historical fiction · young adult · teen · Vietnam War · 1960s
“Herberger transports readers back to a tumultuous, divisive time in American history through Bets’s journey of self-discovery... this follow-up offers a thought-provoking peek into a young hippie’s life of activism, peace, and love.” —Publishers Weekly
Having her father away in Vietnam wasn't easy for Bets, but she soon discovers having him back home comes with its own set of problems. When a letter from her friend Emmie arrives along with a ticket to the Woodstock Music Festival, Bets has a tough decision to make. Should she stick it out back home or leave her problems behind for a cross-country adventure? There's a lot happening in 1969, and figuring it all out is complicated. The people Bets encounters all have their own perspectives, each changing the way Bets thinks about the war in Vietnam, the problems American is dealing with, and her own problems back at home.
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“Herberger delivers another successful coming-of-age novel with protagonist Bets at the helm. The book delves into politics, racism, and the notion of patriotism... add to that the excitement and mood of the United States in the late '60s and readers of all ages will find the story interesting and thoughtful.” —Publisher's Weekly BookLife Prize
“This is a heartfelt coming-of-age tale set during a turbulent time with a protagonist who feels both real and relatable.” —Reader Review
“A captivating story... The reader will feel an instant connection with Bets, a dynamic and vulnerable heroine. ” —Emily Godfrey, Middle School Librarian
“Herberger effortlessly immerses his readers into the sounds, troubles, and beauty of 1969... an adventure that will have you sitting on the edge of your Volkswagen seat right next to Bets. ” —Sarah Salnick, Media Specialist
“An unexpected and unforgettable journey with one of the most endearing characters in young adult fiction. Buckle up!” —Tiffany Grimsley, Teacher
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brian Herberger has taught middle school English and worked with teachers on classroom computer technology for his entire career. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife and two children. His favorite thing about researching and writing Miss E. and Cross Country was creating the main character Bets, learning about the sixties and how it impacted American culture, and spending his days writing about protests, VW buses, and Woodstock.
SAMPLE FROM CROSS COUNTRY
Chapter 1: Ticket
The day the ticket arrived, I checked the mailbox when I got home from school just like I did every afternoon. I brought the mail in every day, because I knew my parents wouldn’t. My father was usually away, working on base, or if he did happen to be home when I got there, I knew he wouldn’t be in any condition to step out the front door and walk to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. My mother was either busy in the house getting things ready for dinner, or she was at a neighbor’s, at a bridge game or luncheon that lasted longer than planned.
I rolled up on my bike, letting my feet drag on the gravel at the edge of the road to slow me to a stop. I opened the mailbox door, pulled out the contents, and tossed the mail into my bike basket without even looking at it. It wasn’t until I’d leaned my bike against the side of the house and let myself in that I even flipped through the letters.
Just like getting the mail had become part of my routine, I was used to letting myself into the house. Other kids came home to empty houses, I’m sure. Some had parents who both worked, just a few that I knew about had parents who were divorced. I was a sophomore in high school and certainly responsible enough to take care of myself until my mother or father got home. It wasn’t a big deal.
In fact, there was part of me that let out a breath of relief when I came up to the door and found it locked. That meant my father wasn’t home yet. My father was my absolute favorite person to be with, but when he was home early, things were different.
There wasn’t usually any mail for me, but I flipped through it each day anyway. An envelope addressed to my mother from my aunt, a bill or two, something official-looking for my father, and then, surprisingly, an envelope with my name on it. I tossed the rest of the mail on the kitchen table and held up the envelope addressed to Elizabeth Wells.
Here’s the thing about my name. I can count on one hand the people who call me Elizabeth: teachers and my mother. There was a time when I thought my mother did it to aggravate me. Now, I know she just does it because that’s the name she gave me, and she’s sticking with it. Friends call me Bethy, and that’s fine. But my father calls me Bets, and that’s what I call myself. Emmie Hatcher knows all this, and after a year of friendship she’d shorten my name, sometimes, except when she addressed a letter to me. Then she always used Elizabeth, like the postman wouldn’t know who to deliver it to unless it had my full name on the envelope.
Emmie Hatcher. I don’t really call her by her full name either, but for a while that’s how I thought of her. Back then, it was just a name on the inside cover of a journal I’d ended up with. Emmie Hatcher. After I met her and returned her journal, I thought of her as just Emmie I guess, but I’d only ever seen her once. Well, twice. The first time she was unconscious and covered in blood, but that’s another story. I hadn’t seen Emmie in almost a year. We had written, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. Even during the times when we weren’t writing, I knew I’d eventually get a letter from Emmie. And I always did.
I slipped a finger under the envelope flap and tore down its edge. Something fell out. My hand was already pulling out the folded letter, but I stopped with it halfway out and picked up the small slip of paper on the table instead. Something about its shape and size and the feel of the paper told me it was a ticket, even though I’d never really seen a ticket before. I’d never been anywhere that required one.
