Girl on the Ferris Wheel
Julie Halpern, Len Vlahos
Published by: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: January 12th 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
In Girl on the Ferris Wheel, Julie Halpern and Len Vlahos expertly tackle this quirky and poignant romance that explores what first love really means—and how it sometimes hurts like hell.
Tenth graders Eliana and Dmitri could not be more different. He’s an outgoing, self-confident drummer in a punk band called Unexpected Turbulence. Eliana is introspective and thoughtful, and a movie buff who is living with depression.
Dmitri quite literally falls for Eliana when he sees her in gym class and slams into a classmate. The pair then navigate the ins and outs of first love. Exciting, scary, unexpected, and so much more difficult than they ever imagined. They say opposites attract, but they soon realize that there is so much they just don’t understand about each other. It begs the question: How long can first love possibly last when you’re so different?
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School days after gig nights are the worst, especially if the gig was on a Sunday. As if Mondays need any new reasons to suck. My mother’s already yelled up the stairs three times—the first two in English, the last one in Greek—for me to get out of bed. It’s not until Yia Yia, my grandmother, pokes her head into the room that I finally stir. She’s wearing the same plain gray dress she always wears. One of these days I’m going to sneak into her closet to see how many of these dresses she owns. She either has like fifteen, or she wears the same one over and over again. Inquiring minds want to know.
“Dmitri-moo.” Her accent is thick, but her voice is sweet. “Don’t make you mother work so hard. Nico ees downstairs already, you go too, nαι?” I like it that Yia Yia speaks to me in English. I know more than enough Greek to converse with her, but she works hard at trying to fit in, to be more American, and I appreciate it. She definitely works harder than my parents.
“Dmitri!” My mother’s voice rattles the window. “Ελλα εδώ τώρα!” Come here, now!
“He coming!” my grandmother shouts. “Give boy a chance!”
“Thanks, Yia Yia,” I say through a yawn. She turns, winks at me, and leaves the room.
I reach for my phone and scroll through the texts from last night. “Great gig!” “You guys killed it!” “The drums never sounded better!” I flop my head back on the pillow and smile.
When I hit the kitchen dressed and ready to go, my brother, Nico, two years younger, is already at the table reading a book. Nicky always has his face buried in a book. I swear it’s why he needs glasses. This one is something called The Last True Love Story.
“How was the gig?” he asks, looking up.
“Great,” I answer. “There were a ton of kids there. What are you reading?”
Nicky kind of smirks. He does that like he’s in on a joke and no one else knows the punch line. “You’d like it. It’s got a punk rock theme with a kick-ass girl bass player.”
“Yeah?” I ask, intrigued.
“Language!” my mother barks at my brother’s use of the word “ass.” She’s emptying the dishwasher.
“When did you learn curse words, Mitera?” Nicky taunts.
“Enough. Read you book and eat you breakfast. What you want, Dmitri? What I cook for you?”
“You don’t have to make me breakfast, Ma. I can handle it myself.” I open the cupboard and reach for the cereal.
“I like to help!”
“Let the boy get his own breakfast.” I didn’t hear my father come in. He’s dressed in a suit, the same gray suit he wears every day. I wonder if he and Yia Yia shop at some secret gray clothing store just for Greeks. “You out too late again last night.”
“Sorry, Dad, but the gig went long. And then, you know, we had to pack up and stuff.”
“Gig.” He spits the word like an olive pit. “You concentrate on school work. In two years you apply to colleges. You need scholarship money.”
I pour some Cap’N Crunch in a bowl but don’t answer. How can I tell my dad I have no intention of going to college? What good will college do if all I want is to play music? He’s either gonna have a heart attack or ground me for life when he finds out. Probably both.
Nicky looks up from his book and glances at me. He knows my post–high school plans but has been sworn to secrecy. We make eye contact, he shrugs his shoulders and goes back to his punk rock love story.
“Hurry,” my mom says to my father, “you going to be late for work.”
