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Bad Best Friend

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Paperback
$9.99 US
| $13.99 CAN
On sale May 21, 2024 | 320 Pages | 978-0-451-47946-4
Age 10 and up | Grade 5 & Up
Reading Level: Lexile 580L
Friendship, cliques, and middle school drama with a heavy dose of heart--perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead!

Niki Ames can't wait to start eighth grade, that all-important year before high school. She and her best friend, Ava, have shared so many plans for the coming year. But then the unthinkable happens: at gym class pair-up, Ava chooses someone else to be her partner. Niki is devastated. It's clear that Ava wants to be part of the popular group, leaving Niki behind. Niki has to decide who her real friends should be, where her real interests lie. Meanwhile, life at home is complicated. Niki's nine-year-old brother Danny continues to act out more and more publicly. Their mother refuses to admit that Danny is somewhere on the autism spectrum, but it's clear he needs help. Niki doesn't want to be like her brother, to be labeled as different. She just wants to be popular! Is she a bad sister and a bad best friend?
1

“Everybody stand next to your best friend,” the gym teacher said.

I bumped Ava’s shoulder with mine.

We were already standing next to each other, of course.

We’ve been best friends since third grade, basically since the day she moved here. No. A few weeks after. Still, nearly forever. It’s not like we were making a big, momentous decision right there in front of the entire eighth grade. Everybody knows Ava and I are best friends.

So I wasn’t worried or anything. Knowing, hundred percent, that you can choose her, and that your best friend will of course choose you right back, right away, in front of everybody, no hesitation? Best feeling in the world.

But Ava didn’t bump me back.

I rolled my eyes at Ava and whispered, “We’re not even supposed to have best friends, I thought.”
It’s a rule at Snug Island Primary School: We Are All Friends Here! There’s a poster saying that at the entrance. Ava and I make fun of how fake it is. Come on in and start your day with a lie, kids! We walk under those words literally every day: We Are All Friends Here! The only SIPS teacher who’d ever admit it’s not exactly true, that we’re maybe not all friends, not all equal friends, don’t even necessarily like each other all that much? It would be Ms. Andry, the ancient gym teacher. She’s so over it, no time for that politically correct fakery. Ava and I love how fully fried Ms. Andry is.

Ava wasn’t saying anything back to me.

She was looking at her sneakers.

I looked at her sneakers too.

That’s why I saw her sneakers step-together-step away from me.

Toward Britney.

I smiled at Ava. My mom always says, Smiles, sunshine, and a quick cleanup make everything better! “Why is Ms. Andry always so extra?” I whispered to Ava.

Ava always says, Why is Ms. Andry so extra?

This time, Ava didn’t say anything.

“I mean, what’s even her actual plan?” I whispered.

Ava forced out a little one-ha laugh. But she still wouldn’t look at me.

Ms. Andry pointed her bony witch finger right at me. “You!” she said.

Do not pee in your pants, Niki, I told myself.

“Who are you with?” she barked at me.

I was very busy not peeing in my pants so did not have a chance to answer evil Ms. Andry at that time.

“Who’s your person?” Ms. Andry barked at Ava, having realized I was worthless.

“Britney,” Ava said.

“Britney? That’s somebody’s name?” Ms. Andry asked. “Which one is Britney?”

Ava pointed her thumb at, well, Britney.

Everybody knows Britney. Britney, Isabel, and Madeleine. They’re the Squad. Even Ms. Andry had to know that.

Britney leaned toward Ava, my best friend, and whispered into her ear. Ava’s heart-shaped mouth puckered into a smile.

“So who’s yours?” Ms. Andry asked me. Trying again.

I was watching Ava. She was whispering something back to Britney. The two of them flicked their eyes toward me. When they saw I was watching them, they turned quickly away, in unison.

“This isn’t calculus, kids,” Ms. Andry barked. “Just pick your best friend; I don’t care who’s your partner. There’s an even number of you people, come on.”

“What if our best friend isn’t here?” Bradley asked.

“Oh, like you have a best friend,” Chase said.

“Eat dirt, Chase,” Bradley said. “Your best friend is your mom.”

“My best friend is your mom!” Chase said back.

Ava and the Squad were all cracking up at the boys and their loud dissing. Bradley and Chase are best friends. They, along with Robby and Milo, are the boys who Britney, Isabel, and Madeleine hang out with. They have nothing to do with me and Ava anymore. Robby and Milo live next door to me, and we used to play together all the time, but now they glowed up and I, well, haven’t.

