It's Not Easy Being Bad [NOOK Book]

Overview

Now that they’re in seventh grade, Mikey and Margalo decide it’s time to be popular—or at least, time to be less unpopular. The trouble is, typical, normal kids are what work in junior high, and if there’s one thing Mikey and Margalo aren’t, it’s typical and normal.

Mikey’s first attempt to crack seventh grade society ends, predictably, in disaster, but, undaunted, the friends persevere. They’ve got the will, they’ve got the smarts, and most ...
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It's Not Easy Being Bad

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Overview

Now that they’re in seventh grade, Mikey and Margalo decide it’s time to be popular—or at least, time to be less unpopular. The trouble is, typical, normal kids are what work in junior high, and if there’s one thing Mikey and Margalo aren’t, it’s typical and normal.

Mikey’s first attempt to crack seventh grade society ends, predictably, in disaster, but, undaunted, the friends persevere. They’ve got the will, they’ve got the smarts, and most importantly, they’ve got each other. What chance does junior high have against the Bad Girls?

Two unpopular girls try to break into the seventh grade clique system, even though they're not really sure they want to be popular at all.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
First there was Bad Girls. Then came Bad, Badder, Baddest. Now the adventures of feisty, wisecracking friends Margalo Epps and Mikey Elsinger continue as they enter junior high school, where they decide to challenge their "bad girl" status and conquer the world of seventh-grade popularity. But these two troublemakers don't fit the stereotype of typical popular kids. Can they use their experiences as outsiders to break up the seemingly immutable ranks of the good, the bad, and the unpopular? It's Not Easy Being Bad offers a fresh, funny, and remarkably real view of the ups and downs of junior high school popularity.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In the third novel about Mikey and Margalo, heroines of Bad Girls and Bad, Badder, Baddest, Newbery Medalist Voigt demonstrates that, indeed, it's not easy being bad: Mikey and Margalo, now in junior high, are working overtime at their schemes and plots and machinations. Unfortunately, Voigt seems to be having difficulty, too: despite many scathingly witty moments and sharp insights here, elements of the story feel trumped up. Previously unfettered by their peers' opinions, Mikey and Margalo are forced to reconsider their maverick behavior when they enter the brave new world of seventh grade. As Margalo puts it, "It's not really being popular I want. I just want not to be unpopular." But when Mikey's ill-considered plan to ingratiate herself with the popular crowd backfires, both girls are out for revenge. A sample: Margalo takes to heartily greeting Rhonda, a ringleader of the popular girls, by calling her "Barbie"; when Rhonda is flirting with an eighth-grade boy, Margalo humiliates her with, "And I see you brought Ken to school with you today." Voigt, however, starts striking false notes. Margalo, for example, is now billed as clever at fashion, able to assemble fantastic looks from thrift-store shopping, but the author lacks the girly-girl enthusiasm of, say, a Phyllis Reynolds Naylor or a Caroline Cooney to credibly integrate Margalo's sudden stylishness into the story line. Readers will know the attention to clothes is akin to a gun in Act One of a play, and sure enough, Margalo's prize thrift-store purchase turns out to be a popular girl's mom's discard. While more intelligent than most similarly themed middle-grade fiction, this Mikey and Margalo installment doesn't stand up to its predecessors. Ages 9-13. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
VOYA
In this third installment of Mikey Elsinger and Margalo Epps's preadolescent exploits, the girls take on seventh grade cliques and turn them inside out. Both girls tire of their unpopular status but take completely different angles in an attempt to be liked. Mikey eventually gains some acceptance through athletics and good baking. Margalo's attempt, like Margalo, is more subversive and fashion conscious. Throughout their ups and downs—and trips to the principal's office—the MEs always have each other, for better or worse. At first glance, this book might appear to be another mass-market, teenybopper popularity-contest title. It is much too complex for that pigeonhole—Voigt's characters have more in common with Stargirl or Weetzie than with the Sweet Valley twins. Although the girls' self-awareness and peer-group positioning might seem a bit over the top, that teenage pop psychology probably is only slightly askew from reality. When one of the pair is absent, the other goes through the trauma of facing the cafeteria alone and the thrill of finding her own individual place in school politics. When the girls are discussing a school day's impact, their conversations are frequently circuitous, more thinking aloud than conferring. Every one of Margalo's outfits has deeper meaning. Every day Mikey snaps back and forth between reveling in her infamy and yearning to be "a Heather." Fans of Rachel Vail's Friendship Ring series and readers of the first two books, Bad Girls (Scholastic, 1996/VOYA August 1996) and Bad, Badder, Baddest (Scholastic, 1997), will thoroughly enjoy Mikey and Margalo's junior high bad-girl manipulations. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasionallapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2000, Simon & Schuster, 256p. Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Elaine McGuire VOYA, February 2001 (Vol. 23, No.6)
Children's Literature
Mikey and Margalo have been friends since the fifth grade when they met because of teacher's alphabetical seating chart. They have been inseparable since, and their seventh grade year in a new school is no different. Determined to start the year right, the two try to plan a way to be popular, or at least not unpopular. But when their plans go awry they make the best of the situation, and even come out on top. In a middle school environment where people always watch to see if other people are watching them, and where friends are people who make you look cool and popular when you hang out with them, Mikey and Margalo are different. They want to be popular, but not at the expense of their individuality—a battle that adolescents face every day. Voigt has crafted marvelous characters in these two. Mikey is a tough kid, someone who always comes out swinging, sometimes before she thinks things through. Margalo's character has more depth—she lives in a blended family with many siblings and has very little money to spare. But she turns this to her advantage in clever ways, thinking things through and using good insight into human nature. Voigt has masterfully captured adolescent struggles with, who am I? Where do I fit in? Along the way, she pokes subtle fun at the way teens try so hard to be alike, and yet admire those who are different. This is an excellent book on its own, and even better when accompanied by Voigt's first two novels about Mikey and Margalo. 2000, Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster, $16.00. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Elizabeth Pabrinkis
KLIATT
Mikey and Margalo are now in 7th grade, in junior high school, struggling to figure out how to become popular. (I have not read the first two books in the series, but had no trouble enjoying these characters here in the third book—and now they are "officially" YAs.) Voigt, as always, is a smart, capable writer who charms us and makes us think. Mikey is a competitive athlete, insensitive, single-minded, very smart, rather privileged and self-centered. But she does understand how important her friendship with Margalo is and tries her best to be a good friend. Margalo is in some ways a more complex character, harder to define in a few words. She slyly analyzes the social situation, and actually maneuvers her own acceptance in nearly every social clique, finding some good people along the way but deciding being popular isn't all that important to her. She too treasures her friendship with Mikey, knowing how interesting she is. How these two plot revenge when necessary, and how they attain acceptance, keep the story moving along quickly. I'm reminded somewhat of the Alice series by Naylor for the same age group of readers, but Voigt's quirky bad girls are definitely closer to the edge of junior high culture than Alice and her friends. However, YA girls will probably enjoy both series. (Bad Girl #3) KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2000, Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, 241p, $18.00. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; November 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 6)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Mikey and Margalo are back and enduring the daily challenges of junior high. This third title in the series is very similar to the others, and while it reads fairly well on its own, there are some details that may confuse readers who are unfamiliar with the earlier books. Now in seventh grade, the best friends still vacillate between desperately wanting to be popular and relishing their status as outcasts. They alternate between competing with and comforting one another. Major traumas include Mikey's sneaky campaign to be allowed to play on the eighth-grade tennis team, and Margalo's shame at being discovered as a thrift-store shopper. While Voigt successfully captures the nature of being a female adolescent, Mikey and Margalo are so spiteful and manipulative that it's hard to really care about or truly root for them. This is a quick but fairly empty read, to be added only where Bad Girls (1996) and Bad, Badder, Baddest (1997, both Scholastic) have a following.-Ronni Krasnow, formerly at Arlington County Public Library, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442489202
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 3/12/2013
  • Series: Bad Girls Series
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,437,690
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • File size: 657 KB

