But before long, Anna finds herself involved in a very big problem. When she observes a girl her own age who seems to be being held against her will, Anna can't forget the girl's frightened eyes and she is determined to investigate. "When you see something, say something" she's been told—but what good does it do to speak if no one will listen? Luckily, a take-charge girl like Anna is not going to give up.
Told with Joan Bauer's trademark mixture of humor and heart, Tell Me will enthrall her many fans and win her new ones.
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Read an Excerpt
I am in the mall dressed like a cranberry, feeling the emotion of the moment.
What do I want to leave them with?
I’ve been seriously trained to ask this question.
I sit here thinking, and sitting isn’t easy because of the outfit I’m wearing. Every time I move, it puffs up.
“We’re ready, Anna.” That’s Lorenzo Lu, my best friend and acting partner.
“I’ll be right there. . . .”
What do I want to leave them with?
Sometimes I think in big, fat letters.
I study myself in the scratched mirror. My face is covered with red makeup, and my lips shine with ruby lipstick. I smooth out my round, red costume, adjust my red gloves, scratch my red tights. I think I’m allergic to these tights. I look at the pile of 20 percent off coupons from the Wide World of Cranberries store and feel a major surge of energy.
I want them to be happy they came.
I want them to know that this cranberry cares.
Lorenzo is wearing jeans, a red and white striped shirt, red socks, white shoes, and a big button that reads, I’M WITH THE CRANBERRY.
I wiggle my hips, aim my voice to the corner of the room. “Do I look fat in this?” My voice echoes back. Very few kids can do this trick.
Lorenzo laughs. “You look fat, Anna, because you are packed with antioxidants.”
Antioxidants are major players in the cranberry world.
Lorenzo sighs. His dad is Chinese and his mother is Italian; he’s got the best blend in his face. “I wish you didn’t have to go.”
Out in the mall, the music starts playing.
I can hear Mr. Dimsdale shout into his microphone, “And now, are you ready for the big fun?”
“Of course they are.” I scratch my tights again.
“I might have to go to the bathroom,” Lorenzo mentions.
I shake my head at him. The rule of performers everywhere in the galaxy is, The Show Must Go On.
“Heeeere she is!”
Lorenzo and I run out into the mall to wild applause.
A little girl shrieks, “Hi, Miss Berry!”
Lorenzo and I move to the beat.
The music makes you want to dance.
One . . .
Two . . .
Three . . .
Four . . .
I raise my hand and do a twirl; Lorenzo gets down and does a breakdance move.
The crowd loves this.
I do a shimmy as Lorenzo takes the mic from Mr. Dimsdale and declares, “For years, the cranberry was taken for granted. . . .”
I slump and look sad.
“For years the cranberry’s nutritional contents were known to only a few. . . .”
I look pathetically unappreciated. People laugh.
“But, the truth is now known. . . .”
I jump up and make a noise.
“Cranberries are among the world’s healthiest foods!”
I spin around at this news.
“So healthy that an entire store has been dedicated to cranberries in every form.”
I point to the Wide World of Cranberries store and clap my hands.
Then Lorenzo goes off script. “Cranberries,” he shouts. “They’re not just for UTIs anymore.”
Women laugh hard. Fred Dimsdale looks nervous.
“What’s a UTI?” a little boy asks his mother.
“Urinary tract infection,” the mother says quietly.
Lorenzo has three older sisters and knows about these things. “This,” he declares, “is the sale of the century!”
Actually, the store has only been open since April, but you get the idea. I run into the shop and people follow me.
I look at the anti-aging supplement display, bounce my voice there.
“Let’s hit it!” I say and my voice echoes back.
A little boy yells, “How did you do that?”
Years of practice, child. That’s the short answer.
I dance with kids. I do the slide. I say, “We’re so glad you’re shopping with us today!”
When someone buys something, I have to shout, “Antioxidants rule!” It’s not an easy line.
But I know how to deliver.
