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Minno is a delightful fantasy series for your upper elementary and middle schoolers who love dragons, magic, and wild adventure. Add this feel-good, coming-of-age story about two 13 year-old girls to your child's
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The faded yellow Volvo station wagon clattered along a dappled road, bottlenecking a dozen irate drivers in its wake. In the passenger seat, Minno white-knuckled a manila envelope while staring out the windshield at a weathered brick Blue Lake Middle School. At thirteen, changing schools had to be about the most terrifying thing to face. Her mind churned uneasily; her stomach twisted up into stranglehold knots. Would Blue Lake be any different from her last school?
"Grampa, you're straying ..."
"Over the curb," Minno pointed out as politely as possible.
Her Grandpa Esri jerked the steering wheel hard left, but the right front tire had already crested the curb, bouncing them off squeaking, threadbare seats.
"Again," she added to punctuate her remark.
"Oh," Esri eeked out, working the wheel the opposite way through knobby hands. A painful screech warned he had reached the wheel's limit of rotation. He succeeded, however, in bringing the vehicle back onto the pavement.
Minno sunk lower into her seat, hoping her grandfather's inept arrival had somehow escaped the students milling outside the school. She already struggled with two things that set her at odds with her peers. She hated both her name, which of course, brought grief at every new encounter, and her changing eye color. Minno's irises had the oddest propensity to alter their color as sunlight played off them. Some claimed she had chameleon eyes. Others, the meaner ones, called her a freak. The irises alternated between a deep-ocean blue and a stunning verdant green, depending on how light struck them. In stark contrast, they switched to a shimmering silver in the twilight.
Otherwise, Minno stood no taller than her peers, nor was she any shorter. She detested piercings and body art, though her grandpa would never allow such anyway. Her chestnut hair she kept cut moderately short, rough and wild, as did most girls her age. And her fashions she carefully selected to blend in amongst her classmates. The less she stuck out, the more easily she escaped their uncensored ridicule. Her name alone brought enough of that.
Minno held an unfocused gaze on the handful of geeky sixth graders playing kick ball who turned to stare at her. To be noticed by sixth graders was the last thing Minno wished on her first day. As if the whole 'changing schools' thing weren't embarrassing enough. Minno avoided eye contact by casting her eyes downward. She just knew they were snickering at her.
"We're here," her grandpa announced triumphantly. His overgrown bushy white eyebrows curled upward with his smile, while the morning breeze jostled strands of his wispy white hair. His face clearly claimed success while simultaneously pleading innocence for his latest driving offense.
Minno glanced at the collection of students loitering on the grass. She had to quiet the exploding urge to slam her foot over her grandpa's on the gas peddle and roar away from there. Like it or not, she would have to exit the car and make her way past them to reach the main doors.
Her mouth turned to cotton. She tried to swallow as she watched a tight cluster of eighth-grade boys, all in skewed ball caps, black rapper t-shirts and drooping pants, claim the stairs before the main doors.
This was going to be more difficult than even she imagined.
"Avoid eye contact," she breathed. "Say nothing, no matter what they do," she breathed in again. "And whatever happens, just keep walking," she mumbled in a long final breath.
"Perhaps I should ..." Grandpa Esri started, shutting the engine down.
"No!" Minno shot back sharply. "I'm fine. I can do this alone," she added a second later more calmly.
She loaded her reddish-tan leather bag over her shoulder. Her forced smile hid an encyclopedia of adolescent insecurities. Everyone would have laughed had she walked up the path with her seventy-two-year-old grandfather, whose torturously slow pace would have only prolonged her agony.
She clutched the broken door handle, pumping it repeatedly like a well pump to persuade it to engage the lock mechanism and release the door. The screeching hinge made her skin crawl.
"Everything will be just fine, you'll see," Esri offered as a departing thought. His smile washed away her tension — but only for that moment.
Minno's smile wilted as quickly as it came.
She could do this. She just had to focus on what she told herself.
She left the car wearing black jeans, an equally black t-shirt and a black hair band, all coordinated specifically so as not to allow her to stand out in the crowd. And she never looked back at her grandfather. She fully expected him to remain idling at the curb until she entered the building. Looking back at him revealed fear and uncertainty, something she must never allow any of them to see.
A commotion on the stairs erupted. Taunting and yelling drew all eyes to the double doors — and off Minno.
The red kick ball careened off her head, bounding down the walk with its hollow twang. Minno spun with fire in her eyes. Her jaw tightened.
Laughing, the sixth-graders scattered.
"Creepy little trolls," she scowled under her breath. The only thing she hated more than sixth graders was ... she couldn't think of anything she hated more at the moment. Wait, sixth-grade boys. They were annoying, juvenile, craving constant attention. Next year she'd go on to high school, and she'd never have to deal with middle-schoolers again.
The mean-spirited taunting at the doors called her back. Minno turned to witness a girl her age with short, jet black hair struggling to reach a suspended notebook, which a lean blond boy held hostage at arm's length. He towered over the poor girl by at least six inches.
