Two adventurous kids try to solve a peculiar mystery in Pseudonymous Bosch’s “The Name of This Book is Secret.” Here's an excerpt.
Chapter Two: A Wednesday
It was a Wednesday.
A humble, unremarkable day. The middle child in the weekday family. A Wednesday has to work hard to be noticed. Most people let each one pass without comment.
But not the heroine of our story. She is the kind of girl who notices things that others don’t.
Wednesday is her favorite day. She believes it’s just when you least expect something earth-shattering to happen that it does.
According to Greek myth, the original Cassandra was a princess of ancient Troy. She was very beautiful, and Apollo, god of the sun, fell in love with her.
When she rejected him, Apollo became so angry he placed a curse on her: he gave her the power to predict the future, but he also ensured that nobody would believe her predictions. Imagine knowing that your whole world was about to be destroyed by a tornado or typhoon, and then having nobody believe you when you told them. What misery!
Unlike the Cassandra of myth, the girl who figures in our story is not a prophet. She cannot see into the future. Nor has she been cursed by a god, at least not to my knowledge. But she resembles a prophet in that she is always predicting disaster. Earthquakes, hurricanes, plagues — she is an expert in all things terrible and she sees evidence of them everywhere.
That is why I am calling her Cassandra — or Cass, for short.
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As you know, I cannot describe Cass in detail. But this much I will tell you: from the outside, Cass looks like a typical eleven-year-old. Her major distinguishing feature is that she has rather large, pointy ears. And before you tell me that I shouldn’t have told you about the ears, let me explain that she almost always covers her ears with her hair or with a hat. So chances are you will never see them.
While she may look like other girls, Cass is in other respects a very un-average sort of person. She doesn’t play games involving fortune-telling or jump rope or strings of any kind. She doesn’t even watch television very often. She doesn’t own a single pair of soft suede boots lined with fleece. She wouldn’t even want a pair, unless they were waterproof and could protect her in a snowstorm.
As you can tell, Cass is very practical; she has no time for trivial matters.
Her motto: Be Prepared.
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Her mission: to make sure that she and her friends and family survive all the disasters that befall them.
Cass is a survivalist.
These are things Cass carries in her backpack every day:
Silver Mylar space blanket — surprisingly warm if you haven’t tried one; also has useful reflective properties
Box of juice — usually grape, doubles as ink in a pinch
Bubble gum — for its sticking value, and because chewing helps her concentrate
Cass’s patented “super-chip” trail mix — chocolate chips, peanut-butter chips, banana chips, potato chips (and no raisins, ever!)
Topographic maps — of all the closest desert and mountain areas, as well as of Micronesia and the Galápagos Islands
Extra pair of socks and shoes — in case of flash floods and other wet conditions
Matches — technically not allowed at school
Plastic knife — because a jackknife is really not allowed
Schoolbooks and homework — when she remembers, which is not very often (she keeps forgetting to put schoolwork on her supplies checklist)
On the evidence of the items in her backpack, you might guess that Cass had led a very adventurous life. But you would be wrong. The truth is, up until the time this story begins, none of the disasters she predicted had befallen her. There’d been no earthquakes at school — none strong enough to shatter a window, anyway. The mildew in her mother’s shower turned out to be just that — not the killer mold Cass predicted. And that child spinning around on the grass did not have mad cow disease — he was just having a good time.
Cass didn’t exactly mind that her predictions hadn’t come true. After all, she didn’t wish for disaster. But she couldn’t help wishing people took her concerns more seriously.
Instead, everyone was always reminding her about the boy who cried wolf. Naturally, they took that story to mean the boy shouldn’t have cried wolf when there weren’t any. But Cass knew the true moral of the story: that the boy was right, there really were wolves around, and they’d get you in the end if you didn’t watch out.
Better to cry wolf over and over than never to cry wolf at all.
From "The Name of This Book Is Secret" by Pseudonymous Bosch. Copyright © 2007. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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