Bookish Musings, Banter & More
It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book’s FIRST chapter!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
About the Authors:
Anne was born in San Jose, California, where she wasted her childhood playing Nintendo and watching The Facts of Life. Eventually, she went off to Princeton where she learned many important things, including how to recognize a kumquat. Four years and a useless degree later, she landed a job at Random House, where she promptly got bored and applied to graduate school, trained for a marathon, and reminisced about her days as a competitive finswimmer. A few years later, a blond guy showed up at her door with power tools and gazpacho. They live in Brooklyn. An editor by day, she enjoys bad horror movies, good cheese, and Count Chocula.
May grew up in Panama City, Florida, otherwise known as the Redneck Riviera. She graduated from Baylor University in Waco, TX and went on to earn her MA in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. After living in Brooklyn for four years and working at Random House as an Assistant Editor, Vanderbilt moved to fabulous San Francisco, putting an end to her long tour of undesirable cities. May is a Southern girl who is always on the search for decent grits in the Bay Area and makes artisanal cheese at home.
Visit the authors’ website by clicking on their names or photo. (ISBN#9780446407557, 304pp, $9.99)
I was happy in San Jose. It’s a real city. I had friends there. But this summer my dad moved us to Half Moon Bay to open his own law practice, and my early conclusion is: this place is lame, lame, lame. The people here wouldn’t know a decent person if she walked right up to them and said, “Hi, decent person here.” Trust me, I thought about doing it.
And even though I’ve been going to school here for three weeks, I can feel in my bones that today is going to be my worst day yet. I mean, look how it all started out. This morning I overheard Maria telling my mom she has lupus, and that’s why she’s been sick so much. I wasn’t supposed to hear, but the walls in our brand-spanking-new Easy-Bake Castle are so thin you can fall through just by leaning against them. That’s what Mom and Dad get for buying a McMansion in Ocean Colony. (It’s really called that. I gag every time I see the sign at the gates.) I don’t know what lupus is, but I’m pretty sure it’s deadly.
Maria may be just the housekeeper to my parents, but to me she’s like a second mother, the non- crazy one, the one who doesn’t spend her life decorating and redecorating our house, the one who actually gets what I’m going through in this town.
Then, when Dad dropped me off, I noticed a run in my tights, which only got bigger when I had to take them off and put them back on again in PE. (It’s not like we really needed to suit up to be herded into the gym, sit still, and learn the rules of volleyball anyway, so the enlargement was entirely pointless.) Next, I found out my Key Club meeting at lunch had been canceled because the adviser, Mrs. Galvin, was sick, which means I didn’t have to spend all last night drawing up proposals for service projects after all. Instead, I could have taken a little extra time to make sure I understood polynomials. But, of course, I didn’t do that, so naturally we’re being tested on them today.
Mr. Mackey begins to write the first problem on the whiteboard, and I copy it onto my paper carefully. The soft click of the clock hands sweeping around the face is almost drowned out by the furious scratching of pencils.
My dad’s colleagues seem to think it’s impressive that I’m in Algebra 2 as a freshman. I used to think so. Back in San Jose, I was always a year ahead of everyone else in my class in math and was even given a special tutor last year to learn geometry in eighth grade, but it turns out here in Half Moon Bay there are a lot of freshmen who took geometry last year. It was a lot more fun being in advanced math when it made me special. Now it’s just a lot of work.
Math has always been hard for me. I can breeze through a novel in an evening and remember history timelines until my eyes roll back in my head, but even though I like numbers, they don’t like me back.
Which, I guess, I should be used to. I glance at Tyler, but he’s already crouched over his paper, his curly blond hair falling over his forehead. Tyler’s a sophomore, and he’s the lead singer in a band called Three Car Garage. He doesn’t know I’m alive.
I sigh, then lean over to start working when I hear rustling behind me. I shoot a quick glance over my shoulder in time to see Riley McGee shove something into her purse. She sees me watching her and gives me a big fake smile, then pulls out a mechanical pencil. Sketchy. I turn back to my test, shaking my head. She wouldn’t really . . . would she?
Okay, Ana. Focus. You’re just trying to solve for X. I stare at the problems, trying to figure out the first step. The tricky thing is that X is different every time. And I don’t like change. I like things to happen when and how they’re supposed to.
