Heft is now available as an e-book, orders from Amazon have shipped, and the book will be in stores on Monday. Leading up to the book’s release, I’ll be posting daily excerpts. I hope they’ll give you some idea of what the book’s all about. And THANK YOU for reading!
Excerpt 4: In this excerpt, Kel, who grew up poor in Yonkers, describes what his first day at the rich Pells Landing High School was like. His mother, who worked at PLHS, pulled some strings to enroll him.
I am a senior now and have acquired invaluable knowledge of how to do things over the years. But on my first day of freshman year I had no idea. I showed up wearing red glossy basketball shorts past my knees, a plain white T-shirt that hung off my shoulders, and Nikes.
As soon as we arrived I knew I’d gotten it wrong. I was slumped in my seat while my mother was driving. She kept saying Are you excited? Are you nervous? Are you excited? but I wasn’t speaking to her that day. She drove through the student parking lot and the first thing I noticed was that every car in it was nicer than hers. The second thing I noticed was a boy who was standing with his elbows on the roof of his BMW, watching us go by. Holt! Holt! someone yelled, and it was his name, and he whirled around and yelled back. He was dressed differently than I was. His cap was blue and ratty on the brim, a farmboy’s frayed hat with dark shaggy hair beneath. His shirt looked to me like a businessman’s, a blue long-sleeved Oxford shirt that I could imagine a banker wearing. His shorts were plaid and fitted him. He was wearing flip-flops. To school. In Yonkers only girls had done that.
What’s wrong, Kelly? my mother said, and I said Nothing, God, but everything was wrong. Who I was meant something different here than it did at home. At home I was in charge of all the boys at my school. I am not exaggerating, it was true. I was in charge of them as surely as if I had been elected. I told them things to do and they did them. I was not in charge of the girls but I remember the moment when they became aware of me and several small battles broke out amongst them about me. I was certain that I would be in charge of nobody at Pells and that no one would fight for me. I felt very alone.
My mother left me outside the main entrance.
Can I help you find your homeroom? she asked. I shook my head violently. I had memorized a map of the school the night before, memorized it completely, the first and second and third floors, so I wouldn’t have to take it out in front of anyone in the hallway. I am very good with maps.
Have a great day, said my mother, and then she was gone.
I looked up at the school. Pells High is built like a castle. It has stone walls and turrets that I think are fake or at least I know no way to get inside them, and I have explored every corner of this school. It’s set up on a hill with a perfect lawn that stretches down to the parking lots below. There are tennis courts and playing fields in front of it and more in back. Two low stone walls run the length of a walkway from the main road to the entrance. A driveway snakes up the side. PELLS LANDING HIGH SCHOOL, says a sign by the front door. HOME OF THE GIANTS.
Two girls walked by and didn’t look at me.