Today we're excited to spotlight Mascot by Antony John. Read on for more about Antony and his book, plus an excerpt, interview, & giveaway!
Meet Antony John!
Antony John is the author of several novels, including Five Flavors of Dumb and the fantasy trilogy Elemental. A native of England, he graduated from Oxford University with a degree in music, and received his Ph.D. from Duke University. He crisscrossed the country, living on both coasts, before settling in St. Louis with his family, where he writes full time. Today, he enjoys exploring the city’s neighborhoods, sampling Midwestern food, and watching Fredbird at Cardinals games. Sadly, he still can’t throw a pitch or bat a ball, but he has become very good at eating hot dogs.
This witty, heartfelt story about perseverance in the face of adversity is perfect for fans of R. J. Palacio, Cammie McGovern, and John David Anderson.
Noah Savino has been stuck in a wheelchair for months. He hates the way people treat him like he’s helpless now. He’s sick of going to physical therapy, where he isn’t making any progress. He’s tired of not having control over his own body. And he misses playing baseball—but not as much as he misses his dad, who died in the car accident that paralyzed Noah.
Noah is scared he’ll never feel like his old self again. He doesn’t want people to think of him as different for the rest of his life. With the help of family and friends, he’ll have to throw off the mask he’s been hiding behind and face the fears that have kept him on the sidelines if he ever wants to move forward.
The new kid is large. Taller than our homeroom teacher, Ms. Guthrie, and as wide as her desk. Okay, maybe not that wide, but he’s prime bully material.
Believe me, I ought to know.
“You must be Ruben,” Ms. Guthrie says.
“That is correct,” he says. Then, before she can ask us to give him a warm Wellspring Middle
School welcome, Ruben continues. “My full name is Ruben Spencer Hardesty. My family just moved here to St. Louis from Albuquerque. My hobbies are doing puzzle books and hacking the parental controls on my father’s laptop. I also like astronomy but not astrology, because they’re not the same thing at all, even though people get them mixed up. My parents say that sometimes I provide too much information.”
“No kidding,” mutters Logan Montgomery, who until today was the biggest kid in seventh grade.
“However,” continues Ruben, “I’ve been told that explaining my interests is the fastest way to find friends who are like me.”
“Good luck with that,” snorts Logan.
Usually Ms. Guthrie would give Logan a warning. Not this time, though. Right now, our teacher has this crazy frozen smile, like she’s auditioning to be the fifth face on Mount Rushmore. “Wow,” she says.
She’s not the only one wearing a weird expression. Pretty much everyone looks confused by the new arrival with the tentlike, green polo shirt and heavily gelled hair.
Not me, though. I’m starting to like Ruben. Because the way I see it, there are only two possible explanations for his little introduction.
(1) He’s crazy.
(2) He’s a total genius who knows that the new kid can get away with saying anything, so he’s putting on a show.
Either way, he’s the center of attention right now, and that’s fine by me. At least it is until Ms. Guthrie points to the empty seat beside me and tells him, “You can sit over there.”
Big kid with big mouth gets stuck next to snarky kid in wheelchair. Misfits unite!
He trundles over to me and holds out his hand. “I’m Ruben.”
“Noah Savino,” I say. I really don’t want to shake hands, not with everyone in class watching us, but Ruben’s just standing there like a waxwork figure. So I do it anyway.
A snicker ripples through the room.
“Ruben Spencer Hardesty, huh?” I say, trying to keep the focus on him. “That’s an impressive name.”
His eyes seem to be fixed on my shoes. (Converse All Stars. Very retro.) “At my old school, everyone called me Double-Wide,” he says.
I figure I misheard him. “Double-Wide?”
“Because I’m so big.”
I can’t believe he just admitted that. Out loud. Next, he’ll be telling me he doesn’t believe in personal hygiene and that he likes to sacrifice bunny rabbits every full moon. Behind him, Ms. Guthrie glares at everyone—a warning to keep their mouths shut.
“You’re not so big,” I say, trying to help him out.
“Yes, I am. I’m taller than 99.3 percent of my peers, and I have a body mass index of 26.5, which means I’m obese.” He nods to himself. “So you can see, my nickname is backed up by objective data.”
“Uh . . .”
“Please take a seat, Ruben,” says Ms. Guthrie, looking just as freaked out as I feel. “There’s space at Noah’s desk.”
Actually, there are two spaces, and Double-Wide fills both of them. His nickname is quite accurate, it turns out.
He places his book bag gently in his lap and turns to me. “You’re in a wheelchair.” I roll my eyes. “And you’re very observant. Got any other special skills?”
“Well, I know pi to two hundred decimal places.”
“That must come in handy.”
He thinks about this. “Not very often.”
