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Nice and Mean

Part of mix

About The Book

Marina is mean. Sachi is nice. Marina is Barney’s. Sachi is Burlington Coat Factory. It’s bad enough they’re forced to coexist in their middle-school’s high-profile video elective—but now they’re being forced to work together on the big semester project. Marina’s objective? Out her wannabe BFF as a fashion victim to the entire middle school. Sachi’s objective? Prove that she’s not just the smiley class pencil-lender and broaden her classmates’ cultural horizons. Work together in harmony? Yeah, that would be a "no." How can Sachi film something meaningful, and Marina, something fabulous, if they’re yoked to each other?


* Most Suspicious Behavior: Rachel Winter

A tinfoil shirt, a popularity poll. What exactly is Rachel up to?

* Worst Mother: Bianca Glass, a.k.a. Mom

Those pants? That attitude? This mother’s truly in a category by herself.

When I realized I was about to flip through the Seventeen Back-to-School Fashions for the third time that afternoon, I slammed the magazine shut and hurled it across the room. It flew through the air and landed against the garbage can with a big loud smack.


Where were my friends? Play practice ended at five. Even adding time for Rachel to do an extra shimmy, Elizabeth and Addie to straighten chairs, and the three of them to snag snacks, they should’ve gotten here twenty minutes ago. And I should’ve been snacking with them, not sitting alone on my bed like someone who forgot to order a life.

I got up to grab my magazine, since my ninja throwing-moves had bent the cover. I couldn’t believe how the play had turned into such a time suck. Elizabeth was the only one with a real part—did all of them really need to spend three afternoons a week in that sweaty drama basement? I had no desire to join the Grease cult—they’d already started quoting the songs so often that I’d had to tell them, “Hold the cheese, this is not Burger King.” But if I’d known that my only company would be the blast of the AC and the thump of my iTunes, I wouldn’t have blown off the audition so hard. How was I supposed to know that the lines in the play weren’t the same as in the movie, or that they’d make us sing alone in front of everybody? Why hadn’t anybody told me these things?


Took them long enough. I threw my magazine on the bed and ran down the hall to open the door.

“Marina, darling!” Rachel struck a pose in the doorway.

“Um . . . hey.” I couldn’t decide which was weirder—the drama-queen voice or her new getup. Today’s silver shirt had already been a strange choice for a Wednesday, but now she had piled her long black curls on top of her head like she was about to walk a runway.

“Hey, Marina.” Elizabeth gave me a hug, and I breathed in her sweet, flowery smell, which has been the same since second grade. When we first started having sleepovers, I used every soap and shampoo in her bathroom, trying to find that exact scent, but I never could.

We’d barely let go before Addie cried, “Reener!”—then strangled me and bonked me with her grocery bag. Four bottles of Diet Dr Pepper and one package of Mint Milanos straight to the shoulder blade.

“Ow!” I rubbed my back. “Hey, careful with the Pepper.”

Rachel slipped into the apartment, laughing. “Nice one, Addie,” she said.

Hunh? She and Addie were usually BFFs.

“Sorry!” Addie cried. She’s half-Chinese, with freckles on her wide cheeks, and when they puff out, she reminds me of a sad puppy. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I said as she stepped past me. “Seriously.” It’s too easy to make Addie feel bad. Even Rachel, her best friend, wanted to vote her Biggest Plebe in our online poll—“plebe” after the word for commoner—in social studies last year.

“Sorry we’re late,” Elizabeth said, following Addie inside. “People kept fooling around while we were learning the dance, so Ms. Mancini kept us after five.”

“Oh.” I led them into the kitchen, the only place my mother would let us drink soda. “Were you late? I didn’t notice.”

“Well,” said Rachel, “we were actually late for two reasons.” She giggled.

As I hopped up onto the counter, the cold granite sent a shiver up my spine. I held out a hand and said, “Pepper me, Addie.”

Her brown eyes gleaming, Addie handed one bottle to me, one to Rachel on the opposite counter, and one to Elizabeth at the breakfast table. “So?” Addie said to Rachel, once we had tapped down the fizz. “Are you going to tell her, or should we?”

Rachel grinned and squeezed her eyes shut, then blurted out, “I’m in love!”

Elizabeth and Addie cracked up.

