Born Too Short: The Confessions of an Eighth-Grade Basket Case

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Overview

What do you do if your best friend is Keith Livingston? Keith -- who practically needs a chart to keep track of his babes. Keith -- the stud/athlete/Adonis of Hannaford School in New York City.

Well, for starters, if you're like Matt Greene, a 5'1" nerd who has never made out, you suffer.

When Keith's eighth-grade musical, Star Crossed, is a smash, Matt can't take it anymore. Blowing off steam on the corner of...

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Overview

What do you do if your best friend is Keith Livingston? Keith -- who practically needs a chart to keep track of his babes. Keith -- the stud/athlete/Adonis of Hannaford School in New York City.

Well, for starters, if you're like Matt Greene, a 5'1" nerd who has never made out, you suffer.

When Keith's eighth-grade musical, Star Crossed, is a smash, Matt can't take it anymore. Blowing off steam on the corner of Eighty-first Street and Columbus, he wishes his buddy's life would fall completely apart.

Sound serious? As Matt's story shows, the insane, gut-wrenching jealousy of a non-stud/non-athlete/non-Adonis basket case can be wildly funny.

Thirteen-year-old Matt is so envious of his best friend Keith that he wishes things would go badly for him, and when Keith's fortune changes while at the same time Matt finds his first true girlfriend, Matt is overcome with guilt.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Teenage angst may be no laughing matter, but readers will find it hard not to giggle over the misadventures of Elish's (The Worldwide Dessert Contest) 5'1Y" eighth-grade narrator, Matt Greene, who is constantly outshined by his best friend, Keith Livingston. Deep down, Matt admires his buddy who has "pathologically straight" teeth, has made out with "more girls than [Matt has] toes" and writes a rock musical acclaimed by his classmates but that doesn't always stop Matt's "Jealousy Quotient" from ratcheting up. One night, Matt vents his frustration in the form of a series of rather nasty wishes, and suddenly the tide starts to turn. Keith experiences a string of disasters while Matt repeatedly comes out on top until Matt is "blindsided" by a "mega guilt wave." While the question of whether or not Matt is truly responsible for Keith's bad luck remains satisfyingly ambiguous, Elish sends the clear message that not even a "stud/athlete/Adonis" is immune from growing pains. However familiar the premise, the delivery is witty and potent, as fast-paced as the New York City setting. Readers will appreciate the humorous approach to sex, too (after Keith describes his date with a 10th-grader, Matt confesses, "It rattled through my brain over and over and over again like a mantra from a place where sexually immature eighth graders go to die: `Keith got to third with Wendie Culhane!...' "). Good quick fun. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Matt Greene is jealous of Keith, his tall, handsome, athletic best friend. Everything seems to come easily to Keith, from his modeling jobs to his own hit musical. But after things in Keith's life start to go awry, Matt feels guilty about his jealousy. Initially, readers might feel empathy for Matt, who tells his tale with self-deprecating humor. However, the tone becomes tiresome after a few chapters. Readers may find themselves skimming ahead through Matt's pointless musings looking for something that resembles plot movement. Elish's overly slangy first-person narrative doesn't seem to match his lead character, who is supposedly such a bright talent that he is invited to attend a prestigious music camp. For reasons that seem only gratuitous, Elish introduces a "below the waist" sexual encounter and a long public kiss between two girls that Matt refers to as "lesbo." Later, in a visit with his girlfriend, Matt meets her brownie-baking mom, who then conveniently forgets all parental responsibility and leaves two thirteen-year-olds alone for "fifty-one lip-smacking minutes," to which Matt later refers with such nauseating phrases as "Class A lip-o-suction," dubbing himself "The Make-Out Meister!!!" and "the lip-sucking god!!!..." (spelled out in capital letters).With its lifeless dialogue, two-dimensional characters and contrived situations, this book has little to recommend it. 2002, Richard Jackson/Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $16.00. Ages 12 up. Reviewer:Kimberly Norman
KLIATT
