Fourteen-year-old Stark McClellan (nicknamed Stick because he's tall and thin) is bullied for being "deformed" – he was born with only one ear. His older brother Bosten is always there to defend Stick. But the boys can't defend one another from their abusive parents.
When Stick realizes Bosten is gay, he knows that to survive his father's anger, Bosten must leave home. Stick has to find his brother, or he will never feel whole again. In his search, he will encounter good people, bad people, and people who are simply indifferent to kids from the wrong side of the tracks. But he never loses hope of finding love – and his brother.
About the Author
Andrew Smith is the author of Ghost Medicine and The Marbury Lens, both of which were named American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults. He is also the author of In the Path of Falling Objects. In addition to writing, he teaches high school advanced placement classes and coaches rugby. He lives in Southern California with his family, in a rural location in the mountains.
Read an Excerpt
By Andrew Smith
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2011 Andrew Smith
All rights reserved.
saint fillan's room
What would you hear if my words could make sounds?
And if they did, what music would I write for you?
They call me Stick.
* * *
I am six feet tall, an inch taller than my brother, Bosten, who is in eleventh grade.
I'm thirteen, and a stick.
* * *
My real first name is Stark, which, in my opinion, is worse than being called Stick. It was my great-grandfather's name, and I suppose my parents were all into connecting with our roots or something when they decided to put it on me. My great-grandstick lived and died in Ireland and never once set eyes on me in his entire life. But I'm pretty sure he'd call me Stick, too, if he ever had.
A lot of times, after people learn my name, they'll say things like, "Oh. What an unusual name," which, to me, sounds the same as, "Look at that poor, deformed boy."
And when they learn that I don't care to be called Stark, they'll offer some consolation.
"I'll bet you come to like that name when you're grown up."
The only things I can think of that people like more after they grow up are alcohol and cigarettes.
My parents smoke all the time.
I am as unremarkable as canned green beans.
It bothers me when people stare at me. Most of the time, they can't help doing it on account of my missing right ear.
Besides that, with first names like ours, my brother and I may just as well walk around waving signs saying LOOK AT US. At least where we grew up, in Washington State, boys were all pretty much expected to have names like "Chip" or "Robert."
But not Bosten and Stark McClellan.
* * *
The world sounds different to me than it does to anyone else.
Pretty much all of the time, it sounds like this.
* * *
Half my head is quiet.
I was born this way.
Most people don't notice it right away, but once they do, I see their faces; I watch how they'll move around toward that side — the one with the missing part — so they can see what's wrong with me.
So, here. Look at me.
* * *
When you see me at first, I look like just another teenage boy, only too tall and too skinny. Square on, staring into my headlights, and you're probably going to think I look nice, a handsome kid, even — green eyes, brown hair, a relaxed kind of face (from not smiling too much, probably). But then get around to that side, and you see it. I have what looks like the outline of a normal boy's ear, but it's pressed down into the flesh, squashed like potter's clay. No hole — a canal, they call it.
Nothing gets into my head that way.
I can't easily hide it because my dad won't let me grow my hair long. He yells at me if I wear a hat indoors. He says there's nothing wrong with me.
But I'm ugly.
You see what I'm doing, don't you? I am making you hear me.
The way hear the world.
But I won't do it too much, I promise.
I know what it can do to you.
I know what it can do to you to not have that hole there.
Humans need that hole, so things can get out.
Things get into my head and they bounce around and around until they find a way out.
My mother never talks about my ear. She hardly ever talks to me at all.
I believe she is sad, horrified. I think she blames herself.
Mostly, I think she wishes I was never born.
On a Friday afternoon in March, everything started changing.
* * *
Next to Bosten, my best friend was Emily Lohman. She was in eighth grade, too, and she was the only kid I knew who never made fun of me.
Her perfection amazed me.
* * *
It was the end of winter.
We lived by the sea.
