VIP: Battle of the Bands


By Jen Calonita

By Kristen Gudsnuk

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Mackenzie “Mac” Lowell is living a dream come true on tour with her favorite boy band. Spending time on the road with Perfect Storm hasn’t been what Mac expected, though-it’s even BETTER!

But with screaming fans and big-time recording sessions come haters and copycats, like Thunder and Lightning, a new band on the label whose first single sounds suspiciously like the song Perfect Storm’s guitarist wrote for Mac. As the two bands set out on a joint summer tour, more and more of Perfect Storm’s secrets are leaked to the public.

Where’s the one place all these lyrics and secrets are supposedly being kept safe? In Mac’s journal, of course! Can Mac-and her comic-book alter ego, Mac Attack-stop the leaks and nab the culprit?

With black-and-white illustrations and action-packed Mac Attack comics throughout, Jen Calonita’s VIP series is more exciting than a backstage pass!


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Friday, May 13

LOCATION: SoundEscape Recording Studio—New York City

I, Mackenzie Sabrina Lowell, do solemnly swear on Perfect Storm's potential world music domination that everything I write in this journal is the truth, starting with this:



I'd pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming, but then I'd wind up with a welt that turns black and blue and forces me to wear a jacket in May. Instead, I make lists.


1. Mom is taking me back out on the road with Perfect Storm when school ends. Since it'll be my summer break, that means no Krissy tutoring sessions! YES!

2. No school also means Scarlet and Iris can come with Jilly and me to some of the tour stops. (Iris says this can only happen if she and Scarlet pool their babysitting money and stop buying PS shirts, but my fingers and toes are crossed!)

3. Being on the road means steering clear of Jones Beach. Mom usually drags me there at least twice a week in the summer, even though we all know the ocean has sharks. But there'll be no time for the beach when we're on tour, so I'm saved from a possible shark attack for another year! YAY!

4. Extra time on the tour bus means more time for me to finish my Mac Attack comic book! I've already got a third of it done from our last road trip. This time there'll be no annoying distractions (like essays on the generals of the American Revolution. Yawn) to keep me from my artistic dreams.

5. Touring with Perfect Storm means I get to spend more time with my crush, Kyle Beyer! Let me write that glorious name a few more times: KyleBeyerKyleBeyerKyleBeyer. Sigh… I could say his name all day! It's that dreamy. Just like Kyle!


My pen with the fuzzy pink monster topper drew a long, jittery line at the sound of the bizarre birdcall. I'd been hearing that sound over and over all afternoon.

"CAW! CAW! CAW!" Perfect Storm's producer, The Raven, crowed again with full-on bird flaps to emphasize his excitement. His birdcall was so loud that I thought the glass window separating us from the band was going to shatter into a million pieces.

That's exactly what happened in The Sharkinator Returns. My friends and I watched it during a sleepover last night even though Mom begged us not to. In The Sharkinator Returns, though, the glass in an aquarium shattered and the sharks attacked a group of high school kids on a field trip and… and… I think I blacked out after that.

"Is this guy serious with the bird bit?" Scarlet whispered to Iris and Jilly.

"It's so annoying," Jilly agreed. Her dad is Perfect Storm's manager, so she's met a lot of music producers, but I was pretty sure The Raven had to be the strangest yet. "And you thought Einstein was weird with all his 'scientific formulas' for making a hit song."

Jilly said bands like Perfect Storm work with a lot of different producers when they're doing an album, but I was starting to miss Einstein and his crazy beats. He had a weird name, but he looked normal and stuck to human language. The Raven looked like a bird with his black hair, big nose, and wiry, thin body; and the twenty-one-year-old was even dressed head to toe in black like, well, a raven. I wasn't sure ravens crowed, though. Didn't they just hang out around cemeteries and look scary?

"Perfect Storm's tracks are blowing the roof off this joint!" The Raven said to Jilly's dad. "This bird hears a number one single!"

Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride. PS was killing it in this studio session and had been working for ten hours straight (I'd only been here for two). Inspired, I let out a birdcall of my own, even though I'd never made a sound like that in my life.

"CA-CAW! PS RULES!" I cheered. There was silence. Then I heard PS laughing through the speakers. I quickly sat back down as The Raven gave me his best evil-villain glare. "Sorry. I got carried away."

"I am the only one who speaks during recording sessions," The Raven said stiffly. "I need silence to reflect on the band's energy."

I leaned closer to the girls, squeezing Scarlet against the padded walls. "It won't happen again," I whispered. I already knew The Raven didn't like us "Storm Chasers" being there, but that was TOO BAD. We were invited!

"The girls are just excited," said my mom.

