Anything But Ordinary

Anything But Ordinary

by Valerie Hobbs
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Anything But Ordinary by Valerie Hobbs

From the moment their romance begins in eighth grade, Winifred and Bernie are individualists. They pride themselves on being different, and have each other for support through the tough years of high school. So when they consider college, they send off for the same catalogs, promising never to separate.

But Bernie's mother dies and Bernie more or less drops out of school, becoming an ordinary guy working away in a tire shop, while Winifred goes about as far from New Jersey as a girl can go: the University of California at Santa Barbara. College is a culture shock to Winifred, but her three savvy roommates teach her how to fit in. By the time Bernie catches up with her again, Winifred has become, well . . . ordinary. Can they rediscover their true selves – and true love?

Told from alternating viewpoints, with a sense of humor and a deep appreciation of first love, Valerie Hobbs's novel captures an endearing young couple's search for independence and identity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374706913
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 02/20/2007
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 176
Lexile: 720L (what's this?)
File size: 182 KB
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Valerie Hobbs is the recipient of the 1999 PEN/Norma Klein Award, a biennial prize that recognizes "an emerging voice of literary merit among American writers of children's fiction." She is the author of young adult and middle-grade novels including Sheep, Defiance, and The Last Best Days of Summer. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she has taught academic writing. Valerie lives in Santa Barbara, California, with her husband.

Valerie Hobbs is the recipient of the 1999 PEN/Norma Klein Award, a biennial prize that recognizes "an emerging voice of literary merit among American writers of children's fiction." She is the author of young adult and middle-grade novels including Sheep, Defiance, Anything but Ordinary, and The Last Best Days of Summer. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she has taught academic writing. Valerie lives in Santa Barbara, California, with her husband.

Read an Excerpt

Anything But Ordinary

By Valerie Hobbs

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2007 Valerie Hobbs
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-70691-3


When he was fourteen, Bernie Federman fell in love. And he never fell out. Except once, almost. But that was four years and a lifetime later. By that time Winifred (she was calling herself Wini) had become somebody he hardly knew anymore. An ordinary girl.

When he was thirteen, Bernie Federman moved with his parents from Clinton to Pittstown, only half a thumb away according to the map of the great Garden State, but an alien country to Bernie's heart. At Pittstown Middle, two thousand strong, he knew not one person. From the first day, he was a back-row boy, wedged between the makeup girls and the gangsters. Or, in his honors classes, between the brains and the worker bees, when he himself was neither one. Every weekday morning he would have to endure his mother's sad puppy-dog eyes as she handed him his mayonnaise sandwiches—all he could manage to swallow—in a neatly folded paper bag, and watched him trudge out to the bus like he was going to the dentist for a tooth extraction. "It'll get better, hon," she'd say every morning. "Wait and see."

His mother was strong and gentle and funny. She made Bernie laugh, even when he didn't feel like it. Like a best friend, she believed in him. But was she right? If he waited, would things really get better?

* * *

When he was thirteen, Bernie Federman had no idea who he was. Was he the clone of Magnus Morris, his maternal great-great-grandfather, the famous inventor (a brain) who made and lost a million dollars before the age of twenty-three? His mother said he was. Or was he simply the son of a man who worked in a tire shop from six a.m. until six p.m., and was snoring in his La-Z-Boy halfway through Wheel of Fortune?

* * *

In the eighth grade other kids seemed to know who they were. They were "into" things. Skateboarding, soccer, Xbox, iPods. Clubs. Eighth grade seemed to be a time for joining clubs. Bernie was a reader and a pretty good chess player, but Pittstown Middle didn't have a Readers' Club or a Chess Club. Playing chess meant you were a nerd, but there wasn't a Nerds' Club either.

He almost decided to start one. His English teacher, Mrs. Nelson, mentioned one day after announcements that anybody could start a club. All you needed was a constitution and a teacher to agree to be the club's adviser. A rash of clubs popped up—the Harry Club (a sort of readers' club, though the only thing the members read was Harry Potter); the (all girl) Fashionistas; Three Sheets to the Wind, a sailing club that had to change its name when the adviser said it had "an unfortunate connotation." Everybody funneled into one club or another, all except for the International Club, which had one lone member: Winifred Owens.

