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The Popularity Pact: Camp Clique
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But then the worst part of school, ex-best friend Maisy, shows up in Bea’s safe place and ruins it all. Maisy lands in the same bunk as Bea and summer suddenly seems dire. Never having camped a day in her life, Maisy agrees: it’s hopeless. She should be at home, spending time with her little sister and hanging out with her super popular crew of friends–not at this stupid adventure camp failing everything and being hated by everyone. In a desperate bid to belong, Maisy offers Bea a deal: if Bea helps her fit in at the camp, she will get Bea into the M & M’s, their town’s popular clique, when they enter seventh grade in the fall. The Popularity Pact is born.
“COME ON! IT’S A STOP SIGN, NOT A RED LIGHT!” DAD POUNDED the dashboard and muttered under his breath, “We can’t miss this bus.”
We have to miss the bus. We have to miss the bus. Please, God, let us miss this bus.
Dad turned into the parking lot and my palms started sweating when I saw the ancient yellow school bus with Camp Amelia painted in dark green letters on the side.
Dad whooped. “We made it!”
“They were too cheap to send a coach bus, which means the camp is definitely a dump. Are you okay sending me to a third-rate camp?” I asked.
“It beats having you sit around watching Netflix all summer,” Dad said, as he turned the ignition off.
I slid further into my seat while Dad grabbed my stuff from the back of the Jeep and brought it to the bus. He had bought me a monogrammed sleeping bag and duffle set from Pottery Barn Teen in steel gray, my favorite color. Like that would make up for shipping me off to wilderness boot camp.
When Dad got back to the car, I didn’t budge. The second I got out of the seat, my summer would be over.
Dad opened my door. “Come on, Maisy. You don’t want the bus leaving without you.”
I narrowed my eyes and folded my arms. “Would that really be so bad?”
Dad opened my car door wider. “You can’t stay home alone all summer while your sister’s away at gymnastics camp.”
I tried to keep my voice calm because Dad can’t deal when I get too emotional on him. “As if I would sit home all summer? I’d be at the pool with the M & Ms.”
The M & Ms are my friend group. We all have names that start with M—Mia, Madison, Meghan, Madeline, and of course me. I joined the group later than the other girls, so it’s a good thing my parents named me Maisy.
“You know I’m at work twelve hours a day.” Dad looked sorry-ish. “Even longer on surgery days.”
All of Dad’s patients think he’s a genius, but when it comes to parenting stuff, he doesn’t know how to think outside the box—which is something my English teacher says about me, so I must get it from him.
“I’ll hang out at Mia’s house and you can pick me up when you get off work. Mia’s mom won’t care. She’s never home anyway,” I said.
Dad shook his head and his hair flopped over his eyes. He was in desperate need of a haircut, not to mention a shave. He’d stopped caring what he looked like when Mom left. “I don’t want you running around with that crew at Mia’s house all summer. I don’t like the guys her brother hangs out with.”
“If you’re gonna get rid of me for the summer, can you at least send me to rock band camp?”
“You know this. All the music and drama camps book up a year in advance. When I bumped into Bea’s mother at Stop and Shop and she told me about Camp Amelia, it sounded—”
“Bea Thompson and I haven’t been friends since fifth grade!”
Dad spoke in that tone he used when he didn’t want to sound judgy but totally did. “Which I still don’t get. You guys were like two peas in a pod and then suddenly you weren’t friends.”
Sometimes the only way to respond is with an eye roll.
“Come on, Maise.” Dad opened my door wider. “You’re going to have a great summer.”
My legs felt like rubber as I climbed out of the car. It didn’t help that Dad’s Jeep is super high off the ground, and I’m literally the shortest almost-seventh grader in existence.
“You’re ruining my life,” I said as soon as my feet touched the pavement.
Dad pulled me in for a hug, but I stood completely still because hugging him would make him think I was okay with this. “I love you, Mini. Even when you think you don’t love me back.”
As if he wasn’t being annoying enough calling me by my baby nickname, Dad grabbed my arms and wrapped them around him like he used to when I was a little kid. Then he gave me a hard squeeze, even though I kept my arms limp like wet spaghetti. “I know things have been really hard. But when you get back from camp, Mom will be home and everything will be back to normal.”