Or as I now refer to her: THE COOLEST MOM IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE (even the parts that aren't discovered yet). And here's why: A few months ago, my mom gave up her desk job to become Perfect Storm's tour manager, and she took me along for the ride.

"Understood, but absolute silence is key in a recording studio," said The Raven. "My baby birds are learning to fly in there. This is not really a place meant for children."

"Hey, Mac!" I heard my name amplified through the sound system before I could complain about being called a child. Heath Holland was grinning and waving at me through the glass. "We're really digging that birdcall you just made," he said. "Think you could record the sound for us to use on our song 'The Story of a Girl'? It's going to be the first single off our new album."

The Raven frowned. "I really don't think it's strong enough for a single. As I've said before, my pick is definitely 'Bring Back the Sun.' I co-wrote it and…"

The Raven was ruining my moment! "I'll record the sound!" I stood up, pushed my way past the girls, my mom, and Briggs to reach the bendy microphone that The Raven was holding and practically yanked it out of his hands.

"Great," said Zander Welling from inside the studio booth, on the other side of the glass. He ran a hand through his wavy curls that were always falling in front of his electric blue eyes. "The caw sounds like a girl's scream, like the kind we hear at concerts. But make it louder, with more feeling, this time."

"Um, Mac?" Jilly said quietly. Whatever she wanted could wait. PS needed me!

"Add in some different bird sounds, too," Heath suggested. "Maybe an ostrich or a pterodactyl?"

"A pterodactyl?" Zander repeated.

"Yeah," Heath said pointedly. "The dinosaur bird thingie. Go for it, Mac."

I looked back at my friends triumphantly. Jilly was mouthing something, but I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. "COO-COO-CAWWWWWWWWW! SCREECH!" I added The Raven's bird-wing flap for effect.

Heath and Zander applauded, but the person I most wanted a reaction from was holding his head like he had a headache.

Kyle, Perfect Storm's sensitive British guitarist and now songwriter—aka my current crush and seventh-grade Spring Fling date—was staring at me. His soulful brown eyes make me envision a future in Paris together. I'll write comic books in an apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower while Kyle sits at the other end of our shared desk and writes awesome songs that are about me and a life filled with lots of berets and amazing cheeses. (Jilly says Paris is all about cheese.)

"NICE!" said Heath. "That caw is the techno vibe we've been missing!"

"I'm confused," The Raven said. "What's happening?"

Briggs leaned over and spoke into my mic. "Boys, I think you're getting a little loopy from all that time in stale air. Maybe we should take a break."

"After Mac records the sound, Briggsy." Heath grabbed a green guitar the same shade as his current hair color and motioned for me to come into the recording booth. He strummed the strings and hummed my caw sound. Zander joined in. "Now your turn, Mac!" I watched Zander hold up his iPhone and point it directly at me to record.

Kyle jumped up. "Don't do it!" Heath and Zander groaned. "They're trying to make you the victim of their latest YouTube video."

OH. My face heated up like I'd spent too long in a hotel hot tub. I was seconds away from being a YouTube joke called Bird Girl. "Ha!" I laughed weakly. "Almost got me." I backed away from the glass as Kyle gave me a sympathetic nod.

"It would have been perfect," Heath moaned. "She was flapping her wings and everything." He demonstrated, and I could see that his arms were covered in new fake-tattoo sleeves.

"Break time!" Briggs announced, and The Raven threw down his notes and left the room. "Take fifteen and then we'll try to finish this song within the hour. You guys have an early morning tomorrow with that Z100 interview."

The boys went out the back of the recording studio, while my mom and Briggs walked off talking about all the tour stuff they had to get done before we went back out on the road again.

My friends were sympathetic. Iris pulled me in for a hug. Her reddish-blond hair smelled like strawberries. "The guys like you enough to prank you and let the whole world watch! That has to be a good thing."

"I wish Heath pranked me," Scarlet said, looking longingly at the recording booth that was now empty. Her expression quickly turned sour. "Not that I ever would have fallen for that joke. Seriously, Mac. I thought you knew the guys better than that."

Scarlet has never been one to sugarcoat things like Iris.

"I tried to warn you." Jilly jumped into The Raven's now-vacant producer's chair and gave it a spin. "Didn't you see me mouth 'Don't do it'?"

"I thought you were saying 'YES, do it'!" I grumbled. "Now I've humiliated myself in front of Kyle by flapping like Big Bird."

"I don't think Big Bird actually flaps," Iris pointed out. "Doesn't he have really small wings?"

"He's way too big to fly," Scarlet agreed. "He'd never lift off the ground."

I was still huffy. "My point is, I looked ridiculous instead of cool and fun like I was at the Spring Fling."