“It doesn’t matter,” Ms. Andry interrupted the boys. “You two lugs can work together. Just choose a partner. Let’s go. Who’s left without a friend?”

I raised my hand a little, pushed it up into the air, into the concrete-air of shame weighing it down.

Across the gym, Holly Jones raised her hand too.

No. No. You can’t go backward.

“Fine,” Ms. Andry said. “You and you.” She pointed at Holly Jones, and then at me. Holly walked across the gym toward me.

I kept my eyes on my feet on the high-gloss gym floor. Same sneakers as Ava’s, one size bigger because my feet are disproportionately huge for my body. Same style, though: Superstars. Got them together, Ava’s mom’s treat. Ms. Andry was explaining the exercise we were supposed to do, something called trust falls. I didn’t listen to the instructions because I couldn’t hear anything but the ocean drowning me from inside my head.

Also because I didn’t care.

Holly was saying something, next to me.

I don’t know what, because I was very focused on not yelling, YOU ARE NOT MY BEST FRIEND. AVA IS MY BEST FRIEND. WHAT IS HAPPENING.

I gritted my teeth against it and tried to hear what Holly was saying.

“Who does she think she is, Noah?” Holly whispered out of the side of her mouth.

“What?” I managed. “Noah who?” Ugh, just what I needed was to hear about some cousin of Holly’s named Noah, or some kid named Noah she knew from some retreat her weird, crunchy hippie family went on or something. I NEED TO TALK TO AVA, I was thinking. I NEED TO SORT THIS OUT. I AM NOT BEST FRIENDS WITH YOU ANYMORE, HOLLY.

“Noah! You know, Noah, loading up the ark?” Holly asked.

“I’m not religious,” I said.

“Me either,” Holly whispered. “As you know! But you know, like, two by two?”

“Right,” I said. Right, except me. Like the unchosen llama or hippopotamus or squirrel, I was suddenly and publicly alone.

Paired with this, what, porcupine? Or, to be fair, koala. Whatever, something slightly exotic and sweet. But not two of a kind with me at all.

What happened to the animals stranded alone like that on the ground in front of the ark? The left-out animals, the third ones? I’d never thought about them before. Did they slink away, or did they strike?

If you’re the third lion, you’re dead.

Worse than dead, being the third lion, the extra elephant: condemned to the rising flood. Pre-dead, and knowing it.

Knowing, as you watch the other animals go two by two, that there’d be no place for you inside the ark, no safety. That this is your fate, the end of the line for you. You’d just have to stand there in the drizzle. Alone, abandoned. An unchosen elephant alongside the third koala, maybe, but not half a pair, so basically alone. A random. Watching the two elephants who’d just been right beside you, one of them the one you’d expected to be your partner, as they swish their tails (ponytails) behind them in self-satisfied unison, going giggling up the gangplank onto the ark.

Feeling the floodwaters rise around your sagging ankles.

Ava was catching Britney. Britney was falling, backward, gracefully, toward Ava. Drop her, I wished horribly at them. My mom thinks I am nice. I am obviously not.

The two of them were laughing. Shrieking, just like Madeleine and Isabel, who were also falling backward at each other, taking turns.

I looked full-on at Holly for the first time, with her thick blue-framed glasses, her short cloud of black hair. She was looking back at me. Her face was serious, her mouth a straight line.

Worse than alone, I thought at her sweet, solemn face.

She turned around. I held out my arms for her to fall backward toward me. I felt her pouf of weight hit my arms, and stumbled to not drop her. I succeeded, but it was close.

She was light.

She stood up and faced me again without smiling. “Your turn,” she said.

“No, thanks,” I said.

“You can trust me,” she said. Her eyes are huge and gray, like a manga drawing.

I turned my back to her.

I let myself fall, but not because I trusted Holly. How could I?

Her. Anybody.

I let myself fall backward because who even cares.

She caught me.

Whatever.

It’s not like falling flat on the floor would have made my day worse.
Rachel Vail never intended to become a writer. As a teenager she believed her only skill was eavesdropping, and therefore she planned to become a spy. But as a freshman at Georgetown University, Vail realized that her skill could be put to use. By writing down conversations she overheard, the stories in her head evolved into plays, and eventually into novels. Vail is the author of Wonder and lives in New York City with her husband and their son. View titles by Rachel Vail

About

Friendship, cliques, and middle school drama with a heavy dose of heart--perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead!

