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The Right Hook of Devin Velma

The Right Hook of Devin Velma

by Jake Burt
The Right Hook of Devin Velma

The Right Hook of Devin Velma

by Jake Burt




From the author of Greetings from Witness Protection! comes another unforgettable middle-grade novel about friendship and family.

Devin wants to hit it big on the internet by pulling a stunt at an NBA game—one the entire nation will be watching. Addison can’t turn Devin down, but he can barely manage talking to his teachers without freezing up. How’s he supposed to handle the possibility of being a viral sensation?

Addi’s not sure why Devin is bent on pulling off this almost-impossible feat. Maybe it has something to do with Devin’s dad’s hospital bills. Maybe it all goes back to the Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. No matter what, though, it’s risky for both of them, and when the big day finally comes, Devin’s plan threatens more than just their friendship.

With memorable protagonists and a wonderful supporting cast, The Right Hook of Devin Velma is a one-of-kind knockout in middle-grade fiction.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250168627
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: 10/02/2018
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Jake Burt's debut middle-grade novel, Greetings from Witness Protection! was named a Fall 2017 Indies Introduce title. A fifth-grade classroom teacher, Jake lives with his family in Hamden, Connecticut.

Read an Excerpt



I finally figured out why my best friend Devin punched me in the face.

At first I thought it was because I saved his life, but that wasn't it. For a while, I blamed my freezing, only it wasn't that, either. It wasn't even Twitter, the Velma Curse, that stupid dishwasher, or the Golden State Warriors.


It was the Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom.



The playground at Bennet C. Riley Intermediary School in Los Angeles didn't have much going for it. The soccer field got so dusty that kids spit brown after a good game. The basketball court did have two hoops, but the rims were bent and hadn't had nets since October. I played every day anyway, and that's where I was when Devin marched up, swiped the ball, and made his announcement.

"Game over!" he proclaimed, hugging the ball in his skinny arms. "I need Addison!"

"Me? For what?" I asked.

Before Devin could say, Gage Morris pointed. "Our ball back for Addi? Seems like a fair trade. Teams might actually be even." He looked up at me. "At least, height-wise."

I blushed, rubbing a hand at the back of my sweaty neck.

"Yeah, give it back, Devin," Emil said. He lunged at the ball and knocked it out of Devin's hands. As soon as it rolled into the pack of kids, they snatched it up and loped off like coyotes, leaving my best friend with his hands out wide. His eyebrows were all crooked above his glasses, and he was blinking a lot. I thought he was going to cry again. He'd been doing that almost every day for the past two weeks. Totally understandable, what with the stuff that had happened to his dad, but the Devin I knew didn't mope. Snagging the ball and demanding attention? That was way more Devin.

"You okay?" I asked. "What do you need me for?"

Devin took a deep breath and rubbed his fingers under his nose. He shot the other guys a mean look and grumbled, but then faced me. I smiled. There in his eyes was that old Devin sparkle.

"Lookout ...," he whispered. "And cameraman."


"You'll see," Devin said, and he reached up to grab me by the collar of my Klay Thompson jersey. "To the climber!"

The climber was one of those old wooden monsters with slides and tire swings and splinters. It sat in a patch of wood chips, chewing up space and daring kids to try playing on it without getting hurt. The slide closest to us was the butt-burner, a wide metal one that baked in the sun all day, just waiting to brand the backside of anyone dumb enough to try it while wearing shorts. When we arrived, Devin tested the butt-burner with his thumb, pressing it along the rail. It was January, but that didn't mean much in L.A.; it was eighty degrees the day before.

Satisfied that it was worth the risk, Devin grabbed both railings, his sneakers squeaking as he shimmied up. I shrugged and climbed after him. My size elevens sounded like thunder as they beat against the metal. When we were at the top, tucked away in a sort-of-hidden corner of the tower, I asked again. "Now can you tell me what this is about?"

"You're gonna record me as I do the Backflip of Doom."

My jaw dropped.

"C'mon, Addi. If I can pull off the DBMBBD, it'll be the perfect way to jump-start my plan!"


Just hanging there.

Kind of loose and wiggly.

"Addi, snap out of it. I need you to keep watch and let me know if Ms. Bazemore is coming."

I scanned the playground. Ms. Bazemore, the recess duty teacher, was on her usual bench, hunched over a pile of papers. She looked to have a stack of about a hundred in her lap, and her red pen was flying across the pages. She didn't glance up once, not even when a four-square ball rolled over and hit her in the shoe. She just kicked it away and kept grading.

