Jennifer Nails Next to Mexico

ISBN 13: 9780618966356

Next to Mexico

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9780618966356: Next to Mexico
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When Lylice found out she was skipping fifth grade, she was excited. Then nervous. Then excited again. Then terrified. On her first day of sixth grade everything bad that could happen did. But when Senora Schwartz assigned her to be Mexico Mendoza’s English Buddy, school got a little better. Then a lot better. Then not as better. Then much, much worse.

This is the story of her first quarter at Susan B. Anthony Middle School. And it’s the story of how to get away with something that grownups will first not like, then, after they think about it, won’t mind. And will actually think was a good idea. Oh, and it’s about doing something so stupid because of a boy and worrying that your best friend will ever talk to you again.

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About the Author:

Jennifer Nails lives in New York City with her husband and son. She teaches improvisation and writing at the New York Film Academy and the People’s Improv Theater.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

A Magic Elevator of Her Own

I will never go to fifth grade. I got to skip it. It is as if I took an elevator up from fourth, and everyone else took the stairs. At first I liked the idea. But that was in the spring, when Principal Garrison told my parents and me. I got to wonder about what sixth grade might be like while still in the normalness of fourth grade.

School started on the Tuesday after Labor Day. Principal Harrington called me into his office before first period. “You’re kidding me,” he barked into the phone. I waved. He shot out of his seat and glared at me. “No. No. There isn’t still time to find someone else. Marcia, it’s the first day of school and I need you here!” I stood in his doorway, waiting. Last night he’d called my parents and told them I should come talk to him first thing in the morning. He’d said to. What was I supposed to do? On his desk, a half-eaten blueberry muffin sat on stacks and stacks of file folders. The office was a tiny rectangle, but Principal Harrington didn’t take up much space.

I had worried about sixth grade all summer. Not the school part of it—the friend part. In fourth grade I was best friends with Principal Garrison. She turned sixty-five in May. They had a party for her but I wasn’t invited. In third grade I got to know the librarian, Miss Phillips, really well, because I was always in there. She lived with her sister, Maude, and they took care of their old mother. But let’s just put it this way: you can’t invite a real grown woman over for a sleepover.

“Well, fine, then. Go to Cherryvale. You know they don’t need you there like we need you here, Marcia!” he shouted. “And don’t expect a recommendation from me!” He slammed down the phone. “Argh,” he growled.

I took one step back and attempted to tiptoe out the door. I’d come back later.

“Lie-lice Martin,” he said, snatching the blueberry muffin and hurling it into the trash. “Welcome. Mrs. Garrison has told me all about you.” He flopped into his seat and started rubbing his forehead, smiling a little. “We’re both glad you’re here.”

“Thank you, Principal Harrington,” I said. “Sorry your first day of school isn’t going so well.”

His smile got bigger but it seemed like the feeling behind it got smaller. “I’m glad I’m here, too,” I said quickly. But I wished it wasn’t happening yet. I wished there was time for more wondering and dreaming about what sixth grade might be like. And I wished his day wasn’t going so badly, because he was making me want to be back at Catalina Foothills Elementary School with Mrs. Garrison, not here with him at Susan B. Anthony Middle School. “You wanted to see me?” I asked.

Through the whole conversation we had about striving for excellence, he opened and slammed drawers, flipped through folders, and scribbled on Post- Its. He called me Lie-Lice three times. Finally I said: “It’s Lylice. Like Phyllis.” I said I’d been called worse. He didn’t laugh. But he did tell me to come in and visit whenever I wanted. I was not sure I would.

We had Senora Schwartz for first period. We had to pick a Spanish name that we would go by for the entire year. I considered all of the choices on the board. But I wanted something that sounded fancy and different.

“Concepción,” I said, when it was my turn. I used my best Spanish accent, putting emphasis on the ión part of the word. Senora raised her eyebrows and said: “Interesante!” I smiled.

Two girls and a boy with black curly hair burst out laughing. Then they all put their top teeth over their bottom lips and stared at me. I squashed my lips shut. I knew those three. They had been in fifth grade at Catalina Foothills Elementary last year. Tony Frizell, Hannah Anderson, and Debbie Dominguez.

