It all started with a peanut butter cup . . .
which leads Ben Braver to a secret school for kids with super abilities.
Ben has never had any special powers—and maybe never will. But could this be his chance to become the superhero he's always dreamed of?
Packed with black-and-white art and comic strips throughout, The Super Life of Ben Braver is the first book in a hilarious adventure series about the greatness that lies within any middle schooler who dreams big from Marcus Emerson, the author of the smash hit Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series.
About the Author
Marcus Emerson is the author of the hit Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series and the Secret Agent 6th Grader series. His career started in 2nd grade when he discovered Garfield. He grew up playing Super Mario Bros. 4, watching Thundercats, and reading comics like X-Men, Superman, and Wildcats. He lives in Eldridge, Iowa with his wife and children.
Read an Excerpt
7 p.m. Thursday. Eight months ago.
My whole life changed all because I wanted a peanut butter cup.
It was the end of summer vacation, and I was in my basement binging the second season of that cheesy Batman show from the sixties starring the greatest of greats, Adam West.
I was the little piggy that stayed home that summer, soaking up old TV shows like a sponge. They were a nice distraction from how boring my life was after my best friend, Finn, moved away only three months before.
His dad got a job across the country that needed his family to relocate, like, stupid fast.
One weekend Finn and I were building cabins in the woods; the next weekend he was gone.
I tried to make it a "no bummer summer," but even with the awesome title, it was still a vacation slathered in lamesauce without my best friend.
Before starting the third season of Batman, I decided I needed a snack encounter of the peanut butter kind.
That, and I probably needed to air myself out. Clothes get funky pretty fast when you're in a dark basement all day.
I hopped on my bike, rode to the gas station a block over, and slapped four quarters on the counter like I was a big shot with cash.
"A package of your finest peanut butter cups, good sir!" I said.
The gas station clerk groaned.
The little bell jingled behind me as the flimsy screen door slammed shut. I slipped my snack into my back pocket, grabbed my bike, and pedaled for home.
A decent end to a decent day.
And then some kid shouted for help in the distance.
It sounded like "Halp!"
I shrugged it off and kept riding. I had only about five minutes until my peanut butter cups melted in my back pocket.
BTW, peanut butter cups are my fave. I love them, but ... would I marry one? Probably not, but only because my second love, the PB&J sammie, would get jelly. Get it? Jelly?
I wonder what a peanut butter cup wedding would even look like. ... Um ... nevermind.
Although my dad calls me creative, and my mom says I'm a free spirit, I, Ben Braver, am really just the most normal eleven-year-old boy in the world.
Nothin' special here.
I've got hobbies like everyone else. I love riding my bike through the woods. I play video games like it's my job. I'm a movie buff, too. My favorites are awful sci-fi ones from the fifties with titles like The Day of the Triffids, and where they say things like "Her brain kept alive by experimental science!" And I read books ... comic books.
Honestly, comics are more than a hobby. They're my way of life. It's supes nerdy, but I secretly dream of becoming a superhero.
I bet you do, too.
Ever stare out the car window and imagine yourself flying through the clouds? Running at superspeed? Saving the day?
Remarkable. That's what I'd be if I were a superhero.
If I were, then maybe kids would actually notice me.
But I'm not. So they don't.
I'm the soggy fries on the bottom of the carton, the powder at the end of a box of cereal, the last kid standing when teams are picked.
But it's all about the journey, right? That's the part of comics that sucks me in. Being a superhero is more than having powers — it's about the struggles and the choices heroes have to make. It's about deciding to do the right thing even when the right thing is the hardest thing to do.
And as I slowed my bike on the bridge near my house, I knew I suddenly had my own choice to make: go home and dig into my peanut butter cups or save that kid shouting for help.
I plopped down on the couch, ready for another six hours of TV. The remote was in my hand, but my thumb couldn't press Play, like it was cosmically blocked from doing it.
Because I knew I had just made the wrong choice.