The coast seemed clear enough. Still, I winced.

"If ... if we're caught, I'll freeze."

I wished I knew why everything seemed to shut down as soon as things got tense. It's not like I wanted to feel trapped or anxious. If I could have pinpointed when it started, well, that might have helped, but I wasn't even sure of that. The Great Goldfish Cracker Disaster of '09? The First-Grade Garbageman Fiasco? Something broken from birth? I supposed it didn't matter. What did was how I felt any time it happened.

It was as if my brain ripped in half.

Sometimes, I could actually hear it, like a piece of paper slowly being torn in two. One part of my brain kept talking, telling my voice to speak, my arms to move, my lungs to breathe. The other half just said, "Nope."

Say something funny!


Say something kind!




The longer it went, the angrier the first half of my brain got, until it shut down, too. Then the whole thing was, well ...


It happened any time I had to talk to people I didn't know. Or when I was in front of crowds. Or if I had to explain myself to an adult. There were so many things that made me freeze that I couldn't count them. Sometimes, even worrying about freezing would make me freeze.

And that worry? It was starting up now.

Devin poked me in the shoulder. "You do your job, and we won't get caught. Besides, even if we do, think of it as an opportunity to practice. Your parents are always saying you need more ... what is it?"

I shuddered. "Exposure."

"Right! Exposure to stuff so you can get over it. Getting caught isn't so bad."

We'd have to agree to disagree on that one. A fresh bead of sweat had already trickled down my back, and it had nothing to do with the basketball game.

"And anyway," Devin continued, "we can vouch for each other. As long as we get our stories straight, we'll be fine. Remember how I talked us out of taking the blame for Gage's last prank? When he switched the signs for the supply closet and the faculty bathroom?"

I almost smiled, but then Devin slipped his phone out of his pocket. He unlocked it, tapped his camera app, and started poking me in the chest with it.

"You're not supposed to have that at school," I whispered. "I'm not taking it."

"Yes, you are."

"And you're not doing the Backflip of Doom."

"Yes, I am."


Devin swallowed, looking nervously at the edge of the climber. I couldn't be sure what he said next, but I think it was something like, "To save my dad."

I was about to ask what that meant, but then I looked, too.

The climber had two sets of monkey bars. One was for the little kids. It ran right alongside the higher set. I thought, like, maybe forty years ago, they were painted in bright colors, but now all that was left were little patches of red and yellow where kids' hands and feet couldn't reach so easily. The biggest of those patches sat on the side rail of the higher set of monkey bars. It looked like North America if you tried to wrap our continent around a Pepsi can. That patch was infamous at Bennet C. Riley, because that's where you sat if you were going for it.

It was 1979, or so the story went. Maddie Prufrock, seventh-grade legend, was a gymnast. Eventually got a college scholarship for it and went to UCLA, or something. Anyway, Maddie climbed up there and sat in that exact spot. After licking the tip of her finger to test the wind, she closed her eyes, tucked her legs up to her chest, put her arms in the air, and fell backward. Without being able to see where she was going, she flipped upside down, dropped a few feet, and managed to grab on to two of the rungs of the lower monkey bars like she was doing a handstand on solid ground. She held that pose for a second, just because she could, both legs together and pointed skyward like the barrels of a shotgun raised in salute. Then she calmly completed the flip, bringing her legs over and down to shoot through the bars beneath her. Bang. Just like that, and she stuck the landing. The Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom was born.

I had never even daydreamed about trying it. I was only twelve, but nearly six feet tall, and most of that was goofy arms and legs, good for grabbing rebounds above the other kids, terrible at fitting into tiny spaces. I looked back at Devin. At least he had a shot, what with how small he was. Of course, being smaller also meant he had that much farther to fall.

"Take your phone, Devin. If you're gonna be stupid enough to try this, I have to be there to catch you."

He pushed the phone back at me. "No way. It won't count if you catch me. I'm pretty sure that's where the "of Doom" comes in. If there's a big kid there to spot you, it isn't nearly as doomful. It might not even be pitiful. Or fretful. Nobody talks about the Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Fretting."

"That's because it doesn't exist."

Devin snapped his fingers and pointed at me. "Exactly!"

"And what if I just grab you and hold you down until the bell rings?"

"Then I punch you in the face."

I wished I could say that was the end of the story — that I grabbed him, he walloped me good, and it was over with. That would have been so much easier than what actually happened. But how was I to know?