“Again?” I untwisted my soda cap. Last year, Rachel had fallen in love about once a month.

“With . . . ,” Elizabeth prompted.

Rachel and Addie answered together, “Julian Navarro!”

I choked on my soda. I was the one who had pointed out his hotness after summer vacay. Julian was mine.

“We’re dance partners,” Rachel explained, leaning so far forward, she looked like she was going to fall off the counter. “He kept messing up the hand jive, so I stayed after and helped him a little.” She giggled. “He kept teasing me, like, ‘Oh, prima ballerina thinks she’s got moves,’ but he totally liked it, I could tell.” She drummed her feet on the cabinet below her. “He is so hot! Eee!”

“You guys looked like you were really into it.” Elizabeth took a sip of Pepper.

“You’re, like, meant to be together,” Addie agreed.

I forced down a burp. Why was Rachel suddenly going after Julian? He was popular but also a homeboy, not like the artsy guys she usually went for. The clothes, the Addie slamming . . . what was going on with Rachel?

She’d come back different from camp, that was for sure—wanting to drag me to the boutiques listed in magazines, and suddenly obsessed with popularity. It had been her idea to poll our class for the “mosts”—Most Popular, Most Beautiful, Nicest Boy, Nicest Girl. I could tell she’d been upset when I’d won Most Popular, but please—did she not know how these things worked? I’d gone to elementary school with most of the kids at Jacobs, and she was still getting to know them.

Plus, she just wasn’t Most Popular material. The other day in math, when she’d cracked up over some weird thing, all the boys had looked at me like, You’re her friend? She was fun—we’d spent all of last year trying to get revenge on Señora Blanca together—but fun did not equal popularity. Then again, if she could turn Addie into her own personal plebe, make Julian pay attention to her, and convince Elizabeth and Addie that she and Julian had potential . . .

I gulped my soda. The bubbles scraped against my throat.

Elizabeth already has a boyfriend this year—she’s got that sort of nice-and-shy thing going on that the boys all love—but I hadn’t gone out with anyone since last spring, and I would die if Rachel beat me to a boyfriend in seventh grade. Not that she could ever pull that off, of course. I totally had things that Rachel didn’t. Like, I don’t know, taste, or—

“Rachel, what are you doing?” I asked. She had hopped off the counter and started doing this weird dance, slapping her thighs and punching her own fists. Elizabeth and Addie were cheering her on.

“It’s how he dances !” Rachel laughed. “Don’t you remember the hand jive? From the movie?”

“Ah. Right.” I twisted the Pepper cap as tight as it would go. I needed to put a stop to this Julian business before it turned into something big.

“That would be so funny if the two of you went out,” I said, sliding the Mint Milanos toward me as Rachel bopped away. “Do you think he likes tall girls this year?”

Rachel stopped mid-clap and looked down at her flats. “Maybe,” she said, sliding into the chair next to Elizabeth. “I mean, whatever. We’re just dancing partners.”

I slit open the bag with my fingernail. I hadn’t meant to make her all deflated, but she needed to find the map to the real world. For one thing, Julian was short. Julian’s girlfriends had all been short. I was kind of short. And Rachel standing next to a guy made you think she was going to knock him over. I always thought that was one of the reasons the guys had steered clear of her last year, and hopefully, Julian would care about that too.

I pulled out the first cookie and bit. The mint tingled against the cherry from the soda, and I thought, See. Marina knows what’s good.

“So, Marina.” Elizabeth’s voice broke into my thoughts. “You find out about Video soon, right?”

“Hunh? Oh, yeah.” It was nice of her to ask—she had tied for Nicest Girl, after all—but I didn’t care about Video the way they cared about the play. I mean, I could already make all the videos I wanted with my equipment at home. I had just acted like Video was woo because everyone had been squealing about getting into the play until my ears practically bled, and I’d needed something to come out of my mouth that wasn’t barf.

“Ooh,” said Rachel, “Video. With Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome.” She wiggled her eyebrows, and I couldn’t help laughing. Rachel’s always had a crush on Mr. Phillips.

“I hope you get in,” Elizabeth said. “That video you made for Angelica’s birthday was so cute.”

“Yeah,” Addie agreed.

