Bella wants to leave her family of origin for a better life, so at age fifteen, she gets a professional involved to hear her story. A judge will decide through the therapist’s recommendation Bella’s custody.
Roxanne, Bella’s Mama, proves to be a horrible mother - leaving Bella alone in the blistering hot trailer, forgetting Bella’s birthday, starving her, and making her sleep outside where snakes and coyotes could get her.
Bella wants to live with the nurse who regularly checks in on them - Alice. When Bella lets it slip that she stays in the car while Roxanne frequents a bar (where she meets homeless man Kevin), Alice demands that Roxanne give up the bar scene. Unfortunately, Roxanne won’t do that, but she has an idea - Bella will live with Alice. They have a contract to detail the arrangement, and Bella is ecstatic.
Puzzle competitions are Bella’s only escape into the real world, where she shines, winning all but one contest. But Alice has a fit when Roxanne’s newest boyfriend (Carl) steals her winnings by putting the money into a stock portfolio in his own name. Tired of listening to Alice complain, Roxanne makes Bella return to the trailer with orders never to speak to Alice again.
A competition in New Orleans leads to Bella’s second loss. Carl ends up angry when there is no money and leaves them. Soon afterward, it is discovered that the winner has cheated, and Bella wins. The money is put into a bank account that Bella owns.
Like a cockroach crawling out of hiding, Carl returns. He lies about the stock account and manipulates Bella into taking the money out of her savings. Bella does that because she thinks Roxanne will be happy.
Bella’s life is a wreck. She has nothing to show for her hard work, talent, and practice. She takes her nervous energy out by cleaning the trailer and removing the clutter. She flexes her muscles by standing up to Roxanne, then has an anxiety attack. Her frustration leads her to seek out Alice; she arrives very late.
Something triggers Bella, and she runs to her best friend’s house and stands there crying, wondering what to do next. Finally, she goes home, confused and broken.
The national tournament in NYC will be her last if she has a say. She’s only fifteen but competes with seventeen and eighteen-year-olds for $100,000. Carl thinks he will get the money, but when Bella wins, the money is put into a trust fund and will be available to the winner when they turn eighteen.
Drunken Roxanne sees a snake about to be eaten by a cat in the clouds, but all Bella can see are puzzle pieces. Roxanne has two surprises for Bella – good and bad news. The good news is that she and Carl got married, and they will work on the adoption paperwork later, but Bella sees that as bad news. The even worse information is that Carl’s investments have failed, and the portfolio is worthless.
Finally putting her foot down, Bella tells Roxanne she’s done with puzzle competitions. At the bar, Carl and Roxanne get into an argument and leave. At the same time, Bella and Alice go shopping. When Bella returns home, she is told by the police that her Mama was hit by a train and died.
The psychologist has to reconsider the new information. Roxanne’s lack of mothering skills no longer matters, and since Carl officially adopted her, she has to go by the law. The judge declares that Bella must stay with Carl.
But Bella is suspicious. She knows that Carl is terrified of zombies. So with pale skin already, she uses makeup and a wig to look like dead Roxanne and draws on Carl’s fear. But when that fails, Bella gets the doctor, Katrina, involved.
When Carl is severely drunk, they try the zombie trick again. This time Katrina flirts with Carl, claiming she can’t see what he’s talking about, and with a hidden recorder, she gets him to admit to the murder.
Bella finally gets to live the life she wants. As Roxanne foresaw in the clouds: the kat ate the snake.
Karen has done many things in her past from teaching to private tutoring, accounting and bookkeeping, computer operations and programming. But her favorite was as a full-time mom. Her three children live in different states, and have gifted her with 9 grandchildren, twins, triplets and four singletons.
She is married to Tom and lives in sunny Florida, where 40 degrees is unbearable. She had a picture book, TROLLERELLA, published by Holiday House, was published in Boys’ Quest Magazine, had a play nominated for a TAG award, and is a member of SCBWI, CBI, and runs a critique group.
Bella is three and left alone in the car while Mama boozesit up in the bar.
A homeless man slinks out of the forest and to the car. He offers Bella chocolate, but he is a stranger, so Bella doesn't speak.
She remembers Alice saying, "Don't talk to strangers."
She didn't say anything about not going with them and Bella is hungry. The nice man takes her by the hand, and they go into the woods where a bar of chocolate awaits.
Cotton Candy Sky
It was too dark to see when Bella looked out the window for Mama. No Mama. There was only loud noise from the building that got louder every time the door opened, and a few more people entered.
Bella couldn’t see anything but scribbled on the page, not caring about the mess she made. She didn’t feel sleepy but was restless. There might be fairies or unicorns in the woods, both of which only came out at night.
Her Mama had forgotten to lock the door, but the handle was hard to pull, and the door was heavy. Then the door opened by itself, and a man with a white beard and smelly clothes filled the space.
“What’s your name, little girl?” Bella didn’t answer. He was a stranger, and Alice told her never to talk to strangers. “Come on outa there. You want to see my camp, don’t you? I have chocolate.”
Bella looked worried. Though he was someone she had never seen before, she wanted the food. Bella took his hand and popped out of the car. She followed the nice man into the woods.