Bernetta’s summer couldn’t be going any worse.First her ex-best friend frames her for starting a cheating ring in their private school that causes Bernetta to lose her scholarship for 7th grade. Even worse, Bernetta’s parents don’t believe she’s innocent, and forbid her from performing at her father’s magic club. Now Bernetta must take immediate action if she hopes to raise $9,000 for tuition. But that’s a near impossible task with only three months until school. Enter Gabe, a boy con-artist who’s willing to team up with Bernetta to raise the money. But only if she’s willing to use her talent for magic to scheme her way to success.
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Read an Excerpt
“Any luck with the job hunt, Netta?” Elsa asked.
Bernetta gave a pathetic sideways headshake and then sat up and handed Elsa her phone. “No,” she said. “Nothing. I’m doomed.”
“It’ll be okay,” Elsa told her.
“No!” Bernetta cried. “It won’t. It won’t be okay, Elsa. How on earth am I ever going to make nine thousand dollars in one summer?”
Elsa frowned and looked at her toes. “I don’t know, Netta. I’m sorry.”
And just like that, she left the room.
She shut the door behind her, and as soon as she did, Bernetta heard a noise coming from her bedroom window, a noise that sounded suspiciously like a person clearing his throat. She spun her head toward the sound, and to her horror she saw a head pop up above the windowsill. A boy’s head. A head covered in unruly brown hair.
The boy looked at her, as casual as anything, and smiled.
“I know how you can make nine thousand dollars,” he said.
PARLOR MAGIC n: tricks performed for a small audience
The halls of Mount Olive private school were quiet that afternoon, completely deserted. The students were tucked away inside their classrooms, busy learning the lessons that would lead to successful and fulfilling futures. Calm, peaceful, serene.
That is, until a short brown-haired girl named Ashley Johansson stepped out of Mr. Borable’s sixth-grade science class, a hall pass clutched at her side. Mr. Borable had, like any good teacher, given Ashley the pass because he thought she needed to use the bathroom.
He was wrong.
Among the other things Mr. Borable didn’t know about Ashley Johansson were the following:
1. When he wasn’t present, she liked to refer to him as Unbearable Mr. Borable.
2. She had cheated on several of her life science exams.
3. She was, at that very moment, smuggling several sheets of paper into the hallway underneath her blue school blazer.
After checking to make sure that the coast was completely clear, Ashley removed the papers from her blazer and studied the one on top. Although it had the words “Geometry Homework” scribbled on it, anyone who took a close look at the paper would realize that it was not, in fact, any sort of homework. It was instead a printout of the grades of one of Ashley’s fellow students, a tenth grader named Gregory Pewter. Ashley had never met Greg, and she didn’t care to.
What interested Ashley were Greg’s grades. He had earned all A’s in every subject and on every progress report, except English literature. His grade had recently plummeted to a very disappointing B- in that subject.
Technically speaking, Ashley wasn’t allowed to break into the school’s online grade book during her hour as office helper every other Wednesday, but that hadn’t stopped her in the past.
Her second piece of paper, which she looked at next, was a list of school lockers and their owners. She quickly found Greg’s locker, number 419, and slipped her remaining papers through the slats of his locker door.
When Greg opened his locker that afternoon, he would find that an extra-credit assignment entitled “Green Eggs and Hamlet” had mysteriously appeared on top of his books. There would be no name on the essay, and it would be exactly what he needed to bring his English grade back up to an A.
Unfortunately for Greg, that wasn’t the only thing he was going to find. If he did use the essay, and his grade rocketed back up to an A, something else would appear in his locker a week later: a note, unsigned. Ashley Johansson had slipped dozens of them into dozens of Mount Olive lockers, and each was the same.
Cheaters never prosper.
I know what you did. Pay up or I’ll tell.
On the other side of the note would be a list of simple but effective instructions. The victim was to deposit five dollars, once a week until the end of the school year, in an envelope with his name on it, in a locker in the sixth-grade section of the girls’ locker room, number B37.
Ashley had been pulling this blackmail scam all year. So far, in her first year at Mount Olive private school, she’d made what she liked to call a killing.
When Ashley finished her errand, she straightened her blazer and returned to Mr. Borable’s room. He smiled at her as she replaced the hall pass on the hook by the door. Then she sat at her desk and began to write a note to the one person she’d kept in touch with at her old school.
Miss me yet? I haven’t forgotten our bet. You’re going to owe me big.