When Bosten was younger, the three of us would walk from my parents' house down to the beach. We'd go beneath the pier and tip over rocks, catching crabs that we'd bring home in coffee cans dotted with rusty scabs; and then wonder at how they'd die so quickly in our care.
At sixteen, Bosten said he was too old to hunt for crabs with me and Emily anymore. I believed he still wanted to, sometimes, but there were other pressures on him now, other things my brother was looking for.
He was wild and rebellious, like a horse that would rather die than submit to being ridden. He could make me laugh, too. Real laughter that tickled me inside and made my eyes wet. And over the years, Bosten got too many bloody noses by sticking up for me.
I never cared about being picked on even a fraction of how much I cared about seeing my brother take a beating on my behalf.
There is something in the late winter gray of the Washington sky that makes you feel wet inside, buried under cold rotting leaves, like you can't ever get dry and warm.
My jeans and boots were soaked with seawater. Somehow, grains of sand had migrated inside my socks, settling in, between my numb toes.
Coming home with wet feet always meant trouble from Mom. I was already devising a plan to stop somewhere in the woods so I could throw away my socks.
"I hate winter," Emily said.
She walked on my left side; never said anything about that habit. We headed north, away from the pier, the black, sawtoothed water of the Puget Sound pushing me toward her whenever I had to escape the occasional wash of the sea.
"So do I." I watched as my words turned into fog in front of my face. "Here's a good one."
A fat, dark purple crab with yellow claws spidered out onto the muddy sand from between two jagged lava boulders.
There is a trick to catching crabs. If they see you, they will usually run and wedge themselves in impossible cracks between the rocks. And you need to get them quick, confidently, from behind and above, at a perfect angle of attack.
My angle of attack was off that day.
The crab pinched right into the tender flesh that webbed between my thumb and first finger.
I yelped like a Chihuahua with a stepped-on paw and flailed my hand.
The crab went airborne toward the water.
I said, "Shit!"
Then I laughed, too.
She was the only person, besides Bosten, that I was never ashamed about anything in front of.
We walked across a jagged field of gray and white driftwood, toward a line of dark trees where Bosten and his best friend, Paul Buckley, had built a plywood fort with me two summers before. The fort was half-buried in the ground, a subterranean bunker that protected us from everything we imagined was out there.
It began to rain.
Emily tipped her coffee can at the water's edge.
"I'm letting them go," she said.
We only had two. But they were big ones.
I zipped my jacket all the way up and pulled the wool cap down on my head until it made a horizon of black just at the top of my eyes.
I sighed. "Let's get under the trees, Em. My mom ..."
"It wasn't supposed to rain today."
"Welcome to winter."
We hid in the fort, next to each other on a stolen redwood picnic bench, and I could feel the tap-tapping of the rain through the damp wood as I sat on my hands to make them warm.
It was Friday afternoon. There is a kind of drunken happiness that kids our age feel on Friday afternoons.
I needed to wipe my nose, and every so often the sound of the rain encircled me. And I listened.
"So. Next year. High school. You ever think about that, Stick?"
Most of the kids around Point No Point dreamed of things like growing up or places like California.
I sighed. "I won't have any friends. I'll be beaten up regularly."
Emily laughed. She knew I wasn't really afraid. "You need to learn how to fight."
I couldn't hear what she said, because of the rain and how we sat. It sounded like something about burning and night.
"If you just beat up one of those key guys, nobody would ever give you crap again," she said. "Look at you, Stick. You're the tallest kid in eighth grade."
"You keep a list of key guys?"
I shifted. My hand got a splinter in it.
She never made me nervous.
"I think I need to get home. Bosten and me are going to the basketball game."
"That's what I mean," she said. "You should play basketball. I've seen you play."
"I'm no good."
"Don't be dumb."
"Want to come with us?" She smiled. She had a way of smiling that said no musically.
Emily didn't like going to high school games. And Bosten and I never played sports on teams with other kids, but we'd go see the games because Paul was on the team.
