On New Year's Day, Alice Davis goes for a run. Her first ever. It's painful and embarrassing, but so was getting denied by the only college she cares about. Alice knows she has to stop sitting around and complaining to her best friend, Jenni, and her pet rat, Walter, about what a loser she is. But what she doesn't know is that by taking those first steps out the door, she is setting off down a road filled with new challengesincluding vicious side stitches, chafing in unmentionable places, and race-paced first loveand strengthening herself to endure when the going suddenly gets tougher than she ever imagined, in On the Road to Find Out by Rachel Toor.
|Product dimensions:||5.57(w) x 8.22(h) x 0.87(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Rachel Toor is the author of three previous books. She was an admissions officer at Duke University, a high school cross country coach, and a teacher of SAT prep classes. A senior writer at Running Times magazine, she teaches at Eastern Washington University in Spokane.
Read an Excerpt
On The Road to Find Out
By Rachel Toor
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2014 Rachel Toor
All rights reserved.
I pumped my arms and covered ground with almost no effort. I was Superman. I was Nike—not the shoe company, but the winged goddess of victory. I could practically hear Bruce singing that tramps like us, baby—well, you know.
For one and a half blocks. That's the part he left out. We may have been born to run—but not very far. After two blocks, everything started to hurt. I couldn't get enough air and each leg weighed about eight hundred pounds. Great Lake–sized puddles lurked at every corner and I stepped in all of them. When I tried to leap across, I landed—splat!—in the deepest part.
I hadn't expected to see so many people out on this dreary holiday morning. It took only a few minutes for me to realize my New Year's resolution was typical, ordinary, and uninspired—just like me.
The boulevard was buzzing with runners, all trucking along in their tight tights and sporty vests, their long-sleeved shirts with the names of marathons or colleges or clothing brands plastered across the front, their baseball hats from professional football teams and their nondescript black beanies. Some had on backpacks and belts studded with water bottles, as if they were going to be traveling for days. Some people ran alone, and some were in groups. Those in groups chatted as if they were using no more energy than it would take to hoist a latte to their lips. When they came toward me they'd nod and raise a gloved hand.
Which reminded me I was not invisible. I hadn't realized—when I squeezed into the jeggings my mother had bought me years ago (but that I only got to wear to school twice before my best friend, Jenni, told me they were already tragically unhip), donned a long-sleeved T-shirt from an unfortunate family trip to Disney World, and layered on one of my dad's plain old slightly tatty sweatshirts—the superpower I would most want when I set out for my first run would be invisibility.
Each time someone ran past from behind, splattering me with dirty sidewalk water, I straightened up, went a little faster, and tried to hide how hard I was breathing.
And each time someone came toward me I'd look up only for a second, raise a paw in acknowledgment, and think: Don't look at me. Please don't look at me.
My feet hurt because I had secretly borrowed a pair of never-worn, slightly too-small running shoes I found in my mom's shoe room. Yes, my mother has a room just for her shoes. Other people might call it a closet. But then, as Dad likes to point out, other people live in houses with less acreage than the space dedicated to my mother's footwear. She's a material girl, my mom, a doctor who earns enough jack to pay for everything she needs and wants, and a bunch of things that I neither need nor want.
My eyes never stopped watering and I had to constantly wipe my face with my sleeve. I'm sure I looked like I was sobbing throughout the whole thing. It might have been the wind, or maybe I was really crying.
My calves cramped up and I felt dizzy. On the other side of the street I could see a huddle of teens smoking cigarettes. Or something. They yelled an insult, or maybe it was just a whoop, a holler, and I thought again: Make me invisible.
My feet were furious. It felt like my arches had flattened into the shoes. Some jerks drove by in a pickup truck adorned with a Confederate flag and honked their horn. It scared me so much I jumped and landed funny and that made my feet hurt more. I wanted to scream, Go back to your cave, you howling trolls, but I didn't say anything.
Then came the panting. I was breathing like a prank caller. My arms were so heavy I could hardly swing them.
And then a guy with long legs, floppy hair, and a dog that looked like Toto with trashy blond highlights passed me.
Hear this, people: I got passed by a dog who was off to see the Wizard. The little dude trotted fast on his abbreviated limbs. He held his head high—as high as you could hold a head on legs only about four inches tall. He wore a harness with a camo design, and his leash had rhinestones on it. His mini-legs were going like crazy.
