Read an Excerpt
Everyone’s a Critic
Have you ever wished you knew everything? My name is Samantha Martone and I’ll tell you a little secret. I’m supposed know everything, at least once a week.
It’s a little funny that I write a column for my middle school newspaper, the Cherry Valley Voice, called Dear Know-It-All, where I’m supposed to act like I know everything, which I don’t.
Here’s another secret: I can’t tell anyone I write the column—not my annoying older sister, Allie, who’s always getting into my business, and not even my BFF, Hailey Jones. But those are the rules, and if I want to be editor in chief of the paper next year, I’ve got to stick to them.
Sometimes people write in about boy problems. What do I know about boys, anyway? They remain a constant mystery to me. My forever crush, Michael Lawrence, who I’ve known since kindergarten and who still calls me Pasty just because I decided to sample an itsy-bitsy taste of paste once when I was five, still hasn’t asked me out, at least I don’t think so. I haven’t asked him out either. At least I’m pretty sure. Hailey says that when I asked him over to work on a story, that was asking him out, but I’m not really sure. This year we’ve been closer than ever, since Mr. Trigg, our newspaper advisor, puts us together on big investigative stories all the time. Michael will call me or I’ll call him to get together for Voice stuff, but then the story we’re working on tends to complicate things and I end up getting confused. Are we just cowriters, or are we friends, or possibly more than that? It’s hard balancing two things I love: being a good investigative reporter and Michael Lawrence.
Trigger, or Mr. Trigg to the general public, says that it’s a reporter’s job to keep an open mind. It’s our job to be good listeners and find out the real facts. It’s not our job to know everything. We present the facts and the reader makes up his or her mind. So if I don’t actually have to know anything, then I guess I’m doing a great job!
This is what I have to put up with as far as not knowing how to read Michael Lawrence. Today I was late for the meeting we always have after the Voice comes out to review the issue. Usually I’m one of the first people there, and I tried to save Michael a seat. But I was having one of those days—you know those days when nothing goes right?
First I slept past my alarm. Then Allie, who truly does think she knows everything, took back the green hoodie I was going to wear (after she was the one who gave it to me and told me how good it looked with my long reddish-brown hair!). Then, when I got to school, Hailey seemed annoyed. Our lockers are right near each other, and she was unloading her backpack. She gave me a quick glance and looked away. Hailey always looks great in a natural, sporty way. She’s forever tan because she spends so much time outside playing sports and running around. Honestly, she’d look cute in a garbage bag. Today she had on a turquoise-and-white-striped long-sleeved T-shirt that looked great with her blue eyes. I glanced down at the old stretched-out purple sweater I was wearing and sighed. It was the only thing I could find that was somewhat clean after Allie raided my room.
“Um, hello?” I said.
“Hi,” she said without looking at me, and went back to digging in the depths of her locker.
“Are you mad at me?” I asked, my heart beating a little faster. I hated when Hailey was mad at me, which she hardly ever was. If she was, she usually had a good reason.
She finally looked at me. “It’s just that . . .” And then she stopped.
“What?” I said.
“Oh, Sammy, it’s just that I feel like you’re so wrapped up in other things—the Voice, Michael, your schoolwork—and we don’t have enough time to hang out. And I’m always the one e-mailing or calling you. I feel like I need to make an appointment just to talk to you lately.”
“Sorry, Hails,” I said, my stomach feeling kind of grumbly. I didn’t have time to eat breakfast. “You got me. I have been swamped. But I’ll do better. Double promise.”
“Okay. Or else I just might have to find a new bestie,” she said, her eyes twinkling. With that, she side-kicked me in the butt. That’s the great thing about Hailey. She doesn’t hold grudges. I side-kicked her back and we were on our way to first period. One problem solved. I made a note in my notebook: Call Hailey tonight. She was right. I needed to make more time for her, and I felt kind of bad about it.
The rest of the day wasn’t too bad, but at the end of the day, while I was rushing to make the Voice meeting, I tripped on some invisible bump in the floor and my notebook, where I keep all my lists and notes for the paper, came flying out of my bag. Seriously, this day needed to end. I knelt down to pick it up and two sneakered feet stopped right in front of me.