Things hadn’t been normal in our house in a really long time. The days when Mom was PTA president, team mom for my sister Addy’s gymnastics club, and my Brownie troop leader felt like they had never happened.
Dad let go and gave me a gentle push toward the bus. “You better run before they leave without you.”
I shuffled my feet toward the bus as slow as humanly possible, hoping the driver would pull away before I got there.
Dad called after me, “Don’t forget to write Mom. I put the address in the front pocket of your bag.”
As if I would write to the person who was responsible for ruining my entire summer.
A college girl wearing a gray Camp Amelia T-shirt and ripped jean shorts with a grubby flannel tied around her waist, scuffed blue Converse, and a big silver whistle on a chain around her neck waited on the bus steps. She had shoulder-length brown hair with homemade bangs that were higher over her right eyebrow than her left, so it looked like she was winking at me.
“The bus is full, but you can sit with me in the counselor section,” she said, and smiled so wide I could see a chipped molar.
Sitting with the counselors seemed like a pretty newb-like thing to do, but it had to be better than sitting with Bea, so I followed the girl up the stairs into a bus full of the strangers I would be stuck spending my whole summer with.
The girl kept talking as if my summer wasn’t officially over. “My name is Bailey. I’m from upstate New York.”
Bailey pointed to a seat filled with snacks and magazines. “Hold on, I just have to move my stuff.”
I heard Bea’s voice before I saw her, which is weird because she’s so quiet at school. Half the time I don’t even notice her. But she was acting like queen of the bus the way she was hugging people and OMGing about how much she missed them.
I lifted my hand in a half-wave, but Bea didn’t turn my way. Seriously? We were literally the only two people getting picked up in Mapleton.
I pulled out my phone, and Bailey reached out and took it from my hand. “No phones allowed.”
“Wait!” I reached my hand out. “My friends will think I’m ghosting them if I don’t tell them.”
“Try writing letters,” Bailey said, as if we were living in the eighties. Then she dropped my phone in a straw basket on top of a bunch of other phones and smiled at me like she hadn’t just taken away my lifeline to civilization. “You can have it back on the last day.”
Dad hadn’t mentioned this no-phone rule, ’cause there’s no way I’d have gotten on that bus if I’d known. It was bad enough I was gonna lose all of my Snapchat streaks, but on top of that, I couldn’t go all summer without talking to the M & Ms. I couldn’t risk it.
Everyone thinks we’re best friends. But it’s complicated. Madison’s my best friend in the group, but she’s family friends with Meghan. Madison idolizes Meghan, but Meghan tells anyone who will listen that she only hangs out with Madison because their moms are besties. So, Madison acts like my best friend when Meghan is ignoring her or being mean to her, and as soon as Meghan decides she likes her again, Madison kind of ditches me. Being away from my phone all summer would mean I wouldn’t be able to remind Madison how much she needs me.
Bailey opened a bag of Doritos and the Cool Ranch seasoning mixed with the hot plastic smell of the bus seats started making me queasy. She pushed the bag toward me, but I shook my head, trying not to breathe through my nose. This was going to be a long bus ride.
“Camp newbie?” Bailey asked through a mouthful of Doritos.
Bailey washed down the Doritos with red Gatorade that made her teeth pink. “The bunk tournament is the best. There are four competitions: swimming, kayaking, rope climbing, and trail running. All the bunks live for the competition.”
Turns out Dad didn’t just leave out the no-phone rule. “Can I just be scorekeeper or something?” I asked.
Bailey laughed and wet Dorito crumbs landed on my arm. “You are so funny. You’ll make friends fast.”
“Seriously, I’m not such a great swimmer and…” I started.
“Hey, Bailey. You got the bunk assignments?” asked a tall counselor with crunchy blond curls.
Bailey turned to me. “One of my camp jobs is to organize the bunks. Sorry, this is privileged info.”
I was relieved when Bailey squeezed into the seat across the aisle because I didn’t want to hear any more about this tournament thing. Not to mention, it wasn’t like I cared what bunk I was in, as long as I wasn’t with Bea and her annoying friends, who were now singing a camp song that was giving me a headache. They weren’t the only irritating girls on the bus. The girl behind me stuck her bare feet through the space between my seat and the window. She was in serious need of a pedicure and a shower. Some girls in the back of the bus thought it was hilarious to toss around a beach ball to see if they could keep it in the air during the entire bus ride. I ducked every time that ball came near my head. This was going to be the longest summer of my life.