The guy took graceful strides and did not seem like someone who would have a little dog dressed in camo at the end of a sparkly leash. Toto dogs go with blue-haired old ladies who smell like Cashmere Bouquet body powder and maybe the faintest hint of pee. People and their animals usually look right together. These two didn't.
The guy was around my age. He was attractive. He was so attractive Jenni, a small girl of big appetites, would have referred to him as a tasty morsel. He glided along, his head straight, his arms tucked in neat by his sides.
I struggled to try to keep up with them and did. For about ten seconds. Then they pulled away.
I had been chilly when I left the house, but my body soon equilibrated (yes, I paid attention in honors chem), and I sweated through my layers. I stopped for a second to wrestle out of the sweatshirt and tie it around my waist, and looked up to see another pair of runners coming toward me, a guy and a girl. The girl had her hair pulled into a long ponytail and as she ran it swung from side to side, a blond metronome. She was smiling and he was smiling too and he said something and she laughed and she turned and socked the guy with a playful punch to the belly, and he bent over—all while they were still running—and when he stood up straight again I saw the sweatshirt he wore.
It said, "YALE."
The burn rose from my stomach and settled in my throat. I could feel my face flush. I choked up.
The happy couple passed without a wave, without even noticing me, and I thought: Right. In some ways, I am invisible. I am nothing.
I slowed to a walk. My nose was full of snot and I didn't have a tissue. I felt like throwing up. On this day, January 1, I had kept my New Year's resolution and gone for my first run ever.
It was over in eight minutes.
For about seven and a half of those minutes, around 450 seconds, when I had been concentrating on running—on how much my body hurt, on what other people saw when they looked at me, and even on wondering what that hot guy was doing with a Toto dog—I had been able to forget that I, Alice Evelyn Davis, top student in my class at Charleston High School, champion taker of standardized tests, favorite of teachers, and only child of two achievement-focused parents, had been rejected Early Action from Yale University, the only college I ever wanted to go to.CHAPTER 2
When I got home, I said to Walter, "That sucked."
He opened one eye. Then closed it again.
"Maybe I should have picked something easier, like, I don't know, learning to juggle razor blades. Or trying to solve Fermat's last theorem."
Walter sat up. He shook himself and yawned, stretched one hand way out in front of him and flipped it down at the wrist.
"And don't tell me it will get better the more I do it," I warned as I stripped out of my jeggings and freed myself from the T-shirt now pasted to me like one of those skin-treatment masks Jenni uses that makes her look like the Wicked Witch of the West.
"I don't think this is going to get any better, Walter, and I'm not really sure I want to keep doing it. And by the way, when you flick your wrist like that you look kind of effeminate. Not that there's anything wrong with that."
I thought I saw skepticism on Walter's face. Then I remembered he is the least skeptical guy I know. His concern, I soon saw, was not about my pathetic attempt at running, but had to do with his own state of cleanliness. He had the determined look he gets when he thinks he's dirty. Immediately he started washing. He licked both of his hands—dainty little stars, four impossibly tiny fingers and the merest stub of a thumb—and used them to pull his ears down and scrub.
Lick, pull, scrub.
Sometimes he'll sit there holding his ear in his hands, as if he's just remembered an important idea and needs time to think about it.
"Me too," I said, and walked into the bathroom to turn on the shower.
In case you're wondering, Walter is a rat. These days, he's also pretty much my only reason for living, other than Jenni. He's mostly white, with a black hood on his head, in the middle of which is a perfect white diamond. He has a gorgeous line of black splotches down his back. His fur is glossy and silken, and his long whiskers tickle when he gives me a kiss, which he likes to do, and which I like him to do, but not in any kind of pervy way.
Walter has a long, utilitarian (SAT word meaning "designed to be useful or practical rather than attractive") tail that I find adorable. But it grosses some people out. Though it has a smattering of hairs on it, it's mostly naked. I have a theory that people's unreasonable and bigoted fear of rats has something to do with the tail, and that has something to do with penises.
All I know is that the rat-o-phobes tend to focus on the tail. That and the plague. Which is ridiculous.