He nods. “So why are you in a wheelchair?”
“Because I’m too lazy to walk.”
“Will they let me have a wheelchair too?”
“Hmm.” He opens his bag and pulls out a Batman pencil case. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Batman pencil case. I wonder if he’s got a Disney lunch box in there too. He catches me gawking. “Cool, isn’t it?”
“Uh . . .”
Ms. Guthrie clears her throat. Double-Wide leans closer to me. “Looks like class is starting,” he stage whispers. “I guess we should concentrate now, Noah.”
I could point out that this is homeroom, not class, but I don’t think it’d make any difference. Double-Wide seems to exist in his own world.
One thing’s for certain, though. I was wrong when I said he was prime bully material. If anything, he’s prime bullying material.
Again, I ought to know.
A Forceful Pair
After homeroom, Double-Wide follows me to math. And I do mean follow. If we were side by side, we’d take up the entire hallway.
He has a hard time keeping up. I could probably leave him behind, but I don’t want to be a jerk, so I ease off the throttle. And by throttle, I mean my arms. My upper body works well, but the lower half . . . Well, let’s just say that my wheelchair and I are pretty much inseparable.
It could be worse, I guess. My chair is a good one: super lightweight aluminum, with adjustable-tension upholstery and high-pressure tires. If it were a car, it’d be a Corvette. But if it were a Corvette, it’d have an engine and then people would hear me coming and move out of my way—instead of what actually happens, which is that no one hears me coming at all. Even when I accidentally ram people from behind, I can’t seem to make them budge. Believe me, I’ve tried.
It wasn’t always like this. On the first day of middle school last year, I walked into the building on my own two legs. I was even the starting catcher for one of the best Little League teams in St. Louis.
Then came the car accident. That was in April. By the time I woke up in St. Louis Children’s Hospital, my legs and brain weren’t on talking terms anymore and my internal organs had been rearranged. I spent the next two months as a guest at the twelfth-floor neurorehab center, along with six other kids whose luck was just as good as mine. It was almost July when I finally went home. A counselor told Mom it was important for me to establish routines, but all my old routines involved two parents. That first night, I heard Mom crying in her bedroom.
See, Dad was in the car with me the day we crashed. He didn’t even make it to the hospital, though. Turns out, you don’t need to be a doctor to pronounce someone dead on the hard shoulder of an interstate highway.
“Can you slow down?” says Double-Wide, interrupting my thoughts. “Sorry.” I drop from a slog to a crawl. “You doing all right?” “Great,” he wheezes.
Note to self: Double-Wide is not a convincing liar.
Logan Montgomery and his baseball posse come to a stop just ahead of us. They’re blocking the hallway, so I have to apply the brakes.
For reasons I still don’t understand, I was a part of this group last year. (Hey, nobody’s perfect.) I guess we’d spent so much time playing ball together in the summer before sixth grade, it made sense to stick together in school too. But that all changed the day of the accident.
“So, Noah,” drawls Logan, “how’s the weather down there?” He flashes a smug grin.
Did I mention I’m happy to be out of his posse? Yeah, that’s why. And this isn’t even a new joke for Logan. He tried it out on the first day of seventh grade, three weeks ago, and it wasn’t funny then either.
“Bet you get a great view of everyone’s butt from that seat, huh?” he continues, displaying the full range of his comic genius.
Logan (and his fast-growing facial hair) clearly has a whole bunch of insults lined up and ready to go, and everyone is tuned in, listening. But before he can let the next one fly, Double- Wide crouches beside me.
“You know what, Noah?” says Double-Wide. “He’s right. You really do have a good view of people’s butts.”
Logan isn’t expecting this—heck, no one is expecting this—and it throws him off his game. He’s probably wondering if Double-Wide is making fun of him, which must feel weird because that’s Logan’s specialty. Personally, I think my new companion is just doing what comes naturally: sharing whatever random thought is on his mind.
“Yeah,” says Logan. “I mean . . . whatever.”
As Logan lumbers away, two of my former Little League teammates, Justin and Carlos, nod their heads at me. I think they’re about to say something too. But when they notice the rest of the team leaving without them, they hurry off. I can’t say I blame them—none of us knows what to say to each other anymore.
The hallway traffic begins to flow again. Slowly. As we navigate the crowd, several students sneak peeks at me, the kid in the Corvette wheelchair, but their eyes drift to Double-Wide too. In his own special way, he stands out just as much as me.
It’s nice to share the limelight for a change, although I’m not sure that Double-Wide notices the funny looks we’re getting. I’m kind of envious.
Once we reach cruising speed—about one mile per hour, by my estimate—Double-Wide asks, “Do you know Newton’s second law?”
