"A fantastical tale with a powerful message" raves SPR.
- 2018 Purple Dragonfly Book Award First Place winner for Middle Grade fiction
- 2018 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards Gold Medal Winner for Pre-teen fiction - Mature Issues
- 2018 International Book Award Silver Medal Winner Readers' Favorite for Coming of Age
12-year-old Jake has been suppressing his heartbreak over the loss of his mother for the past four years. But his emotions have a way of haunting his dreams and bubbling to the surface when he least expects it. When Jake learns how to take control in his dreams, he becomes a lucid dreamer, and that's when the battle really heats up.
Using his wits to dodge bullies by day and a nefarious kangaroo hopping ever closer by night, Jake learns about loss, bravery, the power of love, and how you cannot fully heal until you face your greatest fear. This uncompromising novel is a magical yet honest exploration of emotional healing after a devastating loss.
Described as a "poignant coming-of-age novel (that) offers a sensitive and honest examination of a child's spiritual and emotional battles" by The BookLife Prize.
This moving story is in the genre of magical realism, a type of storytelling popularized by acclaimed authors such as Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, Katherine Applegate, Wendy Maas, and Roald Dahl.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.43(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Few experiences are more exciting than your own dreams. Even fewer are more tiresome than listening to someone else's, but hang with me for a sec. This isn't what you think.
I wait behind the curtains of a stage next to a bunny who is juggling mice. I'm supposed to go on next, and I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to perform. Whenever I try to think up an idea, the bunny misses her catch and the mouse hits the floor, giving off a dull squeak. You can imagine how distracting this is. Then I realize that I'm practically naked. The only thing between me and total embarrassment is my flimsy underwear.
By now I should have figured out that I'm dreaming – what can be more obvious than the underwear bit? – but I don't. I'm too nervous about having to go on stage next to worry about what is and isn't normal. That's the funny thing about dreams: the ridiculous seems perfectly reasonable until the moment after you wake up.
Then it happens. I'm stressed out about my turn, clueless to the absurdity of bunnies juggling mice or, for that matter, the seagulls crossing swords with the cows or even the chimpanzees twirling in their tutus. My moment comes when the penguin tells me it's time for me to go on stage. In an absolute panic, I say no.
"No," I say.
Just to be clear, I mean that I say no – not the dream version of me shaking in my underwear by the stage but me, the guy in bed thinking up this nonsense for whatever reason we all dream. And when I say no, everything changes.
The dream haze lifts, and my vision becomes super clear like when I first got glasses. I move my arms and stare at my hands as though I'm an alien inhabiting a new body. And just to be clear, when I say I move my arms, I mean that I do this – not the dream version of me but the actual, well, you get the idea. My point is that I can control myself in the dream, and this is the coolest thing I have ever done. Ever. True, that's not saying much since I'm only a seventh grader, but it's still very cool.
I don't think the penguin agrees. He backs away and calls out for someone named Connor. A kangaroo hops over, looking none too pleased.
"You're not allowed to do that, mate," Connor says. Of course he has an Australian accent. He's a kangaroo!
"Maybe not, but I can. Check it out." I wave at him.
Connor crosses his arms. OK, how does he not get how awesome this is? I shake my whole body around, ending with wide arms and a big "Tada!"
The kangaroo sighs, jumps high in the air, and slams both feet directly into my face.
I wake up with a start and cuss out the kangaroo. I know quite a few cuss words thanks to middle school. My dad's not so thrilled, but I figure hey, at least I've learned something.
I pull the sheet over my head and mutter, "Connor, Connor, Connor!" to remind my brain where I left off. I've never been able to slide back into the same dream, but I try anyway. Unfortunately, if I do dream again, I don't remember it. The next thing I know, my alarm gives off an irritating buzz, and I slap the thing hard.
