Love is in the airand Ava thinks she's allergic.
Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and Ava couldn't care less. That is, until a new girl, Kelli, asks out Ava's friend Chuck...and he says yes! What?!? Ava is NOT okay with this. But since when does she think about boys? For the first time ever, words fail Ava. She isn't sure what she's feeling (Like? Love? Friendship? Frustration?), or what "going out" even means. After all, fifth graders aren't allowed to go anywhere by themselves, are they?
To top it off, Pip's friend Tanya is being bullied for her size. Ava wants to helpbut, uh oh, it's not as easy as she imagines.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Carol Weston
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Carol Weston
All rights reserved.
DEAR NEW DIARY,
I'm pretty upset about what happened today.
My new friend Zara asked if I'd heard about Chuck.
"No, what about him?" I said.
"He and Kelli are going out," she said.
"How do you know?" I asked because this did not seem possible, and, well, Zara has kind of a big mouth.
She said Chuck was on the bus minding his own business when Kelli hopped on and sat right next to him without asking. She was wearing one of her sparkly headbands — she has about a million — and sneaking bites of banana bread even though you're not supposed to eat on the bus. She offered him a piece. And he took it.
Later, in homeroom, Kelli passed Chuck a note that said, "Do you want to go out?" Zara said it had two circles, one marked YES and one marked NO. At first Chuck didn't answer, but Kelli made a sad puppy face, so he put an X in the YES circle and passed it back.
And now they are "going out"!!
I have to say, this really bugs me.
Number one: we're only in fifth grade.
Number two: Chuck and I have been friends since the apple-picking field trip in kindergarten, and Kelli just moved here last year, and I've never once noticed him notice her.
It just doesn't seem right that they've said about five sentences to each other — total — and all of a sudden they're "going out"! How long has she even liked him? Did she start today?
And how can they be going out when none of us is allowed to go anywhere anyway?
Lunch was spaghetti and meatballs, which I usually love, but my insides felt like cold, stuck-together spaghetti. It didn't help that Zara and my best friend Maybelle were talking about Valentine's Day, which is Saturday.
Our grade has three Emilys, but only one Ava, one Maybelle, and one Zara, and lately the six of us have been sitting together at lunch. Well, it's usually all-girl or all-boy, but today, Kelli plunked her tray down at Chuck's table! I was in shock! The Emilys just giggled, and Emily Jenkins said, "Kelli and Chuck make a good couple." And everyone agreed!
I swear, that made me want to throw up my meatballs. (Sorry if that's gross.)
The problem is that I'm not supposed to care as much as I guess I do. Last month, Zara asked if I liked Chuck, and I said no.
Why do I care anyway? Chuck is sweet and funny, but I think of him as a brother.
At least I think I think of him as a brother.
A sweet, funny brother.
We're just friends.
H-U-H. That's a weird expression, isn't it? "Just friends." As though years of being friends is less important than hours of "going out."
One thing about Kelli: she's bubbly. Very bubbly. If you poured too much bubble bath in your bathtub and forgot to turn off the water, that's how much she bubbles. She's always laughing hysterically as if the whole world is a joke and she's the only one who gets it.
She also does splits and handstands and cartwheels at random times, which is impressive but show-offy. And she talks a lot about her lake house and vacations, which isn't polite considering the rest of us have one house, not two, and we have "staycations," not fancy trips. Another thing that bothers me is when Kelli's headband and fingernail polish match. (Today, they were emerald.)
She should take it down a notch.
Or move to a different school!
Anyway, when I got home today, Dad was taking out ingredients to make a yucky, squishy squash recipe for Meatless Monday (his new-ish tradition), so I told him a vegetable riddle:
Question: What room has no windows or doors?
Answer: A mushroom!
I asked if we could go to Bates Books so I could get a new diary — you! — and he said sure. (Dad likes that we're both writers.) I was glad because I really needed a place to dump all my feelings — as you can see because I've already filled five pages!
So far in my life, I have finished two diaries and given up on six. The unfinished ones are in a dead diary graveyard underneath my underwear.
