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*"The author does a brilliant job getting into the head of a troubled teen and does not shy away from racy topics."—School Library Journal (starred review)
"Larger-than-life characters....Behind the music quest, sarcasm and pursuit of girls, however, lies a more complicated and often compelling story about family, grief and flawed coping mechanisms."—Kirkus
"[Beaudoin] plays language like Hendrix plays a guitar."—BCCB
I sit on my bunk, in a dark room that smells like a thousand stiff Kleenex and a unit filled with twenty sweaty boys. The air would taste like angst, except there is no air. The silence would sound like fear and pain, except there is no silence. In fact, there's only a constant jabber, like a hallway full of junkies waiting out their morning methadone, and a heavy fluorescent gloom that seeps and settles and makes everything green and dull and fake.
You want ninety? Fine, I'll give you ninety. And not just the ones in here. I'll give them to you coming and going.
Yeah, I'm going nowhere. Except where I'm told. Sit in this chair, eat this slop, put your toe on this line.
But it doesn't matter what they do with your body. Bodies are resilient.
It's what they do with your mind.
"Mr. Sudden, please open your notebook and re-create the sequence of events that led you to this point."
"I don't have a pen, let alone a point."
"It will be therapeutic."
"Can we skip therapy and get straight to the prescription?"
"Is that meant to be amusing?"
"My grandma always said it's the little laughs that cut the deepest."
"All right, stand against the wall and place your hands behind your back."
I let myself be cuffed and then shoved to the floor.
To the cold, wet concrete.
What's there to say?
There's the days I've earned, minus the days I have left.
Everything else is just another lame cliché.
Until you're the one standing ankle-deep in it.
And I'm not standing anymore.
So, okay, here's the beginning.
The hard truth.
The only thing you really need to know:
In the end, they want you to bend over and submit ... in the end.
Actually, you don't need to know that. That's just bullshit someone carved into the wall with their fingernail.
What you really need to know is:
There's a kid in here wants to kill me.
Two of them, actually.
The hard truth is that no matter what you do, there's always someone better at it than you are. In my case, that's Elliot Hella. We've been friends since third grade. Or at least he's let me follow him around since then. Elliot's older brother, Nico, an original tatted badass now married and bagging groceries, was in six different thrash bands while we were still spooning up Lucky Charms. So by osmosis, Elliot has chops. I have no chops.
Especially on the folk guitar Dad Sudden left behind.
"You're getting an electric," Elliot says, wearing big black boots and stiff jeans with the cuffs rolled. "Today."
He shoves a poster in my face. It's for Rock Scene 2013: TWO DOZEN HOT ACTS! TWO BRUTAL WEEKS! ONE MASSIVE WINNER! Normally we're in the audience, holding our tools while lamer bands soak up all the glory. Not anymore. Not this year.
"There is only one thing standing between us and total domination," Elliot says.
"My ownership of a brand-new, bone-crushing noise machine?"
He grins and gives me a nod.
Half the kids at school would practically carve out their spleen to have El Hella nod at them like that, the dude too cool to know it, too weird to be popular, too hardcore to give a shit. You can practically see the musk rising off of him. In fact, he'd be an absolute monster, a campus hero, a woman-slaying juggernaut, except for how he's six-four packed into five-six, built low and wide and raw, too much torso and not enough legs, compressed, tamped down, ready to explode, a heavy dose of Hella on every front, way too much for some people.
But not me.
"So can we go already?"
Elliot drives his mom's Renault like a stock car, trading paint, switching lanes, gunning off ramps, catching air.
I want to ball up under the floor mat and suck my thumb.
But I don't.