Winifred was a front-row girl, one of those with a popup arm. No matter the question, Winifred had the full and complete answer. Bernie could tell that she was about as popular at Pittstown Middle as the cafeteria meat loaf, except of course with teachers like Mrs. Nelson.

"What a fine idea, Winifred!" exclaimed Mrs. Nelson when Winifred proposed the International Club. "Let's see a show of hands. Who would like to join Winifred's club?"

The result was predictable. But Winifred never gave up, not when she suggested the Journaling Club, the Renaissance Comedy Club, or the Live Poets' Society. And nobody, not one kid, signed up.

Then one day Winifred Owens came to school wearing what looked like an olive on her head, a green knit hat with a bright red pom-pom. That was bad enough. But when she proposed the Green Hat Club, even Mrs. Nelson lost her patience.

"Now, Winifred," Mrs. Nelson said, "of what possible social significance is a Green Hat Club?"

That was when Winifred lost her cool. With a face red as her pompom, Winifred stood up and rattled off all the names of the other newly formed clubs—the Jim Carrey Club, Bling Bling on Mondays, the PBJs (members had to have names that began with one of those revered three letters). She saved for last the Fashionistas, all six members of which had worn shocking-pink boas that day and sat in a bunch like a chummy family of flamingos.

"Social significance, Mrs. Nelson? Social significance?" By that time, Winifred was on the verge of tears and her voice shook dangerously. "Popularity, Mrs. Nelson. That's what clubs are all about. Don't you know that?"

Then Winifred nodded her head very firmly, just once, and sat down.

She stopped raising her hand in class. And every day, she came to school wearing her green hat with the bright red pom-pom. After a while the kids stopped laughing at her, poking fun, playing catch with her hat, or whinnying like horses (Whhhhinifred! Snort Snort!) whenever she appeared in the cafeteria. After a while it was as if Winifred Owens had become invisible.

Which is exactly how Bernie Federman felt.

It took him a couple of weeks after the Winifred–Mrs. Nelson confrontation to find the right hat, the almost right shade of green, though he couldn't find one with a pom-pom. The hat he finally found, on a 99-cent-sale table at Kmart, could have won, hands down, an uglyhat contest. It was more puke green than olive green and had a long green tail. The minute he stuck it on his head, Bernie Federman knew something about himself that he hadn't known before. He had a big heart, so big it wasn't afraid to stick up for the most unpopular girl at Pittstown Middle.

* * *

The next day, carrying his bag of mayonnaise sandwiches, Bernie walked straight to the cafeteria table where Winifred was sitting alone as usual. "Mind if I eat my lunch here?" he said.

Winifred didn't look up from her book. "No," she said. But when he sat down and opened his lunch bag, she stopped reading and glanced at him. "Why are you wearing that stupid hat?"

"Why are you?" he asked.

She shrugged.

"There's nothing on that sandwich," she said. "It's just bread."

He shrugged. He chewed.

She read.

"It's not really a club," she said after a while.


"The Green Hat Club. It's not really a club."

"We could write a constitution," Bernie said.

Without comment, Winifred took out her green three-subject spiral notebook and flipped it open. She read aloud the words as she wrote them: "We the members of the infamous Green Hat Club—"

"—in order to form a more perfect union," added Bernie, who had once memorized the entire Bill of Rights for fun—

"—do hereby demand," said Winifred, "freedom from tyranny and bad taste, unlimited library book checkouts, and a special holiday for Green Hat members who are also on the Honor Roll."

"Two holidays for members on the Honor Roll," said Bernie, who knew Winifred would agree.

They met every day at the cafeteria table that now was Bernie's as well as Winifred's. For the first time since his uneventful arrival to the eighth grade, Bernie Federman became visible. Laughable, teasable. Then, finally, gladly, invisible again.

By that time, he and Winifred were trading favorite books, playing chess, doing anagrams, and talking for hours on the phone or online. Bernie had a best friend. He could eat something besides mayonnaise sandwiches and keep it down. His grades went up, way up. Bernie Federman was happy.