When the rat-haters mention the plague I feel compelled to point out that rats did not cause or carry the plague. Fleas did. The fleas bit the rats, transmitted the virus (that killed the rats), and then jumped onto humans to bite and kill them. Rats were innocent victims, people. And, by the way, lots of animals carry plague, even cute furry-tailed ones. Right now, in the western part of the United States, there are more prairie dogs infested with plague than there were afflicted rats during the Black Death. (I wrote a term paper on this for biology freshman year and really got into it.)
Though Walter grooms himself endlessly, making sure every hair is in place, he tends to neglect the flexible extension of his backbone.
We've had many discussions about tail hygiene. "Walter," I say, "you must attend to your tail. You are giving the rat-haters ammo." But I haven't seen a lot of progress on his part. So every couple of weeks I give him a bath in the sink. He often poops when he hits the water and will not listen to reason about how completely disgusting that is. I scrub his tail and shampoo and condition the rest of him.
Afterward I tell him he looks like a drowned rat. I rub him down with a washcloth and then roll him up in it and turn him into a little vermin burrito. Then I blow-dry him on a low setting until he's fluffy. "You're no longer a dirty varmint," I say, and he looks up at me with the face of love. Then he starts licking himself again.
Yes, the man of my dreams is the size of a salami. I know there are stereotypes about kids who have rats: They are the loners. They are the misunderstood. They are the weirdos who use their animals as freak flags. But honestly, the reason most folks have rats is because they're fantastic companions, especially when you consider the list of other "pocket pets":
1. Hamsters: Aggressive little a-holes who, when they're not sleeping, which they do for about twenty-three hours a day, will bite you and draw blood.
2. Gerbils: The neurotic Ben Stillers of the rodent world, all jerky movements and self-doubt.
3. Guinea pigs: Stupid. I know you're not supposed to say things like this, that not everyone can be in the gifted and talented program, but, well, not everyone can. Some of these guys even look dumb, with hair that grows in different directions and seems to need product. And they make creepy noises.
4. Ferrets: Freaking stinky. Even if you de-nasty them by surgically removing their scent glands, they still smell musky and rank. Plus, they kind of look like snakes with fur.
5. Rabbits: High maintenance. You have to feed them salad every day and then they poop out these round pellets that look like something animals should eat and not expel. And guess what? They do eat them! Coprophagy ("eating feces"). Rabbits have supersoft fur but don't like to be held, which strikes me as obnoxious.
6. Mice: I have to admit to a fondness for mice. When you see a whole bunch of them in a cage in the pet store, it looks like a city. Everyone's on the move. Everyone's busy. Sometimes there will be three or four guys on a wheel running in one direction and another guy scrambling the other way, and that guy ends up riding around upside down and it looks like they're all having a blast. Mice have a lot going on. But cool as they are, they're not rats.
Rats are the smartest, most social, and all-around best pet. If you don't believe me, ask a veterinarian or someone who works in a laboratory. They all say the same thing: rats are the best small mammals.
And Walter is the best of the best small mammals ever. He's clever and sweet and loving. He has a great sense of humor and an even deeper well of empathy. He was on my lap last month when I found out I had been rejected—not even deferred—Early Action from my dream school.
I sat at the computer, stunned. Walter crawled up my shirt and nestled on my neck, licking the tears from my face. As I stared at the screen, I could picture the word stamped in red on my application and felt like it was now tattooed across my forehead.
Alice Evelyn Davis = REJECT.
I am unaccustomed to not getting the things I want.
As the sole offspring of two conspicuously consuming professionals riddled ("filled or permeated with something unpleasant") with guilt about working too much and not paying enough attention to their precious child, I am often the beneficiary of bouts of excessive spending. For the record, I get plenty of attention, often more than I want. But my mother likes everything to be perfect, including me. So my room, the entire third floor of our house, is a luxury suite far too fancy for a seventeen-year-old girl.
It's not that I'm not grateful for all the ways my life is made cushy and nice by my parents—okay, by my mother; my father would be happy living in a hovel as long as he had a bunch of books and a New York Times crossword puzzle on his iPad—but to be honest, I just don't care that much about stuff. Maybe that's because I have so much of it.