Meet the Author

Cynthia Voigt won the Newbery Medal for Dicey’s Song, the Newbery Honor Award for A Solitary Blue, and the National Book Award Honor for Homecoming, all part of the beloved Tillerman cycle. She is also the author of many other celebrated books for middle grade and teen readers, including Izzy, Willy-Nilly and Jackaroo. She was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards Award in 1995 for her work in literature, and the Katahdin Award in 2004. She lives in Maine.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Miss Very Unpopular and Miss Almost As

"What's so bad about me?" Mikey Elsinger demanded.

Two weeks after the start of seventh grade, she and Margalo Epps were wandering around outside West Junior High School, with maybe five minutes, maybe seven — or maybe only four minutes left until the bell rang to summon them to homeroom and the start of another day's uneasy boredom.

Margalo reminded her, "You don't want to be friends with any of these people."

Mikey just repeated her question. "Do you know what it is about me?"

Margalo did have a few ideas on the subject. They'd been best friends since the first day of fifth grade, and she'd seen the effect Mikey had on other people — sort of like the effect Godzilla had on Tokyo. But Margalo also knew human nature and she had figured out by now that when somebody asks you what's wrong with them, the thing they really don't want to hear about is: what's wrong with them.

Besides, she didn't think the things other kids didn't like about Mikey were wrong things. They were just Mikey, like her thick braid and her short, solid, quick-moving body, the bossiness, the never-backing-down, the not-listening, the only-seeing-things-her-own-way. Mikey was a one-way street, with a high speed limit. No wonder her life was full of collisions. Margalo really admired Mikey, and envied her, too. Sometimes. About some things.

The two girls wandered up to the main entrance and wandered into the building; they drifted down a broad hallway crowded with seventh and eighth graders, leaning against lockers, clustered in small circles, talking about sports and TV shows, griping about parents, all the time watching one another watch one another. Nobody paid any attention to Mikey and Margalo. Just about anything, two gerbils, a pair of potatoes rolling down the hall, anybody was more interesting than Mikey and Margalo. Becoming nobodies as soon as they walked into the first day of seventh grade was one of the things Mikey and Margalo liked least about junior high.

"Sometimes," Margalo said to Mikey as they moved along unnoticed, "I feel like I come from another planet."

"They're the ones from another planet," Mikey said. "I hope a meteor gets it."

Turning a corner, they entered the broad central hallway, its walls painted a soothing beige, its floors a thick, sound-muffling linoleum. Here, throngs of seventh and eighth graders moved in both directions. "I asked you," Mikey said. "Don't tell me you don't have ideas, because I know better."

West Junior High was all on one level, with the cafeteria, auditorium, and library located in the center of the building. Because it was central, the library had no windows. But it did have tables, and a thick carpet if you preferred sitting on the floor. It was the library they wandered into now. "I asked," Mikey said again.

"Well," Margalo answered slowly, trying to think of what she might say that wouldn't set Mikey off on a rant about how Margalo spent too much time thinking about what other people were thinking (which Mikey definitely did not do), or how people in general were chickenhearted sheep (which Mikey definitely wasn't), the same speech Margalo had heard a hundred times before, and did not want to hear again. Even if Mikey was right, Margalo didn't have to listen to her rant about it. "Look at it this way...," Margalo said, even more slowly, wondering how long she had before the bell rang and rescued her from this conversational predicament.