Adam West looked at me with disappointment from the paused television screen.
All I wanted to do was watch TV, but something told me I needed to get back out there.
"Flippin' eggs." I sighed, tossing my snack aside. And then I headed back to the garage to get my bike.
I think it's what Adam West would've done.
Soon I was coasting down the sidewalk toward the cries for help.
I rounded the bend and saw a group of kids circled around two boys — a bully named Dexter Dunn and his victim, Caden Cameron.
Dexter was kind of the neighborhood bully. "Kind of" because the hermit barely ever came out of his house, but when he did ... he was a Grade A jerk.
His family was mysterious, mostly staying indoors. They were a work-from-home, school-at-home kind of family.
Dexter had an older sister, too, but I think she was sent away to military school or something a few years ago. Either that or his family hid her in the attic for some reason.
The boy in trouble was Caden Cameron. He sometimes took his dog to play in the creek under the bridge.
"Stop it! You're gonna hurt him!" Caden shouted.
"He's fine! He likes it!" Dexter said as he yanked the poor animal's leash around like it was a toy.
My three-point plan of attack was this:
Day saved. Next day, please.
I needed to get everyone's attention by making an entrance.
Hero work demanded theatrical entrances.
I rode and then kicked back on the pedal to slide my tire around in a half circle, skidding to a stop right in front of my future fans in a cloud of dust and awesome.
If that was how it went down, then it would've rocked ... but that was not how it went down, so it did not rock.
Instead, my back tire swooped around and hit a crack in the pavement. My bike stopped, but my body didn't. I flipped off the front like a wet noodle.
Kids scrambled out of the way as I tumbled toward Dexter and Caden. I landed flat on my back, looking up as everyone stared down at me.
"I'm good," I said, getting to my feet. And then I pointed at Dexter. "What's not good is you messing with Caden's dog. Give him back."
"It's a her," Caden whispered.
"C'mon, man, work with me here," I said.
"But my dog's a girl," Caden whined. "And you called her a he."
"Fine, give her back."
"Make me," Dexter said menacingly.
Whoa, wait ... Dexter was just supposed to give the dog back. Challenging me was not part of my three-point plan of attack! Didn't he know that?! I probably shoulda told him.
"Just give the dog back. You really wanna do this?" I said. "You can't make friends, so you gotta steal animals?"
"I can make friends," Dexter said through his teeth.
A chilly breeze swept past my shins.
I began to babble. My mouth ran whenever I got nervous.
"Are you even a dog person?" I asked, swallowing hard. "I see you more as a fish kind of guy. Or whatever kind of pet that doesn't require a lot of brain cells to take care of. Y'know, things at the bottom of the food chain. Start with a plant and work your way up. Or a rock! Did you know there are pet rocks?"
The kids around us giggled, which only made Dexter angrier. He dropped the dog's leash.
Saved the dog.
And then Dexter fixed his eyes on me. His creepy, cloudy eyes.
Super not normal.
He shoved me. "So you're the funny kid, huh?"
I planted my foot and caught myself. "No! I'm not the funny kid! I'm the Braver kid! Get it? Whatever. Caden got his dog back, and that's all I cared about. So while this has been fun, I'm out."
I reached for my bike, but Dexter shoved me again, obviously wanting to top his night off with a gentlemanly scuffle.
"Dude, seriously," I said. "Knock it off."
"I'll knock you off, Ben Dover," Dexter said.
"Nice," I said. "If I ever need a snarky comeback, I'll come and find you so I know what not to say."
Dexter tried pushing me again, but I slapped his hands out of the way before he could.
His skin was like ice! It was so cold that my fingers burned even though I touched him for only a second.
Gasps came from the kids around us.
Caden and his dog were already gone.
So much for showering in the praise of my new fans.
The area around Dexter became engulfed in shadow, but a shadow that floated in the air like smoke. The concrete cracked under my feet.
The whites of Dexter's eyes were gone. They were just black sockets on his face.
Super terrifyingly not normal.
