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Josie Bloom and the Emergency of Life

“Entertaining and emotionally resonant.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Long nails the voice of a kid trying as hard as she can to tackle adult problems on her own when the well-meaning adults in her life fall short.” —Publishers Weekly

Josie Bloom is put to the test when she’s confronted by mysterious wads of money, a washed-up baseball player, and a whole lot of squirrels in this hilarious and heartwarming novel in the spirit of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale.

Josie Bloom discovers the first wad of money stuffed inside a packet of bologna, and the second hidden between the trash can and the bin liner. That money comes in handy when she finds the PAST DUE notice from the heating company. Seems like Grandpa has been spending more time feeding squirrels than paying the bills. But when a bill arrives that’s too big to handle, Josie’s going to need a plan to get more money—while keeping Grandpa’s odd behavior a secret.

Hilarious and heartwarming, Josie Bloom and the Emergency of Life celebrates the lengths family and friends will go to when it looks like the squirrels are winning.

The Money

The Money
If Grandpa was the one telling this story, he’d probably start with one of his mottoes, such as Home Is Where You Hang Your Hat. My best friend, Winky, would roll it out like Joe Viola’s evil changeup, a pitch that starts out a fastball, and—surprise!—drops low and slow. Mr. Mee and Mrs. B-B both would probably quote from some book: There is nothing so strong or safe in an emergency of life as the simple truth.—Charles Dickens. But I’m the one telling the story, and I say it began with the bologna.

The first time it happened, I was sitting on the couch sorting socks. I patted around the pillows and throws for a missing mate. No luck. I got up and shook out the House of Harmony Church Ladies’ Auxiliary Bicentennial Blanket, and out flew a package of bologna. The strange part was, instead of a stack of delicious lunch meat, the package was stuffed with money.

I beelined to the kitchen with my findings. Grandpa was peeling potatoes, the Maine state vegetable. “Why, Josie Bloom,” he said. Grandpa scratched his bald spot with the tip of the peeler. “What’d you do, rob a bank?”

“No.” I thought about it. “Did you?”

“No-oo-oo,” he said, very fishy, like he’d just yanked off the ski mask after pulling the heist.

While he tried to cram the money into his wallet, I asked him a few more questions.

“Did you get an odd job?” Like the time he turned Mrs. Bean’s old chipped bathtub into a shrine for the Virgin Mary. “Did you get money from a long-lost relative?” That sort of thing happens, but we don’t know of any relatives. “Do you think a burglar might break into the house and rob us?” Because why did he hide it? “You could put it under your mattress.” I’d heard people on TV talk about doing that.

Grandpa was not giving me any answers. He seemed out of sorts in a way that if I had that kind of money, I would not be. If I had that kind of money, I’d buy up the entire collection of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! books. I would probably still have a lot of cash left over, and with the rest I would take a trip to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum in Orlando, Florida.

“Can I have three dollars?” I said.

Grandpa had managed to shove some of the cash in each of his pockets, and was peeling another potato into the sink, fast as lightning. “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool,” Grandpa said, “than to speak and remove all doubt.”

These are words I know all too well. He used a woodworking tool to burn them forever onto a plaque. This was during craft-time at Pineland Senior and Assisted Living over in Topsham, where he used to live with Grandma Kaye until she died of old age, and before he came to live with me.

I’ll stop right there and point out that Grandpa came to live with me when my mom died, as he’s my only living relative and there was never any dad in the picture. By that I mean, there’s a family picture on the shelf in the den, and it’s just Mom and me. Whenever I would ask about my dad, she’d tell me he was dead, more or less. “He’s dead to me,” she’d say. “End of story.” Anyway, Mom “expired” of sudden cardiac arrest, which is a problem with the heart’s electrical system, and not anybody’s fault at all. Even the Hamburg Catch-up! reported how Josephine Violet Bloom, age nine, called 911 immediately. When we talked about it, back then, Grandpa took me by the shoulders and looked me in the eye and said, “Josie, there is nothing you could have done, and there is no way to place a call any faster than immediately.” But sometimes I wonder. These days, Grandpa would be more apt to snap a salute and say, “Pancakes!”

Anyhow, that plaque (plus other ones) was always trying to get my attention from its shelf in the den. But if you think about it, isn’t the fool the one who hides seventy-eight dollars in a package of bologna?

The second time it happened, I was taking out the garbage. I found a wad of rubber-banded bills between the liner and the can under the sink.

“I almost threw it out!” I mentioned.

Grandpa grabbed the bills from my hand and shot a suspicious look at me, the sink, and the garbage can. Then he stomped out of the kitchen.

“Now that money stinks like fish wrapping!” I said to his cardiganed back. “And it’s moist!”

“Lima beans!” Grandpa blurted from the den. It was sort of a new thing, a troubling thing, the blurting.

The third time it happened (rolled up in a toilet paper tube!), I didn’t tell Grandpa. I put the money in a Keds box under my bed in case I needed it, and soon enough I did.

