Sticks & Stones

Sticks & Stones

by Abby Cooper


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250115263
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 07/03/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 82,269
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 7.65(h) x 0.85(d)
Age Range: 10 - 12 Years

About the Author

Abby Cooper, a former teacher and school librarian, lives in Minnesota with her miniature poodle, Louis, and a whole bunch of books. Sticks & Stones is her first novel.

Read an Excerpt

Sticks & Stones

By Abby Cooper

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2016 Abby Cooper
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-30289-4



Some people don't think that one word can make a difference.

They're wrong.

Sure, some words need to be around other words to make sense. They need to hang out together in a book or a song or a text message, or else you're stuck wrinkling your nose like HUH? That doesn't make any sense.

But some words don't need others. They have big-time serious meaning all by themselves.

I knew that better than anyone.

Like when it came to talking about me going to middle school this year. Mom said it would be different. Dr. Patel said it would be challenging. Dad said it would be fine.

They just needed one word each to sum up what they thought a whole year would be like ... and, so far, they were right.

One word nobody used, though? Mysterious.

And right now, that was the most important word of all.

I reached into my pocket and dug around until I found the folded blue paper again. Maybe it was a letter from a secret admirer or a gift certificate to Soup Palace, otherwise known as the Best Place on Earth.

Maybe it was nothing at all.

But it had to be something. It had my name on the front, after all, and was taped to my locker. I was dying to open it, but even if I found a way to read it sneakily, Ms. Sigafiss would probably see me and read it to everyone or rip it up or something. And that was if she was in a good mood.

I looked around the room, thinking about words.





They were just words, but they could change my whole life.

In fact, they already had.



If there was one person who could make me forget about words and mysterious notes for a second, it was Liam. Dumb, beautiful, horrible, amazing Liam. I may have been a little confused about how I felt, but the one thing I knew for sure was that one quick look into his greenish-brownish eyeballs as he entered the classroom made me completely forget everything. It also made my heart get all lurchy and poundy, which I seriously did not appreciate. Was this feeling really necessary every single time I saw him? I pulled my pink polka-dot scarf up over my face before anyone could see the major redness that usually followed lurchy heart. Not a good look for school.

Like I had done the past few days, I tried my very hardest to think about something un-lurchworthy. Sitting in Chicago traffic when we go to Dr. Patel's. Actually being at Dr. Patel's. This class. Boring, boring, boring. Perfect.

But then Jeg shot me a sideways glance from the seat next to me and Liam started chatting with Snotty Ami and my heart lurched all over again, big-time, and not in the overly excited kind of way. More like in the I-really-don't-like-this-one-bit kind of way.

I returned Jeg's look. "This stinks," I whispered.

"Totally," she said.

"Quiet!" Ms. Sigafiss rapped on her desk with a ruler.

She usually scared the bejeebers out of me, but at this moment she was my hero. Anyone who could make Liam and Snotty Ami stop talking to each other was automatically an awesome person, even if that person always wore frilly clothes and was permanently cranky.

"For the last ten minutes of class, please take out the assignment you began yesterday and continue working," she said.

I picked up my pencil and tried my hardest to concentrate on the paper in front of me, but it was way less blue and mysterious than the paper I really wanted to look at. And it was much less greenish-brownish than those awesome/evil eyeballs of Liam's that I wanted to look at but probably shouldn't look at.

Just write, I told myself. You have to. Just do it already.

So, finally, I did.

Hey, Future Self:

It's currently the first Thursday of sixth grade, and I'm sitting here in English class trying to write this, but I can't stop thinking about that folded paper. I wish I had noticed it sooner and had time to open it before class started because now there's nothing I can do and I might explode if I don't find out what it says soon. But no, I have to be patient and wait. And I will. (I'll definitely try my best to wait, at least. I think that should totally count for something.)

