Seventh-grade girls like guys who are cool. And Nick Dashaway . . . is not cool.
When Nick makes a wish after the epic disaster that was the Greentree Middle School Talent Show, he doesn't actually think it's going to come true. But it does. Soon he has a whole new lifehe's rich, he's popular, and girls laugh at all his jokes. He's famous. But when he begins to miss parts of his old life, is it too late to get it back?
“A Hollywood blockbuster waiting to happen.”—Booklist
"Perfect for readers wondering what their dream life would be like."—SLJ
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
10:39 A.M.—11:50 A.M.
Today is the day my entire life changes for the better.
And yet, as many times as I’ve gone over it in my head, it’s still kind of weird to think that in just a little over an hour I’ll have made the transition from Brainiac Nerd to the coolest guy in school. And the crazy thing is—for someone who’s facing such a huge, monumental event—I’m not even nervous.
I guess it’s like my hero, rock star/actor/singer/model Josh Frost, always says: you can’t live it if you don’t fully imagine it.
Well, I’ve spent the last year and a half fully imagining it, and it begins with the way I sit in this chair.
If it seems like something that simple couldn’t possibly matter, trust me: when it comes to other people’s perception—and by “other people,” I mean seventh-grade girls—there is no detail too minor.
Seventh-grade girls, especially the popular ones, notice everything. And they can be pretty brutal with their assessments.
If you want to be noticed—and even better, accepted—then you need to wear the right jeans and the right sneakers (but you’ll probably want to stop calling them sneakers), and you definitely need the right hair, which is basically styled to look as though you barely ever think about it, even though the time spent making it appear as though you barely ever think about it forces you to wake up half an hour earlier so you’re not late for school.
And yeah, you even need to sit the right way, which is pretty much the opposite of how I usually sit, with both feet on the floor, my back mostly straight—you know, the way teachers and parents sit.
But no more.
Today I push my chair away from my desk and slide all the way to the edge of the molded plastic seat until my jeans pockets are hanging off the rim and my legs are stretched out before me. Once that’s accomplished, I flick a hand through the hair I pretend to barely ever think about and covertly turn to my left like I’m only trying to brush my bangs from my eyes, when really I’m sneaking a glance at the far side of the room, where perfectly perfect Tinsley Barnes is too busy focusing on equally perfect Mac Turtledove to notice me looking so cool.
Still, I hold the pose way past the point when my butt starts to go numb, knowing that at any moment Tinsley could accidentally shift her attention away from Mac long enough to see the way I’m owning my chair and fall madly and deeply in love with me.
Only she doesn’t.
But really, it’s not a big thing.
So what if Tinsley’s still under the illusion that Mac Turtle-dove is the only guy worth noticing?
It won’t be long before she discovers she was entirely wrong about me.
Until then I just play it cool. Crossing my legs at the ankle, keeping it casual and loose, I shift my focus to the front of the room, where Mr. Sparks struggles with a tangled glob of tinsel that looks fat and promising until he climbs on top of his chair and tosses it over the chalkboard and it turns out to be as skinny and bald as he is.
But it’s not like that stops him from folding his arms over his chest and admiring his work. His eyebrows rise in a question that’s not really a question when he catches me watching, but all I can do is shrug in return.
He may be my third-favorite teacher (not my fault he doesn’t teach math or science), but I can’t fake enthusiasm I don’t really feel. I mean, it’s the last day of school before winter break—clearly he’s a little late with the holiday cheer. Besides, with our test papers turned in and class nearly over, any authority Sparks may have held is long gone.
Pretty much everyone around me is deep into texting, gaming, goofing off, or, in the case of Tinsley Barnes and Ivy Wilburn, laughing hysterically at everything Mac Turtledove says as he slouches low in his seat like his butt is not at all numb and it’s no big thing when the two hottest girls in the entire seventh grade pretend that you’re funny.
In less than an hour, they’ll be laughing with me—only they won’t be pretending!
As I watch Tinsley swing her long blond hair—the color of hot, buttery, movie-theater popcorn—over her shoulder, I’m fully imagining how it’ll be when she’s standing before me, hair shimmering and bouncing, blue eyes sparkling, laying a soft hand on my shoulder and saying, “Oh my gosh, Nick, I had no idea you were so funny!”
