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Cataloging-in-Publication Data has been applied for and may be obtained from the Library of Congress.

ISBN: 978-1-4197-1271-5
eISBN: 978-1-61312-898-5

Text and interior illustrations copyright © 2016 Amy Ignatow

Title page illustrations copyright © 2016 Melissa and JW Buchanan

Cover illustration copyright © 2017 Melissa Manwill

Book design by Maria T. Middleton

Published in 2016 by Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS. All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher.

Amulet Books and Amulet Paperbacks are registered trademarks of Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Amulet Books are available at special discounts when purchased in quantity for premiums and promotions as well as fundraising or educational use. Special editions can also be created to specification. For details, contact specialsales@abramsbooks.com or the address below.

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ABRAMS The Art of Books
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To Anya and Ezra,

my very favorite Oddities

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THE DAILY WHUT?


Here’s a weird news item—a bus flips over, a bunch of kids are taken to the hospital, and the driver . . . disappears? In the middle of nowhere? How is that possible? Was he picked up, and if so, WAS THE WHOLE THING PLANNED? Certainly someone would have noticed a soaking-wet, possibly injured man running away from the scene of the crime. And yes, I call it a crime, because vehicular manslaughter is a crime. Sure, the guy didn’t kill anyone, so it’s not technically manslaughter, but it could very well have been. So it’s vehicular kidhurting. Any of my readers out there with a law degree want to weigh in on this one?

The problem with people today is that no one asks questions anymore, and we’ve all just become complacent sheep who think, “Oh, the bus crashed and the driver disappeared. Well, at least the kids”—KIDS!—“have only minor injuries, so it’s all going to be okay.” Well, sheeple, it’s not going to be okay. Who’s to say that Mystery Driver won’t show up driving someone else’s bus? YOUR bus?

Keep asking questions,

The Hammer


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It was 6:30 A.M. and there were two buses parked in front of Deborah Read Middle School: a big, shiny Auxano Company coach with individual padded chairs, built-in television screens, and electrical outlets in every row, and—parked right in front of it—the Farm Kids minibus, which was short, yellow, and old, with duct tape–patched benches and windows that could only open three inches.

“We HAVE to get on the company bus,” Jay Carpenter said to Nick Gross, “and we have to make sure that we’re SITTING near the front so we can control the DVD player.” His eyes were shining with anticipation. “I brought DVDs.”

Nick was tired and cold, and it was too early in the morning to deal with his best friend’s delusions. “Like they’re going to let you play your DVDs. No one is going to want to watch a movie. They’re all going to be doing test prep stuff.” Nick was nervous about the upcoming statewide exam. It was a big one. Not that Jay cared. He had always been a “good tester,” whatever that meant.

“O ye of little faith!” Jay exclaimed, entirely too loud for the hour and setting. Jay might have been better at academics but Nick was sure that he was smarter, because he’d never exclaimed “O ye of little faith!” in a high-pitched voice in front of . . . well . . . anyone, but certainly not in front of members of the opposite sex, who were milling around in their own pre–field trip cliques. Not that any of them would ever notice Nick. But still, it was better not to start the day on a deficit by acting like a huge socially awkward nerd.

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Nick watched as Paul Yoder and Sam Stoltzfus and the rest of the Farm Kids edged farther away from the little yellow bus that traveled forty minutes each way to take them to and from school every day. He couldn’t blame them for not wanting to spend another four hours on it.

“It’s not like I brought my DVDs of classic Doctor Who episodes!” Jay continued. “I know my audience.”

“Fine, I’ll bite. What did you bring?”

Jay opened his enormous backpack and began rooting through it. It was kind of hard to tell if he had the world’s biggest backpack or if it just seemed big because Jay was so scrawny. It was sort of amazing that he could even lift the thing.

“What do you have in there?” Nick asked.

