Diet Soda Club

Diet Soda Club

by Chaz Hayden
Diet Soda Club

Diet Soda Club

by Chaz Hayden


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When their mom leaves, Reed must care for his sister who has a life-threatening condition—even if that means breaking the law. A tender and sparkling story about family, trust, and the lengths we will go to for the ones we love.

Have you ever made all the wrong choices for all the right reasons?

Reed Beckett’s little sister, Beatrice, has never been awakened by the smell of breakfast or a school-day alarm clock. Instead, she wakes to hospital beeps and poking doctors. Seventeen-year-old Reed has been there for Bea all along, especially since their dad died. But when their burned-out mom goes on an extended vacation with her new boyfriend, the siblings are left with only an empty pantry and each other. With no job prospects on the horizon, Reed begins making and selling fake IDs so he and Bea can survive. But the problems keep piling up, from an angry landlord demanding rent to looming medical bills. As Reed expands his business, taking increasingly bigger risks, the potential consequences for Reed’s future, Bea’s health, and Reed’s budding friendship with his classmate Helena become graver. But what choice does he have? The joy and complexity of both caregiving and sibling relationships are at the heart of this authentic and moving novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781536223125
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 10/08/2024
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 324,944
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)
Age Range: 14 Years

About the Author

Chaz Hayden is the author of the YA novel The First Thing About You. Through his writing and his YouTube channel, he speaks with abundant positivity and encourages people to “Be different. Leave a trail.” He grew up in New Jersey and now lives in Pennsylvania, where he highlights accessibility in his community and spends too much time thinking about his next tattoo and what concerts to attend. Chaz Hayden is also a director at Ballers & Bookworms, a nonprofit that supports underserved student-athletes. Follow him on social media @TheChazHayden.

