Bethany is the new kid at Blaine school, where cool is in and geeks are out. As her time in the nurse’s office adds up, her parents start to worry. But when Bethany gets a notice from the School District that she has missed too many days to move on to sixth grade, she knows she must find her place to fit in and get the bullies off her back – or flunk the fifth grade.
Feedback from readers on authonomy.com: “This is a great way of showing young people that life isn’t always fair, but it can be survived.”
“I read this straight through. It is wonderful.”
“An excellent YA addition, with a fantastic style and narrative voice that pulls the reader in, no matter what their age. Brilliantly done, the prose seems polished and you’re dealing with topical and relevant issues.”
“You bring the plight of [a] young girl’s angst at the hands of mean girls to life.”
Status: I posted this book on authonomy.com in June 2010. I put a lot of work into reading the books on there; but ultimately I get better feedback from my crew at WriterHouse. I am not actively seeking representation on this book because I haven’t gotten enough feedback to fine-tune – yet.
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© Bethany Carlson
“Mom? Can I take violin?” came the hesitantly hopeful voice.
“Hmm? What’s that, pumpkin?” Mrs. Carlson asked distractedly.
“Can I play violin for the school orchestra?”
Mrs. Carlson put down the iron and looked around into a pair of questioning hazel eyes, eyes that had become very large over the past few months, as the small face became more pinched and pale.
“May I play violin for the school orchestra,” she corrected.
“Well, may I?”
Mrs. Carlson picked up the iron again and bent her head over the collar of a man’s cotton shirt.
“I’ll have to speak to your father about that when he gets back from New York.”
Bethany was careful not to make a face. “OK, mom.”
She picked her backpack up off of the hallway floor and headed upstairs to her room. Then she checked her homework list – only chapter reading for a book report on a book she had already finished, Big Red. So that only left one task, picking out an outfit for the class picture the next day. She loved the lavender T-shirt with a spotted fawn on it from Yellowstone, but as Maria Kjeltoft had pointed out, animal T-shirts were for babies. Maybe her yellow sundress with the birds of paradise on it? Nobody else wore dresses, though, and although the sun had been out for a few days, it was only March and not really warm. She finally settled on her new dark grey koolots and a fuchsia scoop-neck top. Pink was a good color for her, as her mom always said. Besides, she had a scrunchie and ankle socks that matched the color perfectly. It was hard to see what about this outfit Maria and the others would find to criticize.
“Bethany, are you ready to go? We need to leave in three minutes.” The voice that called from downstairs was the firm, no-messing-around voice. Rats. Bethany had forgotten. It was Tuesday – gymnastics.
It had all started last summer when the Olympics were on TV. She dreamed of being able to do 1-handed cartwheels, no-handed cartwheels, back handsprings. All she talked about at the dining room table was gymnastics. She had even dared to ask her parents, not once, but twice, to allow her to take lessons. Of course her mom had said, “Bethany, no means no. I don’t want to hear about this again, you know that we can’t afford it.” Usually those words would open the window in her mind to allow a dream to drift away, but this one was stubborn. She wanted to win gold at the next Olympics.
Then, just before school started, her parents made an announcement at dinner. “Bethany, your father and I have a surprise for you. We know it can be hard starting at a new school, and we’re proud of how diligent and hard-working you are. So we would like to give you a special present: we’ve signed you up for a year of gymnastics lessons.” She could hardly believe her ears. She looked from her mom to her dad and back again, mouth open. “Thank you!” she finally cried, running up and putting her arms around first one neck, then the other, kissing first a soft and then a stubbly cheek.
She had floated through the first day at her new school. Bethany was nervous about the large building and confusing hallways, she was sure she would forget which locker was hers – they all looked the same; and as she peered cautiously out of the corner of her eye at the kids in her class, she surmised that most of them already seemed to be friends with each other. But despite her worries, she had smiled a little smile to herself all day, thinking, tonight I’m starting gymnastics!
She had savored walking through the heavy double doors into the training room, excitedly looking around for the first time at all of the equipment: the balance beam, the bars, the vault – even rings, the pommel horse, and parallel bars for the boys, just like on TV. There were six girls in her class. The instructor, Laurel, had them form a circle at the start of their session. “Remember girls, we are not here to play, we are here to practice. As your coach, I will give you 100% of my attention, and I expect you to give me 100% effort.” The girls nodded like they had heard that speech before. “This year we have a new person in our group.” Everyone looked at Bethany. “I expect you to treat her with the respect due to a team mate.” Bethany had smiled at the other girls, but reddened as they only stared back. “Now, let’s get started.”
Bethany had focused on the instructions, tried hard, listened to corrections, and surprised herself with a successful cartwheel on the low beam. She was exhausted by the end of practice and her legs were trembling from fatigue as she put on her shoes by the lockers, but she felt satisfied and happy. Until she overheard Autumn. “I think it’s sad how fat kids can’t hold a hand stand. Maybe it’s because their stomachs stick out too far and throw them off balance.” One of the other girls snickered. “Yeah, maybe they can’t do the splits because their thighs are too big.” Bethany looked up and happened to make eye contact with one of the girls, who quickly looked away. They were talking about her. She pretended not to have heard and got out of the gym as fast as she could.
From then on, faking enthusiasm for gymnastics practice became part of Bethany’s routine. When she could focus just on Laurel’s instructions, she loved that she was learning to do 1-handed cartwheels, and no-handed cartwheels, and back handsprings. But it hurt to always be the one making mistakes. The other girls would laugh when she fell or couldn’t complete a rotation on the bars, or stick the landing on the vault. Bethany never acknowledged that she had heard them. But the tears would sting her eyes and threaten to spill over.
“Be right down mom!” Bethany shouted brightly down the stairs. She sighed and put on her pink and white striped leotard. She had picked it out especially because of the bright color and capped sleeves, but now she was starting to hate that leotard. Autumn and the other girls wore black or navy leotards with tank sleeves. She reminded herself to try her best, as her dad would say, and let the chips fall where they may, as her mom would say right after. After all, sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.
Read Chapter 2 of Straight-A Flunky on authonomy.com.