Mostly, people worked together at library tables, comparing homework, preparing excuses. A few of these people Mikey and Margalo knew from their old school. Hadrian Klenk was alone, hunched over one of the computers behind the stacks, but Ronnie Caselli was at a table with a group that also included Derry Zurlo and Tanisha Harris. Tan wore a hooded sweatshirt, which declared athletics as her interest, and Derry wore a logo-ed cotton polo like Ronnie's, except in a different color. The new girl, Frannie Arenberg, was at the same table.

Everybody was new to West Junior High School, and Frannie was new to town, too, so she was an entirely new girl, but she was already one of the most popular seventh graders. Seeing her, Margalo was seized by inspiration. "Take Frannie," she said to Mikey, who glared with a toothy smile at the table of girls. "You're about the exact opposite of Frannie."

Mikey studied Frannie, who was — like almost every other seventh-grade girl — medium tall, medium thin (or medium fat, if you wanted to put it that way), medium pretty, and nothing special except for having great hair. Frannie wore her golden brown hair long and whenever she moved her head, it swayed and flowed like hair in a TV ad. Unlike other seventh and eighth graders, except Mikey, Frannie had bangs that feathered down over her forehead. But bangs were about all Mikey had in common with the new girl. Frannie Arenberg smiled a lot, big bright smiles as if she was having a good time in seventh grade, and she laughed easily, a real laugh, not a screechy seventh-grade-girl giggle. From day one, everybody had known who Frannie was — the new girl — and everybody wanted to be friends with her.

"What's so special about her?" Mikey demanded. She hadn't bothered to lower her voice, so everybody sitting at that table looked up.

Mikey wasn't about to look away from those faces.

Ronnie gave Margalo a little quick smile, the kind that doesn't want to be smiled back at, and Tanisha raised one waggling finger to Mikey, Shame on you. Mikey flashed back an I-could-care-less smile. The rest of the girls looked blank, even Derrie, as if they had never seen Mikey and Margalo before. But Frannie Arenberg smiled right at them, her big, round, brown eyes happy to see them. She moved her chair over, offering them room at the table with everybody else.

Luckily, the bell rang.

"What's wrong with her?" Mikey demanded as they left the library.

After homeroom, Mikey and Margalo separated for their morning classes. Margalo was in the A English section and the C math, and she felt worried to have been placed even that high in math. Mikey's first two classes were nonability grouped, social studies and gym. Then Margalo went to her gym class, which seemed ability grouped to her, and social studies, which definitely wasn't, while Mikey had B English and A math. They usually managed to meet up at their lockers at least once in a morning.

Not that they had anything particular to say. Just, they could have someone to talk to who wanted to talk to them. It was lucky for them that the basic organizing principal of junior high was the alphabet, because that put them in the same homeroom, the same lunch, and the same humanities seminar.

That morning, Margalo did have something to say as they clanged their locker doors open, shifting books and notebooks, checking papers. "I'm your friend," Margalo pointed out.

"You don't count. You like me," Mikey explained. "I'm talking about friends, we're in seventh grade, friends are people you go to the mall with. Not people you like. They're people who when other people see you with them everybody thinks you're an okay person. They're people you act with the way I promised myself I'd never act."

"That's a joke," Margalo decided.

"Friends are people to hang with," Mikey concluded as another bell rang and they joined another surging crowd, which moved them away from one another.

The next time they met at the lockers was before first lunch. Margalo had been thinking. "People to hang out with," she said.

"You are such a schoolteacher," Mikey argued.

"People to hang with is, like, hanged by the neck until dead," Margalo argued back.

Mikey knew that the person with the last word wins. "That's what I mean," she said.

Margalo took out her lunch bag and slammed her locker door shut. They went to the cafeteria.

Mikey did not enjoy her cafeteria lunch, a slab of meat loaf covered with brown oobleck, an ice-cream scoop of unnaturally smooth mashed potatoes, peas so pale, you knew they had spent the last days of their lives locked away in some can. Mikey swallowed quickly, with minimum mouth exposure to what she was putting into it.

"You should eat from the salad bar," Margalo advised. Her lunch was a bologna sandwich on supermarket whole wheat bread, pale and pasty brown but an improvement over Aurora's usual supermarket white bread. Margalo also had a banana, and there was nothing much you could do to ruin a banana, and saltines with peanut butter. Only a few seventh and eighth graders brought their lunches from home — vegetarians, kosher kids, kids with allergies. It was definitely not cool to BYO for lunch at WJHS, but Margalo's family consisted of three sets of siblings, plus her only-child self, plus Aurora and Steven, whose marriage brought together so many people. In Margalo's family, money was tight, so she had no choice about brown-bagging lunch.

Mikey had a choice, but she didn't like it. "The salad bar lettuce died last week," she told Margalo. "In some foreign country. After a long illness. Lunch is the only time I miss having my mother around, you know? That woman packed a great lunch."

"She probably still does," Margalo pointed out unsympathetically.

"Well, dunhh. But not for me."

"You could pack your own lunches," Margalo pointed out unsympathetically.

"I could. Maybe I will. If I do, don't think I'll share with you."

"Okay, I won't think it. But you will. You'll want me to tell you how good it is."

Mikey denied that, although she knew it was true. "Dad will tell me."

"But you won't believe him the same way you will me, because he's your dad and he thinks everything you do is terrific."