Hugs & kisses (you wish),
While Ashley was writing her letter, a girl with a thick orange-blond braid and the unusual name of Bernetta Wallflower was busy taking notes about amphibians. If she had known what was going to happen to her in just a few short months, Bernetta might have paid less attention to the teacher’s lecture and a lot more to Ashley’s note. But at the time Bernetta Wallflower thought that Ashley was her very best friend in the world.
She was, of course, wrong about that.
SLEIGHT OF HAND n: an effect performed by manipulating the objects in one’s hand; requires impressive manual dexterity
Bernetta pedaled her bike furiously, her long, frizzy braid whipping out behind her, strands sticking out at every twist. The second Saturday in June, she decided, was far too late in the year to be wearing a trench coat while riding a bicycle. She’d have to keep that in mind for the future.
Bernetta dumped her bike outside the Trunk Number Eight dinner club and hurried into the lobby. She raced past the trick guillotine in the corner, the wax statue that waved as she passed, and the box that appeared to hold a coin until someone stuck a hand inside to grab it, only to come back with a fistful of air. The photos that lined the walls sped by in a blur, but Bernetta had seen them so many times, she could have drawn them from memory. There was Harry Houdini hanging upside down from a skyscraper and wearing a straitjacket, the great Alexander Hermann floating a five of hearts in midair, and Harry Blackstone slicing a lady in half with a buzz saw. Right in the center, just below the sign that read TRUNK NUMBER EIGHT’S VERY OWN, was Bernetta’s favorite photo of all. The man with the flop of brown hair and the thick-rimmed glasses, holding a tiny yellow canary, was Bernetta’s father, Herbert Wallflower.
At the door to the dining room Bernetta reached into the pocket of her coat and pulled out a glittery pink headband, complete with a neon pink feather, and slipped it over her forehead. She cocked the feather at what she could only hope was a jaunty angle, took a deep breath, and turned the doorknob.
The room was bursting with diners, but Bernetta quickly spotted her father performing his famous napkin-into-feathers trick at table eighteen against the far left wall. She made a sharp right and hoped her father wouldn’t notice her as she crossed to the stage.
She leaped up the stage steps and slid behind the thick red curtain. The clock on the wall read six forty-one. Nineteen minutes until show time. With any luck, her father wouldn’t notice her until she was already onstage, holding out an empty birdcage for his very first trick. Once the show had started, a magician couldn’t just tell his assistant to go home, could he? Even if she did happen to be grounded.
Bernetta slumped out of her trench coat and adjusted her bright pink sequined dress, tugging it at the hips. Maybe when her grounding was over and she was back on everyone’s good side, she’d suggest that her father’s assistant wear a less hideous dress.
Bernetta whirled around and found herself face-to-face with Bram Mitchell, Trunk Number Eight’s oldest and friendliest waiter. He wrapped her in a giant bear hug.
“Hey there!” Bram greeted her. “I thought your dad said you weren’t coming tonight.”
Bernetta shrugged. “I decided to make a surprise appearance,” she told him.
“How was Elsabelle’s graduation this afternoon? Valedictorian of her class, huh? That’s big stuff!”
“Yeah,” Bernetta said. “Big.” Bernetta didn’t feel like explaining that she hadn’t actually gone to her sister’s graduation. That when a person gets suspended on the last day of school—even if she doesn’t deserve to be suspended—she is barred from attending any and all school events.
“Well, I’m glad you made it. Otherwise Todd was going to fill in as assistant, and frankly I don’t think he looks half as pretty in the dress. I’ll let him know you’re here. Also, I’ve been working on my latest trick, and I wanted you to be the first to see it.”
“Oh, yeah? How’s it coming?”
Bram snapped his fingers by Bernetta’s right ear and produced a small red rubber ball.
“Pretty good,” she told him.
“Not really. It was supposed to be a live alligator.” Bram’s smiling face quickly melted into grandfather seriousness, all concern and wrinkles. “But really, kiddo, is everything okay? You look troubled. Any problems I can help with?”
Problems? Bernetta almost laughed. How about a backstabbing ex-best friend, an unjust school suspension, and an unearned summer-long grounding? She’d like to see how troubled Bram would look with problems like those.
“I don’t think you can help,” she said.
“No?” Bram replied, rolling the ball between his fingers. “I’m pretty good at fixing things.”
Bernetta thought about it for a moment. “Actually,” she said, “maybe you can help.”
“What do you need me to do, kiddo?”
Bernetta pulled back the stage curtain an inch and peered out into the dining room. Her father was still at table eighteen, but the other side of the room was clear. She turned around and looked at Bram.
“I need a basket of bread,” she told him. “Table seven.”
