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Dave at Nightby Gail Carson Levine
Synopses & Reviews
From the start, I've always made trouble. My mama died of complications from having me. I once joked about it to my older brother, Gideon. I said I could make trouble even before I was born. Gideon thought I was serious because he said, "You didn't do it on purpose, Dave. You were too young. You weren't even yourself yet."
No, I didn't do it on purpose, but probably I was fooling around in her belly, having a fine time, and I kicked or punched too hard, and one thing led to another, and she died.
About four years before he died, when I was seven, I got in trouble for smearing glue on the chair of Izzy, the class bully. My stepmother, Ida, had to go to P.S. 42 and promise the principal that I'd never smear glue on anybody's chair ever again. I never did, but Ida had to visit P.S. 42 often anyway. I batted a ball into our fourth-grade teacher's rear end (by accident'my aim wasn't that good). I fought with Izzy on the stairs. I let a mouse loose in our classroom. And more. Some things I didn't do but got blamed for because I'd done everything else.
Papa tried to be mad when I got into trouble. "You have to behave," he'd say.I'd say, "Yes, Papa."
"Ida can't do her work if she has to go to school because of you."
"I know." Ida made ladies' blouses on the sewing machine next to her and Papa's bed.
"This is the end of it, then. Yes?"
"Good." Then he always asked, "What happened?"
At the beginning of my story, he'd listen and frown, but then the frown would disappear and his shoulders would start toshake. A little while later he'd be laughing and wiping tears from his eyes.
Papa was a woodworker. Before he came to the United States, he made a cabinet for the sultan of Turkey. The sultan was so pleased with the three hidden drawers Papa put into it that he gave Papa a gold medal.
Whenever he told about the medal, Papa would laugh. "We had to come to this country because of the sultan," he'd say. "I didn't want any more work from him. If he liked what you did, he gave you a medal. If he didn't like it . . ."
Papa would drag a finger across his throat. ." . . Too bad for you." He'd laugh some more and add, "When we came to New York City, I sold the medal and bought your mama a dress."
But this wasn't the real reason Papa came to the United States. The real reason was too serious for him to talk about, so he'd joke about his medal instead. The truth was that there had been a war, and Greece had taken over the city where he lived. Papa and his family, the Caros family, had sided with Turkey, and so they all moved here when Greece won.
The day Papa died, I was late getting home after school. Detention and then stickball. When I got there, Gideon was sitting on the steps outside our building. As soon as I saw him, I knew something was wrong. He was never out here. He was always upstairs or at the library, studying. When I got close enough, I saw he had been crying.
"Papa . . ."
Papa was in the front room, lying on the couch where Gideon and I slept at night. He wasn't bleeding, but he didn't look right. He looked like Papa in a photograph, not like Papa. His face was too white, with gray shadows under hiseyes and on his cheeks.
He didn't move. Ida stood at the window, looking out. She didn't turn when I came in. Mrs. Stern from across the hall stood next to her, patting her back.
"I hit a home run, Papa. We won the game." I nudged his shoulder. His arm swung off the edge of the couch. His fingers dangled a few inches above the floor.I knew he was dead then, but I said to Gideon, "Did Papa break his arm?" And then I said to Papa, "I'll make you laugh so it won't hurt." But I couldn't think of anything funny. Then I remembered an old joke. "What did the caterpillar say to the boa constrictor?"
"Dave . . ." Gideon said.
Mrs. Stern left Ida and started toward me. She was going to hug me and I didn't want her to.
"No. Listen. Papa wants to hear it. The caterpillar said, 'I don't want to be around when you turn into a butterfly.'" I laughed. "Do you get it, Papa?" I leaned down and said right into his ear, "Isn't it funny? Don't you get it?"
From where she stood, Ida said, "Don't you get it? He's dead."
Mrs. Stern turned me away from Papa and held me. I stood stiffly against her. Ida went on talking. "In six months we would have moved out of here. We almost had enough saved up."