No, I took the phone again, like a good friend ... like a moron ... and hit record.

"You're gonna tell me why we're doing this afterward, right?" I asked as I focused in on the monkey bars.

"Totally, bro."

"Probably from your hospital bed."

Devin shivered once, kissed the cross around his neck for good luck, and started the climb.



It wasn't just that Devin was my best friend; our families were close, too. My dad had worked for Devin's dad before joining the taxi company, and our moms had met when Devin and I were in kindergarten, since my mom worked at the elementary school. We even had Saturday dinners together at Devin's house. So it was no surprise that everyone rushed to the hospital that afternoon. My parents had picked me up right from school, and we drove over together. Of course Devin's mom was there, but so were his grandma, great-grandma, and great-great-grandma. His sister had been there earlier, even though she was busy with college classes and practices. She had to leave before we got there, which was good for me — Sofia made me freeze something fierce — but that still left a lot of people, and all of us were crammed into the waiting room, eager for news.

Well, almost all of us.

"Addison, where is Devin?" Mrs. Velma asked. "The doctors should be out to update us on his father's condition any second!"

"I dunno," I replied. Almost as soon as we had arrived, he had glared at me, brushed his grandma's hand off his shoulder, and stalked toward the vending machines. That was twenty minutes ago. "Should I go find him, Mrs. Velma?"

"Yes, thank you. And when you do, give him a good, swift kick in the pants for me. Tell him it's from his mother."

"Yes, ma'am," I said softly, and I set out to find Devin.



Wandering the hospital halls looking for Devin gave me an opportunity to think about how badly I had let him down at recess.

My first failure had been almost immediate. It was just as Devin lifted his hands into the sky, a silent prayer for safety, that I felt the grip on my wrist. I turned to see Ms. Bazemore's teeth, tongue, and tonsils — that's how close she had come, and how wide open her mouth was as she screamed at Devin. The sound must have shocked him into action, because those upturned hands started flailing around wildly. He fell backward. At that point, completing the DBMBBD was his only option. It was over in a blink, Devin landing on two feet, patting himself and shaking all over. Sure, it was no Maddie Prufrock, but he had survived.

His look of total elation disappeared when he saw me in Ms. Bazemore's clutches. Not only had I been so nervous that I had failed to see her coming, but I had dropped his phone when she grabbed me.

Devin had risked his life.

There was no proof.

And we were caught.

I felt the freeze start immediately, just like it always did. My chest seemed to squeeze inward, ribs and lungs and guts all crowding around my heart, which tried to fight back by pumping as hard and as fast as it could. My hands and feet got cold, my tongue got heavy, and nausea settled over me like the ocean — a big old wave hitting me upside the head while the undertow tried to drag my legs the other way.

Check to see if Devin is okay!


Get Devin's phone before she sees it!


Think of an excuse!


While I stood there, Ms. Bazemore scooped up Devin's phone and pushed him forward. I couldn't move until she turned around, grabbed my wrist, and barked, "You too, Addison!" She dragged us all the way inside, down the hall, and up to the front office.

The principal's office ...

At Ms. Carrillo's door, Ms. Bazemore tried to yell at us, but she was so upset that she never actually completed a sentence. "No phones ... So dangerous ... If you had ... What were you ... Of all the ..."

Ms. Carrillo came out to see what the commotion was. Ms. Bazemore could only point — first at Devin, then at me. Flustered, she slapped the phone down into Ms. Carrillo's palm, growled again, and stomped off.

Ms. Carrillo had been the principal at Bennet C. Riley for as long as anyone could remember. She was ageless, it seemed. She kept her hair trimmed so close to her head that she was almost bald; if there was any gray in there, no one could see it. Her voice was never raised, she never smiled with teeth, and her glasses were perched at the end of her nose so that she could always, always look over her rims at you. In the quieter corners of the playground, kids called her "The Immortal."

"What brings you two boys to my neck of the woods?" she asked calmly, like we had just happened by.

I watched her eyes. They roved slowly over Devin, who was scuffing the floor with his shoes. Logically, I knew she didn't have magical powers, but it sure did feel like it. A heaviness crept over the room until her attention settled squarely on me, making my tall self feel about as puny as I ever had. My throat closed.

Good thing, or I might have been sick right there, right then. Devin must have sensed my distress, because he spoke up, and that heavy gaze swept mercifully away, if only for a moment.