Bram’s thick eyebrows shot up, like two furry gray caterpillars arching their backs. But all he said was, “Pumpernickel or sourdough?”
Bram tossed the red rubber ball to Bernetta, and she caught it. “Good luck,” he said.
Bernetta waited a full minute, running through the steps in her head, but when the clock read six forty-six, she knew it was now or never. Making sure her father was still occupied, she ducked out from behind the curtain and scurried down the stage steps, clutching a deck of cards in her right hand.
She hated to admit it, but she was just the slightest bit nervous. She’d been working the Saturday-night show as her father’s assistant for over a year now, but she’d never done any close-up work before. Maybe if she dazzled everyone at the club—showed them all what she was made of—her parents would forget about the whole stupid grounding thing. At least as far as Saturday nights were concerned. She couldn’t imagine a whole summer without Trunk Number Eight.
Bernetta was steps away from table seven when she finally took a good look at it. She’d chosen that table because it was as far away from her father as possible, but as soon as she reached it, she wished she’d gone anywhere else. There were eight boys, all around her age, laughing and talking and looking much too cool to care about someone like Bernetta. A slew of blue plastic cups reading “Happy Birthday, Patrick!” had been stacked up to form a teetering tower. At a smaller table nearby, a quartet of adults were clearly doing their best to ignore the boys’ ruckus.
Great, Bernetta thought. Her only chance to be dazzling, and there she was, looking like a bottle of sparkling stomach medicine, at a table full of boys. She was just about to turn around and give up when Bram set down a basket of sourdough bread in the center of the table, with a barely perceptible wink in her direction. He left the table, and Bernetta cleared her throat.
“Um, hello?” she said to no one in particular. The boys continued to ignore her.
Directly across the table from her, one boy wearing a green T-shirt, with the words ANYBODY WANT A PEANUT? scrawled across it, reached for a sourdough roll and nudged the kid next to him with his elbow.
“Hey, Patrick,” he said. “Watch this.” Then he ripped off a piece of his roll, tossed it into the air, and caught it in his mouth. He smiled proudly but then seemed to notice Bernetta for the first time and suddenly began coughing.
“Hello?” Bernetta tried again. “Guys?” She was running out of time.
Beside the boy with the green shirt, Patrick inched his glasses up on his nose with his index finger. “Aw, that was nothing, Gabe,” he said. “Watch this. Hey, Dan!” he called across the table. “Do that thing we practiced, ’member?” And he plucked a yellow pepper from his salad and launched it across the table.
Patrick had terrible aim. The pepper was headed directly for Bernetta’s face.
“Hey, look out!” Gabe called to her.
But Bernetta didn’t need his help. She snatched the pepper right out of the air, squeezed it into her palm, and slammed her fist on the table. When she opened it, the pepper was gone, and in its place was a small red rubber ball. She bounced it on the table twice for effect, then lobbed it over to Gabe. He caught it, his eyes wide.
The table was suddenly silent. She definitely had their attention. It was now or never.
All eyes followed Bernetta as she walked around to the other side of the table and stood directly in front of the boy with the green shirt. Quickly, and with practiced ease, she took the playing cards out of their box and held them in her right hand. It was times like these, when her nerves caused her stomach to turn cartwheels, that she was glad she’d rehearsed her tricks a thousand times over. In one fluid motion she lifted a few of the cards from the top of the deck and placed them on the bottom—the Hindu Shuffle. She mixed the cards several times, and when she was done, she fanned them out in front of him, facedown.
“Pick one,” she said.
He opened his mouth as though to say something but then closed it. His unruly brown hair fell in front of his eyes as he studied the backs of the cards. At last he picked one, and Bernetta gathered the rest of the cards into her right hand and began shuffling again. He watched her every move, waiting for something to happen. The rest of the table watched too.
“Look at your card,” Bernetta told him as she shuffled.
“And show it to your friends. Okay, now put it back in the deck.”
When the card had been returned to the stack, Bernetta handed the entire deck to Patrick. “You can shuffle it as many times as you want,” she told him.
Now came the tricky part. Bernetta had practiced, of course. But dazzling your little brother while he sat on the couch picking the lint from between his toes suddenly seemed a lot easier than performing in front of a tableful of strangers at a dinner club.
She stood up a little straighter and composed herself. “All right,” she told Gabe. “I need you to hold my hand.” And then she realized what she’d just said. To a boy. Why, oh, why hadn’t she picked the table with the senior citizens?
But Gabe didn’t even flinch. He stuck his arm straight out and smiled at her.