Fred Dimsdale, the owner of the cranberry store, saw me perform one of my most heartbreaking roles as a radish at the Children’s Drama Workshop—a lonely, rejected radish singing my heart out—and he was deeply moved.
“Can you play other produce, kid? Something cheerier? I felt your pain with the radish, but . . .”
The song I sang as a radish was written by Charlie Chaplin, a famous mime who made a fortune by saying absolutely nothing, but he wrote a song about how you’ve got to smile no matter what.
“I can play other produce,” I assured him.
The cranberry is a non-singing part, which is fine by me. I’ve had some issues singing—my mouth gets dry. I get hoarse and nervous.
But that moment as a singing radish—I sang like I always hoped I could.
Lorenzo and I have been doing four shows a day every weekend since the store opened. Fred Dimsdale offered to extend us through the summer, but I’m not going to be in town.
I’ve got to go stay with my grandmother in Virginia because of all the things happening in my family.
My mom and dad’s marriage isn’t doing so well.
“Puffy hug!” I shout, and little kids run up and hug my padding.
I added the hug move last week. Mr. Dez, my drama coach, always says, “Use a part of what you need in the role you’re playing.”
More and more these days, I really need a good hug.
Fred Dimsdale hands me my check. “You brought the heart of a cranberry to every performance, kid. I’m going to miss you. It won’t be the same.” He looks over at Jeremy Pearlmutter, who is going to play the cranberry after me. Jeremy is here to observe me doing the act, but so far all he’s done is yawn and scratch his neck. He hasn’t asked me one question about the experience. I don’t think Jeremy will lose himself in the role.
“Thanks for giving me a job, Mr. Dimsdale.”
“Call me when you get back, kid. First thing.” He sounds desperate.
“I will.” I shake his hand.
I walk to the back of the store, into the little office, and change out of the costume. Usually I wear it home—when a cranberry is walking down the street, people want to know more.
I put the costume on a hanger, use makeup remover to get the red off my face.
In real life, I look nothing like a cranberry.
I’m medium height. I have curly auburn hair that falls in my face. People say I’m pretty. I’ve got dark brown eyes like my dad.
I used to be closer to my dad than I am now.
Lorenzo and I walk to the escalator.
“Tell me again why you’re leaving,” he says.
I sigh. “I know it’s a bad time for me to go.”
Lorenzo throws back his head. “There would never be a good time for you to go. I’m going to have to work in my uncle’s drug store this summer, Anna—three days a week—totally exposed to sick people. I mean, if some major viral strain breaks out . . .” Lorenzo squirts antiseptic cleaner on his hands. “And we’re going to have to talk about our future! Eighth grade isn’t looking good!”
I know that, too. The high school has an after-school drama program, but we’re not in high school yet. The middle school has nothing. We’re too old for the Children’s Drama Workshop. They kick you out on your twelfth birthday into the big, cold world.
We head down the escalator.
I wonder what’s going to happen with my parents while I’m away.
I wonder if staying with Mim, my grandmother, is the right thing—maybe my parents need me around and they just don’t know it.
Lorenzo puts his hand on my shoulder. “Just remember, Anna, cranberries are the bravest fruit.”
I square my shoulders to prove he’s right.
We walk to the entrance of the mall. I feel all the mess twisting me up inside. It’s easy to pretend everything is fine when you’re in a cranberry suit—you can hide from the world because no one can see the real you.
When it’s just you and your face and heart out there, it’s so much harder.
I walk into my house and try not to look at the table. I told Mom we should have a sheet over it or something.
I do look at it though—our dining room table, on its side, broken.
Everything else in our dining room has been picked up. Everything but the memories.
I try to remember the good times we had in this room—the holidays, my birthday parties, the time Dad and I decorated the dining room like Hawaii for Mom’s birthday, with paper palm trees and huge flowers.
One stupid moment can change everything.
It happened eight days ago when Dad picked me up at the mall after my cranberry gig. Driving with Dad isn’t easy.
He was driving too fast, like he always does, when a man in a black sports car cut him off. Dad takes these things personally.
