Ari has body-image issues. After a move across the country, his parents work selling and promoting his mother's paintings and sculptures. Ari's bohemian mother needs space to create, and his father is gone for long stretches of time on "sales" trips.
Meanwhile, Ari makes new friends: Pick, the gamer; the artsy Jorge, and the troubled Lisa. He is also relentlessly bullied because he's overweight, but he can't tell his parentsthey're simply not around enough to listen.
After an upsetting incident, Ari's mom suggests he go on a diet, and she gives him a book to help. But the bookand the dietcan’t fix everything. As Ari faces the demise of his parents' marriage, he also feels himself changing, both emotionally and physically. Here is a much-needed story about accepting the imperfect in oneself and in life.
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About the Author
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Who Am I?
The life in my head seems so different from the life outside,
where I am so big that everyone stares,
but no one sees the real me.
My name is Ari Rosensweig.
This year, I am the newest seventh grader at Mill Valley Middle School.
I have sandy-brown hair and green eyes like my father's.
I'm average height, but
I am a fat kid, and I hate it when people call me names.
Even though I'm overweight,
I can still do everything everyone else can —
ride my bike, play video games —
but people just see me as different,
only notice who I am on the outside.
My mother is an artist who sculpts giants in clay and paints the world on canvas, on murals,
and even on clothes;
my father sells what she paints.
I'm an only child.
Sometimes I get lonely,
wish for a brother or sister,
but I get so much time to myself to do what I like to do,
and no one interferes.
I make role-playing games.
I'm going to be a cryptozoologist.
I want to find the creatures out there,
like Bigfoot, that might seem so different but that belong to this world too.
My mother says we are going to spend the summer at the beach;
Out in nature, she says.
I like the beach, but I don't like taking off my shirt.
I always have to hike up my pants,
and I worry that there isn't enough food,
because I'm always hungry.
More than anything, I think,
I want to lose weight,
and I don't know how.
Why Are You So Fat people always ask (not always out loud)
I'm not fat.
I sit up straighter,
feel the rolls on my body unbuckle.
I just have big bones. That's what my mom says.
I have big bones and bigger spaces in between them.
Why are you so fat?
Well, they say my grandfather, from eastern Europe had a mysterious disease that made him big;
he carried it with him,
and he gave it to my mother and my mom had it and now I have it.
Why are you so fat?
Because my grandmother made me eat every bite,
told me to never leave anything on my plate.
Why are you so fat?
It's a gland problem.
I've got bad glands.
Someone told me about glands,
so I think I have bad ones.
Why are you so fat?
The doctor says I can't help it.
He says I may not look normal,
but I'm healthy enough to carry the stars,
and this fat keeps me safe.
Why are you so fat?
Because I love school lunches: meat pies and yogurt cups and a giant cookie, and then after school I take the five dollars my parents give me and buy slices of pizza from Mario's and play the old Pac-Man machine until dark,
stack quarters along the edge until I pass the second apple.
Why are you so fat?
My parents are never really home anyway.
and I fill myself up with food and watching TV,
comic books, and going to the park, and hot dogs with ketchup and onions.
Why are you so fat?
Sometimes I get home to an empty apartment and the echo of the cars going by on the street outside.
Why are you so fat?
Because if someone asks enough times,
then the question becomes the answer.
When your mother is an artist,
you move a lot.
We stretched ourselves across the whole country from New York to San Francisco,
far from our family and everything we knew.
For the artist,
making a new life is as simple as scraping off a palette,
setting up a new studio.
For me the studio means quiet corners with slabs of clay,
sketch pads and universes,
hands and face chalked with pastels, potato chip grease,
The Hobbit, and Bridge to Terabithia.
For me it means waiting.
It means space,
suspended in time between the mother who is the Artist,
the father who is too busy,
and a son whose story is about being the new kid in seventh grade,
awkward, big, different from everyone else.
Since Leaving New York
we haven't celebrated the high holidays like we used to,
with the rest of the family.
It's like things that used to matter suddenly don't anymore.
I didn't know I cared.
I thought of it as something we just did,
who we are, but now that it's gone,
I think about those long tables back in New York,
overflowing with food and candles at Shabbat,
and the grown-ups talking long into the night,
the cousins playing ring-a-levio outside, or capture the flag.
When we left,
they stopped talking to us,
or we stopped talking to them,
like we were all suddenly not in the same story anymore.
When I tell this to my father on the way to the rabbi's office,
his eyes get wet,
so I don't say anything else.
Right away I am nervous because we are already a year late in the process of my bar mitzvah because my parents just didn't make the time.
My father waits outside,
and I go in.
The first thing I notice is a little glass globe.