Niki Ames can't wait to start eighth grade, that all-important year before high school. She and her best friend, Ava, have shared so many plans for the coming year. But then the unthinkable happens: at gym class pair-up, Ava chooses someone else to be her partner. Niki is devastated. It's clear that Ava wants to be part of the popular group, leaving Niki behind. Niki has to decide who her real friends should be, where her real interests lie. Meanwhile, life at home is complicated. Niki's nine-year-old brother Danny continues to act out more and more publicly. Their mother refuses to admit that Danny is somewhere on the autism spectrum, but it's clear he needs help. Niki doesn't want to be like her brother, to be labeled as different. She just wants to be popular! Is she a bad sister and a bad best friend?

Excerpt

1

“Everybody stand next to your best friend,” the gym teacher said.

I bumped Ava’s shoulder with mine.

We were already standing next to each other, of course.

We’ve been best friends since third grade, basically since the day she moved here. No. A few weeks after. Still, nearly forever. It’s not like we were making a big, momentous decision right there in front of the entire eighth grade. Everybody knows Ava and I are best friends.

So I wasn’t worried or anything. Knowing, hundred percent, that you can choose her, and that your best friend will of course choose you right back, right away, in front of everybody, no hesitation? Best feeling in the world.

But Ava didn’t bump me back.

I rolled my eyes at Ava and whispered, “We’re not even supposed to have best friends, I thought.”
It’s a rule at Snug Island Primary School: We Are All Friends Here! There’s a poster saying that at the entrance. Ava and I make fun of how fake it is. Come on in and start your day with a lie, kids! We walk under those words literally every day: We Are All Friends Here! The only SIPS teacher who’d ever admit it’s not exactly true, that we’re maybe not all friends, not all equal friends, don’t even necessarily like each other all that much? It would be Ms. Andry, the ancient gym teacher. She’s so over it, no time for that politically correct fakery. Ava and I love how fully fried Ms. Andry is.

Ava wasn’t saying anything back to me.

She was looking at her sneakers.

I looked at her sneakers too.

That’s why I saw her sneakers step-together-step away from me.

Toward Britney.

I smiled at Ava. My mom always says, Smiles, sunshine, and a quick cleanup make everything better! “Why is Ms. Andry always so extra?” I whispered to Ava.

Ava always says, Why is Ms. Andry so extra?

This time, Ava didn’t say anything.

“I mean, what’s even her actual plan?” I whispered.

Ava forced out a little one-ha laugh. But she still wouldn’t look at me.

Ms. Andry pointed her bony witch finger right at me. “You!” she said.

Do not pee in your pants, Niki, I told myself.

“Who are you with?” she barked at me.

I was very busy not peeing in my pants so did not have a chance to answer evil Ms. Andry at that time.

“Who’s your person?” Ms. Andry barked at Ava, having realized I was worthless.

“Britney,” Ava said.

“Britney? That’s somebody’s name?” Ms. Andry asked. “Which one is Britney?”

Ava pointed her thumb at, well, Britney.

Everybody knows Britney. Britney, Isabel, and Madeleine. They’re the Squad. Even Ms. Andry had to know that.

Britney leaned toward Ava, my best friend, and whispered into her ear. Ava’s heart-shaped mouth puckered into a smile.

“So who’s yours?” Ms. Andry asked me. Trying again.

I was watching Ava. She was whispering something back to Britney. The two of them flicked their eyes toward me. When they saw I was watching them, they turned quickly away, in unison.

“This isn’t calculus, kids,” Ms. Andry barked. “Just pick your best friend; I don’t care who’s your partner. There’s an even number of you people, come on.”

“What if our best friend isn’t here?” Bradley asked.

“Oh, like you have a best friend,” Chase said.

“Eat dirt, Chase,” Bradley said. “Your best friend is your mom.”

“My best friend is your mom!” Chase said back.

Ava and the Squad were all cracking up at the boys and their loud dissing. Bradley and Chase are best friends. They, along with Robby and Milo, are the boys who Britney, Isabel, and Madeleine hang out with. They have nothing to do with me and Ava anymore. Robby and Milo live next door to me, and we used to play together all the time, but now they glowed up and I, well, haven’t.

