The Tangled Web

Published in 2009; author Kathryn Rice; illustrator Jean-Paul Tibbles


Julie's excited to get to know the new girl, Carla Warner. She's very friendly and gets along with Julie's friends T. J. and Joy, and Julie enjoys hearing about her large family (three girls and three boys, one of the latter her twin!). She even lives in one of San Francisco's famous Painted Ladies, the colorful houses often seen in photographs. Her life sounds exotic, full of fun and family.

But some things don't add up. The names she gives for some siblings are conveniently one' she could have read right then (Nancy when a Nancy Drew book is nearby, Debbie when T. J.'s eating a Little Debbie snack cake) and she seems to confuse the names of others. Then Tracy tells Julie that she tried to look up the private school that Carla's twin brother and high school brother attend (she wants to meet the older one), but there's not one by that name in the whole Bay Area. Julie asks Carla about it, figuring she'd misheard the name, but Carla's weirdly evasive. 

While this mystery is going on, Julie, Tracy, and their mother are planning for Thanksgiving. Their dad will be out of town piloting a flight, so the girls will be with their mother. They're going to invite some Vietnam veterans that Hank knoww, young men who don't have any family nearby to spend the holiday with.. Most of them are looking forward to the meal, but one man who seems barely out of high school is stubbornly sullen. Julie and Tracy talk to their dad about the plans, wondering if they can use the house since it will be easier for the veterans in wheelchairs to get into. Julie and Ivy also get some things for Thanksgiving when Julie's dad takes them to the farmer's market. They see Carla there, who explains that her parents are friends with one of the people in charge, so she can work there. Carla's boss looks familiar--like the woman Julie saw going through the trash in front of Gladrags. When Julie mentions this, Carla hastily explains that her dad, who isn't a doctor like she said before but really in the FBI, is trying to gather evidence that her boss has been embezzling and Carla's helping. 

The next day, Julie and Ivy return to the market to see Carla. She's there, but not working like she said she would be. She's walking the dog she'd told Julie about, and Julie and Ivy walk back to her house with her, even though Carla is acting evasive. Carla lets them in briefly, but when she sees her parents coming home, she ushers them out the back, explaining she's not allowed to have guests over with permission. Julie and Ivy see Carla's dad hand her some money, and Carla leaves with it. Is it something as simple as Carla being sent to pick up some groceries, or is she helping her dad gather evidence again? 

The next day, Carla's stories start to come undone. She's not at school, so Julie brings the work she missed to her. Except that house Carla showed her and Ivy isn't Carla's. It belongs to a Mr. Anderson. His wife passed away recently and he pays Carla to walk his dog thrice a week. He gives Julie Carla's address, and Julie sets out for the right location, very confused and hurt by the lies. 

At Carla's dilapidated apartment, the truth comes out. Her father left and hasn't kept in touch or sent any child support money. Her mother works long hours at the farmer's market, in a booth owned by Mr. Anderson, and is going to school to get a degree so she can get a better job. Carla has only one sibling, Todd, who was drafted and severely injured. He might never walk again, and is very depressed about it, often refusing to see Carla or their mother when they visit him at the rehabilitation clinic. Julie still feels betrayed, but can sort of see how Carla was so sad about her life that she made up a better one. When Carla's mother comes home, Julie recognizes her as the "embezzler" from the farmer's market (she also scavenges useful things from trash cans). Julie can tell the woman is determined and kind, and very proud of her daughter for all the work she does (dog-walking plus the farmer's market for money, and keeping house) and her son for his sacrifice...and also sad. Even though she's still mad at Carla, Julie invites them to Thanksgiving. On the way home, she stops by the rehabilitation clinic to confirm something: the sullen veteran is Carla's brother. She tells Todd that his sister needs him, and he should reconsider coming to Thanksgiving.

Sure enough, at 3:00 on Thursday, Carla and her mother are surprised to see Todd arrive with the other veterans. He ends up in a good enough mood to talk with Tracy, who can't help but notice that he's handsome, and the two hit it off pretty well. Julie also makes up with Carla, and gets to know her for real. While listening to some of the veterans talking about accessibility issues--some are in wheelchairs or on crutches, some have lost limbs--she has a flash of inspiration. Mr. Anderson's house has an elevator in it. And he said it seems so empty with his wife gone. And he needs a housekeeper. Now, who does Julie know who's excellent at keeping house, has a mom who would use a place closer to her college, and has a brother in a wheelchair who would find an elevator useful? The book ends before revealing if Carla and her family move in with Mr. Anderson, but it certainly sounds like a good solution.

Looking Back

In 1973, the US government passed legislation mandating that people with disabilities be given equal access--for example, wheelchair pathways. But they weren't uniformly enforced. In San Francisco, Judy Heumann, who was in a wheelchair, led a protest four years later. She and hundreds of other people with disabilities occupied the offices of the San Francisco government for almost a month, refusing to leave until officials agreed to enforce federal law.

The historical section also mentions mental disabilities, in particular the problems that plagued Vietnam veterans like PTSD. It then moves on to the way that people in the 1970s were becoming more health-conscious, interested in how diet, exercise, and lifestyle affected their overall well-being.


This book is dedicated to "Laura Klaus Abada: new girl from California, longtime cherished friend: this one's for you!"

Julie's mom won't let Tracy drive to the library because it's foggy and might rain--"not great driving conditions." I have to laugh; I'm from the Seattle area. And I know San Francisco has hills...so does the Seattle area. Some of them are closed when it snows; they're that steep. And then a couple chapters later she wants Tracy to drive Carla home because it looks like rain.

Julie misses having a pet around, since she only sees her rabbit Nutmeg when she visits her dad, so she decides to pretend a spider spinning a web on her windowsill is her pet. I had a "pet spider" in my room, too when I was a little younger than Julie. A little jumping spider. Named it after my late dog.

Joy's family has adopted a baby boy from Vietnam, orphaned in the fighting (Operation Babylift brought many orphaned, abandoned, and surrendered babies and children to the US). He's just learning to walk.

Julie wonders what I've been curious about: is Hank a potential love interest for her mom? No answer's given in this book or others.

There's a part when Julie and Ivy see Carla's mom pointing a knife at her at the farmer's market, before they know she's Carla's mom. In retrospect, Julie can see she was just gesturing. Okay, but you still shouldn't point sharp things at people!

A late aunt of mine used a wheelchair. She helped design some wheelchair-accessible pathways at her college.

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