The Popularity Pact: School Squad

Book Two


By Eileen Moskowitz-Palma

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 6, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Two former best friends struggle to fit in and join the inner circles of middle school social life in this absorbing second entry of a duology about a resilient friendship, the pressure to conform, and the power of self-acceptance.

Picking up where The Popularity Pact: Camp Clique left off, the second book in this exciting duology finds former best friends Bea and Maisy preparing for the new school year. Bea kept up her end of the bargain, getting Maisy “in” with the girls at camp. Now it’s Maisy’s turn to fulfill her promise to ingratiate Bea with the popular girls. When Bea is accepted into this new inner circle, she begins to lose sight of what true friendship is all about. As Bea seems prepared to sacrifice anything to be “cool,” Maisy realizes there’s more to life than hanging out with a bunch of mean girls. Can she convince Bea that the popularity pact was a mistake? Can these former friends find their way back to each other?




“I NEVER WANT TO GET OFF THIS BUS.” I WATCHED THE LAST Burger King before the Mapleton exit pass by in a swirl of red and orange, the rich scent of greasy burgers and salty fries wafting through the open window.

Maisy focused her eyes on me. “It’s going to be okay,” she said.

I broke her gaze and looked down at my thighs. They were covered with so many freckle constellations, I almost looked tan. “Things are about as far from okay as you can get. My dad’s replacing my mom and me with new and improved models. My mom’s dating our old math teacher, and I’m about to start middle school with zero friends.”

“That last part’s not true,” Maisy said, as she held out a practically empty bag of Sour Patch Kids. “You have me.”

I popped a yellow candy in my mouth and felt the sour sugar crystals burn my tongue before the candy turned sweet.

“I can’t expect you to give up the popular table for me,” I said midchew. “So, if you want me, I’ll be eating tuna sandwiches alone in the library.”

“Tuna?” Maisy scrunched up her face. “No wonder no one wanted to sit with you.”

“It’s not funny. School starts in two days and I’m going to be just as invisible as I was last year,” I moaned.

“You held up your end of the pact and made me, the least athletic and most anxious girl at adventure camp, popular. Now it’s my turn to make you popular at school.”

“How did I ever think we could pull this off?” I asked. “How could I ever fit in with the M & Ms?” The bus pulled off the highway onto the red maple tree–lined street that ran through the center of Mapleton. The other campers laughed and talked as if the end of the summer wasn’t descending upon us like an apocalyptic plague. They may have been sad to say goodbye to the summer, but clearly they all had friends back home they were eager to see.

“We just need to come up with another plan,” Maisy said. “So, put that freakishly big brain of yours to work.”

I grabbed the last Sour Patch Kid. “I’ve got nothing.”

Maisy licked her finger and ran it along the inside of the bag. “Let’s list all the things we know about the situation. My dad says to do that when I’m stuck on a word problem, which is pretty much every time I do math homework.”

“There’s unpopular, and then there’s the level below unpopular, where you’re so invisible, you aren’t on anyone’s radar to merit the label unpopular. That’s what we’re working with.”

Maisy rolled her eyes. “And you call me dramatic?”

“Fine, I’ll play along.” I cleared my throat. “Here are the known variables. Having the right friend group is the key to middle school survival. If I can get in with the M & Ms, I won’t have to spend the school year hiding in the bathroom during free periods.”

Maisy nodded. “We also know the M & Ms are always out for themselves.”

“Exactly.” I sighed. “Why would they help me?”

“We just need to figure out what’s in it for them,” said Maisy. “There must be something they could get out of being friends with you.”

But I couldn’t think of one thing those girls needed, especially Mia, whose popularity was matched by her Queen Bee wardrobe. I thought about Madeline with her gel manis and hair even Beyoncé would envy. Then there were Meghan and Madison, who had the kind of friendship born of having moms who were lifelong best friends. Having a person who is more family than friend is the kind of safety net that can make the difference between middle school survival and failure. Let’s not forget Chloe Bradford-Fuller, who had swooped in and snatched up the spot in the group Maisy had carved out for me. These girls had everything I wanted. What could I possibly give them?

Maisy whipped her hair into a french braid at record speed. Anytime Maisy is freaking out, she plays with her hair, so this was a surefire sign she wasn’t as confident about our strategizing as she was letting on.

“We need to figure out something they might want. Make them realize they want it. Then, convince them you’re the only person who can give it to them,” Maisy said, as she wrapped a rubber band around the bottom of her braid.

