, then trigonometry, and now this. He made me swear never to tell Mom and Dad because he doesn't want them to find out that he isn't really the brilliant mathematical genius he claims to be. I'm hoping they'll figure that out for themselves, but who knows?

My starting price when this whole shady deal began was a dollar per equation. Now we were at $4.50 per equation, and that was for an "open-book" final exam, so the answers were right in front of him. Not that I've had much luck collecting. Jim prefers to write me IOUs. In fact, I've only collected $13.50 of fees totaling $455.00.

"You're really willing to pay me five bucks for a statistics problem?" I asked.

"Yeah, but here's the thing," he said, as usual. "I don't have the five bucks on me right now. I spent it on this delicious feast we're eating. Somebody's got to feed us, right? I can hardly even tell if Mom and Dad live here anymore. So here's what: I'll write you an IOU. When Mom and Dad show up, I'll get some money from them and pay you. Deal?"

Jim grinned at me like a con artist. That's when I laughed.

THE END

PS: Mr. James, just a suggestion, but wouldn't it be more fun to write a creative essay about a billion-dollar caper or a seedy political cover-up or a spy adventure or something?


From the Hardcover edition.
ISBNs
0375895957
9780375895951
9780385734349