Inside is a blue river and green trees in the center,
a whole world, so peaceful,
a storybook inside glass.
If I could, I would sleep next to the trunk of the tree closest to the rock,
where words are etched in delicate precision:
"I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground."
The rabbi tells me that his grandson brought the globe back from Israel.
He lets me hold it.
He gives me saltwater taffy.
and everything he says sounds like a story I might be a part of.
I make promises to practice,
and he writes down some dates for when to come back,
all the way through the summer.
It's a good meeting. A start at least.
It won't be the worst thing to come here.
In my room, I watch
The Greatest American Hero.
It's an old show I watch with my dad about these aliens who give a suit to some guy and it makes him a superhero.
I think about what I would do if I had the suit.
How I would fight for good.
How I would streak across the sky.
How I might look in that skintight suit.
I would have to get in shape and exercise,
or maybe the suit would change me just by my putting it on.
I hear my parents talking in a low hum in the dining room,
a gentle stream of words flowing through the house.
the uncomplicated vibration of grown-up talk,
the sound, not the words.
But then, in the middle of the second commercial,
I hear a crashing sound,
the dining room table, the pewter cup,
the dinner dishes falling.
The bass of my father's yell vibrates through the wall.
I hear the shriek of my mother's angriest voice.
I hide in my room and wait.
The Greatest American Hero slides under a car to stop it from crashing into a school bus.
My parents yell,
but it's when I hear crying that I try to be brave.
I open my door,
sneak down the very short hallway until the sound burns like fire.
My father sits on top of my mother,
holds her head down,
screaming, Fatso, you're killing me!
She screams back every word I have been told not to say.
Other words too,
about lying again,
another woman's name,
about businesses. About money.
Words in spit and terrible angles.
His body hangs over her,
his weight over hers, trying to maneuver their awkward, swollen adult bodies.
I want to rush in and knock him over.
I want her to stop screaming.
I've heard yelling before,
always shouting at each other as if this pitch and fury is just a part of who they are,
but I've never seen them like this before.
When my father finally notices me, his eyes are broken,
pleading, guilty, hopeless.
She's driving me crazy, he says.
He stops, stand ups, grabs his cigarettes,
walks out of the apartment.
My mother gets off the floor too,
tries to pull herself together,
takes a drink of whatever is on the table,
stares at the door, left slightly open.
Grown-up talk, Ari, she says,
and sits down in her chair.
Just grown-up talk.
School over the Bridge
I should be going to school in San Francisco,
where we live,
but my parents send me over the Golden Gate,
to Mill Valley Middle School.
They say they want to send me to the best school.
It's won all the awards, my mother tells me.
I ask her if she'll get me a phone now since I will be going so far every day,
but she tells me, No!
Under no circumstances, she says.
Those things stifle creativity!
You can always reach me on the school phone.
At first, my father drove me every day,
and we laughed and talked about school or the family in New York or the best ways to talk to girls,
but after doing it for a while,
I could tell he didn't like driving over the bridge every day.
One day he got really quiet,
played the music a little louder,
and we didn't talk at all.
This drive is too long, he said.
There's got to be another way.
I Will Fight You
Words are the source of misunderstandings.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
When you are fat,
you get picked on.
It's just how it is,
especially if you're the new kid.
I don't know what to say most of the time.
I just want them to like me.
I want to fit in.
At the Ping-Pong table before school,
Frank tells me that he is afraid of Mark,
that he made him mad somehow.
Frank's one of the people I see before school,
because his parents drop him early for the breakfast program,
and sometimes I get there early too.
We eat doughnuts between games,
and I eat way too many.
Powdered sugar wafts onto the table,
white flecks on a green field.
I want Frank to be my friend but usually he is mean to me,
picks me last at PE,
makes fat jokes,
even pushes me.
Sometimes, on bad days, he chases me on the bike path after school.
One time he called me "Jewboy."
When I told my parents,
they said to stay away,
but there is nowhere else to go.
For now, we are battling on the table,
and for once I am winning.
You're pretty good, he says.
I used to have a table at home, I reply.
I didn't. I try not to lie,
but I'm scared to tell him that I learned to play with my parents, in New York,
on vacation in the Catskills and at Camp Shalom.
I don't want him to ask me questions about being Jewish.
Mark is weak, I say between serves.
Mark is not weak. Not at all.
The mini-doughnut wrapper blows across the table. Powdered sugar covers the green field, the paddles, our hands.
You are way tougher, I insist.
Frank is strong, but not the toughest,
maybe in the bottom of the top ten,
behind the obvious choices,
mixed in with the dark-horse contenders,
strong kids, good athletes,
kids who do karate and kung fu.