"Not everything," Mikey said, but the protest was insincere. Her life had actually gotten a lot easier since her parents separated, and her mother moved back to the city. Everybody had benefitted from the Elsingers' divorce. Mrs. Elsinger had a new position with improved prospects for promotion, and she didn't have to sneak around to see her boyfriend. Mikey and her father moved out of their fancy neighborhood into a more modest house and were banking most of the child support checks into Mikey's new college account. Even Margalo had benefitted, since Mr. Elsinger paid Aurora, Margalo's mom, to take responsibility for Mikey until he could pick her up. Between Mr. Elsinger's money and Sam's Club, Aurora and Steven were getting by more easily.

Mikey pronged four peas and held up her fork. "These cafeteria lunches make an educational contrast to our home cooking," she said, claiming, "that's the only reason I eat them," which Margalo didn't believe for a minute. Mikey rotated her pea-tipped fork, studying it. "They used to put the heads of executed criminals and traitors on spikes near the Tower of London," she told Margalo, then put the fork into her mouth. There was no need to chew. This was a mush-and-swallow eating event.

Margalo looked around the big cafeteria. Tables of seventh-grade boys, tables of seventh-grade girls, and tables where the boys and girls sat together, which meant they were eighth graders. No seventh grader was ready to eat lunch with a boyfriend or girlfriend, no matter how many hours they might spend together at the mall practically on a date.

Mikey also looked around. "Last year wasn't like this," she said. "I liked last year."

Margalo was happy to share some of her ideas about the many differences between sixth and seventh grades. "Last year, with one teacher all day, in the same classroom all day, people had to act the way the teacher wanted. Now we're split up into all different classes with different teachers so we're on our own more. Being on our own makes most people nervous, so we band together, like in clubs." Margalo enjoyed explaining human nature to Mikey (who wasn't all that interested in the subject, except when it got in her way) so she added, "Besides, if you're a club you get to exclude people."

"We should start our own club," Mikey said, looking around at the tables.

"A club of two?"

"You know what I mean."

"I know what you mean to mean," Margalo allowed. "And I don't agree with you."

"So what else is new?" Mikey said, to win the argument.

"Zut!" Margalo muttered, short for zut, alors!, which was French. Before school started, Mikey had decided that one thing they shouldn't do was swear, "because everybody will expect us to be really foulmouthed." Margalo agreed, except, "You have to say something, sometimes, or people will think you're a wimp." So they were developing their own cuss vocabulary. Mikey's grandmother in California, who dyed her hair red, used to say zut, alors! whenever Mikey captured one of her chess pieces. Mikey and Margalo put that first on their list of cuss words, followed by rats! (stolen from Snoopy), and mice! (derived from rats!), and then (by natural progression) rodents! Margalo was thinking of bunnies! She was waiting for the chance to try oh, bunnies! out on Mikey.

"Then we should be a clique," Mikey suggested.

"Cliques have to be something people want to be in."

"Why shouldn't I be popular?" Mikey asked.

Margalo just shook her head. In Margalo's opinion, the words "Mikey" and "popular" didn't even belong in the same dictionary, much less the same sentence. Typical, normal kids were what worked in junior high, as far as Margalo could see, but she didn't bother pointing that out to Mikey.

"Is it the way I dress?" Mikey asked.

"We never talked about clothes before seventh grade," Margalo pointed out. "That's another difference."

Mikey stuck to her point. "You don't dress like anybody else, either. Although you always look — like some model in Elle? Not like Seventeen. Like some exchange student. Or someone from another planet," she added. "I think it's because you're so tall, and skinny. You look better dressed than other people, even if you do get all your clothes at thrift stores."

"And the New-to-You," Margalo added, ignoring the reminder that she was one of the tallest people in the seventh grade, boys included. Actually, she thought it was lucky she couldn't afford to dress according to fads. Because of that, she dressed according to her own sense of style, wearing calf-length skirts as often as jeans, wearing blouses not T-shirts as a rule, and never cute little tees over cute little minis, even though those, like everything else, looked good on her. Mikey was short and round and already a C cup; she wore wide-legged cargo jeans and gray T-shirts, the same thing every day, her going-to-school uniform.

"Even if we dressed like them, we wouldn't fit in," Margalo said now. "But you could try, if you cared what you look like."

"How do you know I don't care?"

"Because if you did, you'd do something about it."

"What makes you think you know all about me?" Mikey demanded. "But even if I dressed like one of the jockettes," she said, "or, better, like a Barbie — it still — "

That picture caused Margalo to practically choke laughing. The Barbies were what they had named the girls who wore big heads of curled hair, or some other designer hairdo, like beads, any hairstyle that took hours to create. High-maintenance hair was a hallmark of the Barbies. Also, they dressed in full skirts with wide, tight belts, shoes with spindly heels. And they wore full-face makeup, every day. Mikey didn't even own a pair of dress shoes, or a lipstick.

"It's not that funny," Mikey said, and hoped the time was right to ask, "Want to trade your banana for this chocolate pudding?"

Margalo didn't.

Mikey didn't ask again. Instead, she explained human nature right back at Margalo. "It's much easier for boys to be popular, because they're almost all jocks. Even if they're good at school, they're still jocks first. But with girls — it's more complicated. There are all these specialized groups, jockettes, punkers, arty-smarty types, as well as the Barbies, and let us not overlook the preppies." Mikey stopped to think about what she had said, before concluding, "Then there's us."

"What about us?" Margalo asked.

"We're some subcategory of normal," Mikey decided. "Not regular normal. But whatever kind of normal we are — sub-, or ab-, or even super- — mostly we're not."

