Bret McCarthy: Work in Progress

Bret McCarthy: Work in Progress

by Maria Padian

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Brett McCarthy lives for vocabulary words, soccer, and her larger-than-life grandmother, Nonna. Unfortunately, Brett’s got a big mouth she can’t seem to tame and opinions she can’t keep to herself. And she’s obsessed with the moment she became redefined and went from good student, bestfriend-to-Diane to twice-suspended, friendless, and deadest…  See more details below


Brett McCarthy lives for vocabulary words, soccer, and her larger-than-life grandmother, Nonna. Unfortunately, Brett’s got a big mouth she can’t seem to tame and opinions she can’t keep to herself. And she’s obsessed with the moment she became redefined and went from good student, bestfriend-to-Diane to twice-suspended, friendless, and deadest meat in Maine. Soon her world has turned upside down, and she’s not sure where she fits, what she should do, or how to make right what she, and her big fat mouth, have made wrong. Brett’s fresh and funny voice will keep readers laughing out loud at her plights, groaning in sympathy at every misstep, and rooting for her as things go from bad to worst ever possible.

A Spring 2008 Association of Booksellers for Children New Voices Pick

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Padian's debut novel introduces a quirky and refreshing character. Fourteen-year-old Brett McCarthy is an independent-thinking jock who cherishes the time she spends with her best friend, Diane, and her spunky grandmother, Nonna. Unlike many of her fictional peers, Brett is neither beautiful nor brilliant, but simply an above-average student with a robust vocabulary and a killer instinct on the soccer field. Her life is perfect, or close to it, until an ill-advised phone prank triggers a falling-out with Diane. Soon Brett finds her identity redefined-a recurrent theme-from an athlete with friends to a troublemaker who's been kicked off the team. And when Nonna is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Brett must redefine herself again, from self-involved child to mature young woman. Forceful and heartwarming, this coming-of-age story examines what happens when old friends are outgrown and loved ones are no longer there to lean on. At one point, Brett says, "I had shed and added more defining characteristics than I even knew existed." And even though Padian embraces some well-worn stereotypes (the cheerleaders are pretty airheads and the jocks are blond Adonises), readers will relate to Brett's missteps and successes. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)

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Kirkus Reviews
Bigmouth Brett has two great loves: vocabulary words and soccer. When she's not getting her adrenaline fix on the soccer field, she hangs out with her best friend Diane and enjoys a close relationship with her eccentric but loving grandmother, Nonna. A phone prank Brett and Diane play sets off a series of events that turn Brett's life from average, even happy, to disastrous. Because of the prank, Brett loses all hope of attracting hottie Bob Levesque. She and Diane fight and suddenly Diane is best friends with the snotty, obnoxious Jeanne-Anne. Brett seems to have nowhere to channel her energy and that feistiness, combined with frustration at her friends and family, gets her suspended from school. A caring, innovative teacher comes to Brett's rescue, but in order for Brett to regain her place at school she'll have to stand up for the "brainiac" kids . . . and for herself. Through all her trouble she has the support of Nonna and her friend Michael, who are both funny, interesting characters that readers will appreciate. Brett herself is observant but not always endearing. The pacing is smooth and the actions build to a sad, if realistic, ending. (Fiction. 11-14)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, March 3, 2008:
"Forceful and heartwarming, this coming-of-age story examines what happens when old friends are outgrown and loved ones are no longer there to lean on."

Review, Parade, June 22, 2008:
"[A] hilarious coming-of-age story."

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
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Random House
File size:
362 KB
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Interloper

I’ve been obsessed lately with trying to pinpoint the exact moment when I got redefined.

That’s one of my grandmother’s favorite words. It basically means defined again. Define means to make clear; mark the limits of; identify the essential qualities or meaning of. Before my life changed from fairly decent to really bad, my self-definition was pretty straightforward.

Brett McCarthy: Only Child; Only Granddaughter; Vocab Ace; Best Eighth-Grade Corner Kicker in Maine; Diane’s Best Friend.

Then came the redefinition.

Brett McCarthy: Deadest Meat in Maine and Possibly the Planet; Practically Friendless; Violent; Suspended.

Can you blame me for wanting to sort this out?

It all got started like any other day: at The Junior.

As in “Mescataqua Junior High School,” the big green letters on the front brick wall. Kit was the one who noticed that every morning Diane stood directly under the word “Junior.” Never under “Mescataqua,” never under “School.” But perfectly positioned between the “i” and “o” of “Junior,” leaning against the wall, her backpack slung over one slender shoulder.