“Hey, Trippy! Need a hand?” Ah, another nickname—just what I needed. Michael Lawrence is always coming up with ridiculous new nicknames for me. “Pet names,” as Hailey calls them. Maybe they were, but they just felt annoying most of the time, especially right now. I looked up and there he was, flashing his baby blues at me, holding out a hand. He must have seen me trip, and it’s not the first time he’s witnessed my klutziness. My cheeks went hot. How come I always trip in front of him and not in front of Hailey?
“That’s okay, Mikey.” I got up and dusted myself off. “They really should fix that!” I said, glaring at the spot on the floor where I’d tripped. Michael looked where I was looking.
“Yeah, you really gotta watch out for those dangerous flat floors,” he said with a grin. “You okay?”
“Just fine; let’s go. We’re late,” I said, trying to ignore the cute smirk on his face. We rushed off and burst into the newsroom. It was full and we had to stand in the back, which is why I’m usually always early.
“It’s a tad loud in here. Listen up, fellow journos!” bellowed Mr. Trigg, clapping his hands. The room quieted down.
“Okay, the Voice is doing great this year, but we don’t want to get stale. Writers must stay on their toes to keep it fresh. That’s why we’re all going to stretch our comfort zones for this issue and do a little switcheroo.”
Now you could hear a pin drop. Michael nudged me and raised his eyebrows. I just shrugged.
“So for the next issue, the news reporters are going to covers arts, the sportswriters are going to tackle the news, and the arts reporters are going to do sports. Clear?”
Arts? Was he serious? I mean, I love plays and movies and books and all that. But what really gets me excited about writing for the paper is getting the unexpected story. We’ve covered things like the new school curriculum; our school’s possible Pay for Play program, where kids will have to pay to play after-school sports; and why the cafeteria food is, or was, so bad. In all these cases, we unearthed a story that not only surprised us and made people think, but also usually created change for the better. No offense to the arts reporters, but writing a movie review isn’t the same. Then a headline popped into my head, as they often do: Newspaper Staff Plays Musical Chairs. Everyone Loses!
The editor in chief, Susannah Johnson, raised her hand. “Mr. Trigg, I’m not sure this is going to work. The reporters have all worked hard to develop their beats. We could end up with one of the worst issues of all time!” Lots of people murmured to one another and nodded. Michael let out a “Here, here!” This time I nudged him.
“Winston Churchill said during World War Two, ‘I never worry about action, only inaction!’” Mr. Trigg proclaimed. “Trust me, folks, this challenge will make you better reporters. Now let’s shuffle around the assignments; we don’t have much more time.”
Mr. Trigg, who’s British and obsessed with World War II, always finds a reason to throw in a Winston Churchill quote. After he gave out a bunch of assignments, he called on me and Michael.
“Okay, Lawrence and Martone, investigative reporters extraordinaire, this time you guys are going to ‘investigate’ the school play and review it. Since it won’t be performed for a couple of weeks, you’ll both take a break this week to think about your new roles on the arts beat.”
I wasn’t sure I wanted a break. A break meant that Michael and I would spend a lot less time together, which added more points to the “against” column of Mr. Trigg’s crazy idea.
Ugh. I thought for a second. Well, maybe it would be a good thing. I would only have to write the Dear Know-It-All column for the upcoming issue instead of a news story as well, and that would mean I could spend more time with Hailey.
Michael and I walked back to our lockers together. I kept stealing glances at him. He was wearing my favorite outfit of his, a blue-and-white collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up and jeans. I could see his strong tan arms. He looked at me, and I looked down fast.
“So what do you think of the new arrangement, Paste?” he asked. “Maybe Trigger has really lost it this time.”
“Well, I’m thinking of it as a little vacation,” I said, smiling, trying to be positive.
“A vacation from me?” he said, suddenly going all puppy dog on me.
My face fell. “No, of course not, I just meant—”
“I’m just messing with you, Trippy,” he said, and gave my ponytail a tug. “See ya. Gotta get to practice!”
I watched as he turned left and walked down the hallway to his locker. He ran into Frank, the quarterback who’s on the football team with him. They gave each other a high five and continued on.
I realized I was just standing there, blatantly staring. I forced myself to hustle straight ahead to my locker. Boys. If I ever figure out Michael Lawrence, then maybe I will actually know it all.