“Only necessities, my good man,” Jay said. Nick shuddered inwardly. He’d always hated Jay’s tendency to talk like he was a character in a movie where guys wore top hats and women wore corsets, but he’d given up trying to change Jay’s speech patterns and had instead been trying, unsuccessfully, to get him to lower his volume instead. It was an uphill battle.

Jay pulled a DVD case out of his pack. “Evil Dead Two!” he exclaimed triumphantly.

“There’s no way Ms. Zelle is going to let you watch Evil Dead Two,” Nick said.

“Why ever not?” Jay was indignant. “It’s a great movie and Ms. Zelle is a woman of singular taste and beauty.”

Nick blushed. Thinking about the science teacher always made him blush. “I agree, but . . .”

“There is no but. It is a brilliantly subversive piece of cinema that was created to intentionally mock itself! It’s both a sequel AND a remake. Who wouldn’t love that?” Jay’s voice was getting higher and louder.

“It’s a horror movie from the 1980s. No one wants to watch that at seven in the morning. People are going to be either sleeping or studying.”

“Studying, schmudying,” Jay said. “Did you know that The Hammer believes that mandatory exams are actually a secret government plot to identify suitable subjects for biological technical enhancements at a young age?”

“I did not know that. Because it’s crazy.” Jay was always quoting his favorite local conspiracy theorist blogger.

“Don’t worry, I think you’re safe,” Jay said, diving once more into his backpack.

Nick wrinkled his brow, slightly insulted. “Wait, are you saying the government wouldn’t want to do experiments on me?”

Jay ignored him. “I have more DVDs! Everyone appreciates options, even those who may not yet have acquired a taste for the high art of camp horror.”

Nick shook his head and looked at the line that had formed at the door of the Auxano bus. The Farm Kids were in front, and even though there was no love lost between them and the Company Kids, the Farm Kids were not to be messed with. They were tall and strong and traveled in an intimidating pack. Rumor had it that Paul Yoder could lift an entire bale of hay over his head without breaking a sweat. There was no way they weren’t getting on the bigger bus. Nick knew that even if he and Jay could somehow push their way to the front of the line, they still wouldn’t be getting on. Every middle school had an unwritten code, and it was pretty clear about who got to ride on the good bus and who had to ride with a rusty spring poking him in the butt.

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Cookie Parker scrolled through her phone as they waited for the bus doors to open.

“Oh. My. God.” Claire Jones said, looking pointedly at The Shrimp. He was looking through a backpack that seemed big enough to swallow him whole. “Please tell me he’s not going to be on our bus.”

Cookie rolled her eyes. “Like that’s going to happen.”

“You never know,” Addison Gesualdo said. “I bet Yo-Yo Sub is going to make him sit next to us or something.”

Cookie, Claire, and Addison had been trying for the past two weeks to find a good nickname for Mr. Friend, the substitute teacher who always seemed to be at school, but nothing stuck. Claire had suggested “Puke Pants,” after the greenish corduroys that Mr. Friend seemed to wear every day (did he have just one pair of pants or were all of his pants exactly the same? MYSTERY! Especially if Claire was right and he was dating their science teacher, Ms. Zelle, who seemed put-together enough to be able to date a guy with more than one pair of pants), but it didn’t seem to fit. Emma Lee had chimed in with “Sub-Sub” (“Even lower than a substitute teacher,” she’d explained, earning a withering look from Cookie, because come on.) Then, a few minutes ago, Mr. Friend had whipped out a yo-yo to entertain the arriving kids before the bus doors opened. A YO-YO. He had to be kidding.

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Still, Cookie wasn’t convinced that “Yo-Yo Sub” had staying power. Finding good nicknames was tricky business—find the right name and you’d basically created a person. Cookie glanced at a tall dark-skinned boy who was standing by himself near the minibus. Take that guy. Terror Boy. He might have had a name at one point, but no one knew it, because people had been calling him “Terror Boy” for as long as anyone could remember. The same was true of her own name. It was actually Daniesha, but her family had started calling her “Cookie” when she was little because she had told them that she loved cookies (although, really, what little kid doesn’t like cookies?). Cookie doubted that most people even knew her real name. But she figured that it could have been much worse—little Daniesha could have told everyone that she loved hamsters, or farts. When you thought about it, “Cookie” wasn’t so bad.