"I am," Margalo maintained.

Mikey snorted sarcastically.

"Closer to it than you, anyway," Margalo claimed, and then admitted, "I look closer, and how you look is what counts in seventh grade."

Mikey went right on with her own idea. "But practically every one of us not-normals has maybe one friend. So maybe each pair of us is a clique after all. I don't see why we can't be. You could be wrong about something, Margalo. And I could get popular."

"I'll share the banana with you," offered Margalo, who'd had a sudden glimpse of how things would be if Mikey wasn't around to eat lunch with. "How would you go about getting popular?" she asked.

And then Mikey surprised her. "I'm going to give it more time," said Mikey the impatient. "Think about it, Margalo, it's taken us almost two weeks just to find our way around the building, and in sixth grade some people ended up liking us, didn't they?"

"Everything's different in seventh grade. Everybody. School's different."

"How much could people who were all in grade school last June have changed, in just four months?" Mikey demanded. "They can't scare me."

At that moment, when Margalo's mouth was jammed full with banana, a bunch of girls streamed by their table, including Derry and Annaliese, in J.Crew sweaters over jeans. Margalo watched them, keeping her mouth closed. The little installment of preppies went on by without a word, but Frannie Arenberg hesitated, and stopped. "Hey, Mikey." She smiled down, including Margalo in her brown-eyed cheerfulness.

"Hey," Mikey mumbled through her own mouthful of banana.

"Frannie?" Frannie's friends called back to her. "You coming?"

"Hey, Margalo," Frannie said.

Margalo nodded a little nod, smiled a little smile, and waited. Then Frannie hurried off to catch up with the others, and Mikey muttered, "A real Little Miss Merry Sunshine, isn't she? It's like having a cocker spaniel around."

"More like a golden retriever," Margalo suggested.

"What's with her?" Mikey demanded.

"Maybe she doesn't know any better? Or maybe she's friendly. Maybe she's a nice person," Margalo suggested.

"Yeah, yeah," Mikey said. She gathered her trash onto the tray. "What my grandmother calls a good egg."

"Which is another name for somebody who is no fun at all."

"You would say that. You're a bad egg."

"Well, so are you." Margalo stuffed crumpled wax paper and the banana skin into her brown bag, getting up, picking up her notebook and texts.

"Being a bad egg doesn't mean I can't get popular," Mikey said. "Or, at least, more popular than you."

"Not a chance."

A challenge was just what Mikey liked. It gave her something to do, and something to win. "Oh, yeah?"

"Not that being more popular than me would make you particularly popular," Margalo pointed out.

"I bet I can," Mikey warned, promising.

"But you don't care if people like you," Margalo reminded her.

"Neither do you."

"Yeah, but I'm a better liar." Then Margalo added, "You know, it's not really being popular I want. I just want not to be unpopular."

That was it, exactly, which Mikey hadn't known until Margalo said it. "Me, too," she said, but didn't say what else she was thinking: about how if she didn't have Margalo for a friend, her school days would be about a zillion times more boring. Instead of that, what Mikey said was, "How can you tell if you're popular? Otherwise," she explained to Margalo's surprised face, "how will I know when I am?"

Copyright © 2000 by Cynthia Voigt

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Table of Contents

Contents

  1. Miss Very Unpopular and Miss Almost As
  2. Can Bad Eggs Make Good?
  3. One (bad) Egg, Scrambled
  4. Junior High Justice
  5. The Revenge of the Ant People
  6. The Cheese Stands Alone
  7. What Now? What Next?
  8. What If -- ?
  9. Can Unpopular People Have a Popular Opinion?
  10. Lose Some, Win Some
  11. California, Here I (don't) Come
  12. Margalo Solo
  13. One (bad) Egg, Poached
  14. Godzilla vs Thumbelina
  15. Two (bad) Eggs, Sunny-side Up
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First Chapter

Chapter 1: Miss Very Unpopular and Miss Almost As

"What's so bad about me?" Mikey Elsinger demanded.

Two weeks after the start of seventh grade, she and Margalo Epps were wandering around outside West Junior High School, with maybe five minutes, maybe seven — or maybe only four minutes left until the bell rang to summon them to homeroom and the start of another day's uneasy boredom.

Margalo reminded her, "You don't want to be friends with any of these people."

Mikey just repeated her question. "Do you know what it is about me?"

Margalo did have a few ideas on the subject. They'd been best friends since the first day of fifth grade, and she'd seen the effect Mikey had on other people — sort of like the effect Godzilla had on Tokyo. But Margalo also knew human nature and she had figured out by now that when somebody asks you what's wrong with them, the thing they really don't want to hear about is: what's wrong with them.

Besides, she didn't think the things other kids didn't like about Mikey were wrong things. They were just Mikey, like her thick braid and her short, solid, quick-moving body, the bossiness, the never-backing-down, the not-listening, the only-seeing-things-her-own-way. Mikey was a one-way street, with a high speed limit. No wonder her life was full of collisions. Margalo really admired Mikey, and envied her, too. Sometimes. About some things.

The two girls wandered up to the main entrance and wandered into the building; they drifted down a broad hallway crowded with seventh and eighth graders, leaning against lockers, clustered in small circles, talking about sports and TV shows, griping about parents, all the time watching one another watch one another. Nobody paid any attention to Mikey and Margalo. Just about anything, two gerbils, a pair of potatoes rolling down the hall, anybody was more interesting than Mikey and Margalo. Becoming nobodies as soon as they walked into the first day of seventh grade was one of the things Mikey and Margalo liked least about junior high.