I tell Frank that he can kick Mark's ass, that he shouldn't worry.
The bell rings.
Frank smiles and grabs his bag.
Later, he says.
I feel the pride of helping,
and soon, in my mind,
I am standing on the far field,
across from the basketball courts,
right alongside him and the other cool kids.
I see Frank later in PE.
He stands next to Mark.
They are looking at me and laughing.
Mark is the tallest in the class.
In the mile run,
he glides past us like some action hero.
After lunch, in the bathroom,
Brian Yee whispers to me,
I hear Mark and Frank are going to kick your butt.
Why did I open my big mouth?
I meant well.
I just didn't think past that moment,
that I was the outsider,
but I can't go through people to get inside.
I don't fit into those spaces,
no matter how much I lie to myself.
I am too big,
even in theory,
I shouldn't have said anything.
We're gonna get you, Fatboy, they say.
How long do I have?
On one of my first days in this new school,
the counselor ducks me into class,
unannounced, sits me near the back,
close to a wiry, brown-haired kid with bright eyes and a square jaw.
I'm John, he says.
Ari, I reply.
His desk is filled with notebook pages of robots and mechs from Transformers,
Robotech, Voltron, and Battle of the Planets
drawn in blue pen and scratched eraser marks.
I watch him smear ChapStick on his lips every ten minutes,
even digging out the last bits of lip balm with a toothpick.
One day, John drops the toothpick on the floor and mumbles, My pick ?
And that's where it really starts.
For a while, I try to call him ChapStick,
or Chap, Bot, or anything else he might like better,
but it always becomes the nickname
Finding the nickname finally made me feel like I lived here,
like we shared something just between us.
Pretty soon it's me and Pick all the time,
watching cartoons together on long Saturday mornings,
Spider-Man, The Transformers, Avatar,
and Pick's favorite,
an old anime called G-Force.
I love 7-Zark-7, he says,
a round, trash-can-looking robot who is always afraid but who helps protect Earth from nine hundred fathoms below the sea.
Dolan Avenue House
Halfway through the year,
my father starts to spend his days and nights in the garment district,
selling the hand-painted clothes my mother designs.
He tells me once,
on his way to work,
This is how we survive.
I hardly see him.
They let me take the bus now,
over the Golden Gate on Sunday nights to stay with Pick's family on Dolan Avenue off Shoreline Highway a few days a week.
They even bought me a bike to keep at Pick's house.
Every day, from the house,
we ride our bikes to school along the bike path,
through the marsh.
it feels like long sleepovers,
whispering stories in the dark,
learning not to be alone.
This family, so kind to me,
even though they pack mostly gross vegetables for lunch,
eat salads every day,
eat nearly invisible portions at dinner,
even though I am always starving.
The First Time I Meet Lisa
I spin the combo on my bike lock,
but it won't open.
I breathe heavy and groan in frustration.
The first bell is about to ring.
Frank laughs as he walks by.
What's the matter —
are your fingers too fat for the lock?
I don't look.
Why don't you just shut up.
I hear her voice like a bolt of lightning.
The lock pops open.
Her long blond hair shines against her green military jacket,
her arms filled with books.
She puts out her hand with a thousand silver bracelets.
But I know this.
I saw her my very first day,
the rebel girl who misses school sometimes,
who looks like she's in high school.
I'm Ari, and we shake,
walk toward the bike racks.
How is it being the new kid?
Oh, it's great, I lie.
She looks at me like she's waiting for the joke to end.
Where did you move from?
New York, I say.
Wow, she says. I wanna go there one day.
You know, I say, it's a grid.
What? She looks at me.
You know, the way the city is built,
like on a big sheet of graph paper.
Like this? Lisa opens a journal filled with blue-and-white graph paper with drawings of dragons, and daggers,
and castles against dark skies.
Wow, those are amazing.
Thanks. She smiles,
turns to walk toward class.
I blurt out,
Hey, we are making a game about giant robots!
Cool, she says.
Maybe you can show me some time?
She waves with her notebook,
so comfortable in her own body,
curves and all.
I can tell because I'm an expert in uncomfortable.
and she runs
toward her homeroom.
I am box-shaped.
I waddle when I walk.
When I sit down,
my sides squirt out from my pants and create a ridge.
The skin on the surface of that ridge must aggravate the nerve endings,
because it can feel the metal part of the school chair.
In class, I take my pencil,
lay it between the edge of the desk and my stomach and measure in a T-shape the distance in between,
how many pencils of space between my stomach and the desk.
For Mark, two at least,
For Diana, at least two and a half.
For me, less than one,
even when I suck it in,
even when I push my jacket into my body,
less than one pencil space.