I'm supposed to write my goals for the year in this letter, and I think Ms. Sigafiss probably means English class goals, like read five thousand books and be a good listener and put all my commas in the right places, school stuff like that.

I definitely care about that stuff — reading and listening and commas — but it's not everything. So here are my actual goals:

1. Stop thinking about the folded paper until I can finally open it after class.

2. Stop obsessing over Liam, because he is done liking me.

3. Instead, obsess over boys like Nice Andy who do seem to like me.

4. Stop thinking about the folded blue paper until it's time to open it. (But for real this time, because I totally didn't stop the first time I told myself to stop. Have you stopped by now?)

Also, Future Me, I'm dying to know — is Jeg still your best friend? Has Dad spoken to you recently about anything that actually matters? Did Dr. Patel ever find a cure? Did you pass sixth grade? You better have. We are not going to be here two years in a row. We're just not. No pressure.

From, September Self

P.S.: Sooo, what was that little blue paper all about??

* * *

The bell rang right as I finished my letter. Without wasting a second, I stuck my notebook in my purse, jumped out of my seat, scurried past Liam and his awesome/evil eyeballs, and sped right out into the hall.

Finally. I'd made it through class, and now it was finally, finally time. It felt like I had been waiting my whole twelve years of life for this, not just the past forty-five minutes, which was how long it had actually been since I'd first yanked the paper off my locker right as the you're-totally-going-to-be- late bell rang.

I took a ginormous deep breath, reached into my pocket, pulled out the blue paper, and opened it up.

Holy. High. Heels.



Before I could read a word, someone came up behind me and snatched the paper right out of my hands.

"Excuse you," Jeg said with a smile. "What happened to reading that with your BFF?"


"I was waiting for you! I was just opening it so it would be ready by the time you finished talking to everybody and got out here." Jeg was friends with everyone, but she was best friends with me. We had the necklaces to prove it and everything.

"Let's open it in the bathroom," she said. "You never know who could be watching and listening out here. It could be dangerous."

I rolled my eyes at her. "You're killing me," I said. Actually, the hallway was killing me. It was jam-packed and everyone walked like they were trying to take forever. We'd never make it to the bathroom at this rate.

"Why is everyone walking so slowly?" I asked.

"Um, hello ..." Jeg gestured toward the walls.



The hallway walls, normally very plain and white and boring, had been covered from floor to ceiling with all kinds of banners and posters advertising the sixth-grade trip we'd take later in the year. It wasn't till February, but everybody knew that it was a huge deal. After lots of competitions, one Explorer Leader would be chosen out of everybody in the grade. That person would be the boss of the trip and basically be famous for the rest of forever.

Jeg and I kept walking. We passed posters with photos of past Explorer Leaders, and everyone was stopping to take a look. Last year was Cody, who was grinning widely, clutching his official Explorer Leader certificate. The year before was Jordan, wearing a crown made out of leaves and beaming like she was Miss America. People had written messages on the posters around their faces. There were tons and tons of them. Even if I had the whole day to stand around and read, I would never have time to finish.

Cody = best E.L. EVER!!!

Jord, you did amazing.

Best trip ever! Thanks Gabriela, you rule

On and on it went until we came to the poster for our class.

Except for an outline of a head and neck with a big question mark in the middle, the poster was totally blank. People were talking in loud, excited voices and straining their necks to have the best view of the empty sign.

"This is all yours, girl!" Lindsey said to Snotty Ami.

"I wonder who it will be," a guy I didn't know said to a girl I didn't know.

Everywhere I turned, people were buzzing about the posters, the trip, and how awesome and important the Explorer Leader was. The whole thing made me weirdly nervous. Maybe it was just because of all the people in the hall. The hallways in elementary school were never this crowded. There was always plenty of room to walk around and, you know, breathe. Here, there were like triple the people. Sometimes it was exciting, but most of the time I just felt squished.

"C'mon," Jeg said, pulling me by the arm. "Nobody will be in the bathroom right now. We can come back and look more later."

