Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse

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About The Book

“Edgar-winning Vaught, a neuropsychologist, has both personal and professional experience to draw on in crafting a narrator who is admirably smart and resilient despite an ‘itchy’ brain and a compulsion to count things.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Deeply smart and considerate.” —BCCB

“An absorbing mystery about friendship, growth, and heroics.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Highly recommended for school libraries as a strong addition to help diversify realistic fiction collections to include neuroatypical characters and heroines.” —School Library Journal

Jesse is on the case when money goes missing from the library and her dad is looking like the #1 suspect in Edgar Award­–winning author Susan Vaught’s latest middle grade mystery.

I could see the big inside of my Sam-Sam. I had been training him for 252 days with mini tennis balls and pieces of bacon, just to prove to Dad and Mom and Aunt Gus and the whole world that a tiny, fluffy dog could do big things if he wanted to. I think my little dog always knew he could be a hero.

I just wonder if he knew about me.

When the cops show up at Jesse’s house and arrest her dad, she figures out in a hurry that he’s the #1 suspect in the missing library fund money case. With the help of her (first and only) friend Springer, she rounds up suspects (leading to a nasty confrontation with three notorious school bullies) and asks a lot of questions. But she can’t shake the feeling that she isn’t exactly cut out for being a crime-solving hero. Jesse has a neuro-processing disorder, which means that she’s “on the spectrum or whatever.” As she explains it, “I get stuck on lots of stuff, like words and phrases and numbers and smells and pictures and song lines and what time stuff is supposed to happen.” But when a tornado strikes her small town, Jesse is given the opportunity to show what she's really made of—and help her dad.

Told with the true-as-life voice Susan Vaught is known for, this mystery will have you rooting for Jesse and her trusty Pomeranian, Sam-Sam.

Excerpt
Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse 1 Monday, Right Before the Train Came


You gonna shoot that ball or kiss it, Messy?” Ryker Morton leaned toward me on the foul line, grinning so big I could see his ugly pink gums. Chris Sedon snickered, and it kinda sounded like a Madagascar cockroach hiss since his nose had a bandage on it. Trisha Parks roach-hissed, too, even though she didn’t have any bandages on her nose. Acting like a nasty insect was just natural to her, I guess.

They hung together like that when they hassled me, Jerkface and his pet cockroaches, a matched set in their green gym shorts and shirts. You’d think after everything that had happened, they’d give this a rest, but noooooo. Same-old same-old.

I didn’t think Coach Gray heard them bothering me over all the noise from the skirmish group playing half-court behind us. Plus, she was busy hollering for YOU KIDS to KEEP IT DOWN since Coach Sedon, Chris’s dad, was out getting surgery on his hand and she had to do EVERYTHING FOR EVERYBODY SO SHOW A LITTLE RESPECT!

Four nicer kids from our class stood around the goal—Krista Edmonds, Selena Ruiz, Mark Gopal, and Jake Siddiqi. Nobody but Selena looked at me, and when she did, Chris pointed at her. “What do you want, fly-face?” He put his fingers around his eyes, pretending he had thick glasses like hers. “You think Messy here won’t knock you in the nose if you tick her off?”

Selena made a rude gesture at him, and Mark pushed her hand down before Coach Gray saw it. I rubbed the sides of the basketball with both hands and looked at Selena, but she looked away.

A little bit of sad squeezed tight in my throat. I tried to be nice like Krista and Selena and Mark and Jake, at least when people didn’t make my brain itch. I mean, I hadn’t even smacked anybody in this year’s class, unlike Jerkface.

Jake glanced in our direction and said, “Y’all are just a bunch of turkeys.”

Great.

Did he mean Jerkface and the cockroaches, or me—or all of us?

“Messy Jesse’s a grody pig, not a turkey.” Ryker pointed at my tangly hair as Chris and Trisha laughed. “You’re never gonna get any better at taking a shower, are you?”

Selena made another rude gesture, sort of at Ryker but maybe sort of at me, too, and she walked off with Krista and Jake and Mark following along behind. Coach Gray tweeted her whistle since they hadn’t taken their shots on goal, but they acted like they didn’t hear her.

I positioned the ball and tried not to watch them leave. Jerkface and the cockroaches made some more noise, but I ignored them because Dad said ignoring cockroaches and keeping all the lights on was the best way to make them scurry away.

“See, Jesse-with-an-e?” Jerkface mocked in my voice. “Jesse-with-an-e, like boys spell it. Nobody likes you, Jesse-with-an-e.”

Did ignoring bugs ever really make them crawl off and bother somebody else? Because it had never worked for me. Breaking Ryker’s nose with the basketball so it would match Chris’s, now that would work for me, but when I turned in his direction, Coach Gray gave me a warning blast with her silver whistle.

As if God agreed with her, it thundered outside.

Coach gave me the look and shook her head.

Not fair.

Jerkfaces shouldn’t be able to run their mouths if non-jerkfaces couldn’t defend their tired ears. What was the problem with violence, anyway? It was effective. Bugs made such a satisfying crunch when you stomped on them.