"Sometimes," Margalo said to Mikey as they moved along unnoticed, "I feel like I come from another planet."

"They're the ones from another planet," Mikey said. "I hope a meteor gets it."

Turning a corner, they entered the broad central hallway, its walls painted a soothing beige, its floors a thick, sound-muffling linoleum. Here, throngs of seventh and eighth graders moved in both directions. "I asked you," Mikey said. "Don't tell me you don't have ideas, because I know better."

West Junior High was all on one level, with the cafeteria, auditorium, and library located in the center of the building. Because it was central, the library had no windows. But it did have tables, and a thick carpet if you preferred sitting on the floor. It was the library they wandered into now. "I asked," Mikey said again.

"Well," Margalo answered slowly, trying to think of what she might say that wouldn't set Mikey off on a rant about how Margalo spent too much time thinking about what other people were thinking (which Mikey definitely did not do), or how people in general were chickenhearted sheep (which Mikey definitely wasn't), the same speech Margalo had heard a hundred times before, and did not want to hear again. Even if Mikey was right, Margalo didn't have to listen to her rant about it. "Look at it this way...," Margalo said, even more slowly, wondering how long she had before the bell rang and rescued her from this conversational predicament.

Mostly, people worked together at library tables, comparing homework, preparing excuses. A few of these people Mikey and Margalo knew from their old school. Hadrian Klenk was alone, hunched over one of the computers behind the stacks, but Ronnie Caselli was at a table with a group that also included Derry Zurlo and Tanisha Harris. Tan wore a hooded sweatshirt, which declared athletics as her interest, and Derry wore a logo-ed cotton polo like Ronnie's, except in a different color. The new girl, Frannie Arenberg, was at the same table.

Everybody was new to West Junior High School, and Frannie was new to town, too, so she was an entirely new girl, but she was already one of the most popular seventh graders. Seeing her, Margalo was seized by inspiration. "Take Frannie," she said to Mikey, who glared with a toothy smile at the table of girls. "You're about the exact opposite of Frannie."

Mikey studied Frannie, who was — like almost every other seventh-grade girl — medium tall, medium thin (or medium fat, if you wanted to put it that way), medium pretty, and nothing special except for having great hair. Frannie wore her golden brown hair long and whenever she moved her head, it swayed and flowed like hair in a TV ad. Unlike other seventh and eighth graders, except Mikey, Frannie had bangs that feathered down over her forehead. But bangs were about all Mikey had in common with the new girl. Frannie Arenberg smiled a lot, big bright smiles as if she was having a good time in seventh grade, and she laughed easily, a real laugh, not a screechy seventh-grade-girl giggle. From day one, everybody had known who Frannie was — the new girl — and everybody wanted to be friends with her.

"What's so special about her?" Mikey demanded. She hadn't bothered to lower her voice, so everybody sitting at that table looked up.

Mikey wasn't about to look away from those faces.

Ronnie gave Margalo a little quick smile, the kind that doesn't want to be smiled back at, and Tanisha raised one waggling finger to Mikey, Shame on you. Mikey flashed back an I-could-care-less smile. The rest of the girls looked blank, even Derrie, as if they had never seen Mikey and Margalo before. But Frannie Arenberg smiled right at them, her big, round, brown eyes happy to see them. She moved her chair over, offering them room at the table with everybody else.

Luckily, the bell rang.

"What's wrong with her?" Mikey demanded as they left the library.


After homeroom, Mikey and Margalo separated for their morning classes. Margalo was in the A English section and the C math, and she felt worried to have been placed even that high in math. Mikey's first two classes were nonability grouped, social studies and gym. Then Margalo went to her gym class, which seemed ability grouped to her, and social studies, which definitely wasn't, while Mikey had B English and A math. They usually managed to meet up at their lockers at least once in a morning.

Not that they had anything particular to say. Just, they could have someone to talk to who wanted to talk to them. It was lucky for them that the basic organizing principal of junior high was the alphabet, because that put them in the same homeroom, the same lunch, and the same humanities seminar.

That morning, Margalo did have something to say as they clanged their locker doors open, shifting books and notebooks, checking papers. "I'm your friend," Margalo pointed out.

"You don't count. You like me," Mikey explained. "I'm talking about friends, we're in seventh grade, friends are people you go to the mall with. Not people you like. They're people who when other people see you with them everybody thinks you're an okay person. They're people you act with the way I promised myself I'd never act."

"That's a joke," Margalo decided.

"Friends are people to hang with," Mikey concluded as another bell rang and they joined another surging crowd, which moved them away from one another.


The next time they met at the lockers was before first lunch. Margalo had been thinking. "People to hang out with," she said.

"You are such a schoolteacher," Mikey argued.

"People to hang with is, like, hanged by the neck until dead," Margalo argued back.

Mikey knew that the person with the last word wins. "That's what I mean," she said.

Margalo took out her lunch bag and slammed her locker door shut. They went to the cafeteria.

Mikey did not enjoy her cafeteria lunch, a slab of meat loaf covered with brown oobleck, an ice-cream scoop of unnaturally smooth mashed potatoes, peas so pale, you knew they had spent the last days of their lives locked away in some can. Mikey swallowed quickly, with minimum mouth exposure to what she was putting into it.

"You should eat from the salad bar," Margalo advised. Her lunch was a bologna sandwich on supermarket whole wheat bread, pale and pasty brown but an improvement over Aurora's usual supermarket white bread. Margalo also had a banana, and there was nothing much you could do to ruin a banana, and saltines with peanut butter. Only a few seventh and eighth graders brought their lunches from home — vegetarians, kosher kids, kids with allergies. It was definitely not cool to BYO for lunch at WJHS, but Margalo's family consisted of three sets of siblings, plus her only-child self, plus Aurora and Steven, whose marriage brought together so many people. In Margalo's family, money was tight, so she had no choice about brown-bagging lunch.

