Mazie

Mazie

by Melanie Crowder
Mazie

Mazie

by Melanie Crowder

Paperback

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Overview

*"Deserves a standing ovation." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

*" This is a terrific and realistic piece of historical fiction that is perfect for theater lovers and historical fiction fans." —SLC (starred review)

*"The peppy first-person narrative keeps the story zipping along, and adroitly placed period details make the setting come alive in this bighearted, exuberant novel." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

An eighteen-year-old aspiring actress trades in starry Nebraska skies for the bright lights of 1950s Broadway in this show-stopping novel from award-winning author Melanie Crowder.

Mazie has always longed to be on Broadway. But growing up in her small Nebraska town, that always seemed like an impossible dream. So when an opportunity presents itself to spend six weeks auditioning, Mazie jumps at the chance, leaving behind everything—and everyone—she's ever known.

New York City is a shock to the senses: thrilling, but lonely. Auditions are brutal. Mazie's homesick and she misses the boyfriend whose heart she broke when she left. Nothing is as she expected.

With money running out, and faced with too many rejections to count, Mazie is more determined than ever to land a role. But when she discovers that booking a job might mean losing sight of herself, everything Mazie always thought she wanted is called into question.

Mazie is the story of a girl caught between two lives—and two loves—as she navigates who she is, what matters most, and the cost of following her dream.

Praise for Mazie:

"Entertaining and heartfelt."— Booklist

"Mazie’s authenticity makes this novel stand out. Recommended for all collections, especially where theater is popular."– School Library Journal


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780525516767
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 02/22/2022
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 292,887
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

MELANIE CROWDER holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the author of the critically acclaimed Audacity and An Uninterrupted View of the Sky. She lives with her family on the Colorado Front Range. Visit Melanie online at www.melaniecrowder.net. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MelanieACrowder.