“Dad, remember you’re not supposed to—”
He sped after the guy, shouting out the window.
“Dad! It was, tops, an SDM.” That stands for Small Dumb Move. Lorenzo and I created anger management phrases to help my father get a grip. They don’t always work.
The guy in the black car made The Ultimate Bad Gesture. My father went radioactive.
“JDT!” I hollered (Jerks Do This).
But the anger was driving Dad and wouldn’t let go. He got too close to the guy’s car.
“Dad, pull over!”
The guy in the black car almost hit us. Dad leaned on the horn. The guy pulled over; Dad did, too. The man in the black car got out, screaming. He stormed over to us, glared at me, and hollered, “What are you?”
I was still in the fruit suit.
“Don’t yell at my daughter!”
“I’m a cranberry!” I screamed. “A helpless cranberry. I’m just trying to get home.”
The guy stared at me. At the Children’s Drama Workshop, one of the things we learned was, Use the pain.
I shrieked, “And I have to go to the bathroom!”
A police car drove up. “What’s going on?” the cop demanded.
I raised my hand. “Permission to get out of the car, officer.”
The cop nodded. I got out, waddled over, and gave the man and the policeman a 20 percent off coupon.
I mentioned the bathroom again, told them to stop by the store, waddled back to the car.
The angry man snarled, “Where do you think you’re going, ace?”
The cop pocketed his coupon. “The cranberry has to go to the bathroom.”
I’m still trying to decide if I bribed a policeman.
Dad pulled out; his eyes were fierce. “Nobody does that to me, Anna. Nobody!”
It was like opening a dam. All the water came rushing out.
Back home, Mom didn’t let Dad cool down. She got right in his face. “What happened?”
Big mistake. That made him madder.
So mad, he turned over the dining room table. Dishes broke. The vase of flowers crashed to the floor.
Mom screamed, “Brian, what is the matter with you?”
That was the Big Question we’d been asking all year.
Left Mom standing there.
Left me trying to get out of my cranberry suit.
Left Peanut, my dog, shaking in the corner.
Mom started crying. “Enough. It’s enough.”
The next day Mom and I went to see Jen, our family therapist. Mom announced, “Your dad and I . . . well, we’re going to be separated for awhile.”
I’d been expecting this, but the news still hit like a baseball smashing a window.
“And, Anna, I’m thinking about . . . well, not just thinking, I’ve made the decision to stay with Uncle Barry for a while.” Barry is her brother. He lives in New Jersey. His wife collects miniature eggs with little forest animals peeking out of them. They’re all over the house. Mom hates it there.
I looked at my hands. “Where am I going to be?”
I felt this rumble in my chest like a monster was in there. I had to bend over, even though I was sitting. I put my head between my legs.
Mom said, “Breathe, honey,” like I was sitting there with my head between my legs holding my breath.
“Slow in, slow out,” Jen added.
I got the rhythm of that. I sat up.
Then we talked about me staying with my grandmother for “awhile.”
Nobody defined “awhile.”
“Anna, the flower festival is in a few weeks,” Mom mentioned.
Mim lives in Rosemont, this tiny town in Virginia that lives and breathes flowers. The whole town turns out for the flower festival. Tourists come from all over.
I said nothing.
“Honey, your dad needs to get hold of his anger, and while he does that I think he needs for us not to be around. Okay?”
Mim is Dad’s mother, but she and Mom are amazingly close. And it’s not that I didn’t love my grandmother, but why did my parents want to live someplace without me?
Mom leaned forward. She looked so pale. “This is colossally hard on everybody. I want you to be in a place that’s peaceful. I need, honestly, some space to work this through. Okay?”
I shook my head. None of this was okay.
“Certainly, Anna, if you don’t want to do this—”
“I don’t know what I want! I just heard that my parents are splitting up.”
“Separating, Anna. . . .”
I pulled out my phone, went to the dictionary. “Separate,” I announced. “To divide, to disunite, to become disconnected or severed.”