I had been up all night stressing about camp and the Mom situation and suddenly felt like I could sleep for days. I rested my head against the bus window and gave in to the rocking motion of the wheels.
I must have fallen asleep because next thing I knew, we were at a rest stop. The counselors all headed off to grab Burger King, but I decided to go to Quickmart for candy.
It was really weird not to have anyone to talk to. Groups of girls ran past me shrieking and laughing, but it was like they didn’t see me, like I didn’t exist. I didn’t have my phone to hide behind, so I kept my eyes on the ground as I walked.
I went into the Quickmart and grabbed a big bag of Sour Patch Kids Extreme and headed toward the line. Bea was already standing at the register with the exact same thing. I wasn’t surprised since she’s the one who introduced me to the goodness of Sour Patch Kids.
Bea kept her head down with her hair covering her face. Like I wouldn’t recognize her red curly hair and pale freckly arms?
I hate awkward silences, so I had to say something. “Remember the time we ate so many Sour Patch Kids we couldn’t taste anything for two days?”
Bea laughed so hard she looked like she was going to pee in her pants, which she may or may not have a history of doing on sleepovers. “My mom made me go to the doctor even though your dad said I would be fine.”
Standing there laughing with Bea actually felt good. Kind of like old times—when I had one best friend and didn’t have the constant pressure to hold my spot in the popular group. When Mom was still Mom, and I still felt like I could be a kid.
Suddenly, a thick Staten Island accent attached to a tiny girl with shiny black hair interrupted our moment. “You don’t talk to Bea at school and now you’re nice to her ’cause you got no friends at camp?”
Bea opened her mouth and then closed it quickly. She opened it back up again and shut it. She looked like my sister Addy’s goldfish.
I stood up taller, even though I didn’t really have to since this little jerk was even shorter than me. “I don’t need your permission to talk to Bea. I’ve known her since preschool.”
“Isa!” A tall blond girl who looked like an Abercrombie model ran over to us. “You don’t have to be so mean,” she whispered.
The girl who was apparently named Isa jabbed her pointer finger at me. “This girl was best friends with Bea their whole lives, then ditches her for the popular girls. And I’m the mean one?”
I felt shame creep up my neck and spread out over the tips of my ears. I wished I could explain to Bea what had really happened. Why I had to cut her out of my life. But it was too late.
Isa said, “It’s a big camp. You stick with your bunk. We’ll stick with ours.”
I’m writing my annual “still on the bus but missing you already” letter. I know you were only trying to be polite to Dr. Winters when you bumped into him and that he isn’t to blame for Maisy’s Mean Girl ways. But did you really have to give Camp Amelia the hard sell? I go to camp to get out of the Mapleton bubble. Now I’m stuck here for six weeks with my ex-best friend, who is a daily reminder that I am about to start middle school with no friends. I wish we lived in a big town where there are multiple elementary schools feeding into a big middle school. Not this backward village, where middle school doesn’t even start till seventh grade. It’s impossible to start over with the same kids I’ve known my whole life, the same kids who already know what a loser I am.
Maisy started jockeying for a spot in the social hierarchy before the bus even pulled out of the parking lot. She actually sat with the counselors, as if that would give her a leg up with the other campers. She clearly doesn’t understand camp politics. I’ve decided to handle her the same way she deals with me at school—by pretending she doesn’t exist. Keep your fingers crossed that she ends up in a bunk on the other side of the lake from me.
I miss you and Mr. Pebbles already. Don’t forget to give him canned tuna on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a special treat. He only likes the organic kind packed in olive oil from Trader Joe’s, so don’t get him StarKist—even if it’s on sale.
Your #1/only daughter Bea
P.S. Here are some care package ideas for the summer:
–Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
–The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
–Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
–The Best American Short Stories Collection (either the 1986 edition edited by Raymond Carver, or the 2014 edited by Jennifer Egan)
–A new writer’s notebook (wide rule)
–Gel pens (metallic)
–Sour Patch Kids Extreme
–Sour Patch Watermelon Slices
P.P.S. Thank you for literally and figuratively being the best mom and friend ever. I would have no hope of surviving the wilderness of middle school without you. I love you and miss you already.