“That’s genius.” I stared at Maisy. “But what could I possibly give the girls who have everything?”


As the bus thumped over the speed bumps in the parking lot, my heart pounded. I was acting calm for Bea, but the closer we got to our real life back home, the more anxious I felt.

It wasn’t just about holding up my end of the pact. I needed to make up for ditching Bea last year and ruining her life. I needed to give her the one thing she wanted—a friend group at school, just like she has at camp.

“Mapleton girls!” Bob, our bus driver, called to the back. “This is your stop! Don’t leave any garbage behind!”

I shoved the empty chip bags, candy wrappers, and deflated Capri Sun pouches into my bag. Bea and I stood up and brushed the Dorito crumbs and Sour Patch Kids dust off our shorts and grabbed our drawstring bags.

As I walked past the other kids, I heard another bus pull into the parking lot. I leaned out the window to get a closer look.

Bob growled, “Let’s go, girls! I still got two more states to drive through today!”

I hurried down the aisle. The parking lot was filled with parents. I put my hand over my eyes to block out the sun and looked around but didn’t see Dad or Bea’s mom.

“We’re the only two kids getting picked up from Camp Amelia,” I said. “Why are all these other parents here?”

“This is where all the camps have drop-offs.”

Bea sighed as our bus pulled onto the main road. “Just like that. Our summer is over.”

“Not true.” I dumped my duffel bag down on the hot blacktop. “We still have two days before school starts to figure out our plan.”

“There won’t be a plan if I can’t think of something I can give the M & Ms,” Bea said, just as another yellow bus rumbled across the parking lot and pulled up in front of us.

As soon as the bus door opened sweaty boy smell hit us. It was even worse than the time Addy left a pile of dirty leotards in the back of our minivan during a heat wave.

Bea wrinkled her nose. “You thought I had questionable hygiene at camp when I counted swimming in the lake as my shower? You haven’t been around when the Scouts get back from their annual camping trip. We’re talking about seventh-grade boys running around the woods for two weeks without running water or soap.”

I shuddered. “We are so lucky we don’t have brothers.”

Bea squished up her whole face. “Agreed.”

“That smell, though.” I tried not to breathe through my nose. “It’s like moldy cheese, feet… and…”

Bea gagged. “Rotten garbage.”

I felt a dry heave coming on. “Ugh. That’s it.”

Bea grabbed my arm and pulled me a few steps back. “Let’s give them a wide berth.”

“Why do you always have to use big words?” I dragged my stuff back far enough so we could check out the guys without smelling them.

“It’s called reading.” Bea smirked. “You should try it sometime.”

“You are sooo funny,” I said.

Marshall Cooper was the first guy off the bus. With his thick glasses strapped around his greasy hair, his dirt-streaked Mapleton School Chess Club T-shirt over cargo shorts, and bright orange Crocs, he could’ve been cast in any eighties remake as head of the nerd herd.

“Things could be worse.” I jerked my head toward the bus as another grubby geek walked off and said, “You could be one of those guys.”

Bea shrugged. “At least they have their place in the world.”

I rolled my eyes, even though she was right. “We literally just got off the bus. Give me a chance to come up with a new plan before you have a nervous breakdown.”

Suddenly, a bright ray of sunshine broke through the fluffy white clouds and shone down on the bus steps. Clark Rutner stepped into the light like a superhero in a Marvel movie. He had gotten teenager tall over the summer, and his tan arms were thick with actual muscles. His red Mapleton Scouts Troop 523 T-shirt stretched across his wide chest. He had grown out his sun-streaked blond hair from a babyish crewcut into a longish surfer-boy hairstyle.

I knocked Bea’s arm with my elbow and hissed, “OMG! Do you know what’s happening here?”

“Ow!” Bea rubbed her arm. “What? What’s happening?”

“Sometimes I wonder how someone so smart could be so dumb,” I whispered. “We are getting the first look at Mapleton Middle School’s Summer Glow Up.”

Bea wrinkled her forehead and practically shouted, “What the heck is a Glow Up?”

“Keep your voice down,” I whispered. “It’s when someone goes from the awkward, ugly stage to super cute overnight.”

“Oh, now I get it.” Bea nodded slowly. “I’m pretty sure Hans Christian Andersen invented that.”


Bea threw her hands up. “‘The Ugly Duckling’?”

