Sophomore Year Is Greek to Me

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9780147517937: Sophomore Year Is Greek to Me
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For fans of Love & Gelato, this is a laugh-out-loud high school adventure set in Greece abd perfect for readers of Meg Cabot.
 
High school sophomore Zona Lowell has lived in New York City her whole life, and plans to follow in the footsteps of her renowned-journalist father. But when he announces they’re moving to Athens for six months so he can work on an important new story, she's devastated— he must have an ulterior motive. See, when Zona's mother married an American, her huge Greek family cut off contact. But Zona never knew her mom, and now she’s supposed to uproot her entire life and meet possibly hostile relatives on their turf? Thanks . . . but no thanks. 
 
In the vein of Anna and the French Kiss, Zona navigates a series of hilarious escapades, eye-opening revelations, and unexpected reunions in a foreign country—all while documenting the trip through one-of-a-kind commentary.

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About the Author:

Meredith Zeitlin is the author of Freshman Year & Other Unnatural Disasters, as well as a voiceover artist who has worked in commercials, film and television shows. She also writes a column for Ladygunn Magazine, changes her hair color every few months, and has many fancy pairs of spectacles. Meredith lives in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her on Twitter @zeitlingeist

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1

Just before the clock ticks over into a brand-new year, one that is going to be completely different from any I’ve experienced before, my dad and I get on a plane—my first overseas flight—heading to Greece. I look out the window, take a deep breath . . . and then we soar off into the sky.

Fourteen-Hour Trip Not Nearly As Awesome As Anticipated

During the course of the seemingly endless journey from New York to Athens today, Zona Lowell, 15, realized she was on the verge of jumping out the plane window.

“It was two different flights and both were delayed, my little TV was broken for one of them, and reading made me feel like I was going to throw up. The food was horrible, and my dad was snoring practically the entire time. Based on my TV commercial–focused research, I thought travel abroad would be fancy and exciting. As usual, field reporting reveals that real life is not as glamorous as anticipated.”

Zona’s father, well-known international journalist David Lowell, had this to say: “I love my daughter, but she seems to have trouble distinguishing between actual problems and slight inconveniences. Hopefully seeing a bit of the world will help. I will say, however, that the food was totally gross.”

Mr. Lowell then went back to sleep and was unavailable for further comment.

Filed, 9:23 p.m., somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.

By the time we land in Athens, I’m so keyed up and restless from endless cups of coffee and sitting in a deceptively uncomfortable chair for so many hours that I want to lie down in a nice soft bed and run laps around the airport at the same time.

My dad, on the other hand, is just plain cranky. He hates long flights, which makes his choice of career kind of ironic.

Well, he’ll get no sympathy from me—this was his idea, after all. I wanted to stay in New York where I belong.

We collect Tony, our exceptionally grumpy Scottish terrier, stumble through customs, get our passports stamped (my first stamp!), and retrieve our luggage. Frankly, I didn’t think it would all make it, but I suppose miracles happen every day.

Dad is riffling through a sheaf of papers, looking for the one that will tell us how to get to our sublet. It’s in a neighborhood called Kallithea that is supposedly not hard to get to, but suddenly I’m not even sure I can make it to a bench before collapsing. Does jet lag set in immediately?

As we head out of the airport arrivals area, the first thing I notice is the signs: they’re in English and Greek, those strange curly letters that look like hieroglyphics to me. I thumbed through an English-to-Greek dictionary back in New York, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, so seeing the English signs is a huge relief. Maybe I won’t be hopelessly lost after all . . . or at the very least, I can just hang out in the airport if I get desperate.

There’s a big glassed-in smoking area in the middle of the airport, which is weird to see—in New York City, smoking is banned everywhere. My dad, who smoked like a chimney before I was born (and sometimes has been known to sneak a cigarette when he thinks I’m not looking), gazes at it longingly. “Dad!” I scold him. “This is no time to revert to atrocious habits. Pull it together.”

We changed a bunch of money at JFK before we took off, so we plunk down eight euros apiece for train tickets. Eight euros is roughly eleven dollars, I believe, which I find to be completely insane: that much money for a subway ride? According to the not-very-friendly woman at the ticket window, a regular ride (not from the airport) is only €1.20, but still. I sort of thought things would be dirt cheap in Greece, what with the economic difficulties. Apparently not.

We roll our suitcases (and poor, miserable Tony) down a long tunnel until we get to the platform. The subway is really simple here, unlike the rat’s nest of colors and numbers I’m used to at home. In Athens there are three lines: blue, red, and green. It would be incredibly straightforward if not for the fact that I can’t pronounce—and therefore remember—any of the names of the stations. But it’s only my first hour here, so I’ll try to give myself a break.

