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So B. It

So B. It

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So B. It

4.5/5 (153 ratings)
170 pages
3 hours
Oct 20, 2009

Editor's Note

Hooked me immediately...

Written from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl searching for truth, “So B. It” hooked me with the first sentence. The story hinges on some fantastical elements, but suspension of disbelief is all part of its magic.


You couldn′t really tell about Mama′s brain just from looking at her, but it was obvious as soon as she spoke. She had a high voice, like a little girl′s, and she only knew 23 words. I know this for a fact, because we kept a list of the things Mama said tacked to the inside of the kitchen cabinet. Most of the words were common ones, like good and more and hot, but there was one word only my mother said: soof.

Although she lives an unconventional lifestyle with her mentally disabled mother and their doting neighbour, Bernadette, Heidi has a lucky streak that has a way of pointing her in the right direction. When a mysterious word in her mother′s vocabulary begins to haunt her, Heidi′s thirst for the truth leads her on a cross-country journey in search of the secrets of her past.

Oct 20, 2009

About the author

Sarah Weeks has written more than fifty books for young readers. Some of her picture books include Mrs. McNosh Hangs Up Her Wash, Sophie Peterman Tells the Truth!, and Glamourpuss. Her bestselling novel, So B. It, is a feature-length film starring Alfre Woodard and Talitha Bateman. Ms. Weeks visits thousands of students in elementary and middle schools across the country every year. She is also an adjunct professor in the prestigious MFA Writing for Children and Young Adults program at the New School. Sarah lives in Nyack, New York, with her husband, Jim Fyfe, and their dog, Mia. You can visit her online at www.sarahweeks.com.

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So B. It - Sarah Weeks




If truth was a crayon and it was up to me to put a wrapper around it and name its color, I know just what I would call it—dinosaur skin. I used to think, without really thinking about it, that I knew what color that was. But that was a long time ago, before I knew what I know now about both dinosaur skin and the truth.

The fact is, you can’t tell squat about the color of an animal just from looking at its bones, so nobody knows for sure what color dinosaurs really were. For years I looked at pictures of them, trusting that whoever was in charge of coloring them in was doing it based on scientific fact, but the truth is they were only guessing. I realized that one afternoon, sitting in the front seat of Sheriff Roy Franklin’s squad car, the fall before I turned thirteen.

Another thing I found out right around that same time is that not knowing something doesn’t mean you’re stupid. All it means is that there’s still room left to wonder. For instance about dinosaurs—were they the same color as the sky the morning I set off for Liberty? Or were they maybe the same shade of brown as the dust my shoes kicked up on the driveway at Hilltop Home?

I’d be lying if I said that given a choice, I wouldn’t rather know than not know. But there are some things you can just know for no good reason other than that you do, and then there are other things that no matter how badly you want to know them, you just can’t.

The truth is, whether you know something or not doesn’t change what was. If dinosaurs were blue, they were blue; if they were brown, they were brown whether anybody ever knows it for a fact or not.



One thing I knew for a fact, from the time I knew anything at all, was that I didn’t have a father. What I had was Mama and Bernadette, and as far as I was concerned, that was plenty. Bernadette started off being the next-door neighbor, but that didn’t last for very long. My mother loved me in her own special way, but she couldn’t take care of me herself because of her bum brain. Bernie once explained it to me by comparing Mama to a broken machine.

All the basic parts are there, Heidi, and from the outside she looks like she should work just fine, but inside there are lots of mysterious little pieces busted or bent or missing altogether, and without them her machine doesn’t run quite right.

And it never would.

Bernadette understood about Mama. She knew how to talk to her and how to teach her things. The trick with Mama was to do things over and over the exact same way every single time until she got it. That’s how Bernadette taught Mama to use the electric can opener. Every day for weeks she brought over the cat food cans and opened them in front of Mama.

Watch me, Precious, she’d say. Lift up. Put the can under. Press down. Listen to the hum. Done.

Pretty soon Mama was saying the words along with her. Well, not all of them, but she’d nod her head and say Done when that part came. After a while Bernadette let Mama try it herself. At first she couldn’t remember what to do—she got the order all mixed up—but Bernie kept working with her and talking softly to her, and finally one day Mama opened a can all by herself.


