L'excerpt

Lundi, 12 Mars

As you may have guessed, my name is Lotus Lowenstein and this is my diary. My name is not a joke; it actually says Lotus on my birth certificate. My mother was into some whole Zen/yoga thing when I was born. I’m sixteen (almost) and I’m in the middle of my sophomore year in high school, and I know that this year will be completely different than all other years of my life. This year, I will become an existentialist, go to France, and fall in love (hopefully in Paris) with a dashing Frenchman named Jean-something. We will both be existentialists, believe in nothingness, and wander around Paris in trench coats and berets.

There are obstacles to my plan. Just this morning, my mother informed me that there was no way I was going to France this summer, because of economics. It’s ridiculous. What are family economics compared to my development as an existentialist? It’s not like they don’t have enough money when they want to—for example, when their favorite child, my little brother, Adam, needs a new laptop to practice chess simulations. Oh, did I mention that my brother is some kind of chess genius?

“My life is merde,” I told my mother. “Merde, do you hear me?”

“The whole Northeast hears you, Lotus.”

“I must go to Paris!”

“We can’t afford it right now, honey. You know your brother needs a new laptop, and if you haven’t noticed, the roof is in desperate need of repairs. And your father is between careers, so . . . to each according to their need, as Karl Marx would say, and you don’t need, emphasis need, to go to Paris right now.”

“But I do—I will die if I don’t.”

“No you won’t. You’ll be fine. You’ll finish high school. Take the SAT, go to college. Have a fulfilling career.”

“Like you, Maman?”

My mother kept chopping carrots into little pieces, as if they were the enemy. My mother has been especially irritable lately. She claims she is going through early menopause and insists on telling me about it, in the interests of mother-daughter bonding, although if we haven’t bonded by now, I fear it’s a little too late.

I recommended French homeopathic remedies to her, but all she wanted to do was complain. When she started talking about vaginal dryness and how someday this would happen to me, I put my hands over my ears and yelled, “Too much information!” until she stopped.

It is très difficult being me. I am trapped in a crumbling maison in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with crazy people who claim to be related to me. They insist on dinner every night at the unfashionable hour of six-thirty, like we are farm- hands. How am I supposed to develop a chic figure if I am forced to eat this starchy American food? Mon Dieu, we don’t even have a cheese course! Not that I’m grosse (fat), but I’m not mince (thin), either. My friend Joni says I’m curvy and that she’d love to have my figure. I do like the way I look for the most part. I’m a brunette, like most French women, and I have a frange (bangs) and a unique sense of style. But I do think that if I lost a few kilos, I’d probably look better in haute couture.

Mes parents scoff at all my ideas, but it’s not like they seem particularly happy about the boring way we do things now. When I told my mother that I was thinking of becoming a catholique, because everyone in France is catholique, her response was a groan and “Lotus, are you kidding me?”

School (sigh)

At nine o’clock in the morning—a little early for me—I was in English (advanced placement, can you believe it?). Ms. G, my teacher, is nice, though kind of tragic, I guess, because she lives alone and must be at least forty. If she were in France, she could be a mysterious older woman like Juliette Binoche or Isabelle Adjani, but here she’s merely old and invisible. It’s not that she wears horrible clothes, it’s just that her clothes don’t make enough of a statement. She needs scarves, accessories, more makeup, better hair. Her shoes scream comfortable (the kiss of death), and the drab colors she wears (black, black, and more black) don’t scream anything, they just whimper in the background. Black is chic on a younger woman like moi, but a femme of a certain age, well, she needs a little color.

diaries, Ms. G wrote on the board in big block letters, and I felt a frisson. (Frisson is also French, for shiver of excitement.) I had the frisson because I am all about diaries: I’ve been keeping a journal religiously for several years. My personal diary is not ready to be revealed to le monde (the world) yet, but I am still psyched to study the diary format, since it will help me perfect my craft.

In fact, I can see the future already. I will publish my diary and it will be a huge success, a phenomenon. I’ll be a teen sensation, bigger than Bridget Jones, bigger than John Lennon and the Dalai Lama, bigger than Lindsay Lohan. I am debating whether to call my oeuvre The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein or Pensées of Lotus Lowenstein. Pensées are deep thoughts, in case you were wondering. I decided to ask Ms. G her opinion. She’s a good teacher, most of the time. I’m contemplating dedicating my book to her. Despite her brutal critiques, I feel she truly understands me.

Mardi, 13 Mars

Our first assignment is based on the diary of Sei Shonagon, a lady-in-waiting to the Japanese court in 990, about a gazillion years ago. She started writing her pillow book because someone gave her a pillowcase full of paper, how random is that? She wrote lists of things she liked and didn’t like and talked about stuff that happened to her. Our homework is to write diary entries about our lives, à la Sei Shonagon .

Assignment #1

Adorable Things

Duck eggs

An urn containing the relics of some holy person.

Wild pinks

—Sei Sh¯onagon

Things J’adore

French men (although I haven’t met any, I’m sure they would be charmant and we would drink many espressos and have mad, passionate affairs). I am a great believer in l’amour. Did I mention I am also an existentialist like Simone de Beauvoir, except she was bisexual and outdoorsy and I don’t think I am bisexual and I am definitely not outdoorsy.

J’adore my dog, Rags, whom I’ve renamed Pierre le chien (Pierre the dog). He is the only member of my family who does not condescend to me. Pierre is a mutt, but I feel that he has some purebred chien in him.

Vintage clothes—they look better on me than the insipid fashions of this time period.

Café, which is incredibly delicious. My father has been letting me have café au laits from the espresso machine I bought him for winter solstice (we’re Jewish, but we don’t believe in organized religion). I always put in lots of steamed milk, four sugars, and some powdered chocolate. C’est merveilleux.

—Lotus Lowenstein

P.S. Have you ever thought of getting a makeover, Ms. G? I think you’d be hot—I mean, très chic.

Ms. Lowenstein,

While I applaud your creative use of the diary format and your budding knowledge of French, I would greatly appreciate it if you would restrict yourself to the subject assigned and the requested word count. Also, please insert quotes from The Pillow Book.

Ms. G

Good effort overall!

Excerpted from The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein by Libby Schmais Copyright © 2009 by Libby Schmais. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.