Danny Zelko, 13 going on 14, needs to get rid of his mom’s boyfriend, Harry. The guy is a creep. Drinks too much, locks Danny out of the house, gets in Danny’s face and calls him Danielle.
Of course everyone blames Danny. It’s his fault he gets into fights at school. It’s his fault he can’t control his anger. It’s his fault Harry is such a jerk. Danny isn’t such a bad kid—he has his own lawn business, makes his own dinner, even takes out the garbage and closes up the house without being asked. All he wants is for his mom to be like she used to be—a real mother who acted like one. Because Harry makes her stupid. When she gets around him, she forgets about her kids. Disappears with him, doesn’t stick up for her own son. And the prospect of spending another day with this man makes Danny feel helpless and broken.
So when Danny’s sister, Lisa, reveals that Harry and their mom are getting married, Danny, never the one to cower, decides to do something. That’s right, one way or another, he will get rid of Harry.
Set in 1983, New Jersey, Seven Ways to Get Rid of Harry is packed with Danny’s friends and enemies, a few fist fights, heartbreak and fury, and a little humor too.
Praise for SEVEN WAYS TO GET RID OF HARRY:
“Seven Ways to Get Rid of Harry is a poignant nostalgia trip to being thirteen in the 1980s that also has a sharp bite. It tugs at your heart-strings while making you laugh out loud. Never has the attempt to get rid of your mom’s evil boyfriend been so charmingly portrayed. A must read!” —Lee Matthew Goldberg, author of The Mentor and the Desire Card series
“Jen Conley brought me back to my childhood with this gripping debut. Danny Zelko battles with his mother’s abusive boyfriend amidst the helplessness, confusion, and tumultuous friendships of his formative thirteenth summer. Sometimes harrowing, often funny, this is a great and necessary read for anyone who wants to understand what it’s like for boys in that liminal stage, when faced with the challenge of a bad role model.” —Thomas Pluck, author of Bad Boy Boogie
“Very few writers can do what Jen Conley does, striking the perfect balance between voice, character, and setting. But technical proficiency isn’t what makes the book so special. Her story of a screwed-up kid learning to live without his father is heartbreaking, hopeful, at times hilarious, but above all, flat-out powerful. This book will be placed in the YA section, but it is so much more. Maybe it’s because, with this book taking place in 1983, Danny Zelko would’ve been born the same year as I was. Maybe it’s because I, too, had problems with authority, fitting in, and loved all things Pink Floyd. All I know is I couldn’t put the book down. The story and dialogue are strikingly authentic, and the prose zips along. Mostly, though, I just wanted to put my arms around the kid and tell him that, yeah, thirteen sucks, and, no, I’m not gonna lie; it doesn’t necessarily get better. But the bastards won’t always be able to keep you down. As long as you keep fighting, kid.” —Joe Clifford, author of the Jay Porter thrillers
“Seven Ways to Get Rid of Harry is a dark, heartfelt and hard-to-put-down novel. Conley’s stark, realistic prose transports readers to a time and place when we were all 13 going on 14, and crafts the kind of YA story that feels exceedingly real and unique with a healthy dose of noir. Seven Ways to Get Rid of Harry is the kind of book that slithers into your brain and never leaves.” —Alex Segura, author of Dangerous Ends and Blackout
|Publisher:||Down & Out Books II, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.52(d)|
Read an Excerpt
When I enter the vice principal's office, I do my best to be presentable. My dad once said that a man, when being questioned for trouble he may or may not have caused, needs to stand straight, hands at the side, head up, mouth closed. Make eye contact and shut up. There is no blaming, begging, or weeping. Wait your turn until you are afforded the opportunity to talk. Then when you do speak, speak with your brains, with focus, and with honesty. If honesty is the smart way to go.
"Sit down, Danny," Mr. Cage says.
"It has come to my attention that you physically assaulted Richard Plimpton in the locker room."
This is news to me because I didn't do it. And why would I physically assault Richard Plimpton? We were best buddies in second and third grade. We never talk now because that's how things go when you get to eighth grade, but I have no beef with him.
"Richard Plimpton said that you pushed him into the locker room wall, the wall near the emergency exit, then punched him in the stomach three times and gave him a wedgie."
I want to defend myself but it's not my turn to speak. I keep my hands at my side, my mouth closed. There is no window in his office and nothing hangs on the orange walls. On his desk there are four things: a yellow notepad, a ballpoint blue pen, a desk calendar that has today's date, Wednesday, May 4, 1983, and a framed, grainy, colored snapshot of four soldiers standing in front of a tent. They are wearing green fatigues and holding guns. One soldier is a younger Mr. Cage.
I remain silent.