Carlos, no pencil space at all,
gets stuck when he tries to stand up too fast.
Other kids say he's been like that since first grade.
They leave him alone now,
like they don't even see him anymore,
like he doesn't exist,
but that seems worse.
In the mornings,
kids sit sideways in their desks.
Pick is talking to Abra,
and Noah is laughing at something that Grace just told him,
moving his body freely up and down,
his legs crossed, comfortable;
I see the angles of his body with space all around.
When Skye talks to me,
I wish so badly I could sit sideways in my chair.
I want to turn around and see her eyes.
She always smells like candy.
I turn as much as I can,
my stomach pressed against the wood lip of the desk,
my neck aching.
I want this one simple thing to open up more space between my desk and my body,
to stop seeing life in pencil lengths.
By the end of seventh grade,
my father becomes a shadow,
the business swollen,
and hand-painted dresses,
my mom's designs arcing across silk and cotton,
a life fleeced with fabric,
the world puffed up in San Francisco showrooms and design expos,
important meetings way past my bedtime.
One weekend day before summer,
I go with my mom to the giant warehouse where they make everything.
I have something to tell everyone,
she says, and I want you with me, Ari.
I love the warehouse,
acrylic paints and oil slicks,
messy palettes, blue jeans,
bundled fabric, stacked canvases like bright packages waiting to be ripped open,
and jars of brushes in water pots planted on gesso-stained coffee tables and wooden supermarket crates.
The sinks in the back,
swirled into muddy rainbows.
She floats inside like she has wings for real.
Her paintbrush poised as always for correction and for instruction,
forever the mentor where artists work to repeat her designs now on shower curtains,
pillowcases, sweatshirts, and blankets,
each one original, each one poured out from the well of a single imagination.
I run ahead of her into my father's office,
a goliath door in the center of the work space,
I unhitch the latch, push.
This is the first time I see her,
his assistant, on the leather couch,
her legs crossed,
my father pacing.
Ari? he says, surprised, and pulls me in,
sits me in his desk chair,
gives me the name of the woman on the couch,
who smiles as if she knows me.
Look at all these orders!
Bright-white paper scratched with squid ink,
some numbers and names unrecognizable,
stacked and folded in uncertain order.
The Artist ignores him,
moves from table to table in an unbreakable orbit.
This will be her last day of showing everyone how to paint her designs,
of overseeing other artists,
of meetings and questions and business that she doesn't understand.
Spirits beg for her to release them into terra-cotta and canvas.
I'm going to work on my collection,
she announces. The other artists gasp.
Somewhere near the beach.
Artists all over the showroom clap and cheer for her.
My father stands at the edge of the room,
claps his enormous hands in rhythmic exhalation,
I want this relief to find me too,
but all I can think about is how much change is about to happen,
and I might not ever see the warehouse again.
Excerpted from "All of Me"
Copyright © 2019 Chris Baron.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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.
Table of Contents
Who Am I?,
Why Are You So Fat?,
Since Leaving New York,
School over the Bridge,
I Will Fight You,
Dolan Avenue House,
The First Time I Meet Lisa,
What Happened on the Bike Path,
How to Appear Less Fat,
Elevate, Arise, Walk Home,
Clothes Like Spider-Man,
Who Am I?,
Digging in the Dirt,
A Talk in the Car,
Fat at the Beach,
When You Are Fat ?,
Something Finally Happened,
Another Kind of Doctor,
We Need to Get Lisa,
On Our Way,
Before the Opening,
Night in the Nursery,
Level 1 Induction,
The Kid Who Draws at the Beach,
Loch Ness Monster,
There Is a Space,
How Many Pounds?,
Sometimes My Father Comes,
See You July Fourth,
Elysium at the Beach,
My Father Comes,
Then He Left,
Bigfoot Versus Yeti,
She Doesn't See It,
Long, Good Days,
Two Champagne Bottles,
Closing the Gallery,
Fight the Corn Chip,
A Different Kind of Morning,
Across the Golden Gate,
Level 2: Ongoing Weight Loss,
Stuck in the City,
No Eyes on Me,
Middle of Level 2,
When I Get Home,
The Heaviest Water Is My Father,
Calling My Father,
The House Call,
Settling (Back) In,
The Mothers Talk,
Tools for the Journey,
Up the Trail,
Roasted Hot Dogs,
Things That Exist,
The Way Back,
End of Summer,
Something Takes Over,
What Happens Next,
That Part, Right Before Falling Asleep,
The Revolution Inside,
The Bruise Is Gone,
One More Hike,
A Last Look,
Dropping Lisa Off,
First Day of School,
Friends No Matter What,
The Phone Call,
About the Author,