It wasn't as if they were exactly alike, he and Winifred. She was cultured, he was anything but. Mrs. Owens spoke French and played the bassoon. Professor Owens spoke French, played the viola, and taught dead languages at the university. They weren't snobs—they seemed touchingly grateful that their Winifred had "a little friend to play with"—but they lived a life his mother saw only on TV, on the kind of program that made his father change the channel.

And Bernie and Winifred sure didn't look alike. Winifred was a fireplug, short and square; Bernie was a stork, tall and gawky, his nose like a beak. Winifred's hair was red and frizzy; his hung brown and straight from a middle part and wouldn't stay out of his face. Neither was beauty contest material, which was just fine with them. Beauty contests were "ordinary."

They made a point of being different. It was their bond, a secret club of two. When all the kids had silver Nikes, they wore Converse sneakers from the thrift store, the more thrashed the better. Instead of listening to the latest pop diva's CDs, they memorized the songs of Broadway musicals. Fads would go through the school like a flu that all the kids were dying to catch: butterfly tattoos, nose rings, Mohawks. For a while it seemed the fad was hooking up, in every kind of way with every body part imaginable. All the time. Between classes, on the way to and from school, sometimes even in class. And so Bernie and Winifred made a vow never to touch each other in public, much less kiss.

Though Bernie wanted to. He wanted to kiss a girl for the experience of the thing; it was a recurring thought that jumped into his head (or his body) and wouldn't go away. Then one day when they were playing Scrabble, Bernie looked up from the seven-letter word he'd almost made and there was Winifred pursing her lips and frowning down at the board. And her lips looked so, well, kissable.

Bernie began to plot, inching closer to Winifred at every opportunity, even at the cafeteria table. She didn't seem to notice. Or she noticed and didn't mind. Which made him bolder. The Scrabble words he laid down became clues: if Winifred made a word like "roman," instead of issuing the usual challenge he turned it into "romance." He saved his l's and o's and e's, in case he got a v. Once, when he spelled out "caress," a blush appeared on Winifred's neck and turned her cheeks bright pink. But she wouldn't look up from the board, and neither would he.

* * *

It took the predictable to make it all happen: the Freshman Howdy Dance, a walk home under a lopsided moon, the fact that her parents had (probably on purpose) left the porch light off.

Bernie and Winifred weren't going to go to the dance at first. Of course they weren't. Wasn't it about the most ordinary thing a freshman could do? But neither one could stop talking about it, and each secretly wanted to go. Then it hit them both at the same time: what if they could go as something, as somebody extraordinary? Bernie rented a tux with tails at the costume shop, complete with a shiny black top hat; Winifred bought a silver gown with sequins (plus a padded bra that Bernie bounced off several times while dancing), and they went to the prom as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The Owenses splurged on the white stretch limo and the driver, a student in Professor Owens's class, who let them walk the last three blocks home while he followed, keeping a nice distance behind.

The kiss was extraordinary. Not good, because how could it be? Neither of them had any practice. Their braces bumped, their lips touched and then sort of stuck together. What was extraordinary was that Winifred was willing. If anything, more willing than Bernie. She reached up and put her arms right around him; he wrapped his arms around her, and for five minutes, maybe eight, they stood like statues, kissing. Trading spit, more or less. But extraordinary. He and Winifred kissing. Who would have believed it?

They got better at it, of course. Better at talking about it, too, about what to do next, what they would or should do next. They would absolutely save the Big Moment for their wedding night. Because nobody did, by the sound of it.

It wasn't always easy.

Sophomore year they began riding their bikes out to an abandoned rock quarry where some of the kids went to swim in the hotter weather. They brought along a picnic lunch and Winifred's travel chess set. They ate, they played chess, and they thought about kissing the whole time. Then the kissing wasn't ordinary at all, and Bernie couldn't keep his hands still. They seemed to have an agenda all their own: a voyage to Winifred's breasts.

Winifred borrowed her mother's car and took Bernie to the Backwards Dance. They went as cross-dressers and were immediately told to leave. Instead of going home, they drove out to the rock quarry where they undressed each other in the moonlight. Bernie was awestruck by the beauty that had been hiding under Winifred's thrift-store clothes. That night they touched each other with a sweet tenderness that made them both cry.

