Title: Split Down the Middle
Entry Nickname: Mustache Head
Word Count: 46,000
Genre: Upper MG Contemporary
As a veteran Child of Divorce, twelve-year-old Becca has developed a highly specialized set of coping skills, such as the ability to negotiate ceasefires and to maneuver between houses without losing her math books…or her marbles. It isn’t exactly easy, but after so many years in the trenches, it’s at least familiar. Predictable. Mostly manageable.
But when Becca’s helicopter mom announces she is moving from Philadelphia to North Carolina, Becca must go to court and choose which parent she wants to live with – permanently, and who she must leave behind. Complicating her Decision Day dilemma are the minefield of truth bombs the universe suddenly drops on the battlefield of Becca’s life. Some, like the news that her soulmate (aka secret crush) Jake actually like likes her, are thrilling. Others, such as her freewheeling dad’s announcement that his newish girlfriend is pregnant with twins, are just plain confusing. All of them convince Becca that her difficult decision may be an impossible one.
Becca’s life is about to be carved to pieces, and her parents are forcing her to wield the knife. If she doesn’t get the courtroom miracle she’s praying for, she’ll have to find another way to put herself back together again…since she may just be stuck on the front lines forever.
You know those memories you try to bury in the underwear drawers of your brain, but that sneak up on you when you least expect it?
Like last year when Tim Vasquez sat next to me on the fifth grade aquarium trip, stared at my face in a super creepy way, then announced to the entire bus, “Becca, you totally have a mustache! You’re like…a Mustache Head!” When I came home in tears, Mom brought me to Aunt Jo, who told me almost all women secretly have mustaches but just pretend they don’t. She makes good money as a lip waxer in the suburbs, so she’s kind of an expert.
Thankfully, she now does mine for free.
But since my parents dropped this whole Decision Day bomb on me, the memory I can’t shake is when I started third grade as The New Kid, right after the divorce. While the rest of my classmates reunited, hugging and high fiving, I hung back and haunted the cubby room like a weird ghost, waiting for rescue. It arrived in the form of two ponytailed girls named Jenna S. and Jenna P.
Or so I thought.
Turns out the Jennas were more frenemies than friends, and soon I was opening crumpled notes that said things like, “Promise to only play with me at recess!” I should have run for the hills, but instead I began doing the same thing I’d done with my parents since I was in diapers: anything and everything to keep the peace.
~ VERSUS ~
Title: The Henchmen Company
Entry Nickname: Jello Poems
Word Count: 37,500
Genre: MG Humor
Nobody would dare call Gordo Vanderhough a baboon-faced dorkisaur.
Towering over even the adults at Taft Elementary and the only 6th grader with a 5 o’clock shadow, Gordo is known for toppling kids in the lunch line like dominoes (Ga-pow!) and stealing entire trays of Jello (because he only loves two things in life: Jello and poetry). But nobody ever calls him a dorkisaur because nobody really talks to him at all.
One day a man not only talks to Gordo, but actually compliments him and invites him to join the Henchman Company. Gordo, though the youngest henchman, is a natural at all of it: giving evil glares, maniacal laughter, trash talking, throwing large kitchen appliances, and not thinking too much. He’s thrilled about his first job until he figures out that his boss is an evil mastermind trying to hook the internet up to his own brain. If successful he will be able to control a secret government robot army and a flying spaceship the size of a city. This creepoid is going to bully his way to world domination. Suddenly, Gordo questions his career path.
When the other henchmen get wind of his change of heart, Gordo finds out what it feels like to be the one being bullied. With total human annihilation on the line (and the fate of all gelatin desserts), Gordo decides to use his size and skills for good. This villain is about to get Gordoed.
Gordo Vanderhough lumbered into the cafeteria past dozens of other hungry kids. He headed straight for the front of the line but no one called out, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” No one chided, “You can’t do that.” And nobody even thought of saying, “Get to the back of line, you baboon-faced dorkisaur or I’ll kick you in the teeth.”
They didn’t say the last line for several reasons. One reason was that no one at Taft Elementary could kick high enough to reach Gordo’s teeth. It would require an amazing jump, a ladder, or a trampoline. Maybe even all three. But the most important reason was that no one dared say anything remotely threatening to Gordo Vanderhough.
Gordo was officially the hugest kid at Taft Elementary. In fact, he was the largest person—period. Though he was a sixth grader, he towered over the teachers. He was also as wide as a buffalo—the big kind with burly shoulders and a mop of dirty fur on its head. Plus, if you looked really close, Gordo’s chin had the stubbly beginnings of a beard. His nanny told him to shave every other day, but she only spoke Polish so he couldn’t understand a word she said. To him, it sounded like she was telling him to sing songs about shampooing zebras. And that didn’t make any sense. Needless to say, Gordo didn’t shave, or sing songs, or shampoo zebras.