Ruby and Olivia
A spooky middle-grade story that's full of fun, friendship, and humor--perfect for fans of Ingrid Law and Lisa Graff.
Ruby is bold and opinionated, while Olivia has always been respectful and well behaved. But Olivia’s good-girl image is tarnished when she takes the fall for her twin sister’s misdeed. And now Olivia is stuck with Ruby all summer—at a community service day camp for troublemakers.
To kick off the spirit of service, the campers are tasked with cataloging the contents of Live Oaks, a historic mansion in their town. Sorting through objects in an old house sounds boring, and working together is the last thing the girls want to do, but the stuff is actually kind of cool. There’s everything from mink stoles to golf clubs to antique dolls . . . and . . . wait . . . is that doll watching them?
It isn’t long until little tricks—like mysterious music playing, doors slamming, and shadows rising—start to spook the girls. They’d like to think the other campers are pranking them, but they soon realize that this empty mansion might not be uninhabited after all. To solve the mystery at Live Oaks, Ruby and Olivia will have to put their old grudges aside and figure out how to be a team.
This gently creepy middle-grade story is full of all the heart, humor, and authenticity that make Rachel Hawkins a favorite with kids and teachers alike.
Excerpt from Ruby and Olivia
RubyToozday : So I think we should definitely write it all down. Everything that happened.
OliviaAnneWillingham : That . . . does not seem like a good idea.
RubyToozday : Why not?
OliviaAnneWillingham : If you can’t get why putting down *in writing* that we destroyed a town landmark is not a good idea, I don’t know what to tell you.
RubyToozday : But we didn’t destroy it ! Not on PURPOSE. That’s the whole point of this ! Making sure that if it ever DOES come out, what really happened, we’ve gotten the FACTS STRAIGHT.
RubyToozday : Why do you hate facts?
OliviaAnneWillingham : Fine, you can write it down if you want, but I want it to be really clear that none of this was my fault.
RubyToozday : That is a lie.
RubyToozday : We’re documenting this for science, Liv.
RubyToozday : There’s no lying in science.
OliviaAnneWillingham : Ugh. Okay, but I’ll do my part on my own, okay?
RubyToozday : That seems fair and also scientific.
None of this was actually my fault. I wouldn’t have even been at Live Oak House this summer if it hadn’t been for my sister, Emma. My twin sister, Emma.
Sometimes it’s weird to look at someone who shares my face but couldn’t be more different from me if she’d been born on another planet. Mom says that it’s because we’re twins that we’re so different, that we’re always trying to make it easier for people to tell us apart. I don’t think that’s true for me, but it defi- nitely is for Em.
We’re what’s known as mirror twins. We’re completely identical, but in reverse. The little brown freckle near my left temple? It’s there on Em’s face, too, but on the right. She’s left- handed, I’m right-handed.
When we were little, our mom made sure we matched all the time—same little dresses, same hairstyles, all of that. It was only last year that Emma rebelled and started wearing what she wanted. I’d never minded matching, but if Emma didn’t want to do it anymore, I told myself I needed to be okay with that. Then on that Saturday, the day that screwed everything up, Emma came out of her room dressed the same as me for the first time in ages. It was an accident.
I hadn’t told Em what I was wearing that day, and she hadn’t come into my room to see me before she got dressed. It hap- pened that way sometimes, an easy thing to do since we still had a lot of the same clothes. We’d both worn jeans and the pale blue blouses Mom had bought us a few weeks before. I liked the blouse because of the little flowers embroidered around the neck, and Emma’s favorite color was blue.
Honestly, I’d expected Emma to ask me to change, but that day, she’d just shrugged it off. “One more time won’t hurt,” she’d said, and I’d been happy about that.
Things had been . . . weird with me and Em for nearly a year by then. Not in a big way, really, but if I was pretty content being EmmaandOlivia, all one word like that, I could tell Emma wasn’t. It had started in little ways—wanting her own room, her own clothes—but turned into wanting her own friends and her own in- terests, people and hobbies that it seemed like she picked because she knew I wouldn’t like them.
Like Camp Kethaway.