I happily let myself be dragged away. Jeg always knew what I wanted without me having to tell her.

But only a minute later, just as I was finally about to read the paper, Snotty Ami pranced into the bathroom like she owned the place. Her hair — long, wavy, and the perfect shade of Little Mermaid red — lay flat against the little bumps poking out of her chest.

"Jeggie!" she said. "I thought I saw you come in here." Then she said, "Oh, hey, Elyse," in a much less excited voice.

"Hi, Ami." I tried not to notice how Jeg had turned her attention to the mirror. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her grab a few things from her purse — makeup things. I had never seen her carry makeup things around before, and especially not use them. Before my brain could fully understand what was happening, she had smeared on a thick layer of red lipstick (since when did Jeg like lipstick?) and was starting to douse her face in shimmery gold glitter.

"Jeggie, you look fab," Snotty Ami said. "But your hair would be way cuter without those nasty pink streaks. It's such a pretty black and we can hardly even see it. We should totes go to the salon together sometime and take care of it."

"Totes," Jeg said.

I gave her a look, but she was staring at her strappy sandals like they were more interesting than my mysterious paper. Did she think I'd be mad to hear her talking like Snotty Ami? I wasn't, really. I just had a stomach that suddenly felt a little twisty.

Snotty Ami smiled snottily. "I'm gonna go look at Explorer Leader stuff. Wanna come, Jeggie?"

"I, um ..." Jeg looked from me to Snotty Ami and back again. "I mean, would you mind, Elyse? Or you could come with us."

"But what about ..." I paused as Snotty Ami leaned in. I swear, she and her posse (Jeg and I call them the Loud Crowd) have some kind of radar when you're about to tell a secret. Well, she wasn't going to know about this. "That thing?" I whispered. "That we were going to discuss? Here? Now?"

"Yeah, but I'll hurry, I promise. I'll just go peek at the stuff in the hall with Ami and then come right back, okay?"

"Um, okay, I guess."

Snotty Ami linked her arm through Jeg's.

"Seriously, I'll be right back," Jeg said to me. Then she winked, like she knew we still had a very important secret. Like she hadn't forgotten. Like everything was going to be okay and this was just temporary makeup-induced weirdness. Like her makeup, this would wear off by the end of the day.

"Later, dork!" Snotty Ami laughed, and practically pushed Jeg out the door.

I scratched my arm through my sleeve. It itched something major. And made me feel majorly pathetic, too. Maybe I was a little pathetic.

Jeg was the one who was supposed to protect me from words like dork, to stop the itching before it happened. But she said she'd come back, so she'd come back, and she'd help make it better.

My knees didn't seem to believe that, though. They felt wobbly, like they couldn't hold my legs up anymore, so I plopped down on a corner of the bathroom bench and scrunched myself up into a little ball. I leaned my head back against the cold tile and let out a long breath. Maybe Jeg couldn't help being weird. If Snotty Ami decided I was cool all of a sudden, I bet I would start acting weird, too.

I realized I was still clutching the paper, so I gently opened my fist and unfolded it. Sorry, Jeg. I'd tell her what it said when we chatted online after school.

Hi Elyse,

the inside said in teeny tiny typed letters.

Hello, paper.

I know who you are, and I know what you're dealing with. I want to help.

I blinked once. Twice. Then three times. Then a thousand times.

If you're ready for a change, show me by attending the meeting for Explorer Leader hopefuls tomorrow night. You'd make a great leader, you know ... and giving it a shot would be good for you, too.

That was how it ended. No signature, no contact info, no nothing. I blinked about a zillion more times, and when I finally opened my eyes for real, the paper was still there.

Well, then. So much for a secret admirer or a gift certificate to the Best Place on Earth. (A coupon would have also been nice.)

And yet, interesting.

I stuffed the note back in my pocket, a gazillion thoughts flying through my brain. Who wrote this? And when? And why?