Groan. Another stressful day of school with all those annoying people. No wonder I only ever dream about animals.CHAPTER 2
On my way to the bathroom, I see Dad leaning against my sister's door. He's wearing a rumpled shirt and a distant expression, but forces a smile when he notices me.
"Good morning. Are you ready for another thrilling school day?"
"Yeah, I feel you."
His smile is so broad it no longer seems forced. I wish I could pull that off.
"Emma's done with the bathroom, so it's all yours," he says. "You look a bit less than excited to start your day."
That's Dad, the King of Understatement.
By the time I make it downstairs, I find Emma in front of an open cabinet, stretching for the stack of bowls. A few more inches and she's golden, but her fingertips barely brush the bottom of the pile. She flashes her cutesy look, all dimples and eyelashes, an expression that never fails to reduce Dad into a bowl of Jell-O and never fails to irritate me. I mean, come on. She'll be nine next year; she's getting way too old for the little girl act.
Oh, and she's got her stuffed monkey wrapped around her neck. Beenie. The two are inseparable. If Dad hadn't made a rule banning it, she'd take Beenie to school. Seriously. I don't know how she gets away with half the stuff she does.
I grab a bowl easily. "Did you need something?" She strains her hand higher, bouncing on her tippy toes, making an "ooo-ooo" sound as if she's the monkey instead of Beenie.
"Fine. Here." I offer her my bowl, but she ignores it.
"I want the one with Elmo."
And I want to throttle her.
"Don't you think you're kinda old for Elmo?"
"I want the one with Elmo."
"Yeah? Good luck with that."
She puts her arm down and pouts. Even Beenie glares at me.
"If you get it for me, I promise I won't wish you a happy birthday." My body flushes. I take a moment to settle down. She knows my buttons better than anybody. In fact, I think that's the definition of the word sister.
I get her the stupid Elmo bowl.
I realize most kids love birthdays. Who knows what's wrong with me that I don't. I vaguely remember having birthday parties when I was younger, but it's been a while. The mere thought of a birthday party throws me into a rage. I get that way sometimes. Angry, I mean. Really angry, often for reasons even I don't understand. It builds up inside me, sudden and overpowering. I do all I can just to keep it together.
"Get the spoons and milk," I say, but she's already on it.
Dad comes downstairs while I'm pouring the cereal.
"We're almost out." I hold up the box.
"Did you put it on the list?"
The list. He has a list for everything.
"How am I supposed to know to buy it if it's not on the list?"
"I'm telling you now."
"If it's not on the list, it doesn't get done."
"OK. I guess we'll have to skip breakfast and go to school hungry."
"Jake, there's other food in this house besides cereal. You're not going to starve."
His expression remains cheerful, but his irritated tone sets me off.
"Maybe, but what would Em put in her Elmo bowl?"
Dad freezes. I can tell he thinks I crossed the line. Fine, go ahead and yell at me. I don't care.
Instead, he blinks slowly.
"I'm going to let that slide since this is your special day." He walks over to the refrigerator and writes on his precious list. "Cereal. There. Now pour the milk for your sister."
Did I forget to mention this? Emma's in third grade and she can't pour her own milk.
I decide not to push it, this being my special day and all.
After I scarf down my cereal, I plant myself in front of the TV for morning cartoons. In the background, I can hear Dad getting Emma ready for school. He drops her off on his way to work at Before Care and trusts me to lock up on my way to the bus stop. Being the big brother does have its advantages.
Dad sits next to me on the couch. "Pause, please."
I hit the remote.
"I'll ask this only once, I promise. Are you sure you don't want to do anything for your birthday?"
"OK. I'll bring home your favorite for dinner, we'll do gifts, and that will be the end of it. You're going to like your present from Mom and me."
I shoot him a look. This time he's the one who's crossed the line.
"Mom? Is this a sick joke?"
"She and I had talked about this before ... you know."
"Before she died?"
"Yes, Jake. Before she died."
He tries to put his arm around me. I pull away.
"Are you going to be all right today?"