On the outskirts of the city, we park under a bridge, then take the subway straight to Jazzbox Jim's, where I'm all pretending I know my ass from an E string. Dude, check out the action on this. Or, Dude, isn't this the axe Hendrix played? The aisles are full of guys in city bands, gelled hair and wallet chains, and a fat kid in the corner playing "Master of Puppets" note for note. It's hot and sweaty. I can't stop saying axe. The clerk wears a Western shirt with pearl buttons, shining us off 'cause he thinks we're gonna paw through his stock all afternoon without buying a thing. He is incorrect. I clear my throat, trying to sound like a dude who gets paid for gigs.
"Let us check that purple Strat."
Western Shirt sighs and takes it off the wall. Elliot whips hair out of his eyes, slinging the guitar over his shoulder like he just rappelled into downtown Basra, ready to lay out a blanket of suppressing fire. He runs through a bunch of tasty licks, ending with this weird descending octave pattern I could only dream of pulling off, stretching the last note with creamy élan.
"Cool run," Western Shirt says, already Elliot's buddy.
"Yeah," I say. "Nice ... run."
I've actually wanted an electric since I was ten. Beth was always like, So stop talking about it and just get one.
Beth doesn't say that anymore, even though she was right.
"How much?" I ask.
Western Shirt, starting to take me an increment of seriously, checks the price.
"What else do you got?" Elliot says. "Like, for the semiemployed?"
Western Shirt strokes his Strokes sideburns, pointing to the junkie trade in the corner, the dozen shit-rides he can't give away. The best of the lot is a Les Paul "The Paul." It's turd brown with ancient twin humbuckers and looks like a two-by-four with a neck stapled on it. The tag reads $299.
"Well, the price is right," Elliot says.
The Paul is cracked and worn and tired. It's covered with band stickers and band grime and the residue of a thousand out-of-tune renditions of "Sweet Home Bamaslamma." It needs tender love and care. It needs penicillin and a solder gun. It needs a blindfold and a bullet.
"Yeah, it's not gonna win any beauty contests, but at least it ain't made in Korea."
"They make axes in Korea?"
Western Shirt rolls his eyes.
I finger a chord. Plink, plink, plink. I play a scale and doink half the notes. I slide up the neck, go for an arpeggio, miss it by a mile.
The guitar is clearly defective.
A stone-cold loser.
A rope-swinging albatross.
I am totally, completely in love.
"I guess it's possible I could be talked into taking this off your hands."
"You take two hundred cash?"
"You got two hundred cash?"
Elliot gets up and stands enigmatically by the window, staring at a stack of amps. Or maybe the face of Joey Ramone in a stain on the wall. I lean over and yank a roll of twenties out of my sock. Twenties I sweated hard for all summer, bussing plates of all-you-can-eat rib bones at the all-you-can-eat rib place where I never eat a single freaking rib because even the thought of them makes me ill.
Western Shirt sniffs the bills, rings it up. "So what's y'all's band called?"
"Death by Natural Causes."
"Actually, it's Death by Piranha."
"Not much better."
"Actually, it's Death by Whoreknife."
He doesn't laugh.
"Toss in a set of strings?"
This time he does laugh. At two hundred dollars, I don't even get a case, resting the guitar over my shoulder like a lumberjack.
On the subway I feel so freaking cool.
At Forty-Fourth Street, some Brooks Brother points to one of the stickers on the back, THE BLOWNUT HOLES.
"Hey, I saw them play CBGB's in college. They totally rocked!"
I turn and stare.
"You've never been to CB's in your life, suit."
The whole car laughs. A posse of cholos in the corner falls all over one another, goofing on the guy for being such a knob.
The suit frowns, goes back to his paper.
One of the cholos leans over to bump knuckles.
I reach out and we touch skin.
Elliot nods with appreciation, eyes intense, chin cleft, hair so black it's purple.
There is alchemy waiting to happen.
A band is dying to be born.
To rise from the ashes of our lameness.
Even though I do feel a little bad for the suit.
Truth is, I've never been to CB's, either.
But I do own an electric guitar.
You want a diary?
Diaries are for girls in pajamas.
For teacher-crushes and prancy unicorns.
Fancy leather bindings and tiny yellow keys.