It was divided into four sections. The first had a red diagonal slash across the words, with FRIDAY standing out in capital letters. Next to it SATURDAY was decorated with a red star. The third section - SUNDAY - had a red moon, and the fourth section proclaimed in the same capital letters, THREE DAY TICKET. Three days of what?
Across the top of each section were the words “Woodstock Music and Arts Festival”, and below that was a date. August 15, 1969, was on the Friday section with a price of $6.00. Eighteen dollars total. Eighteen dollars was a lot of money. It would take me weeks of working my part-time job at Johnson’s Grocery to earn as much, and that was if I didn’t spend half of it on ice cream or pizza at Sonny’s. Why was Emmie mailing me a ticket that cost almost a month’s worth of work?
I pulled out her letter. Folded within the paper was a page torn from a magazine. The side I saw first was covered with an advertisement, a full page photo of a man on a horse smoking a cigarette. I didn’t really understand what the horse had to do with cigarettes, but I didn’t think that was what Emmie was sending me, and I flipped the page over.
The first thing my eyes noticed was the simple but colorful image—a dove, perched on the neck of a guitar. “3 Days of Peace and Music” stood out above the dove. My eyes scanned the rest of the page. There were dates again. August 15, 16, and 17, and a list of performers. Joe Cocker, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens. These were names I knew even though I didn’t have any of their records. I’d heard their songs on the radio. I kept reading; It was a long list. Janis Joplin! I played her records all the time. The same with The Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, Jefferson Airplane, and Jimi Hendrix. The more names I recognized, the more I wanted to know what it was all about.
The rest of the advertisement went on to explain the festival. There would be performances by some of the most popular singers and bands, the festival would take place over three days, and it would all be happening on a farm a couple hours outside of New York City.
New York? I lived in California, in a small town outside of San Francisco. New York was just about as far away as I could imagine.
I recognized Emmie’s handwriting scrawled across the top of the ad.
You have GOT to go to this with me!
I finally got to Emmie’s letter, realizing I’d really gone about things backwards, taking things in the order they fell out of the envelope and trying to piece together what it all meant, when Emmie’s letter would likely explain it all. I spread it flat on the table and scanned its lines. The explanation was not one I could have pieced together in my wildest dreams.
Emmie and two friends made plans to spend the summer traveling east, driving cross country. They’d be sleeping in their van, stopping along the way to pick up odd jobs and earn a little money, seeing the country from one coast to the other, and eventually ending up in the small New York town that was hosting the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival. One friend had backed out, and that left an extra ticket and room in the van. The ticket was for me, and Emmie was inviting me to join her on this cross-country adventure.
The thought of traveling across the country, with a friend and without my parents, and eventually ending up at a three-day concert that included some of my absolute favorite singers and bands was still sinking in when the door opened and my mother walked into the kitchen.
“Hello, Sweetheart. How was your day?”
My mother and I had not always had the best relationship. “Hello Sweetheart” was a big step up from where we were a couple years ago.
How was my day? Well, it was a school day like any other. I’d been lucky most school years and ended up with some pretty good teachers. This year… well, I was learning at least. But there was never anything happening at school that was worth reporting at home. In fact, Emmie’s letter and the Woodstock ticket were not only the most exciting thing that had happened to me all day, they were easily at the top of the year’s list. So I don’t really know why I folded them in half and slipped them into my back pocket before I turned to my mother and said in a bored voice, “It was okay.”
Chapter 2: 1969
I sat in history class, the teacher’s voice in the background talking about dates and places. Freshman year I had the best history teacher ever. In fact, he was such a good teacher, he got himself kicked out of the school. Mr. Flynn made history come alive. Well, at one point a little bit too alive. He somehow tricked us into getting interested in what he had to teach, and once we were there with him, curious and involved, the bell would ring and he would send us off to our next class full of questions and chatting with classmates about our opinions and ideas.
Ms. Simms was not Mr. Flynn. If whoever was in charge of the universe was striving for balance, they could put Mr. Flynn on one side and Ms. Simms on the other. They were exact opposites. Ms. Simms taught history-book history. In her class, history wasn’t something to have opinions about. It wasn’t something to debate or consider. It definitely wasn’t alive. In Ms. Simms’ class, history was dead and buried. It happened long long ago, and the textbook gave the facts. Who did what, where they did it, which countries were involved. Tenth grade was world history. I’m not sure whose world it was, but the way Ms. Simms taught, it definitely didn’t feel like ours.
I was probably supposed to be taking notes. It was hard to tell in Ms. Simms’ class. She’d told us at the beginning of the year that we’d be expected to take notes and that she would collect notebooks regularly and grade them. Five or ten hands shot up immediately, and the first boy she called on asked, “How will we know what to take notes on?”