Matt really likes his best friend, Keith, but it's hard not to feel envious of him. Keith, after all, is a tall "stud/athlete/Adonis," "so studly they used his smile in a toothpaste ad." Matt, meanwhile, is only 5'1", and has yet to make out with a girl, though he thinks about sex a lot. Matt's talented at classical guitar, but it's Keith and the rock opera he stages that gets all the attention. Matt finds himself wishing that for a change things would go badly for Keith—and astonishingly, they do, just as Matt meets a great girl named Josie and things start to look up for him. Is Matt's wish responsible for his friend's bad luck? Keith misses the big shot at the basketball game; his new girlfriend (the one he'd got to third base with) is seen making out with another girl; and the star of his father's new film is in a car accident. Matt frets, but eventually realizes that he's not to blame. He also comes to understand that Keith "was born able to take practically anything in stride," something that Matt "was still struggling to do." Set in Manhattan, this look at friendship and jealousy is a fast, fun read, along the lines of Jerry Spinelli's lighter, earlier books, like Jason and Marceline. There are many topical references to movies and musical groups and lots of interior monologues. There is some talk about sex and Matt does some drinking, but this would be PG rated, though some might find it a bit sexist. A cartoon cover adds to the appeal. Category: Hardcover Fiction. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2002, Simon & Schuster, Atheneum, 152p., $16.00. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; KLIATT SOURCE: KLIATT, March 2002(Vol. 36, No. 2)
School Library Journal
Gr 7-9-A hilariously honest, first-person account of Matt Greene, 13, as he comes to terms with his jealousy toward his best friend. Keith has it all: good looks; athletic prowess; and, most important, girls, girls, girls. Poor Matt is plagued by his 5'1 Y" frame, cracking voice, and his lack of sexual experience. Still, he prides himself on being an accomplished classical guitarist. When Keith, who only knows how to play four chords, announces that he's going to write a rock musical, his friend hopes that it will flop. Disaster strikes on opening night when the show is a success, Matt learns he didn't make the Aspen Music Festival, and, worst of all, his new girl falls for Keith. At the cast party, the disappointed teen drowns his sorrow with beer (his first) and bonds with a casual friend from school. On their way home, Matt's anger and jealousy explode in a tirade of wishes against his best bud. Adding a touch of magical realism, a homeless man appears out of the blue and warns, "Better be careful. Wishes that strong can come true." Sure enough, Keith blows the school basketball championship and finds out his girlfriend is bisexual. Things are looking up for Matt, though. He gets his first real girlfriend and a shot at a music scholarship in Paris. Feeling guilty and a bit freaked out by this twist of fate, he imagines tracking down the homeless man to reverse the spell, but finally realizes that the only way to set things straight is to talk to Keith. Written in an engaging, humorous voice, Born Too Short entertains while offering adolescents insight into friendship, dating, and life.-Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Elish (The Trail of Tears, not reviewed, etc.) deftly delivers the humorous side of the horrible-that's eighth-grade life-told as a modern-day fairytale overflowing with adolescent hormones. Matt Greene, an affluent New York City boy who attends private school, has been best friends with Keith Livingston since they were little kids. Keith is everything Matt longs to be: tall, athletic, irresistible to girls, and extremely handsome. It's enough to make Matt, who at five foot one and a half has never had a girlfriend, feel darned inferior. Finally, after a series of events during which Keith completely outshines his best friend, Matt's J.Q. or "Jealousy Quotient" is so high that he screams into the night, wishing Keith ill. A homeless man overhears Matt and warns him, "Wishes that strong can come true." And much to Matt's surprise, then remorseful horror, Keith starts fouling out on all fronts, causing Matt to worry that somehow, through the vehicle of the homeless man, he's responsible. At the same time, Matt's life unexpectedly improves, a welcome-yet guilt-inducing-turn of affairs. Elish perfectly captures the psychological rawness of eighth grade-the agony of picking the right chair to sit on during a date, the dreadful cracking soprano voice that emerges at precisely the wrong moment-lessening the sting by making the reader chuckle with recognition. This pop novel has no great lessons to impart and will be read and enjoyed without many afterthoughts. Still, it's consistently amusing, fast-paced, and fun. (Fiction. 11-13)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786275366
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/2005
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 157
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Dan Elish is a composer and the author of three other books for young readers, among them The Worldwide Dessert Contest, which he has made into a musical performed in New York City schools. He and his wife live in Manhattan.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Ever see a picture of your best friend's teeth on the side of a bus?

