Below is the beginning of a Young Adult novel, the first I’ve ever tried to write. It began life as a short story based partly on an experience I had as a teen. Not only did it naturally expand into a novel, but the voice that keeps pushing out through my typing fingers seems to be my younger self–or somebody’s younger self!
I would really appreciate feedback, so if any readers out there want to give me some, do not hesitate to put it into the comment box or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m primarily interested in two things: first, is the voice authentic? and second, do you as a reader have any idea as to where you expect to see this story go, or where you want to see it go? I ask the second question because I’m up to Chapter 6 and having trouble deciding which of two different directions to take it.
Anyone who gives genuine feedback gets a free copy of my book SEX FOR THE CLUELESS so help me god.
Oh, and Happy Holidays. I’m not much of a Holi person myself.–MS
Who Won What?
I was thirteen and too smart for my own good. A high school sophomore before my time, I was exhausted just keeping up with my classmates, all two years older. I’d skipped kindergarten (too crowded so they sent me right to first grade), and later on I was put into New York’s S.P. (Special Program), combining seventh and eighth grades. When we moved to Long Island I was 12 and went right into high school—I knew something was wrong with this plan, but I guess nobody else thought so. It was embarrassing to be so young. I just couldn’t tell the other kids, so I pretended to be 13 when I was 12 (still young for a freshman) and then I had to keep lying for the next four years. I’m not that great a liar to begin with—my grampa says I have “an honest face” like my great-grandmother, who I’ve only seen in pictures (she might’ve looked honest but she was no great beauty). Maybe that’s why I chose to hang out with the tough crowd, the kids my parents called hoodlums, the ones from the other side of the tracks. I don’t know if or why I thought I’d fool them any easier, but I sure liked them better than the goody-two-shoes kids, who in L. High School all seemed to be rich. The school is divided that way, by rich kids and tough kids from not-so-rich families. Maybe even poor.
Mr. Blaine, my English teacher, scribbled cliché in red over hoodlum and the other side of the tracks and gave me a C, when we both knew I deserved an A. I stood in front of his desk after class until he looked up and noticed me, and then I asked politely, I swear, what I should’ve used instead of those clichés. He didn’t answer, just kept shuffling papers around on his desk, so I tried again. “That’s the trouble with clichés,” I said, trying not to sound smart-ass but afraid I probably did, “sometimes they fit better than anything else so you have to use them.” I mean, it’s the truth, so why would he think I was being a smart-ass? Ya got me—but he always thought I was. I guess it was my personality. Also maybe that I came from the city.
“If you know so much,” he finally said, “then you should know the words to use.”
Why would I know what to use if I thought a cliché worked best? Why was he mad at me all the time? I didn’t know what to say. Mr. Blaine smiled as if he’d won an argument and told me to go home.
English was 8th period, so maybe he was just tired, like that guy we read about last week who had to keep pushing a big boulder up a hill while it kept rolling back down. That’s how tired Mr. Blaine sounded when he said Janessa, go home.
My teachers in Queens never would’ve said that, not in a million years. Mr. Evans would’ve been ecstatic if a student stayed after class to talk to him! He would’ve told me to wait till the rest of the class left so we could sit down and “discuss this fascinating topic of clichés.” I used to avoid getting roped into Mr. E’s “fascinating” conversations. Still, he came off a lot more teacher-ish than Blaine, who just wanted to go home.
Margie was waiting in the hall for me. She showed me her paper, the one I’d written for her, with Mr. Blaine’s red A on top and “Excellent” scribbled underneath. When she saw I felt bad, though, she promised to tell everyone I’d written it—except, of course, for Mr. Blaine. “And my parents?” she asked in a whisper. She didn’t want to tell them the truth, but if I asked her to she would.
“I don’t really care,” I told her. “He gave me a C.”
“What? Is he crazy? Your essay was great!”
“He said I used too many clichés. Maybe he’s right.”
“Don’t listen to him! YOU are a great writer, and he knows it. He’s just jealous because he knows you’re going to be famous someday.” I could always count on Margie to stick up for me. She looped her arm through mine and pulled me closer. “You think he ever wrote a sentence as good as yours?”
I had to smile. Margie was always analyzing people, and once she decided something about you, that was it for the rest of your life. She had it in her head that Mr. Blaine was jealous of any student who could write, and I was one of the very few in our class who could. She imagined he had a trunk full of unpublished books moldering in his basement like some Old Maid’s Hope Chest. Sometimes I thought she would make a great writer, but though she had terrific ideas, like Mr. Blaine’s moldy trunk, she couldn’t write them down for anything. Anyhow, I think she had Mr. Blaine pegged—I could tell from little things he said about writers that he felt like a failure for not writing. I guess he had no time, what with four kids and a wife, and having to teach us. No wonder he hated his job—and he probably hated us for getting in his way.
