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Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy

About The Book

Winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery
Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year

“Like its heroine, this contemporary mystery is compelling, offbeat, and fearless.” —The Horn Book

“A sensitive, suspenseful mystery that deftly navigates the uncertainty of mental illness.” —Kirkus Reviews

Footer Davis is on the case when two kids go missing after a fire in this humorously honest novel that is full of Southern style.

“Bless your heart” is a saying in the South that sounds nice but really isn’t. It means, “You’re beyond help.” That’s what folks say about fifth grader Footer Davis’s mom, who “ain’t right” because of her bipolar disorder. She just shot a snake in Footer’s yard with an elephant gun, and now she’s been shipped off to a mental hospital, and Footer is missing her fiercely yet again.

“Bless their hearts” is also what folks say about Cissy and Doc Abrams, two kids who went missing after a house fire. Footer wants to be a journalist and her friend Peavine wants to be a detective, so the two decide to help with the mystery of the missing kids. But when visiting the crime scene makes Footer begin to have “episodes” of her own, she wonders if maybe she’s getting sick like her mom, and that’s a mystery that she’s not at all sure she wants to solve.


Footer Davis Probably is Crazy CHAPTER 1

Nine Days After the Fire
The day my mother exploded a copperhead snake with an elephant gun, I decided I was genetically destined to become a felon or a big-game hunter. That was good, since I had tried being a ballerina, poet, artist, and musician, and I sucked at all of those.

Mom cleaned out a third of the water from our backyard pond with the snake shot, but that wasn’t the best part. “You flew backward up the hill seven whole feet.” I prodded her hip with my toe. “That was special. You should try out for the circus.”

The air smelled like spring flowers and gunpowder. Mom grunted and said something like “crouton,” and something else that sounded like a swear word. She was probably trying to tell me to burn the snake’s carcass, because that’s what she did with all the snakes she killed.

“We don’t have to burn the snake,” I told her. “Nothing left of this one.”

Mom’s red hair splayed across the pine needles under her head, and her pretzel-shaped barrettes glittered in the sunlight. I couldn’t stand those barrettes. They looked like something little kids wore. A bruise was spreading across Mom’s shoulder and chest. The elephant gun lay in the holly bushes across the yard. Wicked. I couldn’t believe it flew that far. My BB gun, Louise, punched like a scared little sister when I fired her. Dad’s big rifle had to kick like a rhinoceros.

I was carrying Louise because Peavine and his sister, Angel, were on their way over so we could go searching for two kids who went missing after a fire, but I figured I should keep Louise out of Mom’s line of sight. I set her down behind me, careful to keep my hand on her barrel so I didn’t drop her in the grass. After that kickback, one look at a BB gun might send Mom straight into a screaming fit.

Mom had on green eye shadow that matched her shirt and sandals and her brand-new bruise. The sandals had green sparklies, too, the same color as her eyes, which I couldn’t see because she kept squeezing them shut. “Dad’s gonna be ticked that you pried open his gun case,” I said.

“Crouton,” Mom mumbled. And then I realized she was trying to say, “Call your father,” except she couldn’t open her mouth all the way.

“It’s okay,” I told her. “I hear sirens. They might be after you, but Captain Armstrong’s charging up and down the main road in his running clothes and hollering ‘INCOMING,’ so maybe it’s him they want.”

“Fontana. Call. Your father.”

“Fiiiine.” She just had to use my proper name. Blech. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and speed-dialed Dad while I asked her, “Aren’t you glad he won the fight about getting me a phone?”

Mom didn’t answer.

The phone rang twice before Dad picked up with, “Honey, you know I’m busy.”

I could hear people talking in the background because he worked as a dispatch officer in Bugtussle, Mississippi’s 9-1-1 call center. It was an important job, and a good one to have, with Mom as his wife and me as his daughter.

“Mom shot a copperhead with your old Nitro Express rifle,” I told him. “We’ll be picking snake guts off the roof for a year.”

It got so quiet on Dad’s end that I could almost make out what the other operators were saying. A lot of those calls were probably about the blast that just came from Sixty Erlanger Lane, because canon fire was unusual in our neighborhood. We lived on a nice cul-de-sac, in a big house with a basement that backed up to a pond in front of some woods. In Mississippi, all water had snakes, especially if it was muddy. Snakes didn’t care what kind of neighborhood you lived in.

Mom groaned and shifted on the ground. A piece of mangled copperhead blopped off a nearby pine branch, which would have grossed me out if I had been a normal girl, but I was so far from normal, it wasn’t even funny—except, of course, when it was.

“I’ll be right home,” Dad said. I waited for it, and a second later it came. “I’m sorry, Footer. I know this has got to stop.”

About The Author


Susan Vaught is the two-time Edgar Award­–winning author of Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy and Me and Sam-Sam Handle the ApocalypseThings Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry received three starred reviews, and Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood’s Revenge was called “an excellent addition to middle grade shelves” by School Library Journal. Her debut picture book, Together We Grow, received four starred reviews and was called a “picture book worth owning and cherishing” by Kirkus Reviews. She works as a neuropsychologist at a state psychiatric facility and lives on a farm with her wife and son in rural western Kentucky. Learn more at

About The Illustrator

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books (March 3, 2015)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781481422765
  • Grades: 5 - 9
  • Ages: 10 - 14
  • Lexile ® 800L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