Mr. Cage leans back in his chair. He's a wide-shouldered man with black hair, wears brown-framed glasses and has a handlebar mustache. He never smiles. People say he had eighty-four kills in Vietnam.
"So, son, did you do it?"
I shake my head. "No, I did not."
"You had no participation in this incident?"
"Were you in the locker room during third period?"
"But you say you didn't do it."
"I didn't do it."
"Did you witness this incident?"
"No. I got dressed and then I left."
"Where did you go?"
"My next class. Social studies."
Mr. Cage glares at me. "Richard sat right here in this office, in the same chair you are sitting in, and claimed that you were the perpetrator."
"I was not."
"Why would Richard lie?"
I can feel my shoulders slump, so I sit up straight.
"Mr. Zelko, answer me. Why would he lie?"
And this is the part where I screw up, completely forgetting my father's advice, which is stupid and I know it's real stupid as soon as the words come spitting from my mouth. "How would I know why Richard would lie? Maybe he's touched in the brain? It's not like I'm in his head or anything." My shoulders slump again and I lean to one side, feeling my lip curl, completely ticked off. I don't look at Mr. Cage because I know my presentable self is gone and my real self is here. I'm gonna get blamed for this wedgie crap. I just know it.
"Sit up, boy," Mr. Cage says. "Clean up your attitude."
Rage bursts through my veins and I grit my teeth.
Fine. I'll sit up. But I'm gonna say what I need to say: "I didn't touch Richard Plimpton. I don't know why he's blaming me."
Mr. Cage furrows his thick dark eyebrows and stares me down. "Richard Plimpton is an excellent student and has a clean reputation."
This isn't happening. I'm gonna take the fall for this, aren't I? Nobody cares about my side of the story. I'm always getting blamed for crap, at school, at home. "I didn't do it!" I suddenly shout, frustration screaming out of my lungs. "Why are you blaming me? I didn't give that damn loser turd a wedgie!"
Mr. Cage doesn't move. Doesn't blink. Doesn't react. He's famous for this. But make no mistake, if there's a fight, he's like a superhero — swoops in, wraps you around the neck with one arm, and wrenches you away. I've seen it twice. It's terrifying yet impressive.
I swallow, waiting for Mr. Cage to leap over the desk and put me in a headlock.
Mr. Cage stands. He's a tall, tall man. He moves slowly around his desk, towering over me like Godzilla. My heart knocks against my rib cage. Why did I open my mouth?
"Mr. Zelko," he says, "you appear to be very adamant about this but many a young man has come into my office being adamant. I'll look more into the situation but you will have in-school suspension tomorrow for breaking rule number one."
He points behind me and I swing around, noticing the large, white construction paper taped to the wall. The words on it are written in thick, black magic marker and the only thing it says is:
RULE #1: DISRESPECT WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.
There are no other rules.
Mr. Cage leaves the room to speak to his secretary, Mrs. Panelli. I swing back around and sit there, my heart hammering, trying to get my fear and frustration in check. Then it happens — my eyes start watering. I'm going to cry. On top of everything, I'm going to be a baby. No weeping, my dad said, but I can't stop. I try to fight off the tears, trying to figure out why Richard would lie, but my head won't focus. All I can do is hold my tears in my throat. It's painful.
Mr. Cage returns and stands in the doorway. "You can go, Danny."
I stand up and wipe my eyes. So much for following my dad's advice. My dad, who isn't even alive anymore.
The halls are deserted and I head toward the eighth grade wing. My eyes are still wet and I'm not presentable to go to class. I duck into the bathroom, finding some little sixth grader in front of the mirror. Maybe he's a seventh grader, I don't know. He shouldn't be here. He should be on the other side of the school in their wing. They keep the eighth graders away from the younger kids. We're bad news, I guess.
"Do you have a smoke?" he asks me.
"Seriously?" I say to him.
He shrugs. He's got curly blonde hair. He wears a Pac-Man T-shirt. His fingernails are dirty.
"Get out of here," I bark. "Go back to nursery school."
The kid shoves his hands in his pockets and leaves. I lean against the bathroom wall and stare at the graffiti written on the stalls. Curse words, phone numbers of girls, but mostly it's this: OZZY RULES. LED ZEP FOREVER. JUDAS PRIEST. AC/DC. Like me, the kids in our school like rock and heavy metal, but that's not everybody and that's why you can also see things like GRAND MASTER FLASH. JUMP ON IT! RAP RULES. But you have to look hard because that stuff always gets crossed out.