“Look at that.” Dougall Clement leans toward me, yanking the cord at my neck until my earbuds pop from my ears.
“Trust me, I’m looking,” I say, unable to keep the grin from my face, sure he’s talking about Tinsley and Ivy. I mean, other than Sparks’s little chair stunt, there’s nothing worth watching.
“Even Sparks can’t escape it.” Dougall frowns, shaking his head as he glares at the pathetic strand of tinsel dangling from the chalkboard.
I look at Dougall’s squinched-up brown eyes, clueless as to where this is going. “You seriously protesting Christmas?” I ask, remembering the time, not long ago, when Dougall had to print his wish list in an eight-point font just to keep it within his dad’s one-page limit.
Dougall looks at me like I’m the one not making sense. “I’m talking about the bell.” He puts extra emphasis on bell, as though that alone clears up the confusion. “Look.” He wipes a hand over his chin, growing increasingly frustrated. “The bell’s gonna ring in, what—fifteen minutes?”
My eyes track the clock. “Nine,” I say. I can’t believe he didn’t know that.
“Yeah, and because of it, Sparks goes on a sparkle fit, totally oblivious to the fact that no one even notices, because they’re all in a trance waiting for a stupid bell to ring.”
“And your point is . . . ?” I drag out the words, still not getting why he’s so worked up.
“My point is, ever since the first day of kindergarten, our lives have been spent either waiting for a bell to ring or reacting to a bell that’s already rung.” His eyes sharpen. Lips flatten. Conspiracy Face—it’s a look I know well. “So far, that makes for a steady eight-and-a-half-year stream of morning alarm clocks, start bells, end bells, break bells, lunch bells, final bells . . .” He slides toward the edge of his seat, forcing the folds of his bulky red sweater to bulge over his desk. “And we’ve still got five and a half more years to go, not counting college.”
He cocks his head and squints into the distance as I fumble with the cord at my chest, straining to hear the Josh Frost song bleating from the speakers while mentally rehearsing the corresponding moves.
“Point is, they’ve got us right where they want us. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we’re completely programmed. And most of these people are too zombified to notice.” He shakes his head as he flicks a disdainful look at our classmates. All of whom, much like me, are living for the moment the bell will announce our escape.
I drum my fingers against my desk. I have no reply. Unlike Dougall, I’ve got no beef with the system.
On any other day I’d probably go along—might even help build on his theory. But today, well, let’s just say that today that bell is my friend.
The second it rings we’ll make for lunch and then over to the school gym, where Josh Frost—International Superstar, with his very own reality show, Frost World—will judge the Greentree Middle School Talent Show.
The kid who wins not only gets to stand on the stage next to Josh, but he’ll also snag an appearance on Josh’s show, which is pretty much a fast-track pass to a much cooler life.
Luckily for me, I’ve fully imagined a routine that virtually guarantees the win will be mine.
From the second they announced that Josh was stopping by his old school to offer us a brush with fortune and fame, I knew it was just what I needed to rid myself of the unfortunate Brainiac Nerd label my classmates have given me.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting middle school, it’s that the things that worked for me in sixth grade are now working against me.
I’m desperately in need of an image makeover.
Dougall is too.
But it’s not like he’s noticed.
He just slouches against his desk, shaking his head and sighing like an old man with two bad knees and a long list of regrets.
Dougall practically lives for conspiracy theories. Unexplained mysteries, Bigfoot, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle—they’re like catnip to him.
“We should start a revolt. Take back the clock.” He nods like he means it but otherwise doesn’t make a single move from his seat.
Dougall’s a talker. A thinker. More into theory than action. He’s also been my best friend going all the way back to the third grade, when he and his dad moved into the house next to mine and we discovered a mutual interest in getting good grades and avoiding PE.
But lately I can’t help but wonder if Dougall might be holding me back.
He hasn’t made a single adjustment since we got to this place.
And now, two years later, the only difference he sees between grade school and here is the number of bells.