"Hi, Ms. Carrillo. I think there's been a misunderstanding. Addi and I were just playing, and Ms. Bazemore came and grabbed us. Brought us straight here. As you saw, she wasn't really in a condition to tell us what we had done wrong."

Ms. Carrillo nodded. "Mm-hmm," she said. "What about this phone in my hand?"

She started to look at me, but Devin jumped in again. "Mine, Ms. Carrillo. I asked Addi to hold it while I played on the monkey bars. I know I shouldn't have it at school, but with my dad being in the hospital, my mom —"

"Child," Ms. Carrillo interrupted, smiling that closed-lipped smile. "How many lies do you think I've heard in my time here?"

Devin shrugged. "Enough?"

She chuckled. "Good answer, and better than the nonsense you were about to feed me. Come inside, boys. Got a few things I want to show you."

She led the way, the slatted blinds over her door clattering as she closed it behind us. Her office was crawling with turtles — stuffed, plastic, hand-carved from wood, and curly-cornered watercolor ones that kids had painted for her. She even had a real turtle in a tank just beneath her window. His name was Fanny, which was short for Ceiling Fan, which was what happened when you let your grandkid name your turtle. She brought him to all our assemblies. Ms. Carrillo beckoned us over to the tank, and at first I thought she was going to show us something in there. Or maybe feed us to Fanny. Instead, she pointed out the window.

"What do you see, Addison?" she asked.

Answer her!


Devin stood on his tiptoes.

"It's the playground, Ms. Carrillo.'

"Good, Devin. That was a bit of strategy on my part. When the school was built in '72, I told the architect to put my office in this very spot, told him to put the window exactly where you see it now. And I told him to build the playground right out there. Know why?"

Devin nodded.

"And know what I saw, just now?"

He nodded again. "The truth."

"Just so, boys. That was the first thing I wanted to show you. Second thing'll take me a minute to find. You sit down over there. I'll be with you directly."

As she turned to rummage through a filing cabinet, Devin snapped his fingers to get my attention. I was so nervous that I almost ran — anything to get me out of there, to let me breathe a little. But again, my legs wouldn't do much, only letting me shuffle over to the chairs, clear away a turtle pillow, and sit. He kept pointing and bobbing his head toward his phone. Then he mouthed, "Did you get it?"

A fresh wave of sweaty shame rolled up my neck and across my cheeks. I shook my head. His eyebrows lifted, then knotted in anger. I looked at the floor. The rug was turtle shaped.

"Ahh. Here we are," Ms. Carrillo said, holding a stack of file folders in one hand and keeping her glasses steady with the other as she read. "Yes. The ... oh, what do you all call it? The Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip?"

"Of Doom," Devin added.

"Yes," Ms. Carrillo agreed. "That's the one."


Excerpted from "The Right Hook of Devin Velma"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Jake Burt.
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

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Chapter One: Narrowed Down,
Chapter Two: The Double-Barreled Monkey Bar Backflip of Doom,
Chapter Three: Good Samaritan Hospital, Los Angeles,
Chapter Four: Freeze Up, Let Down,
Chapter Five: Debts and Trespasses,
Chapter Six: The Velma Family Curse,
Chapter Seven: Mr: Velma,
Chapter Eight: Devin's Plan,
Chapter Nine: That Stupid Dishwasher,
Chapter Ten: Devin's First Follower,
Chapter Eleven: A Dramatic Turn,
Chapter Twelve: The Game Plan,
Chapter Thirteen: A Sign from Heaven,
Chapter Fourteen: Devin's Sister,
Chapter Fifteen: The Devin Is in the Details,
Chapter Sixteen: Getting There Is Half the Fun,
Chapter Seventeen: The Staples Center,
Chapter Eighteen: The Pride of the Velma Family,
Chapter Nineteen: The Fall,
Chapter Twenty: The Fallout,
Chapter Twenty-One: Good Samaritan Hospital. Again.,
Chapter Twenty-Two: Soaking It All In,
Chapter Twenty-Three: Squeezing It All Out,
Chapter Twenty-Four: The Right Hook of Devin Velma,
Chapter Twenty-Five: Mother Knows Best,
Chapter Twenty-Six: Epiphany: Noun: A Sudden Realization,
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Mornings with Darcy and Rob,
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Dear Devin,
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Showstopper,
Chapter Thirty: Dinner at Devin's,
Excerpt: Greetings from Witness Protection!,
About the Author,

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