Read an Excerpt

Most kids probably wake up to the sound of an alarm clock or the smell of breakfast cooking. Maybe, if they’re really lucky, they get woken up by their parents with kisses and hugs and all the things parents are supposed to say to make their children believe it’s going to be a great day.
   My sister, Beatrice, mostly knows waking up to the beeps of hospital machines and doctors poking at her during their morning rounds. And since I spend almost every minute next to her, that’s mostly all I’ve known, too.
   “I’m just going to take your temperature,” a nurse whispered to Beatrice.
   It was barely light enough in the room for me to see that Beatrice was already awake and sitting up. After ten years of the same routine, your body starts to anticipate the disturbance, but that doesn’t make it easier.
   Beatrice waved good morning to me. Then she opened her mouth for the thermometer and uncovered her arm from her blanket so the nurse could wrap a blood pressure cuff around it. Everything was a sad reflex.
   “How long have you been awake?” I asked her.
   “Maybe an hour. I’m so excited, I couldn’t sleep.”
   Beatrice was getting discharged today, which was a pretty big deal since she hadn’t been home in almost two weeks. The nurse smiled at Bea’s enthusiasm, but I’ve dealt with hospitals long enough to realize her smile wasn’t one that expressed any agreement with what Beatrice said. Instead, it was just full of pity. My heart sank.
   “Bea, you could’ve woken me up,” I said. “We could’ve talked instead of you just sitting alone in the dark.”
   “It’s okay. You looked like you needed rest.”
   I laughed. Sometimes Beatrice sounded more like my parent than my ten—year—old sister.
   Hospitals are an easy place to lose track of time. The rooms only have one small clock, and you try your hardest not to look at it because then you’ll know exactly how much of your life you’ve spent in this place, which is a scarier reality than the reason you’re even in the hospital. For Beatrice, it was pneumonia again.
   My sister has a disability called spinal muscular atrophy — ​she was born with it. There’s a whole bunch of medical jargon that goes along with SMA, but the idea is Beatrice has weak muscles. She’s never walked and probably won’t ever walk. And SMA affects her respiratory system, which is common, from what her doctors tell us. Hence all the pneumonia.
   Anyway, the nurse finally left, and before there was even a moment to get my bearings, the doctor came in and flipped on all the lights. The fluorescent bulbs made sure I was definitely awake. But that’s how mornings are in the hospital. There’s no time to hit the snooze button or slowly come to your senses while watching cartoons. One moment it’s silent and all the patients are sleeping, and the next it’s a full—fledged, nonstop business.
   “How are we feeling today, Ms. Beatrice?” Dr. David asked. He was flipping through her chart and didn’t even acknowledge my presence, which I actually liked. All of his focus was always on my sister.
   “I feel great,” she told him. “I’m ready to go home.”
   “Yeah, I bet. Let me take a listen to your lungs.”
   Bea followed every order to take a deep breath in, cough, and breathe normal. After a few repetitions, Dr. David took the stethoscope out of his ears and wrapped it around his neck. I believed Bea when she said she felt better. I mean, she’s been sick enough that she really understands her body. At least that’s what other doctors have said, including Dr. David, but after he finished listening to her lungs, he had almost the same expression as the nurse.
   Dr. David looked at me. “And how are you, Reed?”
   “Fine.” I kept my answer short. I knew he was stalling.
   Dr. David noticed my foot anxiously tapping the floor. He sighed. “Fair enough.”
   “So, what? Am I getting discharged today?” Beatrice impatiently asked.
   “Your labs show that the infection hasn’t fully gone away. And when I was listening to you, I heard a lot of congestion rumbling.”
   “But I feel fine,” Bea tried to argue. But then she coughed and it sounded wet, and we all knew it didn’t help her case.
   “I’m going to schedule a respiratory therapist to come do more chest PT,” Dr. David said. “I also want another X—ray of your lungs.”
   Beatrice pulled the blanket over her head, and Dr. David recognized that was his cue to leave. I was disappointed just like my sister, but there was nothing I could do. We’d been through the routine so many times that I understood that truth.
   “Yo—Yo”— ​that was Bea’s nickname for me —​“can you give me your laptop, please?” Her tiny voice barely made it out from under the blanket.
   “Sure.” I reached into my backpack to grab the computer, but all my crap inside was a mess and everything came spilling out, knocking over an empty can of Diet Dr Pepper that was next to my feet.
   In hindsight, I should’ve picked up everything immediately, but I felt bad for Bea and I was focused on giving her the one thing I knew would distract her. So, I left all my notebooks and homework on the floor, grabbed Beatrice’s favorite unicorn pillow, and got her set up. Her fingers immediately went to work.
   “What are you doing on there?” I asked.
   “Checking the respiratory therapy schedule. Yesterday I was waiting all day.”
   “Bea, you can’t hack the hospital.” Now I was sounding more like the parent.
   “I don’t think you mean can’t because you know I could if I wanted to. But I don’t need to. The other day I saw Dr. David type in his password on the nurse’s laptop.”
   “That’s still hacking and it’s illegal. Not to mention you’re only ten and shouldn’t know anything about that.”
   Bea ignored me. Honestly, I don’t know what else I expected her to do. I mean, she spends most of her life in a hospital, and there’s only so much basic cable and Disney movies a kid can handle. So, last year I let her start playing around on my computer, and then one day we watched a show about the dark web and hackers. After that she was obsessed with becoming “the best white hat,” whatever that means.
   “Ugh, see, I told you.” Beatrice pointed at the screen. “They scheduled me for the afternoon, which really means evening.”
   “Well, now you know and don’t have to wait.”
   “No way. I’m going to change it. The sooner the mucus is gone, the sooner I can go home.”
I was going to argue with Bea that there were other factors that determined when she’d be discharged, but I caught sight of the clock on the wall and confirmed the time with my phone: I was going to be late.
   “Crap, I gotta go,” I said as I shoved my notebooks and stuff back into my backpack. “Are you okay to be alone until Mom gets here?”
   Beatrice nodded, refusing to break concentration on the laptop.
   I didn’t like the idea of her doing shady stuff on the internet without some kind of supervision. So, to distract her until our mom arrived, I ripped out a page from one of my notebooks and threw it onto her bed.
   “Here,” I said. “Read my history paper. You can fact—check me before I turn it in tomorrow.”
   Beatrice finally glanced away from the screen to the essay — ​the only ten—year—old whose concentration could be stolen by homework. She frowned. “World War Two didn’t end in 1948.”
   She always fell for the mistakes. “Now you have something to keep you busy that won’t have the police busting into your hospital room.” I kissed her forehead. “I love you.” Then I raced toward the door.
   “Love you, too, Yo—Yo.”
   Sadly, I knew my way through the hospital hallways, which came in handy when I was rushing to get out. Like, I knew by the north—side elevators there’s a vending machine stocked with Diet Dr Pepper. So I headed that way and grabbed a fresh can for my morning caffeine.
   Once I was in the elevator, I checked my reflection in the mirrored walls and gave my hair a quick comb with my fingers. It honestly didn’t help much.
   But I kept staring at myself the rest of the ride down. I’d been making this same trip since I was a kid. I didn’t understand everything back then, but I knew my sister was sick all the time, and I knew my parents were scared all the time.
   Not much had changed since. Beatrice still got sick all the time, and we were still scared all the time. The only difference was I had one less parent. And now I had a beard. At least I’d convinced myself it was a beard.
   As soon as I exited the elevator, I recognized a voice I unfortunately couldn’t ignore.
   “I can park wherever I want,” she said. “I practically live here.”
   I turned to see my mom arguing with hospital security. First the news Bea wasn’t getting discharged and now that. I should’ve known it was going to be one of those days.
   I walked over to them. “Hey, Chuck, what’s going on?”
   “I’m trying to get your mom to move her car,” Chuck told me. “She’s parked in an ambulance spot.”
   Through the glass front doors, I saw our car parked crookedly across the red painted lines. It was taking up almost two spots.
   “And I’m trying to tell you there’s no handicap spots,” my mom said. “I’ve got a wheelchair in there and a daughter who’s getting discharged today.”
   “Mrs. Beckett, I don’t know what to tell you. You can have the valet park it for you or —”
   “I’ll handle this,” I interrupted. “Thanks, Chuck.” I pulled my mom away from the security desk. “Give me the keys.”
   “I’m not paying for valet. They charge a fortune, but it should be validated for parents of a patient!” She made sure that last part was loud enough for everyone in the lobby to hear.
   “I’m not going to valet. I’ll find you a spot. I think I see an actual parking space right in front.”
   I didn’t have my license yet and had hardly even practiced driving, but I figured I could handle a parking lot. And it’s not like I had much of a choice, anyway.
   Mom started digging through her purse for the keys. I’m not sure how they could be lost so fast. “Well, I’m not waiting for you to come back. I wanna go see my baby.”
   “Fine. I’ll leave the keys with Chuck.”
   Finally, she handed over the keys. “What time did Dr. David say she’ll be discharged? Because I have —”
   “She’s not getting discharged today. The infection is still in her lungs.”
   Mom buried her face in her hands, rubbing her eyes and then fixing a messy ponytail. “Sorry, I’m just . . . exhausted.”
   I knew she was telling the truth. It wasn’t just the dark circles under her eyes or the fact that she just got off a double shift. I recognized something deep inside her because I felt the same way.
   “I have to go,” I said. “I’m late for school.”
   Mom nodded and I left. My own day hadn’t even begun yet.

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