The Boy Who Sailed The World In An Armchair was absolutely hilarious. The classes lucky enough to have experienced that as their class reader so far this year know exactly what I’m talking about. I wonder if Spaghetti Hoop Boy will be as amusing?
I’m Adam Butters and I love comics. My favourite characters are the Titans, which are little green creatures that live on the moon. I don’t live on the moon but on planet Earth; top floor flat, number 53 Pegasus Park Towers. I like sunshine, my old teddy bear, rolling down hills and eating spaghetti hoops (but not at the same time). I wear my bobble hat because it makes me feel safe. When it gets wet my classmates think it smells of dogs but I don’t care. We do have a dog, although it doesn’t smell of dog because it doesn’t exist. It’s an invisible dog called Sausage Roll and belongs to my six-year-old sister, Velvet. I’ve got an older sister too and unfortunately she does exist. She’s called Minnie. But the most important things in my life are my mum and dad, and there isn’t anywhere else in the universe I’d rather be than with them.
My dad is called Clark and he’s the person who got me interested in comics – he also loves the Titans. Sinead, that’s my mum, she’s the best. She tells me that I am her heart, which is a bit daft because she’s got her own heart. I think she means she’s got me in her heart. And Mum’s heart is big, at least the size of Mars (the planet, not the chocolate bar). She always says I take after her but that’s impossible. Thing is, I can’t take after Mum because she’s not my real mother. Dad is not my real dad either.
Yesterday, my school teacher, Mrs Chatterjee, came up with the bright idea that we should make our family trees for a project. It made me remember I’m adopted. That was the first time I’d thought about my real mother since my last birthday. But Mrs Chatterjee said this project would help us discover lots of new things about ourselves and our loved ones, and, the thing is, I already know everything about my family. Instead, I want to know more about my real mother. So I’ve decided I’ll do my family tree on her.
To be fair, there are tiny bits I already know about my background because Mum told me. The first thing is that I was adopted when I was very little. Mum and Dad brought me home to the flat and they had a “welcome home” party for me, and Minnie – who was four years old then – gave me a gift. After that I started crying and, according to Mum, she reached out to me and I looked up at her, tears in my eyes, and she held me and then I smiled. It was a wonderful moment. “I held you in my hands,” said Mum. “But really I held you in my heart.”
Another thing, which Mum told me when I was seven, is that there’s an important envelope for me and I can open it when I turn sixteen. An envelope didn’t sound all that interesting then, but now I’m eleven I do wonder if there are answers inside. Like where I came from, where I was born, what my real mother was called, and why she had to give me up. Maybe Mum doesn’t know these facts, but if I’m doing a family tree project I’ll need to find out.
You see, Mrs Chatterjee likes facts when we’re doing projects. She says facts are like anchors. And it was only when she said that that I realized… I’ve got no anchor. Because I don’t know the facts about me, or where I came from. So I need to do something to change that.
Today is the Friday before half-term. At the end of school, Mrs Chatterjee sent us away with homework to do over the week we’re off. Everyone groaned when she said, “Find out whatever information you can to start working on your family tree when we return.” Then she followed it with: “This will be the best project you’ll ever do.”
So now I’m at home, looking down at my notebook, and it’s as blank as snow without a footprint even though I’ve been holding a pencil for the last twenty minutes. Outside there’s a storm whipping around the tower block. The wind rattles the letterbox like an angry monster. I feel its cold breath sweep down the hallway and swirl around my bedroom and tighten its fingers around my chest. Shivering slightly, I rise from the bed and go and stare out of my window, my fingertips pressed against the glass making ten marbles of warmth. “Stupid project,” I mumble. “Why am I the only person who doesn’t know who their mother is and can’t do the project properly?
No gold star for me.” There’s a distant rumble and slivers of lightning ignite the clouds and that’s when I realize: I just need to find the envelope.