“There’s no way The Shrimp is getting on our bus.” Cookie stifled a yawn and shivered. “We’ll make sure of it.” The thought of listening to The Shrimp’s high-pitched voice going on and on about Star Trek or Star Wars or whatever for two hours was unacceptable, and she wasn’t about to endure it when there was a perfectly good other bus for him and his loser friend to ride. Time to do something about it.

“What are you going to do?” Emma asked nervously. She was always around. Emma had been hanging out with Addison and Claire, Cookie’s best friends, since they were all in diapers. She was annoying. And she was clearly terrified of Cookie.

“Get Izaak over here,” Cookie told Addison, ignoring Emma, “and tell him to bring everyone else.” Cookie could have easily done this herself, but she knew Addison liked to have an excuse to talk to Izaak. And Cookie was good at telling people what to do. Sure enough, Addison scampered off.

Claire waited until Addison was gone. “So, do you think we will be able to find that store from the Constitution Center?”

“What store?” Emma asked. Cookie gave her a look.

“I’m going to go help Addison,” Emma said, backing off.

Cookie had lived in Muellersville for almost as long as she could remember, but she had spent the first five years of her life in Philadelphia. Muellersville was nice and all, but Philadelphia (or Philly, as her family liked to call it) was a city. Philly was big and exciting and had more than two streets and didn’t smell like cow poop. Any horse-drawn buggies were fancy tourist horse-drawn buggies, not weird Amish teenagers out for a joyride. Philly was also full of brown people, some of whom were related to Cookie. Her aunt and cousins still lived in Philly, and Cookie knew where to get the best Philly cheesesteaks and the best gelato and even where the best jewelry store was, because her cousin Zakiya had taken her there when she’d visited Philly over winter break.

When school had started again, everyone had noticed her new ring, and Claire had begged Cookie to tell her all about the store. The store was like a fantastic secret for only cool people to share: there was no sign out front, you had to ring a buzzer to get in, and if they let you in there was a staircase that brought you down into a room with high ceilings and no natural light and then you were surrounded by display after display of the most amazing and strange jewelry you’d ever seen. There was a mysterious man with a handlebar mustache behind the display cases who hardly spoke, and you were lucky if he even sold you anything. Claire had practically drooled when Cookie had told her about it. And when they’d heard about the field trip to the National Constitution Center in Philly, she’d kept talking about it until Cookie promised to take her.

Cookie didn’t totally know how to get to the store, but she was pretty confident that she could find it. They hadn’t told Addison or any of the others about the plan, because the teachers would definitely notice if more than two people went missing for a few hours.

“And is it close to where the bus will be dropping us off?” Claire squeaked. She really needed to calm down—her hyper-excitement was going to attract attention.

“Sure,” Cookie said. She was mostly sure anyway.

Addison and Emma came back with Izaak in tow. “What’s up?” Izaak asked. He was almost the tallest boy in the sixth grade. Cookie suspected that Terror Boy was actually taller, but he had a bad habit of stooping over, so it was hard to tell. The group of boys that followed Izaak wherever he went hovered behind him. Like Izaak, they were Company Kids (children whose parents worked at Auxano, the company just outside of town that employed more than half the adults in Muellersville), and it was as if they never knew whether Izaak was about to have a private conversation or one that they were all invited to join. They had a tendency to shuffle awkwardly in the background.

Cookie smiled her very nice smile. “I just wanted to make sure that we’re all sitting together,” she said.