I couldn’t help feeling like it was my fault when Isa told Maisy off. Isa had been sticking up for me, but when I saw the look on Maisy’s face, I felt guilty, as though I should be sticking up for her. I had to remind myself during the rest of the bus ride that Maisy wasn’t my friend. She hadn’t been for an eternity.
Maisy and I had been best friends since the threes class at Mapleton Day Preschool. We did everything together and people called us MaisyandBea, as if it were one big word. But, when I got back from camp the summer before sixth grade, Maisy dropped me for no reason. I had grown accustomed to Maisy writing me at camp every other day with stories about annoying things her sister Addy did, or a top ten list of reasons why she was infatuated with some boy, or best friend quizzes cut out from American Girl Doll Magazine with all of her answers filled out and spaces for me to fill in mine.
But Maisy didn’t write once last summer, and when I got home in August, she wasn’t waiting for me on my doorstep. When I texted her about going back-to-school shopping with Mom and me, she didn’t reply. Mom told me not to worry, Maisy was probably in the middle of a guitar lesson or something and that we needed to go shopping anyway because I had outgrown everything. It felt like a punch in the stomach when I walked past Abercrombie and saw Maisy in there with the M & Ms. They were all trying on hats and taking a group selfie. I pulled Mom into Sephora so Maisy wouldn’t see me cry.
I don’t know if there were always groups and I didn’t notice them because I had Maisy, or if they formed that last year of elementary school. But it suddenly felt like everyone was part of a group while I ceased to exist. Before I knew it, I was officially invisible.
Two hours later, when we were finally at camp, I couldn’t help sympathizing with Maisy because we had a lot of good years before she joined the evil queen beehive otherwise known as the M & Ms. Although she may have swiftly put me on the wrong side of popular at school, I didn’t know if I had it in me to exact revenge by doing the same thing to her at camp.
“What’s the matter?” asked Poppy. She’s the “pretty girl” of our group with her stick-straight blond hair, blue eyes, and super long legs. On top of being pretty, Poppy is wealthy, the kind of wealthy where her house has a name—Ferwick Manor. You might think that perfect life would make her act entitled, but Poppy is obsessed with social justice. She isn’t one of those people who just posts artsy pictures of herself holding up witty posters at a women’s march once a year either. This school year she spoke in front of the school board on behalf of a transgender student who wanted to use the bathroom of his transitioning gender. Mom always says that a kid who is brave enough to do those things is going to be unstoppable when she is an adult.
I tilted my head toward “the square,” where Maisy stood alone. All the campers were huddled around the big grassy area waiting to get their bunk assignments, but no one talked to her or even looked at her. Word had gotten around about Isa telling Maisy off, so the other campers were steering clear of Maisy to avoid Isa’s wrath.
“I know I shouldn’t feel bad for Maisy, but I can’t help it,” I said.
“She had it coming to her,” said Isa. Her Staten Island accent makes her sound tough, but she’s the most loyal person I know, which is why she hates Maisy. That’s the kind of friend Isa is: You hate someone, she hates them, too.
I watched as Maisy pulled her honey-brown hair up into a high ponytail, shook it loose, then pulled it back up again. Maisy fixates on her hair when she’s upset.
“I can’t fathom why her parents would send her here,” I said. “Maisy thinks trying out a new nail salon is adventurous. And she’s the least athletic person I know.”
“Sucks for the bunk who gets stuck with her,” said Hannah, who’s definitely the coolest one among us.
Hannah’s a trendsetter. One year she wore jelly sandals to camp. By the end of the summer, everyone had a pair. She had recently discovered a love of thrift shops, so she was obsessed with vintage eighties-style rompers, which are kind of like the rompers people wear today, but they come in bold primary colors and feature either rainbows across the chest or athletic stripes running down the sides. She wore what she called statement sneakers, which were generic Keds in bold prints—the crazier the better. Her first-day-of-camp outfit was a turquoise, terry cloth strapless romper that had a rainbow on the front paired with zebra-striped sneakers. The ends of her chin-length brown hair were dip-dyed blue, and I was taking bets with Isa and Poppy on how many campers were going to beg their moms for blue Kool-Aid mix in their care packages.