* * *

Junior year was the last time Bernie's grade point average was higher than Winifred's. But two great things happened that year that convinced him his mother was right after all: he got voted section leader in band and won second place in the PTA writing contest. He told Winifred that he was going to write a novel someday. He was sure of it.

Bernie called Winifred his girlfriend all the time now. They practically lived at each other's houses, in each other's bedrooms. So that summer when Winifred went off to her family's cabin again, Bernie felt unanchored. Business was better than ever in the dog-walking trade, but all Bernie could think about while the dogs wrapped themselves around his ankles was Winifred. He was sure she'd meet the son of some rich neighbor up there in the Adirondacks and forget all about him.

So when she returned at the end of August and came straight into his arms, he was overjoyed.

In due time, they applied to all the same colleges, starting with the Ivy Leagues. Winifred promised she would turn down any school that didn't offer Bernie a scholarship. With his grades he was certain to get a full ride anywhere he wanted to go, she said. She was as proud of him as she was of herself. They began talking seriously about where they would go, how they would live. In the dorms? Together off campus? Were they ready for that?

For Christmas that year, Bernie gave Winifred half a gold heart with his name engraved on it. Hanging from a gold chain that he now wore was the Winifred half. His father said only sissy men and pimps wore gold chains, but his father worked in a tire shop. What did he know?

What his father knew that Bernie didn't got told to him one night shortly after the New Year. Bernie's mother had cancer, ovarian cancer. Bernie was not to worry, she said. She was going to beat it.

But she didn't, and in two short months she was gone.

* * *

Through it all, Winifred was Bernie's life preserver, his steady beacon off the dark and rocky coast, his faithful guide dog, his homework doer, his hope.

Bernie's father had nobody. From the outside, it seemed to Bernie that nothing much had changed for his father. He went to work at six, he fell asleep in his La-Z-Boy just as before. But there was no one to cook their meals, or wash their clothes, or remind them to take their vitamins. The beds went unmade until the sheets turned gray—had his mother done everything?

His father began drinking. First a couple of beers after dinner, then Jack Daniel's in a juice glass. One morning Bernie found him asleep in his La-Z-Boy at ten past seven in the morning, an empty bottle of Jack Daniel's cradled like a baby in the crook of his arm.

Bernie tried talking to his father about his drinking, but they had never talked much. It wasn't easy to start with such a sensitive subject. So Bernie began cooking dinner—or nuking dinner—so that at least his father would have some food in his stomach. Instead of doing his homework or talking to Winifred, he'd watch his father's stupid television shows. When Bernie was with him, his father switched back to beer. Or he'd sip his Jack Daniel's out of a juice glass instead of the bottle, which was something. They'd sit in the darkened living room, his father in his La-Z-Boy and Bernie on the couch, and miss what used to be—his mother, the background music of their lives that suddenly and forever had stopped playing.

Bernie's grades began to slip. Winifred became alarmed. After all they'd done to separate themselves from the pack, to rise above the ordinary, how awful it would be if Bernie's offers were rescinded. He had to pull himself together, she said. Get a grip.


Excerpted from Anything But Ordinary by Valerie Hobbs. Copyright © 2007 Valerie Hobbs. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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.

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Anything But Ordinary 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Winifred and Bernie have been best friends, and yes, in love, since middle school. Both were a little different and found fitting in difficult. Their friendship began with Winifred's creation of the Green Hat Club, and then it blossomed.

High school brought an even closer relationship. Winifred and Bernie were excellent students and hoped to place first and second in their graduating class. They studied together, lunched together, and basically spent every waking moment together. Romance became part of the friendship when they shared a first kiss, then a second, a third, etc. Although the physical side of their relationship advanced, both agreed that they would wait until marriage for the final act.

During senior year the hunt for colleges began. They agreed to find a place that would suit them both. Bernie's father worked in a tire shop which made money an obstacle. Winifred searched for a school that would recognize Bernie's academic achievement with a scholarship. All was going as planned until Bernie's mother returned one day from the doctor's with the news that she had ovarian cancer. She was gone in just a few months.

