Perry can’t figure out what she’s doing wrong. Her best friend, Venice, has a boyfriend, making her feel totally left out—especially when Venice doesn’t seem to have time for Perry or her problems. Yearbook has gotten a little bit better, but Anya is still out to get her, and instead of getting to work on something fun, Perry’s stuck covering the “What’s Hot” section. Even her attempt to help the geeks is backfiring. And when her older sister takes one of the biggest dorks at school under her wing, Perry feels completely betrayed.
Now Hayes, a boy she barely knows, is hanging around and giving her stuff, and Perry panics. She doesn’t want a boy to be crushing on her—especially Hayes. And social media makes everything more complicated. Is it even possible for Perry to turn things around and make sixth grade awesome?
"The drama of crushes, frenemies, and hovering parents is spot-on."--Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Perry!? Why can’t I find you on PopRat?!
It was so late. I couldn’t even believe my phone was buzzing. Venice I could understand. We were best friends. But Drea Quan? How did she even get my number? And why would she try to send me pops? I ignored her.
Are you ignoring me? Did you get the note I left in your locker? I’m serious. Can you do for me what you did for Derby?
I looked at my phone again even though I was half-asleep. It was almost midnight. Drea must have been desperate to be bugging me for favors like this.
PERRY! I’ll do anything you say. Eat weird things. Change my hair color. Make me popular!
And even though I really wanted to keep ignoring Drea, I worried she’d keep texting me and I’d never get to sleep. And then tomorrow, sixth grade would feel terrible. So I gave her a helpful answer.
Don’t eat anything weird or change your hair color. Derby is still a dweeb. I can’t help you. That’s not how getting popular works
I watched my phone for a few seconds, waiting for it to buzz to life. But it sat beside me on my bed as quiet as a stone. Derby Esposito. Drea Quan. Of course I had a soft heart and wanted to help the geeks. But I really needed to focus on my schoolwork and also build the best yearbook our school had ever seen. I closed my eyes, and Drea and her crazy-terrible smile drifted right out of my thoughts. And so did everything else.
When Javier Zuniga texted me to meet him beside a tree before school started so we could fix Yearbook, I strongly considered telling him basically what I’d told Drea: “I can’t help you.” Javier didn’t understand what I understood: the popular kids ran Yearbook, and there was no way to fix that.
Last month, when I was a new and eager sixth grader, I’d wrongly believed that as a junior photographer I was powerful enough to help the geeks, the dweebs, and the metal-shop kids. I thought I could have some influence over the under-showered and over–eye shadowed. Maybe redirect the ugly-panted and boring-shirted. Even assist the too-tall, the way-short, and the overly medium. But I had failed. The system hadn’t changed. And it never would. I hoped Javier could accept this news when I sprang it on him.
I wasn’t too surprised to see Javier standing at the tree before I got there. Being super punctual was a pretty Javier thing.
“Perry,” he said, giving me a fist bump. “Thanks for coming.”
I figured I wouldn’t burst Javier’s bubble just yet. I’d break it to him slowly. He was such a nice and hardworking seventh grader. I didn’t want to totally crush the guy first thing in the morning.
Javier unzipped his backpack. It looked like an accountant’s or banker’s backpack, something you’d carry a laptop in, along with massively important folders. It was waterproof and there was a place to lock it. I sure hoped Javier hadn’t spent too much time drawing up his plans.
“So do you think you can meet me to take pictures next Saturday?” he asked.
It surprised me that Javier’s plans to fix Yearbook would begin on a weekend. “Is there a football game?” I asked. I didn’t remember seeing one on the photography schedule.
Javier shook his head. When he smiled at me a small dent appeared in between his eyebrows. But the moment he stopped smiling it disappeared. “It’s for the What’s Hot section.”
It didn’t make sense that Javier had brought up the What’s Hot section at this exact moment. Because nobody even knew who’d won yet. Those people were going to be announced during last period, right before we got out of school. Sure, the suspense was killing us. But didn’t Javier understand that we couldn’t start making plans until we had more information about who was hot?
“We should wait until we know who’s won,” I said. “I mean, I don’t even know what Derby does on Saturdays.”
I was still a tiny bit hopeful that super-geek Derby Esposito had won the What’s Hot section for the sixth graders, even though he was the nerdiest nerd who’d ever tripped down our school’s hallway. Since a photo I’d taken of him had gone viral, he’d definitely experienced a bump in visibility.