We sit down to wait for the train, which arrives at the airport every half hour according to the electronic sign. I reach into Tony’s carrier to pet him; he’s still groggy and looks even grouchier than usual. Poor guy. At least in Greece pets don’t have to be quarantined after entering the country—then we might not have been able to bring him at all.

The train platform’s waiting area is bright white and has plants all around. With the sun shining in from overhead, it actually looks like an atrium in here, minus the birds. Definitely not like any subway platform I’ve ever waited on, that’s for sure. Maybe I’m hallucinating?

The train finally arrives. We lug our stuff through the doors, and right on cue, Tony starts howling. A nice lady offers me her seat so I can put him down, which is a surprise. My sleep-deprived brain wonders when more traditional passengers will put in an appearance, like the NYC subway staples “lady eating sunflower seeds and spitting the shells on the ground” or “guy with no pants screaming about the apocalypse.” Shockingly, their Greek counterparts don’t appear; only tidy, quiet passengers fill the train. The seats are covered with fabric and totally spotless, and there isn’t a single piece of litter on the floor. Even the poles look especially shiny. But, like I said, it’s possible I’m just delirious from exhaustion.

After twenty minutes or so, we switch trains at a stop called Monastiraki (once again, I’m relieved to see the station names spelled out in English letters) for the green line. Four more stops and we’ve reached our final destination. We walk out onto a sun-dappled platform filled with potted trees and drag our belongings up the escalator and out of the station.

So this is it: my first official view of Athens, and my new home.

If you want to know the truth . . . it kind of looks like Brooklyn.

There’s a cobbled platform with steps (and a ramp, thank the lord) leading from the station down to the sidewalk, and straight ahead is a store that looks like a typical deli. Past that and on the other side of the street are more shops and a restaurant, and what I’m guessing is a church, because it has a big lit-up green cross on a sign. It’s a neighborhood. Just like my neighborhood in New York, really.

I guess I was expecting some massive ruins or something. Or for everything to be white from a fine layer of ancient dust. People feeding one another grapes. Something more, well, Greek.

To our left is a ramp leading to a highway overpass. The cars look different—boxier—and they have strange-looking license plates. And everywhere I look, people are walking, riding scooters, talking, or picking up newspapers. Not a single person appears to be wearing a toga. If it weren’t for the fact that everyone’s speaking a language I don’t understand, we could be pretty much anywhere.

So far.

My dad has his stack of papers out again, and Tony is barking his head off at two dogs who are hanging out by the door to the station. They have collars and tags, but no leashes or obvious owners. Tony is losing his mind, scrabbling against the sides of his carrier.

“Anthony Oliver Lowell!” I reprimand him. He knows better than that.

He looks chastened and switches from barking to a low growl. I’m tempted to let him out of his carrier to stretch his legs—I’m sure he’s been miserable cooped up for almost an entire day—but the other dogs make me nervous. Instead I apologize to him profusely.

“Can we get a cab? Do we even know where we’re going?” I whine. This has been fun and all, but I think I’m ready to wrap it up. Dad is sitting on top of his big suitcase, looking like he’s about to fall over. One of the strange dogs comes over and sniffs his leg.

“Dad? Dad!”

He starts, snorts, and looks back at the papers. He is holding them upside down. I sense I’m going to have to take charge.

I snap a piece of paper out of his hand and look it over. “Okay, Dad, this isn’t far at all.” I look up from the directions and point. “That way, I think. Let’s roll.”

I’m looking for street signs, which, after getting to the verge of bursting into exhausted tears, I eventually realize are cleverly hidden by being attached to (and camouflaged by) the buildings. No steel rods helpfully sticking out of the sidewalk here. We turn down the wrong street, which has almost the exact same name as the right street, and after correcting our mistake finally get to a building that looks like, well, a building. Where are the columns? Where are the decorative urns? Where are the goats?!

Wait—you know what? Hang on. It occurs to me that I may need to back up. After all, a good reporter should start a story at the beginning so that her readers have all the facts.

Let me try this again:

My name is Zona Lowell. I’m fifteen, from New York City, and a month ago my father decided to turn my entire world upside down in one fell swoop.

I’ve been kind of freaking out about it.

2

Dad Blindsides Innocent Daughter At Breakfast Table

In an unprecedented display of cruelty and sneakiness, internationally renowned newspaper journalist David Lowell announced today over a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats that he would be completely ruining his daughter’s entire life by forcing her to go live in Greece for six months, effective January 1. The aforementioned daughter, Zona, 15, could not believe it when her father (known for being somewhat eccentric but marginally cool nonetheless) told her she was being uprooted from her life and forced to live halfway across the world where she didn’t know a soul except for Lowell himself (a man to whom she would never be speaking again, thank you very much).