Read an Excerpt

NEBRASKA, 1959

1


IF YOU HOLD a map of the United States in both hands and fold it top to bottom, then again lengthwise, and open it back up again, chances are you’ve landed smack-dab in the middle of the Butterfield family farm. I should know—I spent half my childhood at my grandmother’s hip, poring over her unruly stack of maps. I’d lie for hours on my belly, chin in hand, clacking my heels in the air, the braided rug over the old hardwoods in the living room digging permanent imprints into the skin at my elbows and knees. Nana says you have to know where you come from to have any hope of figuring out where you need to go—otherwise a compass is no better than a child’s spinner toy, and a map is just a fussy drawing for folks to bicker over. I’ve hardly stepped foot outside Nebraska, so I can’t say as I know one way or the other.
As any agricultural map will show you, the heart of this country is corn country, and my hometown of Fairbury is no exception. In the middle of town, you’ll find the Frosty Top drive-in diner, where I spend my weeknights on roller skates delivering trays of burgers and fries, shakes, and ice-cold bottles of Coca-Cola. The giant ice-cream cone rotating high above the outdoor dining 
section is like a beacon drawing folks in from all over Jefferson County. Or maybe it’s the weather.
Tonight’s one of those sparkling spring evenings when the place is packed. Everybody’s got their windows rolled down despite the chill, folks so eager to believe winter is finally behind us, they don’t mind their teeth chattering so long as the sun is out. I take an extra second to steady the tray on my palm, toe the brake on my right skate, pivot the other, and holler, “Door!” before I clip it with my hip and wheel outside. The air is crisp, fluttering the pleats of my skirt and tugging at the pins that hold my Frosty Top cap on my head at a jaunty angle.
A song takes form in my mind like it does every time I get so much as a second to myself, building in my chest and begging to be set free as I skate toward the pickup trucks parked in V formation. This time it’s “Getting to Know You” from The King and I. The notes are simple enough and the breath work isn’t too tricky, but hitting those staccatos while you’re sashaying around the stage shaking hands and dropping curtseys—it isn’t half as easy as Deborah Kerr makes it look on screen.
Late last night when I should have been writing an essay on Senator McCarthy’s steep rise and abrupt fall, I was poring over the Richard Rodgers score to see if any of his songs hit the sweet spot for my voice. I can reach the high notes, sure, but the mezzo range is where my singing goes from pretty darn great to ain’t nobody in the room paying attention to a single thing but me. The judge at the state fair last summer said my voice was the best to come out of Nebraska in a decade.
I think I’m good enough for Broadway, but I won’t know for sure until I get there. In the meantime, I’m studying the only way I know how. Our library in Fairbury doesn’t have much in the way of a music section other than a few musty hymnals. But the librarian goes out of her way to set aside the theater section of the Times for me, and to request a steady rotation of scripts and scores from the music school in Omaha. They’re teaching me more about technique than my voice teacher, Mrs. Muth, ever could. So I know to breathe in through my nose in the cooling air and hum for a good long while before I open up and sing.
I skate nice and slow to buy myself a little extra time, and so I don’t spill the drinks. The owner of the Frosty Top, Earl, is in one of his moods today, so he’d probably take the ruined meal out of my paycheck. I’ve heard folks say, Aww—he’s more bark than bite, by which I know they’ve never been on the receiving end of that particular bite. I swing a wide turn and sidle between a shiny red Chevy Bel Air and a beat-up Ford that’s more rust than anything else.
“Two hot chocolates, two Frosty Burgers with extra pickles, hold the mustard, and an order of skinny fries to share.” I set the tray on the window hanger, pull a stack of napkins out of my apron pocket, and flash my best smile. “Anything else I can get you folks?”
The driver takes his time looking me up and down. It’s acting practice—that’s what I tell myself as I freeze that smile in place and shift my gaze to the woman in the passenger seat, who’s either oblivious or, more likely, willfully ignorant as to the kind of man she’s with.
“Nah, you’re doing just fine,” he drawls.
Cretin. I don’t meet his eyes—won’t give him the satisfaction. I push off and skate back to the diner empty-handed. It’s more of that acting practice to keep my hands from clenching into fists when I know his eyes are on my ass the whole way back to the diner.
The job does have its perks, though. Skating back and forth between the kitchen and the cars parked beneath that shiny red roof is a workout. I need the practice if I’m going to make the chorus line of a Broadway show my first season in New York. It may look easy bell-kicking across the stage with a big smile plastered on your face while you sing, sing, sing, but those people have built up more endurance than marathon runners, I’ll tell you what.
The heat from the kitchen blasts my cheeks, the fry oil in the air sinking into every pore when I make my way back inside. “Hey, Marv, you got those milkshakes for table sixteen?”
“Sure do.” He tops each whipped cream tower with a maraschino cherry.
“Hustle up,” Betty says, eyeing the tray balanced on my palm and smoothing the sides of her Kool-Aid–red hair. “We’re on in ten.”
Every hour on the hour, us carhops line up in front of the diner’s chrome bar and do a choreographed song and dance. Yep, on skates.
“I’ll be ready,” I call over my shoulder as I make for the indoor dining room. “Door!”
I skate across the black-and-white checkered floor, past the chrome barstools, and into a bank of curved red vinyl booths. Everybody’s so happy to see the sun, the air is fizzy as a freshly poured soda pop. The diner’s packed with families tonight, so the show should be a hoot. I set down the milkshakes with a straw and a long skinny spoon for each. A girl in pigtails goes straight for the cherry, plucking it off the swirl of whipped cream and dropping it in her mouth. A boy next to her with freckles like polka dots sprinkled all over his face dunks his straw straight to the bottom of the glass, eyes wide and cheeks pumping like bellows. The Mr. and Mrs. thank me, and I give them a genuine smile in return, no acting required this time.
I tuck the tray under my arm and scoot back to the kitchen quick as I can without catching a wheel on a chair leg and falling flat on my face. The other carhops are lined up, waiting on me. Patty pinches my cheeks, while Edna pries loose the knot at the back of my apron.
“Ready?” Betty stations herself at the door, peering out of the round window and watching the clock. Like he does every hour, Earl leans over the jukebox, his apron strap digging into the pink skin at the nape of his neck, wiry hairs curling out the back of his white T-shirt. He punches the button for “Moonlight Serenade,” and the machine clicks and whirs, the record dropping on the turntable. Betty counts us off, and we glide into the dining room, moving in unison, like a bunch of slow-motion Rockettes on skates. The music is dreamy, and I fall into the familiar pattern of swirl and swish as we wind across the checkerboard floor. The whole thing is a Gene Kelly rip-off, to be honest, but nobody around here would know that, or care.
Although it’s the same routine every night, the customers never seem to tire of it. No matter how many times they’ve seen it, folks my parents’ age glaze over the minute the music begins. Oh, they’re still watching us, but they’re far away, too—lost in wartime memories of whatever heartbreak or glory or both this song always seems to call to mind. Earl knows it, and he’s squeezing that nostalgia for every penny he can get.
We spin and twirl through the diner before landing in front of the bar for the finale, all in a line. It’s a little like being in a musical, I suppose. Doing the same thing night after night, calling up the crowd’s emotions and playing them for all they’re worth. But I won’t be satisfied until I’m doing the real thing on a real stage eight performances a week.
When we hit the last, sleepy note, the customers clatter with applause, blinking and glancing around like they’re waking from a dream. Betty, Patty, and Edna skate back into the kitchen—they don’t care whether they’re dancing or waiting tables, so long as the tips are good. When Earl hired me two years ago, I made my six o’clock solo part of the deal. There was no negotiating the three dollars per week, believe me, but no way was I going to put up with milkshake stains on my socks and fry grease in my hair if there wasn’t something more in it for me. Something bigger.
I take in a deep belly breath and let that first note scatter any noise left in the diner. Sure enough, the place goes quiet like a real theatre when the house lights dim. The fryer stops sizzling, and people quit clinking those long spoons in their sundae glasses. They just listen—and me, I sing.
I was born to do this. To draw in an audience with nothing but my voice, to hold them captive and wring raw emotion out of them, willing or not. The diner is too divvied up into sections to really do me any favors as far as acoustics are concerned, but I take that as a challenge. If I can’t fill a small-town diner, how the hell will I ever fill a Broadway theatre? So I sing with everything I’ve got.