Jen stepped in. “It’s good to define a word, Anna, but sometimes that can label a thing too harshly. Separation can be a step toward divorce, but not always.”
Mom leaned forward. “Anna, do you want to stay with me at Barry’s?”
I shook my head no, but at least she offered.
We sat there not talking.
Then I asked. I had to.
“Do you love him, Mom?”
She shifted in her chair. “Your dad and I have been married for nineteen years.”
“Do you love him?”
Her shoulders sagged. “Honestly, I don’t know.”
That was my week.
I stand in the dining room. My suitcase is packed and by the door. Peanut, my dachshund, isn’t sure about anything.
“It’s okay, girl.”
Peanut knows this is a deep lie.
“All right, it’s not exactly okay, but we’re going to handle this.”
Peanut looks at my suitcase.
“I don’t think I’ll be gone too long.”
She looks at me. Peanut has been my dog for eight years—it’s hard to put anything over on her.
“I hope I won’t be gone too long.”
I see a piece of broken glass on the floor. I pick it up.
Brian, what is the matter with you?
I wonder how anger got so popular—people screaming on TV, ranting on the news, politicians yelling at each other. None of it seems to do much good.
I throw the broken glass into the trash, sit on the floor, and let Peanut crawl in my lap. “I got a card,” I tell her.
She sniffs the envelope.
“Does it smell like Lorenzo?” I open the envelope Lorenzo gave me, take out the yellow card. “Yellow is our favorite color, right?”
HAVE AN AMAZING ADVENTURE, ANNA!
COME BACK SOON OR I’M GOING TO BE IRRITATED!
I smile. Lorenzo is the best friend ever. Inside he wrote:
* pea in a pod
* irritated gerbil
* top of totem pole
* Health Week monkey
* beloved oak tree
These are some of the roles I’ve played over the years. Lorenzo says every role an actor plays stays with them and makes them stronger.
* comic cupcake
* angry worm
* amazing dancing cranberry
* the lead in Cinderella, the Early Years
* lonely radish
Right now I’m feeling mostly like a lonely radish.
I could sing the “Smile” song, but I don’t want to.
Mom comes down the stairs stiffly. “Well, honey, are you ready?”
It won’t do any good to mention that I’m not.
We lug my stuff out to the car.
We drop Peanut next door with Mr. Vincenzo, who balances a dog biscuit on his nose, and Peanut hops up to get it. This is their big trick.
I give her a hug. “You be a good dog.”
That gets a tail wag.
Mom and I fold our arms across our chests exactly the same way, then we thank Mr. Vincenzo and head out the door.
“Well . . .” Mom doesn’t finish the thought. We walk to our car, get in.
Mom sighs, starts the Malibu, and drives down Pine Street toward the Schuykill Expressway.
HAVE AN AMAZING ADVENTURE, ANNA!
COME BACK SOON OR I’M GOING TO BE IRRITATED!
I’m not sure about this being an amazing adventure.
I am sure that I need a vacation from my life.
Not a forever vacation, though. A couple of weeks should give my parents enough time to fix things.
I watch the road signs leading us out of Philadelphia to I-76.
I slump in my seat. It’s official—the cranberry has left the city.
We’ve been driving for two hours. Mom is getting emotional.
“I need to say this, Anna. I’m just so sad about all that’s happened, and you know that your dad and I are going to be seeing Jen regularly while you’re gone.”
I know that. Uncle Barry’s house is an hour from Philadelphia.
“And I’m hoping you won’t worry, honey, because I know how worry can wear you down.”
I bite my thumbnail, not that there’s much nail left.
Mom says if I stop biting my nails, she and I can go get a manicure.
Me, I’m not the manicure type.
“And I’ve been thinking,” Mom adds. “If you feel dizzy . . .”
“I’ll sit down, Mom. Unless, I’m walking across a busy street, or I’m running away from evil.”
“Tell you what. Avoid evil, honey. Got it?”
No worry allowed.