When I'd first heard about Explorer Leader, my brain had said a big No way. It said, Stay under the radar, Elyse. You don't need all hundred and fifty sixth graders knowing who you are. But did this mysterious note have a point? It seemed like people usually loved the Explorer Leader and gave that person tons and tons of compliments. If I was the Explorer Leader, they'd probably write lots of good words on that blank poster, and I could read them again and again for the rest of forever. I could get a copy and hang it in my room. Take it on trips. Take it to college. Take it everywhere. Forever.

I sighed, still kinda bummed that Jeg had missed this. She probably just couldn't get out of Snotty Ami's snotty grasp in time. Plus, Jeg was always running late. Just last week, her cousins were in town from China and she was late meeting them for dinner. They had come from another country. And she had come from the mall.

So. Timeliness was not her specialty. They forgave her. I would, too. I always did.

But there was someone else out there who really cared about me. And knew about me. And didn't want me to feel like a dork ever again.

And that person was someone I wanted to know.



There was one more thing I had to do before I left the bathroom.

No, not that. Nobody actually uses the bathroom in middle school.

Instead, I rolled my sleeve up to my elbow, and there it was, as expected: D-O-R-K. The bold, black word itched more than a thousand mosquito bites. I gave it a long scratch. Ahhh. Scratching felt good, but not good enough. Never good enough.

I took a big deep breath, trying to remember the good old days when getting itchy wasn't a problem. Maybe those days had never even existed for me. According to Mom and Dad, we first saw Dr. Patel when I was barely a week old. My regular doctor told them to make the drive from Indiana to Chicago to see him because he was a specialist, and even though I was just a baby who only knew how to poop and spit and burp and sleep, I was already a person who needed a special doctor.

The problem was that I was a beautiful baby, at least according to the doctor who helped Mom give birth to me. Normally that wouldn't be a bad thing, but when they saw BEAUTIFUL appear on my little baby arm moments after he said it in the delivery room, everybody was pretty freaked out. After all, babies are just supposed to be beautiful, not have the word plastered on their arms like a weird baby tattoo.

Then came the tests. Lots of tests. On me. On Mom. On the word. And then Dr. Patel said the three letters that would change my life forever: C-A-V. CAV. Short for cognadjivisibilitis. Short for freakiest freaky disorder ever.

Then he said, Hey, you guys should move to Chicago so I can be your doctor forever and ever and ever. Because you're going to need me forever. Because you're going to have CAV forever. Stinks to be you!

He may not have really said that. I don't remember.

It would have been cool if I could've just stayed beautiful forever. But no — kids had other plans for me, and none of them were good.

Now my thoughts and eyes shifted back to the massive DORK on my arm. I let out a quiet whimper, knowing I'd be stuck with this itchy thing for the next two to four weeks before it faded. Longer, if someone said it again. And with Snotty Ami butting in on my Jeg time — and never missing a chance to be her snotty self — it was totally possible that she would be the one to repeat it.

I rolled my sleeve back down quickly so that no one would come in and see my arm. As the fabric reached my fingers, I realized that my other arm was kinda itchy, too. Huh?


Excerpted from Sticks & Stones by Abby Cooper. Copyright © 2016 Abby Cooper. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
1. Words,
2. Lurches and Letters,
3. Explorer Leader,
4. Beautiful,
5. Poopyhead,
6. The Weird Kind of Weird,
7. It's On,
8. Nice Andy,
9. String Cheese,
10. Walks,
11. Dr. Patel,
12. The Hallway and the List,
13. Prisoner Horns,
14. A Real Date,
15. The Show,
16. The Only Certain Thing,
17. Audacity,
18. Doing,
19. Unfinished Business,
20. Party Prep,
21. Jeg Around the World,
22. A Project,
23. Crazy Bombs,
24. Ninjas,
25. Leading,
26. Fun or Something,
27. Roomies,
28. Facecicles,
29. Okay,
30. Olivia and the Words,
31. Silly,
32. Operation Dump Nice Andy,
33. Ms. Sigafiss,
34. The Truth,
35. A Special One,
36. Short Sleeves,
37. The Good, the Bad, and the Itchy,
About the Author,

