“Jake Gerhardt’s debut novel is sweet, knowing, and a super-fun read. Takes you right back to the awkwardness and earnestness of adolescence, with a lot of cringe and even more laughs.” —Patton Oswalt, New York Times bestselling author, comedian, and actor
They each have 33% chance with her, but she's 0% interested.
Meet Sam, the comedian; Duke, the intellectual; and Chollie, the athlete. Their fates converge at Penn Valley Middle as each falls desperately for the enigmatic Miranda Mullaly—the girl who smiles like she means it, the girl who makes Christmas truly magic when she sings, the girl who…barely realizes her admirers exist! Small misunderstandings lead to big laughs, and beneath the humor, every attempt to win Miranda's favor becomes a compelling look at the larger world of each guy's life.
About the Author
Jake Gerhardt was born and raised in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. He attended Elkins Park Middle School, where he played football and basketball, ran track, performed in the school musical, and was a member of the student council. He also found time to attend many school dances, in constant pursuit of various Miranda Mullalys.
Since graduating from West Chester University, he has worked as a teacher. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his pulchritudinous wife and two amazing daughters. Me and Miranda Mullaly is his first book.
Read an Excerpt
1 | The Thumbtack
2 | Battle Plans
3 | Lab Partners
4 | Battle Plans—Part 2
5 | Freewriting
6 | Tryouts & Auditions
7 | The Cast Is Dye
8 | Freewriting
9 | The Championship Game
10 | The Library
11 | Give Me Toilet Paper!
12 | Freewriting
13 | Valentine’s Day
14 | The Snow Day
15 | The Worst Weekend in the History of Bad Weekends
16 | Can Things Get Any Worse?
17 | The Play’s the Thing
18 | Freewriting
19 | Steam Heat
20 | The Final Dress Rehearsal
21 | The Pajama Game
22 | Serendipity
Until today, Miranda Mullaly isn’t a girl I think about a lot. But she really gets my attention when she turns to me and hands me my thumbtack. I mean, she really gets my attention.
It all starts when I’m sitting in biology class, minding my own business and doing my best to mentally prepare for the long semester ahead. Even though it’s only January 4, Christmas and New Year’s seem like years ago. That’s what school does to you. It kind of freezes time. It’s only the first period of the first day, and already I feel like I’ve been stuck here forever.
As I’m sitting there, I’m thinking about the new me. You see, I’ve finally decided to turn over a new leaf and put all my clowning around behind me. After all, I can’t pull pranks my whole life. And my Christmas gift to my mom was a promise to clean up my act. If you think about it, this was a great gift because it made my mom very happy and didn’t cost me a penny.
I mean, I’m so serious about all this I didn’t make my usual stop to see the boys in the cafeteria. Imagine me, Sam Dolan, being the first person in class.
I have all this going through my head when Duke Samagura enters the room. He walks up to Mrs. Stempen, who is sitting at her desk with her head in a science book, and puts an apple in front of her. I mean, come on. Where does he think he is?
Duke stops and chitchats with Mrs. Stempen. God only knows what they’re talking about, but I can take a pretty good guess. It’s definitely about something boring. Duke’s probably telling her about what he did over the break, like going to science museums and dissecting frogs on his kitchen table.
Everybody who knows me knows that by now I’m starting to get a little antsy. I’m ready for class to start and trying to keep myself from thinking about what I’m dying to do.
I can’t help myself. I reach into my backpack and I take out a thumbtack. I hold it in my hand and even smile at it. My old friend, the thumbtack. We will part ways now that I’m turning over a new leaf, and I’m going to miss it. That thumbtack and I have had a lot of fun together.
But when I hear Duke laughing with Mrs. Stempen like she’s Tina Fey instead of a boring biology teacher, I can’t help but think maybe this is one last hurrah for me and the thumbtack. After all, I can’t be expected to go cold turkey.
Then I hear my mother’s voice in my head. Like I said, she’s really excited about my promise to be good at school. She even told me how proud she was of me before I left the house this morning. She’s one of these moms who is really interested in education and all that stuff. So maybe it’s best if I put the thumbtack back in my bag.
But I just can’t. I mean, it’s not against the law to have a little fun, and that’s what the thumbtack is all about. And Duke is the perfect target. First of all, his name is Duke Vanderbilt Samagura. Add to that the fact that he dresses like a J.Crew model (What’s with those guys and their pants that don’t fit?) and he carries a briefcase instead of a backpack and, well, I’d be a fool if I didn’t put a thumbtack on his chair. The way I see it, I really have little choice in the matter.
And since it’s the first school day of the New Year, and January is a painfully long month, and Mrs. Stempen doesn’t stop teaching from the moment class begins and is still talking when we’re walking out the door—if you consider all that, I’m really doing everyone a favor. It’s probably the only fun we’ll have all month.