"Not the Spring Fling recap again!" Scarlet slapped her head, and I noticed that her black and gray nails looked exactly like Heath's. He loved to borrow our nail polish and paint his nails funky colors. "Mac, we love you, but how many times are we going to do the play-by-play?"

Okay, so maybe I typed up a minute-by-minute report of Kyle's and my time at the dance together and pulled it out every few days to recap it again. (Example: 6:57 PM KYLE: Wow, this gym is a scorcher! Is the heat on in here? ME: No, it's always this hot.) Was it a bit much? Maybe. But can I help it if I like reliving the single greatest night of my life? "You guys don't know what I was going to say," I complained.

Jilly pulled her gum out of her mouth and raised her hand like we were in the middle of a school session with Krissy, who's in Los Angeles for the summer tutoring a Disney Channel star instead of us. "You guys had so much fun, but you've become good friends and you don't want to ruin that by Kyle thinking you want to be more than friends…"

"If your mom wants to ruin your life by saying you're too young to date your future husband, then it's pointless to even think about having a boyfriend…," Scarlet added.

"But when you're older, you can totally see the two of you settling in Paris and eating croissants every day…," Iris finished.

"Ooh! Ooh!" Scarlet started jumping around. "You know what Mac hasn't brought up today? How Kyle wrote her—"

"—A SONG," the three of them said in unison.

I was getting annoyed now. "Can I help it if I'm excited the boy I want to move to Paris with wrote a song about me? I mean, if Kyle didn't like me, he wouldn't have written me a song. Right?"

"YES!" the girls said in unison again.

"Whoops-a-daisy!" someone said in a British accent I knew all too well. "I'll come back later."

I slowly turned around.

Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.

I felt like I swallowed a surfboard (which a shark did on The Sharkinator Returns last night. It wasn't pretty).

Kyle was standing behind us, and I had a feeling he'd heard every word I had just said.

Friday, May 13

LOCATION: Home (hours after I tried to be Bird Girl)

When the boy you like hears you gushing about him, you tend to panic.

Maybe that's why I picked up the closest thing to me—my journal—and threw it at Kyle's head for no good reason.

"OUCH!" Kyle touched his forehead where my glittery journal had struck him. I saw a red welt begin to spread.

"Kyle!" I rushed toward him, forgetting all about my journal, which was now lying on the floor. "Are you okay? I'm SO sorry."

"I'll go see if the studio has a first aid kit," Iris suggested, and rushed out the door.

"I'm fine. It's just a bump." Kyle looked at me curiously. "Why'd you throw your journal at one of your best mates?"

"I thought you were an intruder," I lied. "I was trying to protect my friends." If Kyle wasn't convinced, he didn't say. I looked down at our sneakers. The white toes were practically touching. "So, did you happen to hear what we were talking about?"


"All I heard was you yelling, but you do that a lot." Kyle gave me a cheeky grin that made me feel like a bowl of Jell-O. "Did I interrupt anything?"

"Nope," I said as Iris burst back in with an ice pack.

Kyle took it and held it to his head, leaning against one of the control panels, with its hundreds of buttons. I liked the green army jacket he had on over a white T-shirt. I think he wore it in PS's last video. I loved that video. The guys were walking along a wharf on a windy day, and Kyle's blond hair was blowing in his eyes and…

"Mac? Are you okay?" Jilly waved a hand in front of my face. Everyone was staring at me, and I felt my palms begin to sweat.

"Fine!" I laughed like a hyena. "Sorry, I was just thinking about a movie I watched." Why couldn't I be cooler, like Mac of Mac Attack, the comic book I draw in my spare time? I gave her my name, but we didn't have much else in common. As the leader of a crime-fighting girl band, she always said and did the things I only dreamed of saying and doing.

Kyle started to laugh. "Not The Sharkinator Returns again? I still can't believe I let you talk me into watching that movie last night. It was bloody awful!"

"It's educational," Iris said solemnly as the rest of the band walked in, carrying chips and Roaring Dragon energy drinks. "How else will we know what to do if a shark bursts through a sink drain?"

"One hour to go!" Briggs announced. "Nail this song once and for all and you guys are done for the day."

"Then we can eat?" Heath asked, offering Scarlet a chip from his bag. Scarlet started to giggle uncontrollably. "These snacks will only hold me for so long. I'm STARVING."

"Do you guys want to get dinner with us after?" Kyle asked me.

KYLE JUST ASKED ME TO DINNER. Even though he had already seen me through the glass for hours and talked to me during breaks at the vending machine, he still wanted to spend more time with me. I could see the City of Light in the distance and us walking along the Seine River…

"I think we're heading to Little Italy," Kyle said. "I've still never been." Kyle loved exploring cities. He was the best tour guide I knew other than Jilly, who could remember street corners and addresses for restaurants she hadn't been to in years.