No evil allowed.
If I feel dizzy, sit down,
but not in the street.
“Anna, are you listening to me?”
“I just want to make sure—”
“Mom, I want to talk, but could we do it a little later?”
She takes a big breath and nods. “We’re making good time.”
We’re in Baltimore; an hour later, D.C.
Already I miss my life.
I can hear Mr. Dez at the Children’s Drama Workshop asking, “So, what are you about?”
You have to know this when you’re an actor, because if you don’t know that, you can’t pull from who you are. You won’t make your mark.
No matter what size role you get—and I’ve had some dinky parts, believe me—you’ve got to hang onto this:
There’s something that only I can bring to this part, and I’m going for it.
Lorenzo and I were the only four-year-olds enrolled in the Children’s Drama Workshop, but we didn’t coast through on adorableness alone. We practiced hard, we learned our lines, and we worked our way up from playing two peas in a pod (in the world premier of Jonathan, Eat Your Vegetables), to almost starring roles.
My mom and dad came to every performance. Dad always laughed in the perfect places. He has the best laugh of any father.
Except for this past year. He’s not been laughing much.
I feel a rumble in my chest. I roll down the window and suck in as much fresh air as I can. I didn’t used to have trouble breathing. I got checked for asthma, but I don’t have that.
When dad started changing, it got to me—I was closer to him than to my mom, but anger separates people. It’s a wall that goes up. I kept trying to do things that would make him feel better, like making cookies and asking him if he wanted to watch a funny movie. Neither one did much for his mood.
I feel a little dizzy, put my head down. This is a dead giveaway.
“Anna, are you okay?”
I know I don’t seem all that strong right now, but I am strong!
I get things done. I don’t give up.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Tell Me:
"Bauer establishes a multi-faceted plot combining crime drama with a modern coming of age story. Anna’s voice rings clear through first-person narration, allowing readers to sing, cry, and smell the flowers along with the protagonist. Short chapters and smart dialogue keep the pace moving. Ultimately, Bauer twists the widespread divorce issue into a lesson on empathy, inviting readers to keep their minds and eyes alert to worlds other than their own." —School Library Journal
"In this novel filled with comedy and drama. . . Bauer skillfully weaves subplots together as Rosemont citizens (and Anna's parents) rise to the challenge of solving the mystery." —Publishers Weekly
"There are numerous, valuable messages for readers here: pay attention, trust your instincts, and speak up; sometimes being brave is about small, uncertain steps that we take; and helping others helps us, too. Humor and hope are balanced throughout, making this a good recommendation for those who prefer a serious topic treated with a less heavy hand and a happy ending." —VOYA
"Bauer manages the difficult feat of folding the topic of human trafficking into a middle-grade novel about daily-life family and peer struggles; in fact, Anna’s conviction that the missing girl matters is part and parcel of her character throughout, as she similarly commits whole-heartedly to her acting efforts and beloved friends. . . Readers will appreciate the story for Bauer’s classic and relatable heroine who pursues her goal through adversity." —BCCB
"Bauer has done an exceptional job of informing young readers about human trafficking without being heavy-handed or speaking down to her audience." —LMC
Close to Famous: Winner of the ALA Schneider Family Book Award, Christopher Award, Judy Lopez Memorial Prize, An Amazon Top Ten Middle Grade Book, a YALSA/ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults pick; Hope Was Here: Newbery Honor Book, Christopher Award, ALA Notable Book; Rules of the Road: Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Golden Kite Award, ALA Notable Book, Best Book for Young Adults.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
OMG!!! I love this book!!!! I don't own it on my nook, but I own the paperback!!! I've read it so many times it's almost ruined!!! This is a MUST READ TO ANYONE AGES 1-1000!!! Especially if your a twelve year old like Anna McConnell!!! Did you know this book is based on a true story! When I found that out it was so touching because this book feels so real and now I know is was!! I pray for kids around the world like Kim Su and am thankful for how lucky I am to not have to deal with anything like that!!