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Sticks & Stones 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've met the author (who, by the way, is very funny!) She talked about this book a little bit and read some of it, and it sounded soooo good! I'm going to get the sample.
bruce_l More than 1 year ago
Perfect! Abby Cooper writes as people really are: full of excitement and exasperation, often at the very same time. This is a book for all ages, or at least for anyone who's ever been through the daunting middle school years. I'm an adult reader and was still a little misty-eyed as Elyse and her friends -- adults and kids alike -- came to this story's end. Abby Cooper: Please write more!!
VoluptuousBDiva More than 1 year ago
What an original and delightful read!! Beautifully written with a twist that blew me away. Elyse is a young girl who was born with a genetic disease that truly needs to learn to love herself. Though this book is categorized Middle Grade, readers of all ages will love reading this book. Well written story line, beautiful characters that pop right out of the pages and a learning lesson for one and all. {I received an eARC when I signed up and was selected to host the book tour. I made no guarantee of a favorable review and the opinions expressed here are unbiased and my own.}
MGRocks More than 1 year ago
6th grader Elyse has a strange skin condition known as cognadjivisiblitis. It means that words appear on her skin. Words that others say to her like, LOSER or FAB. Or even words she thinks or says to herself. The good words are empowering but the bad ones itch like crazy and take weeks to dissolve away. Add to this impairment all the drama of middle school: best friends break up, tricky new boy/girl relationships, and snotty students ever ready for the put-down. Elyse has constructed a somewhat safe, confined world for herself and her CAV, until she starts receiving some mysterious blue notes encouraging her to step outside her shell and dare to be the AMAZING person she is. Will she accept the challenge? Can she ever accomplish such OUTRAGEOUS feats? This story is filled with humor and heart and with a main character that all will cheer on. This is SUPERLATIVE writing from a debut author who is sure to have a successful career. It’s a feel-good story that’s a perfect fit for middle grade readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the words of main character, Elyse, HOLY HIGH HEELS - this book was amazing! I LOVED IT! It tells the story of a girl named Elyse who has CAV, a disease in which names she is called, both good and bad, show up on her skin. Harsh words like "freak" are painful and itch like crazy while words like "nice" are soothing. But the words stay with her for days or weeks at a time. Middle schoolers are going to see themselves in these characters and in this story. It's so important. This story is about the power of words and how they make others feel. It's about how words can stick with us and get under our skin. This book is funny and heartfelt. I absolutely loved Elyse's voice and who she was. You should 100 percent pick this book up. What a fantastic read!
CaraC More than 1 year ago
Sticks and Stones is an amazing book about a girl named Elyse who seems like your run of the mill middle school girl. The only difference is that she wears the words of others and the words of her own mind on her arms and legs for all to see. This book is one that I feel kids need to read. Students deal with the words of others on a daily basis. And just like Elyse, our students allow those words to shape who they are. This book focuses on learning to trust your own perception, and not rely on the perception of others. I found myself rooting for Elyse as she grew, changed, and began to trust herself more. I am able to see myself, and so many of my students, in Elyse. I think the lessons learned from this, on both sides, will resonate. Students will learn about the power of their words on others, as well as how they can be comfortable in their own skin despite what others may say. I feel like Abby Cooper beautifully captured the heartbreak and self-doubt of middle school that we all experienced. She weaved the theme of the power of words and self-belief seamlessly into a story of teenage angst. Elyse will be sticking with me for a long time!
RAB19 More than 1 year ago