“Thanks,” I said, and took a sip of Pepper. The video for my little sister had come out well. Even my dad had said so, during one of the three weeks a year he wasn’t in Taiwan, or Thailand, or wherever it was that he always traveled for business.

“I remember when you were working on your video!” Rachel laughed. “We came to sleep over, and you were all like”—she hunched her shoulders and pretended to be staring at a computer screen—“ ‘Don’t bother me, guys, just a sec, just a sec.’ Scary!” She laughed.

“Oh, like you didn’t look weird when you were practicing for the dance?” I asked. “Hey,” she said, “at least I wasn’t talking to myself.”

“What do you think you’ll make your video about?” Elizabeth asked, gesturing with her chin for me to throw her the cookies.

Thank God for Elizabeth. I tossed her the Milanos bag and said, “Oh, it’s a surprise.”

Addie bounced in her chair. “Come on, tell us.”

I raised my eyebrows mysteriously, my mind whirring like a D drive. I couldn’t sit there empty-handed, not in front of the Grease gang. It would be fun to base my video on some kind of show. Designer Threads? Too complicated; no way did I want people sewing clothes. Modelicious? A cool idea, but you’d have to make a ton of episodes to show who had the most model potential. It could be fun to do something about our group, though. And if I could use it to make sure that Rachel would not be victorious in the next battle for Most Popular—

Wait a minute. Victorious . . .

“Okay, guys.” I sighed. “I’ll put you out of your misery. Here’s my idea.”

They leaned closer.

I smiled. “Victim/Victorious.”

“Oh, nice!” Addie called.

“Sweet,” Elizabeth agreed.

“Starring Jacobs kids as fashion victims?” Rachel asked.

I nodded.

“I approve.” She took a quick sip, then struck a pose. “And I will be your Most Victorious, I assume?”

I almost burst out laughing, because her silver shirt made her look more like the biggest victim. But I grabbed my soda and forced on a serious expression as I guzzled and said, “Mmm-hmm.”

“Uh, guys?” Elizabeth looked up from sliding apart her cookie. “Wouldn’t that be kind of like the poll? I mean, do you really want to get in trouble again?”

Just then, I heard the sound of the key in the front door. Speaking of trouble. My least favorite voice in the world called, “Hello? Girls?”

“I’m in the kitchen,” I yelled back. I don’t know why she always calls “Girls.” Did she honestly forget that my little sister lived at ballet and piano? Or did she want to make me feel bad that I was the only one home? Hey, I could dance if I wanted to. I’d just rather have a life.

The door swung open and I cringed. Why did my mom have to wear the orange pants on a day that my friends were over? They made her butt look like a pumpkin.

“Marina.” My mother was frowning. “Your friends are here.”

Behind my mother’s back, Rachel mouthed the word Duh.

“Yeah?” I asked my mom. Nice to be polite to my friends! I always worried that Elizabeth left my house wanting to report my mom for cruelty to children. And sure enough, over my mother’s shoulder, Elizabeth was glancing at me as if to say, Should we go?

I shook my head. If my mom was in a bad mood, I didn’t want to be alone with her.

My mom set her shopping bags on the floor—bags I hoped were not full of pumpkin clothes. “I need to talk to you,” she said.

“Can it wait until later?” I asked. Oh, great, she was mad at me! And Rachel—ugh—Rachel was widening her eyes at Addie like, Ooh! Smackdown!

“I’d rather deal with this now,” said my mom, peeling off her leather jacket, “before your father comes home.”

“We have lots of time before that,” I said, thinking, If he even comes home before bedtime.

“That’s okay.” Elizabeth stood up and buttoned her sweater. “I need to get going, anyway.”

Rachel hopped off the counter. “Me too,” and Addie put in, “Me too.”

I walked my friends to the elevator—so mad, I could barely see in front of me.

“Bye, Reener,” said Elizabeth, giving me a squeeze. “Call me later, okay?”

“Thanks.” I stood with my friends until the elevator came, then tried to sneak back into the apartment without my mom noticing me. No luck—she was right by the hall table going through the mail.

Except now she was totally obsessed with the bill in front of her, running a shiny, dark red nail down the list of charges and frowning so hard that lines appeared between her eyes. I started down the hall to my room, but she held up her hand as if to tell me to wait, so I rolled my eyes and leaned against the front door. She needed to make up her mind: yell at Marina or call MasterCard. And let me play on the Internet while she decided. What was the problem, anyway? I had gotten in trouble for the poll, but I’d finished my detention last week.