I began unlashing the rawhide ties on my boots.
"I need to throw away my socks," I explained.
She knew what my mother was like at times.
My feet were pale. They looked exposed and startled, like those salamanders without eyes you find living in the permanent night of sunless caves. And when I leaned forward to stretch that second sock away from my skin, Emily did something that would have made me run and scream in anger if it had been anyone else but her — or Bosten.
She pushed the edge of my cap up with the tips of two fingers and touched my ear.
The place on the side of my head where a normal boy's ear would be.
She'd never done that before.
And when I jerked like I'd been shot, she pulled her hand away and quickly said, "Sorry."
"What are you doing?" I couldn't help sounding annoyed. People don't touch me. I could feel it, the sound came around the other side and it mixed with the lightness of her fingertips and swirled, trapped, inside my head.
It made me shake.
"I'm sorry, Stick. I just —"
I tied my boots so tight they hurt my bare feet.
I couldn't look at her; I was too embarrassed.
And she was perfect.
* * *
There was nothing between me and Emily that wasn't held steady by the anchor of our friendship.
I didn't think about girls the way other boys did. I didn't know that either of us was ready for that. We liked catching crabs and hiding in Bosten's fort.
Kids in eighth grade liked nipping at you. Worse than cornered crabs, even if you weren't missing any parts.
And for some reason, Emily wasn't like that. She never put up with the kids with claws.
But that day, Emily planted a miracle in me.
"What are you all smiles about?" Bosten whispered. His eyes squinted when he wanted to joke around or play tricks on someone.
I didn't realize I had been smiling. I'm sure it wouldn't look like a smile to anyone else but my brother.
He glanced back over his shoulder. He was looking for Mom. I stood, shivering and wet, barefoot in the mudroom. Bosten's cheeks were red. He skated toward me across the polished floor in his thick white socks.
"I should have come in the secret way. It was too muddy, though."
"That's why you're happy?"
"No. Don't be dumb, Bosten."
I took off my beanie. It dripped in my hand.
We called the storm doors on the side of the house our secret way into the basement. Sometimes, on summer nights, we would escape through them. We would only come back when the sky began to lighten.
Bosten said it was like being vampires, and I always liked that.
"Come on," he said.
We snuck down the dark and narrow stairs to the basement.
They creaked, no matter how softly we'd step, but she didn't hear us.
I was the only one in our family whose bedroom was down there.
"Take your clothes off. I'll see if I can put them in the dryer without her busting me."
Bosten carried my wet things, all wadded up in a heavy and twisted mass, across the open expanse of the basement's concrete floor from my bedroom to the little laundry alcove beneath the staircase.
I could smell the cigarette smoke drifting down from above us.
* * *
"Can I use the car tonight to take Sticker to the game, Dad?"
Whenever Bosten called me Sticker, I knew he was planning on doing something crazy. It was our code, the only thing Mom and Dad hadn't figured out yet.
We had finished dinner. It was my job to clear the dishes from the table.
"Not the Pontiac. The Toyota." Dad smoked a cigarette and still wore his tie. The Pontiac was the work car, for his realty clients.
Mom said, "Which one of you boys was using the dryer downstairs?" She knew it was me.
She placed a lit cigarette in the ashtray beside her napkin.
She was not happy.
I looked at Bosten.
He said, "I did."
"No." I shook my head. "It's my things. I got wet walking home after school with Emily. Bosten just put them in the dryer for me."
My father exhaled smoke through his nostrils.
"Now there's dirt in the dryer." Mom looked disappointed. This was how she usually began tirades.
"It's a waste of electricity," Dad said.
I turned on the water and rinsed our plates so I couldn't hear. But some sounds don't get killed easily.
"I don't work seven days a week ..."
I felt vibrations of footsteps on the floor coming up through my legs. I didn't turn around. It was better to play deaf sometimes.
My mother reached over and shut off the water. Then she put a white spray bottle of 409 and a rag on the counter beside my hand.