So I place the thumbtack on Duke’s chair, pretty certain he’ll thank me when he learns it’s the last time I’ll ever put a thumbtack on someone’s chair.
And then the craziest thing that has ever happened in the history of Penn Valley Middle School happens. Just as Duke is about to sit on the thumbtack, my thumbtack, my last thumbtack, Miranda Mullaly puts out her hand and stops him.
This really throws me off. I mean, who does Miranda Mullaly think she is?
“I believe this is yours,” she says, dropping the thumbtack into my hand.
She smiles at me, too. I don’t know why I never noticed her smile before, because it’s a good smile. I mean, it’s a great smile. An excellent smile.
She smiles like she means it.
She smiles like she’s happy.
She smiles like she likes me.
And she’s got great teeth.
I take the thumbtack and put it in my bag and smile right back at Miranda.
Is this a great start to the New Year or what?
All I can say is wow! I mean, wow!
I’m man enough to admit it. I owe my parents, Neal and Cassandra, a sincere apology. They have been regaling me since birth with the story of how they first met. Allegedly it was love at first sight when they met and fell for each other as undergrads at Duke University, where they both studied sociology. They fell in love and have never been apart. I often gag when I hear them tell the story.
But as of today I believe in love at first sight. Today, I fell in love with Miranda Mullaly and she, if I’m not terribly mistaken, fell in love with me. How do I know? Because this morning, in biology class, Miranda stuck out her arm to keep me from sitting on a thumbtack maliciously placed on my seat by that rapscallion Sam Dolan.
And not only did Miranda save me from the embarrassment of sitting on the tack, she saved Sam Dolan’s life as well. If I had sat on the tack, I probably would have smacked Sam Dolan’s empty head with my textbook. And I would’ve been doing everyone a favor, since Sam Dolan fancies himself some sort of hilarious “class clown” and thinks it’s his duty to entertain the school with moronic exploits, like a thumbtack on a real student’s chair.
But I really don’t care about the tack anymore. After Miranda saved me, we gazed deeply into each other’s eyes and something magical passed between us. “Her complexion was luminous, like that of apple-blossom through which the light falls . . .”1
She took my breath away.
Technically, this could not be considered love at first sight because Miranda and I have been classmates for years. But that is of little matter because I have never really seen Miranda before today. I now see her in a different light.
In order to better understand, I think the screenplay format would be helpful. And, since I’m probably going to write some movies after I’ve graduated from Harvard Medical School, a little screenwriting practice can’t hurt.
Here it goes:
DUKE VANDERBILT SAGAMURA, thirteen, handsome, enters the classroom. Duke walks to his desk and is about to take his seat when MIRANDA MULLALY, thirteen, stunning, puts out her arm to stop him.
I don’t think you want to sit there.
(Duke looks down and sees a thumbtack on his seat.)
Thank you so very much.
(Duke smiles at Miranda, then turns and glares at SAM DOLAN, thirteen, troglodyte.2)
It seems awfully immature, doesn’t it?
(Duke looks back at Miranda, appearing to really see her for the first time. Film slows, cue Handel’s Messiah, their eyes sparkle.)
One wonders when some people around here are going to grow up.
(Miranda and Duke smile and gaze deeply into each other’s eyes.)
So there you have it. Or, as Damon Runyon3 would say, there, indeed, you have it.
Once I realize Duke Samagura isn’t going to punch Sam Dolan in the nose, I get back to looking through my notebook for all those fancy vocabulary words Mr. Minkin is always making us learn. The reason I’m looking for all the fancy words is because my brother, Billy, is returning tonight and I need to tell him all about Miranda Mullaly.
Is this making sense? If it’s not making sense, then this might help. I’m sitting in class and watching Miranda Mullaly, but I don’t exactly know what to say to her. So I’m thinking I can get Billy’s help, because Billy knows all there is to know about girls.
I really noticed Miranda for the first time at Christmas Day service. I was sitting quietly in the cold, dark church, trying to get comfortable on the wooden pew and trying not to look at the clock, when I heard a beautiful voice singing. It was really amazing. It was the kind of voice that reminds you of something happy and sad and hits you in the gut all at the same time. All I can remember about the song is that there was a drum and a boy. But the way Miranda sang it was pure magic. It suddenly seemed brighter, and I felt warm inside. Does this count as a Christmas miracle?
So anyway, I hear this voice in class and look up, and there’s Miranda Mullaly. She sticks out her arm and keeps Duke from sitting on a tack that Sam put on his chair. She probably saves Sam’s life, because Duke can sometimes be a little crazy. And she saves the basketball season, because even though he messes around a lot in practice and Coach hates his guts, Sam’s a pretty good point guard. And suddenly I can’t think of anything but Miranda Mullaly. I’m not thinking about my new sneakers. I’m not thinking about what’s for lunch. I’m not thinking about basketball practice. I’m not thinking about how long this class is. No, all I’m thinking about is Miranda Mullaly.