I make a tentative mark on my paper, then hear a soft thud behind me. I sneak a peek under my arm and see that Riley has knocked her pencil onto the floor. I watch as she picks it up, then peeks into her bag. She grabs something, frowns at it, then shoves it back into the bottom of her bag and quickly sits up and starts to write.
She really would. Huh. I wondered how she got such a good grade on the last test. I should have known.
Riley McGee is a cheerleader and the most popular freshman in school. In my short time here, she’s been rumored to be dating two different first-string football players. That’s almost one upperclassman a week. Not exactly the kind of freshman you’d expect to find in Algebra 2. Thankfully, I’ve totally got her beat because for one thing, I’ve got a brain. Math may not come easily to me, but I work my butt off to get good grades and so far that has worked pretty well. I intend to walk out of this dump in four short years as valedictorian.
Riley peers into her bag again and smirks at what she finds. Isn’t cheating hilarious?
What do I do? I didn’t exactly see her cheat, but that’s definitely what she’s doing. I say a quick prayer for wisdom, then turn back to my paper. It wouldn’t be nice to call her out in public. I’ll just hang around after class for a minute and mention something quietly to Mr. Mackey. It’s kind of sad, considering that I saw her at church on Sunday. I would have expected her to have a little more integrity, cheerleader or not.
“Five more minutes, my little mathletes,” Mr. Mackey says, looking up from The Big Impossible Book of Advanced Sudoku. Old Mackey. He’s almost as big around as he is tall and has the bushiest eyebrows I’ve ever seen. He’s very weird, but I kind of like him.
I look back at my paper. Is it possible that X is zero? That always seems to be what happens when something doesn’t make sense. It’s like this joke the universe hasâ€”it’s this little squiggle that means nothing (literally), and it makes everything around it meaningless, too. I resist the temptation to make another comparison to my life and move on to the second problem. Maybe this one’s easier.
“Three minutes,” Mackey says from behind his book. I quickly scratch out as much as I can on the rest of the quiz. It’s not going to be pretty. I’ll have to see if Mr. Mackey will let me do some extra credit to make up for this or it’s going to seriously drag down my average. And I have to get an A. I just have to.
That’s when I hear it again. Riley is looking at something in her bag, and she is definitely smiling about it. I turn around and stare at her. She writes something quickly, then looks up at me, rolls her eyes, and looks down at the quiz. Okay, that’s it. Youth group or no, she can’t get away with this. It’s not right. Jesus would stand up for what’s right. I raise my hand.
“Ana, do you have a question?” Mr. Mackey nods at me.
“Mr. Mackeyâ€”” I take a deep breath and slowly lower my handâ€””I saw someone cheating on the pop quiz.” I turn around to face Riley, righteous indignation washing over me. Someone behind me coughs, but it sounds like they’re saying something under their breath.
“I did not cheat!” Riley screeches, her blue eyes wide. Riley is only a few inches taller than me, but it’s enough to make her kind of intimidating.
“Oh really?” Mr. Mackey asks, cocking his eyebrow at me, then looking at Riley. “That’s a serious accusation to make, Ana.”
“I know, sir,” I say as calmly as I can. I look around and notice that everyone is staring at me. I feel my face turning bright red. I hate this school. “But I saw her do it. She has the answers in her purse.” Even as the words come out of my mouth, I’m wondering if maybe this wasn’t the best way to handle the situation. Maybe this isn’t what Jesus would do after all. It’s hard to tell sometimes.
Someone coughs again, and this time I think I hear what they’re saying: “God Girl.” Who are they talking to?
Riley is looking at me like she could tear out my eyeballs. I lean back just in case she decides to go for it.
“I don’t have anything in my purse!” she says, placing her hands on her hips and flipping her long blond hair over her shoulder.
Well, now I look like a fool. I have to show Mr. Mackey I’m right or I’ll always be that girl who accused Riley. That’ll do wonders for the friend search. I reach toward her chocolate brown bag. The nerve.
“Get away from my bag,” she yells, grabbing it and hugging it to her chest as she stands up.
“Mr. Mackey, if I could just look in her bag, I could prove it,” I say quickly, but Mr. Mackey is already walking toward us with anger in his eyes.
“Ladies, that’s enough.” He steps between us. “Riley, return to your seat.” He looks at her, and she reluctantly sits down again. “For this little outburst, you’ll both be in detention this afternoon.”