"I've never met a chicken parm I didn't love," I said. "Count us in." We smiled at each other for what felt like a long time until Heath interrupted.

"Hey, Mac," he called. "I'm out of chips. Can you call for a snack delivery? CAW! CAW!" Zander joined in, and I glared at them both.

"All right, chums, that's enough," said Kyle.

"Look at that. He's defending your honor, Mac," Heath added. "He's such a good bloke. My apologies for messing with your lady, mate!"

I felt like I was about to burst into flames. Which may be why this is the first and last time I will ever write these words:

I've never been happier to see Lola Cummings.

The tall, model-like blond I'd dubbed Big Bird came crashing through the studio doors with her entourage in tow. My friends and I weren't fans of Lola, but since she was the daughter of the guy who created the Wave One radio app that sponsored most of Perfect Storm's gigs, we had to put up with her. Briggs and my mom had to fawn over her a bit, but the rest of us tried to keep our distance. Lola had her bored-looking nanny, Amber, with her, since at fifteen she still couldn't travel by private jet alone. HA! Her annoying friend Bridget, who always wore her hair in a braid and chewed gum like a cow, was back, too. As much as I hated having her around, Lola did make a good distraction from this awkward moment with Kyle.

"Your number one fan is back, boys!" Lola shouted at the top of her lungs. "I missed you guys SO much!" She ran straight to the band, kicking my journal across the floor. I started to lunge for it but got distracted by the glittery, bedazzled PS shirt Lola was wearing. I recognized it from one of the fan sites. The thing cost more than twenty album downloads. "Did you guys miss me, too?" she asked the boys, hugging each of them. "Tell me you missed me! I know it's been weeks since I was here, and I'm sorry," she said with a glossy pink pout.

"Wait, when did you leave?" Heath asked. "I didn't notice."


  • Praise for VIP: Battle of the Bands:
"[Sufficiently] suffused with the realistic energy of a preteen fan traveling with her favorite band.... this offering's high-energy, high-interest diary format interspersed with Mac's comics keeps the pages turning.... A fast read frothing over with sugary pep and cuteness."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Calonita nicely captures the extremes of tween emotions, with appropriate squeals, swoons, and tears. Friendship and loyalty take center stage in this enjoyable addition to the VIP series."—Booklist
  • Praise for VIP: I'm With the Band:
  • An Amazon Best Books of December 2015 Selection
    "Written in diary entries and interspersed with vaguely manga-styled illustrations as well as some of Mackenzie's comic-book stories, this hits the sweet spot for fans of Dork Diaries. This tale of ultimate wish fulfillment is a must-read for starry-eyed fans of boy bands."—Kirkus Reviews
  • "Calonita (Flunked) targets Directioners and other boy band devotees with this effervescent first book in the V.I.P. series...Gudsnuk, creator of the Henchgirl webcomic, provides exuberant comics sequences and spot illustrations throughout...The real meat of this diary-style story lies in the behind-the-scenes details of life on tour, as well as Mac's relationships with the band members as she gets to know them as real people."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Calonita captures squealing tween-girl excitement perfectly in this diary-style novel, but she makes sure being a fangirl isn't Mac's only M.O. Her ambitions to be an artist not only feature in the plot but also in its illustrations..."—Booklist
  • "A fun read for middle school students... [who] can relate to Mac's joy in writing in her journal. All problems are resolved in the end, and Mac and her mother are looking forward to continuing on the band's tour."—School Library Connection
  • "Cute boy banders? Backstage drama? And a butt-kicking comic book heroine? VIP: I'm With the Band is an all-access pass to fun! Don't miss the debut of Jen Calonita's delightful new series!"—Megan McCafferty, New York Times Bbestselling author of Jessica Darling's IT LIST series
  • "This behind-the-scenes story of a girl who gets to travel with her favorite boy band is funny and filled with heart. A wonderful start to a brand new series."—Suzanne Selfors, author of the Imaginary Veterinary and Ever After High: A School Story series
  • "A sassy and adorable wish-fulfillment adventure that had me squealing and goofy smiling. The characters, the comics, the concerts... I promise, you're going to want to marry this book."—Lindsey Leavitt, author of The Pages Between Us and Princess for Hire
  • "A sweet and hilarious adventure about fandom, friendship, and family. Jen Calonita has captured the perfect storm of being twelve and finding yourself within reach of your wildest dream."—Jennifer Ziegler, author of Revenge of the Flower Girls
  • On Sale
    Jul 26, 2016
    Page Count
    320 pages