By Lisa Papademetriou
Illustrated by Keino
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Margaret "Cuckoo" Clarke recently had a brief stay in a mental institution following an emotional breakdown, but she's turning over a new leaf with her "Operation Happiness". She's determined to beat down the bad vibes of the Haters, the Terror Teachers, and all of the trials and tribulations of high school by writing and drawing in her diary. And when life gets really tough, she works through her own moments of uncertainty through imaginary conversations with her favorite literary characters.
Cuckoo's also got a nearly impossible mission: she, along with her misfit band of self-deprecating friends (who call themselves "the Freakshow") decide to bridge the gap between warring cliques and "bring the Nations together". Not everyone is so willing to join hands and get along, but Cuckoo never stops smiling . . . until one of her closest friends, pushed to desperation by a Hater prank, decides that enough is enough.
In James Patterson's first highly illustrated "diary fiction" story for teens, the mega-bestselling author's most endearing and original teen heroine ever proves that everyone can use a helping hand once in a while.
Table of Contents
A Preview of Cradle and All
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For a while, I worried that something horrible had happened to her. Then I worried that nothing had happened and she just decided to leave. I still don't know the answer, which can definitely make someone a certain kind of crazy (we're talking squirrel-stuck-in-a-storm-drain freak-out).
But I am feeling a lot better now. I'm working on Getting Happy. My best friend, Katie, has been doing a lot of reading on happiness lately—like, books on how to Get Happy. (Yes, there are instruction manuals.) Some of the books say you should challenge yourself and try new things. Writing in my diary is supposed to help, too.
Now that I have been certified "sound of mind," things are really looking up.
I'm Cuckoo Clarke.
This story mostly takes place in a small town outside Portland called North Plains. There's a gun shop outside town that has an annual Back-to-School Sale. (I'm anti-gun.) Every August, our town hosts the World's Largest Elephant Garlic Festival. (I'm pro-garlic.) Most people around here wear Nikes, Portland's proudest. (I prefer Uggs, but I wouldn't say I'm definitely pro- or anti-footwear.)
And now, welcome to the main setting of this show: North Plains High School! It looks the way you're probably picturing it.
The hallways are full of the Usual Suspects: Jocks, Nerds, Twinkies, Otaku, Barbies, Goths, Eurotrash, Jailbait, Stoners, Joiners, Glommers, Delusionals, Haters, Wankstas, Thespians, Teachers, Terror Teachers, Zomboids, Robots, Gleeks, United Colors of Benettoners, Libertarians, Activists, Juvies, Baristas, Blahs, and—my best friends—the Freakshow.
That's right. We call ourselves the Freakshow. My best friend, Brainzilla (Katie), had this idea that we should give our little group a nickname that's far worse than anything any of the diseased minds in our school could dream up.
Don't most high schools smell/look/sound the same?
Anyway, after the Freakshow was born, we actually took it a step further and gave ourselves insulting individual nicknames, too. I think we did a pretty good job with them:
Brainzilla is number one in our class. She's IB (that's International Baccalaureate) and determined to be the first person in her family to go to college. She has set her sights on Yale and has even already scheduled an interview—two years early. She works her butt off constantly and then goes home to take care of her three little brothers. Her parents work weird shifts, so her house is messy and complicated and basically covered in snot.
Hana named herself Eggroll ("Eggy" for short) after a couple of racist creeps asked her about her "dumplings." She has about a thousand interests, but sadly for her parents, school isn't one of them. Paul has zits everywhere that I know about, so "Zitsy" was an easy choice. He's deathly afraid he'll end up working in his father's plumbing business. Peter covers us with both the jocks and the Religious Right, so "Tebow" seemed like a good fit. He's also insanely good looking. Flatso, formerly Beverly, is overweight, but also flat breasted, which is rare and borderline tragic. She happens to be strong enough to rip your head off. Not that she would. She's the sweetest person I know.
And then there's me, Cuckoo.
So now you've met the whole gang. You'd think with the zillion other cliques, clubs, and posses in this place that we'd all fit in somewhere, but we don't. The truth is that this school is a mess of warring nations. Jocks hate Nerds. Barbies hate Goths. Blah blah blah. But my friends and I are planning to do something about that.
It's Monday, and it's raining, so the hallways are wet as we all drag in droplets on our shoes and clothes.
Digger Whitlock gives me a cheerful hello as he passes by my locker.
His family owns the local funeral parlor. They specialize in Vegas-glitz coffin interiors, and Digger's dad will—for an extra two hundred bucks—dress up as Elvis and sing "Love Me Tender" at your beloved's interment. So he's allowed to be a little messed up.