I have. It was the first day of eighth grade, a breezy September afternoon. One of those days when the New York City air actually smelled fresh. Keith and I were on the corner of 79th and Madison on the way home from school.

"Hey, dude!" he said.

"Hey, what?" I looked up (up because I'm a good five inches shorter than he is. But more on that later).

"See!" Keith went on.

He jabbed a thumb at the 79th Street crosstown.

"Check me out!"

Keith is so studly they used his smile in a toothpaste ad. A pretty impressive sight. I mean, his teeth are pathologically straight. And his gums are pink like the center of a medium steak. I could see why he landed the job -- a dentist would crawl on his stomach across a bed of staples to get a peek inside a mouth like that.

"Not bad," I said. "You've got movie-star gums."

Keith brushed a hand through his hair -- he likes to do that because it's long and blond and makes him look sort of like a British rock star. You might say that Keith is a little bit conceited. But he has the goods to back it up. At the time, he had already made out with more girls than I have toes.

"Hmmm," he said, and scratched his chin. "And when I'm in the movies, Matt, you'll be a famous musician. Selling out Madison Square Garden."

It was a nice thing to say, I have to admit it. But Keith is like that -- for every compliment he gives himself he throws in another for me. Sort of a buy-one, get-one-free kind of deal. Anyway, I was trying not to blush. The one thing I'm really good at is guitar. Classical. Not that I'm terrible at everything else. With the exceptionof French, I get decent grades -- B's, mostly. I played third base in Little League. Hit .287 (plus I walked a lot on account of my height). I guess you could say that I wasn't a loser. I just didn't feel like a certifiable winner, either.

"The Garden?" I said. "Classical guitarists don't play there."

"Hey, you never know," Keith said. "I guess we've got to ace eighth grade before we conquer the world, right?"

"Right!"

"You know what? I have a strong feeling that this year is gonna be the coolest!"

"Damn straight." Hey, who was I to say this year wouldn't be the coolest?

That's when Keith started this sort of good-bye ritual we had.

"You rule," he said.

"No, you rule," I replied.

"No, you!"

"No, you!"

"You!"

"You!"

You get the idea. It went on like that for a while. Then we traded some high fives and I took a step down 79th Street.

Looking back, I think that if I had only walked a little faster and been out of earshot before Keith called to me, I would've made it home with no notable rise in my Jealousy Quotient. As it was, I heard every last word.

"Hey," he said. "Who do you think I should call for this weekend? Jane or Allison?"

I thought it over. Jane is an out-and-out babe. Allison, too. But then I remembered Allison's snot-nosed, I'm-better-than-everybody attitude.

"Jane," I said.

"You think?" Keith asked.

"Definitely."

"Cool, dude. Thanks."

And with that my buddy took off, leaving me standing alone on the corner -- standing alone eating a walloping portion of his I'm-already-dating-and-you-aren't dust. Well, okay -- I had dated a little. That summer at camp I even had my first kiss. But given that the kisser was a buck-toothed girl with chapped lips named Hannah Shaddock and the kiss itself clocked in at under three seconds...well, it didn't exactly count for much. The point was this: What was a guy to do when his best friend was Keith Livingston, a stud/athlete/Adonis who went through girls faster than most guys riffle through their top drawer for a clean pair of socks?