Gideon caught up with me after I'd gone a block. "Where are you going, Dave?"
"I'll show you how I got the homer." I threw the ball in the air and swung at it. I missed. I swung again andmissed. And again. And again. Once Gideon told me to stop, but I wouldn't. I kept swinging and missing. I started to cry."Why can't I hit it?" I said. "What's wrong with me?"
"You'll get it if you keep trying." Gideon was crying too.
"Why are you crying? You're not even trying to hit it." I laughed in the middle of crying. Then I connected. Crack.
Papa was dead.
The ball didn't go far. The stick, when I threw it with all my might, went farther and crashed into the brick wall outside the boys' toilet.
And then he went out, back straight, looking taller than he really was. Looking happy, because Papa was always happy. And now he was dead. He wouldn't be happy about being dead.
If nobody wants him, that's fine. He'll just take care of himself.
When his father dies, Dave knows nothing will ever be thesame. And then it happens. Dave lands in an orphanage — the cold and strict Hebrew Home for Boys in Harlem — far from the life he knew on the Lower East Side. But he's not so worried. He knows he'll be okay. He always is. If it doesn't work out, he'll just leave, find a better place to stay. But it's not that simple.
Outside the gates of the orphanage, the nighttime streets of Harlem buzz with jazz musicians and swindlers; exclusive parties and mystifying strangers. Inside, another world unfolds, thick with rare friendships and bitter enemies. Perhaps somewhere, among it all, Dave can find a place that feels like home.
01-02 Young Hoosier Book Award Masterlist (Gr 6-8), 02 Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Book Award Nominee Master List and 00-01 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Bk Award Masterlist
2000 Notable Children's Books (ALA) and 2000 Best Books for Young Adults (ALA)
About the Author
Gail Carson Levine grew up in New York City and has been writing all her life. Her first book for children, Ella Enchanted, was a 1998 Newbery Honor Book. Levine's other books include Dave At Night, an ALA Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults; The Wish; The Two Princesses of Bamarre; and the other five Princess Tales books: The Princess Test, The Fairy's Mistake, Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep, Cinderellis and the Glass Hill, and The Fairy's Return. She is also the author of the picture book Betsy Who Cried Wolf, illustrated by Scott Nash. Gail, her husband, David, and their Airedale, Baxter, live in a two-hundred-year-old farmhouse in the Hudson River Valley. In Her Own Words...
"EIla Enchanted began in a marvelous writing course at New York City's The New School. I had to write something and couldn't think of a plot, so I decided to write a Cinderella story because it already had a plot! Then, when I thought about Cinderella's character, I realized that she was too much of a goody-two-shoes for me and I would hate her before I finished ten pages. That's when I came up with the curse: she's only good because she has to be, and she's in constant rebellion.
"As a child I loved fairy tales because the story, the what-comes-next, is paramount. As an adult I'm fascinated by their logic and illogic. Ella's magic book gave me the chance to answer a question that always plagued me about The Shoemaker and the Elves: why the elves abandon the shoemaker. I came up with one answer, but many are possible — and I think the real solution goes to the heart of gratitude and recognition, an example of the depth in fairy tales.
"I grew up in New York City. In elementary school I was a charter member of the Scribble Scrabble Club, and in high school my poems were published in an anthology of student poetry. I didn't want to be a writer. First I wanted to act and then I wanted to be a painter like my big sister. In college, I was a Philosophy major, and my prose style was very dry and dull! My interest in the theater led me to my first writing experience as an adult. My husband David wrote the music and lyrics and I wrote the book for a children's musical, Spacenapped that was produced by a neighborhood theater in Brooklyn.
"And my painting brought me to writing for children in earnest. I took a class in writing and illustrating children's books and found that I was much more interested in the writing than in the illustrating.
"Most of my job life has had to do with welfare, first helping people find work and then as an administrator. The earlier experience was more direct and satisfying, and I enjoy thinking that a bunch of people somewhere are doing better today than they might have done if not for me."
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