Life for Bernie and Winifred began to change. Winifred set off for California, and Bernie stayed in New Jersey. Headed in different directions for the first time, could their love and friendship remain strong?

ANYTHING BUT ORDINARY is the story of whether or not relationships can endure when faced with individual growth and change. Valerie Hobbs presents Winifred and Bernie in her simple, straight-forward prose. They are regular people living regular lives, but as the title suggests - "anything but ordinary." Readers hear the story from both perspectives and will come to know and care for both Winifred and Bernie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Discovering Yourself Valerie Hobbs¿s Anything but Ordinary is a great novel about relationships and life lessons. In my opinion I think this book was very attention holding and fun to read. I had a great time watching the main characters handle tough situations and fixing their lives. Anything but Ordinary is an intriguing story about Bernie Federman and Winifred Owens, who are individualists. They meet in eighth grade and their relationship grows and they are always together until college. Right before college Bernie¿s mother dies and he faces a deep depression that almost makes him fail school. Bernie is nothing without Winifred so he goes off after her to Santa Barbra California. She has changed to be normal but notices what a mistake it was to be like everyone else. I thought the book was fantastic and I especially loved these quotes: ¿ ¿Through it all, Winifred was Bernie¿s life preserver, his steady beacon off the dark and rocky coast, his faithful guide dog, his hope.¿ ¿ ¿Bernie¿s heart which had shot into his throat thumped back into his chest and tried to resume its normal dull rhythm.¿ ¿ ¿There was no denying it, kissing Winifred was the end of the drought, the sprouting seed, the open flower of spring.¿ The plot was unique, I liked how it went from Bernie¿s life to Winifred¿s life throughout the novel. The events that they under went in the book really convey the message of relationships and love. You can learn how to just be yourself and not let others change you. I enjoyed this book! I think it is great for any young adults and if I could rate this from 1 to 5 stars it would get a 4.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you don't read this book, i recommended it too you. This book is about peer pressure. These two people meet and love madly in love with each other then well you'll have to read the book! I have become more mature because of this book! I am really glad I read it. I loved reading it. I am an extremely picky reader, and I didn't want to put it down. I love this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bernie and Winifred met in middle school through a hat club that Winifred made. Nobody but Bernie ended up joining. They soon became best friends and as they became closer through the years, they fell in love. While in high school, they become as close as close can get until Bernie¿s mother dies of ovarian cancer in his senior year. Bernie becomes depressed and drops out of school. At the same time, his father doesn¿t take on any of the responsibilities that were left void by his mother. Winifred doesn¿t know what to do about him¿ she doesn¿t know how to help. Then, she gets angry with him and decides that she wants to go all the way across the country to the University of Santa Barbara, while Bernie goes to work in his father¿s tire shop. While at college, Winifred falls into peer pressure by her three new roommates and is changed into a completely different person on the inside and out. Then, Bernie realizes that Winifred is the most important thing in his life and decides to go to California to find her. When he finds her, he sees that she has changed and is now rejecting him. Will Winifred ever love Bernie again? Will Bernie give up on Winifred? What things are going to have to change between them? Valerie Hobbs writes a story of twists and turns in the road of young love and how to overcome all things when you support each other.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anything but Ordinary is a really good book by Valerie Hobbs. I enjoyed this book very much because it related to teenagers everyday. This book is about a boy named Bernie moved to a new school and couldn't seem to fit in, until he met this amazing girl, Winifred, and fell in love. They were 'high school sweethearts' from the eigth grade up to senior year. When senior year fell upon them, a tragic thing happened and Bernie's mother died. When that happened, Bernie's life kind of went down hill. He decided not to go to college but stay work with his father. All through high school, he and Winifred never wanted to fit in, so they never did the 'in' things. When Winifred went off to college, she went to Santa Barbara, California and left Bernie. While in college, she began to change. Bernie couldn't live with out her so he went to Santa Barbara and noticed the change. The rest of the book is also fascinating, but if you want to know whether or not they end up together, read the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is too cute. i would say it's okay, but not all that great. the story line is strong though. it's about a boy & a girl who grew up together 'they were losers' and when they decide to go to college together, his mother dies of cancer. it's still a good read though, i would say this is worth reading.