Later this month, Jake Gerhardt's debut novel, Me & Miranda Mullaly, will be available from Viking BFYR. Readers young and old will surely relate this middle story about first crushes and comic misunderstandings! I'm thrilled to host the author for a guest post today, in which he channels his middle school self to share five things he wishes he knew in middle school. After the guest post, be sure to enter to win a finished copy of the book!
#1. I wish I knew Mr. Leiberher was outside the art room watching me make a fool of myself.
In the beginning of the eighth grade I was on top of the world. I was finally at the top of the middle school food chain. And our football team was playing great. The day after we thrashed Enfield we had a substitute named Miss Ricci in Art class. Miss Ricci was tall and young, with glossy black curly hair and a voice that made my heart go aflutter.
What does a thirteen year old do in that situation? He acts out, of course. I didn’t do anything terrible, probably just got out of my seat, maybe threw a piece of paper. In fact, before I even had a chance to do anything bad our football coach, Mr. Leiberher, who happened to be looking in, pulled me out of class and read me the riot act. Then he had me apologize to Miss Ricci and when it was all over I was back in the room, silent as a church mouse, head down to hide my embarrassing tears.
I wish I knew Mr. Leiberher would be checking up on me.
Come to think of it, I wish I knew that Mr. Leiberher was going to be checking up on Miss Ricci.
#2. I wish I knew that a certain girl liked me.
When Scarlett told Bonnie to tell Leslie to tell me she didn’t want to do the three-legged race with me I was devastated.
The three-legged race was one of the main events of the end of the year Blue/Gold day. I had finally got the guts to ask Scarlett to do the race with me after months of planning and about fifty-seven abandoned attempts, which included a couple of phone calls where I hung up before when she answered the phone. But when I finally blurted out the big question and Scarlett said yes, I was on top of the world.
And then before I knew it Scarlett told Bonnie to tell Leslie to tell me she didn’t want to do the three-legged race with me. Talk about a crash landing. I felt terrible.
Later, I learned that it was because Scarlett thought I wanted to do it with Lucy Lynch. Scarlett liked me, I was told. Really liked me. But of course I didn’t know that at the time. If I had any sense I would’ve talked to Scarlett about it. If I knew Scarlett liked me I would have asked her again and cleared up the confusion. Instead, I ignored her and sat with the rest of the boys who were not fortunate enough to have their legs tied to a girl’s.
#3. I wish I knew how much fun being in a play was.
I went out for the play after I was inexplicably cut from the eighth grade basketball team. At first I was upset about being cut, but very quickly I realized it was a blessing in disguise. I had so much fun being in the play.
We did The Pajama Game (no surprise!) and although I only had one line, only six measly words, I found myself on the stage for a great deal of the show. There was a fun scene with me and Jon Richter and Nikki Watts that got great laughs. And I tangoed and sang a line during the “Hernando’s Hideaway” scene. For the huge number, “Once A Year Day,” a song that still brings a smile to my face, I carried the star on my shoulders.
My only regret about that time was that I didn’t know how much fun it was. If I’d known how much I enjoyed the play I would’ve done it in the seventh and sixth grades as well.
But alas, the performance of The Pajama Game would be the beginning and end of my stage career. In high school I had a part-time job and played three sports, so my time under the lights was ephemeral, but happily unforgettable.
#4. I wish I knew that I could’ve learned a language.
I honestly don’t have many regrets from my youth. And happily most of my stupid exploits are an engine for my writing. But one regret is that I didn’t work harder to learn Spanish. I had an excellent teacher in middle school, and I did fairly well in the class, but I didn’t study as hard as I should have.
One thing I learned as I grew older (and something I’ve also learned as a teacher for twenty years) is that many kids often think those who excel at something must find it easy. For example, I was good at sports and it came naturally. I was also perhaps a touch above the scale in intelligence. But I didn’t work extremely hard in these things, mainly because I was busy but also because I didn’t know about hard work as a kid.
That’s the problem with being a kid. There is just so much you don’t know.
#5. I wish I knew how quickly time was going to pass.
My wife is always amazed at how much time my best friend and I talk about middle school when we’re on the phone catching up. His eldest daughter is now in the seventh grade and it’s almost like an excuse for us to reminisce about our middle school days.
They were great years for us. We loved our classmates, our teachers, our bus drivers, and our custodians. We even loved the actual physical school building and grounds. It was a very special place for us. But wow, does it go quickly. And you simply have no idea. So take time to appreciate it. Even the crumby moments might bring a smile to your face later.
I’m especially fortunate because I get to go back to that wonderful place in time when I write about the students of Penn Valley Middle School.
1 Winner. US Only. Ends 2/4/2016.
More About the Book
The fates of three 8th grade boys converge in biology class one day, as each falls desperately in love with the same girl. There's Sam, the class clown; Duke, the intellectual; and Chollie, the athlete. And the object of their collective affection? The enigmatic Miranda Mullaly—the girl who smiles like she means it, the girl who makes Christmas truly magic when she sings, the girl who…barely realizes her admirers exist!
But nothing will stop the guys from doing everything they can to GET THE GIRL, not even their inevitable confrontation.
Told in alternating perspectives, Me and Miranda Mullaly is a comedy of errors where small misunderstandings lead to big laughs. And beneath the humor, every attempt to win Miranda becomes a compelling look at the larger world of each guy's life.
More About the AuthorWebsite
Jake Gerhardt was born and raised in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. He attended Elkins Park Middle School, where he played football and basketball, ran track, performed in the school musical, and was a member of the student council. He also found time to attend many school dances, in constant pursuit of various Miranda Mullalys. Since graduating from West Chester University, he has worked as a teacher, and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters.