by Francine Prose

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What really happened at the back of the bus?

Did they, or didn't they?

Did she, or didn't she?

Something happened to fourteen-year-old Maisie Willard—something involving her three friends, all boys. But their stories don't match, and the rumors spin out of control. Then other people get involved . . . the school, the parents, the lawyers. The incident at the back of the bus becomes the center of Maisie's life and the talk of the school, and, horribly, it becomes news. With just a few words and a touch, the kids and their community are changed forever.

From nationally acclaimed author Francine Prose comes an unforgettable story about the difficulties of telling the truth, the consequences of lying, and the most dangerous twist of all—the possibility that you yourself will come to believe something that you know isn't true.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061920134
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/16/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 1,116,351
File size: 554 KB
Age Range: 14 Years

About the Author

Francine Prose is the author of twenty-one works of fiction, including Mister Monkey; the New York Times bestseller Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932; A Changed Man, which won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize; and Blue Angel, a finalist for the National Book Award. Her works of nonfiction include Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim, a Fulbright, and a Director’s Fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, she is a former president of PEN American Center and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She lives in New York City.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

April 1, 1947

Place of Birth:

Brooklyn, New York


B.A., Radcliffe College, 1968

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

"Are the boys who assaulted you present in the courtroom?"

"Your Honor, I object to counsel's use of the word assault."

"Objection sustained."

"Are the boys who molested you present in the courtroom?"

"Objection, Your Honor. Molested is inflammatory."


"Are the boys who touched you inappropriately on the school bus here today in the courtroom?"

I wait for the sputtery lawyer fight that will save me from having to answer. But this time, it doesn't happen. The courtroom is silent. No one moves. Someone coughs. Everyone's staring at me.

"Yes," I say.

"Can you identify the boys who touched you, Maisie?" I hate the way the lawyer speaks to me, as if I'm three years old, or as if I'll shatter in pieces if she speaks in the normal voice a normal person might use when that person happens to be talking to a halfway intelligent ninth grader.

I look over at the table where the three defendants sit jammed together with their lawyers. It's crazy that now they're defendants. Shakes and Chris and Kevin are my friends. Or anyway, they used to be my friends. When they were my friends, they wore baggy jeans and T-shirts and baseball caps. Now that they're defendants, they're wearing suits and ties and short haircuts. All three of them are hunched up tight so their shoulders won't touch their lawyers.

Chris and Kevin won't look at me. But Shakes and I make eye contact, or as much steady eye contact as you can make, considering Shakes has that funny twitch or tremor that keeps throwing him out of focus.

I'm trying to send Shakes a message. I'm sorry. I can't help this. Pleasedon't hold it against me. But it's not getting through. Looking at him is like talking into a phone that you suddenly realize has gone dead.

"Will the witness answer the question, please?"

I try to speak. Nothing comes out.

And then, as always, my eyes blink open, and I wake up with the judge's voice echoing inside my head.

"So what do you think the dream means?" Doctor Atwood asks.

"I don't know." I shrug. It doesn't take a rocket scientist...or even a therapist, like Doctor figure out what the dream means, and to come to the logical conclusion that I'm pretending not to get it.

I look out the window. It's snowing. It may sound kind of egocentric, but sometimes I can't help thinking that lately the weather's been keyed in to my personal calendar. Every time I go to Doctor Atwood's office, it snows. It's only February, but already it seems like the longest winter in human history. In fact, it's a record breaker, the harshest winter in Pennsylvania history. I'm trying not to take it personally.

"Maisie," says Doctor Atwood. "Stay with the dream. What are you thinking? What does it mean?"

I'm thinking: Is she kidding?

My three best friends touched my breasts on the back of the school bus. Someone told the principal, and the whole thing kind of blew up. Now my stepmother, Joan, suing the school board for denying my right to an equal education. She wanted to charge my friends with sexual harassment or assault and battery or attempt to inflict emotional damage or whatever. Fortunately, her lawyer told her those cases are often harder to prove. Frankly, I was really relieved. As mad as I am at what my former best friends did to me, I still don't want to see them in jail. Joan said, "These cases are all about he said, she said. And in your case, Maisie, it's he said, he said, he said, she said." Which was fine with me. Because there are all these different versions of the story of what happened on the bus. First I denied that anything happened, and then I told everyone that actually it was worse than what people were saying.

