Read an Excerpt
Middle School Girl Attempts High-Wire ACT and Survives!
Life can be a real balancing act. My mother always talks about trying to “find balance” in her life. She wants to spend time with me and my older sister, Allie, drive us places, help us with school, and all that. She also needs to do her work and take care of the house, the bills, and whatever else adults have to balance. She certainly has a lot going on, and I know exactly how she feels.
What could a middle school girl have to balance, you ask? Oh, nothing—just friend stuff, family stuff, schoolwork, and my school newspaper responsibilities, which include being an investigative reporter and the top-secret columnist Dear Know-It-All for the Cherry Valley Voice. People write in with their difficult issues, or occasionally their ridiculous issues, like Dear Know-It-All, how can I stop getting gum stuck in my hair? Um . . . don’t put gum in your hair? I do my best to answer these questions, but nobody can know I write the column. It’s not easy keeping a secret like that, especially from my BFF, Hailey Jones.
So I have to balance all that and, of course, my lifelong crush on Michael Lawrence, who is the cutest boy in the universe and who works on the paper with me. Whenever we’re on the brink of becoming more than friends, the article we’re working on gets in the way. But responsibilities come first, I guess, and I’m really serious about being a journalist when I get older. I’ll admit, it’s a lot to handle, especially when things get tough at school, tough at the paper, and tough at home all at the same time. This is one of those times—Middle School Girl Attempts High-Wire Act and Survives! I hope.
I had been studying for our third-quarter math exams all week and it was my last night of cramming before the test. Yesterday, I had just “put to bed” (as Mr. Trigg, the Voice advisor, calls it) my latest story (which means you finish it) and the Dear Know-It-All column. I also had a language arts paper due. Allie was studying for a bunch of tests and had papers due and was practically psycho, demanding the house be absolutely quiet so she could concentrate. Plus, my mom was swamped with work. She wanted to help us with all our work, but she had plenty of her own. I wanted to wish myself off to the Bahamas.
“Sam.” My mom poked her head in my room. “Need any help?”
I looked up from my cross-legged spot on my bed, papers and books lying all around me. Mom had a weak smile on her face and bags under her eyes. I know she meant well, but I also know she just wanted to go to sleep herself.
My mom’s really good at math. She’s a freelance bookkeeper and really likes her work, but apparently I didn’t get the math gene. There are about seventy-five other things I’d rather do than study for math. If I force myself, I can do okay, but I would rather scrub out the bathroom toilets than study for math. Trust me, I’ve done both.
“No,” I said quickly. I didn’t want to add more to her load.
“Sam,” she asked again, “are you telling me the truth?”
I smiled sheepishly. “Well, maybe a little with this part.” I pointed to the set of equations that were particularly making my eyes spin around. Our school has tried to be more “global” and “organic” about our class subjects, so things are taught in a sort of connected way, like how science, math, and history all overlap, or at least how they can work together. Still, even if we’re studying math from a “global perspective” by looking at the way people deal with money in China, for example, math is still math. Writing just comes much more easily to me.
“Hmmm,” she said, peering over her glasses. “This is a tough one.”
“Well, tomorrow it will be all over,” I said, and flopped down on my stomach, pressing my face into my pillow. I lifted my head and looked at Mom. “I really need a break.”
“I think we can all use a break.” Mom smiled a weary smile. “Let’s go to Rosie’s for dinner tomorrow night.”
“That would be great!” I could already taste the lasagna from our favorite Italian restaurant.
“Good,” Mom said. “Now, let’s get this finished so we both can get some sleep.” As tired as she was, she made sure I knew my math inside and out. I’m lucky to have a mom like that.
The next day I felt ready to take the test and super ready for it to be over. I didn’t want to think about math for a while, or at least for a few days! I walked down the hall, not really looking at anyone, making my tired way down the hall to the classroom. I just wanted to be relaxing at Rosie’s, sipping on a Coke, the smell of fresh-baked garlic bread wafting all around me.
“Have you gone deaf?” I heard someone saying to me through my garlic bread daydreaming. I turned around. It was Hailey, grinning from ear to ear.
“I’ve been calling your name for, like, an hour,” she said. “Is your mind on who I think it’s on?”
“If you guessed garlic bread, you’re right.”
“Garlic bread? You sure you weren’t thinking about you know who?” she asked me, her hands on her hips.
Just as I was about to explain why my mind was on garlic bread, you know who came out of nowhere.
“Hey, Paste,” he said, looking as cute as ever in a light blue sweater and jeans.
“You still can’t let it go,” I responded, referring to his unstoppable need to call me a stupid nickname from . . . how shall we say . . . an “incident” in kindergarten. Like I’m the first kid who ever tried to eat paste.
“Are you ready for the test?” he asked.