Zona’s plans to emancipate herself were thwarted by the realization that she had recently spent all her hard-earned babysitting/birthday money on an iPad mini and wouldn’t be able to pay rent or buy food. Her insistence on moving in with her best friend Hilary’s family was scoffed at by Evil Dictator Lowell.

Lowell’s paltry excuses that this story “could be his legacy” and that “any normal teenager would jump at the chance for such an exciting adventure” fell on deaf ears.

Filed, 10:37 a.m., Lower East Side, NYC.

“You’re kidding,” Hilary said, looking at me in disbelief over the round, sticky table in the Starbucks on 26th and Sixth. The Bauers live on the Upper West Side, which is kind of a pain to get to from my neighborhood (the Lower East Side), so in these kinds of dire circumstances—when a phone call will simply not suffice—a convenient meeting place is essential.

Anyway, I’d just told Hilary the horrible, unbelievable, unavoidable news. We were supposed to be making winter break plans, but instead were talking about my impending and total disappearance. Hil shifted in her seat. “Zo, you can’t move. It’s the middle of the school year. And, I mean, what about—”

“What about the fact that I’m going to be stuck for half a year—at least, by the way, he said ‘at least’—in a country where I have no friends, don’t like any of the food, and can’t even read the street signs? What about that? Has the man even considered the ramifications of his unilateral decision? This is an affront to—”

“Okay, Captain Vocab. Calm down,” Hilary chided sweetly. I tend to go into what she lovingly calls my SAT Prep Mode when I get upset; I just can’t help it. I’ve been reading the Sunday Times out loud with my dad (aka the enemy) since I was five. Everything distressing is better expressed in multisyllabic words, or at least my brain thinks so.

But I digress.

I took a hearty swig of my peppermint mocha latte and got whipped cream up my nose. Perfect, I thought as I attempted to regain my composure. “They probably don’t even have Starbucks there.” I was about to burst into tears . . . over Starbucks. In a Starbucks. How tragicomic was this going to get?

“Well, everywhere has Starbucks,” Hilary said helpfully. She looked down at her hot cider like, if she focused on it hard enough, she wouldn’t cry, either. Great. Hilary’s the more sensitive of the two of us (I try to be objective at all times, like a good journalist), so if she broke, I would, too. And I wasn’t even leaving for three more weeks.

“I just don’t understand why he’s doing this,” I fumed, trying to get away from sad and back to furious. “I mean, I get it: Greece, economy, political upheaval, crisis, whatever, huge story . . . but why do I have to go? Doesn’t he realize I have stuff to do? Like, doesn’t he get that being the only sophomore ever chosen to be features editor is kind of a huge deal? I’m trying to carry on the Lowell legacy, and this is his response? I’ve only gotten to work on two issues! And maybe, I dunno, I’ll actually manage to have some kind of social life this year.”

“Hey! No offense to me, I’m sure,” Hilary interjected.

“Come on, you know what I mean.” I poked her arm apologetically. She gave me a wry smile in return.

“Yeah, yeah, of course I know what you mean: guys.” She sighed. “Me too.”

“I have plans, Hil, is the point,” I continued. “Intentions. A life. A small life, but a life all the same. Doesn’t that count for anything?” I dropped my face into my hands in despair.

Okay . . . so maybe I should make something clear before I go on: I’m not actually this horrible. I mean, I knew that my dad writing his new magazine piece—which he thought could be the basis for an entire book—was a much bigger deal than my working on the school newspaper (and maybe, as a bonus, finally figuring out a way to make gorgeous editor-in-chief Ben Walker realize I was alive). But one measly hour after finding out I had to pick up and leave everything that mattered to me behind didn’t seem like the time to act like a mature adult.

Usually I do act like a mature adult, though. Some people would probably say I’ve never really acted any other way, even when I was a little kid. I guess it’s because of my dad and how it’s always been just the two of us. For one thing, Dad is old—not, like, Methuselah old, but he’s older than most of my friends’ dads by a lot. Before I was born, he was a freelance journalist and traveled all over the world for stories, including during the Vietnam War. He’s won two Pulitzer Prizes—one’s hanging in the bathroom of our apartment. The other Pulitzer was supposedly lost in a poker game with a famous dictator, but I think it was just lost, period. My dad’s a bit on the disorganized side, except when it comes to his writing. Then the mess is referred to as “organized chaos.” Our whole apartment is basically stacks of papers and discs and flash drives and other objects that are not to be touched by anyone except the person who put them there (and occasionally Tony, who doesn’t care much about personal space).

It’s precarious, but it’s home.

Anyway, Dad was forty-six ...

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