"What am I going to do? Cry?"
"It would be OK if you did."
OK with him maybe. I'm not OK with that.
"I'm fine. Can I watch the rest of this?"
He kisses my head before I can react.
"Happy birthday, Jake."CHAPTER 3
My school bus pulls up to the entrance. Huge block letters over the doors spell out Pine Woods Middle School, but don't let the name fool you. The building is in a clearing with only a few spindly trees sprouting up along the sidewalk. I think the school system picks the name based on whatever they have to chop down in order to put up the building. My last school was named Mighty Oak Elementary. That must have been one heck of a tree.
When I get to my locker, I scout the area. Now that I'm in seventh grade, I only have to deal with eighth graders slapping the books out of my hands. My odds of being humiliated have dropped in half from last year. Look at me being all optimistic. Dad would be proud.
The coast is clear except for Will, whose locker is next to mine. I'm not worried about him. Will's the new kid, tall and kinda quiet. I heard he was a surfer from California. That's the rumor anyway. It could be true. He wears colorful shirts, sports a tan, and has long, blond hair. Maybe he had friends at his old school, but he doesn't fit in too well around here. We don't meet a lot of surfer dudes in Maryland.
"What's up?" Will says.
I respond with a curt nod while I gather my books for the sprint to homeroom. I suppose I could be friendlier, but who knows if Will even wants to be my friend. He's probably being nice to everyone until he figures out who the cool kids are. I'm just sparing him the disappointment. In case it isn't obvious, I'm not one of the cool kids.
Middle school blows. I would never say this out loud, but I miss elementary school. Yeah, it was lame, but at least things were simpler.
Here's how I see it: In the educational family, elementary school is the baby sister with her button nose and rosy cheeks. She parades in her oh-so-cute Halloween costume, squeaks out her first notes in band, and has her scribbles posted on the refrigerator for all the world to gush and rave about.
At the other extreme is the big brother, high school. He's practically an adult, with his driver's permit, growth spurt, and college applications. He glows with potential.
Lost in between is middle school, the forgotten child, awkward and pimply. That's where I am, surrounded by braces, gangly limbs, sour attitudes, and raging hormones.
I slam my locker shut. Sure, nothing bad has happened today, but it's still early. Give it time.
We don't change classrooms between homeroom and mod one, so when the bell rings, my science teacher starts class right away. Mrs. Vespa wears huge metal bracelets on both wrists so every time she moves, she sounds like a wind chime. You can hear her coming clear down the hallway. That constant clanging would drive me nuts, but she seems to enjoy it. I think she swings her arms sometimes just to hear the music.
She's teaching an environmental science unit, focusing on the many ways people alter the environment. You know, overpopulation, habitat destruction, climate change, pollution, that sort of thing. Not exactly uplifting stuff. This is, by far, my favorite class this year.
Mrs. Vespa clasps her hands together. Jangle, jangle. "I have exciting news. We're going to do group mini projects and present them to the class on Monday."
The class groans. Today is Thursday. There goes the weekend.
"Now, now. Everybody calm down. This'll be low-key and fun. We'll break into groups of three."
That leads to another commotion. Friends signal each other. Within seconds, the class has fragmented. The four girls in the back start bickering. Already, one is in tears.
"Quiet please. Let me finish." Mrs. Vespa flaps her arms furiously, but few people pay her any attention. We've learned to tune out her wrist chimes. She raises her voice. "I've already picked ten group leaders based on your grades from the last exam. If you don't like it, study harder next time." That silences the class. "The leaders will choose two people with whom they wish to work. I will assign a group to anyone not picked by tomorrow. OK?" She motions to the girls in the back. "And I think you four need to split up."
Now they're all pouting.
"I'm going to call the leaders up one by one to discuss the projects. You'll address a global concern. The assignment will be to find ways in which we can affect positive change. For now, everybody get out the worksheet we began yesterday and work quietly.