So, needless to say, I am very excited to be in science class with Miranda Mullaly, even though I’m sitting behind her and can’t see her pretty face.
I am very lucky Billy has been kicked out of college. I feel bad for him because my parents are pretty upset about the whole thing, but for me it really works out because Billy knows just about everything you need to know about women.
After dinner I knock on his bedroom door. Billy opens it and I take a quick look around. The room was just the way my mom likes it, and now Billy’s made it into a huge mess. And it already smells. I ignore the dirty underwear and socks and find a place to sit, and we get right down to business. That’s the way Billy operates.
“I got a situation,” I tell Billy. To Billy, everything involving girls is a “situation.”
“Okay,” Billy says, finishing his push-ups and lying on his bed. “What’s her name?”
“I like it. I like it a lot. So what’s the deal?”
“I really just noticed her at Christmas,” I say.
“What made you notice her?” he asks.
“I guess hearing her sing. I really don’t talk to her much. She’s into books and getting good grades and that kind of stuff.”
Billy sits up. “That’s all right. Librarian types are okay in my book. Never underestimate nerds. Does she wear glasses?”
I have to think about it. “No, she doesn’t wear glasses.”
“That’s okay. So now what’s the situation?”
I tell Billy about the singing at Christmas and the thumbtack today and how she saved Duke Samagura from sitting on it and how I think that’s a really cool thing to do.
Billy takes it all in. His eyes close and he concentrates.
“What else do you know about her?”
“Well, let’s see, she’s in the student council. She’s always singing and dancing in the plays. She recycles all the time and complains about kids dying in other countries. She likes to talk about the weather and says it’s getting colder—or warmer—or something like that. I’m definitely going to start paying more attention to what she says.”
“It sounds like you’re hunting big game here, Chollie.”
I nod and smile. Then he looks at me with a real serious look, the way a doctor on television talks to a patient.
“What you need is a battle plan. So here’s what you want to do. Never throw out something that can be recycled. Learn a little bit about the Earth, whether it is getting colder or warmer or whatever. Lots of people are talking about that kind of stuff these days. You might even want to read a newspaper. Then you have something to chat her up about. Get it?”
“Yes. It makes total sense.”
“Maybe find out which countries kids are dying in. Maybe do a school project about it. Are you following me? So let’s say she’s worrying about kids dying in Sri Lanka, you can do a project with her.” Billy rubs his hands together. “Whatever you do, don’t be one-dimensional.”
It all makes sense to me. And it’s all right in front of my eyes. I just need Billy to get me focused, kind of like needing a coach to get a team to gel. There’s nothing better than having a big brother.
I get up to go, nodding. “Thanks, Billy.”
“Oh, and here’s another thing. There’s probably going to be some stiff competition. Play it cool, Chollie. Play it cool. And watch out for these other snakes that are going to be smoothing on her. Strike while the iron is hot, and remember: the early bird gets the worm.”
So there I am, walking down the hall with a big smile on my face and thinking about Miranda Mullaly. Out of the blue, Ralph Waldo comes up to me and starts blabbering on about something.
“What are you talking about?” I ask him.
“What did Sharon say?” he asks, practically drooling on himself.
“Oh, Ralph, you are a pain in the neck,” I say, because that’s what I really think. See, Ralph’s in love with my sister Sharon, who’s in the seventh grade. And since last semester Ralph has been giving me these messages to pass along, which are actually questionnaires. It’s pathetic. And I don’t give them to Sharon, because Sharon’s my sister and Sharon’s crazy. Just to give you an example, on Sharon’s birthday she wanted to go to an art museum. I mean, an art museum? Really? And she reads these books by Jane Austen that are in English and sound like soap operas. You can tell Ralph Waldo doesn’t have sisters simply because he thinks I talk to my sisters. I’m actually doing him a favor by throwing his embarrassing love notes in the trash.
“So, come on, Sam, did you talk to her?” Ralph really wants to know.
“Listen, Ralph, let me explain something to you about girls. . . .”
And then it hits me, right there in the hall by the main office.
It hits me that now, for the first time in my life, having two sisters might be an advantage. I can learn from them. I can observe them, the way scientists watch animals, to better understand them. Here I am, sandwiched between a sister in seventh grade and a sister in ninth grade. Of course, if my sisters had hearts and were normal, I could ask them a thing or two about the fairer sex, but, unfortunately, I have a special breed of sister.
So I take Ralph’s stupid questionnaire and pretend to find a place for it in my back pocket but then toss it in the trash when I go to English class.
All I can think about all day is Miranda, and before I know it, school is over and basketball practice is over and here I am at home sitting at the dinner table. I didn’t bring a notebook to record what they say, but I run up to my room as soon as it’s over. Here’s what I got:
Excerpted from "Me and Miranda Mullaly"
Copyright © 2017 Jake Gerhardt.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
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