I got my coat, and we drove over, and Dad and I walked inside the bookstore, and there were hearts everywhere! Red ones and pink ones. Big ones and little ones. Flat ones and 3-D ones and ones hanging from the ceiling. There were also Valentine's Day books, cards, pins, pens, mugs, magnets, stickers, and even giant heart doilies and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. The owners of the bookstore are my friend Bea's parents, and she says they try to sell tons of holiday knickknacks so they can afford to keep selling regular books.
Confession: the happy hearts made me sort of sad.
I just can't believe Kelli asked Chuck out! And that this aggravates me so much.
Dad offered to buy me a box of Valentine cards, but I said no thanks. I told him that in second and third grade, our whole class used to exchange valentines, but now I'm too old.
"Too old?" Dad thought that was funnier than my mushroom riddle. "How about chocolate kisses? Are you too old for chocolate kisses?" He picked up a bag of chocolate kisses wrapped in silver and set it on the counter. Fortunately, moods are contagious, and Dad's good mood was helping me shake off my bad mood.
"I am the exact right age for chocolate kisses," I said, and on the way home, I unwrapped one for each of us.
I just had the worst nightmare! I dreamed I was naked in school!! NAKED IN SCHOOL!!! I was in gym class and looked down and I wasn't wearing any clothes at all.
Not even any underwear!
Not even a ... fig leaf! (That's what Adam and E-V-E wore.)
In my dream, I went racing full speed to the locker room and hid behind a shower curtain and held on tight. When I woke up, I was holding on to my sheets for dear life. And that's when I realized it was just a dream.
I think I had that dream because our gym teacher, Mrs. Kocivar, said that next year in sixth grade, girls can shower in school if they want to.
I will never want to!
AVA, WHO PREFERS PRIVACY
PS Mrs. Kocivar also showed us some modern dance steps and said we should watch Kelli because she was doing it "perfectly." I made a little face and looked around to see if anyone else wanted to make a face back, but no one did. Am I the only person who doesn't think Kelli is perfectly perfect??
Guess who I just ran into? Chuck!
Dad had to run some errands, so I went along. At the bank, I heard a crazy clinking clanking sound. I turned and there was Chuck pouring a bagful of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters into a giant sorting machine. When I went to say hi, it felt like my heart was beating as loudly as the machine. Which surprised me.
Since when do I feel nervous around Chuck?
Chuck said his mom said he could keep all the coins he found in their house and added, "But I bet she had no idea how many I would find!" He said he looked in pockets and drawers and under cushions and everywhere.
We waited together while the numbers kept going up, up, up. When they finally stopped, you know what the total was? $18.17!
"You're rich!" I teased. "What are you going to do with all that money?"
"I don't know."
"You could buy me bubblemint gum!"
He laughed and asked what my dad had cooked for "Barfy Monday." I told him squishy squash and made it sound extra gross, and then I was tempted to ask about his new girlfriend, but his mom came over and said they had to go. His mom always makes me nervous, probably because she is very tall and serious and has excellent posture.
Chuck is tall too, but he never used to make me nervous. He just made me laugh. While we were waiting for the noisy machine to count his money, for instance, he told me a joke that had a word from last Friday's spelling test: "Two cannibals were eating a clown, and one said to the other, 'Does this taste funny to you?'" (Hehe.)
I was glad he told it because it made things seem normal-ish between us even though I feel like they aren't.
Back home, our kitchen smelled scrumptious. Pip was baking gingerbread men (and gingerbread women and teens and kids and babies) with a seventh-grade girl named Tanya. Pip hardly ever has friends over, and I'd never met Tanya. Dad went upstairs, and I reached for a chocolate kiss, but the bowl was empty. I was about to say, "Pip, you ate all the chocolate kisses?!" when I realized Tanya must have helped.
If I had to describe Tanya, I guess I'd say that she is pretty but also pretty heavy. I've never really thought of this before, but Pip might be the smallest kid in seventh grade, and Tanya might be the ... opposite?? It feels weird to write this down, and I don't mean that she's just a little chubby and who even cares? I mean that when she has checkups, I bet her doctor talks to her about weight and stuff.