“No,” I say. “I don’t know Newton’s second law.”
“Well, it states that force equals mass times acceleration. Since you have the extra weight of a wheelchair and I’m the size of a tank, our combined masses are necessarily greater than anyone around us. So as long as we accelerate at the same speed as everyone else in the hallway, our force is clearly much greater.”
I look around. One, we are not moving the same speed as everyone else. Two, I don’t think anyone is watching us and thinking, Wow, what a forceful pair!
But so what? Ever since the accident, people have been trying to convince me that my glass is half full, but Double-Wide is the first person who sounds like he really means it.
I could do with a little honesty for a change.
A Chat with Antony John:
1. What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
Honestly, the book started with a single scene (which became the opening chapter): a boy sitting all alone as a new kid enters the classroom. I didn’t know why he was alone, only that the new arrival was about to make quite an impression on everyone. And when the two boys are forced to sit next to each other, an odd friendship develops that offers the chance of a fresh start. Exactly why the two boys needed the friendship, I couldn’t say back then, but over draft after draft their backstories emerged. After that, writing was easy.
2. Who is your favorite character in the book?
I adore the sidekick character of Dee-Dub, a kid on the spectrum who is the perfect glass-half-full foil to the main character, Noah. I also love Makayla, the neighbor’s daughter, who is funny and unapologetically smart. Planning her adversarial scenes with Noah was a highlight of the writing process.
3. Which came first, the title or the novel?
Would you believe, I can’t remember? I think the title came before I was finished writing, but I thought of it as a placeholder until I (or my agent or editor) came up with one of those jaw-droppingly inspiring titles that make readers impulsively buy middle-grade books, even if they’re actually ninety years old and hate children. Instead, Mascot stuck around like it thought it belonged, and after a while, it did!
4. What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
Actually, the first chapter. Not because it’s the best chapter in the book, but because I struggle mightily with openings. Other authors seem to find the initial scene a breeze to write. They throw us straight into the heart of the action and make us cheer for characters we barely know. Not me. I write and rewrite and scrap and rewrite and sacrificially burn several drafts before I reach anything approximating a decent first chapter. And even then, I usually end up with something kind of meh. But in Mascot, I felt like things came together. By the end of chapter 1, Noah and Dee-Dub feel familiar, and most of all, they feel like kids we’d actually like to know. (At least, I hope they do!)
5. Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
If you mean the beginning of my life as a writer (and here I’ll go back ten years rather than forty, because no one wants to know about my literary efforts from kindergarten), I’d have to say that if a book doesn’t pass the gut check, it’s time to revise. By gut check, I mean that feeling you get as a writer when you know there’s an inherent truth to everything. I’m afraid that sounds self-indulgent and possibly pretentious, but it’s easy to keep everything and everyone at arm’s length in a novel, and to think about things in a highly intellectual way. But if the end result leaves me cold, I know I’ve failed. I have to feel something. Preferably lots of somethings
6. What do you like most about the cover of the book?
Oh, geez. I’m in danger of writing a dissertation-length response to this question, but seriously, there’s so much to love. A lot of folks have already commented at length about the way the cover is unabashedly all about St. Louis, a city I love and call home. Then there’s the way the design team and artist Tad Carpenter managed to craft a design that has appeal to both boys and girls and avoids the common boy-centric type of sports book cover. Finally, I love that when I visit schools, students are truly able to start crafting an understanding of what the book is about from the cover. The wheelchair is right there, raising all sorts of questions. And middle grade readers are all too ready to contemplate the answers.
7. What new release book are you looking most forward to in 2019?
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. Like every other sentient being on the planet, I was completely bowled over by The Hate U Give. I don’t know how she’ll follow up a book that powerful, but I can’t wait to find out!
8. What was your favorite book in 2018?
Shameless plug for Alex Gino’s forthcoming novel, You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! I’m choosing this partly to show off that I got an advanced copy (which makes me feel special), but also because I’m chatting with Alex at Bookfest on September 22nd in St. Louis, and I can’t wait. George felt like the perfect book (honest, witty, chock full of relatable characters, and timely), and Jilly P! hits all the same notes, albeit in a very different story. Another must-read.
9. What’s up next for you?
I’m delighted to say that the awesome folks at HarperCollins are publishing my next middle-grade novel, titled The Other, Better Me in 2019. It’s a story of a ten-year-old girl whose curiosity about her long-absent father becomes an all-out quest to find him when her mother gets sick.
10. What would you say is your superpower?
I can wiggle my left ear and burn toast AT THE SAME TIME. You have to see it. No, really . . .
By: Antony John
Release Date: September 11, 2018
Three winners will each receive a hardcover copy of Mascot (US only).