And there's also this: Digger's older brother died in a car crash last year. He had a beautiful coffin. But even so, it gives me the shivers to think about Andy Whitlock. I really hate the idea of being dead. (Although I love sleeping, so I'm not sure what that's about.)
I think I just hate endings in general. They're so… final.
Maybe that's another reason I'm starting this diary. I'm a big fan of beginnings. Especially beginnings—and second chances.
And short chapters, obviously. So, I think you get the picture. Of me. Of my friends. Of North Plains High School.
Basically, it's like being back in the asylum.
With more homework.
I'm sitting in homeroom scribbling and surviving.
I was reading Pride and Prejudice a minute ago, and I'm really into the book. I just love that Janie Austen.
Now I'm imagining myself meeting a boy in my personal version of Pride and Prejudice. His name is Laurence Darcy, and he's the younger brother of Fitzwilliam Darcy, better known as Mr. Darcy, and he is just so charming and British and Jane Austen-y that it's like I'm in homeroom heaven!
We start chatting at a society ball at Netherfield Park.
Laurence Darcy is pretty dreamy. I'm just loving all those great nineteenth-century manners!
Hmm. I may be in love. Stay tuned.
Laurence Darcy gets me through the rest of homeroom and, let's face it, the rest of my classes, until lunchtime.
Hold your fire, Teachers, Barbies, and all Haters, I think as I walk through the cafeteria doors. I'm immediately hit in the face with the greasy, smelly reminder that the caf offers almost nothing that hasn't taken a long and luxurious bath in the FryDaddy. It's sick. The Activists are lobbying for a salad bar, and I say, "Dare to dream, Activists!" I really love their hopeful energy and vision for a brighter tomorrow!
Today I take my brown bag over to the Freakshow Corner. That's the table where my biffles and I sit every day. It has a good view of the parking lot.
When I get there, I see a Hater—Marty Bloom—trying to shove something into Zitsy's face. Zitsy's trying to get away, but his head is pulled way back, and I'm worried that his neck might snap like a rubber band.
"Come on! You freaks usually can't keep your pieholes shut!" Marty says.
"Get away from him, Marty," I say. Zitsy has been pushed around so much that he doesn't even fight back anymore. He says he's used to it, but I'm not. I really hate it. "Leave him alone!"
Marty backs off, surprise curving his straight black eyebrows. "I was just fooling around." He punches Zitsy in the arm. Maybe he means it to be playful, but Zitsy winces. "What's the big deal, Maggie?"
"I'm Cuckoo, remember?" I tell him. "And Zitsy's my friend. Don't touch."
"Compassion and respect, people!" Eggy pipes up as she walks up behind me.
"What she said," I agree.
"That's what Jesus would do," Tebow puts in, which is a little over the top, but not completely wrong, either. He sits down next to Zitsy so Marty won't try anything again.
Marty narrows his eyes. "That right there is what makes people want to mash pie in your face," he snaps, and walks off. "You owe me three bucks for the food," he calls back over his shoulder to Zitsy, then cracks up.
Zitsy looks down at the plate that's sitting on the table in front of him. "I hate pie," he says quietly. Eggy hands him a pile of napkins, and he starts wiping gooey peach from his face.
Flatso has joined us now, and she wraps her thick arms around Zitsy. Then Eggy does, then Tebow, then me.
"Is everything okay?" Brainzilla asks as she walks over to join us. "Why are we all hugging?" She doesn't wait for an answer. She just puts down her tray and joins in.
And that is why I love my friends. Because they aren't afraid to create a Human Hug-Blob in the middle of the cafeteria, even if it means getting stared at.
After what seems like ten years but is still too short to me, we stop hugging and get back to our seats. Fifteen minutes left in lunch. Plenty of time, as long as we skip chewing and go for the direct-food-inhale.
"Okay, so that hug gave me a new idea," Eggy announces.
"For Operation Happiness?" Brainzilla guesses, and Eggy nods.
"Okay, so the idea is called Hands Across the Football Field," Eggy says.
"I already love it," Flatso gushes.
"The whole school would join hands for five minutes," Eggy says, and I look at her like she's the one who's cuckoo.
Zitsy seems into it, though, and leans forward. "And then what?"
"Maybe pass a squeeze back and forth," Eggy adds. Wow. It's so… over the top.
"Um—" I start, but Zitsy interrupts.
"I think the key here is snacks."
"I wasn't thinking snacks," Eggy admits.
"Either way, it definitely has potential," Brainzilla says, but Tebow shakes his head.
"Coach Struthers hates having civilians out on 'his' turf," he says. "He'll get the whole team to chase us off."
It's true. Coach Struthers is a nut about the turf. Once I went to watch Tebow practice, and when I stepped on one of the chalk lines, I got whistle-blasted loud enough to cause brain damage.
