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Alexandria of Africa

by Eric Walters

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africa, new experience
list price: $14.95
published: 2008
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Canadian Children's  Book Centre
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Alexandria of Africa

As far as Alexandria is concerned, being glamorous and rich is what she was born to be. But then she is arrested for shoplifting. Before she knows it, she’s on a plane headed to Kenya, where she has been ordered to spend one month working for an international charity.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. 2009.

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For Alexandria Hyatt having a fabulous life is easy: she knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. Being glamorous and rich is simply what she was born to be. When Alexandria is arrested for shoplifting, having to drag herself into court to face a judge just seems like a major inconvenience. But Alexandria has been in trouble before–and this time she can’t find a way to scheme out of the consequences. Before she knows it, she’s on a plane headed to Kenya where she has been ordered to work for an international charity.

Over 7,000 miles away from home with no hot water, no cell phone reception, no friends or family, Alexandria is confronted with a land as unfamiliar as it is unsettling. Over the course of her month in Africa, Alexandria will face a reality she could never have imagined, and will have to look inside herself to see if she has what it takes to confront it.

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Chapter One

My mother tried to straighten the collar of my blouse and I brushed her hand away.

“I’m just trying to make sure you look all right,” she said, sheepishly.

“I look as good as I can . . . in this outfit,” I said. “But not as good as I could have looked if you hadn’t picked out my clothes for me.” I was just so glad that none of my friends were there to see me dressed like this: boring brown secretary skirt, white blouse with a Peter Pan collar, beige pantyhose, and flats . . . shudder!

My mother’s style was pretty much classic–nothing but the best–but it was old-people fashion. She wasn’t up on the latest.

“She was just doing what I instructed her to do,” said my lawyer, Mr. Collins. “Appearance means a lot.”

I huffed. I knew more about appearance than he ever would. The nerve of this man to decide how I should dress! Wrinkled suit, a stain on the tie, and the width of his lapels was so far out of fashion that it was almost back in again. For the amount of money my parents were paying him, you’d have thought he’d have the cash to dress better.

I heard the sound of a door opening and I spun around in time to see my father rushing in to the courtroom. Nice of him to find the time to make it.

“Sorry, traffic was terrible,” he said.

Traffic is always terrible when you don’t get into your car on time, I thought.

He came up and gave my mother a little kiss on the cheek. It looked really awkward. I hadn’t seen them kiss for years before the divorce, so what was this all about? Were they putting on a show just for me, or demonstrating how sophisticated they were to people in general? Divorced, but still friends. It sounded like an episode for Dr. Phil.

Either way, it was just wrong on so many levels. Like a little show of affection was going to make me forget those last few years? The yelling and screaming, the threats, the household objects chucked at each other? I wasn’t about to forget. In fact, I still used all that ammunition to my advantage. A little bit of guilt goes a long way, and a lot of guilt goes even further.

My mother didn’t look well. She was really pale, and I thought she was even shaking a little. She looked so fragile. Whoever said it’s impossible to be too thin never met my mother. She was painfully skinny. I always thought that a strong wind might blow her away and she’d just go flying off into the sky. Funny, she did look a bit like a bird.

My father glanced at his Rolex. “It looks like the judge got caught in traffic as well,” he said. “Do you think he’ll keep us waiting much longer?”

“His court, his time,” Mr. Collins said.

“It had better not be long. I have places to get to,” I said.

“You’d best put that attitude away, young lady,” my father scolded.

I wanted to tell him that my attitude was something I’d inherited from him, but I didn’t say a word. Never mind, I think my expression pretty well said it all.

“You just let your lawyer do the talking,” my father warned me sternly.

“First I’m told how to dress, and now I’m not allowed to talk. Is it all right if I breathe the way I normally do?”

My father shot me a look, and I knew I’d be pushing it to say anything else, although I was severely tempted.

“She’s just a little nervous, that’s all,” my mother said.

She put an arm around my shoulder but I edged away from her grasp.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” she continued.

“I’m not nervous, and I’m certainly not scared,” I snapped.

“Maybe you should be afraid,” my father said. “This isn’t a joke. This is a court of law.”

I started to chuckle but stopped myself. We both knew–we all knew–that my last trip to court was no big deal, just a slap on the wrist. It cost my parents time and a lot of money in legal fees, but for me it was nothing more than a minor inconvenience. This wouldn’t be any different. It wasn’t like I was going to get life in prison for stealing a couple of tops and a purse.

“I’m sure there’s nothing to be concerned about,” my mother said. She turned to my lawyer. “Right?”

“We can hope,” he said.