There's plenty to look at in Doctor Atwood's office, which is lucky because it saves me from having to stare back into her cocker spaniel eyes staring into mine. It's almost as if she wants to peer straight into my brain.

Half the time, I want to let her. Because the truth is, I'd be interested in knowing what's going on in there. The rest of the time, I'd prefer a little privacy. So I look away and check out her collection of African statues and masks. I like to imagine that, every evening, after the last patient has gone home, Doctor Atwood takes the sculptures off the shelves and dresses them up like dolls. I imagine her ordering pizza or take-out Chinese food and feeding the masks as if they were babies, coaxing them to open their grinning mouths and jagged teeth, and take a tiny taste.

"Maisie?" she repeats, in her maddeningly calm voice. "Do you think the dream is trying to tell you something?"

"Do you?"

"There's no need to be hostile," she says. "I'm only trying to help. You know that, Maisie, don't you?"

"Actually, I do," I say. "So help me figure this out. My dad is paying you to keep me from being permanently damaged by my big traumatic experience. And to tell the court or the judge how crazy I am because of what happened on the bus. So if you're asking me what my dream means, my dad should be paying me."

"Maisie, I don't think you're crazy at all."

"I'm glad someone doesn't," I say.

"No one does," says Doctor Atwood.

"That's a comfort," I say.

"Just for the record," Doctor Atwood says, "I won't be testifying at any sort of hearing. I will write a report of some kind. But I want to promise you, I won't betray anything you tell me in the privacy of this office."

I say, "Like Las Vegas?"


"Like what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas."

Doctor Atwood lets a minute pass. I look at a mask that seems to have blood dripping down its teeth. What a weird piece of art to have in a child psychologist's office. Oops. Doctor Atwood's lips are moving.

"What were you saying?" I ask. "Sorry."

She almost looks annoyed, then remembers she isn't supposed to. Probably the first lesson they teach you in psychotherapy school is don't look annoyed and act really interested even if you're completely bored.

She says, "You understand that your family thought it was a good idea if you started coming to see me. No one's forcing you..."

"I'm not angry." I mean it. I know that she's my expensive new paid best friend. But now that I no longer have any real friends, at least she's someone to talk to. "Maybe the dream is telling me that I'm nervous about the trial."

"Good," says Doctor Atwood. "Stay with that."

"Stay with what?"

"Your feelings about the trial."

"It's not a trial," I say. "It's a hearing."

"The hearing," she says. "I'm sorry. Trial was your word, Maisie."

"The hearing," I say.

"And your feelings about it are . . . ?"

"My feelings? I feel like total crap! I wish it wasn't happening. I wish it never got started."

I want to tell her how the whole mess often seems to me like one very long, very complicated bad dream, or like some evil chain email message that you don't take seriously, so you send it on to six friends, because it seems funny. And then each of your friends sends it on to six of their friends, and before you know it, the entire country is being told that they'll be run over by a freight train unless they send a dollar to a certain address. And finally someone breaks the chain and doesn't send the dollar. And that person gets run over by a freight train.

The reason I denied that anything happened at first was because the guys were my friends. And then I found out something totally insulting and gross. So I said: Okay. Fine. It happened. Then I said, Guess what? The incident on the back of the bus was worse than everyone thinks.

"And why do you think it is happening?" Doctor Atwood says.


"The hearing. The case."I say, "Ask her. It was all her idea."

"By her you mean your mom?" Doctor Atwood says. "Joan?"

"Joan is not my mom," I say. "Joan is the Wicked Stepmother."

"Should we talk about that?" asks Doctor Atwood.

Whenever we get anywhere near a Big Important Subject...and obviously Doctor Atwood thinks that my feelings about my stepmother are a Big Important Subject...she'll keep quiet and give me as much time as I need. Now I wonder if she'll give me so much time that I can get through the rest of the session without saying another word. I open my mouth and make little sputtering sounds, then close it again and frown as if I'm thinking really hard.