"Oops, too slow," he chuckled, snapping his arm away to keep the notebook out of reach.
Minno's fist tightened on her bag strap. Anger swelled into her throat. The exchange between the two was nothing more than pure bullying.
Another boy, with black-rimmed glasses resting on piglet cheeks, and a matching porky belly that bulged beneath a two-tone orange horizontally stripped shirt, punched the books from the tormented girl's hand. School papers scattered.
The bell's clatter discharged the moment, causing the onlookers to crash like the running of the bulls through the double doors.
Minno squatted to help retrieve splayed papers.
"Hi ... Hailey," Minno offered, extracting the name from a 'D' test, "I'm new . ..."
Fighting back tears, Hailey crushed her papers into an angry fist before dashing into the building. In a moment, Hailey was gone, never once turning back to thank Minno for her kindness.
Minno returned to her feet, alone on the stairs. Her first exchange had not gone so well. And she would probably hate this school as much as she had hated her last two.
Inside in the main corridor, Minno contorted this way and that, weaving through the current of students all surging against her. A few boys checked her out, but most either bumped her aside or narrowly missed her, without so much as a second glance.
Minno finally located the office near the center of the main hall. Someone from behind bumped her rudely into the glass. She sucked in a deep breath before grasping the cold, lifeless doorknob. Her brain screamed for her to turn and run. But she swallowed the fear and pushed the door open. She had done this enough to know the drill and exactly what would be expected of her.
A prominent black plastic nameplate on the counter read MS. KILEY.
Minno handed over her envelope without waiting to be told. She watched as Ms. Kiley perused her previous schools' records, offering one of those phony puckered-raisin smiles. Minno knew for a fact there was nothing to produce the elder woman's facade, since Minno mostly kept to herself, never disrupted a class and always turned in her work on time, even if most never achieved better than a C for her efforts. It wasn't that she was dumb; her previous teachers all agreed Minno just didn't apply herself. At least that's what they told her grandfather each time he dutifully attended the parents' night conferences at her last schools.
"Third school this year," Kiley said, gazing at Minno over pearl-frame glasses. "Your parents circus people?"
Kiley thought she was being funny.
"Yes, ma'am. I mean, no ma'am. I live with my grandfather," Minno offered politely, though the meanness of Ms. Kiley's remark tore into her heart. If that old biddy with wrinkled drooping jowls and flapping upper arms knew the truth, she'd be apologizing all over herself for that remark.
"One of those," witch Kiley responded. She set Minno's school records aside while the bitter old woman took up a classroom assignment sheet she kept nearby. Minno concluded that witch Kiley most likely lived alone with her two cats, which were probably rescues. Minno had only been there a few minutes, but she already concluded the woman must be evil.
"Let's add you to McCully's eighth grade home room, shall we?
That's room fourteen, just down the hall from here on the left."
Witch Kiley slid a class schedule and a hall pass across the counter.
All eyes in room fourteen turned when Minno entered. She tried to swallow. This was the moment of truth. A lump of dread choked off her breathing. She wanted with all her heart to spin about and run until she was so far away, she couldn't even see the wretched town of Blue Lake. But her feet remained frozen. Her hands trembled as she limply offered her paperwork to Mr. McCully's expectant hand.
Balding, beady-eyed McCully, in turn, faked a smile.
"Class, let's welcome ..." he paused, seeking the name on the papers.
The moment seemed interminable. Then McCully opened his mouth to speak. Here it comes!
"Minno? Is that correct?" he said with such surprise that the entire class exploded into raucous laughter.
Minno attempted to hide her embarrassment, though her face had flushed ruby red. She struggled for a way to recover.
"It's M-i-n-n-o, not the fish," Minno spelled out, hoping to establish a clear, and somewhat respectable, distinction. But it didn't matter.
"Welcome, Minno, not the fish!" her new classmates chimed together as if they had rehearsed it for the past hour.
Minno wanted to sit down right there on the floor and cry. She avoided eye contact with her fellow students, fearing that in itself would spark real tears. Instead she swallowed, choked down the embarrassment and scanned across the eighteen students. Her eyes met Hailey's, who, it turned out, was the only one not laughing at her.
"Find a seat, Minno," McCully said.
Minno's eyes strayed over to the mean boy in the orange shirt who had knocked Hailey's books from her hand on the stairs. With a wicked smile, he offered her the vacant chair in front of him. Then relief washed over Minno upon seeing Hailey's kind green eyes motioning to the empty chair beside her. In that one instant their friendship began. Without uttering a word, Hailey had connected with her. Something in Hailey's smile let Minno know she was going to be all right.CHAPTER 2
"You've never been able to speak?" Minno asked, trying to constrain her surprise. She and Hailey sat facing each other at the 'outcast' table, a rotted fringe outdoor lunch table bordering tightly-packed pines along the edge of the school campus. They sat alone, as no other student would even approach them. It seemed Minno had befriended Blue Lake Middle School's leper, which was probably fine, since she also felt like an outcast. The afternoon sun warmed them against the cool westerly breeze coming off the ocean a dozen miles distant.