“For the money I pay your firm I expect more than just hope,” my father said. “I expect certainty.”

“Nothing is certain in a court of law. The outcome is solely in the hands of the judge. You have to hope he’s in a good mood . . . that he wasn’t caught in traffic.”

“I’m sure it will go just as well as the last time, sweetie,” my mother said, soothingly.

“I’m afraid that might be the problem,” said my lawyer. “Generally, judges are quite understanding the first time you appear before them, but I don’t think Judge Roberts will be happy to see you in his court again so soon. Sometimes they feel that you’re not just breaking the law but defying them. They take it very personally.”

“How can he take it personally?” I asked. “It’s not like I stole his clothes.” Unless he’s wearing something frilly under that black robe, I thought.

“But you did defy him by violating the terms of your probation,” Mr. Collins said. “He might feel that, in essence, you lied to him.”

“Lied? How did I lie?”

“You gave him your word that you would not break the law again. And yet here you are, less than two months later, back in his court.”

“But it helps that she pleaded guilty in the pre-sentencing, right?” my mother asked.

“It certainly shows that she is willing to accept responsibility for her crime.”

“Crime? I didn’t kill anybody. I only took a few things, a few little things.”

“Breaking the law and violating probation aren’t generally considered ‘little things’ by most judges. They tend to take the law rather seriously. That’s why they decided to become judges in the first place.”

“And I even offered to pay for them right then and there,” I said. “I pulled the money out of my purse, but the store people wouldn’t take it.”

“Stores usually operate on the premise that you pay willingly for their products, not simply offer to pay if you get caught trying to take them. They’re funny that way.”

Now I was getting attitude from my lawyer! Actually, where was my real lawyer? Why did I have this junior associate instead of the lawyer I’d had the first time I was in court? This guy was way too young to be a lawyer. And how good could he be if he couldn’t afford better clothes, or shoes that didn’t look like they came from Payless?

“You need to know that this could be serious,” he said.

“Whatever,” I snapped. “What’s he going to do, throw me in prison?”

There was an uneasy silence and I felt a shiver go up my spine. I looked from my mother to my father. Both were looking at the floor and not at me.

“He can’t send me to prison . . . can he?” I asked my lawyer.

He smiled. “Of course not.”

I felt a rush of relief. How stupid of me to even think–

“Prison is only for adult offenders. You’d be sent to juvenile detention.”

The anxiety came rushing back, only worse.

“Could you please explain to us what juvenile detention is?” my father asked.

“It’s a secure setting for young people who have committed crimes but are not old enough to be placed in an adult facility, i.e., a jail.”

“What does that mean, secure setting?” I asked.

“Locked doors, bars on the windows, locked rooms.”

“But that sounds like a jail!”

“It is,” he said. “It’s a kiddie jail. Cells, guards, no personal possessions, including, of course, no telephones.” He pointed at my purse. He’d made me turn off my phone and stash it in my purse because it had been ringing so much while we were waiting to come into court. Was it my fault that I was popular?

“You would share a room with two or three other prisoners,” he continued.

“I’d be with prisoners?” I gasped.

“You would be a prisoner.”

“Mr. Collins, isn’t that a little bit harsh?” my mother asked.

He shook his head. “That’s what they’re called. People who are in detention are prisoners. Most rooms have one or two sets of bunk beds and a shared toilet in the corner.”

“The toilet is in the room? That’s . . . that’s just disgusting!”

“And, of course, you’re issued a standard detention uniform.”

“You mean I couldn’t wear my own clothing?” I gasped. “But what would I wear?”

“Everybody dresses in the same jumpsuit.”

“But nobody wears jumpsuits any more! They’re so yesterday!”

“That’s what they wear. Orange jumpsuits.”

“Oh God! I look awful in orange! Everybody looks awful in orange!” I felt my lower lip start to quiver. I was on the verge of tears–the real kind, not the trying to-get-my-own-way type!

“Please, Mr. Collins, there’s no point in getting into any of this,” my mother said. She wrapped an arm around me. This time I didn’t brush it away.

“It’s my job to let you know what might happen,” he said.

“But you’re scaring her!”

“Still, detention time is one of the possibilities.”

“How possible?” my father asked.

“It’s hard to say.”

“Ballpark it for me. What do you think the odds are of her serving time?”

“Umm . . . I hate to make a prediction . . . maybe less than a 10 percent chance.”

“I like those odds,” my father said. “I’ll always take a business deal where there’s a 90 percent chance of success.”

Suddenly this had become a business deal? I didn’t know whether I should be honoured or insulted. After all, I knew how much his business meant to him.