I know I need to get back to class because I'll get in more trouble and then they might throw me out of school for a day. Not that I'd care. Stay home, sleep in, watch TV, ride my bike up to Luigi's for a slice of pizza, take a long ride through the woods, maybe out to Baskro, the man-made lake so deep, a couple of kids died there. Which I never understood because it's not like a sea monster is underneath the water, wrapping its tentacles around your legs and tugging you down to your death. Just swim to shore, for Christ's sake.
I close my eyes and think. Where is Richard Plimpton at the end of the day? I'm gonna get to the bottom of this crap. I'm gonna make the idiot go into Mr. Cage's office and confess.
Then I realize I need to get my brain in check. I can't get into any more trouble because I don't want to stay home tomorrow. It slipped my mind but, yeah, staying home would suck because there's a chance Harry might be there. He works bizarre hours and on his off time, he sometimes hangs out at our house. He's my mom's boyfriend and if there's one person on this planet that I absolutely hate, even more than stupid Richard Plimpton, it's him.
But I don't think about that jerk. First, I need to take care of the present situation. I leave the bathroom.
After school is over, I locate Richard near his locker. There isn't much to him. I don't mean that he's small or anything; he's actually taller than me. My problem is that I'm small. Not pathetic small, just short and wiry. No match for half the guys in my grade. It sucks. Thirteen and I haven't even grown yet. It's embarrassing. I wish my dad were around so I could ask him when he started to grow, but he's not and I'm not gonna ask my mom because that's just weird. I do have two assets: my attitude and my quickness. For the most part, I don't cower. I got that from my father's family. They were no cowards. They were greasers — walking around the school in leather jackets, chained wallets, and switchblades in their pockets. My second asset, I'm quick. I've had some situations where I've had to defend myself and one thing I can do is duck, dance, and run. My dad used to say I'd make a good boxer. "You've got natural foot work."
Richard is a coward. You can tell by the way he lopes around the school, head down, eyes darting, waiting for someone to jump him. It's not presentable and if I were friends with him still, I'd give him some pointers. But I'm not friends with him. And as of today, you can bet your fat butt, we're enemies to the death.
"Why'd you tell Mr. Cage that I beat you up and stuff?"
Richard turns and looks at me. We're not eyeball to eyeball because he's like five inches taller but he's still shaking like I'm gonna break him in two. If I weren't so pissed off, I'd find it sad.
"Why'd you do it?" I yell.
"Because ... because I had to."
"What are you talking about?"
Richard frowns. "I'm sorry, Danny. Jimmy Horak did it. And he made me tell that you did it. He said if I told anyone, then he'd kick my butt."
I'm confused. "Jimmy made you tell Mr. Cage that I messed you up?"
"I didn't mean to. They cornered me in the locker room and all. After it happened, I was just sitting on the floor, you know, sort of upset, trying to get my pants all straight." Richard shrugs and his voice drops a bit. "Jimmy was laughing with Ryan Gumlek and Brian Donnelly, and then Mr. Collins appeared." Mr. Collins is one of the gym teachers. He has really big ears.
"So what happened after that?" I say, leaning in closer.
"Mr. Collins came over, asked what all the commotion was, and Jimmy said, 'Danny Zelko just punched Richard three times and gave him a wedgie.' Which wasn't true. Jimmy did it. But he told Mr. Collins you did it and then you ran out the exit door."
"I'm still not following," I say. "Why'd you go along with the lie?"
Richard shakes his head. "Then Mr. Collins said he was going to find Mr. Cage and he left the locker room and Jimmy got in my face and threatened me and said that I better stick to the story. That you did it."
"So you just agreed to what they said?"
"What was I going to do?"
I slam Richard against the locker. People look at me, and I know I can get into trouble, but I don't care — even though I should. "You're a coward."
Richard nods and drops his head. "I know."
Oh, Christ. Now I feel bad for him. It must stink to be such a pitiful loser.
My mouth clenches and I suck on my teeth. "I'm not done with you," I growl, pointing my finger in his face.
I march down to Mr. Cage's office, not giving a rat's ass if I miss my bus. But he isn't around so I have to go home. Jimmy Horak lives in my neighborhood so I can go find him anytime I want. Still, he has that older brother, Mark. Mark Horak is psycho. I heard he broke a girl's arm at the bus stop once because she was sticking up for some quiet kid he was picking on.
I take the bus and when I get to my house, I see Harry's motorcycle parked in our driveway. It's black and shiny and slick, like an oversized scorpion. My mom's car is in front of it. She's supposed to be working at the beauty salon but sometimes she has the day off and they hang out together alone when my older sister and I are at school. They're probably drinking.
Suddenly my Richard Plimpton wedgie problem seems like nothing in comparison to my problem at home.
