Open the first chapter of this book and step into the mind of a fourteen-year-old tomboy named Scout. Join her in the outfield as part of her mind is trying to keep up with the baseball game she’s actively involved in, while another part is reminiscing about the good times she’s had at summer camp. Plus there’s her pleasant anticipation of the impending camp as she daydreams about the counselor who captured her heart with his good looks and outgoing personality. It’s almost impossible for readers to hear the voice of a young girl named Scout without thinking wistfully of Harper Lee’s plucky heroine from To Kill A Mockingbird. Wisely, author Dupre admits to her protagonist being named after the famously fictional adolescent, and you accept the homage in hopes that this new relationship between you and Scout will be as simpatico as the one you shared with her namesake. Setting is made specific by exact reference to locale, and time is cleverly alluded to through the use of video game names that clearly place it in the somewhat distant past. While you may not know exactly where this story is going, an appealing feeling of nostalgia is present in this first chapter that makes you want to turn a few more pages just to see where it all may lead.
SCOUT WEBB, AGE 14
The ball flew toward me in a mad spiral as I stood, stomach churning, wrapped up in anticipation. It was coming to my left so I turned my legs back and ran to position myself to catch it. I don’t know exactly how my body knows what to do and when to do it at the right time, but even “for a girl” my body knew just the same. My gloved left hand reached just high enough to snatch the speeding baseball out of flight and I stopped myself from stride so I could get the throw into the cutoff man at shortstop. Also known as Charlie. My best friend.
“Good catch, Scout!” I heard someone yell. I felt a sense of relief come over my whole body. I did my job. I caught the well-hit fly ball that should have been a single. The boy who hit it was pissed off, no doubt, because some stupid wiry girl in the outfield caught it and how embarrassing is that and I hope she falls and breaks her arm. Heard it all before.
I love summer. Summertime is baseball season. People like to complain about the heat and humidity here in Haddleboro, North Carolina, but it doesn’t bother me all that much. It doesn’t keep me inside playing Space Invaders or Pong on Atari or watching reruns on TV like my brother Jonny and his friends. It doesn’t keep me from sleeping, even if I’m dripping in sweat on my bed all night and have to wrap a cool wet towel over my head. No homework, no worries but for my paper route — and the promise of Camp Judah ahead.
On Sunday, I get to go to camp for three weeks. I’ve gone every year since I was seven. It will be my last summer there because I’m aging out. The next time I can go back is as a counselor after I’m eighteen. I’m turning fifteen in a couple of months, so that is a long time. Three whole years. Actually more like four because I won’t turn eighteen until October when camp is over for the summer. What am I supposed to do for the next four years? Get a job or something? No one will hire me next summer because I’m too young. I’ve only ever had camp to look forward to.
Charlie turned around and hollered to me, pulling me from my Camp Judah daydreams. He shouted that I needed to be ready because the last time this kid hit, it went in between us for a single.
“Move in! He can’t hit it over your head!” I moved in closer to Charlie, who held his spot at short.
Bobby was pitching. He’s too slow at everything. He moves slow, preps the ball slow, kicks around dirt on the mound slow. Even chomps on his Big League Chew slow. I’m getting anxious again, on high alert, scared to let my team down by screwing up. My stomach’s in knots, but it’s not clear if it’s because of how close we are to winning this game or how close I am to going away to camp.
I stand ready, waiting for Bobby to pitch the ball, then watch the batter swing and miss. And again. Foul ball. Then my mind goes back to Camp Judah and to Brother Doug with the ice blue eyes, the gorgeous lifeguard who I’ve been practically in love with since I was seven years old.
At Camp Judah, we always address the counselors and other people who work there as “Brother” and “Sister.”
“Why do we call all the counselors Brother and Sister?” I asked Brother Doug a few years ago, as I helped him carry some life jackets back to his storage shed.
“Because here at Camp Judah, we are all family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ and all of us are God’s children,” he answered with a wink.
When I saw Brother Doug for the first time, my camp group (the Lions for Jesus!) was coming out of the lake because our allotted time for swimming was up for the afternoon. A tall, fit, tan man stood at the foot of the water wearing swim trunks that matched the color of his eyes. He counted us as we came out and directed us where to stand to meet our counselor.
I was the last one out of the water, of course. I was always the last one out. I never wanted to leave the cool lake water because the sand was always hot on my bare feet. Some of the kids had flip-flops to put on, but I didn’t.