I don’t know who was happier about it, Bernadette or Mama.

After that Mama opened cans all the time. Soup and cat food and tuna fish. Any kind of can. In fact, we had to keep them hidden up high, or over at Bernadette’s, because if Mama saw a can, she opened it, whether you happened to need what was inside it right then or not.

Bernadette’s apartment was right next to ours, and in the olden days, when the building was first built, the rooms were probably all joined together as one big apartment. That’s why there was a connecting door between us. That door meant that when Bernadette came over, she didn’t actually have to leave her apartment, which was a lucky thing for Mama and me because of Bernadette’s A.P.

When she first explained it to me, I thought she said she had angora phobia. I looked it up in M.B.F. (Man’s Best Friend), which is what we called the big Webster’s dictionary we kept on the coffee table in the living room. It said a phobia was a fear and angora was a long-haired animal, usually a goat or a rabbit. I wasn’t sure why, but when you put them together, according to Bernadette, it meant you were afraid to leave your house.

Later on I learned that what Bernie had was actually called agoraphobia, not angora phobia, but it still boiled down to the same thing—she didn’t go outside. Ever. She couldn’t, because if she did, something terrible would happen. She never told me what exactly, but from the look she got in her eyes just thinking about it, I knew it was bad.

Bernadette loved to read. She always had her nose stuck in a book, and if not her nose then she’d have a finger in there, holding her place while she did whatever else needed doing quickly so she could get back to her reading.

Did you know that an ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain, Heidi?

She was always telling me interesting stuff that she’d found in some book. If she was reading about Africa, she wouldn’t tell me something boring about irrigation ditches—she’d tell me, Elephants are the only four-legged animals that can’t jump.

Every night as far back as I can remember, Bernadette read out loud to me before I went to sleep. The two of us would tuck Mama in together, and then Bernie would come in and sit on my bed and read to me until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

She read me Charlotte’s Web and The Little Prince, parts of the Bible, and Zen philosophy. She translated Romeo and Juliet into English, well, my kind of English, and we both cried at the ending. She read me Greek myths and Nancy Drew mysteries, the biography of Mahatma Gandhi, and all the Little House books twice through. Bernadette and I couldn’t go outside together, but every night we rode bareback across the prairie in calico bonnets or belly crept into dark caves or followed clues up steep winding staircases into the tops of mysterious clock towers.

Bernie taught me everything I knew, and she was a very good teacher. When she explained things, they shot into my brain like arrows and stuck. She could describe an Arctic blizzard or cross-pollination, and suddenly I’d be leaning into the bite of a freezing wind or riding a bumblebee’s back right into the middle of a snapdragon. Nobody ran in Bernadette’s world—they skittered or hightailed it. They didn’t whine, they puled and moaned. She knew a million words, and when she couldn’t find one to fit, she’d make one up. Like when Mama got frustrated and started scrunching up her face and working her jaw, Bernadette would say:

Your mama’s cooking up a royal rimple, Heidi.

A royal rimple sounded like some kind of fancy pudding to me, but Mama cooked them up on a pretty regular basis, and believe me, hers didn’t come with whipped cream and a cherry on top. Usually they happened when Bernadette was trying to teach her something new. Some things Mama could learn, like how to open cans, but there were some things that no matter how hard Bernadette tried, Mama just couldn’t get. Like how to tie her shoes.

Right over left. Snake in the tunnel. Pull tight. Make loops. Right over left. Snake in the tunnel. Pull tight. Done.

I must have heard Bernadette say that a million times. In fact, I still hear her voice in my head saying those very words every time I tie my own shoes, because that’s the way she taught me. But Mama couldn’t get it. After a few tries she started banging her head on the table shouting, Done! Done! Done! and she wouldn’t stop until Bernadette finally bent down and tied her shoes for her.

Bernadette was not what you’d call a quitter, but she understood that some things were just too hard for Mama. That’s why when she ordered shoes for her from a catalogue, she always got the slip-on kind.

