Bernice Buttman is tough, crass, and hilarious, and she just might teach you a thing or two about empathy in this debut for fans of The Great Gilly Hopkins.
When you're a Buttman, the label "bully" comes with the territory, and Bernice lives up to her name. But life as a bully is lonely, and if there's one thing Bernice really wants (even more than becoming a Hollywood stuntwoman), it's a true friend.
After her mom skedaddles and leaves her in a new town with her aunt (who is also a real live nun), Bernice decides to mend her ways and become a model citizen. If her plan works, she just might be able to get herself to Hollywood Hills Stunt Camp! But it's hard to be kind when no one shows you kindness, so a few cheesy pranks may still be up her sleeve. . . .
Get ready to laugh out loudand maybe even shed a tearwith this fantastic new middle-grade voice!
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Here are things that I, Bernice Buttman, was awesome at. One: burping the alphabet. Two: blowing up stuff with firecrackers. Three: wearing the teachers and puny kids of Oak Grove Elementary School into nubs. I was less great at knowing what to do with myself at recess.
I sat on top of the monkey bars, feeling like a booger on a cheese ball . . . out of place and unwelcome. Kids whirled all around me, talking to their buddies and playing games, but nobody came within arm’s length of me. That was probably real smart. There was only one kid in this whole mess who I didn’t want to clobber.
Oliver Stratts stood in a small knot of kids, huddled against the wind. I stared at the back of his curly head while I swung my legs back and forth. Even though Oliver avoided me so he wouldn’t get pounded like the rest of the kids, I had decided I wanted him to be my friend. He was real smart and he always smelled like namebrand laundry detergent and I’d never heard him answer a question wrong. I hoped he could be the first kid to play tag with me at recess and live to tell the tale. But how in blue blazes are you supposed to get someone to like you, anyhow?
“Bernice!” My momma’s voice cut across the playground, making my heart yank into my throat. What is she doing here?
Momma leaned against the chain link fence, her face pressing through the metal diamonds. “Bernice Buttman, get your raggedy behind over here right this minute!”
I felt my face go pink as heads turned to see what the commotion was about. I half fell, half flipped off the top of the monkey bars and jogged past the gawkers, one hand yanking my pants up, my other arm wiping my nose with my sleeve.
“What are you doing here?” I hissed as soon as I was close enough to the fence. Momma was wearing pajama pants and slippers, even though it was eleven o’clock.
“Imma need my money back,” she said, digging around in her purse for something.
“What money?” I scowled.
“The money I gave you this morning for your lunch,” she said, as though this made perfect sense.
“But I need that money to eat!” I said, very aware of all the kids who were staring and pointing and laughing at that very second.
Momma threw her hands in the air as though I was being completely unreasonable. “I don’t know, girl! You’ll figure something out. Now cough up the cash. I gotta put gas in the car and get to my tattoo appointment.”
Momma was getting me and my four older brothers’ faces tattooed on her back. That was a whole lot of ugly, let me tell ya. Plus, it was so expensive she was having to shake down her daughter for lunch money.
I pushed the two dollar bills through the wires of the fence, just so she’d hurry up and get out of there. She stuffed the money in her pocket and waved, climbing into her clunker and exiting in a puff of smoke.
I stood there, clinging to the fence, taking deep breaths and trying to calm down. If I turned around and saw just one of those boogereaters staring, they would be sorry.
Sometimes I missed when I was little and all us Buttmans were here at the elementary school together. If anyone messed with me, my big brothers would pound the pudding out of them. Kids learned right from the getgo to leave me alone. And I liked it that way.
Except for at recess when your mom shows up and steals your cash and is totally embarrassing and you wish you had a friend who would share his lunch with you.
It was time to put my plan in action.
I pulled the note out of my pocket and smoothed it on my leg. My first version had been scrawled in marker, but I reckoned my handwriting looked too messy, so I’d redone it with letters cut out of a magazine.
DO YOU WANT TO BE MY FRIEND?
YES OR NO
I’d wanted it to look fancy, but I think it might have ended up looking like a ransom note. I stared at the back of Oliver’s head again and tried to decide if now was the right time to give him the note.
Gina Sullivan laughed her fool head off about something Oliver had said. I took a few steps closer, real stealthylike, and strained to hear what they were saying.
“Did you see how many chins that woman had?” Gina said, loud enough that everyone within half a mile of the school could hear. My stomach suddenly felt cold as ice.
That loudmouth girl kept talking. “I’ll betcha Bernice will look just like her when she’s grown.”
My hands balled up into fists.
Oliver’s voice was quieter, but I still heard him plain as day. “I heard they steal toilet paper from the gas station bathroom.”
Not him! The rest of the kids could talk, but not my soontobe best friend! My ears filled up with a roaring, and before I had a second to think things through, my feet had marched me right over to the group of snotnosed fifth graders. The kids went quiet, and Oliver was suddenly very interested in the zipper on his jacket.
I grabbed one of his skinny arms and twisted it behind his back. The rest of the kids scattered like roaches in the sunlight.
“Ouch!” Oliver squealed.
“Come with me,” I said, my voice as sweet as sunshine. “I’ve got a present for you.”
“I don’t want a present,” Oliver said, his voice high and wobbly.
“Okay, then maybe you’ve got a present for me.” I found the pile of dog doo I’d spotted earlier, and I pushed Oliver’s face right up next to it. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you, Oliver. How would you feel about me and you being friends?”
“No way!” He tried to squirm out from under me, but I outweighed him by about a million pounds. All I had to do was lean forward a smidge, and his nose would touch poo. It would serve him right for talking bad about me in front of everyone, him being my best friend and all.
The little twerp’s voice squeaked, and he talked through gritted teeth. “Oh, gosh! Oh, man. Let me up, Bernice!”
“I’ll be glad to. When you say you’ll be my friend.”
“Okay, okay, fine,” Oliver whined.
The recess bell rang and the other kids, who had been watching us from a safe distance, ran to the redbrick wall to line up. I stood slowly and gave Oliver’s backside one tiny kick, sending him sprawling only one beardsecond away from the pile of dookie. (A beardsecond is the average length a beard grows in one second. Google it.) He scrambled backward, pinching his nose. “You need Jesus, Buttman! You’re the meanest girl I know!”
Maybe I did need Jesus, but at least my stomach wasn’t gonna be grumbling at lunchtime. “Too bad for you, ’cause I’m your new best friend.” I wadded up my friendship invitation and threw it at Oliver’s head. “What did your mom pack me for lunch?”