First of all, this idea is pure genius. We hear so much about bullying in schools. There are rules and regulations. There are assemblies. There are consequences to those that don't comply. And yet it still occurs, every day, in schools and playgrounds everywhere. STICKS AND STONES addresses this in a humorous, non-didactic way. Add a genuine middle-grade voice to this brilliant concept, and you've got a book that you won't be able to put down. Highly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author did a great job of mixing serious issues with humor and fun. Elyse is a character who clearly has some struggles ahead of her and when she starts middle school we see them. The voice in this book is spot on and funny, which makes it easy to root for the main character. It's such an interesting take on something like name-calling (that everyone deals with at some point) showing up in a physical form. It was great to watch Elyse deal with each challenge and see her grow throughout the story. Definitely one to be added to both kid and adult to-read lists!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I adored this book! The concept is super clever, and the execution delivers. Elyse has grown up with CAV, a rare disorder that makes words people call her show up on her skin. As she starts sixth grade, the words she calls herself start appearing, too. While no one actually has CAV, everyone knows the experience of being called names, not to mention awful self-talk. Finding and holding onto self-esteem can be a challenge, particularly in middle school. Through the backdrop of a fictional disease, the author brings to life a relatable narrator and a familiar cast of supporting characters. There may be no cure for CAV, but Elyse finds her self-esteem and discovers she's AWESOME & COOL in the process. Great for tweens & a delightful read for anyone!
MsVerbose More than 1 year ago
What a great book! I read it in a day (out loud to my husband). Not only did I enjoy this book, but this is one I want my kids to read. In this book, Cooper masterfully delves into questions of self-worth and the words we use to describe ourselves and others. If we had to wear the words we thought about ourselves, would we be more careful of our thoughts? If others had to wear the words we called them, would we be more careful of what we said? Questions that I need to ask myself more often. Questions I wish others would ask themselves more often. I love how this book - without ever being preachy - had me re-thinking my own actions and behavior. I love how Elyse grows one small change at a time. It was all so believable and true to middle grade and life. I was rooting for her from day one, and so proud of her for trying, and hoping I would be so brave were I to face her challenges. And I especially loved her parents. They were far from perfect, and I was exasperated with them more times than I could count, but they were real, full, developed characters who were working through their own issues. Every kid should read this. Every adult should read this! This is definitely one I plan to purchase for my own home library! (I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Where was this book when I was growing up? Oh. Not written yet. Sigh.... I loved every page of this, and found myself daydreaming about it when I wasn't reading it. The whole idea that words impact us physically, tangibly, visibly is incredibly powerful. Add to that a narrator we love, and a writing style full of charm, and you've got your new favorite book: Sticks & Stones.
QuinnenDonnelly More than 1 year ago
Middle grader readers, get ready to fall in love with Elyse! For someone dealing with such a seemingly traumatic problem, Elyse rarely lets it get the best of her. She's a protagonist so easy to identify with and to root for, even if she keeps some of her best personality traits to herself at first. Cooper manages what could be a heavy or didactic topic with so much humor and heart. Elyse's inner dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny at many points--particularly as she manages her relationship with her second boyfriend, Nice Andy (oh, haven't we all been there before!). She's a completely authentic contemporary American middle schooler. I can't wait to read Abby Cooper's next book!
MGReader More than 1 year ago
I'll leave it to other reviewers to tell you about the kickass premise (which Cooper fully explores), the adorable characters, and the neat twists and turns. I want to talk about voice. Middle grade, first person voice, which is one of the hardest to write well and yet Cooper manages to do it better than almost any book I've ever read. Elyse is real, hilarious, sometimes troubled, sometimes making bad decisions, but always just her sixth grade own self and completely engaging. I can't tell you the last time I read a first person middle grade where I liked the voice as much as I do in this book. Combine it with an amazing and unique way to talk about how young women beat themselves up with self-criticism, realistic friendships and other relationships,and a totally compelling plot, and you have a book that is going to be an instant favorite with a lot of kids. (I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review)