I knew why they were sticking their teeth out like that. Everyone did that to me last year, too. Instead of pointing down at my bottom lip, like they’re supposed to, my two front teeth point out.

Suddenly, Senora’s door flew open. Heads turned toward it. Principal Harrington and a short girl walked in. A very short girl. And skinnier than a baby puppy. She was clutching pink backpack straps. Senora shook her hand and said hola. After patting the girl’s shoulder and whispering something to Senora, Principal Harrington left.

“Estudiantes, say hola to Mexico Mendoza,” said Senora. Before I could think, before I could not think, I stood from my chair.

“Hola, Mexico!” I said, alone. I grinned at her from my desk, my two front teeth almost stretching the distance between us to shake her hand. My class burst out laughing. I fell back into my seat and chewed my lip. People kept giggling. Mexico Mendoza smiled at me and sort of waved. I waved back with ppursed lips, a smile bubbling inside of me. She wore a flowered dress and white straw sandals. It seemed as though she had taken a magic elevator to get here too. Senora pointed her toward the empty desk next to me. “Hi, I’m Lylice,” I whispered, putting my hand out. “That’s L-y-l-i-c-e. Lylice.” Mexico shook my hand and sat down. I liked her red butterfly barrettes.

At the end of class, Senora assigned me to be Mexico’s English Buddy for the year, since our last names were right next to each other, Martin and Mendoza. Mexico had a good smell. Like vanilla and . . . maybe strawberries.

In Mrs. Lanza’s class, I volunteered to write for the Suffragette Star. In Coach’s class, I signed up for tennis. And Mr. Schvitter had class-president candidate sheets for those interested. I took one. Get in on the action, my dad had said. I was. But so far my only friend was turning out to be my brain- on-wheels. My dad gave our old rolling suitcase the name. It was the only thing big enough for all of my supplies.

If only suitcases could talk. And laugh. And understand you. And guide you through Ballot Hall, where everyone else knows one another and looks at you. I was determined to make friends with someone under forty-five this year.

After school, I found Mexico standing outside Principal Harrington’s office. “I think we have all our classes together!” I said. I didn’t mean to sound so excited about it.

She nodded. Her shoulder-length black hair covered half of her face, and she peered at me with one eye. She held her backpack straps in tight fists. “You going in to talk to the head honcho?” I gestured grandly to his nameplate: PRINCIPAL CORNELIUS HARRINGTON III.

Mexico nodded and smiled. It made me feel brave. “I think I’ll say hi too,” I said. I was sure that he would be in a better mood than he had been before school. It was the end of the day. Everybody was in a good mood at the end of the day.

Principal Harrington’s voice floated through his slightly open door. We knocked, but he didn’t answer. So we peeked in.

Since his back was to us, we could see the hem of his plaid suit jacket unraveling. There were these pink slips on his desk that said TRANSFER REQUEST. We didn’t mean to listen, but we did. “I’m looking for any cuts I can make,” he said into the telephone. “Now, isn’t there any way you can take her back?” Take who back? “I know what I said, Esmeralda,” he said. I grabbed Mexico’s arm. I didn’t mean to. “Esmeralda is the name of my old principal at my last school,” I whispered. “Esmeralda Garrison.” Ballot Hall was noisy with the whole school leaving for the day. Boys were yelling and girls were squealing. Harrington continued. “I don’t think it’s unethical. Esmeralda, I’m stuck here. My secretary just quit on me, I just got another foreign student, and I have several sixth-grade repeats this year. More than usual. Now, can’t we just tell her parents that it’s not working out, that Lie-lice is not meeting our standards . . .” I chewed my bottom lip. Would he really lie to my parents and tell them I wasn’t meeting standards? Wasn’t that against the law? School hadn’t even really started yet. Preposterous.

On the last day of fourth grade, I gave Mrs. Garrison a baby frog. She collects them. It wasn’t cheap, but my dad helped out. She also has chinchillas, hamsters, and mice. She was the best principal in the world. Last year at parent teacher conferences, Principal Garrison told my parents she thought I was extraordinary. And that I had potential. Now, after a whole summer of wondering and getting excited about sixth grade, was I going to be sent back to fifth?

I have started to question my extraordinariness.

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