"I was so far from normal, it wasn't even funny—except, of course, when it was," remarks Footer Davis, establishing the tone for an investigation into missing kids and parental mental illness. For Footer, normality includes her mother going off her medication and pulverizing snakes with an elephant gun, leading to hospitalization for her bipolar disorder. Coinciding with her mother's latest episode is the case of two children who disappeared in a fire after a murder, which Footer and her friends are determined to solve, their record of the investigation playing out via interviews and banter in their notebooks. The notebook entries provide levity, light romance and strong touches of character development in an increasingly tense plot. Suddenly, Footer is seeing a girl in flames and hearing her mother's voice. What if Footer is inheriting her mother's illness? Worse, what if her mother was involved in the murder? When everything seems like a symptom on the Internet, the line between "normal" and "crazy" blurs, and Vaught traces it with realistic care. As Footer tries to make sense of her mother's disjointed conversations, the line touches her mother, too—readers will be moved and reassured to discover that even in her illness, her mother is still a mother, watching out for Footer in her own ways. A sensitive, suspenseful mystery that deftly navigates the uncertainty of mental illness.

– Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2015

As fifth-grader Footer Davis and her best friend, Peavine Jones, investigate the shooting of an elderly farmer and the disappearance of his grandchildren, Footer begins to wonder whether she is going crazy like her mother and, worse, if her bipolar mother is a murderer. This suspenseful story, set in a small Mississippi town, explores themes of domestic violence and mental illness in a way that highlights the support of caring parents, neighbors, and other adults. In the course of the second week after the fire that destroyed the Abrams’ house and, perhaps, killed the children, Footer begins to experience what she first thinks are hallucinations and later decides are flashbacks to the night of the tragedy. Her first-person narrative is interrupted by entries from Peavine’s investigative notebooks, Footer’s school essays, and her changing theories. This tightly woven mystery also includes a tender friendship evolving into something more. That Peavine navigates on crutches is so matter-of-factly treated, readers may not even notice. For middle-graders, this is a sympathetic exploration of some difficult issues.

– Booklist, February 15, 2015

Eleven-year-old Footer Davis’s mother, Adele, is notorious in their small Mississippi hometown—“she’s a pretty thing,” the neighbors say, “but she ain’t right, bless her heart.” After shooting off an elephant rifle in their backyard, Adele, who has bipolar disorder, is admitted to a psychiatric hospital, leaving Footer temporarily motherless. To distract herself from her mother’s worsening condition, budding journalist Footer investigates a dramatic unsolved local crime—someone shot Mr. Abrams, burned down his farm, and possibly kidnapped his grandchildren. With help from her best friend Peavine, an aspiring detective with cerebral palsy, Footer interviews neighbors, takes crime-scene photographs, and researches the habits of serial killers. Her 911-dispatcher father humors her at first, but her efforts lead to serious consequences, including false accusations and disturbing visions that lead Footer to question her own mental stability. Footer’s lively narrative voice and irreverent sense of humor add levity to the heavy subject matter. The troubling mental “symptoms” that worry Footer are eventually revealed to be clues pointing toward the fate of the missing children—a clever conclusion, but perhaps too tidy for a story that so deftly illuminates the painful, complex uncertainties of life with a mentally ill parent. Like its heroine, this contemporary mystery is compelling, offbeat, and fearless.

– Horn Book, March/April 2015

Nine days after a neighbor is shot on his farm and the man’s two grandchildren disappear, 11-year-old Fontana “Footer” Davis, her best friend Peavine, and his younger sister set out to find out what happened. Their investigation takes them to the farm, which burned down that same night, and their interviews with townsfolk appear throughout, along with Footer’s amusing school assignments (Reinhardt provides doodles on Footer’s behalf). Complicating the investigation are Footer’s visions of the fire. Is it possible that she was there that night and has repressed the memory? Or is Footer following in the footsteps of her mother, who just been taken to a psychiatric ward? Vaught (Insanity) deftly portrays the pain of having a mentally ill parent, capturing Footer’s simultaneous love for and resentment of her mother, as well as her fears for her own sanity. The unusual and entertaining residents of Footer’s small Mississippi town bring moments of humor to a well-plotted mystery that effectively explores some serious themes.

– Publishers Weekly

Twelve-year-old Footer Davis wants to be a journalist, and her best friend, Peavine, wants to be a detective, so the two set out to solve the mystery of their neighbor’s murder and the fire that may have killed his two grandchildren. Footer’s distracted from her investigations, though, when her mother is hospitalized for bipolar dis- order. Now Footer has to deal with a nosy social worker, a teacher she hates, and some pesky hallucinations that might be traumatic memories of abuse she actually witnessed or might be, she fears, indications that she too will suffer from the same mental illness as her mom. Footer’s tongue is as sharp as her mind, and she has no problem sticking up for herself, even when the odds are against her. Vaught keeps up the energy of the reading experience by mixing in various other elements, in- cluding Footer’s illustrated school reports and lists, witness interviews transcribed by Peavine, and journal entries written by Peavine’s precocious little sister. A busy cast of likable small-town southern folk brings authentic variety to the mix; Peavine has cerebral palsy, for instance, and Captain Armstrong, a neighbor, suffers from PTSD, but like Footer’s mom’s bipolar disorder, these are just things you cope with as you go about your business. Footer ends her journalism career with a solved crime and a new understanding of the mentally ill, social workers, and herself; readers who appreciate a mystery with heart, humor, and a little trauma will enjoy this. An interview with the author and suggestions for further reading, fiction and non, on brain disorders follows the text.

– Bulletin, June 2015

Awards and Honors

  • Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Junior Title
  • Maine Student Book Award Reading List
  • Edgar Allan Poe Award
  • Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title
  • Cybils Award Finalist

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More books from this author: Susan Vaught