I glanced at the clock. I still had to put up with Jerkface and the cockroaches for seventeen minutes and thirty seconds. That wasn’t much. Then again, it seemed like a lot. Tick-tock. I hadn’t ever heard a clock make tick-tock noises. The clocks at AJS just made clicking sounds. Seventeen minutes. 1,020 more clicks. 1,019, 1,018, 1,017. . .

I got a second blast from the whistle and Coach glared like she’d come over to our group and make sure we regretted making her get up off her bottom-bleacher throne, so I forced myself to face the goal. Then I dug my purple fingernails into the sides of the basketball, squared my shoulders, lifted the ball to my chest, and powered it into the air.

The ball fired off to the left like a broken rocket, almost beheaded Coach Gray, and smacked a bleacher step so hard it sounded like an explosion.

Oops.

As everybody ducked and covered, I fake-stumbled and ground my heel into Jerkface’s toes.

“Ow!” he hollered, grabbing for his foot, but his cockroaches didn’t hear him over the whoops of the skirmish group and the sudden hard rain on the gym roof.

Ryker snarled and reached for me, but I dodged out of his way. Coach got up, caught the runaway basketball, and bounced it toward Ryker for his turn, all the while making her whistle screech at the top of its teeny metal lungs.

Nine hundred clicks to go until I was Jerkface-and-cockroach-free for the day—but at least I felt better enough to stop counting clicks.

The cockroaches seemed to grasp that they had missed something as Ryker limped to his place at the foul line. They tried to jog toward him, but he waved them off and got ready to make his shot. Jerkface stood a lot straighter than I bothered to do, plus he was taller. His mom had played basketball in college and then gone pro and now she was on the city council, so Ryker thought he was something special every time he touched that ball. Really, all three of the cockroach crew thought they were something special, because everybody knew their parents. Plus, they had muscles and nice clothes and straight teeth and no zits and, of course, the newest phones.

Ryker drew in a breath and managed to side-eye me in the process. I smiled at him, as fake-sweet as I could manage. His cheeks flushed crimson.

Coach’s whistle stabbed into my brain over and over again.

Then a strange sound cut under the gym noises, and I thought somebody might be hurt and hollering. I made sure Ryker really was shooting that basketball and not coming after me, then checked the gym to see who had busted a knee.

Everyone was standing or running except Springer Regal, the new kid who had been my new actual friend and fellow detective for a week. Springer hated all things athletic, and he had a note to sit out because he had gotten stomach flu last month, and he told me he planned to ride it for all it was worth. He was tucked in at the very top of the bleachers, resting against the wall with a book as thick as Dad’s Shakespeare compendium, but he wasn’t yelling or anything.

The sound came again, a distant howl, like a pack of dogs or—wait.

Sirens?

Everybody stopped running and yelling.

Springer lifted his head, gazed in the direction of the noise, then looked at me, dread obvious in his wide brown eyes. He stood slowly, holding tight to his heavy book as another round of sirens wailed in the distance. The hairs along my arms and the back of my neck lifted, and despite the gym sweat dripping down the sides of my face, I shivered.

Coach Gray’s whistle punched deep into my mind, followed by her voice, higher-pitched than I’d ever heard it before.

“Hallway!” she shrieked. “Everyone! Hallway now! Go, go, go!”
About The Author
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Susan Vaught is the author of Edgar Award­–winning novel Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy. It was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Bank Street Best Book, and The Horn Book called it “compelling, offbeat, and fearless.” Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry was called “a provocative, sensitive, and oh-so-timely read,” by Kirkus Reviews in a starred review. Susan’s many books for teens include Trigger, which received three starred reviews and was an ALA Best Books for Young Adults. She is also the author of the picture book Together We Grow. She works as a neuropsychologist at a state psychiatric facility, specializing in helping people with severe and persistent mental illness, intellectual disability, and traumatic brain injury. She lives on a farm with her wife and son in rural western Kentucky.

Raves and Reviews

Jesse Broadview is trying to survive junior high just like everyone else—with the addition of doing it while having autism spectrum disorder—but it gets complicated when her English teacher father is arrested for stealing money from the school. Bullied at school, Jesse spends her time outside it training her Pomeranian, Sam-Sam, to be a bomb-sniffing dog just like her heroic, deployed mom's. Even though he's afraid of dogs, new kid Springer Regal is also a bit offbeat, and he and Jesse find similarities and strengths in each other. They decide they will have to investigate the theft in order to prove Jesse's dad's innocence, as the police are unlikely to take his claims seriously. Jesse and Springer narrow their list of suspects, but when a tornado rips through their small Kentucky town, further opportunities to be heroic abound. Moving back and forth in time, Vaught writes in Jesse's wry, distinct voice, allowing her to explain some of her sensitivities in a frank, matter-of-fact way: "new clothes don't have to be perfect. Just not itchy." Readers also see how even well-meaning neurotypicals can inadvertently echo the distancing gestures Jesse endures—and has to some extent internalized—from the actively cruel bullies. But over and above all this, Jesse is a vibrant, strong, smart, funny character who happens to have ASD. Jesse, her family, and Springer present white; ethnic diversity is indicated primarily through naming convention. An absorbing mystery about friendship, growth, and heroics. (author's note) (Mystery. 8-12)