Even though I’m not sixteen, Mum always said it was important and that she was keeping it safe for me. Right now I want that envelope more than a first edition comic with a free gift on the front cover. And I know I should just ask Mum if I can have it, but she’s been a bit stressed and weepy recently – even though she’s tried to hide it – and I don’t want to risk upsetting her. So I turn away from the window, pad across the floor and open my door, before tiptoeing down the hall towards Mum and Dad’s room. Logic tells me that the envelope is bound to be there. But as I reach for the handle, Velvet appears from nowhere and pokes me in the back, saying she’s on the way to the kitchen. Then she asks me what I’m doing.
“I am looking for an envelope,” I say. Sometimes the truth is a lot less likely to attract attention than making up a complete lie. It works, because Velvet is totally disinterested and she sticks her finger up her nose and begins digging around.
“I’m looking for chocolate milk,” says Velvet.
“Well, you won’t find it up your nose.”
Velvet pulls the sort of face Grandma says will stick like that if the wind changes and then wanders away to the kitchen. As I open Mum and Dad’s bedroom door and ease into the shadows, I can hear the distant drone of Minnie rehearsing her lines for her part in the school play. And I can hear Dad laughing at something on the TV and then Mum’s telling him he nearly burst her eardrum and Dad’s saying he can’t help it if he’s got a loud laugh. And Velvet is pulling open the fridge and rattling bottles. But another thing I can hear, and it’s louder than everything else, is the thump-thump of my heart.
The envelope isn’t under the bed or in their bedside drawers. All I can see in Dad’s drawer is a load of badges advertising his key-cutting company, Surelock Homes. Dad loves working with his hands, from cutting keys at work to making models of comic-book characters at home. Mum’s always complaining that the flat is too small to make life-size models of Batman, but Dad does it anyway. I’ve got a life-size Titan in my bedroom that Dad made. Luckily a life-size Titan only comes up to my knee.
Anyway, there’s no envelope and it’s not in Mum’s drawer either. All she’s got in there are lots of our front door keys that Dad cut as a practice exercise. I remember Mum saying she didn’t need ten keys cluttering up the drawer, and Dad said at least she didn’t have ten monkeys because they’d take up even more space, and we laughed for ages. I wish Mum would laugh like that again because when she’s sad it makes me feel sad too and then I hide in my bobble hat. Dad’s the opposite of gloomy. In fact, he’s a right comedian sometimes, but even his jokes don’t seem to be cheering Mum up at the moment. On top of the keys is a sign-up sheet for this place called Bellybusters that promises to turn you from a couch potato to a glowing goddess within months, but that’s all.
My heart’s still thundering when I turn to the dressing table, and I pull that drawer open and suddenly it’s as if the whole thing shimmers with a golden light – because I can see an envelope in there and on the front it says: FOR ADAM. DO NOT OPEN UNTIL YOU ARE SIXTEEN. My hands tremble like they’re holding invisible maracas and then I do what any sensible eleven-year-old would do: I ignore what it says and open it.
Lightning rips the sky in two outside and the bedroom flashes in negative as I pull out a piece of paper. My birthdate is on the left side – same date, same year. The place of birth is Pegasus Park and I imagine that means the Pegasus Park Hospital. But it’s not my name on the paper. My mouth is as dry as a flip-flop on Mars as I lean closer, trying to read the words. My name is on the envelope and it’s my birthdate, so it must be my birth certificate. But the name inside says Ace Walker. As the penny drops on my head from the height of the Eiffel Tower, I realize that I must have been called Ace when I was born.
There’s another name on the paper too: Rose Walker. That must be my real mother’s name. There’s a whooshing inside me and it feels like my blood is racing around my body in a super-fast car. My real mother called me Ace. Why would she do that?
Why do you think Adam says it’s unfortunate that his older sister does exist?
Why is “as blank as snow without a footprint” a good simile to describe his notebook pages?
What other language technique is used in the paragraph about the weather?
Why does Adam call his project “stupid” as he stares out of the window?
What does Velvet start doing when he tells her what he’s looking for?
What do you think Mum might be gloomy about at the moment?
Why does his heart seem like the loudest sound?
Why do you think he might be called Ace?
If you are enjoying this extract, you can read some more of chapter 1 here. It’s not yet published, so keep an eye out in the school library when it is…