Before I could answer her, Clark turned toward us and smiled. His teeth were bright white and perfect, like a row of peppermint Orbit gum. I was just lifting my arm to wave back when he said, “Hey, Bea.”

“How do you know the Glow Up?” I asked, trying not to move my lips.

“We were both in accelerated science and math last year,” Bea said. “We’re in all the honors classes together this year.”

I held out my phone and pretended to be taking a selfie. Instead, I got a pic of Clark walking toward us, his blond hair flowing, his golden skin soaking up the sun.

“I think I figured out what you can give the M & Ms,” I said.



I MAY NOT HAVE KNOWN WHAT GLOW UP MEANT BEFORE, BUT I did now. Last year, Clark had thick glasses, an unfortunate case of acne, and a mouthful of braces. He had reminded me of a puppy, with his giant hands and feet that were too big for the rest of his scrawny body. It was hard to believe the combination of summer sun and puberty resulted in such a dramatic transformation.

Clark had always been nice to me, as much as any sixth-grade boy could be to an invisible girl. Math and science were the only classes where I didn’t feel like crawling under my desk when the teacher asked us to partner up because Clark was always happy to work together.

“Did you get the email from Dr. Feinstein about Robotics Club?” Clark asked.

I pointed to my Camp Amelia shirt. “Just got back from a digital detox.”

Clark pushed his long blond hair off his forehead. “Dr. Feinstein’s starting a robotics club and she reached out to all the honors math and science kids. Check your inbox when you get a chance.”

I may not be an expert on how to get popular, but I knew one way to sabotage any chance of improving my social status—joining the Robotics Club.

“I don’t think…” I felt a jab in my rib from Maisy’s sharp elbow.

“You should definitely join,” said Maisy, her furrowed brow a dead giveaway that her brain was currently mid-scheme. “It’ll look good on your college application.”

Clark raised an eyebrow. “Colleges look at middle school activities now? Mrs. C. said I should join mock trial, but I was going to wait another year so I can focus on my grades.”

“Um, well… not exactly,” said Maisy. “But how do you expect to be president of Robotics Club in high school if you don’t join in middle school?”

“Good point.” Clark nodded. “See you at the first meeting, Bea?”

I wasn’t exactly sure how this fit into Maisy’s plan, but I could practically see the wheels turning in her head.

“Sure,” I said.

Mrs. Rutner honked from across the parking lot in her convertible. She was wearing tennis whites and a stressed look on her face. “Come on, Clark! I’m going to be late for my lesson!”

“See you guys later.” Clark took off across the pavement.

As soon as Mrs. Rutner pulled away, Maisy turned to me, her eyes flashing. “Best plan ever, right?”

“I’m going to need a little help connecting the dots,” I said.

She whipped out her phone and zoomed in on a picture of Clark 2.0.

“How did you take that without me noticing?” I asked. “And what does our pact have to do with Clark?”

“Watch and learn.” Maisy’s fingers moved at the speed of light as she sent a group text to the M & Ms with Clark’s picture.

Within seconds Maisy’s phone beeped.

“Wait for it…” said Maisy.

“Bam!” said Maisy.

“Double bam!” said Maisy. “It couldn’t have gone any more perfect than this.”


Bea paced with her hands clasped over a pile of curls on top of her head. “How can I be a Genius Whisperer when I have no idea how to talk to boys?”

I pointed at myself. “I know how to talk to boys.” I pointed at Bea. “You know how to talk to smart people. We’ll figure it out.”

Bea stopped pacing and slowly turned to face me. “This could actually work.”

Bea’s mom, Heather, pulled up next to us in her lime-green VW Bug and threw the driver’s-side door open.

“Bea!” Heather yelled. She picked Bea up and squeezed her tight.

Heather was wearing turquoise harem pants with a soft gray tank that opened in the back, and when she reached her arms around Bea, you could see the tattoo of a mother and baby elephant across her lower back. She has the same wild curly red hair and pale freckly skin as Bea.

I took a step back because I was sure Heather hated me. I had been awful to Bea last year, and if I were Bea’s mother I would definitely hate me. But as soon as Heather was done saying how long Bea’s hair had grown and counting her new freckles, she turned to me with a big I don’t hate you smile.

“Hi, Maisy,” she said. “You look great! Wish I had your complexion. I’ve been slathering myself in SPF one hundred all summer and still got sunburned at the farmers market last weekend. I was there forty-five minutes tops and looked like a lobster by the time I got home.”

