by Kevin Emerson


by Kevin Emerson



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When Anthony's angst-ridden rock 'n' roll lyrics go viral, he's unwittingly cast as the school rebel. The truth is, he's not trying to be anyone's hero.

Anthony Castillo needs a new life.  His teachers are clueless autocrats except for Mr. Darren, who’s in charge of the rock band program. The girls at school are either shallow cutebots or out of his league. And his parents mean well, but they just make things worse. It’s as if Anthony is stuck on the bottom level of his favorite video game, Liberation Force 4.5. Except there is no secret escape tunnel and definitely no cheat code. 

Fed up, pissed off, and feeling trapped, Anthony writes his first song for his rock band, the Rusty Soles. His only problem: Arts Night. If he exercises his right to free speech and sings his original lyrics—where his own bombs will drop—he and his band will be through. 

The clock is ticking. Time for Anthony to pick his battles and decide what’s really worth fighting for.

Praise for BREAKOUT
“Emerson captures the heady mixture of pride, vulnerability, amazement, and fear Anthony feels in having created something of personal significance that, once public, takes on a life of its own.” –Publishers Weekly
“A funny, perceptive book.” –Booklist
“The narrative momentum keeps readers invested in Anthony's moral conundrum.” –Kirkus Reviews
“A solid coming-of-age tale that younger readers will pick up for its emotion and shades of rock and roll.” –School Library Journal
“Anthony’s narrative voice is the very real cri de coeur of every middle-school boy who feels as though his real talents are being underserved by the school curriculum.” –The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385391146
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Publication date: 02/24/2015
Sold by: Random House
Format: eBook
Pages: 304
File size: 3 MB
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

About The Author
Kevin Emerson is the author of the Exile and the Atlantean series and has led writing workshops in middle schools and high schools. Like Anthony, Kevin lives in Seattle and loves to rock. He has played in bands ever since middle school and has toured the US, Europe, and the UK. You can find Kevin online at, on Facebook, and on Twitter at @kcemerson.      

Read an Excerpt

Dissent in the Ranks
Mr. Darren says it’s all about timing.
And lately it seems like my timing’s always wrong.
Like when I am standing at my locker with Keenan right after language arts and he says, “So, did you see Teen Supernova?” He’s talking about a reality show where teens compete to be the next version of this pop star called Avatron. The winner is usually lame, but some of the contestants are pretty great.
“Nah,” I say, cramming my books away and getting out my lunch. “I recorded it. I was practicing and then playing Liberation Force.”
“Nice,” says Keenan. “I meant to get online too, but Skye says we have to watch Supernova live now that it’s the semifinals.”
“Well, don’t tell me what happens,” I say.
Then Skye shows up and does her usual thing, huffing and slouching against the locker beside Keenan’s like she has no skeleton. “That. Was. A. Travesty,” she says in that way she does when she disagrees with something, which is most things. And then before Keenan or I can even stop her, she goes off: “There is no way that Starleena Fox should have been purchase-voted off before Cassidy McClane!”
“Whoa!” I shout, and I hear Keenan sigh because he knows what I’m about to say and that I’m right. “Duh, no spoilers! I just said I didn’t watch it yet!”
Skye narrows her eyes at me like she does, where one eyebrow rises up like a hissing cat and her mouth falls open in that annoying way where you can see the white gum that she is always chewing.
“Oh, excuse me, Anthony,” she says. “It’s not my job to keep track of your schedule every second of the day.”
“You could use your brain for once!” I say back.
And when I say that, I know that Keenan is going to have to say something to defend Skye. The two of them have been dating for like three and a half weeks now, which is pretty much a record for our class. They’re one more week away from going to their second dance together, and that’s basically as boring as marriage. Pretty soon they’ll be just like one of those couples down at Pacific Place with the matching black jackets who walk together all quiet--because what’s left to say at that point in your life?--and who always get annoyed when we talk during a movie and it’s like, duh, if you want to see a movie in silence, rent it! But anyway, I get that I just insulted Keenan’s girl and so he’s obligated to step in.
“Hey!” he says, puffing out his chest. “Back off, Fat Class!”
Wow. I can’t believe those words just came out of his mouth. Keenan and I have been friends since forever and he’s got all kinds of dirt on me and any of it would have been fine right then--but bringing up Fat Class? That’s the one thing that should be off-limits. I notice a couple of our classmates’ heads turning too, and all of it just makes me snap.
“Shut up!” I shout, and slam him into the lockers.
And right as Keenan’s girly shoulders clang against the blue metal and everybody within ten feet goes “Ohhh!” who just so happens to be walking by?
Mr. Scher.
“Anthony!” he barks like an attack dog, and actually he looks like one too, with that stupid bald head and white beard and those too-white teeth, like he sits at home in his secret evil basement and polishes them before he heads out for his second job as a child-abducting vampire. “Office! Let’s go. No, now.”
“What? I didn’t do anything!” I say. And it’s so annoying because if it was any other teacher, especially a young one like Mr. Travis or Ms. Rosaz, it would be no big deal. They are both kind of scared of us eighth graders, especially kids like me and Keenan who look older. I am fourteen and Keenan will be too in January, and it’s like, come on! Most fourteen-year-olds are in high school already. A little friendly shoving between two friends shouldn’t matter.
“I don’t want to hear it,” says Scher, motioning for me to follow him like a dog. “Come on.”
“This is so unfair!” I say, but I fall in line behind him as he struts toward the office, because no matter what happens, I cannot get in big trouble these next two weeks.