“Her bunk won’t have a shot at winning the tournament with Maisy dragging them down,” I whispered.
Isa bumped fists with Hannah. “That increases our chances of winning the Cup!” We won the bunk tournament every year. If we won again our last year as junior campers, we would be awarded the Amelia Cup, which had only been earned by one other bunk in the past fifty years. It was Poppy’s Nana Mary who won the Cup, and she really turned up the pressure on Poppy before she left for camp to bring home the win.
“Better give up now. You don’t want to waste your whole summer training for nothing,” an annoyingly familiar voice said.
Isa and I whipped around to see the Dandelion Bunk twins, Ali and Alexa, lurking behind us. I wasn’t sure which one was talking because they are identical. After years of going to camp with them, we still couldn’t tell them apart. Not that we needed to. Their personalities were cloned, along with their appearance. They both had thick New Jersey accents, bobbed curly blond hair, pimply skin, and were solid muscle from the mixed martial arts training they do. Picture any female professional MMA fighter at eleven, give her a twin and an attitude, and that’s what these girls were like. We just call them the A twins to keep things simple.
Isa crossed her arms. “You guys lose. Every. Single. Year. To us. Why should this summer be any different?”
Ali and Alexa gave each other knowing looks.
“This is going to be our year. You’ll see,” said one of the twins.
“You do realize you guys aren’t eligible for the Cup, right?” I slowed my speech down so these hunkering bullies could understand me. “We’re the only bunk who’s won the tournament every summer. So, we’re the only bunk who’s eligible for the Cup.”
The A twins smiled at us, revealing matching sets of fluorescent-green rubber-banded braces. The one on the left said, “Yeah, but if we win the tournament, you guys can’t win the Cup.”
The one on the right cut in, “Keeping you from winning the Cup is basically what it’s all about for us.”
Isa laughed a little too loudly. “Good luck with that.”
The A twins tossed their hair at the same time and one of them said, “Don’t think we’ll be needing luck this summer.”
Bailey blew her whistle. Then she stood on top of a milk crate in the middle of the square, holding her clipboard, which meant one thing—bunk assignments. There was a lot of shushing and one more whistle blow from Bailey before everyone finally quieted down.
“I know you guys are all excited about another summer at Camp Amelia.” Bailey pumped both of her hands in the air and everyone cheered with her, except Maisy who was busy french braiding her enviously straight hair. Putting her hair in a ponytail meant she was a little nervous. A french braid meant she was one step away from a total breakdown.
Bailey continued, “Campers, listen up for your bunk assignments.”
There were never any surprises for Poppy, Hannah, Isa, and me because we always end up together in the Sunflower Bunk with our counselor, Ainsley, just like the awful A twins are always in the Dandelion Bunk with Bailey. But it was cool to watch the girls step forward as their names were called, especially girls I see every summer. Some were much taller, some had new haircuts, some suddenly had boobs, and some looked exactly the same as last summer.
Our counselor, Ainsley, stepped forward. She has a laissez-faire counselor style because she’s more interested in sneaking out to the boys’ camp to hang out with the guy counselors at night than she is in bossing us around.
“I’m Ainsley, the Sunflower Bunk counselor,” she said, flipping her waist-length blond hair over her back. Ainsley’s really a brunette, but she went blond a few summers back, around the same time she went boy crazy. She also has a sporadic British accent because she lived in England until she was five. She wore a faded University of Miami cross-country team T-shirt. She went there on a full cross-country and track-and-field scholarship and worked summers at Camp Amelia to earn spending money for the school year. She woke up every morning before everyone else and ran for miles through the woods to stay in shape, which was impressive considering the late hours she kept sneaking into the boys’ camp across the lake.
The four of us didn’t wait for our names to be called. We ran over to Ainsley with our game faces on to let the other campers, especially the underhanded Dandelion Bunk girls, know the Amelia Cup was ours.
Ainsley read her bunk assignment off of a small sheet of paper even though we had already flanked her like a small army. “Isa, Hannah, Poppy, Bea.”