I loved my mother, and I know she loved me too, but if we hadn’t had Bernadette, we’d have been in big trouble. Mama didn’t know things. She didn’t understand numbers at all. She couldn’t tell time or use money or the telephone. She only knew one color, blue, and although she could recognize a few letters, A and S and sometimes H, she couldn’t read, not even her own name.

Bernadette taught me how to read and write when I was five. She said I took to it like a duck, which I remember thinking was a strange expression. I’d never heard of a duck that could read. But if Bernadette had told me there was such a duck, I would have believed her without hesitation. As far as I was concerned, she knew everything there was to know, but that was before I left Reno in search of a four-letter word and discovered along the way that people know only what they know and nothing more than that.



Mama never had a job and Bernadette didn’t work either. I was the only one in my family who was ever employed. When I turned nine, I began to baby-sit twice a week for the Chudacoff twins, who lived on the sixth floor. Mrs. C gave violin lessons to the neighborhood kids, and I watched her kids for $2.50 an hour while she did it. I made ten bucks a week. It seemed like a lot of money at the time, but of course it was nowhere near enough for Mama and me to live on.

Every month like clockwork Bernie heard from the gas company, the electric company, the phone company, and the landlord, but Mama and I never got even one bill. We didn’t have a phone, but we had a decent-size two-bedroom apartment with heat and electricity running through it just like everybody else; we just weren’t paying for it.

If Mama and I aren’t paying, doesn’t that mean we’re stealing? I asked Bernadette one day.

Well, I guess some people might think so, but I think of it differently, Heidi. Some people fall through the cracks in life and end up living in cardboard boxes on the street. You and your mama just fell through a luckier set of cracks is all.

It was Bernadette who first discovered my lucky streak. We were playing a new game she’d ordered for me, called Memory. It’s made up of little cardboard cards with pictures on them, which you mix up and turn facedown on the table. The idea is to take turns flipping over cards two by two trying to find matching pairs. It’s supposed to test your memory by making you try to recall where you saw the kitty or the umbrella the last time, so you can turn over that same card again when you find the match for it later on somewhere else. For me, though, memory had nothing to do with it.

On my very first turn I flipped up the center card. It was a yellow duck. Then for no particular reason, I decided to flip up the card in the upper left-hand corner. There was the other yellow duck.

Lucky guess! Bernadette said.

Only I did that same thing twenty more times in a row. Bernadette never even got a turn. Every guess I made was lucky. I never had to test my memory, because I found all the matches without missing once. It was easy. I didn’t even have to think about it—just reached out and turned over card after card making perfect matches.

How in the world did you do that, Heidi-Ho? Bernadette asked, looking at the cards and stroking her chin.

I didn’t know how I’d done it. But when she shuffled the cards and set them on the table facedown, I did it all over again.

I’ll be hornswoggled, Bernadette said.

I’m not psychic—I can’t tell the future

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What people think about So B. It

153 ratings / 60 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (5/5)
    Since Heidi, the main character in So B. It, loved to make lists, I thought I would start my review that way.

    Things I Love About This Book
    Beautiful language
    Compassionate, realistic characters
    Compelling story
    Unique style
    Heart-warming and touching without being sentimental

    A young teen, Heidi, lives with her mentally disabled mother, who only knows a select amount of words, and who thinks her own name is "So Be It." Their caring neighbor, Bernie, took them under her wing when Heidi was just a week old. Bernie provides for them the best she can, however, what she can provide is limited, because she is agoraphobic.

    The opening lines had me hooked: "If truth was a crayon and it was up to me to put a wrapper around it and name its color, I know just what I would call it - dinosaur skin. … But that was a long time ago, before I knew what I know now about both dinosaur skin and the truth."

    Heidi learns from Bernie, who home-schools her, that you can't tell the color of an animal by its bones, so we'll never know what color dinosaurs actually were. But when Mama adds a new word to her limited vocabulary, Heidi is determined to find the truth behind it.

    Every sentence was so beautiful, so powerful, yet so stripped down - no extra words, no flowery language weighing it down. One of my favorites (and I really have to limit it to one, before I quote the whole book) was how a hug was described as "…arms around us both like string around a package."

