With her mind on the movies and a voice as fresh and electric as her personality, Ruby Millers loves films going to them, talking about them, writing scripts for them. She especially loves beginnings, the part before the movie starts: “When the lights go dim, and you’re sitting in the dark with your popcorn,” Ruby says, “. . . At that moment anything is possible.” Ruby even has a seven-page script-in-progress to send to Steven Spielberg. Much of her experience, her references about life, and her accumulated wisdom over 12-and-a-half years come from the movies. Her father’s favorite, before he left, was Groundhog Day, and her neighbor reminds her of Almira Gulch in The Wizard of Oz. But Ruby’s real life isn’t so cinematic. She’s heartbroken by her father’s absence and imagines him as a movie hero, dodging assassins’ bullets or flying Air Force One. She dreams of his return home. Her mother is dating a balding podiatrist, and the big event in her life at the moment is the loss of her brother’s wooly mammoth toy. To make matters worse, she can’t seem to shake Big Skinny and Mouse, two boys in her class at Rutherford B. Hayes Middle School. When the boys spray-paint an ode to Ruby on the river wall near her house, and she goes to take care of the mess, all three end up snagged by the law. At the police station, where the desk sergeant looks just like the Tin Man (without the tin), the trio is assigned 50 hours of community service. Thus begins an unexpected relationship with Big Skinny, Mouse and Ed the podiatrist, who turns out to be involved with the boys through the Big Brothers Program. The gang collaborates on a mural to beautify the wall along the drainage ditch that was once the Los Angeles River, and Ruby continues to fantasize about finding her father. Hollywood makes dreams come true, and sometimes, too, as Theresa Nelson shows us in this terrific book, they come true in the lives of twelve-year-old girls.
Dean Schneider teachers middle school English in Nashville.