As I walked up the wet sand from the water, Brother Doug said to me, “Hey Shorty, I like your chubby cheeks.” I looked up at him, the sun blaring down on his almost-white, blond hair. He looked back down at me with squinted eyes, expanded his cheeks with air, and put his fingers on both sides to pop them. Then he smiled. “Those things are so big you should be able to pop them like that.”
He became my favorite person right away.
“I’m Brother Doug. What’s your name?”
“Scout,” I said.
He laughed. “Really? That was my dog’s name when I was boy!”
Heard it before. Someone always had or knew a dog named Scout. Never a cat, though, I noticed.
I’ve learned to become proud of my name over time. I’m named after the main character in one of the most beloved books in American fiction — from my mom’s favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird. And since my mom was a reading teacher at Haddleboro Elementary School, she knew something about books.
So Scout, the little girl in the famous novel, is my namesake. Really, her name was Jean Louise and Scout was just her nickname. But my name-name is Scout. Scout Elizabeth. Elizabeth for my grandmother.
After reading the book when I was eleven years old, I was at ease with my unconventional name. I liked the name Scout and, the truth is, there were too many Jennifers and Lisas and Michelles anyway. Scout was a different kind of name and I was a different kind of girl. My friend Jenny (see?), who is a year older, told me that in ninth grade English, her class read To Kill a Mockingbird and everyone was talking about me and my name.
But since I was only seven when I met Brother Doug, and I didn’t fully understand the significance of my name, I felt a little uncomfortable about it being so unique. Because I didn’t want to make this Brother Doug person laugh at me, I just asked him if he missed his dog, Scout.
He grinned and said, “Sure I miss him. He was a great dog. The best one I ever had.”
I think Brother Doug noticed my uneasiness, so he got down to my level. He peered into my eyes, still grinning, and put his hand on my shoulder. He continued to squint from the bright sunny afternoon. His unusually light blue eyes were no doubt affected by the sunlight more than other peoples’ eyes. “Hey, I will give you a special name, just between me and you, okay?”
I nodded, wondering what in the world he was going to call me.
“I will call you Squirrel-Girl because you got the fattest, cutest cheeks I’ve seen at camp this whole summer — just like a squirrel hiding acorns in them.”
He waited for my reaction and I could tell that he was trying to make me feel comfortable with him. It worked. He had my complete trust at that moment and for the next seven summers.
Smiling back at him, I said, “Okay, Brother Doug.”
As I started to walk away toward the other campers, I stopped and turned to him, inflated my cheeks, and popped them like he did earlier. That one gesture became our special greeting every summer.
Now, I couldn’t wait to pop my cheeks at him on Sunday. No matter how much time had passed since I met him as a little girl, I was still his Squirrel-Girl and we always popped our cheeks at each other. I hoped he would be back again this summer because I hadn’t heard from him in a long time.
While waiting for Bobby to move along with his pitches, I started thinking of how scared I am that Jesus and the Rapture might come tonight as I lay sweating in my bed. I pictured myself hearing those “Trumpets of the Lord” and then getting raptured up with all the other Christians. Then I’d have to miss out on going to camp. I think I would demand that Jesus let me go back so I could go to Camp Judah — but then I realized that all the people at camp would be raptured, too, so it would be a waste of an argument with the Son of God.
I said a quick prayer as we all watched Bobby taking his sweet time on the mound, “Jesus, please please please don’t come again until after camp is over.” I often said this kind of prayer on Christmas Eve, on the eve of the first day of school, and on the eve of Halloween.
The boy up at bat strikes out and the game is finally over. I’m relieved. My mind is too cluttered today for this game. I’m too excited, too jumpy, and too anxious for everything. Especially Camp Judah and Brother Doug.
Really, for Brother Doug.
I jog in from the outfield and my team’s coach, Mr. Faulkner, who’s also Bobby’s dad, congratulates us on doing a great job.
“We have four more games this summer,” he said. “We are undefeated, boys,” he stopped and looked at me, “and Scout,” he added with a wink. “Not bad for a team full of scrappy kids just out of junior high.” He looked around and continued, “We need to practice on Sunday and Monday, so don’t miss. We can go far with this group. I just know it!”
Mr. Faulkner sounded pretty excited and he never sounds excited.
When everyone dispersed, he came over to me and said, “I’m sorry you’re going away to camp, Scout. We need you.”