– Kirkus Reviews, Feb 15, 2019

In a memorable week for Jesse, a devastating tornado comes to her small Kentucky town, she's faced with the traumatic sight of her dad in handcuffs after a large amount of money disappears from his desk at school, and confrontations with a trio of relentless bullies escalate. On top of that, she gains a solid new friend, a mystery to solve (who really took that money?), proof that her Pomeranian Sam-Sam has important hidden talents, and plenty of evidence that being on the spectrum doesn’t make her dumb, disabled, broken, or incapable of rising to the occasion. Led by her mom, who is deployed in Iraq but available for Skype conversations, and Springer, a big, quiet new kid who's quick on the uptake when it comes to meltdowns, good at respecting personal space, and not afraid to help with an investigation that ends up implicating school faculty and administration, Jesse gets a sensitive but not (except sometimes for her dad) overprotective support group. Her tale, told partly in flashbacks, ends in a flurry of high notes (with Sam-Sam the hero of the day). Edgar-winning Vaught, a neuropsychologist, has both personal and professional experience to draw on in crafting a narrator who is admirably smart and resilient despite an “itchy” brain and a compulsion to count things. — John Peters

– Booklist *STARRED REVIEW*, April 1, 2019

Middle-schooler Jesse is neurodivergent and bullied at school; when she befriends new kid Springer, who also identifies as having autism spectrum disorder, she at least no longer has to deal with the bullying alone. When Jesse’s dad, a teacher at the town high school, is arrested for allegedly stealing from the library fund, she and Springer form the “Observant But Weird In a Good Way Detective Agency” to investigate. Their explorations are a useful distraction from how much Jesse misses her mother, who is deployed in Iraq, and how traumatic it was to see her remaining parent handcuffed and dragged away. As Jesse, Springer, and Jesse’s Pomeranian, Sam-Sam, investigate the missing money, Jesse’s affinity for counting and attention to sensory details make this a charming account of friendship developing around the mutual consideration of needs. Soon enough, however, as a tornado destroys much of the town, Jesse is compelled to halt her rather impressive investigation and use Sam-Sam to help find survivors. Springer’s compassionate but assured ways of dealing with his new friend, her dog, and everyone around him coupled with Jesse’s goal-oriented focus casts even their bullies in a new light; the book makes the point that the special treatment of special needs kids can sometimes seem unfair to other youngsters with a lot on their own plates. This is a deeply smart and considerate little mystery, and while Jesse calls it on the solution, she still has to deal with some more personal things after this case is settled. An author’s note about neurodivergence adds context. 

– BCCB, April 2019

Gr 4-6–Words that describe Jesse Broadview include: dog lover, “Messy Jesse,” heroine,  and “on the spectrum.” Her quirkiness can lead to extreme behavior from burning tank tops that are too itchy, building a secret hideout in the forest, and throwing water bottles at bullies. Jesse’s life is clearly anything but typical, but when a tornado strikes her small Kentucky town and her father is accused of stealing money from the school library, Jesse faces her own apocalypse. Jesse will pave her own path as she dabbles in a first true friendship, navigates the mystery surrounding her father, and stands her ground against a fierce toronado. Vaught invites readers into Jesse’s world, which is simultaneously intriguing and jumbled. The novel bounces between the missing money mystery and the action building toward the tornado, which enhances the plot’s energy, but can initially cause confusion for readers. Vaught’s detailed accounts of events through Jesse’s perspective builds not only an understanding, but also an experience for the reader, and provides intimate insight on her neuroatypicality. VERDICT Highly recommended for school libraries as a strong addition to help diversify realistic fiction collections to include neuroatypical characters and heroines.–Mary-Brook J. Townsend, The McGillis School, Salt Lake City

– School Library Journal, April 2019

In this heartfelt middle grade mystery, an autistic girl becomes an amateur detective after money is stolen from her English teacher father’s desk at school and he is blamed for the theft. With the aid of her friend, new kid Springer Regal, and her faithful Pomeranian, Sam-Sam, Jesse Broadview sets out to clear her father by finding the true culprit, along the way repeatedly encountering “Jerkface and his pet cockroaches,” a trio of bullies. While the investigation plays out over the course of the week preceding the narrative, a storyline set in the present focuses on the immediate aftermath of a tornado that hit their small Kentucky town, where Jesse and Sam-Sam prove useful in aiding their neighbors. Along the way, Jesse narrates her experience “on the spectrum,” which manifests for her as touch sensitivity (“my new clothes don’t have to be perfect. Just not itchy”), an occupation with numbers, and the occasional meltdown. Vaught (Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood’s Revenge) brings training as a neuropsychologist to this sensitively told tale, and she offers a nuanced, normalizing portrayal of Jesse’s autism spectrum disorder alongside her other qualities. Between the charming protagonist, the engaging mystery, and a compelling emotional arc, the result is wholly satisfying.

– Publishers Weekly, April 8, 2019

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