“And if it all did go south and she was sent to detention, what sort of time would we be talking about?” he asked.

“There are established guidelines for each offence, but the judge has a lot of discretion within those guidelines.”

“So, what’s the worst-case scenario? How bad could the damage be?”

”Up to six months.”

“Six months!” I exclaimed as I jumped to my feet. “That’s crazy! It was just a few things! It wasn’t like I killed somebody! I’ll tell the judge I won’t do it again!”

“Unfortunately, that’s what you told him the last time,” Mr. Collins said.

“Anyway, just calm down,” my father said. “You can’t lose your cool. People smell fear in business deals.”

“This is my life, not a business deal!” I protested.

Everything is a business deal. Besides, we’re not talking about what will happen, just what could happen.”

“But you won’t let me go to juvenile detention, will you, Daddy?” I pleaded.

“Your father has very little say in this,” Mr. Collins said before my father could answer.

“But still, six months for shoplifting, that makes no sense,” my mother argued.

“This wouldn’t just be for shoplifting. It would include the charge of violating probation and also the reinstatement of the original charge of vandalism.”

“How can that be fair?” I protested. “I even paid for her car to be repaired.”

“Your father paid,” Mr. Collins said. “And that doesn’t change the fact that you pummelled a car with a golf club, causing thousands of dollars in damage and terrifying the girl who was in the car during your temper tantrum.”

Hey, it wasn’t a temper tantrum. It was about getting even, getting back, not letting somebody get away with something. I almost smiled at the memory. She deserved to have a golf club taken to her car. Now that little tramp would think twice before trying to steal anybody’s boy­friend again.

“A lot will depend on the pre-sentence report, prepared by the court-appointed social worker,” Mr. Collins explained.

“Have you seen it?” my father asked him.

“It’s only for the judge to see.” Mr. Collins turned to me. “Do you have a sense of what the report might say?”

“How would I know?”

“The social worker did interview you. You were there.”

“Of course I was there,” I snapped.

“Well, how did the interview go?”

“It went fine . . . I guess.”

“You guess?” my father asked.

“Well, she was late and I had an appointment to have my hair done and I couldn’t hang around.” I turned to my mom. “You know how hard it is to get an appointment with Mr. Henri and how angry he gets when you’re even a minute late.”

“He can throw quite the little hissy fit,” my mother confirmed.

“Please don’t tell me you blew off the interview because of some haircut!” Mr. Collins exclaimed.

“First off, it was a style, not a cut.” I almost said something about him desperately needing a good stylist because apparently he cut his own hair, but that was beside the point. “And second, I did do the interview.”

My lawyer let out a big sigh of relief.

“Although I refused to answer some of her questions.”

The shocked look on my lawyer’s face actually startled me.

“Well, some of her questions were just so personal. I thought, Who does she think she is? What right did she have to ask me questions?”

“She had the right to ask you anything she wanted,” Mr. Collins said. “She had the authority of the court! She was asking the questions that the judge wanted the answers to!”

“It wasn’t just the questions,” I said. “It was the way she asked them. She was totally rude. She had quite the attitude.”

She had an attitude?” Mr. Collins questioned.

I knew what he was implying but I chose to show some class and ignore him.

“Yes, the nerve of some woman who shops at Wal-Mart, and doesn’t even have the sense to have her bag match her shoes, to think that she could sit there and judge me!”

Mr. Collins put his head down on the table. How unprofessional! Not to mention that from that angle his hair was even less flattering. Forget the hairstyle, a shampoo would have been helpful for a start.

The door off to the side of the bench sprang open and a large man in a uniform came in.

“All rise for the Honourable Judge Roberts!”

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Contributor notes

Eric Walters’ young adult novels have won numerous awards, including the Silver Birch, Blue Heron, Red Maple, Snow Willow, and Ruth Schwartz Awards, and have received honours from UNESCO’s international award for Literature in the Service of Tolerance. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario.

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Editorial Review

Praise for Eric Walters’s We All Fall Down:
“Realistic, frightening, and heartbreaking. . . . Walters [creates] a novel that is compelling and emotionally wringing.” - Quill & Quire

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About the Author

Eric Walters

ERIC WALTERS, a former elementary school teacher, is one of Canada’s most popular authors for children and young adults. He has written more than seventy books that together have won more than a hundred awards, and talks to hundreds of young people in schools and libraries across the country each year. He is also the founder of Creation of Hope, which provides care for orphans in the Makueni district of Kenya, and lives in Mississauga, Ontario. Visit him online at www.ericwalters.net.

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