“I can’t deal with these people,” my mother muttered, tossing the bill aside. Then her gaze landed on me. “So, Marina,” she said. “I got a call today about your vocabulary quiz.”

“What?” I asked. “What about it?” Had I failed a quiz already? I had studied!

“Ms. Avery said you had the same answers as Rachel,” my mother told me. “Is that true?”

“What?” I asked. “Oh my gosh, it’s not like there are answers. You were supposed to write sentences that showed you knew the meaning of the words. Yeah, Rachel and I came up with the sentences together, but we each remembered them on our own. Rachel’s not even in my class. Why does Ms. Avery even care, as long as the sentences are right? She just doesn’t like me.”

“Calm down, Marina.” My mother closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “You don’t need to go into hysterics about every little thing.”

“I’m not going into hysterics,” I told her. “I’m just saying, we didn’t cheat.”

“Nobody’s accusing you of cheating,” my mother said. “She just said you had the same sentences and wanted to figure out how that happened.”

“Well, tell her what I told you,” I said. “We studied.”

My mom ripped into another envelope. “She’ll probably want to hear it from you.”

“What?” I had already spent more than enough quality time with my Head of House. “Can’t you call her? She called you.”

“Marina . . .” My mother tugged the letter out of its envelope. “I don’t have time to go through ten rounds of phone tag with the teachers at your school. You see her every day. Just talk to her.”

“Fine.” I pushed myself off the door. “But if I end up in detention again because she doesn’t believe me, you’re going to have to talk to her, anyway.”

“You know, Marina.” My mother sighed. “I come home from a long day—”

Of spas and waxes, I thought.

“—and I don’t think it’s too much to ask that sometimes you’re in a good mood.”

“And I don’t think it’s too much to ask,” I shot back, “that sometimes you’re on my side.”

I didn’t want to hear what she said to that, so I stomped down the hall and slammed my door. Then I texted Rachel.

Ms. A called my mom 2 say we cheated on vocab quiz. Hate her!

I watched the phone until a text from Rachel buzzed back:

Stnx 2 b u!

U 2, I wrote back. Did Rachel think Ms. Avery wouldn’t call her parents?

The phone buzzed again with Rachel’s reply:

My parents will be like pls, we dont care.

I snapped the phone shut. How could I have forgotten? Mr. and Mrs. Winter thought Rachel was so perfect, they’d probably get mad at Ms. Avery for calling them. But why did she have to be such a raging jerk about it? Elizabeth would have been nice. Addie would have said, Poor Reener! It was just Rachel who turned it into something to show off about.

I grabbed my Little Black Book off my bedside table and started scribbling. If winning was what Rachel wanted, I could think of plenty of poll categories for her to come in numero uno.



Students crowd around a bulletin board.

CLOSE-UP: SACHI, her face alert.

CUT TO: the bulletin board. A piece of paper reads, “After-School Activities.”

CLOSE-UP: the word “Video” and a list of names underneath it.

PAN down the list of names, resting on: SACHI PARIKH.

Sachi claps her hands in delight.


Yes! I made it! Oh, thank you,

thank you, thank—

She knocks into someone and turns to see MR. PHILLIPS, a teacher who has appeared as if from nowhere wearing a black suit and dark glasses.


Sachi Parikh?






Come with me, please. We have some questions about your permission slip.


“Excuse me,” I said, weaving through the crowd outside of school. “Sorry. Pardon me.”

“Hey, Sachi!” said a voice.

I turned to see Tessa, from my math class, disentangling herself from her friends. “Oh, hi!” I replied. I really wanted to get into the lobby, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I asked, “How are you?”

“Good. Listen.” She sighed. “I lost that pencil you lent me.”

“Oh!” I felt bad that she felt bad. “That’s okay.”

“Are you sure?” Her dark skin wrinkled with worry. “It was one of those nice mechanical ones.”

I tried to smile, but all I could think was Video, Video, Video. “It’s okay,” I told her, “really. Hey, I need to check over my homework, but I’ll see you in math, okay?”

Her face relaxed. “Okay, thanks. Yeah, see you later.”