I realize that this is a first-world problem. While my parents aren't private-jet rich or own-a-pied-à-terre-in-Manhattan rich, the fact is, they have a lot of coin. They make up for it by being extra-liberal in their politics and doing charitable giving. A lot of dough still comes my way. Unlike many kids from my school, including Jenni, I won't have to worry about being able to pay for college. I just have to worry about not getting in anywhere I've applied.
My bedroom has a big four-poster bed covered with a soft blue-and-white Egyptian-cotton quilt and a ridiculous number of pillows. What I've gathered from my mother's "shelter porn" magazines is that the richer someone is, the more pillows of different sizes and shapes she has on her bed.
I also have a whole other space with two big couches positioned at a ninety-degree angle and a marble coffee table between them. I'm supposed to use coasters if I put a drink down on the fancy table. Instead, I don't use it. The couches face a huge flat-screen TV hung on the wall, which I can see perfectly well from my bed so I rarely sit in the sitting area. The couch closest to my bed is where Jenni sleeps when she stays over, which she does a lot. She hunkers down in this old red flannel sleeping bag with drawings of cowboys on it. It belonged to Dad when he was a kid. He refused to throw it out, even though Mom threatened to divorce him if he kept bringing it downstairs. I was happy to rescue it, and Jenni loves sleeping among the eternally young boys who wear chaps and throw lassos.
I have bookcases filled with books I've read and reread a zillion times and dressers crammed with clothes I never wear. A large number of the books used to be my dad's. For years I've been raiding his shelves and appropriating ("taking something for one's own use, especially without the owner's permission") his collection. The clothes come from my mother's shopping jags. Some still have price tags on them. Mom thinks if she finds a hundred-and-fifty-dollar sweater for me and buys it for half price, she's saved money. I try to tell her I don't want any more clothes, but she doesn't listen. We end up doing a purge once a year and all these brand-new purchases go to Value Village, and she writes it off as a tax deduction. I've seen kids at school wearing the clothes we dropped off.
Excerpted from On The Road to Find Out by Rachel Toor. Copyright © 2014 Rachel Toor. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I hope every kid who's applying to college (and their families) read this book. Toor's heroine, Alice, a super-student with an incredible drive toward success, doesn't get in to the only college she's ever wanted to attend. In an attempt to help her deal, Alice's best friend gets her to make a New Year's resolution. Alice resolves to start running. What she learns about herself and her possible futures along the way is the meat of the book. Toor will draw you in with Alice's incredible, funny voice and keep you in with the emotional honesty of her writing.
On the Road to Find Out involves a main character who has received some devastating news and it depicts the story of how she comes to terms with life when it doesn't go the way she planned it. It's an important lesson, but this book lacked the emotional depth I anticipated. Reasons to Read: 1. Alice is startlingly real: We all know someone like Alice. Many of us (me included) likely share traits and experiences in common with her. She's fairly self-absorbed at times (aren't we all?), spoiled, and introverted. On the Road to Find Out chronicles a crisis period in Alice's life, a period of time where we get to see her grow up. She learns that life won't always go the way she plans, which is so true and a key life lesson for everyone. 2. A heartwarming running community: Alice doesn't intentionally join the running community, instead she halfheartedly stumbles into it. She finds a supportive, strong group of people among the local runners including friendly, warm Joan (who has her own remarkable story to share) and a competitive, cute athlete named Miles. I know there are going to be some readers who are bothered by Alice and won't enjoy the book for that reason. But it is beneficial for us to read about flawed characters, for many reasons. An important reason is because we are flawed ourselves, even if we don't care to admit it. Additionally it is important because there are certain stories that are best told with a flawed character. Alice's growth in this book wouldn't be half as remarkable if she was easy to like and mature from the get-go. In some ways, this book was not as fully developed as I would have liked. Alice's voice and sense of humour seemed distant at times, and by that I mean that it seemed she wasn't taking her own situation seriously. Her attitude towards this set-back was exaggerated and lacked the sincerity I would have expected from someone in her situation. Alice also has a very sarcastic, cynical attitude which really comes out in her sense of humour. I can see how only certain readers might be able to appreciate that aspect of her character and enjoy reading about it. On the Road to Find Out is an enjoyable little story, with a very important lesson behind it which I believe is particularly relevant to teenagers and young adults. ARC received from Raincoast Books for review; no other compensation was received.