Bernetta gulped. Why was he smiling at her? Boys never smiled at her.
“Um, okay, thanks,” she said. She grabbed hold of his hand then and squeezed tight, ignoring the snickers around her. “Okay. I need you to concentrate on your card. Think about the card you picked, and I’ll be able to figure out which one it is, telepathically.” She recited the words as though it were someone else saying them, Bernetta the Great, perhaps, instead of plain old frizzy-haired Bernetta Wallflower. “You have to hold on as tight as you can,” she said, “or the telepathic link becomes fuzzy.”
Gabe looked directly at her as she spoke, without blinking at all, and Bernetta did her best not to lose focus. His eyes were a very lovely shade of brown, she noticed. Not blah brown like most people’s, but deeper. Like chocolate. Hershey bar chocolate, maybe.
Next to her, Patrick lost his grip on the cards. Three spilled out onto the table, and Bernetta lost her concentration for a split second. Patrick tucked the cards back into the deck. “Can I stop shuffling now?” he asked.
Bernetta shook her head no and tried to focus again. She had a trick to perform. And magic was all about presentation. So she squeezed her eyes shut for a moment and took in a deep breath of air. Then she opened her eyes slowly—right one first, then the left—and turned to Patrick.
“You can stop now,” she told him. Then she let go of Gabe’s hand, although she could still feel its weight in her own. “I have telepathically assessed which card you selected,” she announced, taking back the deck.
The whole table watched as she riffled through the deck, and Bernetta could feel the tension as they waited. She hesitated over a few cards before finally pulling out the six of diamonds. She smiled triumphantly. “Was this your card?” she asked Gabe.
He shook his head and frowned. He looked disappointed. “Well, not exactly, but—”
Patrick laughed. “You kidding? It’s not even close.” He began to make an airplane out of his napkin. “That was lame,” he said.
“Wait,” Bernetta said frantically, her forehead wrinkling as she searched the deck again. “I swear that’s never happened before.” She pulled out another card. “Here. Here it is. I found it. King of spades.”
Patrick rolled his eyes. “Uh, no,” he said. “Not it either.”
Bernetta showed them yet another card. “This one?” she asked.
Patrick tossed his napkin at her. “Go away!” he shouted. “Your trick stinks!”
Gabe shrugged his shoulders. “It’s okay,” he said. “Really.” He handed her back the rubber ball. “You can try it again if you want.”
“Maybe magic’s just not your thing,” Patrick added with a smirk. “Nice dress, though.”
As she slipped the cards back into the box, Bernetta gave a hefty sigh. “I should probably get ready for the big show anyway,” she said. She looked back into Gabe’s chocolate brown eyes then. “Do you know what time it is?”
“Yeah,” Gabe said, lifting his arm to inspect his watch. “It’s—hey!”
“What?” Patrick said. “What’s wrong?”
“My watch! It’s gone!”
“What do you mean, gone?” Bernetta asked. “Are you sure you—” She stopped as she lifted her wrist above the table. “Well, what’s this? This definitely isn’t mine.”
“That’s my watch!” Gabe cried.
Mouths dropped open as Bernetta displayed the watch that was strapped securely to her wrist.
“How did you—” the boys began. “But how could—”
Bernetta merely shrugged as she handed back the watch. Then she leaned in close to Gabe. “I think,” she told him, almost in a whisper, “that you just might find a jack of diamonds hidden inside one of those bread rolls.” She pointed to the basket. “That was your card, wasn’t it?”
And as the boys dove into the breadbasket to find the card, Bernetta spun around on her heel.
A dazzling presentation indeed, she thought.
SUSPENSION: an illusion in which a person or object appears to float without any visible support
Bernetta’s father was standing directly behind her, his arms folded across his chest.
“Um,” Bernetta began. She was suddenly feeling just a smidgen less dazzling. “Hey.”
Her father tilted his head to a sharp angle. “Didn’t I ground you for all eternity?” he asked.
Bernetta thought about that. “No,” she said after a moment. “Mom grounded me for all eternity. You grounded me until my tonsils grew back and decided to pay their own medical bills. And I think I feel them coming in.”
The corners of her father’s mouth twitched into an almost smile, but he didn’t seem to be giving in without a fight. “Is that so?” he said seriously. “Say ‘ah.’”
Bernetta opened her mouth as wide as she could, and her father took a good look.
“One of them’s come back,” he told her, and then he cleared his throat. “But I’m pretty sure the other one will take the whole rest of the summer.”