“No problem.” Izaak grinned and made his way to the company bus. The doors opened for him as if by magic, because Izaak was one of those guys who had special powers that ensured that everything in his life was smooth and easy. He shoved The Shrimp’s huge backpack out of his way, spilling DVDs, comic books, and who even knew what else all over the sidewalk, onto the street, and behind the big bus wheels. The Shrimp started shrieking his objections, but Izaak ignored him and climbed onto the bus. Everyone else followed. Emma unsuccessfully hid her giggles behind her hands.

“I guess we’re getting on the buses!” Yo-Yo Sub yelped.

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Once upon a time, Farshad Rajavi really liked American history. He’d come home from school, itching to tell his parents all about what he’d learned—the “discovery” of the West Indies by Christopher Columbus, the thirteen colonies, the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, and on and on and on—and Dr. and Dr. Rajavi would listen and ask questions, because they genuinely wanted to learn, too. It would make Farshad feel smart. As immigrants to the United States, his parents didn’t know most of what he was telling them. His mother knew all about working in a lab with chemicals and formulas, and his father understood complex mathematical equations, but Farshad knew about the history of the United States of America, and he loved it.

Well, not anymore. Now when he came home from school and his parents asked him what he’d learned that day, he didn’t have much to say. He was learning, of course, but thinking about his school day wasn’t something that he wanted to do, particularly since that day in fourth grade when Izaak Marcus came up with the brilliant nickname “Terror Boy.”

That day had started off just fine, like any other day. His teacher, Mrs. Lehrman, had been talking about the Middle East and had asked him to tell the class what Iran was like. Farshad had just been there for a family visit during winter break, so he talked a little bit about the food he’d had, and his aunts and uncles. The rest of the class didn’t seem particularly interested, so after a little while he’d just stopped talking.

The badness happened later that day at gym. Everyone was playing volleyball, which Farshad was good at. He was tall, which was a big advantage in volleyball and would always get him picked first by the team leaders. But that day he was picked last, after Jay Carpenter, who was about the same size as Emma Lee (the tiniest girl in fourth grade). It was confusing, but Farshad had played anyway . . . until Izaak knocked him down as they were both jumping to spike the ball. “Stay down, Terror Boy,” Izaak had hissed at Farshad as he lay stunned on the floor. “So much for all your training.”

Training? Farshad had been so confused. He’d never been to volleyball camp or anything like that, so he didn’t know what Izaak was talking about. But it wasn’t long before he understood that, until his little talk about the family’s vacation to Iran, none of his classmates had ever really noticed that his parents weren’t American. A kid like Izaak Marcus should never have that sort of information. All he had to do was give Farshad a cold shoulder and call him “Terror Boy,” and from that point on it was all over.

Friends stopped coming to Farshad’s house. It wasn’t like when he was little and kids had to come over, whether they wanted to or not, because their moms set up all the playdates. They were too old for that now. When his birthday came around, he just told his mother that parties were for little kids. Farshad’s mother believed him, because she figured that maybe this was how things were done in the United States. Maybe parties were just for little kids. It was as good an explanation as any for why he’d stopped being invited to them as well.

For a while Farshad was sure that everyone would get bored of calling him “Terror Boy” and move on to torturing some other poor kid for no good reason. But the name stuck. When he was out of school sick for a week it was because he’d gone to a terrorist training camp, where he’d learned how to set up a suicide bomb. The same accusation was whispered just because he was in the science club, even though, duh, both of his parents were scientists. Of course he’d be interested in the subject. When he did well at school, classmates would grumble that it was only because the teachers were afraid of him. Anyone caught trying to be friendly to him was given the cold shoulder by the rest of the class. Farshad Rajavi was toxic.

He’d hoped things would change when he got to middle school, but it was as though everyone from his elementary school had hung out with everyone from the other elementary school in Muellersville over the summer. In the fall, Farshad was Terror Boy again.