Diane insisted she wasn’t doing it on purpose, but once Kit pointed it out, it got to be our thing. “See you at The Junior!” we’d say each afternoon, instead of “See you tomorrow!” Or “Meet me at The Junior!” if we planned to get together after school.

Diane, Kit, me, and (unfortunately) Jeanne Anne. Except for Jeanne Anne, the interloper, we’d known each other forever, from as far back as preschool. And even though we all had other friends outside the group, and sometimes got into really bad fights among ourselves, there was never any question about us. We were the first four chairs at the lunch table; the first four names on the Instant Messenger Buddy List; the first four numbers on speed dial.

Interloper: intruder; interferer. someone who moves to Mescataqua in seventh grade and attaches herself to your BFF.

Within the group, Diane Pelletier was my first and best friend, even though she’s nothing like me. For one thing, she’s beautiful. She has licorice-shiny, long black hair and lavender eyes. I have short frizzy hair that my mother describes as “strawberry blond.” That’s a nice term for “light brown with red highlights.” Trust me, it’s a noncolor.

Diane is really smart and really funny in a quiet way. I’m funny too, but in a loud, opinionated way. Diane can’t catch or kick a ball without injuring herself. I’m totally into sports. Diane looks great in clothes, and people tend to copy what she wears. I’m a wrinkle magnet and break out in a stress rash when I enter a mall.

Despite all this she was my best. We slept over at each other’s houses at least twice a month, talking all night. We agreed about most things. Except one. Diane was a little more tolerant and a lot more patient than I was when it came to jerks. Like Jeanne Anne.

For instance, on the morning of Monday, October 15th, she came rushing up to The Junior practically shaking with excitement. Kit was filling us in on what had happened during the previous night’s episode of her favorite TV reality drama.

“You guys!” Jeanne Anne burst out, interrupting the story. “You are not going to believe this!”

“Good, then don’t bother telling us,” said Kit. She had just been describing the giant, maggot-like insects that members of Team A, on the verge of starvation in Fiji, were probably going to eat on the next episode. Kit tends to share my opinion of Jeanne Anne, and assumed that whatever she had to say was less interesting . . . and more annoying . . . than maggots.

“No, really,” insisted Jeanne Anne. She faced Diane. “Diane, your telephone number is 555-1749, right?”

“Last time I checked.” Diane smiled.

“Okay,” Jeanne Anne said. She took one of her dramatic pauses. “Bob Levesque’s number is 555-1748.”

Blank stares. Silence. Finally broken by Kit.

“That’s really fascinating, Jeanne Anne. Now back to the maggots . . .”

“Aah!” Jeanne Anne cried in exasperation. “Hello, people! Am I the only one who realizes what an amazing coincidence this is?”

“Yes, you are,” replied Kit. The bell rang at this point, and we began moving toward the main entrance.

“Oh, c’mon!” Jeanne Anne pleaded. She was getting whiny now, and a little loud. People were turning to look at us. “Remember that thing you used to do with the phones? Don’t pretend this isn’t an awesome discovery!”

Even Diane realized it was time to shut her up. Broad- casting our old prank in the middle of the school lobby was not cool. Diane pulled Jeanne Anne close.

“Keep your voice down,” she hisssed. “We’ll meet at study hall and talk about it.”

Satisfied, Jeanne Anne smiled and headed off to her locker.

“Who told her about the Phone Thing?” I asked Diane as soon as Jeanne Anne was out of earshot. “And why is she looking up Bob Levesque’s telephone number?”

“Oh . . . you know her!” Diane shrugged. “She’s always crushin’ on someone.”

“She is a certifiable jerk. A complete idiot!” I sputtered.

I was upset. I get klutzy . . . and loud . . . when I’m upset. So the “idiot” came out with a bit more volume than necessary, and at the same time I managed to smash my size-nine sneakers down on someone’s toes.

“Ouch! Hey, watch it!”

The toes belonged to a pair of electric-blue eyes. The eyes went with some sun-bleached, tousled blond hair and perfect white teeth without a trace of orthodontia. In other words, I had just crushed the foot of none other than Bob Levesque, resident Greek God. And called him an idiot in the middle of a crowded hallway.

Bob looked at me and Diane, annoyed. Then, some- thing . . . either my comically guilty expression or Diane’s beautiful face . . . made him change his mind, because he grinned.

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