The last thing I remember that night was a burst of white light before the sharpest cold I'd ever felt in my life.
And I never even got to eat my peanut butter cups.
My head snapped to attention like I was struggling to stay awake in class.
Except I wasn't in class.
I was standing at the front of a huge church, dressed in a black tux.
My family filled the pews on the left side of the room, wearing their best smiles. Aunts, uncles, cousins ... all of them.
Oh, man ... was I watching my own funeral?
"Ben, are you okay?" a girl's voice said to my right. "You look like you're about to pass out."
"Uh, yeah, I'm fine," I said, shaking my head out of the fog. "I had this weird dream where I saved a kid's dog, and then it got cold...."
"Stop daydreaming at our wedding!"
"... our what?"
I looked at my bride. She was a five-foot-tall peanut butter cup wearing a white wedding dress and bright red lipstick.
I glanced around. The other side of the church was filled with other smiling peanut butter cups.
"Huh ... so this is what it would look like," I whispered.
"Anyone object to these two gettin' hitched?" the pastor behind us asked, arms outstretched.
The church doors burst open. A skinny peanut butter and jelly sandwich wearing heels came running down the aisle.
"I do!" the PB&J sammie screamed. "Ben is in love with me! Not that chocolate-covered floozy standing next to him!"
My bride pressed her lips together, hoisted her dress up, and scurried down the steps. "Chocolate-covered floozy? At least I'm gluten-free, which is more than I can say about you, ya jelly-filled tart!"
"Ohhhhhh!" the spectators shouted.
"How dare you!" the PB&J sammie shrieked as she slapped the peanut butter cup across the face.
That's when my bride freaked. Clenching her fists and letting out a battle cry that would scare a baby, she let loose a flurry of fists, pummeling the soft white bread of the sammie.
People — and candy — from both sides of the aisle jumped up and down, holding money over their heads, placing bets on who was going to win the fight.
It was ... odd.
The PB&J sammie took off one of her heels and whacked the peanut butter cup on the head. My bride retaliated by thrusting her hand into the sammie's chest and ripping out her still-beating peanut heart.
I dropped to my knees and tried to scream. ...
With a tiny yelp, I shot up in my bed back at home.
I was in my bedroom.
At least, I thought I was in my room.
Huge machines surrounded my bed. Retro computer monitors flickered and came to life as they beeped at me.
I tried rubbing my eyes, but my fingers had wires taped to them that snaked through my sheets to the medical equipment.
Was I still dreaming? Was my brain being kept alive by experimental science?
The medical gear beeped louder and faster as I panicked. My blanket felt like it weighed a hundred pounds as the room closed in around me.
"Mom!" I shouted, but my throat was dry, so it came out only as a whisper. "Dad!"
Footsteps pounded down the hall. Relief poured over me as my mom stepped through the door.
9 p.m. Sunday. The living room.
My parents sat on each side of me while a ninety-year-old man with a huge scar across his face told me the craziest junk I'd ever heard in my life.
After Dexter went all "horror movie" on me, I was taken to the hospital. I was there for only a few hours before the old man with the scar brought in "his people" to take me home to recover.
My parents agreed to it because of how strange the situation was. Dad said that half of my body was frozen in a block of ice when they found me.
The team that transported me from the hospital stayed in a giant bus outside my parents' house.
Whatever Dexter did put me in a coma for three days.
The old man was Donald Kepler. He was the headmaster of a boarding school called Kepler Academy, which was — get this —"a secret school for kids with special abilities."
He was tall and lanky and decked out in black. Black suit, black shirt, black tie, and black coat. Ninety-nine percent sure that dude slept in a coffin.
His bushy eyebrows and noggin hair were, ironically, white.
Kepler took a breath and exhaled slowly. "I'm speaking about individuals who have developed special abilities. ... I hesitate to call them this, but you would say they were ... superpowers." He said the word like it revolted him.