“Ready as I’ll ever be.” I let my backpack slip down my shoulder.
“How about you, Hailey?”
“I just want to pass. I don’t set my sights quite as high as you nerds. I’ve got my athletic prowess to rely on.” She flexed her biceps. She actually had pretty impressive biceps, but her calf muscles were really out of control from all the soccer she played. She’d be a great leg model except for the fact that she’d never be caught dead in high heels.
“Well, just speaking for my nerdy self, I don’t have any muscles to fall back on, so I better nail it. And, Hailey, you’ll do great. When we studied together the other day, you totally knew your stuff.”
Hailey’s a lot better at math than writing. She also gets to take her tests untimed because she’s dyslexic, which means sometimes she sees letters flipped around. She has to work really hard at all her schoolwork, but she has a really logical mind. I love that about her. When I get all dreamy and dramatic, she brings me back to the real world.
“I’m just ready for these tests to be over,” Michael said. He was the kind of person who never let anyone see him sweat, but now I could see a little tiredness creeping through his bright blue eyes.
“Yeah. My mom’s taking us out tonight,” I said, “to celebrate, sort of.”
“Oh yeah?” Michael said, perking up. “Where?”
“My favorite place. Rosie’s,” I said dreamily. Thoughts of bubbling melted cheese started to dance in my head.
“That’s my favorite, too,” he said as the five-minute bell rang. In a second, kids were rushing everywhere. If you were late on a test day, you were immediately marked down a point.
“Gotta go!” he called out, and ran off to his class.
Hailey and I were right near our classrooms.
“Just another thing you lovebirds have in common,” Hailey said, and punched me in the arm. “Break a leg.”
“You need to work out. Give yourself some options,” Hailey said, and winked at me.
“Ha-ha. You break a leg, too.” I punched her, but my hand sort of bounced off her arm and then we went to our separate classrooms.
I sat down and got out my perfectly sharpened pencil. I’m a total pencil geek. I never take a test without at least three needle-sharp pencils in my bag. It’s sort of a superstitious thing. Mrs. Birnbaum, my math teacher, handed out the tests and gave us the time on the clock.
“You have exactly forty-five minutes. Please begin,” she said, and looked at her watch.
I heard everyone’s pencils start to make little scritch-scratch sounds and I hadn’t even picked up mine. Suddenly a wave of anxiety washed over me. Newspaper Nerd Fails Math and Drops Out of Middle School. Stranger things have happened.
After the first few very tough questions, though, I got into a groove and relaxed. When I finished the last question on my test, ten minutes ahead of time, I put my pencil down and stretched, feeling strangely refreshed. I could actually go home tonight and do absolutely nothing except eat lasagna and go to sleep. It was a difficult test, but I’d worked hard and survived.
“How’d you do?” Hailey asked me when we met at our lockers after.
“I think I did okay. Maybe not an A, but at least a B,” I said, hoping I didn’t jinx myself.
“Me too.” Hailey smiled.
We gave each other a high five. When I got home, my mom was waiting for me in the kitchen with a mug of hot cocoa. “Well?” she said, standing at the counter sipping from a mug.
“Pretty good . . . I think.” I sat down, and she squeezed my arm. That’s another thing I love about my mom—she doesn’t freak out if we don’t get straight A’s all the time. She just wants us to try and do our best.
“I’m sure you did great.”
Then Allie came home, walked into the kitchen, and let her bag drop to the floor.
“Hang it up, or in your room please,” Mom said, pointing to the bag.
“I think I’m going to drop out of school,” Allie said, and picked up her bag. She looked on the verge of tears.
“What is it, honey?” Mom’s eyebrows quickly knitted together in their worried way.
“I got a D on my history paper. And I think I just failed my chemistry test.”
She dropped her bag again on the floor, but this time Mom didn’t say anything. Then Allie slumped down on the kitchen stool next to mine. She put her head down over her arms on the counter. Now I was worried.
“Allie,” Mom said in a slow, gentle tone, kind of like she was talking to a crazy person, “you’ve been working so hard. What happened?”
Suddenly Allie lifted her head and smiled. “Psych!”
“Huh?” I said, choking on my hot cocoa a little.
My mom stared wide-eyed at her as Allie thrust out her history paper.
“A minus! And I think I rocked chem. Or at least I didn’t fail. Bring on the hot cocoa! And do we have any cookies?”
“Allie, not funny,” Mom said.
“You have a bizarre sense of humor,” I said.
“Well, you’re just bizarre,” she zinged back, but she was smiling and nudged my shoulder with hers.
“Cheers,” she said, and held up her mug. I couldn’t help but clink back.
That night I had possibly the best lasagna of my entire life. The best part, though, was all of us relaxing and having fun together. I felt like it had been a long time since the three of us had done that. And boy did we all need it.