Camp Kethaway had been Emma’s obsession for months, ever since she’d seen a stack of brochures in the guidance coun- selor’s office. It was your traditional summer camp—canoeing, arts and crafts, s’mores, all that, which had sounded like a night- mare to me.
Staying in the woods with a bunch of people you don’t know? Forced camaraderie? No, thank you.
I’d told Emma right from the beginning to count me out of her Camp Kethaway plans, and I think part of me had assumed she’d scrap the idea. We were kind of a package deal, me and Em, so surely if I didn’t want to do it, she wouldn’t, either.
But no, Emma had just gone on planning for camp, begging Mom and Dad until they relented. She was scheduled to leave just a few days after the lipstick thing.
We were going shopping with Mom, something neither of us really liked all that much, except I got to spend time in the bookstore, and Mom let Em go to the Sephora even though we weren’t allowed to wear makeup. Emma always said the trips to Sephora were “scouting missions,” that she was learning what kind of makeup she liked so that when she was allowed to wear more than slightly tinted ChapStick—on our fourteenth birthday, according to Mom—she’d be prepared.
The lipstick she took wasn’t even a color she liked. It was too bright, almost hot pink, and Emma didn’t like pink. I did, though, and maybe that’s why Mom believed me.
I can still remember standing there at the front of the store with Mom and Em, the security guard, and the cashier with the pretty blond hair, a bright streak of purple over one eye. Mom’s arms were folded over her chest, and her face was pinched and tight, white lines edging her lips. Mom had never been this mad at us before, but then we’d never given her any reason to be be- fore that day.
And really, I can’t blame Em. Em didn’t point a finger at me and say, “It wasn’t me, it was Olivia.” I was the one who said, “I did it. I took the lipstick.”
Even now, I don’t know exactly why I said that. Maybe it was because I’d known that Mom would punish Emma by canceling her summer camp. Maybe I thought Emma would think I was cool for owning up to a crime I didn’t commit.
And maybe—just maybe—when I said I’d been the one to take the makeup, I thought Emma would fess up even though she had to know that would mean the end of Camp Kethaway.
Maybe I thought Em would pick me over camp.
But she just bit her lip while Mom looked back and forth between us.
“Livvy, this is just . . . It’s so unlike you,” Mom finally said, and I saw Emma flinch a little bit. I couldn’t blame her. Was Mom saying shoplifting was like Emma? Sure, she’d been going through some changes lately, switching out new crowds of friends every few weeks, it seemed like, but she’d never really been in serious trouble before.
I just shrugged and said, “I wanted to be different.”
I still don’t know if Mom actually believed me, but she sighed and nodded, and that was that. Obviously no one wanted to press charges against a twelve-year-old, but that didn’t mean I was getting off scot-free.
Camp Chrysalis had been a thing in Chester’s Gap forever, and I remembered past summers, seeing kids in brightly col- ored T-shirts picking up trash at the park, cleaning up the area around the country club pool. Some years there were only four or five kids. Sometimes there were nearly twenty. The camp wasn’t just for our town anymore, but had opened up to the nearby towns in the tri-county area as a “positive redirection” for kids who’d screwed up. It had never in a million years oc- curred to me that I’d end up there. I’d thought with Emma away at Camp Kethaway, I’d be spending my own summer reading, maybe going to the pool.
Camp Chrysalis met at the town rec center not too far from our neighborhood, and as Mom drove up that first morning, I sat in the passenger seat, fingers laced together, hands in my lap. A whole summer of picking up trash. Of people seeing me pick up trash. For something I didn’t even do.
“Little different from yesterday, huh?” Mom asked lightly as we pulled into the circular drive in front of the center. I’d always hated this building, all squat and square and brick, with columns painted like crayons. Somehow all those bright colors against the dingy brick just made it worse.
“Definitely wish I were at Em’s camp instead,” I answered. We’d dropped Emma off the day before, and when I’d seen the way she smiled at the little circle of cabins and the brightly colored banner flapping in the wind at the top of a flagpole in the middle of that circle, I’d felt . . . okay. It was nice that Emma was going to get to do this thing she really wanted to do. I could still have a good summer, even with Camp Chrysalis.