Doctor Atwood waits. I wait. More time goes by. My plan seems to be working. Because I hear a door open and shut, and sounds...throat clearings and assorted honkings and snorts...coming from the waiting room. The office is set up so that you enter through one door and leave through another, which means that you never have to meet the patients with appointments before and after you.

Touch. Copyright © by Francine Prose. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Touch 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Sorry, there's no cover art available yet for TOUCH by Francine Prose, but I recommend it as a good read no matter what they decide to do with the cover. Prose is the author of such YA titles as AFTER and BULLYVILLE, and TOUCH is sure to please her previous fans and help create new ones. TOUCH is the story of trauma and its ability to manipulate the truth. Maisie has three very good friends - Shakes, Chris, and Kevin. They've been friends since preschool, and even though this friendship between one girl and three guys may seem strange to some, it totally works for them. That is, it works until the year Maisie goes to live with her mom and stepdad. After a bitter divorce that started with Maisie's mother leaving her husband to find a different life, Maisie has lived with her dad and Joan, his new wife. Uncomfortable with her stepmother, Maisie decides to spend her 8th-grade year living with her mother in Wisconsin. As with many such experiments, Maisie learns the grass is not always greener on the other side, and she returns to live with her father when the school year is over. Things would probably have just gone back to normal, except while living in Wisconsin, Maisie has blossomed as a young woman. She returns feeling the same but looking a bit different. She has boobs. Her three childhood friends have changed a bit, as well. They now have a young man's appreciation for things like boobs. Although they try to resume their friendship as before, it is strained at best. Maisie and Shakes have always had a special bond. When school starts in the fall, they find themselves boarding the bus first. As the only two people riding for a good twenty minutes, they head to the back seat. Amazingly, they are able to remain seated there even when the seniors climb aboard. As the weeks pass, Maisie and Shakes stumble across a way to pass the time before the other students are picked up. It begins with experimental kissing and soon turns into twenty-minute make out sessions. They are very careful to time their groping to end just before others begin to board the bus, but one day they are caught. It is quite a shock for everyone, but especially for Chris and Kevin, who never thought about Maisie as girlfriend material. Once the secret is out, the friendship takes a turn that shocks the entire school community. Maisie has become the subject of cruel gossip and speculation because she seems to have allowed the three boys to stray beyond the bounds of decency. What really happened in the backseat of the bus? Can Maisie really remember things objectively, and can her life ever return to normal? Francine Prose takes readers into the mind of a confused young girl. Maisie is trying to justify her actions and the decisions that led to those actions. She battles with her angry feelings toward her friends, her parents and stepparents, her fellow classmates, and herself. Coping with trauma and moving on are the central issues of TOUCH. Teens will no doubt see a bit of themselves and also their peers when they read about Maisie's ordeal.
TeenageBookLover-TBL More than 1 year ago
This book was worst than OK it was ughh.I picked it up looking for a good read, something 2 keep my attention.But i got the exact opposite.Its about this girl who leaves her bestfriends who happen to be boys, goes to live with her mother and new stepdad;total brat, to avoid her annoying stepmom.When she decides to live with her dad and stepmom again her body is developed and her "best" friends are horn dog teenage boys.Their friendship starts to fall apart.....yadda yadda yadda....yadda yadda yadda.They ask if they can squeeze her boobs,..she says no....they do anyway.I know, it sounds good,but trust me its not.The beginning gets you going and you're excited to continue.The middle,just makes you want to burn the book;from boredom.And unfortunately,i cant even tell you about the ending,because i didn't read it,i couldn't,and believe me,i tried to finish it...but...Got the book 2 months ago,and the page i left at is still bookmarked.I struggled to get through what i already read...{im done struggling and pushing myself to read some boring book thats not all itsz cracked up to be}.She complained way to much.I wanted to slap her and tell her to at least try to take control.I know the book does have a message,but its one everyone knows about very well by now.And where im from, a boy squeezes your boob(s) without your consent,you punch/kick them in the balls,or beat the crap out of them..etc (your choice).Its not even a big deal in my school, a boy grabs your butt or're not labeled as a slut or whore like in the book...and everyone pretty much forgets about it after you do watever to whoever grabbed you.And no therapy needed after words..It could just be a bad book..or its just not my taste.But i can tell you,im upset i wasted my money on this book and im going to avoid ALL Francine Prose books from fear of getting ripped off another $18 dollars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didn't like this book at all. It was very boring. She kept repeating the same things over and over. Nothing new happened in the middle of the book, she just kept restating her feelings. I can't tell you how it ended cause I barely read the ending. I skimmed the end because I was so bored with the book. I wouldn't recommend for anyone to read this book. It wasn't very descriptive either.