Farshad had spent most of that summer with his cousins in New Jersey. They were in high school, and when he’d told them about the whole “Terror Boy” mess they’d offered to come to Pennsylvania to “show those racists the true meaning of terror.” At the time, he’d declined—the last thing Farshad Rajavi needed was for his brown-skinned, black-haired cousins to come storming up to Izaak and his friends and provide them with evidence of all the horrible things they’d been saying about him.

But it was tempting. There were days when all Farshad wanted to do was call Mohammed and Sam and have them come over to show everyone that he was a protected man. An important person. A respected guy. But mostly he just wanted to disappear.

Farshad took one look at the big, shiny Auxano bus, where Ms. Zelle and Mrs. Whitaker were going over their class lists, and quietly stepped onto the yellow minibus. It was just easier. He took out his test prep book and settled in for the long trip to Philadelphia.

Jay spent the first half of the trip to Philadelphia bleating his outrage to Mr. Friend, who began to look distinctly less friendly as the sun came up. “We were at THE FRONT of the line, and WE SHOULD have been on THE BIGGER BUS.” It was always interesting to Nick to hear which words Jay would emphasize—he was never predictable. “THIS bus doesn’t even have a DVD PLAYER. And I brought ALL THESE DVDS!!! And for what? And why do we even need this second bus if there’s only going to be five people on it! This is a waste of hard-earned taxpayer dollars . . .”

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Jay wouldn’t be able to keep up his lamenting for long; he never did. It was a pattern Nick knew well—some injustice, real or imagined, would befall his best friend, and Jay would rage on about it for a while until he realized that nothing could be done to rectify the situation. Then he would deflate and act sulky for about ten minutes, and then remember something from a comic book or a movie or some sparkly part of his crazy Jay brain where aliens rode pirate-treasure-puking unicorns, and then everything would be bright and shiny again. It was exhausting. But Nick was used to it. They had been friends for a long, long time.

Sometimes Nick wondered what it would be like to not be friends with Jay, but it was kind of unfathomable. Sure, Jay could be annoying and exasperating, and half of the trouble he got into could probably be avoided if he’d ever learn to shut up, but that was Jay. Jay was the kid who would climb a tree and sneak into his best friend’s room to keep Nick company when his dad was sick in the hospital. Jay was the kid who saved the little snack packs from his airplane trip to give to Nick because Nick had never been on a plane before and wanted to know if food that had been at thirty thousand feet tasted different. Jay was the friend who had engineered after-school science tutoring with Ms. Zelle for Nick because he knew Nick had a crush on her. It was incredibly embarrassing and uncomfortable, but still, Jay’s heart was in the right place. So, as annoying as Jay could be, Nick could never picture them not being friends. Friends like Jay Carpenter didn’t come around every day.

Jay had stopped harassing Mr. Friend and plopped down next to Nick. “This is an INJUSTICE. These windows only open an inch? I CAN’T BREATHE.” He was angry but fizzling out. So predictable.

“You can breathe,” Nick said, “and this bus is fine. Why would you want to spend two hours with those jerks anyway?”

“Oh, Nick. Nick, Nick, Nick. The other bus isn’t full of jerks, it’s full of beautiful ladies.” Lately, Jay had been getting more and more interested in the female members of their class, which seemed deeply unwise to Nick. “If we had been on the other bus, we could have shown the ladies Evil Dead Two, and then the ladies would have been so scared that they would have jumped into our laps, because we are big, strong, protective men. Ladies like that.”

“Say ‘ladies’ one more time.”

Jay giggled. “Ladies. Layyyyyyydeeeeeeeez.”

Nick laughed. “Well, they probably wouldn’t have let us watch the movie anyway. I’m sure that Cookie Parker or someone brought some stupid chick flick to watch.”

“Oh, shut down your tongue. Speak not ill of my darling Daniesha. She is a particularly fine lady.”

“Cookie Parker would squish you like a bug if you got anywhere near her.”

“To be squished by Daniesha Parker would be divine. Mark my words, Nick, my old and doubtful friend, one day she shall be mine.”