While Minno spoke, Hailey texted on her outdated cell phone. Her nimble fingers moved with the efficacy of someone who could easily bang out a hundred words a minute.
EVRY1 HATES ME BORN MUTE Minno read off her cell phone screen.
"Him?" Minno asked. Her nod indicated an eighth-grader, whose shoulder-length straw-colored hair partially covered his face. He sat three tables away with two friends involved in a belching contest, and it seemed, he couldn't pry his eyes off Minno.
BAND GEEK came back to her phone.
Minno's interest dulled after reading the words. Besides, he really wasn't that cute anyway ... with his braces. Okay, he really was cute enough. But if Hailey proclaimed him a geek, she'd take her new friend's word at face value until she could determine otherwise.
Hailey crinkled her nose — her way of conveying distaste. Minno quickly realized she needed to read Hailey's face as much as the text on her cell phone screen. The subtle context of what Hailey communicated came through in her expressions. The cell phone offered mere words.
Bird dung splattered Minno's fingers.
She squirmed right, using a napkin to clean her fingers. She prayed none would land on her head. That would be a disaster! Now she understood why the other students relegated outcasts to this table.
Minno texted as best she could, being quite inept at the process, since she had no friends to text to anyway most of the time. Then she realized she should just speak to Hailey. Minno's finger dexterity was clunky at best.
Hailey fingered Minno's shoulder bag on the table beside them. She mouthed 'leather.' Minno saw envy on her new friend's face.
"I think so. My grampa gave it to me for my birthday last year."
Minno dismissed the wishful glint in Hailey's eye. And she could understand why. Hailey wore thrift-store markdowns: threadbare, ripped jeans and a worn, stained shirt. But, those could actually be considered fashion diva in Blue Lake, for all Minno knew. Hailey carried no bag, rather she pulled her cell phone from her pocket when they sat down to eat.
It had only been a few hours, but Minno felt a growing kinship to her new friend. It was as if the Cosmos had brought them together on the steps of Blue Lake Middle School. Maybe, just maybe, life at this school wouldn't be so disastrous after all.
As Minno waited while Hailey texted, another boy, tall and lean like a gangly basketball player, with a bashful grin that held her eyes captive, slowed his stride intentionally as he passed. He made no attempt to disguise those blue, probing eyes languishing over her, sending goose flesh up her arms.
"B-W-O-B?" Minno said, reading her cell phone with Hailey's latest text.
Minno stared, totally confused.
The boy slammed into a banged-up wire-mesh trash receptacle chained to a post a few feet from their table. The basket clamored left, while the boy stumbled right, his face hiding his agony. But he turned askance, so Minno wouldn't see his grimace and his tearing eyes.
"I'm okay!" he chimed, pasting on a phony smile to mask the pain flooding his brain.
BORN WITHOUT BRAIN came back a minute later.
The school bell's dull clank ended lunch. Both girls wished they could spend more time chatting, even though Hailey could only chat with her fingers, which she did as adroitly as most other girls babbled.
HANG OUT AFTR? MEET@BUS, Minno read as she found her next class.
All the trepidation she endured from the time she awoke this morning until she sat across from Hailey at the lunch table had vanished. For the first time that day Minno smiled as she strolled to her physical sciences classroom.CHAPTER 3
Hailey threaded her way through students spilling out the doors toward two outdated buses lining the curb. She frowned when she saw the battered pickup parked behind the buses.
Daryl. Mean evil Daryl.
Her pace turned sluggish as if her feet had become cement blocks. On her approach, Daryl's obnoxious snore grizzled out the open windows of the rusted vehicle waiting for her. Hailey swallowed the acid backing up into her throat at the very thought of him sitting there.
Daryl hated everything, and never hesitated to let everyone know exactly how he felt about anything to anyone foolish enough to engage him in conversation. He literally expelled whatever popped into his brain with complete disregard for how his words might hurt their recipients.
Hailey crept silently to the pickup window. She had to hope he remained asleep long enough for her to sneak away. She was relieved when Daryl kept snoring. Quickly, she scribbled a note that she tossed in. It landed on his mostly-empty pint bottle of Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey. Daryl considered himself a connoisseur of fine beverages. That's because his lunches usually came from tipping a bottle. But not those cheap rut-gut whiskey bottles, as he would say. He had refined drunkard tastes.
Easing silently away, Hailey spotted Minno strolling up the walk.
"Did you see the fish eyes on that new girl when she was coming out of the bathroom?" an overfed eighth-grade girl said to her companion as they approached the buses.
"Yeah, like, I heard her name's, like, Sardine or something, like, weird like that," the other girl replied.
Neither realized 'that new girl' was behind them and within range of their words. Nor did they witness the pain in Minno's eyes as she struggled to keep their remarks from stabbing into her heart.
"I don't have fish eyes, you fat little ..." Minno blurted out.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Minno"
Copyright © 2010 James Barlog.
Excerpted by permission of BAK 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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