I wove through some tiny sixth graders, careful not to shove into them but barely able to wait another second. We’d handed in the permission slips for after-school activities on Monday—they had to post the list today! When I came close enough to the door to give it a good yank, I burst into the lobby, looked toward the bulletin board and—

Oh. No list.

Not that I could read the bulletin board from all the way across the lobby, but last year, when my sister Priyanka had wanted to know whether she’d gotten the fun Test Prep teacher or the strict one, seventh and eighth graders had flocked to the board in such a mob that I’d had to wait on the edges until Priyanka had come back with the bad news. Some kids were milling around by the board today, but they looked more like people waiting than people who’d just found something out.

I walked over to my spot near the library, trying to stay hopeful. I had gotten to school pretty early. Maybe they’d put up the list before homeroom. After all, activities started next Tuesday, and today was Thursday. Surely they wouldn’t wait until next week to tell us. My stomach clenched with the thought that I’d have to spend the whole weekend worrying whether I’d gotten into Video. The teachers wouldn’t notice that the signature on my permission slip didn’t really match the one on my sister’s . . . would they?

“No way,” said a giggly voice, “you didn’t count that right.”

“That’s because I can’t do it when you’re moving!”

I looked up to see Flora and Lainey heading toward me. Lainey was clutching Flora’s collar, and the two of them were laughing.

“Hi!” I laughed too because they looked so silly. “What’s going on?”

Flora sank down next to me. “Not much.”

I inched away to give her room, since the pin collection on her bag could scratch you if weren’t careful.

“Hey.” Lainey smiled as she sat on the other side of Flora, her dirty-blond hair pulled into a messy bun. “What’s up?”

“What were you guys talking about?” I couldn’t imagine why Lainey had been holding on to Flora’s collar.

“Oh, nothing.” Flora shook her head, but she had a little smirk that made me think it was actually something.

“Flora wants me to get her some of that bicycle-chain jewelry they sell near my house,” Lainey explained, “you know, like my bracelet.” She rooted among the many bracelets on her wrist and ran her finger over a thick silvery one that I now realized was a chain from a bicycle.

“Oh, right,” I said. “I like that one.” Honestly, I thought it was sort of strange, but I knew Lainey was proud of it.

“Thanks,” said Lainey, pleased. “Anyway, you have to tell the people at the store how many links you want, so I was trying to measure with my fingers, except somebody ”—she leaned into Flora, who let out a barking laugh—“kept moving, so I couldn’t get it right.”

“Oh, funny,” I said. Although why was that such a big deal that Flora didn’t want me to know about it? “You should let her count, Flora. That bracelet would look good on you.”

“Hey,” said Lainey, “do you want me to get you one?”

Flora burst out laughing. “Oh, yeah, right.”

“What?” I asked, surprised.

Flora shook her head, chunks of dark brown hair falling from her ponytail. “No offense, Sachi, but I don’t think you’re the bicycle-chain type. I mean, the poll said you were a Nice Girl, not a Tough Girl.”

“Ugh, do not even mention that stupid poll.” Lainey scuffed her pink high-tops against the wall opposite us. “That thing was evil.”

“Yeah.” Flora snorted. “Weirdest Girl.” She kept saying it like that, but I knew she liked her title.

“You’ll be on it if they do it next year,” I assured Lainey. “For Best Singer, maybe.” She was new this year, so people didn’t know her that well yet, but she was playing Rizzo in Grease, so she must have been good.

Lainey chipped at her purple nail polish. “I guess. But you’re, like, the only nonpopular person who got something good. Not that those girls are popular with me, but you know.”

I crossed one leg over the other. “Yeah . . .” I had to admit, at first I had been flattered to have made it onto the poll. But lately I had started to wonder, what did “nice” mean? That I lent so many people pencils, I had to dip into my tiny allowance to buy more? Or that I didn’t say anything when Flora acted secretive about a necklace? “Nicest Girl” may have seemed like a compliment, but it was part of the reason I needed to get into Video.




Sachi, your video was amazing! You may be Nicest Girl, but I’m going to call you Most Creative.



Oh, thank you.


Lainey, Sachi has always been creative. Don’t you ever see her stories in the hallway? She’s more than just the perfect score. Maybe it’s not obvious to you, but Sachi and I have been best friends since third grade, so I know these things.