“Butâ€”” Riley starts, but Mr. Mackey holds up his hand and continues.
“Ana, I’d like to see you after class.”
“Just me?” What about her?! I glare at Riley, and she rolls her eyes at me. Mr. Mackey nods. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Tyler smirk.
“Now, please pass your quizzes to the front and open your books to page seventy- three,” he says, turning away, indicating that the subject is closed. I take a deep breath, trying to hold back tears. She’s the one who cheated!
I try to pay attention as Mr. Mackey goes on and on about factoring polynomials, but I can’t focus on what he’s saying. Detention. I’ve never had detention in my life. Does that go on your permanent record? I bet Princeton doesn’t let in people with detentions on their records.
This never would have happened at my old school. Teachers there loved me and knew that I was going somewhere. Teachers here seem to think I’m headed straight to San Quentin. I’ve been here less than a month, and I’m already an outcast.
Finally the bell rings, and everyone around me throws their books into their bags. They’re off to the grab food at the snack bar and sit on the smooth green hillsides and concrete steps that surround the school. There’s no cafeteria here, but there are lots of places all over campus where groups of friends gather to eat. Someone coughs “God Girl” one more time, and though I’m not sure where it comes from, I know who it’s directed at. I have to face that I have earned a nickname at my new school. Just great. I’m really going to miss being invisible.
Riley doesn’t say a word to me as she walks by. I sit still, looking down at the fake wood grain on the smooth desktop in front of me. Engraved in the desk is a message for me: “Die, maggot.”
I glance out the window and see people gathering together. Maybe it’s good that Mackey is holding me after class. There are only so many times you can pretend not to care that you’re eating alone, and it’s not like I have anywhere to be, thanks to the Key Club meeting being canceled. Guidance counselors will tell you that joining clubs looks good on your college applications, but what they don’t tell you is that it also gives you somewhere to go at lunch.
Slowly, the sound of voices begins to disappear, and locker doors stop slamming shut. Mr. Mackey walks over to the empty desk in front of me and sits down, turning to face me.
“Ana?” His eyes are narrowed, and he looks at me with what seems like concern. “You’re doing well in this class.” I nod and stare back down at my desk. Die, maggot, it tells me again. “You’re doing exceptionally well for a freshman.” I swallow. Where is he going with this? “But Rileyâ€” ” he clears his throat and looks around, as if worried someone might overhear what he’s about to sayâ€” “Riley has the highest grade in this class.” My mouth hangs open in shock. Riley has the highest grade in the class?! “She hasn’t missed a question yet.”
I shut my mouth, for fear I might be attracting flies. “But see,” I say, sitting up indignantly. “She must get the good grades by cheating. How else could she . . .”
“She’sâ€” ” He coughs, and I hear phlegm rattle in his lungs. “She’s quite good at math. Always has been. Teachers have been after her to join the math team for years, but she won’t. I’m afraid she wasn’t cheating on today’s quiz.”
“But she was looking at something in her bag!” I know I’m starting to sound a little hysterical, but I can’t be wrong about this. I just can’t. How could she be beating me?
“She was using her phone.” He coughs. “To . . . what do they call it? Texting? She was texting.”
“But . . .” But what? But how could he see that from all the way across the room? And cell phones aren’t allowed at school. If he saw her, why didn’t he stop her? How can it be true?
“That’s why you both have detention,” he says before I can say anything. “I just made up the quiz questions before class, so there’s no way she could have had the answers hidden in her bag.”
“I know you were only trying to do what’s right today, Ana,” he says, nodding at me. “So you’ll serve the detention for disrupting the class, and then we’ll put this behind us, okay?”
I look up at his bushy eyebrows and nod, biting my tongue to hold back the tears. The injustice of it all is overwhelming.
“Keep up the good work, Ana,” he says, and I nod, looking down at my hands. He waits, but I don’t move. “You’re free to go now,” he says, coughing again, as if I didn’t get it the first time. Slowly, I stand up. I carefully place my book and notepad into my bag, looking down so he won’t see the tears welling up in my eyes. He watches me as I walk toward the door and step out into the cool air.
Copyright Â© 2008 by Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt
“This article is used with the permission of Hachette Book Group and Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt. All rights reserved.”
Check back soon for my review. Don’t forget to click the bookcover for more info or to buy a copy and look for other FIRST Wildcard member posts and opinions on this book in today’s blog postings.