“You’ll just know,” Ms. Simms answered. “Take notes on whatever is important.” By that standard, there should be a classroom full of empty notebooks. The few words I’d written on the page in front of me had gradually been fringed by a puffy white cloud. I added another below it and one off to the side, and then doodled an airplane high above them, heading toward the upper right corner of the page.
When I was sure Ms. Simms wasn’t going to see me, I slowly reached under my chair, slipped my three-ring binder off the top of the stack of books that was under there, and set it on my desk. The binder was covered in a blue cloth that looked like faded denim, and just like my jeans, I’d drawn flowers and peace signs all over it. I’d cut a file folder in half and taped it to the inside front cover of the binder to form a pocket for keeping homework and an extra pen or pencil. That morning I carefully took the ticket and magazine page, folded them inside Emmie’s letter, and slipped them into the pocket.
After Ms. Simms paused to ask a question about what she’d just read, answered it herself when she didn’t get any volunteers, and then continued reading the next section in the textbook, I carefully pulled the letter out of the pocket and unfolded it enough to let the ticket slide free. I tried to imagine a concert that lasted three days and reread the words in each section of the ticket.
As far as being a high school kid goes, I had it pretty good. Homework, a few chores at home, and a part time job that gave me just enough hours to keep money in my pocket for whatever I wanted in town. But even with the few responsibilities I had, I couldn’t remember ever having three days to simply do nothing but enjoy music. I’d never been away from my parents for three days, and Emmie’s idea for driving across the country would practically take months not days. That guilty thought forced me to fold up the letter and hide everything back in my binder. But it was only minutes before the clouds and airplane at the top of my page were joined by a dove perched proudly on the neck of a guitar. Like the one in the magazine advertisement, I drew a hand with fingers placed on the guitar strings and then imagined who the hand might belong to and what song they could be playing. The bell to end the period rang, jarring me from my daydream, and saving me from Ms. Simms’ version of history.
“They’ll never let you go.”
“They’ll never let her go.”
I was walking between school and the library with two friends, Cassie and Susan. I’d met them both, along with Cassie’s younger sister Anne, when I’d first moved to Forestville. Cassie was a year older than me. She was a junior and the pessimist in the current conversation. Susan was in tenth grade with me, and we’d been lucky enough to end up with a couple classes together last year. This year was no different, and we should have been heading to Susan’s to work together on a science project that was due in a couple weeks. Instead, we were going to the library. Cassie was tagging along in order to rain on our parade and provide me with all the reasons I shouldn’t even consider spending an entire summer driving across the country to a three-day music festival.
El Molino High School had several buildings spread out on a small campus. Most students had classes in different buildings during the day and class changes meant hundreds of students streaming down sidewalks and across grassy areas, trying to connect with friends before the bell for the next class rang. But things cleared out quickly at the end of the day. So, other than a few boys tossing a Frisbee around and a couple clusters of kids chatting, we had the place to ourselves.
It was mid-May and kids were ready for summer even though the end of school was still a month away. Juniors and seniors had final exams or projects in most classes, but a nearly empty library made it seem like they’d already happened and everyone had passed with flying colors. The mild weather could be blamed for some kids lack of interest in school, but in 1969, there was enough happening that exams and final projects just didn’t seem important.
Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed the year before, and the peaceful movement he’d started in order to work toward racial equality had grown angry and was turning into something that was anything but peaceful. One group that seemed to have taken advantage of the empty space left by King called themselves the Black Panthers. Some newspaper articles made them seem like a political party, and one of their members even tried to run for president, but other articles described the members as militant and violent.
On TV the previous summer, we’d watched athletes from around the world compete in the summer Olympics in Mexico. We saw two African-American athletes receive their gold and bronze medals, and then as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played, they raised their fists in a salute that had become a symbol of the Black Power movement.
Forestville was a small town, and other than the anti-war demonstration I’d unleashed on our main street a year earlier, news didn’t really happen in our little town. We just read about it in the paper or turned on the TV to watch it happening in other places. But still, it was getting harder to know who to trust, and people who used to greet strangers with a smile and a handshake were crossing to the other side of the street to avoid people who they’d decided were not like them.
The war in Vietnam had gotten progressively worse. Our country continued to send young men to Vietnam, just boys really, and more and more we saw them return in flag draped coffins. To try to destroy an enemy that was able to kill our soldiers and then simply fade into the surrounding villages and jungles, our planes carpet bombed, dropped fiery napalm, and sprayed chemicals to kill vegetation, making it harder to hide. All the while, people back home tried to figure out how farmers and villagers in some far away country could be our enemies. There were peaceful protests, but often those protests turned violent as people realized that taking over a building or starting things on fire got them more attention than waving a two-fingered peace sign in the air.