Bea’s mom had been like a second mom to me since preschool. She taught me how to french braid using Bea’s American Girl dolls. She made me chamomile tea with extra clover honey whenever I felt anxious and always knew exactly what to say to make me feel better. She cooked me well-done cheeseburgers even though she and Bea like theirs rare, because she knows I get nervous when there is any pink in my meat. I was really lucky she was talking to me as though I hadn’t ruined her daughter’s life last year.

“Maisy ran around the cabin spraying everyone with sunblock and bug spray before we went anywhere,” said Bea.

I cringed. “Yeah, I think I drove everyone crazy.”

“But no one got any bad burns or bug bites the whole summer,” Bea said.

“True,” I agreed.

Dad pulled up next to us in his Jeep with Grandma in the passenger seat. The Jeep top was down and I could tell by his tan that it had probably been down all summer without me and Addy complaining about Jeep hair.

“Grandma!” I yelled. “What’re you doing here? Shouldn’t you be getting your classroom ready?”

“Is that any way to greet your grandma?” she teased.

Dad helped her climb out of the Jeep. She’s a shorty, like me, so it was a long way down for her. Grandma, who always dresses her best, was wearing fitted white jeans with a turquoise and white tunic and a bright coral necklace. Her gold strappy sandals showed off her perfect pedicure, Essie’s Jelly Apple, the color she wears from Memorial Day until the first day of school, when she switches to her fall color, Essie’s Merino Cool.

Dad gave me a big bear hug. I thought about how mad I was when he had dropped me off at the camp bus and how I hadn’t even hugged him goodbye. I squeezed him extra tight.

“Missed you, Mini,” he said. “I didn’t have anyone to keep me from being a fashion disaster. My residents made fun of me last week for being too matchy-matchy, whatever that means.”

I gave Dad an extra squeeze. “Good thing I’m back.”

Dad threw my duffel in the back of the Jeep like it weighed two pounds instead of twenty.

He turned to Bea’s mom and said, “Hey, Red. Got any cheap house listings for my poor resident who’s drowning in student loans?”

Heather scrunched up her face like she was thinking hard. “Maybe I can set him up with a starter condo with solid resale value so he can turn it around when he gets on his feet.”

“Good plan,” Dad said. “I’ll give him your contact info.”

Heather smiled at Dad. “Thanks, Eddy! I owe you big time for connecting me with the head of your department. The commission on that sale is paying for spring break for Bea and me.”

Dad waved his hand like it was no big deal. “I wouldn’t recommend you if you didn’t do a good job.”

Heather ran over to Grandma and leaned down to wrap her in a big hug. “Congrats on your retirement, Raisa! I was so excited for you when I saw your Facebook post.”

“Thank you! I got the sweetest comments from all the kids I’ve taught over the years. Although after thirty-nine years of teaching, most of the ‘kids’ are all grown up now with families of their own.”

The tips of my fingers started tingling, like they always do when something doesn’t feel right. There’s nothing worse than realizing you’re the last person to know something important.

“I thought you were retiring next year so we could throw you a big party for teaching forty years,” I said.

We had looked at the Party City website last time Grandma visited and decided on black and silver for the party colors and big silver balloons in the shape of a four and a zero. We were even going to special-order a cake that was shaped like a classroom with a little fondant Grandma sitting at her desk.

Grandma pushed her oversized sunglasses on top of her shiny black hair so that I could see her hazel eyes, almond-shaped just like mine, Dad’s, and Addy’s. She said, “There are more important things than a stupid number. Like spending time with my favorite granddaughters.”

I smiled at Grandma, but the pins-and-needles feeling spread to my whole body. The only thing worse than finding something out last is being lied to. Grandma loves visiting us, but she’s always loved teaching more.



AS SOON AS MOM OPENED THE FRONT DOOR, MR. PEBBLES POUNCED down from the coffee table and rubbed his furry sides against my ankles with a loud purr that sounded like a lawn mower.

“Did you miss me? Did my favorite boy miss me?” I crooned as I scooped him up and flopped down on the couch with him in my arms.

He leaned his head back and parted his lips in a pointy-toothed grin while I rubbed his favorite spot behind his ears.

“Aw, I missed you too,” I said.

Mom plopped on the couch, snuggled up next to me, and said, “We’re so glad you’re back.” Her curls tickled my face. They smelled like Moroccan oil and coconut shampoo, a scent that always makes me feel like home.

“Did you hear about Dad and Monica?” I asked.