Mikey had a choice, but she didn't like it. "The salad bar lettuce died last week," she told Margalo. "In some foreign country. After a long illness. Lunch is the only time I miss having my mother around, you know? That woman packed a great lunch."

"She probably still does," Margalo pointed out unsympathetically.

"Well, dunhh. But not for me."

"You could pack your own lunches," Margalo pointed out unsympathetically.

"I could. Maybe I will. If I do, don't think I'll share with you."

"Okay, I won't think it. But you will. You'll want me to tell you how good it is."

Mikey denied that, although she knew it was true. "Dad will tell me."

"But you won't believe him the same way you will me, because he's your dad and he thinks everything you do is terrific."

"Not everything," Mikey said, but the protest was insincere. Her life had actually gotten a lot easier since her parents separated, and her mother moved back to the city. Everybody had benefitted from the Elsingers' divorce. Mrs. Elsinger had a new position with improved prospects for promotion, and she didn't have to sneak around to see her boyfriend. Mikey and her father moved out of their fancy neighborhood into a more modest house and were banking most of the child support checks into Mikey's new college account. Even Margalo had benefitted, since Mr. Elsinger paid Aurora, Margalo's mom, to take responsibility for Mikey until he could pick her up. Between Mr. Elsinger's money and Sam's Club, Aurora and Steven were getting by more easily.

Mikey pronged four peas and held up her fork. "These cafeteria lunches make an educational contrast to our home cooking," she said, claiming, "that's the only reason I eat them," which Margalo didn't believe for a minute. Mikey rotated her pea-tipped fork, studying it. "They used to put the heads of executed criminals and traitors on spikes near the Tower of London," she told Margalo, then put the fork into her mouth. There was no need to chew. This was a mush-and-swallow eating event.

Margalo looked around the big cafeteria. Tables of seventh-grade boys, tables of seventh-grade girls, and tables where the boys and girls sat together, which meant they were eighth graders. No seventh grader was ready to eat lunch with a boyfriend or girlfriend, no matter how many hours they might spend together at the mall practically on a date.

Mikey also looked around. "Last year wasn't like this," she said. "I liked last year."

Margalo was happy to share some of her ideas about the many differences between sixth and seventh grades. "Last year, with one teacher all day, in the same classroom all day, people had to act the way the teacher wanted. Now we're split up into all different classes with different teachers so we're on our own more. Being on our own makes most people nervous, so we band together, like in clubs." Margalo enjoyed explaining human nature to Mikey (who wasn't all that interested in the subject, except when it got in her way) so she added, "Besides, if you're a club you get to exclude people."

"We should start our own club," Mikey said, looking around at the tables.

"A club of two?"

"You know what I mean."

"I know what you mean to mean," Margalo allowed. "And I don't agree with you."

"So what else is new?" Mikey said, to win the argument.

"Zut!" Margalo muttered, short for zut, alors!, which was French. Before school started, Mikey had decided that one thing they shouldn't do was swear, "because everybody will expect us to be really foulmouthed." Margalo agreed, except, "You have to say something, sometimes, or people will think you're a wimp." So they were developing their own cuss vocabulary. Mikey's grandmother in California, who dyed her hair red, used to say zut, alors! whenever Mikey captured one of her chess pieces. Mikey and Margalo put that first on their list of cuss words, followed by rats! (stolen from Snoopy), and mice! (derived from rats!), and then (by natural progression) rodents! Margalo was thinking of bunnies! She was waiting for the chance to try oh, bunnies! out on Mikey.

"Then we should be a clique," Mikey suggested.

"Cliques have to be something people want to be in."

"Why shouldn't I be popular?" Mikey asked.

Margalo just shook her head. In Margalo's opinion, the words "Mikey" and "popular" didn't even belong in the same dictionary, much less the same sentence. Typical, normal kids were what worked in junior high, as far as Margalo could see, but she didn't bother pointing that out to Mikey.

"Is it the way I dress?" Mikey asked.

"We never talked about clothes before seventh grade," Margalo pointed out. "That's another difference."

Mikey stuck to her point. "You don't dress like anybody else, either. Although you always look — like some model in Elle? Not like Seventeen. Like some exchange student. Or someone from another planet," she added. "I think it's because you're so tall, and skinny. You look better dressed than other people, even if you do get all your clothes at thrift stores."

"And the New-to-You," Margalo added, ignoring the reminder that she was one of the tallest people in the seventh grade, boys included. Actually, she thought it was lucky she couldn't afford to dress according to fads. Because of that, she dressed according to her own sense of style, wearing calf-length skirts as often as jeans, wearing blouses not T-shirts as a rule, and never cute little tees over cute little minis, even though those, like everything else, looked good on her. Mikey was short and round and already a C cup; she wore wide-legged cargo jeans and gray T-shirts, the same thing every day, her going-to-school uniform.

"Even if we dressed like them, we wouldn't fit in," Margalo said now. "But you could try, if you cared what you look like."

"How do you know I don't care?"

"Because if you did, you'd do something about it."

