For the next twenty-four hours, Ellis enters an extraordinary world on the fringe of society that he never knew existed. Jackie introduces him to life at the Land-of-Smiles, a dilapidated motel where nightly a strange collection of local characters gather to drink and talk. Two attractive sisters, Ursa and Leona, the elder studying to be a lawyer, live there. Leona loves and takes care of a baby whose mother stops in only once in a while. Then the baby disappears, and Ellis is thrust into a wild, sometimes almost violent search for the child.
This is a stunning novel that grips the reader as it sweeps to its conclusion. Rich characterization, breathtaking action, and an ultimately heartwarming solution distinguish this latest triumph of Margaret Mahy.
|Edition description:||1st Aladdin Paperbacks Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.52(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.55(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 17 Years|
Read an Excerpt
Chapter Two: 5:20 P.M. -- Friday "Yay!" Jackie was shouting, circling Ellis. "How's it going?"
"Jackie!" said Ellis, proud of remembering the name and anxious to reassure its owner. "Oh, well! Okay! You know!" He waggled his fingers, vaguely suggesting that things were just what anyone might expect them to be...a bit of this, a bit of that, good and bad mixed.
Raised unnaturally high on his Rollerblades, Jackie was staring down at Ellis with friendly interest, but Ellis could easily see that something indefinable was going on behind those beaming blue eyes...some sort of guess was being made. He knew he was being assessed. And now he remembered that, years ago, Jackie Cattle, a confused victim for the most part, had also had moments when he could seem quite sinister.
So he gave a hasty smile -- a nod, a shrug -- half offering to move on. But Jackie smiled back at him -- a smile bright with unconvincing innocence, revealing a clownish gap between his two front teeth. He grabbed Ellis's arm.
"Long time no see, mate!" he shouted, the wind snatching at his words.
"I've been away," Ellis shouted back.
"What? Inside?" Jackie asked with a sort of confused incredulity. "Jail?" Then he flung up his hands in a gesture of apology. "No! Of course not! Not you! Sorry!" All the time his eyes were flitting over Ellis with the attentive curiosity of someone planning to paint a portrait from memory. "So! Where the hell have you been?"
Automatically, Ellis was piecing together a memory portrait of his own. Before he had been sent to Saint Conan's school he had attended a small state one across the road from his home. Jackie Cattle had alsobeen a pupil there, a boy at once exotic and pathetic, a year ahead of Ellis and old in his class. He must be nineteen by now, thought Ellis. Twenty, perhaps. In some ways he hadn't changed much. He still had the same round, childish face, the same heavy-lidded eyes, the same sly, sideways smile.
"I've been at school!" Ellis yelled into the storm without thinking.
"School!" exclaimed Jackie, bending forward as if he could hardly believe what he was hearing. He sounded much more astonished at the thought of school than he had been at the possibility of jail.
"I'm out now," said Ellis. "What about you?"
"Cross my heart, you wouldn't want to know," said Jackie, making a face.
He certainly looked disreputable -- had always looked disreputable -- and yet, for all that, he spoke with an accent that was almost elegant. His family had been well-to-do, hadn't they? Adults had exclaimed over the contrast between Jackie and a clever, older sister. Anyhow, the contrast between the tattered camel-hair coat and the smooth way of speaking made Jackie hard to place. Ellis found he was not quite sure how to talk to him.
"Oh, well, see you around!" he said, knowing already that Jackie was not going to let him walk away. And sure enough, Jackie's grip on his arm tightened a little.
"No! No, wait!" he cried, while his eyes ran over Ellis yet again with that same persistent speculation. "What are you rushing off for? You're not meeting a girl or anything, are you?"
"No," said Ellis a little aggressively, because Jackie had sounded so completely certain that Ellis would not be meeting a girl.
Jackie beamed. "Well, that's okay, then! Let's mingle! Be part of café society. I'll buy you a beer."
Why not? thought Ellis. I might as well find out what's going on. "Why not!" he said aloud. "I'll pay," he added, remembering he had money in his back pocket.
"Even better!" said Jackie fervently. He twitched his battered coat into place as carefully as if it had been freshly cleaned and pressed and there were some purpose in looking after it. Then he pointed backward over his shoulder with his thumb. "Follow me," he said, spinning on the spot as he extended his arm, pointing dramatically. They moved off together, Jackie gliding at Ellis's right shoulder like an escorting angel.
"So! School!" he reminisced. "School!" he repeated as if he were mentioning something so peculiar he couldn't quite believe in it anymore. "And what now? Got a job lined up?"
"I'm going to be an actor," said Ellis, feeling he could safely practice this announcement on someone like Jackie. It came out well -- crisp, assured, and unapologetic.
"Crash hot!" said Jackie, though Ellis suspected he would have said the same thing if he, Ellis, had announced that he was planning to be an accountant.
"I only got home last night. I'm just getting used to things again," Ellis added quickly.
"Hey, you never get used to things," Jackie said. "Take it from one who knows!" He had one of those faces that flared into life when he smiled. The little gap between his front teeth flashed -- a flash of darkness. Ellis tried to imagine a gap-toothed Hamlet. Why not? There weren't any orthodontists in Shakespeare's day. For all that, he found he couldn't quite imagine Hamlet with a gap in his front teeth. "Why did your parents send you away to school?" Jackie asked. "Were they trying to get rid of you, or what?"
"It was my dad's old school," said Ellis. "He loved it there, and he thought I would, too."
"I'd have hated it," declared Jackie with complete certainty.
"It was all right," said Ellis.
The wind flung fistfuls of rain in their faces, drops flying toward them like transparent bullets.