Best-friend betrayals and grass-stained capris.
Fumbled bra-lifts and locker pose.
Angsty poems and parent-loathe.
All your random hope dreams.
All your dirty dope dreams.
No, man, this ain't no diary.
What we have here is a forced narrative.
What we have here is a failure to exaggerate.
What we have here is homework for a bunch of dudes who were too slick to get caught.
And then got caught.
Tried and tied.
Nailed and bailed.
This notebook is for those of us who need three-punch holes, a spiral binding, and the consistency of ruled margins to provide the sort of authoritative structure otherwise missing in our single-parent homes.
Hey, this notebook isn't for you.
It's for me.
For my delinquency.
A clean rectangle upon which to get down my thoughts.
Sound my thoughts.
Drown my thoughts.
Before they rear up, bare their fangs,
Spread 'em wide.
Go to town
For the love of Baal, The Paul is loud. I pose and strut, windmill Townshend, kick-leg Angus, duckwalk Chuck, crank the knobs, crank the amp, crank the stank, making Elliot admit every twelve minutes The Paul takes no prisoners.
"The Paul takes no prisoners."
"The Paul takes no prisoners."
He gives me a look, raises his lip, a smile that's not a smile.
"Don't push it."
So I pout for a while instead.
He finally slings the greasy hair out of his eyes and rubs his temples. "Fine. Your piece-of-shit guitar is less a piece of shit than anticipated. Okay, Ritchie?"
I shrug. "Yeah, okay."
We run through our set in his basement. Thirteen songs, not a single cover. Assuming you don't count the parts we blatantly stole as covers. Just a lick here, a riff there. Everyone thefts from everyone else and always has. Band to band, song to song, note to note. Blues to rock to punk. Take it and make it your own. Or at least disguise it well. But since we are on the verge of being the greatest act of all time—concerts selling out in fractions of seconds, so many records going platinum they have to discover a new alloy, Brazilian models fighting over the right to bear our children and name them things like "Amelia Beefhardt" and "Firetruck Inspektor," scientists bronzing the smell of my Nikes for the Smithsonian—we must be careful about these things.
After three encores, we're covered in sweat. My ears ring like a Weedwacker stuck between gears. Tiny threads of ceiling material waft onto my shoulders and into my lungs, settling like an asbestos lawsuit.
"We need a drummer."
Elliot frowns. "Screw that."
"We'll just sound like Fred Sabbath."
"But, dude, with the right cat on skins these songs would rock sixty-nine percent harder."
"We'll just sound like Fred Halen."
"And that's a problem because?"
"We'll just sound like the Jimi Fredrix Experience."
"Whatever," I say. "Be like that."
Elliot's face goes dark. His shoulders begin to tremble. He half turns away, voice cracking. "You really want to know why not?"
He takes a deep breath. "When I was little, there was this guy in our neighborhood."
"Who dressed up like a clown."
"With big feet? And a red wig?"
"And played drums."
"Yeah," Elliot whispers. "And that drummer clown ... gave me a piece of candy."
"So? What's wrong with—"
"Right before he put his hand down my pants."
Water drips from a pipe in the corner. The basement, for the first time ever, is dead silent.
"Wow, man," I finally say. "That's really heavy. Do you want to talk about it, or—"
El Hella busts out laughing, then plays a massive distorted chord.
"You idiot. I just think we're better off as a duo."
Five Things Our Band Needs (to win Rock Scene 2013):
1. A name
2. A drummer
3. A singer
4. A signature song
5. A slightly less evil Elliot
I turn it loud, then louder, then loudest. We run through our set one more time, full bore, like an army of marching noise-bots. Like an amplified steel thresher. The Paul owns several major frequencies. Rude vibrations sterilize every rodent within a two-mile radius. Virgin ears beg for mercy and are turned down flat.
"This is awesome!" Elliot says, looking like a punk bricklayer.
"I know!" I say, looking like the guy who invented chat rooms.