I was so lost in my thoughts, I didn’t notice when it happened, but a teacher must have posted the list on the bulletin board, because all of a sudden there was a stampede! Seventh and eighth graders mobbed the board in layers so thick, I couldn’t even see the board itself.

“What is that?” Lainey asked.

“I think it’s the after-school activities list,” I responded, my heart thumping. I sat frozen between them, not sure if I should move. Of course I wanted to see if I’d gotten into Video, but I wasn’t sure I wanted Flora and Lainey to be there when I did. What if the teachers noticed that the signature was funny, and had written “See me” next to my name?

Well—even if that was the case, I had to know. I jumped up and said, “I’m going to check out the list.”

Flora squinted up at me. “Are you that excited about Test Prep?”

“Um . . . I also requested Video.” The crowd was gathering more people by the second.

“No way!” Flora scrambled to her feet, and Lainey did the same as my heart squeezed in protest. “That’s so cool. I thought your parents were making you take Test Prep. What did you say to them?”

“I just asked and they said yes,” I replied, heading for the board. I wished she hadn’t said that in front of Lainey. They were already getting close because of the play. What if Flora told her things about me that made me seem immature? “It wasn’t a big deal.”

Just then, a boy pushed past me and elbowed me, hard.

Ow! I rubbed my arm. Was that my punishment for lying? Because I hadn’t only lied to my friends. I’d deceived my parents as well, only far, far worse.



CLOSE-UP: a credit card, flipped over. A piece of scrap paper. A hand practicing a signature.

SACHI’S MOTHER (offscreen)

Sachi? Why aren’t you in bed?

PAN from Sachi’s hand to her face as she gasps.



Using the signature she’s been practicing, Sachi scrawls her mother’s name on the after-school activities form.

I brushed the memory from my head. I just needed to find out whether I’d gotten in—then I’d deal with the consequences.

A space opened up in front of the board, and I darted into it. I found the words “Video Lab,” scanned the end of the list for “Parikh,” and—

“Yes!” I clapped. “I’m in!”

“Awesome,” said Lainey. “What are you going to do it on? Can we guest-star?”

I laughed. “Oh, gosh, I don’t know.” I had thought about what I might do, and it didn’t involve playing a part. But it could, possibly, so I said, “I mean, of course you can.”

The first bell rang, sending a groan rippling through the lobby. “We should go,” Flora said. The laughter I’d felt a moment ago dried up, because I remembered something else I had to worry about: Priyanka.



Sachi’s sister, PRIYANKA, enters the lobby and makes a beeline for the list. She reads it, and her eyes bulge out in shock.


(turning to Sachi)

You’re taking Video? What is your problem? I’m calling Ma!


Priyanka—let me explain—

I had to intercept her before she saw the list.

“You guys go ahead,” I told Flora and Lainey. “I need to tell Priyanka something.”

“Priyanka? Get me outta here!” Flora bounded toward the stairs. Lainey ran after her, asking, “Why?”

Flora made no secret of finding my older sister cross and dull, and though I wished she wouldn’t be quite so obvious about it, I couldn’t blame her.

Make that cross, dull, and punctual, I thought, because, as if on cue, Priyanka strode into the lobby, her hair frizzy in the humidity, despite her braid. A crowd had gathered again around the list, and she began striding toward it, but I blocked her path. “Hey!” I said, trying on a broad smile. “How are you? Did Pallavi get to school okay? I’m sorry she was so cranky on your morning. What do you think was bothering her?”

Priyanka wrinkled her nose, adjusting her glasses. “What’s going on?”

I blinked. “With me? Nothing. Well, my backpack is kind of heavy, but—”

She rolled her eyes. “What do you want, Sachi?”

My heart sank. “What makes you think I want something?” In the old days, Priyanka and I always talked about our little sister. In fact, last year at this time, we were dropping her off at school together. But ever since the winter, Priyanka had gone from doing everything with me to criticizing everything I did. I had no idea what I had done to deserve it or how to make things right. Now, as she stood in front of me with her arms folded, her long braid flopping over her shoulder like the tail of an agitated raccoon, I thought, She probably won’t listen, but I have to try.

“Okay,” I said, taking a deep breath, “you know how I wanted to be in the after-school Video class?”