She held her cigarette backwards between her index and middle fingers. I liked how she did that. I always thought if I ever smoked that I would practice holding a cigarette like that, too.
"You'll have to clean out the dryer before Bosten and you can go to the game."
"Okay," I said. "Sorry."
"Don't do that again." Her voice was tough, cold, like leftover meat.
"Maybe they don't need to go," my dad said. "They're both big enough that we shouldn't have to be treating them like goddamned babies all the time."
Bosten began to plead, "But, Dad ... Paul's playing. It's Friday night."
My dad inhaled. "You're not allowed to go anywhere else. I'll be checking on you two."
"We're just going to Crazy Eric's with Paul after the game. And his mom and dad," Bosten added.
I knew he was lying. Crazy Eric's was the burger place where the high school kids hung out. I knew we weren't going there.
My mom grabbed my shoulder, like she didn't think I was listening.
"And do something with your wet things," she said.
Mom and Dad liked everything to be perfect.
* * *
My wet clothes lay on the floor in front of the open dryer, scattered. I shook them out, carried them into my room to find corners, shelves, anywhere I could hang them so they'd dry. So they wouldn't make her mad at me.
The spot on the floor where they'd been dropped was covered with a cold, wet mark. I thought it looked like a map of Greenland.
I had to kneel down in the middle of it to clean the dryer.
There were dark rings on the knees of my jeans where they'd gotten wet on the floor, and I smelled like the bathroom at a gas station. The 409 made me sneeze when I put my head inside the dryer to wipe it down. I couldn't see any dirt in it, but I cleaned it anyway.
"Want any help?" Bosten stood at my bedroom door and watched.
I brushed off my knees and looked apologetically at my brother. I didn't want to make him late.
"You need to change your pants?"
"It's water, not piss."
Bosten smiled. "Okay. It'll dry. I'll crank the heater on you."
* * *
In the dark, with the driver's door open and his feet hanging out in the gravel on the side of Pilot Point Road, Bosten bent backwards with his head up beneath the dashboard and grunted.
I knew what he was doing.
We always did it.
It was the exact distance from home as a round-trip to his school.
And I couldn't hear the sound at all, but knew by the way Bosten's shoulders tensed and then relaxed that he had slipped the odometer cable out from the back of the dashboard.
We were free.
Dad never knew where we went after Bosten found out how easy it was to rig the car. The only risks were that my brother had no way of telling how fast we were going, because the speedometer would sit flat, and, sometimes, we'd forget to reconnect it and one of us would have to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night and slip the cable back into place.
Bosten climbed back into the driver's seat, slammed his door, and started the Toyota. Then he leaned all the way across the gear shift and said, "Let's rip it up, Stick."
He pulled a U-turn right across the wet highway and we headed back toward the high school, David H. Wilson Senior High.
I don't have any idea who David H. Wilson was.
Bosten grinned and reached his hand down under the seat between his legs.
"Look what I found."
He pulled up something thick and heavy, and dropped it in my lap.
"Where did you get this?" I asked.
Bosten slapped the steering wheel and laughed, loud. "I found it in the Pontiac. It's Dad's."
There was something exciting and terrifying at the same time in holding on to the cool slickness of a Penthouse magazine. One that belonged to our father.
I opened it and flipped through the pages.
I gulped. My throat felt tight. "Yeah."
Bosten laughed again, and he kept looking over at the magazine in my lap as he drove.
My hands shook and my mouth hung open. I thumbed the glossy images back and forth, one after another. They showed everything, without shame, and the pictures were so big.