"Norman." The usual titters follow. Norman is the one kid in the class lower on the social pecking order than me. He's actually a really smart guy; it's a shame he has no social skills. I feel sorry for whoever gets put in his group – probably whoever else in this class has no friends. Oh, right. That would be me.
"Aiden." His name also provokes a reaction but only because it's unexpected. Not by me though. I used to be friends with Aiden. I know he's way smarter than he pretends to be. Aiden obsesses over his social standing even more than I do. And unlike me, he'll do whatever he thinks he must to stay ahead.
"Jessica." Jess. She and I were friendly during the early years at Mighty Oak Elementary. We haven't talked much since. When she came up to me on the first day of class to say hello, I hardly recognized her. She's – how should I put this? – more developed than I remember her. And more stylish. We've only had four weeks of school so far and she's already on her third hairstyle. Right now, it's in crazy-tight braids. That must have taken hours. I try not to stare.
I just wish I knew what to say to her. Jess and I used to talk all the time. We'd swap stories about how our white dads interact with their in-laws. That's always good material for a laugh. Her mom's black and mine's Chinese. Was Chinese. I'm supposed to use the past tense since she's dead and all. I don't really get that. I mean, is she no longer Chinese because she's dead? It doesn't seem like dying should change your race. I don't know. Whatever. Thinking about Mom makes me sad. "What's the matter, Jake? Worried you'll be in Norman's group?"
I turn to find Nick, the biggest jerk to roam the earth since the rise of the hyenas. His face is all scrunched up like he's sucking on a lemon. I don't know if he has anything in his mouth, but I can say for sure that he sucks. Strangely enough, until third grade, me, Nick, and Aiden hung out all the time. We shared everything, including our secrets. Nick would later use those secrets as weapons to embarrass Aiden and me.
Aiden was more upset about Nick's betrayal than I was, yet Aiden was the one to make up with him. I guess he figured it'd be better for his social standing. Aiden and I didn't hang out so often after that. We never had a fight or anything; we just drifted apart. That was third grade, four years ago, the year Mom died. Things have been generally terrible ever since. "You know what group I mean." Nick says this loudly to be sure he has audience. "The loser group."
I almost think Nick hates me more because we used to be friends. I wish he'd ignore me like I try to ignore him. No such luck. Nick has never stopped picking at the scab of our old friendship.
Norman hovers over his worksheet as if it's so fascinating he couldn't possibly hear Nick insulting him from two seats away. I call this the ostrich technique. I don't know how well sticking your head in the sand works for ostriches, but in middle school, it's a fail. Lucky for Norman, he's not the target right now. That'd be me. "You'd be perfect for the loser group, Jake. I can tell from looking at you. You know, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then it's a duck." Nick laughs as though he's said something witty and glances behind him to make sure the four girls in the back are listening.
Unfortunately, they are. I mentally prepare myself the onslaught of abuse. But before Nick can open his mouth again, Will spins around. "Ducks don't talk." That's what he says. The guy hasn't spoken in class all year before this. We all just stare at him. "Ducks don't talk," he says. "The expression is 'If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it's probably a duck.' Ducks don't talk. And if you actually knew what a loser looked like, you'd see one every time you looked in a mirror."
Oh, snap. The girls in the back burst out giggling. Nick fumes. He's better at dishing it out than taking it and his attempt at a comeback is a mess. "Yeah, well ... you ... I mean, that ..."
"Hey, Will." I hike my thumb at Nick. "If it sputters like a duck ..."
When Will laughs, his hair whips around his face. Nick kicks Will's desk. "If it kicks like a duck," Will says. Nick hyperventilates. I think his head might explode. Hey, that's a good one.
"If his head explodes like a duck."
Will nods furiously. His hair is one blond blur. "Nice one, brah."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Jake, Lucid Dreamer"
Copyright © 2018 David J. Naiman.
Excerpted by permission of Kwill Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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