It gets cold here in Hamburg, Maine. That January, it got wicked cold. There was frost inside the windowpanes. Even in my bed, under my covers, with a hot water bottle, it was cold. Turns out Grandpa had not paid the oil bill, and the tank was empty.

“I’ll take care of it,” said Grandpa. But he didn’t. And that’s when the water pipes froze—“I’m on it,” said Grandpa—and burst. “Don’t you worry about a thing,” said Grandpa, followed by no running water for two weeks.

I don’t remember why I opened up the desk Grandpa calls a secretary, but that’s where I found the envelopes. Most of them were stamped in red by somebody with a heavy hand and a bad temper: PAST DUE, or SECOND ATTEMPT, or FINAL NOTICE. I grouped all the envelopes by type and showed them to Grandpa.

“Schlitz!” he blurted. (The name of his favorite beer!)

So. That’s how when I started finding the money and Grandpa was blurting about beer quite regular, I had the good idea to take the money I kept finding here and there around the house and put it in the mail-in envelopes that came with the angry notices and which Grandpa was stuffing inside the secretary desk and then blurting about. After that the house was nice and warm, and the water kept on running in the taps. And all because of me! I did it! I felt glad and proud. Grandpa was happy, and he never seemed to notice when the money he hid went missing. I kept secret what I’d done with the money and he quit blurting about Schlitz.

Everything was fine till there came a bill too big to pay.
Photo by Jeanne Birdsall

Susan Hill Long is the author of Josie Bloom and the Emergency of LifeThe Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King, and a Pickpocket Squirrel; and Whistle in the Dark, which Publishers Weekly said “sings with graceful recurring motifs, true emotions, and devastating observations about the beauty that can be found in the darkest hours” in a starred review. It was named a best book of the year by Bank Street and Publishers Weekly. Susan lives in Portland, Oregon, with her family. Learn more at SusanHillLong.com.

Orphan Josie Bloom's grandfather is acting very peculiar, leaving her to take up the slack. Signs of Grandpa's problem are everywhere. Wads of money appear in unexpected places, like inside a bologna package. Grandpa not only won't explain where the money's coming from, but now he's started blurting out random words and phrases: "Lima beans!" Worst of all, he seems to have lost track of the need to pay bills. An intrepid person, Josie figures out how to use the checkbook and the rudiments of banking. It's the mortgage that seems like the final straw. What will happen if she can't find the money to make the monthly payments? Throughout all her trials, she's supported by Winky, her steadfast classmate, a talented baseball player who's gradually going blind. Her teacher is also helpful, but Josie's afraid to confide her extreme difficulties, fearing the outcome. Perhaps a washed-up major league player who might just be her long-lost father could be the solution.  . . . It's those lovingly crafted people, seemingly all white, who elevate the story above the rest. Entertaining and emotionally resonant.  

– Kirkus Reviews

In Long’s (The Magic Mirror) novel set in small-town Maine, it’s 1977, and intrepid sixth grader Josie Bloom is doing her best to make ends meet. The grandfather with whom she lives following her single mother’s death has been misplacing money and forgetting to pay bills, and he blurts non sequiturs when questioned. After discovering an unpaid mortgage bill, Josie enlists the aid of her best friend Elwyn “Winky” Wheaton, who is visually impaired due to Stargardt disease, to help her raise the money. The inventive duo tries several get-rich-quick schemes with hilariously unfortunate results (their sole yard-work customer pays them to never clean his yard again). The plot picks up when Josie and baseball-obsessed Winky become entangled with recently disgraced player Joe Viola, whose continued slump is blamed on Josie having touched his glove. Josie’s first-person narration is humorous (facts from Ripley’s Believe It or Not! inform many of her brainstorms) and sometimes poignant (as when a memory of her mother crops up); Long nails the voice of a kid trying as hard as she can to tackle adult problems on her own when the well-meaning adults in her life fall short. Ages 8–12. (Jan.)

– Publishers Weekly, October 14, 2019

Josie has lived with Grandpa since her mother’s death, but lately he’s been acting strange: hiding cash, blurting odd phrases, and sneaking out at night. When she realizes that he’s not paying the bills, she tries to do it herself, but it’s a lot for any 11-year-old to handle. And though her teacher senses that something’s wrong, Josie won’t confide in anyone except her best friend, a boy who is legally blind and crazy about baseball. When they meet his favorite player, Josie decides that the man is her long-lost father. In her wry, first-person narrative, Josie emerges as a girl who, while caught in a situation she can’t control, has the gumption to keep trying and the empathy to help others. Maybe Josie can’t always control the forces at work, but readers will enjoy her efforts, her hard-won wisdom, and her occasional successes, such the final scene featuring a baseball league for blind and visually impaired players. Solid character portrayals and unpretentious narration make this a very readable historical novel, set in Maine in 1977.

– Booklist, December 1, 2019