    While bits and pieces reminded me of certain things: "I Am Sam" because of the 'normal' child and mentally handicapped parent; The Man Who Loved Clowns because of the handicapped relative; I am the Cheese because of the "Farmer in the Dell" song and a spoiler-ish aspect I won't reveal here; these reminders were vague, because the book was entirely unique.
  • (5/5)
    this book was amazing ! i could read it 100 times and never get sick of it . it was also a life changing kid of book personally . the whole story and motto of this book was very inspiring , about how the mother was disabled and how a young girl was grown up for her age . The little girl travels by herself to find out her mothers true identity and goes on long journey to find out . i would definitely recommend this book to anyone and all levels of reading . one of the best books i have ever read .
  • (5/5)
    Incredible book. Starts a bit slow but really pulls you in as Heidi, 12-year old, lives with her mom who is mentally challenged. Heidi doesn't know where or when she was born, or anything about her past--or her mother's past. When she finds a mysterious role of film and develops it, she begins an adventure into her past that leads to her present...and changes her life forever.
  • (5/5)
    One day in her apartment in Reno, Bernadette heard a pitiful sound in the hallway. She opened the door a crack and saw a young woman standing there in her raincoat, her bare legs spattered with dried mud, holding a crying baby wrapped in a blanket. The baby was Heidi, and they had come from the almost-empty apartment next door for help. Heidi's Mama can't tend her week-old child because she has, as Heidi later says, "a bum brain," so Bernadette steps in and cares for them both tenderly. Mama says her name is "So Be It," but with her twenty-three-word vocabulary, this is all the information she can give Bernadette.Twelve years later this strange but loving household is still together. Heidi does the shopping because Bernadette has "angora phobia," and pays for it with money she wins at the laundromat; Bernadette teaches her at the kitchen table while Mama is happily occupied with her coloring books, and the rent and utilities are always mysteriously paid. But Heidi wonders who she is, where she and Mama came from, why they were alone, and most of all, she wants to know the meaning of Mama's word "soof." When she finds some old photos in a cupboard, she knows where to go to find out, and as she sets out on a long cross-country bus journey, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into surprising places in this intriguing and heartwarming mystery. (Ages 10 to 14)
  • (5/5)
    Sarah Weeks weaves a powerful story of self-discovery--not so much coming of age, as coming to one's own identity. It is also an excellent sample of how we, as a society, judge what we do not know, from fear more than hate.
  • (5/5)
    A young girl has a single, mentally retarded mother and she seeks to find out how she came to be...who is her father? She finds her answers and the reader gets to go along on the journey.
  • (4/5)
    I loved this book and I can tell it because it even made me cry. Heidi lives with her mom, who has mental disability and Bernadette who is very helpful and loving for them. Heidi already knows that her mom loves her but her problem makes Heidi unsure. Her mother only knows 23words and "soof" is a mystery. Heidi wants to know mother's past and her identity which she never knew before, so Heidi takes off to find it out by herself. At the end, Heidi figures everything out but after the incident that happened to mother, Heidi realizes that her mother truly loved her and identity could not explain it.
  • (3/5)
    Heidi and her mother live in an apartment across the hall from agoraphobic Bernadette. Each chapter is titled with one of the very few words her developmentally disabled mother knows. Heidi finally decides to find more about her life and who she is...
  • (4/5)
    Booktalk: Heidi, almost thirteen, lives with her mentally disabled mother in Reno, Nevada in an apartment adjoining Dette's apartment, Dette being the compassionate next door neighbor who cares for Heidi and her mother. Heidi's mother has a vocabulary of only twenty-three words, one of which is "soof" and the only word whose meaning neither Heidi nor Dette can figure out. When Heidi accidentally discovers photos of her mother from her past, Heidi is given just enough clues to embark alone on a cross country journey to discover her roots and the meaning of the her mother's mysterious word "soof."
  • (3/5)