Anyway, Tanya said that when she met our cat, she felt like she "already knew him" because of my story in the Misty Oaks Monitor, "The Cat Who Wouldn't Purr," which she'd "really liked."
"When did you adopt Taco Cat?"
"He was my birthday present on January 1 when I turned eleven."
She showed me two pencil sketches she'd made of him. They were both cute, and she'd even drawn in the white zigzag on his forehead and the white tip of his tail.
"You can have one," she said.
"Really?" I asked.
I picked one and just now taped it on the rim of my mirror.
Hey, M-I-R-R-O-R-R-I-M is a palindrome! Which is funny because palindromes are sort of like words in mirrors since they're the same backward and forward.
I've never thought of M-I-R-R-O-R-R-I-M before, and trust me, I, A-VA, sister of P-I-P, daughter of A-N-N-A and B-O-B, and owner of T-AC-O-C-A-T, have thought of piles of palindromes.
Well, I helped Pip and Tanya take their gingerbread families out of the oven, and we let them cool. Then, minutes later, we started nibbling them, feet first, as though we were cannibals. Suddenly Pip said, "Whoa! We'd better save a few!" I think she realized it would have been bad if M-O-M or D-A-D walked into a yummy-smelling kitchen and found only ginger crumbs instead of ginger people.
After Tanya left, Pip told me that they were supposed to have started their art project for Spanish but instead started baking and cutting out pastel hearts for a Valentine collage for Pip's boyfriend.
Sometimes I can hardly believe that Pip, who used to be so shy, has a real live valentine. And that he's Ben Bates, Bea's Big Br other (alliteration alert).
I can't imagine having a valentine.
(Or can I??)
AVA, AMBIVALENT (THAT'S WHEN YOU'RE NOT SURE)
Fifth grade is more complicated than fourth grade. Not just the math. Everything. It used to be that Maybelle was my best friend, and Chuck was my best guy friend, and that was that. Now Maybelle hangs out with Zara, and Chuck hangs out with Kelli, and I'm supposed to be okay with it all.
Even gym is complicated because some girls are "developing" and some aren't (like me). I think everyone is a little freaked out. The "mature" kids whose bodies are changing, and the other kids whose bodies are just sitting there. (Or standing or walking or running or whatever.)
Tomorrow we're starting a new class called FLASH. It stands for Family Life And Social Health. The funny thing is that our health teacher's name is Ms. Sickle. (Get it?)
It meets every Thursday.
My favorite class, of course, is English. Today Mrs. Lemons showed us something she'd printed from the Internet:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Re-post when you find the mitsake.
I kept looking and looking and was about to say, "I don't see any mistake" when I noticed it was a spelling "mitsake" — not a numbers one!
After class, Chuck and I started walking out the door together, the way we always used to, but there was Kelli waiting for him on the other side! I couldn't believe she came to meet him!! You might call that friendly, but I call it stalker-y! (Not that stalkers usually wear sparkly headbands.)
Chuck walked off with Kelli, and Zara looked at me like she could tell I was mad and sad.
Which I was.
I even mumbled, "I don't get what Chuck sees in her."
Without waiting a single solitary second, Zara said, "Well, she is pretty. And she's popular."
Popular? I've never really thought about popularity. Or maybe I thought popularity was something we didn't haveto think about until puberty, which is something else I don't like to think about.
"And she's a good dancer," Zara continued. "And she's good at sports. And —"
Was Zara just getting warmed up? I put my hand in the air as if to say, "Stop!" Then I mentioned that in the girls' room, Kelli had applied lip gloss and announced that she likes "the natural look," and I'd wanted to say, "If you want to look natural, why wear makeup at all?"
Zara laughed, so I added, "I just hope Chuck doesn't get his feelings hurt."
Zara looked at me sideways as though she wasn't one hundred percent convinced this was my biggest concern.