"What makes you think you know all about me?" Mikey demanded. "But even if I dressed like one of the jockettes," she said, "or, better, like a Barbie — it still — "

That picture caused Margalo to practically choke laughing. The Barbies were what they had named the girls who wore big heads of curled hair, or some other designer hairdo, like beads, any hairstyle that took hours to create. High-maintenance hair was a hallmark of the Barbies. Also, they dressed in full skirts with wide, tight belts, shoes with spindly heels. And they wore full-face makeup, every day. Mikey didn't even own a pair of dress shoes, or a lipstick.

"It's not that funny," Mikey said, and hoped the time was right to ask, "Want to trade your banana for this chocolate pudding?"

Margalo didn't.

Mikey didn't ask again. Instead, she explained human nature right back at Margalo. "It's much easier for boys to be popular, because they're almost all jocks. Even if they're good at school, they're still jocks first. But with girls — it's more complicated. There are all these specialized groups, jockettes, punkers, arty-smarty types, as well as the Barbies, and let us not overlook the preppies." Mikey stopped to think about what she had said, before concluding, "Then there's us."

"What about us?" Margalo asked.

"We're some subcategory of normal," Mikey decided. "Not regular normal. But whatever kind of normal we are — sub-, or ab-, or even super- — mostly we're not."

"I am," Margalo maintained.

Mikey snorted sarcastically.

"Closer to it than you, anyway," Margalo claimed, and then admitted, "I look closer, and how you look is what counts in seventh grade."

Mikey went right on with her own idea. "But practically every one of us not-normals has maybe one friend. So maybe each pair of us is a clique after all. I don't see why we can't be. You could be wrong about something, Margalo. And I could get popular."

"I'll share the banana with you," offered Margalo, who'd had a sudden glimpse of how things would be if Mikey wasn't around to eat lunch with. "How would you go about getting popular?" she asked.

And then Mikey surprised her. "I'm going to give it more time," said Mikey the impatient. "Think about it, Margalo, it's taken us almost two weeks just to find our way around the building, and in sixth grade some people ended up liking us, didn't they?"

"Everything's different in seventh grade. Everybody. School's different."

"How much could people who were all in grade school last June have changed, in just four months?" Mikey demanded. "They can't scare me."

At that moment, when Margalo's mouth was jammed full with banana, a bunch of girls streamed by their table, including Derry and Annaliese, in J.Crew sweaters over jeans. Margalo watched them, keeping her mouth closed. The little installment of preppies went on by without a word, but Frannie Arenberg hesitated, and stopped. "Hey, Mikey." She smiled down, including Margalo in her brown-eyed cheerfulness.

"Hey," Mikey mumbled through her own mouthful of banana.

"Frannie?" Frannie's friends called back to her. "You coming?"

"Hey, Margalo," Frannie said.

Margalo nodded a little nod, smiled a little smile, and waited. Then Frannie hurried off to catch up with the others, and Mikey muttered, "A real Little Miss Merry Sunshine, isn't she? It's like having a cocker spaniel around."

"More like a golden retriever," Margalo suggested.

"What's with her?" Mikey demanded.

"Maybe she doesn't know any better? Or maybe she's friendly. Maybe she's a nice person," Margalo suggested.

"Yeah, yeah," Mikey said. She gathered her trash onto the tray. "What my grandmother calls a good egg."

"Which is another name for somebody who is no fun at all."

"You would say that. You're a bad egg."

"Well, so are you." Margalo stuffed crumpled wax paper and the banana skin into her brown bag, getting up, picking up her notebook and texts.

"Being a bad egg doesn't mean I can't get popular," Mikey said. "Or, at least, more popular than you."

"Not a chance."

A challenge was just what Mikey liked. It gave her something to do, and something to win. "Oh, yeah?"

"Not that being more popular than me would make you particularly popular," Margalo pointed out.

"I bet I can," Mikey warned, promising.

"But you don't care if people like you," Margalo reminded her.

"Neither do you."

"Yeah, but I'm a better liar." Then Margalo added, "You know, it's not really being popular I want. I just want not to be unpopular."

That was it, exactly, which Mikey hadn't known until Margalo said it. "Me, too," she said, but didn't say what else she was thinking: about how if she didn't have Margalo for a friend, her school days would be about a zillion times more boring. Instead of that, what Mikey said was, "How can you tell if you're popular? Otherwise," she explained to Margalo's surprised face, "how will I know when I am?"

Copyright © 2000 by Cynthia Voigt

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2005

    Pathetic!

    I am 13 years old. I KNOW what middle school is like, because I was in 7th grade last year. This book is extremaly unrealistic. The author is very stereotypical with the 'preppies', 'jocks', 'nerds' sort of thing. I cringed whenever they said 'wassup?' She made pre-teens and teens seem like animals. Also, NOBODY who I have ever met goes to school in clunky shoes, tweed skirts, sweaters, and to top it all of, pinky-brown lipstick.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2004

    Great Book

    There two girls named Mikey and Margolo they are bestfirends. Margolo is a little smarter than Mikey. The book will be nice to read i f you fill like laughing and sometimes felling sad.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2003

    IT was ok

    the book was really boring! never read it! i cant even imagine someone who would right such a boring book. i couldnt even understnad who each of them were. it was so confusing keeping track of did what and who said what i didnt like it at all!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2003

    It's Not Easy Being A Bad BOOK!

    When I first picked out this book I expected adventure but all I got was dullness! This book repeats ideas and problems about school, popularity, and fairness over and over again. The two girls, Margalo and Mikey, are very boring and bring nothing to the story. I had to concentrate on who was who rather than reading the book. Therefore, I would recommend this book to someone who is very smart. One thing that does make the book a bit interesting is that it relates to real-life although My life is much more interesting than the book. I give this book a 2/5 stars because it was very hard to stay awake while reading it.

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