    Heidi, a 12 yr. old girl, grows up with her handicapped mother and a kind neighbor who lives in an adjoining apt. and acts as her surrogate mother. Heidi does not know anything about her mother and her mother is unable to communicate very well. After finding a camera and developing the film, she discovers clues to her mother's past. This sends her on a personal journey of discovery. Heidi is a strong, likable character . The story's ending surprised me. The book seems targeted for mature fifth graders and up (questions of how Heidi was conceived may arise).
  • (4/5)
    A compelling story of girl trying to piece together her past and understand the word he mother keeps repeating Soof. Hieid the main character is born to a mother with a "bum brain", some sort of mental retardation. The mother become unable to care for one week child alone and enlists the help of a kind neighbor. Together this group finds a way to make like work together. One day Heidi decides to find out who she is and where she came from. She ventures off to meet and grandmother and finds out her mom and dad were both severely disabled . She shows a tremendous amount of courage and resolve in finding the information. Upon returning home she finds out her mother has passed away. She is almost drowned in guilt but with the help of her "Special " neighbor manages to cope. It is a fast and engaging read. Best used with middle of high school aged students.
  • (4/5)
    I like this book pretty well. One thing I didn't like are the unbelievable parts, such as the main character's luck, which take away from the believability of the book. Some sections were a little slow, but otherwise it was a good book and a good look at what it's like to live with an adult who functions as a child.
  • (5/5)
    A memorable story and completely captivating characters. This affected me to surprising degree. I have to hurry away this morning but I'll have more to say about this later.
  • (4/5)
    Absolutely touching. It's the kind of story that will make you cry. It's about a girl trying to find out about her past and along the way she finds out more than she actually intended to. It is a great book but I would prefer a more action packed book.
  • (4/5)
    So B. It was so good as well as sad.
  • (5/5)
    love the book .i have no word to say that diescrib this book.
  • (5/5)
    This book was pretty unlike what I've read before. It was about a girl who grew up with a severely mentally-challenged mother and her helpful neighbor, and how the pictures she found on her mother's camera encouraged her to discover the secrets of her past. I've read tons and tons of realistic fiction before, but none with this kind of story. It was very original and relatable, even though the mother I've known all my life is not mentally handicapped. You don't have to have a handicapped mother to have a harder situation growing up, and Heidi's bravery and strength was really an inspiration to kids who read this book. Maybe it's fairly unlikely that a twelve-year-old would travel across the country by herself on a bus, but what her character stands for is really what this book is all about.
  • (5/5)
    Very Inspirational & Sad. At the end u feel much compassion towards the young girl.
  • (4/5)
    This book kept me intrigued until the end. I was very wrapped up in Heidi's character. Her quest to discover her mother's past became my quest.
  • (5/5)
    This is a Scholastics book so it carries a positive message and is easily read. A great book to give a teen who 'does not like to read'.
  • (5/5)
    This was a book that I read over a couple of lunch hours. It was very sweet. Because of Heidi's amazing luck, it almost seemed like a fantasy with a low level of magic. It was very sweet and almost dreamlike.
  • (5/5)
    I really liked this book. I thought the ending was really sad, but the rest was okay. I also thought that the book was an easy read and hopefully an easy AR test. I recomed this book to anyone.
  • (5/5)
    A really touching story about a girl's journey to discover the secrets of her mother's past and, in doing so, truths about herself. Captivating storytelling, engaging characters, and an ending that made me cry. One that I'll be sharing with friends.
  • (4/5)
    Aspects of this are more than a fairy-tale than reality, especially the whole godmother and quest things, and I did fall under an enchantment while reading it. Thinking back (to this morning when I read it), I don't remember anything brilliantly complex or poetic, but I do remember sniffing, giggling, and feeling both anxiety and joy... somehow Weeks made it work, and so I do feel confident in recommending this to young teens and all who are willing to read books aimed at them.
  • (4/5)
    A quick read and fast-paced; very interesting to hear about Heidi and her background being raised by a mother with a "bum brain" (I've never heard that phrase before). Heidi's love for her mother is extremely apparent; I did, however, want to know more information about what happened to her mother at the end, so that part did bother me.
  • (5/5)