The reason we get away with making such colossal racket is because Elliot's mom is never home. And by never I mean not ever, all busy being this upper- crusty Greek chick out riding horses in thigh-high boots and orange mascara. Seducing stable boys in tight horse-tights. Having cocktails and sashimi and correctly pronouncing dressage. She's also working on her fifth husband, having killed off the first four. Heart attack. Cancer. Cancer. Heart attack. Pocketing a nice chunk of change each time. Even Elliot calls her the Black Widow.
Husband number five, name of Lawrence, has little tufts of gray hair and miles of wrinkly skull, sitting upstairs in a leather chair next to a reel-to-reel player spooling out Tchaikovsky. There's a jar of honey on the side table that he eats with a spoon. We take a break and Lawrence tells me he once worked on the Manhattan Project.
"No fooling, huh?"
"Like Oppenheimer?" Elliot explains. "The dude who assembled the first nuke? The Manhattan Project was his team. Mushroom clouds and shit. Lawrence racked the abacus and got all theoretical on Hitler's ass. He mathed up hard and ended the war."
"Well, not alone," Lawrence says.
"L-Dog, I so had no clue you were famous!"
Lawrence shrugs and nods, practically a living memory, a dream of tweed suits and chalkboards and differential equations, like Russell Crowe in that movie where he's not a gladiator.
How can you not love the guy?
Plus, he couldn't care less how terrible we are. How loud and clumsy and angry and awesome we are, amps cranked post-max, hammering through the floorboards for hours while he just sits there readjusting the quilt on his legs.
"Lawrence," I say, "you're totally getting a major shout-out in the liner notes."
"Don't get ahead of yourself," Elliot says, scratching neck stubble. "We don't even have a name yet and you're hanging the Grammy over the mantel."
"How about the Envisaged?"
"How about Betty Got Eddie Pregnant?"
"Even worse. Sounds like an avant-garde theater troupe."
"How about Murder Coaster?"
"Hey, that's good," Lawrence says.
Elliot takes off his steel-toes and rubs his real toes. Dude don't wear no socks.
"Like I said, we don't even have a name."
The phone rings.
The phone never rings at the Hellas'. Literally. I have never once heard it ring before.
We all crowd around the speakerphone. "Hello?"
It's the Rock Scene people. The guy sounds too happy to be alive.
"Hey, guys, we have some great new twists this year that will be announced soon!"
"Great," Elliot goes.
"Twists," I go.
"Like live streaming. It may go viral."
"Live streaming," Elliot says.
"Viral," I say.
"Also, on the downside? We've received your application."
"What about it?"
Turns out there are two problems with our application. One is that we forgot to include the entrance fee, which is more or less a direct result of the fact that we didn't include it, since I earmarked every last available dollar for The Paul. We were sort of hoping they wouldn't notice, like, Whoops, it must have fallen on the floor.
Rock Scene Guy goes, "Sorry, guys, but rules are rules. Deadlines are deadlines. Disqualified is disqualified."
Until Lawrence reaches into the side table without a word, pulling out a checkbook made of, like, papyrus. He writes in the amount, one hundred shaky dollars, with this thing that looks more like an eagle feather than a pen. He actually dips it in a jar of ink.
Elliot gives Lawrence the thumbs-up, already arguing with Rock Scene Guy about the second problem.
The second problem is that we didn't fill in a name.
Excerpted from Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin. Copyright © 2013 Sean Beaudoin. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 23, 2013
I picked up this book from my local library and after seeing the title and reading the description was highly interested. After about 30 pages though it became a struggle for me to just flip to the next page. I was not able to finish and the book and it did not meet any of my standards for any books I like and/or usually read. I think I've learned my lessons about straying from my usual types.
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Posted June 25, 2014
If you've ever played in a rock band, wanted to play in a rock band, or simply enjoy rock music -- or if you admire smart writing and funny jokes -- this is the book for you.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.