The feeling of okay popped like a soap bubble as we walked into the rec center.
Mom put her hand on my shoulder, squeezing a little. “It’ll be fine,” she said, and I nodded, my mouth dry.
Leaning down, Mom looked into my face, her brows drawn together, and I saw it again, that same look she’d been giving me since the Lipstick Incident—like the truth of it was there if only she could see it. Mom knew me, after all. And she knew Em. And I think she knew who’d really taken that lipstick, but since I wasn’t cracking, there was nothing she could do about it.
Finally, she sighed and straightened up. “Okay, let’s get you signed in.”
The camp was meeting in the g ym, and we walked down a car peted hallway in that direction, stopping at the big double doors and glancing inside. Three k ids were already there— Garrett McNamara, a blond boy a year ahead of me who I’d seen at school; a smaller k id named Wesley, who was in my grade; and then, coming through the doors on the other side of the gym, a very familiar face, and one I really, really didn’t want to see.
Liv got sent to Camp Chrysalis because of something her sister did that she—totally stupidly, I should add—took the blame for. Me?
I actually did the thing.
It’s a long story, but it involved getting on the wrong bus on our school field trip to the art museum, then making a deal with this kid from a different school to switch pranks. You know, I’d do a prank at his school, he’d do one at mine, and we’d never get caught because no one is looking for a suspect outside the school, right? Such a good idea.
I’d gotten it from this old movie I’d watched with my grammy once. I used to go to her house after school every day until my mom was done with work, and one of mine and Grammy’s favorite things to do was watch old movies together. Grammy wasn’t very old, and most of the movies she liked had been made before she was born, but she was a sucker for any- thing black-and-white and spooky. In the movie, a guy gets on a train, and he and a stranger learn they each have a person in their life they wish they could murder. They decide to murder the other person’s person, figuring that that way, no one can connect them to the crimes. Obviously, that was way more intense than what I wanted to do, but when I got on that wrong bus, I realized it was the perfect opportunity for something like that, at least.
I think Grammy would’ve laughed.
But the other kid, Harrison, was a total weenie and didn’t do the prank at Yardley Middle School, while I did do the prank at Chester’s Gap Junior High. While I didn’t think it was that big of a deal (like, you can vacuum up glitter, even that much glitter, I’m pretty sure), the “vandalism” got me in serious trouble, and my punishment included Camp Chrysalis.
Honestly, I would rather have been suspended, and I didn’t think it was fair that my school got to punish me for something that happened at another school, but then my mom said she’d add to my punishment if I kept complaining (no Xbox until my time with Camp Chrysalis was up), and no one needed that. So off to camp I went.
We met at the rec center gym on a really pretty June day, the kind of day when I should’ve been riding my bike or asking Mom to take me to the little park on the edge of town for a picnic and Frisbee.
Okay, so I’d never had a picnic or played Frisbee with my mom in my life, but that’s not the point. The point is that there were a million things I could’ve been doing that were not going up to the rec center to do who knew what with Camp Chrysalis. “They could be a cult, you know,” I told Mom as we walked through the blue double doors leading from the back parking lot. The air smelled like bleach and floor polish and that faintly sweaty smell that hangs around every gym, or at least all the ones I’ve been in. “We could end up doing some really weird stuff, Mom, and I might shave my head and change my name to Star- flower. Do you want a daughter named Starflower?”
Mom sighed, and it was the bad kind, something I always thought of as an “H Sigh.” It sounded kind of like “Heeeeeeeeehh- hhhhh,” and she used it only when she was annoyed with me.
Since around fourth grade, I’d gotten really familiar with the H Sigh.
“Maybe you should’ve thought of that before you were so destructive,” Mom reminded me, and I frowned.
“Destructive? It was glitter! There’s nothing destructive about glitter.”
I might have gotten the H Sigh again then, but we were interrupted by Mrs. Freely. She worked for the Baptist church and had done a lot of substitute teaching when I was in elementary school. She also ran the camp, and while she was probably around my mom’s age, I always thought she looked older. Maybe it was her hair, cut in one of those weird short styles that sticks up, but on purpose? Plus, it was an ash blond that made parts of it look gray. She was wearing elastic-waisted khaki capri pants and slip- on sneakers in the same hot pink as her T-shirt.