Lindsey_Miller More than 1 year ago
Prose does an excellent job of handling what is likely to be considered a difficult topic to address in young adult literature. Even though the main character is 14 and books featuring 14 year olds are typically read by 10-14 year olds, I wouldn't recommend this to anyone younger than 14. The aspects of Maisie's life regarding growing up, trying to find independence with two separate sets of parents, and her changing body are explored with tact and honesty, but everything involving 'the incident' takes it from about 10mph to 70mph in no time flat. There is a level of ambiguity about the incident that plays up the story overall in an interesting way. However, personally I didn't enjoy reading the book, but I suppose that's not necessarily the point. I commend Prose on her courage in addressing difficult issues like sexual harassment and her honesty regarding all parties surrounding them. -Lindsey Miller,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Touched was a captivating read about a teenage girl discovering the cruelheartedness of adolescents and the impact of telling lies. A very thought provoking first novel.
teen-book-lover13 More than 1 year ago
Touch for me was okay, i love the characters, and the whole entire plot of the story,
jenniferthomp75 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Maisie has always been best friends with 3 boys. When she moves away for one year and then returns, puberty has hit and Maisie has grown large breasts. As soon as she meets up with her friends after that year, she discovers that their relationships have changed. When she begins a tentative romance with Shakes, her other two friends discover it and ask if they can touch her breasts like he does. After this traumatic experience, Maisie finds herself telling different tales about what actually happened on the back of the bus that day.I enjoyed Prose's writing style. Not overly wordy by any means, she tells a complicated tale through easy-to-understand dialogue. Although I did get frustrated in hearing about the incident over and over again, I liked how Prose challenges readers to figure out what truly happened.
ShellyPYA on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Maisie has been best friends with three boys, Shakes, Chris, and Kevin, since preschool. They did everything together, and they support Maisie through her parents' divorce and eventual new marriages. When Maisie decides to spend her eighth grade year with her mom and stepdad in Wisconsin, she never imagines her friendships will change. But they do, as they all go through puberty and realize they're different. An incident on the back of the school bus dirupts their friendship entirely, and Maisie works to discover what's true and what's not.
ericajsc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the first few pages of this book, I wasn't sure if I would be able to care about Maisie. But as her back story was slowly revealed I became sympathetic to her situation. Through her parents' divorce and subsequent remarriages she feels as though she's been pushed aside so that her parents can give their new spouses the attention they should be giving her. Shakes, Chris, and Kevin are the only support she has. But now they don't just see her as a friend -now in their eyes she's become a girl - and the group dynamic has changed. By the time of the incident, Maisie is clinging to the last vestiges of friendship with these guys.I found Maisie¿s narration to the story to ring true. In fact at one point she reflects on the fact that her group of friends is so small. ¿Also, I kept thinking that because I¿d become friends with Kevin and Chris and Shakes so early and stayed friends with them for so long, I¿d never learned, never had to learn, how to actually make friends.¿ I actually thought these exact words around the same point in my life.There were moments when I questioned the authenticity of the situation. Most of the novel centers on Maisie¿s battle to honestly remember the details of the incident. Wouldn't someone in her situation know the difference between the truth and what she made up out of spite? Prose deals with this question in a way that satisfied my own doubts. She allows Maisie to come to the realization of not only the truth, but also why she struggled with it.Although I took issue with some aspects of the book, in the end I found that the writing allowed me to move beyond this and appreciate the story as it unfolded.
megan105 More than 1 year ago
Very good book
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