“I never late for work!” my father answers with pride. It’s actu- ally true. My father has never been late for anything in his entire life. It’s weird, like he’s some kind of time lord. We can leave our house at four thirty to go someplace an hour away, and somehow we still arrive by five. Just. Weird.
I take the drumsticks out of my back pocket—I always carry sticks in my back pocket, because, well, you never know—put them on the table, and sit down. I prop my phone against a small vase of flowers my mother likes to keep fresh, and plug in the earbuds.
“What is this?” my father asks, an annoyed look on his face. “I’m going to watch a movie.”
“A movie?” he bellows. “Our people did not invent physiki,
mathematics, and drama for you to watch movies at the breakfast.” “It’s ‘at breakfast’ or ‘at the breakfast table,’” I correct him. “And actually, Dad, they kind of did. Streaming content on a phone is the perfect blend of science and art, don’t you think? Aristotle would be proud.” I’m not sure if my dad understands that I’m tweaking him. His sense of humor is more slapstick than subtle. He laughs himself stupid at old Mel Brooks movies. I have to admit, I kind of do, too. “It’s okay,” I assure him. “This is for school.”
“You watch movies . . . for school?” His annoyance blends with confusion.
“Yeah, for my film studies class. We’re getting grounded in clas- sics before we start to learn how to make our own movies.”
“Movies in school,” he half says, half mutters. “How this coun- try become superpower is mystery to me.”
“Hurry,” my mother admonishes again, “you going to be late!” Mom creates a constant aura of free-floating energy that attempts to consume all in its path, like something from a science-fiction story.
“Baaaah,” my father grumbles, as if the mere thought of being late is ridiculous.
“What movie?” Nicky asks.
“North by Northwest. It’s kind of long, but Mr. Tannis says the way Hitchcock framed certain shots to create tension was groundbreaking.” I shove a spoonful of the Cap’n in my mouth and add, “I’m liking it.”
Yia Yia enters the kitchen, takes her favorite teacup—fake por- celain, blue with a noticeable chip—and pours a small serving of thick black coffee. Yia Yia drinks more coffee than a cop. “When you boys get girlfriends?”
Nicky and I groan in unison.
“What? They not have Greek girls at you school?”
Nicky just shakes his head and goes back to his book.
“Yia Yia,” I answer, “between my band and school, I don’t have
time for girlfriends.”
Yia Yia smiles, this time like she’s in on a joke no one else under-
stands. At least now I see where Nicky gets it. “Time and love are like river. Sometimes they take you where you do not know you need to go.”
Great. My Greek grandmother could have a second career writ- ing fortune cookies.
The truth is, I’ve never had a girlfriend. I did have one date in the eighth grade: Jessica—long hair, straight bangs, and a really nice laugh. We went ice skating, which meant that she did twirls in the middle of the rink while I hugged the wall. I might be the only boy in Minnesota who doesn’t know how to skate, let alone play hockey.
Anyway, when we got hot chocolate and hot pretzels after, she talked about books and current events like she was a college stu- dent or something. I was intimidated. I’m not dumb, but I didn’t think I was smart enough for her.
It was really soon after that I got into the band.
It’s not that I haven’t noticed girls since then, but really, it’s eas- ier to just focus on the band. There’s less drama this way. Well, mostly.
Julie Halpern is the award-winning author of seven young adult novels, one novel for adults, and one picture book for young readers. In her imaginary spare time she enjoys traveling, making cosplay for her kids, and eating baked goods. Julie lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, Caldecott-winning author and illustrator Matthew Cordell, and their two children.
Len Vlahos dropped out of NYU film school in the mid ’80s to play guitar and write songs for Woofing Cookies, a punk-pop four piece that toured up and down the East Coast, and had two singles and one full-length LP on Midnight Records. After the band broke up, he followed his other passion, books. He is the author of The Scar Boys, a William C. Morris Award finalist and a #1 Indie Next pick, and Scar Girl, the book’s sequel. Len lives in Denver with his wife and two young sons, where he owns the Tattered Cover Book Store.
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