I just reread the Aesop's fable "Dog in the Manger." It goes like this:
A dog spends all afternoon napping on a pile of hay in a manger that belongs to an ox. At dusk, the ox comes home, and the dog wakes up. But he doesn't leave; he just stays there and barks and barks. At first, the hungry ox is patient, but finally he says, "Dog, since you aren't even eating my hay, why won't you let me have some?"
The moral: "Don't begrudge others what you yourself are not enjoying." Which means: don't be a selfish nincompoop for no good reason.
Am I being selfish about the Chuck-and-Kelli thing? It's not like Chuck and I were boyfriend-girlfriend, so why should I care who he goes out with?
Then again, I do care, whether I'm supposed to or not. Whenever I see Chuck, my insides lurch a little.
I went into Pip's room to talk, but she said, "Ava! Look!" and showed me the giant Valentine card she'd just finished for Ben. She'd drawn HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY in big balloon letters, and inside each, she'd glued the cut-out pastel hearts, and inside each of those, she'd written in tiny block letters "BE TRUE" and "YOU & ME" and "CUTIE PIE" and "CUPCAKE" and "SWEET TALK" and even "FIRST KISS."
She said she used the actual sayings from Sweethearts "conversation hearts" — but did not include "TRUE LOVE" because she didn't want to go overboard.
"Ben's going to love it!" I said and tried to feel happy for her instead of bad for me.
Then I wrote AVA and PIP and ANNA and BOB on a piece of paper and held it up to her mirror. "Look!"
"My name is the coolest palindrome in our family because it's the only one that looks identical even in the mirror."
Pip studied the reflected words but shrugged as if it was no big deal, even though it kind of was. "Who cares?" she said.
"I do," I said and pointed out that WOW is a perfect palindrome too.
Pip shrugged and picked up the novel she was reading and said, "I have only three pages left." I knew that was code for "See you later, Alligator." So I took the hint and tried to find Taco because I felt a teeny bit lonely.
I thought of calling Maybelle, but it was too late, and besides, I haven't even told her that I am not happy about Chuck + Kelli. And maybe I shouldn't say anything because it seems like Maybelle + Kelli are becoming friends now too.
I guess everyone is falling under Kelli's sparkly spell — even the new science teacher. We did a unit on space and Kelli told our whole class all about a lunar eclipse she saw on one of her fancy vacations. And the teacher was just beaming.
AVA + TACO
PS Petting Taco helped ... until he ran away.
PPS I bet it would be nice to like a boy who liked you back.
PPPS I wish I liked reading as much as Pip does. Whenever she wants to take her mind off things, she can enter a whole new world without even putting her shoes on. I'm a word nerd too, but I like writing more than reading, so the only world I ever hang out in is Misty Oaks.
IN THE LIBRARY
At breakfast, Mom asked us to sign a Valentine's card to go with a present for Nana Ethel. In my best handwriting, I wrote:
The Wren Family would like to say:
Happy Happy Valentine's Day!
Pip decorated it with flowers (mostly azaleas) and birds (mostly wrens).
We all four signed, and Pip added a paw print for Taco, and I added an XOX for kiss hug kiss. (Another perfect palindrome.)
Mom said, "Great job!"
But it was not a J-O-B. It was a J-O-Y.
Observation: one little letter can make a BIG difference!
I put the card in an envelope and asked if I should tape it on the present. Mom said, "No, tie it on," and handed me some ribbon.
"Is that a palindrome?" I asked and wrote it down: N-O-T-I-E-I-T- O-N. "Whoa! It is!" I announced and showed everyone.
"W-O-W," Mom said, so I showed her how WOW and MOM and AVA all look the exact same in the mirror, whereas PIP and SIS and DAD do not. She smiled and said, "H-U-H, so they're symmetrical."
"Cool, right?" I said.
She nodded, and Dad said, "Do you ladies think Dr. Seuss was a word nerd?"
Pip said, "Definitely."
Excerpted from Ava XOX by Carol Weston. Copyright © 2016 Carol Weston. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
A Big Ol' Thank-You,
About the Author,