Sure, I'm good at music. I have what my mom calls "a sensitive side." But what did that get me when my voice was cracking and I had been stalled at five one and a half for a year? I mean, how could I wow girls with my mind-blowing classical guitar technique with Keith Livingston in the room flashing dimples as deep as the potholes in the West Side Highway?

I talked to my dad about it. He's a shrink, so he can be a pretty good listener. He told me that growing up is hard and that my day in the sun would come. He said that life is funny -- that things you want often come when you aren't thinking about them. Well, that seemed confusing. If the only way to get something you want is to not think about it, how is it possible to not think about that thing you want? Don't ask me. All I knew is that the situation sucked. Keith had been my best friend since first grade. I mean, we were six when we met. Six! We had sleepovers, play dates, park dates -- you name it. We dropped water balloons off my apartment terrace (Sixteen stories!!! Yes!!!). We made crank phone calls. One of our favorites was to get the phone book and call guys with the last name "Chas." "Hi, is this Mr. Chas?" one of us'd say (usually Keith). "Uh, yes...," the guy'd reply sort of cautious. Then we'd shout: "Hi, Chas -- how's your ass?" Stupid, yeah -- but it made us laugh. There was more to our friendship than playing dumb pranks, though. Keith was like family. The summer between fifth and sixth grade I stayed at his country house in Vermont for a whole month. When his folks went to Europe a year ago he crashed with us for a week. I loved him almost as much as my own parents. More, sometimes.

But as I walked home that day, I knew that, excepting a major growth spurt that would turn me into some sort of eighth-grade Harrison Ford, hanging out with him that year was going to test the limits of my sanity.

Sure, Keith was my best buddy.

But I was beginning to hate him.

Copyright © 2002 by Dan Elish

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First Chapter

Chapter One

Ever see a picture of your best friend's teeth on the side of a bus?

I have. It was the first day of eighth grade, a breezy September afternoon. One of those days when the New York City air actually smelled fresh. Keith and I were on the corner of 79th and Madison on the way home from school.

"Hey, dude!" he said.

"Hey, what?" I looked up (up because I'm a good five inches shorter than he is. But more on that later).

"See!" Keith went on.

He jabbed a thumb at the 79th Street crosstown.

"Check me out!"

Keith is so studly they used his smile in a toothpaste ad. A pretty impressive sight. I mean, his teeth are pathologically straight. And his gums are pink like the center of a medium steak. I could see why he landed the job—a dentist would crawl on his stomach across a bed of staples to get a peek inside a mouth like that.

"Not bad," I said. "You've got movie-star gums."

Keith brushed a hand through his hair—he likes to do that because it's long and blond and makes him look sort of like a British rock star. You might say that Keith is a little bit conceited. But he has the goods to back it up. At the time, he had already made out with more girls than I have toes.

"Hmmm," he said, and scratched his chin. "And when I'm in the movies, Matt, you'll be a famous musician. Selling out Madison Square Garden."

It was a nice thing to say, I have to admit it. But Keith is like that—for every compliment he gives himself he throws in another for me. Sort of a buy-one, get-one-free kind of deal. Anyway, I was trying not to blush. The one thing I'm really good at is guitar. Classical. Not that I'm terrible at everything else. With the exception of French, I get decent grades—B's, mostly. I played third base in Little League. Hit .287 (plus I walked a lot on account of my height). I guess you could say that I wasn't a loser. I just didn't feel like a certifiable winner, either.

"The Garden?" I said. "Classical guitarists don't play there."

"Hey, you never know," Keith said. "I guess we've got to ace eighth grade before we conquer the world, right?"

"Right!"

"You know what? I have a strong feeling that this year is gonna be the coolest!"

"Damn straight." Hey, who was I to say this year wouldn't be the coolest?

That's when Keith started this sort of good-bye ritual we had.

"You rule," he said.