Not that a high school kid spends too much time thinking about politics, but the presidential election of 1968 had gotten everyone’s attention. A young Senator from New York, Robert Kennedy, seemed likely to win the Democratic nomination and continue on to win the election, bringing his energy and new ideas with him. He was talking about equality, social justice, and some were saying, a peaceful end to the war. But that ended in June of 1968, when he was assassinated. Richard Nixon went on to become president and many of the changes we were hoping for never happened. The war just seemed to get worse.
And with the war, came the draft. Draft was a word that had snuck its way into our vocabulary over the last few years. It wasn’t like we’d learned it in English class or looked it up in a dictionary. One day it was just in our mouths, like it had always been there. Draft.
What it meant was that boys were getting called up to fight in the war. My father was in the army already. He’d made a career out of it. He spent most of his time on a base working on engines, keeping planes flying and trucks moving. When he went to Vietnam, I worried about him, missed him, wished every day that he could come home. Even though he wasn’t out doing the fighting, he was still in danger while he was over there, but the difference was that he’d signed up for the job. He had made that decision for himself.
The draft was different. The draft was plucking boys up like an unlucky lottery ticket. They might have had plans to be a doctor, or a scientist, or a teacher, or a father, and then, just like that, they were a soldier. They weren’t taking high school age boys, but the juniors and seniors at El Molino were certainly thinking about what they were headed for, because at age 18 you had to register, and then when your number came up, you went. And lots of the kids at school had older brothers. Some had already gone, and some hadn’t come back.
The one bright spot in all this bad news had our attention focused over two-hundred thousand miles away. While people argued about politics, struggled for equality, and tried to find an end to war, three men would soon leave behind Earth and all its problems entirely. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were preparing to travel to the Moon. We’d sent astronauts into space before, but this time would be different. This time, they’d actually be landing on the Moon and walking on its surface.
That’s the world we were living in in 1969. We went to our classes, we talked with friends, and made plans for the weekend. But all the while, it seemed like there were clouds hanging over us. Emmie’s letter, the prospect of a cross-country trip, and a three-day concert helped push them away for a little while.
I’d come to the library for a map, and I’d dragged Cassie and Susan with me as I told them about the ticket and Woodstock. We found Cassie’s sister Anne at a table with a stack of books in front of her, and she looked a little surprised to see all three of us.
“What’s up?” she said, looking from one face to the next.
“Bets is preparing to have her parents tell her no, by planning out a route for a trip she’ll never be allowed to take,” Cassie jumped in.
“Honestly Cassie,” Susan said with a sigh. “Like I said before, she’s sixteen. She can decide to go if she wants to. What are her parents going to do? Lock her in her room?”
“Lock her out of the house when she tries to come back is more like it.”
An angry hush from the librarian coupled with a hard stare cut the conversation short and gave Cassie the last word.
We wandered around the library looking for an atlas or some other book with a map in it. I was scanning a shelf full of books on each of the states, when a wave from Susan got my attention. I wound my way around a bookshelf and saw what she’d found. In a corner of the library, a rack of pull down maps was mounted on the wall. We pulled down two world maps and a map of Europe before we realized the bottom edge of each map was labeled. Susan flipped through, found the U.S. map, and pulled it down with a flourish just as Cassie and Anne walked up behind us.
Maybe it was because it was so much bigger than the tiny maps in our history textbook, but standing in the corner of the library looking up at the wall map, the enormity of our country began to sink in. Cassie decided to illustrate that fact by putting her finger on the map near San Francisco and then moving it eastward, making painfully slow progress while sputtering car sounds came out of her mouth. She’d barely made it to the edge of California when Susan stepped up beside her and pushed her off to the side. Our laughter drew another stern look from the librarian.
I stepped forward, close enough to the map that it filled my vision. There were no roads on the map, but my eyes traced an imaginary route through the states: California, Nevada, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York. Or a string of other states if we took a route farther north or south.
There was so much country, so much space. It didn’t seem possible that all those places, all those states and cities and towns were like my own. When I thought about all the news that weighed us down each day, all the issues that lingered in our minds, it seemed like they couldn’t possibly be spread out across the entire country. There must be places where life just went on day to day and people didn’t worry about the war or the draft, where people walked down the same sidewalk no matter what color their skin was. If there weren’t places like that, then surely our country could use a few kids driving across it in a van, spreading peace and love and happiness.
I was scared. I couldn’t imagine being away from my parents, couldn’t imagine being on the opposite side of the country from both of them. I couldn’t imagine being gone for an entire summer. But I decided at that moment, looking at the map of our country, that I absolutely wanted to go, that I would find parts of our country where there was just a little bit more happiness, or if I didn’t, I would make them happier by being there.
I moved my face in close to the New York part of the map. The town of Woodstock was too tiny to be labeled, and I didn’t even really know where in New York State it was. But I let a patch of green in the middle of the state fill my eyes and I imagined three days of peace and love and music.