As I stood up there with the girls, I felt what I had been waiting nine months for—that feeling that I belonged. No more worrying about who to sit with, what to wear, and what to say. I was finally in the one place where I knew where to be and what to do. I had my people.
“And Maisy,” Ainsley said.
Did I just say I was happy? I take that back. Suddenly, I felt like I was trapped in a nightmare, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t wake myself up. Everything was moving in slow motion and all the voices sounded like they were underwater. But I wasn’t dreaming. My ex-best friend, the absolute last person I’d want with me at camp, was going to be my bunkmate for the next six weeks. What was the point of camp if the worst part of school came here with me?
I caught the A twins radiating “I told you so” from every pore. They were standing with their bunkmates: Kaya, who had gotten long black clip-in hair extensions and discovered lip-plumping gloss, and Tinka, who sported her blond hair half up and half down so you could see her hidden rainbow streaks, her new cartilage piercing high up on her left ear, and the multiple silver hoops that lined both her ears. With her gazelle-like legs and track star gait, Tinka was a force to be reckoned with when she was running, which was why she was our fiercest competition on the foot race part of the Cup competition. All four girls wore smirks that said “checkmate.”
“This has to be a mistake.” Isa grabbed the bunk assignment right out of Ainsley’s hands.
Even Poppy was outraged, in her sweet Poppy way. “Not to be rude, Ainsley, but this is our year to win the Amelia Cup. We’re going to be the first bunk since my Nana Mary’s to win.”
Ainsley snatched the paper back from Isa and held it up for us all to see. “It says right here. Maisy Winters is in the Sunflower Bunk.”
Hannah stared at me, willing me to fix this, as if it were somehow my fault Maisy was here, as if I could magically send her back to Mapleton.
Poppy wrinkled her brow. “I don’t understand. I thought the bunks were capped at four campers.”
Ainsley looked at all of us. “There was an uneven number of campers this year. Since Maisy and Bea are from the same town, it made sense for her to get added as a fifth to our bunk.”
Isa pressed on. “There’s no way we’re winning with her dragging us down. She’s new and Bea told us she sucks at everything.”
Ainsley shoved the paper in the back pocket of her jean shorts. “I don’t know why you guys care so much about the bunk tournament. It’s just one small part of camp.”
Maisy stood off to the side, her fingers whipping her hair into a fishtail braid. Sort of with us, sort of not. I knew that pose. I was the master of pulling it off when I knew no one really wanted me around.
- "This is a powerful middle grade novel about the difficulty of both forgiveness and trust, as well as the nature of true friendship. Recommended for collections seeking summer camp fiction with depth."—School Library Journal
- "The shifting middle-school friendships and cliques ring true, and the revelation at the end guarantees readers will look forward to the next book in the series."—Booklist
- "This solid mix of s'mores and girl empowerment is encouraging but never saccharine."—Kirkus Reviews
- A heartwarming story about the joys and pains of friendships and family wrapped up in a rollicking fun camp read! I laughed, I cried, and I couldn't stop turning the pages.—Laurie Friedman, author of the Mallory series
- In this touching story, Eileen Moskowitz-Palma perfectly captures the challenges faced by two middle grade girls who must navigate friendships, betrayal, and complicated family dynamics. Thanks to lovable main characters, secrets galore, and an ending that perfectly sets up the next book in the series, Camp Clique is sure to be devoured by readers who will see themselves in Bea and Maisy.—Wendy McLeod MacKnight, author of The Frame-Up and The CopyCat
"Poignant and timely, The Popularity Pact is a series sure to inspire and empower readers. You'll root for both Bea and Maisy in this captivating story about forgiveness."
—Beth Vrabel, award-winning author of Caleband Kit and the Pack of Dorks series
- "Forget Dad's tie and Mom's handbag. A . . . gift for daughters is about 'friendship, acceptance, trust.' It's The Popularity Pact: Camp Clique."—Cindy Adams, Page Six
- "This wonderful book gives a great view into the typical life of middle graders...The characters are believable and kids will bond with both Bea and Maisy as this story unfolds. They won't want to put this one down."—The Midwest Book Review
- On Sale
- Mar 9, 2021
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Running Press Kids