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.
Here are some things that are true about Footer Davis: 1. She has a BB gun named Louise. 2. Walruses freak her out. 3. Her mom has bipolar disorder.
But she wants you to know that it’s not that big a deal. She’s just Mom, and usually she’s fine except sometimes when she doesn’t take her pills. But right now what’s most important to Footer is what happened to those kids at the Abrams farm. See, there was a fire there a few nights ago, and those kids haven’t been seen since. Pretty sure they got burned up. What Footer and Peavine—that’s her best friend—want to know is who started the fire?
This middle grade mystery is funny, honest, populated with interesting characters, and Southern to the core. Kirkus Reviews called it “a sensitive, suspenseful mystery that deftly navigates the uncertainty of mental illness.”
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.”
Susan Vaught is the author of Edgar Award–winning novel Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy. It was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Bank Street Best Book, and The Horn Book called it “compelling, offbeat, and fearless.” Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry was called “a provocative, sensitive, and oh-so-timely read,” by Kirkus Reviews in a starred review. Susan’s many books for teens include Trigger, which received three starred reviews and was an ALA Best Books for Young Adults. She works as a neuropsychologist at a state psychiatric facility, specializing in helping people with severe and persistent mental illness, intellectual disability, and traumatic brain injury. She lives on a farm with her wife and son in rural western Kentucky.