"Okay! Swing right!" Jackie commanded. "In here."
A couple of minutes later Ellis was sitting at a table in a café bay window, with an oblique view of the city center. Because it was so well lit, and yet a little distant, he was teased again by the idea that he was looking onto a stage, and that someone was busily operating a wind machine in the wings.
Jackie slid back from the bar, where he had been talking in a familiar way with a barman. He was carrying two short, brown bottles of beer, a glass upended on top of one of them, and a bowl of mixed nuts and potato chips, which he passed to Ellis. Then he slumped into his chair and put the bottle to his mouth, sensuously kissing its brown lips. Ellis put the glass to one side and drank from the bottle, too.
"Saves the washing up," he said.
Jackie grinned, his grin hyphenated by darkness. "So, let's just watch the world go by for a minute or two," he said. "Then, if you like," he added with a slyness that was not intended to deceive, "we can take off for a party I know about. Well, we can if you've got wheels. Bigger wheels than mine, that is," he added, glancing down at his Rollerblades.
"Oh, I see," Ellis replied with satisfying irony. "You're not just -- you know -- being nice!"
"No way, mate!" exclaimed Jackie indignantly. "This is straight-out exploitation. Trust me!"
"Suppose I don't have a car?" Ellis asked. "What'll you do? Skate to the party with me running beside you?"
"But you have got a car," said Jackie. "I took one look at you and I just knew! 'Now, there's a man with a car,' I said to myself, and I was right, wasn't I?"
He spoke drowsily, almost absentmindedly. But there was something far from sleepy moving in the eyes behind those heavy lids.
"It's my mother's car," said Ellis. "I'm supposed to be home in" -- he looked at his watch -- "in about an hour."
"Did you promise?" asked Jackie.
"Well, I didn't exactly promise...," said Ellis.
Jackie relaxed. "Thank God," he said. "You really frightened me then, because you're probably one of those pricks who keep their promises. It would have ruined everything."
"What I am is the prick with the car," Ellis reminded him.
Jackie laughed and nodded. "Yeah! Right! Nice one!" he said. "Now -- this party! It's out along the highway...a country party. I could skate, but it would be easier if you drove me."
Ellis remembered he had promised himself wild adventures and no apologies. And, after all, he had made his mother no real promises. "Okay, then!" he said.
Immediately, a new ease engulfed Jackie, who flopped back in his chair.
"Your turn to tell me," Ellis went on. "What have you been up to?"
"Oh, about up to here," said Jackie, leaning sideways in his chair and holding his hand, fingers splayed, about an inch from the ground. "No real job. No self-respect. Mind you, the way I see it, self-respect is the easiest sort of respect to get, isn't it? Me -- I want respect with a bit more challenge to it." He eased himself upward in his chair once more as he went on talking. "I make a few dollars here and there, but basically I just fiddle around. I'm a born fiddler."
"Yeah, I can tell," said Ellis.
A piece of wastepaper whirled past the window and disappeared into the deepening summer evening. The city was still embraced by a largely tearless storm. Jackie slapped his hand down hard on the table. "Five! Four! Three! Two! ONE!" he exclaimed, leaping to his feet and draining the rest of his beer. The movement upward married into a movement forward. "Blastoff!" he cried.
Before Ellis's eyes he became charged with both energy and mischief. Hastily, Ellis drank half his beer, and then, remembering he would be the driver, left the rest of it on the table. He followed Jackie into the street, and they wove their way, side by side, back to the parking lot where Ellis had left his mother's car.
"Straight down the Great North Road," said Jackie, scrambling into the passenger seat. "It's a sort of barbecue party. Begins -- officially, that is -- with five o'clock drinks. So, by the time we get there, they mightn't care who's turning up. Unless they've been rained out."
"If it's an inside party, they mightn't let us in," said Ellis almost hopefully. He wanted the adventure, but felt dubious about crashing a private party.
"Why not?" said Jackie, sounding affronted. "I mean, look at us: clean, smiling! Both respectable guys! Yes?"
Ellis felt certain that Jackie had chosen him not merely because he had a car, but because his curling hair and tidy clothes might persuade someone, somewhere to welcome them in.
Copyright © 2000 by Margaret Mahy
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Interesting. This quite readable YA novel follows 17-yer-old Ellis over 24 hours, during which time he leaves his middle-class life to become part of a rather touching community of misfits who gather nightly at a rundown motel. In the space of a single day, Ellis leaves behind his shy, loner, don't-get-involved personality to become a fully functioning member of a group that must depend on each other for kindness, support, and ultimately survival. It's a good read - nothing fantastic, but I do like the respectful way that Mahy always treats her female characters.
¿Have you seen Shelley? I can¿t find her,¿ she blurted out. ¿Shelley, Shelley! Come on! No hiding!¿ The first part of 24 Hours tells the adventures of Ellis running into Jackie and meeting Ursa and Leona. After spending some time with the others, Leona realizes that the baby she is watching is missing. The plot of the story then turns to the search for baby Shelley. The group¿s search makes many stops and turns. Readers will enjoy the fact that Ellis, Jackie, Ursa, and Leona never really know who has Shelley or where she might be until close to the end of the book. Jason, the cemetery kid says Mystique and Winston might have Shelley. Yet, it¿s also very possible that Phipps has Shelley or knows where she might be. Although parts of the story can be confusing at times and the first few chapters are a little slow, I give 24 Hours three and a half out of five stars. Once I got farther in, the story picked up and held my attention. The more I read, the more I wanted to reach the end, and find out who had baby Shelley.