Yep. That's just one example of the tragicomedy that is North Plains High.
It's kind of like Hamlet meets Bridesmaids.
I watch Zitsy push his bag of vinegar chips around, not eating them. That's not like him. Usually he eats so fast and so much that it's like watching a wood chipper. Zitsy not eating is bumming me out.
"You know what? Marty kind of got me down," I say. Then I stand up, give my whole body a shake, and say, "Get off! Get off! GET OFF!" This usually helps me brush away icky, ugly, heebie-jeebie feelings, but it doesn't do much to counteract my reputation as a nut job.
"Why does Marty have to be such a Hater, anyway?" Flatso asks, not really expecting an answer.
But I surprise Flatso with my response. "Because"—I give her a grin—"he's deprived."
"Hellz yeah," says Eggy, and Tebow crows, "It's on!"
"Oh, boy." Brainzilla puffs out a breath that lifts her bangs from her forehead. "Here we go."
Yeah, that's right—it's time for another round of our favorite game: DEPRIVED!
Goal: To be the object of greatest pity.
How to Play: State a way in which your life has been hideously deprived.
In the end, we declare Zitsy the winner.
He spends the last ten seconds of lunch vacuuming chips and high-octane Coke into his digestive system.
That's when I know that my friend is all right.
We interrupt this diary for an announcement: There's a new kid in bio!
He's just standing at the front of the room scanning the class with his big blue eyes, like maybe he can't decide where to sit. He chews on a fingernail, adorably nervous. I'm still all about Operation Happiness, so I walk right up to him and introduce myself.
"Welcome to North Plains High School!" I say. "We're all about helping each other here. Our motto is 'We're in this together!'" (Actually, our motto is "Educating students to succeed in a changing world," but that sounds kind of ominous to me. Mine's better.)
"Um, thanks." An awkward laugh stumbles from his lips. "Uh—do you want to take a seat?"
"Oh, sure, but I already have a lab partner." I wave my finger at Flatso, who is sitting at our black marble lab table with her notebook open and pen poised.
"Helleeeeew!" Flatso calls in an inexplicably English accent.
"Okay, well, why don't you go sit down," New Kid says, which strikes me as a little weird. But I assume he thinks maybe we'll have more time to hang out after class, so I head over to my seat.
"He's absolutely darling!" Flatso whispers.
"Why are you suddenly British?" I whisper back.
"Don't you think it makes me sound more refined?" she asks as the New Kid walks up to the front of the room and starts the class.
Yes, that's right—he's not the New Kid. He's the New Teacher!
I can feel my science grade drop out from under me.
"Um, hello. I'm Winston Quinn." He starts to write it on the board, and the chalk gives off a deafening screech. "Heh," he says, and starts again, but then the chalk breaks. He scrambles underneath his desk to get it, and when he pops back up, his face is pink. He takes a deep breath and says, "Well, anyway, you can all call me Winnie."
"What happened to Ms. Donaldson?" Langston Connors shouts from the back of the room.
"Uh—I'm not—" Winnie blushes deeper, and sweeps his blond bangs out of his eyes. I swear, he looks like he's sixteen. "I'm not actually at liberty to discuss it."
That sets the whole room off.
"Um, could everybody… could you all… settle down, please," Winnie says, sort of waving his hands a little bit.
He's never going to get anywhere with that, I think. I feel pretty bad for him as he sits down behind his desk and nervously looks at his watch. Then he starts scanning the room again, but I realize he's not just looking at the students. He's studying the walls, the desks, even the ceiling, like he's never been inside a regular old classroom before.
The room is still going strong with theories, but the main points for now are she's not coming back, Winnie is our new teacher, and the front row no longer needs to worry about Ms. Donaldson's rampant spittle problem.
Meanwhile, beside me, I can see Flatso falling madly in love.
I'm not the kind of person who gets crushes on teachers, but I can absolutely see where she's coming from. He's definitely working the cute cherub look with his pink cheeks and punk preppy haircut.
I try to picture Flatso and Winnie out on a date. Where would they go? The gym first, then the natural science museum?
Winnie eventually gets everyone calmed down and calls the roll, and when he says, "Margaret Clarke?" I raise my hand and say, "Everyone calls me Cuckoo."
He gives me a dimply smile. "All right, if you insist. Cuckoo it is."
"Her friends call her Kooks," Flatso chimes in. Still English.
"So noted, Kooks." And he actually writes that down. I'm starting to suspect that Winston Quinn might be extremely cool.
When I get home, Mrs. Morris is waiting for me with a plate of cookies. I feel like I'm six years old again… except that nobody ever had cookies waiting for me when I was six. But here they are, freshly baked and delicious! Mrs. Morris is my foster mom, and I love her, and she loves me, but we never really get into it like that.