When the last note is done, a pang of longing hits—it happens every time. I hate working here. The plastic carnations in those beaded white vases that are always getting knocked over. The clamor in the kitchen so loud you have to shout every single order. The burns on my forearms and that perennial bruise on my right hip from the swinging kitchen doors. The way half the men who walk through that door ogle my body, like it’s part of the appetite they’ve come to satisfy. But I’m not me if I’m not onstage, even one as humble and greasy as this. And that time in the spotlight is almost worth more than the paycheck.
Almost.


Still, the best part of my shift is when it’s over.
I push through the front door, my skates knotted and slung over my shoulder. There he is, leaning against his grass-green Chevy, a smile brighter than both those headlights combined—all for me.
“Hey,” Jesse says. He slides a hand through his sandy brown hair and pushes off the truck.
“Hey yourself.”
The way he looks at me? I let it burrow between my ribs until my breath is short and that traitor heart of mine is banging against my chest like it wants him to know the effect he has on me. Then, whether I mean to or not, I’m beaming right back at him.
When I cross the parking lot, Jesse lifts the skates from my shoulder, snugs an arm around my waist, and kisses me like a soldier home from war, dipping me back over the hood just a little—enough that my knees give and I stop breathing altogether, but not so much that the reverend’s wife will cross the street to give us a lecture on good Christian chastity.
Sparks dance around our heads, the bulb inside that goddamn ice-cream cone flickering above the Frosty Top sign like it’s about to pop. Or maybe my brain has used up all its oxygen and that twinkling is its last, desperate plea for help. I pull back despite myself, suck in a breath, and pray some common sense comes in with it. I remind myself, like I do every single time, not to fall one inch further for this boy. Because much as I love Jesse, I am going to leave him and the rest of Nebraska behind—the first chance I get.

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