He definitely hasn’t noticed that girls no longer have cooties.
Never mind just how far we’ve veered from the circle of cool.
The kind of things I noticed almost immediately.
It took me only a few days in this school to realize a startling truth: everything I once thought I knew is no longer true.
For instance, I used to be so proud of the “Most Likely to Succeed” certificate I was awarded at the end of fifth grade, I even tacked it to my bedroom wall as a daily reminder of just how high my personal bar had been set.
But here at Greentree, all that certificate really means is that out of a class of thirty-five fifth graders, I’d been pegged as the one with the best shot of achieving social obscurity.
When it comes to seventh-grade girls, that certificate makes me only slightly more appealing than a bowlful of maggots.
Which is not to say that I’m repulsive to look at. ’Cause I’m not.
In the looks department, on a scale from Dougall Clement’s crazy Einstein hair, vitamin D−deprived skin, and skinny body of the type some people call wiry to Josh Frost’s obvious perfection, I’d say I’m closer to Josh.
I mean, we both have the kind of straight brown hair that sometimes flops in our eyes. We both have eyes that aren’t exactly green or brown, so people call them hazel. And as for the rest of our features, well, they’re pretty much standard issue—it’s just that Josh’s are better situated. And even though I had a two-inch growth spurt last summer, it still leaves me four inches shorter than Josh’s five feet nine. But my mom swears I’m still growing, so there’s hope that I’ll catch up.
In other words, the raw materials are all there. And while I’m fully aware that there’s nothing outstanding about me, I think it’s worth noting that there’s nothing especially hideous about me either.
Not like it makes a difference.
Seventh-grade girls like guys who are cool.
What they don’t like are guys who, during the first week of the new school year, shout “Yes!” when their science teacher ambushes them with a pop quiz. Fist pump included.
They also don’t like it when that same guy, oblivious to his classmates’ searing looks of disdain, not only finishes his quiz first, but gets the perfect score that inspires the teacher to grade on a curve, deeming Smart Guy the one to beat.
While it may have made me the undisputed star of sixth-grade science, it’s a move I will never live down. In the eyes of my peers, I became the Brainiac Nerd they should all work to avoid.
Not long after that, I embarked on what I secretly call my Campaign for Cool. I started by replacing that fifth-grade certificate on my wall with a poster of Josh Frost.
It probably seems weird to have the same poster on my wall that most girls tape inside their lockers, but I’m in desperate need of a social mentor. And since Josh is only five years older and grew up in the same town, even went to this school (maybe even sat in this seat!), well, clearly there’s no one better to guide me.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I’m some cautionary tale in the making. I fully intend to maintain my grades so I can get into a good college and live up to the promise of that fifth-grade certificate.
But first I’d really like to get a girlfriend, preferably one named Tinsley Barnes, before the end of seventh grade. Unlike Dougall, who refuses to adapt to the rules of our new social environment.
“I don’t know about you,” I say, hoping to switch the conversation to a much cooler subject, “but I plan to take back the clock for a nice long Christmas break, as soon as this final bell rings.” I lean back even farther, folding my hands behind my head just like Mac Turtledove. Then I glance over at Tinsley and Ivy, willing them to notice, but they’re too busy laughing hysterically at whatever Mac is saying.
“And then what?” Dougall frowns, waving his hand before me so I’ll focus on him. “Soon as we return, we’re right back to it. Heck, look at Sparks. . . .” He nods toward the front of the room. “What’s he, like, fifty—sixty? He’s been chasing the bell his whole life. It never ends.”
“Thirty-four,” Plum Bailey pipes up, and Dougall shifts toward her as I fix my gaze on the clock, urging the big hand to speed up. “Sparks. He’s thirty-four.” Plum swivels all the way around in her seat until she’s facing me.
Even though I refuse to actually look at her, it’s safe to assume that her bony white hands are nervously twisting the sleeves of her sweater as her annoying brown eyes gawp my face, hoping I’ll be dumb enough to accidentally return the look so she can grin at me with a mouthful of braces.
Let me backtrack.
When I said there isn’t a single girl in this entire school who’s remotely impressed by my brain, I wasn’t counting Plum.