Mom sat up straighter and pulled her mass of curls out of her face and into an overflowing bun so she could get a better look at me with her big brown eyes. “Your father called me.”

“Did you see their proposal video? It’s on Instagram,” I said.

Mom’s mouth twitched. “There’s a proposal video?”

I nodded. “Maisy and I saw it when we finally got our phones back.”

“And it’s on Instagram?” Mom said, before bursting into giggles. “When your dad and I were together he didn’t even like me tagging pictures of him on Facebook.”

I reached under Mr. Pebbles and grabbed my phone from my jean shorts pocket. “I waited to watch it with you.”

Mom put on her reading glasses and leaned closer to my phone. “Why’s your dad’s proposal video on @morethanmomjeans?”

“Monica’s an influencer with half a million followers. Didn’t Dad tell you? She posted a denim overall dress from Madewell back in April and it’s been backordered for months. She made so much, it paid for Peyton’s and Vivi’s summer camps.”

Mom’s eyes widened. “Dad’s Monica is the woman behind More Than Mom Jeans? I bought these pants after she posted them. When Jimmy said she was a mom blogger, I thought she was sharing recipes and cutesy posts about her kids.”

“How did you miss her engagement post if you’re such a big fan?” I asked.

Mom shook her hair loose from her bun so her big curls covered her pink cheeks. “I’ve been spending so much time with Gavin these days, I haven’t been on social media as much.”

I was happy Mom had found someone but wished it wasn’t my former math teacher who wore bowties and gave detention for chewing gum. Associating with Mr. Pembrook was not going to do my reputation any favors. The only thing saving me was that he taught at the elementary school.

I looked down at my phone and scrolled through Monica’s posts till I found the proposal video. “Here it is.” I turned up the volume.

Monica stood on the front lawn wearing high-waisted jeans, with a boxy linen button-down and buttery leather loafers. Her blond hair fell in loose waves over her shoulders and her makeup was flawless.

“When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to wear my new back-to-school clothes!” The tiny Monica on the screen smacked her hands together in excitement. “With these budget-friendly finds, the whole family can experience that fresh-start feeling this fall. Peyton and Vivi,” her face broke into a wide smile, “and my amazing boyfriend, Jimmy, are going to model for us today.”

Mom laughed. “She got your dad to model? This must be true love.”

Monica held out her arm. “First, we have Peyton, in Abercrombie and Fitch…”

Peyton’s only one year older than me, but the puberty gods have been far kinder to her. She has her mom’s sun-kissed hair, clear skin, and long legs. Peyton walked across the lawn wearing a fitted white T-shirt with the words WILL YOU painted in bold red across her chest.

Vivi, who is two years younger than Peyton, and as flawless as her mom and sister are, but with a round, friendly face and smile, ran out wearing a white T-shirt with the word MARRY painted on it.

Monica’s jaw dropped and she clasped her hands over her cheeks. Before she could say anything, Dad ran over wearing a white shirt that said ME.

“Oh, Jimmy,” Monica said, in a breathless voice, as Dad got down on one knee and popped open a ring box.

“You guys!” Tears streamed down Monica’s impeccably made-up face as she swept up the girls in a big hug. “I can’t believe you did this!”

“You didn’t answer the question,” Dad said, with his trademark crooked smile.

Monica dropped to her knees so she was at Dad’s level. She looked him in the eyes and said, “Yes!” Then her eyes shifted to her four hundred and eighty-nine thousand Instagram followers, and she shouted, “I said yes! The answer is yes!” She then reached out her hand and Dad pushed a platinum and diamond ring on her finger.

Peyton looked at her mom and said, “Now we can be a real family.”

I put my phone facedown on the coffee table and snuggled up to Mr. Pebbles.

“They make the perfect family, don’t they?” I scoffed.


On Sale
Oct 6, 2020
Page Count
304 pages
Running Press Kids

Eileen Moskowitz-Palma

About the Author

Eileen Moskowitz-Palma, a former elementary school teacher, is an alumna of Sarah Lawrence College’s The Writing Institute, where she teaches Beginner and Intermediate Novel Writing. Eileen lives a vegan-ish lifestyle (unless you count an occasional bacon cheeseburger) and is a half-marathoner who hopes to be brave enough to one day run the full. She lives in Bronxville, NY, with her college sweetheart, Douglas, their daughter, Molly, and her Wire Fox Terrier, Oscar, who is one snaggle-tooth away from being a doggy model.

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