Sally Jo Survives Sixth Grade: A Journal is a Middle Grades Novel, best for readers ages 9-12. Three classrooms of students read this book in its earlier version and young readers read the final copy and wrote reviews for the back cover.
Content: Sally Jo Benedict leaves her counselor’s office the second day of sixth grade armed with an empty journal as her only survival mechanism to start a school year that will prove to be full of remarkable surprises, stimulating mysteries, and irreversible change. She records her life as she confronts the new kid, Melvin Porter, who tries to kiss her at every opportunity. Yuck! She grapples with the heartache of her best friend Eddo’s mounting jealousy, her feelings of betrayal, and the burgeoning romance between her teacher, Mr. Wilson, and her single mother. Sally Jo sorts out her frustrations and conclusions about romance, betrayal and loss in her journal entries, and ends each one with a question for her readers to consider and answer.
Author’s Intention: Sally Jo is a character who thinks about and addresses her fears through the use of a journal, a survival trick she learned from her counselor. It’s my hope that a trusted adult will read the novel at the same time a young reader reads it so they can talk together about what happens in each entry. At the end of each entry, readers will find one or two questions to ponder and answer in a journal of their own. It’s great when an older generation can share experiences with the younger so both can see growing up presents the same challenges no matter the calendar year. Young people will find it comforting to know that what they are experiencing is not uncommon. It’s so nice to know you are not the only one.
Available at Amazon.com:
I’m sharing the chapter that won a 2010 Willamette Writers’ Kay Snow Juvenile Fiction Award.
Entry Twenty-Four, 2/14/84: THE LIE BACKFIRES
“I’m over at Sixth Street Hill watching Eddo kill Melvin Porter,” I wrote in the note I left for Mom on the refrigerator door. I didn’t want her to worry that it was ME over there getting killed.
The temperature had dropped by the time I got over to Sixth Street, and the wind blew mist into my face. Eddo and Duke were already there, along with Roger, Neal, and Dave. Duke ran from boy to boy, his tail wagging in excitement because he knew something was up. The guys were joking around so much that they didn’t even realize I was there, least of all Eddo.
Melvin arrived on his dorky bike which made the other guys laugh because it was one of those foldable bikes with 8-inch wheels and a tall handlebar instead of a ten-speed like theirs. Another thing that made them laugh was tall, skinny Melvin on his tiny bike looking like Ichabod Crane transported to the twentieth century. I was afraid if he tried to go down Sixth Street Hill, he’d end up looking like the headless bikeman.
“Well, that’s quite a bike, Melvin,” Eddo said, and I knew he meant the opposite of how it sounded, but Melvin didn’t.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Yeah, that’s really…something,” Roger said.
“Thanks,” Melvin said again. “I’ll show you sometime how it folds up. It takes only a minute or two.”
“Sure, yeah,” Roger said, trying hard not to laugh.
“You ready for a big ride?” Eddo said. He was ready to get on with business.
“OK. Where are we going?” Melvin asked.
“Right down this hill.”
Melvin took a look down over the edge of the hill. “Oooh, geez, I don’t know. That looks steep.”
“No problem,” Eddo told him. “It’s a piece of cake.”
“You go down this?”
“Yep. I do it every day.”
I couldn’t take this any longer. “You liar, Eddo. You do not!”
“Sally Jo, would you please stay out of my face?” Eddo glared at me. “Who invited you anyway?”
“It’s a free country,” I said.
“Tell you what, Melvin,” he continued, putting his arm around Melvin’s shoulder and walking away as if I weren’t even there. “Let’s toss a coin to see who goes down first. Heads, you go down, tails, I do.”
“That sounds good to me,” Roger butted in. “I’ll toss the coin so you’ll know it’s fair.”
“OK,” Melvin said. “I guess if Eddo goes down this hill, then I can too.”
“Here we go,” Roger said. The coin flew into the air and everyone crowded around to see what came up on the back of his hand.
That meant Melvin. “Don’t do it,” I said. “Eddo invited you over here only because…”
I couldn’t finish. If I told Melvin what Eddo was up to, then that would be betraying a friend, even if he hated me now, and besides, Melvin would think I wanted to be girlfriends with him when I didn’t.
“Just don’t do it.”
“Tombez morte,” Eddo said to me. That’s a French phrase we saw on a movie once, and it means “drop dead.” I couldn’t believe that Eddo would say that to me.
“Eddo,” I said and even though I said only his name, my eyes were pleading with him to stop this before Melvin got hurt.
“Ready?” Eddo ignored my plea.
“Ready,” Melvin said. “Don’t worry, Sally Jo. I’ll be fine.” He turned his bike around and got it headed downward.
“Never fear, the Great Porterini is here!” he said, and took off down the hill.
While everyone watched Melvin’s takeoff, I realized why the coin came up heads. Eddo had used the trick coin from his magic tricks kit. Both sides of the coin showed a head. No way had Eddo planned to go down the hill. He had wanted Melvin to go down and wreck.
“You slimeball, Eddo,” I said and began beating him on his chest. The other boys whirled around from looking at Melvin to look at me. “You used your trick coin. You knew he’d have to go first. You knew he’d crash and then you wouldn’t have to go. You chicken guts!”
Eddo didn’t have time to react. Roger pulled me off him before I smashed him to pieces.
“That true?” Roger asked. “Let me see your coin.”
“If you don’t let me see the coin, I’ll let Sally Jo loose on you again.”
“OK, OK. Yeah, it’s a trick coin but so what?”
Everyone looked at Eddo but no one spoke. We heard a bunch of yelling down at the bottom of the hill.
“Gosh, we forgot about Melvin,” I said. We looked down at him standing at the foot of the hill, waving and jumping up and down. His bike didn’t look any more deformed than usual. He hadn’t crashed. I felt saved. I didn’t have to look at his mangled body and know my friend had caused it.
“Come on back up,” I called and motioned to him.
In silence we watched him trudge back up, pushing his bike. As he crested the hill, Roger, Dave, and Neal ran over to him and clapped him on the back.
“Hey, congratulations, man.”
“Boy, I couldn’t have done that.”
“Thanks,” Melvin said, grinning, and then he looked at Eddo expectantly, waiting for him to say something.
“Yeah, congratulations,” Eddo muttered, without even looking at Melvin. He couldn’t stand that everyone was on Melvin’s side now. Or that everyone knew what he’d tried to do to Melvin.
“Eddo, now it’s your turn,” I said.
“I need to go home,” he said, picking up Duke’s leash, and turning to go. “I forgot to leave my mom a note.”
“You said you’d go down after I did,” Melvin said.
“Are you trying to weasel out of this?” Dave said.
“Chicken, Mr. Two-Heads?” Roger said.
“Scaredy pants?” Neal said.
“Heck, Eddo, you don’t need to be afraid,” Melvin said. “It’s a piece of cake, just like you said.”
“Hey, I’m not afraid, all right?” Eddo screeched. His whole plan had backfired. He couldn’t stand for Melvin to be the one reassuring him.
“We’re waiting,” Roger said. “Fair’s fair.”
“All right. I’m going. I’m going. Hold Duke’s leash,” he said, giving it to me. At least he was back on my planet.
Eddo situated his bike so it was facing downhill. He took a deep breath and faced skyward. Then he had to wipe off his glasses. The mist had thickened into real raindrops that formed rivulets of water as they joined to rush down Sixth Street. The sky darkened. The heavens grumbled and Duke strained at his leash, growling at the unfriendly noise.
“You don’t have to do it,” I thought to myself, but I never said it out loud. Now I wish I had.
Sally Jo’s assignment for her future kids:
Tell about a time when one of your lies backfired.