Bernetta closed her mouth and heaved a hefty sigh. “But I’m innocent, Dad. I swear I am. I had nothing to do with that cheating ring. I’ve told you that so many times I’ve lost count.”
Fifty-seven. That was how many times Bernetta had proclaimed her innocence. Fifty-seven times in two days. Bernetta never forgot a number. Maybe fifty-eight would do it. “I didn’t do anything wrong, Dad. Don’t you believe me?”
Bernetta’s father tugged at his bow tie. “Oh, Bernie. I . . .” He trailed off, and his eyes had that frown in them that had been there since yesterday. Bernetta hated seeing those sad eyes when usually they sparkled like fireworks. It made her despise Ashley Johansson even more.
“I can’t give up the club,” Bernetta said softly. “I love it here.”
He smiled at that and tugged lightly on the long frizz of orange-blond hair that she tied back into a braid every morning, in an attempt to bring some sort of order to the tangles. “All right,” he said at last. “You can help me out tonight. Since you’re all dressed up and everything. Just for tonight, though, got it? After that we’ll need to discuss it with your mother.”
Bernetta gave him an all-around hug. “Thank you!”
“Come on, then,” he said with a laugh. “We have people to mystify.”
As they climbed the steps, lights dimming around them, the audience began to hush in anticipation for the big show, and Bernetta’s father leaned in close and whispered in her ear, “That was some trick you pulled off back there, Bernie. I’m impressed.”
Even in the dark Bernetta could see that sparkle in his eye.
For the first time in a very miserable two days, things were beginning to look up.
All through the first act of her father’s show, Bernetta was so excited, she could hardly stay focused. Not that being a magician’s assistant took a whole lot of concentration. Mostly it was timing, being in the right place at the right moment, and standing onstage in a sparkly pink dress. A good distraction is what she really was. But now that her dad knew what she could do, maybe he’d insist she have more responsibility, let her do her own tricks. Maybe he’d even start paying her.
As she handed her father the empty birdcage and he produced a tiny yellow canary to thunderous applause, Bernetta couldn’t help thinking about Ashley Johansson. Had it really been Ashley who framed her? Her best friend in the world? Bernetta knew it had to have been Ashley; no one else could have done it. But still, Bernetta was clinging to the hope that Ashley was somehow just as innocent as she was.
It was a very tiny piece of hope.
Maybe, Bernetta thought as she crouched inside the trunk with the breakaway bottom, maybe Ashley wasn’t to blame for any of it and was still her true-blue best friend. Bernetta hadn’t been able to talk to Ashley since being called into the principal’s office halfway through her life science final yesterday afternoon, but she still had hope that once she did talk to Ashley, things would be all cleared up.
An itty-bitty fraction of a particle of hope.
Bernetta remained stock-still, mind churning, as her father demonstrated to the audience that the trunk truly was empty.
Still, Bernetta thought, it was hard to ignore all those times Ashley hadn’t been the best friend in the world. What about when Bernetta had accidentally whacked herself in the face with a tennis racket during PE and Ashley had snickered along with everyone else? And what about the time Ashley told Bernetta she was a moron for not knowing who the Paisley Skunks were? Not to mention the day that—
A roar of laughter from the audience snapped Bernetta back to her senses.
In front of the trunk, her father was pacing with heavy steps. “Well, I do hope I haven’t lost my lovely assistant for good!” he said. The audience laughed again. “Let’s try that one more time, shall we?”
Bernetta had missed her cue! She bit her bottom lip as her father pointed his wand into the trunk and tapped its edge with three staccato raps.
She leaped out of the trunk, arms spread wide. The stage lights danced off her sequined dress as the audience erupted into applause. Her father grinned too. “I told you all she wasn’t lost forever!” he announced. But when he turned around, he shot her a puzzled glance.
Bernetta blinked twice, hoping he’d understand she was sorry.
Keep your mind on the show, she told herself as they headed for her father’s last illusion.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower
“Lighthearted and . . . enlightening.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Will enthrall readers.”—Publishers Weekly
"This is an entertaining and offbeat outing, following cinematic convention . . . escalating things with cons within cons and subsequent counter-cons . . . [Readers will] relish the twists and turns."The Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books
"The details of the different scams are fascinating . . . Graff has created an original, dimensional heroine in Bernetta."Booklist
"The characters are well drawn, and Bernetta's growing qualms of conscience are believable. Readers will appreciate the well-constructed plot and intriguing snippets of magic slipped in here and there."School LIbrary Journal
"Graff successfully diverts the reader's attention in order to spring several surprises along the way while still making Bernetta a genuine and likable character."The Horn Book