“It doesn’t matter,” Ms. Andry interrupted the boys. “You two lugs can work together. Just choose a partner. Let’s go. Who’s left without a friend?”

I raised my hand a little, pushed it up into the air, into the concrete-air of shame weighing it down.

Across the gym, Holly Jones raised her hand too.

No. No. You can’t go backward.

“Fine,” Ms. Andry said. “You and you.” She pointed at Holly Jones, and then at me. Holly walked across the gym toward me.

I kept my eyes on my feet on the high-gloss gym floor. Same sneakers as Ava’s, one size bigger because my feet are disproportionately huge for my body. Same style, though: Superstars. Got them together, Ava’s mom’s treat. Ms. Andry was explaining the exercise we were supposed to do, something called trust falls. I didn’t listen to the instructions because I couldn’t hear anything but the ocean drowning me from inside my head.

Also because I didn’t care.

Holly was saying something, next to me.

I don’t know what, because I was very focused on not yelling, YOU ARE NOT MY BEST FRIEND. AVA IS MY BEST FRIEND. WHAT IS HAPPENING.

I gritted my teeth against it and tried to hear what Holly was saying.

“Who does she think she is, Noah?” Holly whispered out of the side of her mouth.

“What?” I managed. “Noah who?” Ugh, just what I needed was to hear about some cousin of Holly’s named Noah, or some kid named Noah she knew from some retreat her weird, crunchy hippie family went on or something. I NEED TO TALK TO AVA, I was thinking. I NEED TO SORT THIS OUT. I AM NOT BEST FRIENDS WITH YOU ANYMORE, HOLLY.

“Noah! You know, Noah, loading up the ark?” Holly asked.

“I’m not religious,” I said.

“Me either,” Holly whispered. “As you know! But you know, like, two by two?”

“Right,” I said. Right, except me. Like the unchosen llama or hippopotamus or squirrel, I was suddenly and publicly alone.

Paired with this, what, porcupine? Or, to be fair, koala. Whatever, something slightly exotic and sweet. But not two of a kind with me at all.

What happened to the animals stranded alone like that on the ground in front of the ark? The left-out animals, the third ones? I’d never thought about them before. Did they slink away, or did they strike?

If you’re the third lion, you’re dead.

Worse than dead, being the third lion, the extra elephant: condemned to the rising flood. Pre-dead, and knowing it.

Knowing, as you watch the other animals go two by two, that there’d be no place for you inside the ark, no safety. That this is your fate, the end of the line for you. You’d just have to stand there in the drizzle. Alone, abandoned. An unchosen elephant alongside the third koala, maybe, but not half a pair, so basically alone. A random. Watching the two elephants who’d just been right beside you, one of them the one you’d expected to be your partner, as they swish their tails (ponytails) behind them in self-satisfied unison, going giggling up the gangplank onto the ark.

Feeling the floodwaters rise around your sagging ankles.

Ava was catching Britney. Britney was falling, backward, gracefully, toward Ava. Drop her, I wished horribly at them. My mom thinks I am nice. I am obviously not.

The two of them were laughing. Shrieking, just like Madeleine and Isabel, who were also falling backward at each other, taking turns.

I looked full-on at Holly for the first time, with her thick blue-framed glasses, her short cloud of black hair. She was looking back at me. Her face was serious, her mouth a straight line.

Worse than alone, I thought at her sweet, solemn face.

She turned around. I held out my arms for her to fall backward toward me. I felt her pouf of weight hit my arms, and stumbled to not drop her. I succeeded, but it was close.

She was light.

She stood up and faced me again without smiling. “Your turn,” she said.

“No, thanks,” I said.

“You can trust me,” she said. Her eyes are huge and gray, like a manga drawing.

I turned my back to her.

I let myself fall, but not because I trusted Holly. How could I?

Her. Anybody.

I let myself fall backward because who even cares.

She caught me.

Whatever.

It’s not like falling flat on the floor would have made my day worse.

Author

Rachel Vail never intended to become a writer. As a teenager she believed her only skill was eavesdropping, and therefore she planned to become a spy. But as a freshman at Georgetown University, Vail realized that her skill could be put to use. By writing down conversations she overheard, the stories in her head evolved into plays, and eventually into novels. Vail is the author of Wonder and lives in New York City with her husband and their son. View titles by Rachel Vail