43 pages 1 hour read

Sarah Weeks

So B. It

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2004

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Published in 2004, Sarah Weeks’s middle grade novel So B. It follows 12-year-old protagonist Heidi as she sets out to discover the truth about her background and family. Heidi grows up not knowing her own birthday, her father’s name, or how she came to live in Reno, Nevada with her mentally disabled mother. When she finds an old roll of film from Mama’s past, the photos inspire her to begin a journey to uncover the truth. So B. It is a Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner. This guide references the 2004 Harper Trophy edition of the novel by HarperCollins Publishers.

Plot Summary

Heidi lives in modern day Reno, Nevada. She is close to two people in her life: her mother, who has a “bum brain,” as Heidi puts it, and Bernadette, a next-door neighbor in their apartment building. Heidi does not know her father nor any other relatives. Her only family history goes back to February 19th a dozen years before, when Bernadette heard a baby crying in the hallway outside her door. When she opened the door, Mama came into Bernadette’s apartment and let Bernadette help with baby Heidi. After Mama left, Bernadette worried for them; as an agoraphobic individual, she could not leave her home. Luckily, Bernadette found an adjoining door between their apartments. She became caretaker to Mama and Heidi, and later taught Heidi to read and other basic tasks like how to cross a street.

Heidi, now 12, begins to question how she and Mama came to live in the apartment. Bernadette (whom Heidi calls Bernie) does not work outside the home; she pays bills from a small inheritance left by her father. Heidi wonders why Mama never pays rent or utility bills. Heidi babysits for a small amount of money; also, with Bernie’s permission, she sometimes makes a trip to the Sudsy Duds Laundromat to play the slot machine. Heidi, uncannily lucky with games of chance, never comes home empty-handed. Money, however, is not much of an issue with no bills to pay.

Bernie homeschools Heidi, but Heidi meets one boy in the building who attends school. His name is Zander and he offers Heidi Twinkies and other junk food items in exchange for listening to the stories he makes up about himself and his family.

Mama uses only 23 words, one of which is the strange word soof. She cannot talk about her past or let Heidi know what soof means. Heidi’s curiosity about the word, Mama’s past, and her own background grows and grows. She finds a roll of film in a drawer, and the photos reveal Mama pregnant at a holiday party at a place called Hilltop Home in Liberty, New York. Mama says “Soof” when she sees the pictures but cannot elaborate.

Calls and letters from Bernie to Hilltop Home go unanswered. Heidi wants to travel there in person and convinces Bernie to try to leave the apartment. Bernie becomes so panicked that she passes out, and Heidi has Zander help to bring Bernie back inside. Heidi resolves to go to Liberty alone. She tells Bernie she is going to the library but goes instead to the bus station, wins money at a slot machine, and has a stranger buy a bus ticket for her. Bernie is angry and worried when she learns the truth but knows she cannot stop Heidi from going.

Heidi meets Alice Wilensky on the bus and becomes jealous of Alice’s close relationships in her family. She also meets Georgia Sweet, a young woman headed to college to study psychology. A thief takes Heidi’s money. When Heidi arrives in Liberty, she is worried, broke, homesick, and scared. Bernie calms her by phone. Heidi wins a free cab to Hilltop Home by guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar at the cab company.

At Hilltop Home, a mentally disabled man sees Heidi and says “Soof,” but the man in charge, Thurman Hill, insists Mama was never there. Heidi stays in the home of a Hilltop caretaker, Ruby, and Ruby’s husband Roy, a local policeman. By the next day, Mr. Hill is ready to tell the truth: Mama’s name is Sophia DeMuth. Her mother Diane convinced Mr. Hill to accept Sophia on charity when Sophia was a teen, but Diane later extorted a deal from Mr. Hill when Sophia became pregnant by Mr. Hill’s son Elliot (the resident who called Heidi Soof). Mr. Hill agreed to pay all future rent and expenses for Diane, Sophia, and the child in a setting of Diane’s choice. He tells Heidi that Sophia called herself So Be It because she could not pronounce Sophia, and that Soof was Elliot’s name for her. Heidi has just found out these facts when Bernie calls to tell her that Mama has died tragically in her sleep. Heidi realizes that soof is Mama’s word for love. She stays in Liberty for Mama’s burial there, then returns to Reno. Heidi learns that truth sometimes comes in pieces to help to form a whole picture of one’s identity—but also accepts that some questions go unanswered.

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