I enter the house and find my mother draped along the couch, a beer on the coffee table. "Mom?" I say but she's passed out. I hate when she gets like this. It's not like she's an alcoholic. She only drinks when she gets around Harry. When he's not here, she's usually busy moving around the house, picking things up, washing clothes, vacuuming — mom stuff. But she doesn't spend all her time like that. I mean, she's not my maid. She likes to do fun stuff too. We have Atari and my mom loves to play video games with me. Her favorite is Breakout, which I think is kind of stupid — it's just a rainbow brick wall of colors and you bounce a ball back and forth trying to break through the top and get rid of all the bricks — but she loves it and I like playing video games with her.
"Mom," I say again, shaking her arm.
She opens her eyes a little and frowns. "I'm sorry, Danny," then rolls over and goes back to sleep.
I want to shake her but she's my mom and I'm not going to shake her. I look around, across the living room to the dining area and kitchen, wondering where Harry is. Dead, I hope.
I head down the hall toward my room but halt immediately when Harry steps out of the bathroom in front of me.
"If it isn't the man of the house," Harry says.
He's holding a beer.
I want to slide by him but the hall is too narrow and Harry is too big. He's not fat, just muscular and thick, like a gorilla. He's hairy like one, too. I should turn around and leave the house, but this is my house and I should be able to go to my room.
"What?" I say.
Even though it's dim in the hallway, I can see his face warp into anger. He rocks a little because he's been drinking. My guess is he's been at it since breakfast.
I wait for him to step aside.
He doesn't. He's still rocking and he smiles a bit. "How was school?" "Fine."
Harry mimics. I try to walk by.
He steps in front of me.
"Cut it out," I yell.
Harry smirks. "I'm just playing with you. Don't be so sensitive."
That's what he always says, Don't be so sensitive. I don't know what my mom sees in him. He thinks he's all scary and cool with his dumb motorcycle but half the time he drives my mom's car or his puke-green beat up-tank from 1973 that makes gurgling noises when you turn it off. The guy is ugly, too. He's got one of those long faces, a wide mouth, and long narrow eyes with thick rubbery bags under them. His hair is dark, unkempt, thin. He always needs a shave. Yet, the women think he's hot stuff. A few weeks ago, when my mom was trimming my hair at her job, my mom's coworker, Peggy, said, "Oh, that Harry. I love his motorcycle!" And my mom and Peggy giggled.
"Can you let me by?" I ask Harry nicely this time, trying a different tactic. I need to be polite because his biggest gripe with me is that I'm not polite. My mom had a talk with me and said that I had to watch my attitude around Harry, that I needed to use my manners.
"Can you move?" I ask.
Harry doesn't. Just rocks.
"Can you let me by?" I say again, adding, "Please."
This time, he steps aside.
I move by him, as quick as I can, but for some reason, I trip and tumble to the floor. He didn't trip me, at least I didn't feel his foot, but I guess with my rush to get away from him, I went too fast. I land face-first on the carpet and I can feel the rug burn against my jaw.
Harry laughs loudly, bending down toward me, using his hand to steady himself against the wall. "You okay, Danielle?"
I hate, hate, hate when he calls me Danielle. It makes my head crack and my blood stiffen, but my jaw hurts too much to tell him off.
I hear Harry slurp his beer.
The door at the end of the hall opens and I see my older sister, Lisa. She looks at us both, ducks back into her room, and shuts the door.
I get up from the floor and glare at Harry. I really want to tell him off but the last time I stuck up for myself when he was drunk and called me Danielle, he threatened to knock me "into next week." He wears heavy black motorcycle boots that could kill a small cat with one strike. I told my mom that he calls me Danielle and that he threatened to hit me but she said that Harry wouldn't hit me and boys and men do that — call each other girl names. I told her Dad never called me girl names and she said I needed to stop comparing Harry to my dad and if it bothered me so much, why didn't I just ask Harry to stop calling me Danielle? I told her, "I tried but he threatened to knock me into next week so why don't you do it? You're the mom." And she said she had a headache and I needed to leave her alone.
Harry grunts, hiccups, and stumbles away from me, down the hall. I go into my room and slam the door, locking it, and switching on my stereo. I've got the station on WCAU out of Philadelphia and Eddy Grant sings "Electric Avenue." I turn it up, loud, so loud that my window starts rattling.
Immediately, there's banging at my door.
"Danny! Danny!" It's Lisa.
I let her in. She goes right to the stereo and snaps it off.
"What?" she hisses. "Did you take your stupid pills today?"
I lock the door again.
"Danny, they're drinking. You know how Harry gets with you when he's drinking."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Seven Ways to Get Rid of Harry"
Copyright © 2019 Jen Conley.
Excerpted by permission of Down & Out Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Seven Ways to Get Rid of Harry,
About the Author,
Also by the Author,