The Only Mission That Matters
Fall Arts Night is in twelve days. And that’s one of only two chances all year that me and Keenan get to rock out onstage in our band, the Rusty Soles. We’re in Rock Band Club after school, and we’re working on a song for the concert, and if I get in trouble and miss it, the next chance to play anything other than our friends’ basements isn’t until spring.
And that is forever from now.

Stalag Catharine Daly K–8
“We were just messing around!” I add as I trail behind Mr. Scher. “It was no big deal.”
Well, except what Keenan said was kind of a big deal.
But Mr. Scher is never going to listen. He seems to take our size and age like personal challenges, like it’s his mission to prove to us that we still belong here, that he’s still in charge. “Life isn’t fair,” he barks over his shoulder.
And even though I don’t want to get in trouble, I can’t help muttering a string of curses under my breath. I don’t say it loud enough for Mr. Scher to hear the words, but he can tell I’m saying something and he whirls back around.
“Excuse me?” He glares at me. “Do you also need the automatic detention for not using school-appropriate language?”
I glare right back at him. “No.”
School­Appropriate is one of like twenty terms and phrases that teachers are always reciting at us, like they were all brainwashed during their enemy training. Things like Compassion Is Courageous, Excellence Takes Effort, Student Accountability. But School­Appropriate is maybe the worst, and I get it all the time:
“Anthony, that language is not . . .”
“I know that’s what someone might say if his arm was being eaten by a zombie, but your story needs to be . . .”
“The slogan on that T-shirt is not . . .”
It’s so ridiculous. We hear swears in everything we watch and listen to: movies, video games, TV shows, music. And we have for years. Also, news flash: we children have been swearing among ourselves since we were like six.
Plus, these teachers are hypocrites. Have I heard them swear tons of times when they’re talking to each other? Of course.
But whatever, it’s just more of the same in this stupid stalag of a school.
If I lived in another part of town and went to one of the real middle schools that is only sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, I bet things like this incident with Mr. Scher would never even happen. But Catharine Daly is a K–8 school. I mean, sixth and seventh graders might as well be puppies with how dumb and babyish they are, but at least they’ve learned the basics, like how to avoid an eighth grader and how to put on deodorant. Have you smelled fifth graders? Heard fourth graders? Have you been slimed by anything under the age of nine? There are all these little kids everywhere all the time, and they’re always sneezing or licking something or crapping their pants.
And because of them, we eighth graders are expected to Lead by Example at all times, and that’s nearly impossible. Eighth graders are not made to set a good example. We are made to battle in the trenches between being a kid and being a teen. Setting a good example is also a good way to get your leg blown off by a land mine.

Trapped Beneath the Ice
Ms. Rosaz is always nagging us to use figurative language. So here you go, Ms. Rosaz, here is a simile to describe eighth grade:
Being in eighth grade here is basically like being stuck under the ice in a frozen pond, and you can see up through the glassy surface but you can’t break out. There’s a level like this in Liberation Force 4.5: Axis Payback, the multiplayer game that Keenan and I have been playing nonstop. It takes place during World War II, and you are crossing the ruined European countryside taking on the Nazis, which is so much cooler than trying to steal some stupid blue dragon’s magic crystals or whatever.
In Level 18, you are by the Germany’s Ourthe River at the start of the Battle of the Bulge, the last big offensive in December 1944, and during a firefight you fall through the ice. You die there a few times trying to break through to the surface. Finally, you figure out that the ice is too thick, and that instead you can swim down and find a sewer tunnel. It leads you right into a Nazi bunker, where you die a few more times, but at least from there you can fight your way out.
There is no secret tunnel out of eighth grade.
I mean, I am sixteen months from driving a motor vehicle! On a road! With other lives in my hands! I can see high school up there above the ice. I would already be in high school if some stupid hippie preschool teacher named Birch didn’t convince my parents that because I was behind in my motor skills and self-control, and because boys aren’t as ready as girls or whatever, I would benefit from an extra year in preschool. So I was just sort of a big floppy spaz when I was four--who isn’t?
But instead of being a freshman, I am stuck here going numb, pressed up against the ice as my oxygen meter slides from green to yellow to red, and following Mr. Scher to the office, where one little bit of bad timing suddenly has my musical future hanging in the balance.