Excerpted from Stick by Andrew Smith. Copyright © 2011 Andrew Smith. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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
First: saint fillan's room,
Dad and Mom,
Dad and Mom,
Evan and Kim,
Other books by Andrew Smith,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When I read STICK I didn't know what to expect. I had hints. I knew it was going to be a difficult book to digest. Then again, if it wasn't, it wouldn't have been written by Andrew Smith. So many issues are covered within this novel. What's so-called normal and what's not, is one of the biggest for Stick. He is faced with the definition of "normal" the entire novel. Are all of these things in his life "normal" just because they have been present in his life? There is so much happening in Stick's life in such a short time. There's a girl. Emily. She is Stick's best friend. They do everything together. And, there's his brother, Bosten. They used to do everything together but he's gotten older and has strayed off some. In Stick's life there couldn't be two more important people than Bosten and Emily. They mean the world to him. This story is about two brothers and their love for each other. The struggles they go through, the mistakes they make. Learning how to let go and stand up for yourself. Doing the right things. Doing the wrong things. Loving yourself and loving someone else. And a very long journey to find a way back home. Andrew makes you love the characters in his books, you feel what they do, you actually understand what they are going through. There were plenty of times that I had tears, times that I was shouting and a couple times I would do a fist pump in the air and say "hell-yeah". I was in it with both boys from the beginning and I was on their side. I felt their pain and joy. I also cried their tears. There were times I would close my eyes and vision an ocean in California just like where Stick learned to surf. I would even imagine the taste of Sex Wax and how wonderful the smell would be. I still listen to the playlist when I get lonely and want to visit the characters. Andrew has a writing style that is so very unique even though everyone of his books are different from one another. I think what links them all together is the realness of them. For me, it's the wondering "what part of this is real and what part is fiction". I've told several folks that you could give me 10 books with no labels and I would be able to pick out an Andrew Smith book every time. Just by his writing style. No one could duplicate him. It takes a lot of heart and courage to put parts of your own life into words and make that into a story. I admire anyone that can do that. It seems as though Andrew just keeps rocking them out.
A while ago, I received an email, asking to be apart of the cover reveal for STICK. And now, the book is here and published and in stores and being read. Time flies. About a year ago, I got my first taste of Andrew Smith. His novel THE MARBURY LENS was sorta crazy-I think in my review I said something along the lines of, "Andrew Smith writes about rape and dismemberment, and he doesn't make you feel awkward AT ALL." I was totally being honest. I was talking about Andrew's level of awesome with one of my friends, and he said something like, "He stands out among cookie cutter writers." And that's true, too. Andrew Smith's books are all these different things, and I absolutely love them. In STICK, Stark McClellan is missing some things. He does not have a girlfriend, he does not have a loving family, and he does not have a left ear (or was it right?). What he does have is a gay brother, Bosten, and a gut feeling that he needs to escape from the tight clutches of his abusive father before he finds out. Bosten leaves, and rightly so, but he left Stark ("Stick") behind. STICK is about a boy who wants something so bad, more than anything in the universe. So, this book? Was written in this cool little way. Because Stick is missing one ear, he hears things different. Words travel slower. And Andrew Smith shows the reader this on the page, through funky formatting. I wouldn't call it verse or prose, it's just. different. Much like the story itself. Second to the writing, the characters and their relationships with each other are probably the best thing about STICK. Andrew Smith can write about brotherhood dynamics better than anyone I know, and I got so immersed in the story I felt like they were my brothers and I was on this epic journey with them. STICK really just blew my mind. It's different. It's unlike anything you've ever read before. It's Andrew Smith.