I'm really touched that she went to all the trouble of baking me cookies, and when she heads toward the fridge to get me some soy milk, I leap out of my chair.
"I'll do it, Mrs. Morris," I tell her. I don't want her to go to any trouble.
Yeah, I call her Mrs. Morris. She once asked me to call her Roberta, but I just… couldn't. I think she was actually kind of relieved. That's just how we roll.
Mrs. Morris has a sweet, old, floppy little dog named Morris the Dog. She says there used to be a famous Morris the Cat on TV. Morris looks kind of like a mop, handle removed. Maybe he's got that in his bloodline.
Mrs. Morris also has a daughter, Marjorie, who is a total flake blowing around in the LA smog. She's a wannabe actress/singer/songwriter/screenwriter working as a barista/telemarketing trainee.
Marjorie calls just before dinner tonight. I answer the phone, and her voice clues me in right away that something's up. "Oh, uh, I don't think she's available right now," I mutter, but Mrs. Morris's got some kind of Sixth Marjorie Sense ("I hear flaky people!") and says, "Is that my daughter?" so I hand over the phone.
"Marjorie!" Mrs. Morris says into the receiver with a smile that practically reaches around to the back of her head. "We can't wait to see you—what's that? Oh. Uh-huh." Mrs. Morris's smile drops right off her face and onto the floor, splattering there. "I see. No, of course I understand. Of course. All right, Marjorie, well, another time, then.…" And she clicks the off button and carefully places the phone back in its cradle.
The silence in the kitchen is like something you could swim in. "She's not coming next weekend?"
Mrs. Morris takes a deep breath. "Not this time," she says. "She wants to pick up an extra shift or two to cover her rent. Well! When the screenplay sells, she won't have to worry anymore, will she?" Then Mrs. Morris starts whistling, which is how I know she's really, really disappointed.
Morris the Dog snorts.
I barely know Marjorie… but I know I really hate her for always breaking Mrs. Morris's heart.
Mrs. Morris fries up some eggs and sausage for one of our incredibly early dinners, and I help by making dairy-free pancakes. We pretend we're running a diner, serving up two Number Six Lumberjack Breakfast platters. I even class up the plates by adding some apple slices for a garnish.
"Verna—bus Table Eleven!" Mrs. Morris says when we're finished eating.
"I'm on it, Trixie!" I load up the dishwasher and wipe down the table with a rag. Then, because I'm in a diner, I place the chairs upside down on the table and sweep the floor. While I'm at it, I mop. Why not?
"Well! The health inspector will be mighty glad to see this," Mrs. Morris says, beaming at the shiny floor. It makes me happy to make her happy.
I head up to my room to start rereading The Catcher in the Rye for class. Ms. Olsson would probably freak out if I ever told her, but I never study for English. Instead, I just read all the books twice. The first time through, I read in a rush because I'm always dying to find out what happens and make sure everyone's okay in the end. The second time around, I really get to enjoy the book, and I always notice new things.
When I walk through my bedroom door, I see that Holden Caulfield is sitting at my desk. Well, I'm just imagining him, but still. He's watching me, and when I say, "Hi," he says, "Hi. What are you doing in my room?"
That's a little disconcerting, but when I look around, I notice the Pencey Prep pennant on the wall instead of my Nicki Minaj poster and the hardwood floors instead of the pink carpeting that runs throughout Mrs. Morris's house. We are in his room!
"How's your sister, Phoebe?" I ask.
"She's got the grippe, but I think she'll be fine. How's Mrs. Morris?"
I'm thrilled that he knows about Mrs. Morris! "She's great!" I say, sitting down on the bed. "Well, more like okay. You know, her MS bothers her. It gives her the shakes sometimes. She has to use a walker, and sometimes a wheelchair. And her heart is a little jumpy."
I bite my lip. I really hate talking about Mrs. Morris's health. It freaks me out a little. "Hey—while I have you here—could you help me out with some homework?"
I make up something about "coming of age" and "loss of innocence" and scribble it in my notebook. I try to use vocabulary that Ms. Olsson likes. You know: ostracize and liberate and innocuous and blahdeblahblah.
"Are you all right, Cuckoo?" Holden asks after a moment. "I'm worried."
"Cuckoo is a well-developed and accessible protagonist.... Fans of the popular "diary fiction" genre (as well as those simply looking for an approachable and quick read) will find much to enjoy here."—School Library Journal
"Patterson brings the misfit theme of Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life and its sequels into edgier territory in this illustrated novel ... filled with drily funny dialogue balloons and captions."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- May 10, 2016
- Hachette Audio