I stared at the old man on the couch. "Stop it," I said, not in a mean way, but in a "whatever" kind of way. "You're messing with me, right?"
Kepler shook his head.
I laughed. "You almost got me! Nice prank, dude. Way to get Dexter in on it, too."
"I didn't believe Mr. Kepler at first, either," Dad said, "but he's been here for three days showing us enough evidence that ... yes, I believe he's telling the truth."
"There's no other way to explain what happened to you," Mom said.
"What, with Dexter?" I said, racking my brain to come up with an explanation about how I got trapped in ice, but I had nothing.
"Dexter's abilities manifested," Kepler said, folding his hands on his lap. "It happens to all with abilities around the age of middle school."
I was actually speechless.
"... which is why my academy starts at sixth grade. My school helps children with their new abilities."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Okay, Professor X, that's already been done. Is your school in a mansion, too?"
"Why would my school be in a mansion?"
I guess Kepler didn't know about the X-Men.
"Okaaay, so you're telling me you started a school for people with superpowers?"
"Right, abilities," I said, making air quotes. "So where are all these superpowered kids in the world? There's no such thing as superheroes."
"Obviously, it's all very secret. It must be. It's far too dangerous for the world to know we exist. My school teaches students to harness their talents and learn to control them. An uncontrolled ability is a danger to the individual. It can be quite deadly. You know that firsthand."
"Why are you even here?" I asked.
Kepler answered immediately. "To offer you a spot at my school."
"Come on! This is a joke, right?" I turned my face to the ground. "Or I'm still dreaming. ... Mom, if I told you I married a peanut butter cup, would you be cool with it?"
Mom made a face. "What?"
I set my mug on the coffee table and then tossed the old man a thumbsup. "Thanks for saving my life and stuff, but I think I'm still feeling kinda sick, y'know, from the coma."
"Ben, where are you going?" Dad said as I walked away.
"Back to bed," I said. "This whole thing is because you all know how much I love comics and superheroes. It's not funny anymore."
I made sure to slam the door loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear.
The roof outside my bedroom window.
My "go to" place when I want to be alone.
Stars shimmered like glitter in the clear sky. I knew I couldn't see every star in the galaxy, but it almost felt like I could.
Kepler's bus sat in the street in front of my house, the shadows of his employees walking around inside it.
I was still reeling at the prank my parents pulled. They knew I was obsessed with comics. How could they make fun of me like that?
A prank on that level had to take some crazy planning. Getting all those kids in on it. Dexter. Hiring an actor with a fake scar. Renting a bus. They even changed the dates on all the cell phones in the house to trick me into thinking I was actually out for three days.
"Nice night," a voice suddenly said right next to me. It was the old man.
I flinched. The man was sneaky like an old ninja. "Don't you need to get that bus back to the ... bus ... rental ... store."
"Why must you be such a hardheaded child?" Kepler asked, obviously impatient and annoyed, like your typical old guy with a grudge against all kids.
"Because I hate feeling like a butt, and that's all your little prank is doing," I said. "I'm forever telling my friends about how I wish aliens would abduct me to be the last starfighter! Or how awesome it'd be to have a time machine DeLorean! Or how it'd be super rad if people had real superpowers." I paused. "I'm just tired of getting teased about all that...."
Kepler sucked air through his nose. "You're right. This hasn't been fair to you."
He was gonna fess up and admit it was all a bad joke.
Kepler continued. "I've been at this for so long that I sometimes forget how unrealistic it might sound to the uninitiated."
That was it. I couldn't take any more. I stomped my feet on the roof and shouted like a kid throwing a tantrum. "Go! Away!" The shingles under my feet slipped out, and before I knew it, I was sliding down the roof.
Falling off my house — what a perfect way to end my night.
But then, in an instant, my body stopped. Kepler was on the edge of the roof, but behind me, keeping me from falling.
"I have you," he said.
Excerpted from "The Super Life of Ben Braver"
Copyright © 2018 David Halvorson.
Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
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.