"No, you rule," I replied.

"No, you!"

"No, you!"

"You!"

"You!"

You get the idea. It went on like that for a while. Then we traded some high fives and I took a step down 79th Street.

Looking back, I think that if I had only walked a little faster and been out of earshot before Keith called to me, I would've made it home with no notable rise in my Jealousy Quotient. As it was, I heard every last word.

"Hey," he said. "Who do you think I should call for this weekend? Jane or Allison?"

I thought it over. Jane is an out-and-out babe. Allison, too. But then I remembered Allison's snot-nosed, I'm-better-than-everybody attitude.

"Jane," I said.

"You think?" Keith asked.

"Definitely."

"Cool, dude. Thanks."

And with that my buddy took off, leaving me standing alone on the corner—standing alone eating a walloping portion of his I'm-already-dating-and-you-aren't dust. Well, okay—I had dated a little. That summer at camp I even had my first kiss. But given that the kisser was a buck-toothed girl with chapped lips named Hannah Shaddock and the kiss itself clocked in at under three seconds...well, it didn't exactly count for much. The point was this: What was a guy to do when his best friend was Keith Livingston, a stud/athlete/Adonis who went through girls faster than most guys riffle through their top drawer for a clean pair of socks?

Sure, I'm good at music. I have what my mom calls "a sensitive side." But what did that get me when my voice was cracking and I had been stalled at five one and a half for a year? I mean, how could I wow girls with my mind-blowing classical guitar technique with Keith Livingston in the room flashing dimples as deep as the potholes in the West Side Highway?

I talked to my dad about it. He's a shrink, so he can be a pretty good listener. He told me that growing up is hard and that my day in the sun would come. He said that life is funny—that things you want often come when you aren't thinking about them. Well, that seemed confusing. If the only way to get something you want is to not think about it, how is it possible to not think about that thing you want? Don't ask me. All I knew is that the situation sucked. Keith had been my best friend since first grade. I mean, we were six when we met. Six! We had sleepovers, play dates, park dates—you name it. We dropped water balloons off my apartment terrace (Sixteen stories!!! Yes!!!). We made crank phone calls. One of our favorites was to get the phone book and call guys with the last name "Chas." "Hi, is this Mr. Chas?" one of us'd say (usually Keith). "Uh, yes...," the guy'd reply sort of cautious. Then we'd shout: "Hi, Chas—how's your ass?" Stupid, yeah—but it made us laugh. There was more to our friendship than playing dumb pranks, though. Keith was like family. The summer between fifth and sixth grade I stayed at his country house in Vermont for a whole month. When his folks went to Europe a year ago he crashed with us for a week. I loved him almost as much as my own parents. More, sometimes.

But as I walked home that day, I knew that, excepting a major growth spurt that would turn me into some sort of eighth-grade Harrison Ford, hanging out with him that year was going to test the limits of my sanity.

Sure, Keith was my best buddy.

But I was beginning to hate him.

Copyright © 2002 by Dan Elish

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2008

    A recommended book!

    I remember reading this book when I was really young, and I remembered how much I really loved it. The author really gets into the head of this eighth-grader, and he really details his experiences in the book. The narrator's tone is hilarious, and I'm pretty sure that anyone who is short and have lived through with this sort of experience will enjoy this book!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2005

    Born Too Short, Interesting Read But Goes Too Fast

    Matt Greene has a high JQ (Jealousy Qoutient) for his friend Keith Livingston. Matt only wishes for a girlfriend while Keith throws girls away easily. After the success of Keith's rock musical Star Crossed. Matt gets so jealous he wishes his friends life falls apart and when it does he feels extreme guilt. This book is an enjoyable novel from author, Dan Elish but feels like it reaches it conclusion too fast. The reader feels like you want to know about some of the minor plot lines about Keith's life falling apart and what actually happens after the end. Otherwise, an enjoyable read. Reccomended for 12-14 year olds.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2012

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