In Rosalind Wiseman’s nonfiction book “Queen Bees & Wannabes,” the inspiration for the 2004 hit movie “Mean Girls,” she revealed the way adolescent girls relate to best friends, cliques, relationships, boys and conflicts. Now, Wiseman has taken her expertise on young girls and written her first young adult novel, titled “Boys, Girls, and Other Hazardous Materials” and featuring mean girls and mean boys. An excerpt.
Here’s the deal. My name is Charlie — and, yes, I’m a girl. My full name is Charlotte Anne Healey. I’m about to start ninth grade, live in a fairly normal neighborhood, have a tolerable older brother, and my parents are usually sane. I’m about five feet five, have brown eyes, brownish blond hair that’s okay, but I’m definitely not shampoo commercial girl, and I don’t wake up at five a.m. every morning to blow-dry my hair. I’m not anorexic or bulimic and generally think my body isn’t completely unfortunate. Which frankly, maintaining that perspective while I’m surrounded by skinny girls constantly complaining about how fat they are, is a serious accomplishment.
On the other hand, I can be slow to admit the obvious. Painfully slow. That, combined with my other major personal weakness of occasionally having no backbone with my friends, meant I had to get a grip and do two things: First, I finally admitted to myself that my best friends were actually my frenemies. (You know, girls I didn’t trust 100 percent, but for some reason were my closest friends.) Second, when I graduated from eighth grade last year, I ran at the first opportunity, which in my case took the form of transferring to another high school so I could hopefully meet cool, interesting, nonevil, nonvindictive friends.
What was my middle school like? Ben Franklin Middle School was one of those renovated middle schools that look like a mall. Everything was a soothing shade of beige, strategically placed skylights gave us the illusion of access to the outside world, and it was way too big for any twelve-year-old kid to walk the halls alone. When I started there in sixth grade, I really began to doubt the sanity of adults. Seriously, who could possibly think it’s a good idea to put 1,500 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders together? I guess they never read “Lord of the Flies” — even though it’s been on the summer eighth-grade reading list for the last thirty years.
Anyway, three months ago I walked out the front doors of Ben Franklin a free woman. New page. Clean slate. How can I describe my feelings walking out of Ben Franklin? You know when you do something that you don’t want your parents to know about but you think there’s a good chance they might find out and if they do, your life as you know it is over? At first, you can’t breathe, you’re totally self-conscious, and you’re positive you’ll be found out any second. But days go by and it dawns on you that you pulled it off. Well, maybe that hasn’t happened to you, but that’s how I felt when I walked out of that school for the last time. I just kept thinking, “I did it. I’m free.”
I should have been clearer about my musical demands because I arrived at Harmony Falls High School in my dad and brother’s pet project, a restored 1963 Ford Falcon, top down, with my dad blasting Styx’s “Come Sail Away.”
Why couldn’t my brother Luke have driven me? When I begged him that morning he just shook his head and laughed. “Not happening, Charles. I’m not getting within a mile of that place.”
I slid down in the seat so no one would see me. But that also meant I couldn’t see exactly where we were going. Before I knew it, I saw a huge flagpole and multicolored brick walls. My dad had driven right up to the driveway of the school.
“Dad!” I hissed, “Seriously, please let me out of the car! You’re killing me.”
My dad turned off the music, not because I asked him to but because he couldn’t hear me. “What, honey?” He looked around. “Seems like this is this where I should drop you off, doesn’t it?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe you could drive around a little more and completely humiliate me again before I get out of this car,” I said, slowly sitting up and looking around to see if anyone noticed our arrival. Of course they had. There were hundreds of kids walking past me, and some of them were definitely looking in my direction.
Three boys looked up. They were dressed in khaki shorts, Rainbows, and T-shirts, as if there was a dress code. “Nice car. Is that a sixty-five?”
My dad grinned. “Almost! It’s a sixty-three,” he said, like a ten-year-old showing off his new bike.
“Dad,” I whispered, “please try to restrain yourself.”
Not a chance because a really hot brown-haired one asked, “Is it stock?”
My dad grinned even wider. “It’s got a few tweaks. My son and I swapped in a 302 with a T-5 and a Hurst shifter. We’re still sorting it out, but she’ll do sixty in about six seconds, if you can get the traction.”
The boy stepped back a few feet and looked at the car again. He crossed his arms. “Sweet,” he said, nodding.
Then my dad did the worst thing possible. “Guys, this is my daughter, Charlie!”
All three did the “Hey, what’s up?” boy grunt.
“Hi,” I mumbled, bright red.
“Okay, Dad, you can go now!” I groaned, opening the car door.
My dad grimaced. “Oh, I guess that was sort of bad. Sorry about that. Maybe I’m a little nervous for you.”
He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “How about I make it up to you? Get takeout at Nam Viet? And feel free to tell those boys your dad’s really lame.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll definitely say something bad about you,” I said, standing up.
My dad yelled behind me, “Bye, Charlie! Have a good day!” I waved to him without looking back and stepped into the next four years of my life.
Excerpted from “Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials” by Rosalind Wiseman. Copyright (c) 2010, reprinted with permission from Penguin Young Readers.