“Yeah,” Javier said, peeling his arms out of his lime-green hoodie and speaking really fast. “Derby didn’t win. It’s too bad. It’s a total bummer. It would have been cool to see the underdog have his moment. But we need to focus on the winners now.”
It really surprised me that Javier was being so negative and that he’d called Derby a bummer, a dog, and a loser. He always seemed so nice when he hung out with Eli and Luke in class. Also, it surprised me that Javier was wearing a lime-green shirt underneath his lime-green hoodie. I had this belief that if you wore too much of the same color, you started to resemble a fruit or vegetable. Yellow: a banana. Red: a bell pepper. Orange: an orange. This was way too much lime-green for even a tall person like Javier to pull off.
“I don’t know. A ton of people voted for Derby,” I argued, trying to ignore the fact that with a hoodie wrapped around his waist, Javier looked exactly like a broadleaf leek. I still wanted to believe the impossible, that a geek could beat the popular kids. Even though my older sister, Piper, had warned me that wasn’t how middle school worked. Even though I knew that wasn’t how middle school worked.
“I can’t tell you how I found out,” Javier said. “But I know the winners and the losers. I even know the vote count.” He smiled again, and his eyebrow dent grew deeper.
This also really surprised me. That was a lot of information to have before school had even started.
“I need to call Venice,” I explained. This was definitely the kind of information you shared with your best friend the moment you learned it. But Javier stopped me. He literally reached out and put his hand over my finger so I couldn’t call her number.
“Wait. I thought we’d keep that between us,” Javier said. “That’s why I’m telling you beside a tree before school.”
I looked at Javier and didn’t say anything. It didn’t feel like he was trying very hard to fix Yearbook yet. The text he’d sent me before school had been pretty clear.
Can you meet me by the tree so we can fix things?
And my text back to him had also been pretty clear.
Sorry. I don’t know how to fix trees
And then his follow-up text had been even clearer.
And my response to his follow-up text had been the clearest.
OK. I hope this works
I tried to remind Javier about his texts. Because I wanted to get to the big plans so I could slowly burst his bubble, and then get to school. “If you’re serious about fixing Yearbook, we should try to get Venice involved right away. She’s great.”
That was when Javier said some pretty alarming things.
“Fix Yearbook?” Javier said. “What does that even mean? We’re here to fix the yearbook schedule.”
Then he pulled out a spreadsheet with a bunch of dates and times on it.
It was pretty heartbreaking to realize that a text that said “Fix Yearbook” could mean two different things to two different people. Because I thought really it should mean only one thing: Fix Yearbook so the popular kids don’t plow over the awesome dreams and crazy-good ideas of everybody else in the class. Really, that text shouldn’t have meant anything else.
“Can you hold down this corner?” Javier asked.
And because I’m a nice person who didn’t want to watch his plans get swept away in the wind, I kneeled next to him in the grass and pressed my thumb down on a corner.
“I talked to Anya last night,” Javier said. “I don’t want things to feel weird with her.”
I swallowed hard when he mentioned our recently demoted photography editor Anya O’Shea. She was so bossy and unorganized that Ms. Kenny, our faculty advisor, had given Anya’s job to Javier. I was pretty sure Anya hated his guts.
“Aren’t you worried that Anya hates your guts?” I asked.
He shook his head. “We talked last night. We’re all cool.”
But that sure didn’t sound right. Because Anya was super intense and also mean. “Are you sure you talked to Anya?”
Maybe Javier had accidentally called the wrong person. Anya and Sabrina sounded similar. And so did Sailor. Maybe he’d mistakenly called one of the other sixteen people in Yearbook.
“I know you and Anya have a bumpy history. All that stuff that went down between you at her gym and in the janitor’s closet,” Javier said. “Do you think you can put that behind you for the sake of Yearbook?”
“What?” I asked. Because I didn’t think I had a bumpy history with Anya. I just thought she was probably psycho.
“I really want to focus on the winners,” Javier said.
A group of clouds floated over us, making the air feel suddenly cool. Javier stood up, untied his hoodie, and slid it back on. All I could do was shiver. Because hearing that Javier wanted to focus on the winners meant that I’d totally misunderstood what he wanted to do. Javier was just like Anya. He planned to build a yearbook that focused on the popular kids. The system was more powerful than anything I’d come across. I stood up and dusted off my tights. Javier rolled his spreadsheet back up.