“Come on,” Margie said, “Let’s cut 8th period and go to Mickey D’s.” I hated MacDonalds’ rat meat, as I called it, but I’d go wherever Margie or any of the kids went, like I always did. Even if I hated their burgers, I could scarf down their greasy salty fries like I didn’t have to worry about calories or fat. Hah!
Margie was my first friend in the ‘burbs, the first person I liked I mean, and I was hers. Our families had moved into the same housing development—ours from Queens, hers from Buffalo, which might as well have been Antarctica to me, it sounded that strange and far off. It was June, so we had the whole summer to check out swimming holes and public pools, pizza places and candy stores. By September we were experts about town, and without any real planning we pulled together a bunch of kids, the clichéd type of course, with ourselves securely in the center.
The only periods we got to see each other were study hall and English—Margie took business classes and I got tracked with “the college bound.” I swear that’s what they called us: “THE college bound.” This meant I had boring classes like chemistry and algebra, and I was stuck with the kids we called collegiates. They had brains, and a lot of them had money—but they weren’t any fun. Just like when I skipped grades, nobody bothered to ask me what I wanted—which was to learn shorthand and typing so I could get a secretarial job after high school. Plus, if I did become a writer, I needed to know how to type didn’t I? I didn’t want an extra four years of school, but I guess my mother, who must’ve expected me to go to college, was the one who enrolled me as “THE college bound.”
Margie wasn’t happy with her classes either, for the opposite reason: she wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, which meant she had to go to college, and she wrote it down on her enrollment form. For weeks after school started she bugged her mother to go talk to someone and straighten it out, until Mrs. Kontini finally went to see the guidance counselor. His “advice” was something like, “Based on Margery’s past performance, it’s doubtful she could make it through college…if she gets into college in the first place.”
When Margie told me what the counselor said I was furious. I could just see the bastard, the Big Authority with the whole school system on his side. I was as mad as Margie’d been when Mr. Blaine gave me a C. “They’re not giving you a chance!” I sputtered, my cheeks burning. “I think you’d make a great kindergarten teacher! Kids love you!”
Margie smiled and gave me a friendly peck on the cheek, but shrugged. “Oh, it was just an idea. I don’t really care that much.”
“Bullshit! The first day we met you told me you were going to be a teacher.”
“Did I? I don’t remember that.” We were on our way to lunch, and the hall was mobbed like always in between classes. Margie had less than half her attention on our conversation—she was looking up and down the halls like she was trying to find someone. “Who are you looking for?” I asked.
“Is it that obvious?” She wore a guilty smile. “There’s this guy I met in the candy store…wait’ll you see him, he’s so cute…” Just then she poked me in the ribs.
“Hey, that hurt!”
“Ssh,” she whispered from the side of her mouth, smiling at a boy who slowed almost to a stop in front of her and just stared, not saying a word. He had the hugest pair of eyes I had ever seen, and a color I had never seen in eyes before—deep green. Not hazel like characters in books or light green like you sometimes see, no, these were as honestly green as a crayon. Besides that his eyelashes were long and dark, the kind any girl, including me, would kill for—we always said it was unfair when a boy had long eyelashes. The only bad thing about his looks is that he’s fat, well, chubby, but definitely on the way to fat. You know how they say about fat girls that they have “such a pretty face”? (In my case they say “honest”!) You could say that about Danny.
After he passed by, Margie leaned over and told me he was the guy, the one she’d met in the candy store and had been looking for. His name was Danny O’Day. “You like that guy?” I asked, surprised. “He’s fat!”
“He is not fat! Maybe a little chubby… I can’t believe you of all people said that!” She aimed a deadly look at me, and I knew why—I was always saying people were too finicky about their bodies and I felt fat because of the way they talked about fat and skinny. Now here I was putting down the poor guy for being fat. I was embarrassed and told Margie she was right.
She calmed right down and said dreamily, “Did you notice his eyes?”
“Yeah. I’ve never seen real green eyes like that.”
“I know. Aren’t they beautiful?”
“To tell you the truth,” I giggled, “the way he was looking at you like a lovesick puppy dog, I thought he was gonna burst into tears.”
I expected her to maybe laugh, but I pissed her off again. Jeez, she was sure being sensitive about a guy she only met once! Just then Rosemary, one of the girls in our crowd, was coming down the hall. Margie grabbed her hand. “I saw him again!”
“You’re kidding!” Rosemary squealed. “Did he say anything?”
Without so much as a goodbye or a see ya later, Marge did a one-eighty and walked off with Ro, talking a mile a minute about Danny Boy. I felt like dying then and there, but I pretended nothing happened and stepped into a nearby girls’ bathroom. The air was thick with smoke and hair spray, the perfect cover-up for my teary eyes. I looked in the mirror and silently told myself I’d better learn to get along with Danny Boy or I’d lose Margie to him—hell, at this rate I might even lose her to Rosemary!