Fourteen-year-old Stark ¿Stick¿ McClellan¿s life revolves around his older brother Bosten. Stick is tall, awkward and was born with only one ear. He¿s bullied at school, made to feel ugly and useless by his abusive parents, and his only friend at school is Emily, a girl who sees him for who and what he really is. As Stick does his best to make it through eighth grade, his real struggles happen at home. His parents are strict and often abusive to both he and his brother. When Stick¿s father learns that Bosten is gay and kicks him out of the house, Stick leaves home to find his brother, his only savior. Without Bosten, Stick¿s life would be completely unbearable.This book grabbed me on the first page and wouldn¿t let go. Mr. Smith is an expert at crafting realistic characters with unique voices and in this case, his writing style is perfectly tailored to putting the reader inside Stick¿s head. I fell in love with both Stick and Bosten and wanted nothing but the best for both of them. There were many times when I had to put the book down and collect myself; it is that powerful. The book is divided into three parts, and while the first two flow well and really drive the story forward, I felt the third part was a bit much. Once Bosten leaves home, the events that took place seemed to almost be a little extreme and rushed. With that being said, it in no way ruined the novel for me. The book does contain cursing, sexual situations and scenes of abuse which may bother more sensitive readers.Stick is a compelling novel about the power of brotherly love, abuse and finding your place in a cruel world. I¿ll rush right out and buy a permanent copy for my bookshelf and I would recommend you do the same.(Review based on an Advanced Reader¿s Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley)
Intrigued by the 5-stars rating readers were giving Stick, I bought the ebook and started almost immediately. Honestly, I enjoyed reading Andrew Smith's way of telling the story. Somehow, perhaps I was expecting too much, the oomph did not really start for me. Still, I have to admit that Smith did get me engaged on the characters.This is a book more on Stark than on his gay brother, Bosten. Somehow, some parts were not made clear, but perhaps they should have stayed that way. For example, when did problem between Bosten and his dad start? Why was there a separation? Why was Aunt Dahlia so nice to the kids (because she did not have one of her own)? Why Kim again, when Stick was sticking with Emily? What happened on the night Bosten took off? What happened during the gunshots?The book was not that horrific as I was made to expect. Still, it was a good story.
This book def. Pulls at my heart and was amazing. I loved reading it. I could not put it down and I loved the characters and what happened, why and what the boys become in the end. It shows what a bond family, and friends can and should have even through the toughest of time! I would recomend this book. It was wonderfully writen and will always hold a special spot in my heart.
A good read that's interesting up until the last 1/3, where it ends up feeling rushed, and it also falls apart. Overall, enjoyable to read but somewhat forgettable.
Read this book after I enjoyed Andrew Smith's Grasshopper jungle and really enjoyed this one also. Great novel.
Really? Gay boo? Gays are humans to!!!!! Get a life!!!!!! #noh8 wow. How rude. Low class.
This was a wonderful book of how the soul survives in these young abused brothers. They do not survive unscathed yet you leave wanting more about the future of Stark and Boston. Could not put it down, I loved how the chatacters were so well written.
The entire plot had me from page one. It was unique and very realistic, exactly what I expect from Smith
Fourteen-year-old Stark "Stick" McClellan's life revolves around his older brother Bosten. Stick is tall, awkward and was born with only one ear. He's bullied at school, made to feel ugly and useless by his abusive parents, and his only friend at school is Emily, a girl who sees him for who and what he really is. As Stick does his best to make it through eighth grade, his real struggles happen at home. His parents are strict and often abusive to both he and his brother. When Stick's father learns that Bosten is gay and kicks him out of the house, Stick leaves home to find his brother, his only savior. Without Bosten, Stick's life would be completely unbearable. This book grabbed me on the first page and wouldn't let go. Mr. Smith is an expert at crafting realistic characters with unique voices and in this case, his writing style is perfectly tailored to putting the reader inside Stick's head. I fell in love with both Stick and Bosten and wanted nothing but the best for both of them. There were many times when I had to put the book down and collect myself; it is that powerful. The book is divided into three parts, and while the first two flow well and really drive the story forward, I felt the third part was a bit much. Once Bosten leaves home, the events that took place seemed to almost be a little extreme and rushed. With that being said, it in no way ruined the novel for me. The book does contain cursing, sexual situations and scenes of abuse which may bother more sensitive readers. Stick is a compelling novel about the power of brotherly love, abuse and finding your place in a cruel world. I'll rush right out and buy a permanent copy for my bookshelf and I would recommend you do the same. (Review based on an Advanced Reader's Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley)
This is a GAY book, people!!!!