“This is very depressing news,” I said. “Who won?”
“Fro-yo Unicorn won the hottest frozen yogurt place. Fudgy banana marshmallow fluff won hottest flavor. Hottest pizza topping is fennel sausage--”
I cut him off. Partly because I didn’t care, and partly because the results sounded fake.
“There’s no way fennel sausage won hottest pizza topping. Pepperoni had to take that one,” I said. “Besides, all I really care about is who won for the sixth grade.”
“Jessi Whelan,” Javier said. The words flew out of his mouth with lightning speed. “Do I think that people voted for her out of sympathy? Sure. Being thrown from a horse and breaking your arm in four places is dramatic. But pity votes count. And she’s the winner.” He smiled a sympathetic smile and his eyebrow dent came back.
I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut by a donkey.
“Derby got robbed,” I said. I was super disappointed.
That was when Javier turned things around and said something unexpected.
“Listen. Do I think the What’s Hot section is lame? Absolutely. Do I wish we could scrap the whole thing? Sure. Do the popular kids need another showcase? No. But we can work around it. Okay?”
“What do you mean?” I asked. Javier was starting to give me some hope that maybe our yearbook would still be inclusive even though some lame popular people got voted hot out of pity.
“The What’s Hot section is over. Done. Finished. The winners are set in stone. You need to accept that,” he said. He sounded so harsh.
I frowned at him.
“Say you accept that,” Javier said. “And then I’ll tell you how you can help your unpopular friends.”
That statement bugged me quite a bit. First, he was being super bossy. Second, most of the people I wanted to help weren’t my friends. They were dweebs I’d met in elementary school and felt sorry for, who for some tragic and unknown reason had remained dweebs.
“Say you accept the What’s Hot section,” Javier commanded.
I took a step back and looked up. The clouds were gone. Above me, an umbrella of branches and green leaves blocked the early-morning sun. Even though the weather was still warm, the very top leaves were beginning to turn red. Fall was coming. Winter would follow. Then spring. And eventually school would be out for summer. Then I’d be a seventh grader. And senior photographer. And then I wouldn’t have to accept anything I didn’t want to accept underneath a tree. Because I’d be the boss.
I looked Javier right in the eye.
“I accept the What’s Hot section for this year,” I said.
“Sweet!” he said. “Thanks for being a team player. Okay. Look over this sheet and tell me if I’ve signed you up for too many Saturdays or after-school days.”
He unrolled the sheet again and held it in front of me. I’d never realized how big his hands were. His pinkies were larger than my thumbs.
“You signed me up for multiple Saturdays?” I asked. Because those were days I usually spent with Venice or my family or my cat, Mitten Man.
“We’re on the same team, Perry,” Javier said. “We’re all going to be working a ton to catch up to where we need to be.”
I looked over the spreadsheet. My name was everywhere. “Whoa,” I said. “That’s probably too much work.”
Javier rolled it back up and snapped a rubber band around it.
“We’ll shoot the hot shots at Fro-yo Unicorn next Saturday. Kill two birds with one stone. You’ll take the pictures. And we’ll probably get free frozen yogurt.”
“As many ounces as I want?” I asked. I’d never gotten as many ounces as I want of anything for free.
“I think so,” he said. “I mean, you can’t take your own bucket home.”
“Right,” I said. I thought it was pretty rude he’d even suggest that. He’d never even seen me carry a bucket.
“I’ll probably just get a medium.” For obvious reasons, I chose not to tell him I planned to shovel on nine or ten toppings.
“So we’re set?” Javier said, sliding out of his hoodie again.
“Actually, I think you’re forgetting something,” I said.
Javier’s face looked totally freaked out when I said that. He dropped his hoodie in the grass, ripped off the rubber band, and quickly spread the schedule back out. “Where? When? What’s missing?”
“You told me that if I accepted the What’s Hot section you’d tell me how to help the unpopular kids,” I said.
“Oh yeah,” Javier said. “That’s easy. You need to hold a clinic.”
“A what?” I asked. Because that sounded like I needed to get a doctor and possibly nurses involved.
“Have a photo clinic where you put a list of instructions together on how to take a great-looking portrait. So when we shoot those, all the geeks will look good. They won’t get their own section, but they’ll look the best they can in their own pictures.”
Javier made it sound so easy. There was no way this “clinic” would work.