“Ruby, hiiiii!” she said, her smile nearly as big as the grinning smiley face printed on her tee. Camp Chrysalıs, the shirt blared. Makıng our lıves better one smıle at a tıme. Gross.
And then she handed me one of the shirts, and I started to think it was fine if I never played Xbox again so long as I didn’t have to wear that creepy smiling head.
But Mom was looking at me, eyebrows raised, and I gave an H Sigh of my own, taking the shirt from Mrs. Freely. “Thank you,” I said, and Mom lowered her eyebrows, relieved.
“We have got a busy day ahead, Miss Ruby!” Mrs. Freely said, and I remembered she was one of those grown-ups, the peo- ple who call kids “miss” and “mister,” probably with a “buddy” thrown in every now and then.
She checked something off the clipboard she was hold- ing, then moved on to her next victim, a kid I was pretty sure was named Wesley. He was in my grade, but the seventh grade had like five hundred kids in it, so it was hard to keep everyone straight.
“It’s not going to be so bad,” Mom said, leaning down a little closer to me. She smelled like green apple shampoo and the orange Tic Tacs she always had in her purse. “Hey, you might even make some friends.”
“I have friends,” I said, and Mom put an arm around me, giving me a little shake.
“Real friends, Rubes,” she said. “People who can come over to the house.”
Ugh. Like I needed a reminder that after Emma Willingham and I had stopped talking, my social life had been kind of limited. It’s not that I didn’t have friends—I totally did—just that I’d never really gotten all that close to anyone besides Emma. Between her and Grammy and, yes, the people I talked to online, I’d felt pretty complete on the friendship scale. But then Emma had gotten mad at me, Grammy had died, and all I was left with was DolphinWhisperer2005 and SailorMoonXX.
Stepping out of her embrace, I looked up at her. I wasn’t going to have to do that for much longer—I was only a couple of inches shorter than Mom now, and since my dad had been tall, I had high hopes of towering over Mom by eighth grade.
“Internet friends are real friends,” I replied, “and you do online dating.”
This is a thing with me, that sometimes I say things before I’ve really thought about what will happen when I say them.
But Mom just laughed, shaking her head and pulling her purse up higher on her shoulder. “Okay, fair point,” she said. “But I’m serious. You spend so much time yelling into that headset, and I’d like you to—”
“Yell at people in real life?” I offered.
Mom wrinkled her nose. “Not exactly. I just mean . . . Look, try to get some good out of this whole mess, okay? And Emma Willingham is here, see?” She nodded across the gym to the blond girl standing with her mom. “You and Emma used to be such good friends.”
“That’s not Emma,” I said. “That’s Olivia.”
It was so obvious to me that I was surprised Mom had made the mistake. Emma wouldn’t have been standing there with her head kind of down and her shoulders rolled forward, like she was trying to disappear into herself.
That was a total Olivia move.
I’d known the Willingham twins since I was really little, and used to be friends with both of them. Well, I always liked Emma more, but when we were younger, Olivia had been okay. It was only around fifth grade that she started to bug me, always seeming irritated when I was over at her house, glaring at me and Emma over the top of whatever book she was reading.
But then Emma and I had stopped hanging out last year, all because I said a certain boy who went to our school was cute.
Problem was, Emma liked that certain boy and apparently she thought me pointing out that he was cute meant that I liked him, which was not true. I was just . . . making an observation about the world around me.
So that had been the end of me and Emma hanging out, and now her sister was here, sentenced to the same summer punish- ment as me, which was maybe the weirdest thing ever. What on earth could Olivia Willingham have done to get sent to Camp Chrysalis? Forgotten to say please? Worn pink on Tuesdays instead of Wednesdays? Mom blinked at Olivia, clearly trying to figure out why the good twin was here. “Okay,” she said slowly. “Then . . . maybe . . . you and Olivia could be friends again?”
I think that idea was even more horrifying than the pink T-shirt.