She shifted her jaw to the side. “Yes?”

“So I sort of . . . got in. And—”

“What?” She spoke with such force that the koala bear hanging from her backpack jumped on the end of its key chain. “What did you do, you forged the signature?”

I looked at the koala’s matted fur, feeling like I was dangling from a chain myself. “Maybe.”

As two girls walked by, one pointed at the koala, and the other one giggled. I felt my face grow hot.

“Ma and Papa are going to kill you,” Priyanka declared. “Do you really think they’re not going to find out? What do you think will happen when your class takes the practice test? They’ll know you haven’t been studying.”

I cringed. Priyanka had gotten to the second part of my plan sooner than I had wanted her to. “Well,” I said, “I was hoping you could lend me your books from last year.”

She stared at me. “Are you crazy? I’m not helping you with this.”

“Please?” I begged. “I’ll make sure they don’t find out.”

“I can’t even believe we’re having this conversation,” she said. “Why do you need to take Video now? Just do it next year, when you’ve already gotten into high school.”

Would she understand my reasons if I explained them? I had to try. “Do you remember the video in last year’s Arts Assembly?” I asked. “Where they talked about the different nationalities at school like we were countries on the news? You know, when the white girl asked the Muslim girl in the head scarf for the ketchup, and the voice-over said, ‘America recognized Pakistan today’?”

I thought it would make her smile—I knew she’d liked the video too—but she folded her arms. “You think because those two boys made a video and got into Stuyvesant, you will too?” she asked. “You know that it’s just based on test scores, right?”

“Yes,” I said impatiently. “I know how it works.” How could I not, with my parents quoting from the New York City Specialized High School Handbook every evening? “I just meant—that video was so cool, and I want to make one like it. Not exactly like it, though—more like a sequel. If I wait until next year, people won’t even remember the first one.”

“So?” said Priyanka. “What’s worse—people not remembering last year’s video, or being the only cousin who didn’t get into Stuyvesant? I mean, if I get in.” Her tone showed that she thought she would.

“I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but . . .” I didn’t think I could tell her the other reason I had to take Video now—that I didn’t want to go through Jacobs known just for my grades, or being Nicest Girl. The boys who had made the video last year—everyone was talking about them after the Arts Assembly. I wanted that to happen to me. “I really want to be in Video now.”

Then I noticed that there were only two minutes left until homeroom—time to speed things up. “Look,” I said, “if you keep it a secret, I’ll let you have the computer first every day for a whole month.”

“You think I’ll lie to Ma and Papa just to use the computer?” She started walking toward the stairs, fast. “Ha.”

I wanted to cry, but I had to keep going. “Okay,” I said, struggling to keep up with her, “I wasn’t going to say this, but if you tell Ma and Papa about Video, I’ll tell them that when you went to the movies this summer, it wasn’t just with the cousins.”

She whirled around. “You wouldn’t!”

I shrugged, trying to seem cool for once in my life.

“Fine,” Priyanka said. “Take Video, see if I care. If you end up going to a bad high school, don’t come crying to me about it.”

I itched to crack my knuckles but restrained myself. “You won’t tell them?”

She pursed her lips. “Fine. But you’d better use my books. If Ma and Papa find out you ditched Test Prep, I don’t want them to blame me for letting you get a bad score.”


Priyanka stepped up the stairs two at a time, which I recognized as the sign that we were done. I let her go for two paces, then scrambled on up. I didn’t want to be late to homeroom on top of everything else.

But, I reminded myself as the air burned in my lungs, she had said yes. And that meant—Video.

About The Author

Jessica Leader graduated from Brown University and holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Aladdin (June 8, 2010)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416991601
  • Grades: 4 - 8
  • Ages: 9 - 13
  • Lexile ® 680 The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®

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Raves and Reviews

What’s in and what’s out? When is originality cool? Popularity and diversity are at the heart of the drama in this story of middle-school peer pressure. Sachi Parikh lies to her parents so that she can ditch Test Prep for Video class, where she works with Marina Glass, who wants to expose a bully on film. The story’s many clothing details will date quickly, but middle-school readers, whether they’re from the in-crowd or outsiders, will recognize the classroom-jungle warfare and the big issues behind what they decide to wear. - BOOKLIST, July 1, 2010

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