    So B. It... This story honestly was unexpectedly amazing. The fact of a little girl just wanting to know who and where she came from touched my heart. At first when my teacher gave this book to me, I immediately thought of it as a book for a female to read. I never thought that I could visualize this book as well as I did. The way that Sarah Weeks wrote this is a way that can inspire. This book showed me that anything is possible as long as you figure out how to cope with the facts that may come out of your search. This book is a book that personally I would recommend to anyone. I've connected with this book, from my own abandonment. I knew where I came from but after reading more I pursued research into my family just as Heidi did in this book. My final words for this book are... This book was amazingly crafted and I enjoyed it more than I ever thought I would. This concludes my review...
  • (3/5)
    So B. It by Sarah Weeks is a good YA novel. Not at the level of some of the great ones we've seen lately like The Fault in Our Stars or Wonder, but solid and good. Twelve-year-old Heidi is the able-minded daughter of mentally deficient So B. It, a sweet woman who only knows a few words and gets easily flustered. They came upon agoraphobic neighbor Bernadette when Heidi was a baby (under circumstances explained late in the book), and Dette has raised Heidi, homeschooled her, and taken care of her mother. Heidi and her mother do the shopping under instructions from Bernadette, and Heidi becomes capable in the outside world.Heidi is now insatiably curious about her mother's past and whatever family Heidi may have elsewhere. Clues lead her on a cross-country bus journey from Reno, Nevada, to Liberty, New York. She is helped by her uncanny knack for lucky gambling (slot machines, guess the number of jelly beans, etc.), which she uses sparingly. Accepting that knack takes some generosity on the reader's part, but Heidi's search for her family and its history is compelling, and the characters she meets up with are well-rounded and engaging. If you're willing to take the story in the spirit it's given, it's a likable one from a prolific author that will pull on your heartstrings.
  • (5/5)
    If you've ever read a book that haunted you long after the last page ended, then you understand the difficulty in writing a review that expresses the sheer beauty of an incredible tale.Attempting will be feeble, but here goes:There is security for 12 year old Heidi. Bernadette, a loving neighbor, provides help and guidance in taking care of her severely mentally challenged mother. Limited in the ability to express words and thoughts, Heidi's mother repeats one word over and over.Suffering from agoraphobia, Bernadette cannot leave the apartment and thus Heidi's world is a small, safe cocoon of love. Whereas Heidi's mother has few words in her grasp, Bernadette is a voracious reader and avidly searches words and their meaning.Found by Bernadette when Heidi was an infant, she is well cared for and home schooled by Bernadette. Unlike her mother, Heidi is highly intelligent and thirsts for knowledge. That thirst includes the need to drink from the well of understanding about how her mother arrived in Reno, Nevada at the doorstep of Bernadette.Knowing they didn't simply drop from the sky, when Heidi finds a box of photos in the back of a closet, one of which indicates a sign of an institution in New York, she stubbornly pursues a journey to find the answer to puzzle pieces that seem disjointed.Bravely taking a bus from Reno to New York City, meeting a cast of characters along the way, Heidi's journey nets unexpected results.This is a lyrical, poignant, touching and heart warming book! The writing is wonderful and the emotions expressed and accurately portrayed brought tears and a longing to finish the book, while paradoxically not wanting it to end.This is what great writing should be. Going out on a limb, I'll wager that you won't be disappointed in reading this ASAP.
  • (4/5)
    This book really spoke to me . I understood everything easily considering the main character is my age. The description was beautiful and I could never put the book down. The surprise at the ending really shocked, but not as much as it did the main character.
  • (4/5)
    Excellent piece of children's literature. Heidi is a strong character for young girls to look up to. She's courageous, extremely smart, and tough. I can't imagine how rough it must have been for her to grow up with a mentally handicapped mother and never know anything about her family or herself. This is not usually the type of story I prefer reading, but Weeks was able to keep my interest by telling the story from Heidi's point of view. I wouldn't have had nearly as much sympathy for Heidi or the other characters in the story if it hadn't been told from the perspective of a 12 year old girl with a mother with a "bum brain."