In the Lair of the Kommandant
When we get to the office, Mr. Scher has to interrupt Principal Tiernan’s daily flirting with the PTA dads, so she gives me that glare, the one she thinks is intimidating but really just makes her look ridiculous. She’s so annoying: all old but she tries to look young, with the smooth dyed hair and the shimmery skirt-and-shirt outfits and the spiky cougar heels, her eyelashes like furry spiders. The dads love it, though. Even my dad gets all smiley when she tosses him that patented wink of hers.
“I’m going to have to call home about this,” Ms. Tiernan says once Mr. Scher has laid out the details of my crimes. The call home is nothing new. That’s going to suck, but it’s what she says next that will determine my fate.
I watch her mull over the possible Consequences of My Actions. The makeup caked on her forehead buckles as she puts on her thinking face and taps her chin with her finger. Even this expression seems to be just in case there’s a stray dad in the vicinity. Like she’s so in control, so on top of everything.
“You can eat lunch here on the couch,” she finally says, “then miss free period . . .”
None of that’s a big deal. Almost there . . .
“And you can miss free period tomorrow too.” She struts away, heels clacking.
Yes! I make an Allied “V for Victory” to myself and grab a seat on the black leather couch. Missing free period does stink, but whatever. Keenan and I probably need to cool off anyway.
As long as Tiernan didn’t threaten to take away Rock Band Club or Arts Night, I can weather any punishment.

Time in Solitary
The couch isn’t that terrible a place to be. You get to watch the daily parade of carnage: sick kids, hurt kids, kids who did crazy stunts and got caught. You hear Ms. Simmons, the secretary, calling home, see the stressed-out moms running in.
Some of today’s cases are pure comedy, like when a fourth grader staggers in covered in his own snot with a plastic knife lodged in his nose that he was using to try to retrieve a corn kernel. They get the knife out but the kernel will never be recovered.
But then there are the soldiers of the resistance, keeping up the fight against all odds: like a sixth grader who got busted for forging his mom’s signature to try to get out of taking the citywide standardized test. As he stands there, red-faced--Tiernan winking her way through one of her most sadistic tools of torture, the live call to your mom’s work with you standing right there--our eyes meet and I give him a little nod. Keep fighting, young one. Someday, you’ll be on the front lines, and this black couch will be yours.
I finish my lunch and things quiet down during free period, which only means that as a middle school student you are free to be bored in the library or the courtyard. You could go out to the playground, but that’s where all the little kids are having recess.
Sitting there, I think back on that moment at the lockers. Even though Skye was wrong to just blurt out spoilers, I realize that maybe I’ve also been getting frustrated with her easily this year, ever since we dated last summer. It barely lasted two weeks and I’m over it. I totally am! I mean that was like three months ago, ancient history at this point, and everybody knows that nothing really works out in the summer anyway because you barely see each other except for online and texting. We only actually hung out twice, once at the mall and once at Magnuson Park, where we went swimming in Lake Washington. And then I guess I forgot to text her back a couple times right around when I got Liberation Force for my birthday, and then that was that.
We’ve smoothed it over, but now that she’s dating Keenan, I have to see a lot of her. She’s been looking really hot this year too. Like today she’s wearing this cool sweater-vest-and-button-down outfit with pencil jeans. She has a pretty sweet body, but she doesn’t flaunt it like some of the other girls in our class. Her hair is dyed kind of bloodred (the natural color is like a sandy blond, but Skye says she is not a blonde) and falls down the left side of her face. It’s a look that says hotness but also some brains, like she spent five minutes on it but not ten. Skye doesn’t want to be one of those cute-bots that seems to spend their entire existence trying to look exactly like my little sister’s Polly Pockets. It’s the difference between looking good and looking perfect and plastic.

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