I was glad he said that, but humbly replied, “There are lots of boys on the bench who can play just as good as me. I hate to miss so much, but if we win the rest of the games, I’ll be back in time for regionals.”
To be honest though, if Brother Doug wasn’t at camp anymore, I would have considered missing my final summer at Camp Judah to play baseball instead. I’m kind of over all the Bible verse competitions, the devotionals every morning, and the constant segregation of boys and girls in the teenager groups.
Last summer, this boy named Carlo from Philadelphia liked me and tried to kiss me. He was a nice boy, but I didn’t want him to kiss me because I’d never want Brother Doug to hear about it. It really wasn’t a big deal, though.
“Scout, I think you’re pretty,” Carlo said to me. “Can I kiss you? Just one time so I can remember you?”
I was flattered because Kelly was the prettiest girl at Camp Judah that summer — and probably every summer. All the boys wanted to kiss her. But Carlo liked me instead.
“I don’t think so, Carlo. I don’t want to get in trouble,” I told him.
Well, some girl named Pepper, who nobody liked, went and told a counselor about what Carlo said to me. Poor Carlo got in all kinds of trouble. His parents were called and he missed a whole day of activities. They probably would’ve sent him home if it wasn’t so far away. So some of the camp rules are starting to annoy me.
But Brother Doug is there. At least, I hope he is. I think he is. He has to be! And I know he misses me. He has told me so in his letters.
Mr. Faulkner told me before the season started that I’m lucky I can play baseball at all. He had to do some convincing with the people in charge of the county because there were no other girls playing this level of baseball anywhere in the state. Since there wasn’t a summer softball league for girls, and I was just as good as the boys, they decided to let me play.
Usually by this age, girls and boys go their separate ways in sports. Girls chase softballs or chase dreams of being on some stage or just chase boys. Once I overhead someone’s dad say, “Teenaged girls are chasin’ either one set of balls or another.” I didn’t think it was funny, but the other dads sure did.
I played softball in the spring with the county league last year, but it was boring and everyone stunk except for some girls from another town called Black Hill. I couldn’t stand the fact that most of them actually did throw like girls and I hated the bigger-sized ball. So instead of doing that again, I got permission from the principal to play boys’ baseball for the school team. Since they didn’t have a softball team for the girls, he told me that the baseball coach agreed to let me try out. Well, I made the team and had so much fun playing with the boys and Charlie all the time.
Next year, I could only try out for the girls’ high school softball team and not the boys’ baseball team. I was warned about that. “The girls in high school will be much better players. Some of those girls from Black Hill go to Haddleboro High,” Charlie had promised me.
“I hope you’re right,” I said, unconvinced. But really, I was sad that I would not be playing with Charlie.
The thought of going into high school both excited and terrified me. I was excited to be able to experience new things and meet new people. But the thought of not being with Charlie all the time was scary. We were a pair. I didn’t want things between us to change too much.
“Listen, you can’t worry about stuff like that,” Charlie told me last week, while we were walking into town for an ice cream. “Nothin’s gonna change. I promise.”
“I don’t know Charlie. It’s so much bigger there and maybe you’ll meet people you like better than me,” I said, feeling really stupid and insecure, especially because of how much attention he had been paying lately to a girl named Katie Smith.
He stopped me on the side of the road and made me face him. “Scout. Stop it. You’re my best friend. It will all be just fine.” Then he put his hand on my head like I was a puppy. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
I felt a little better about it all after he said that.
After Mr. Faulkner let us go, Charlie and I hopped on our Schwinn banana-seat bikes and pedaled off to his house, which was just three blocks away from the town baseball field. His uniform was covered in dirt from one messy slide into third base. I only managed a grass stain on my knee this game. I hoped I could get it out in the laundry. I hated a dirty uniform for the start of a game.
Dear SG, September 12, 1982
I was so happy to get your letter. It made my day. I was having a tough day at school because one of the younger kids got hurt in a game we were playing and he may have broken his foot. I felt really bad about it, so your letter cheered me up a lot. It sounds like you are doing good. I know it was hard for summer to end, but you should enjoy your last year in junior high because it will go fast. Before you know it, we will be racing down the water slides again.
You asked me if it was OK if you wrote to me. Of course it is! I love getting letters from my campers.
Well, I am going to close for now. I hope you have a great school year. Keep in touch!