How Do You Spell G-E-E-K?


By Julie Anne Peters

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The bond between best friends is put to the test as they compete for spelling bee glory in this novel from National Book Award finalist Julie Anne Peters.

Best friends Kimberly and Ann both have a dream to make it to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. Eighth grade is the last year they can qualify, so they are practicing day and night. But when Ann is assigned to sponsor new student Lurlene Brueggemeyer, who turns out to be an amazing speller, suddenly her relationship with Kimberly and her chances of winning the competition are put to the test. If the three girls end up competing against each other for the prize, that can spell only one thing: t-r-o-u-b-l-e.


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Fwap. A thick book dropped onto the cafeteria table, rattling my tray.

I glanced up. "What's this?"

My best friend, Kimberly Tyne, said, "Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition."

"I know what it is. What's it doing here?" I bit into my cheeseburger and added in a garble, "Ruining my lunch?"

Kimberly hooked a strand of straight blond hair over her right ear. "My mother started me on a schedule. If I don't practice every day, I won't make it through the rest of the alphabet by April."

My chin hit the floor. "Kimberly, we just finished the big area spelling bee on Friday. You won first place! Can't you even take a break?"

"I had a whole weekend off." She crossed her eyes at me. Pushing her oval designer glasses back up her nose, she eyed the dwindling buffet line. "Be back in a minute. You want anything?"

This stupid dictionary out of my sight, I thought. I shook my head.

Kimberly pointed to Webster's. "We stopped at the M's, I think."

Gag. I jammed the cheeseburger into my mouth. We'd been spelling day and night since Thanksgiving to prepare for the Denver west area spelling bee. Ever since third grade, Kimberly and I had been spelling together, and getting farther every year. Eighth grade, this year, was our last time to compete. We shared a dream—to make it to the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.

I was a good speller, but Kimberly was awesome. Last year she aced the county spelling bee, the first person ever to get every word right on the written test. I missed six. Even though it got me to the orals, Kimberly outlasted me there, too. She wound up placing third in the whole state of Colorado, while I came in a dismal twenty-third. But who's counting?

Kimberly slid into her seat with her tray. Squeezing open the wedge on her chocolate milk, she said, "How could you have missed fuchsia? It's your favorite color."

I choked, remembering what I was trying to forget about last Friday's fiasco. "I don't remember ever seeing it written down." I'm a visual speller, which means I'm a lousy guesser on words I've never seen. Kimberly knows all the rules, variations, derivations. "So what?" I shrugged. "I still got third place. Still get to go to county."

"Bet you never forget fuchsia." Kimberly aimed her pizza at her mouth and flipped open the dictionary.

That's the truth. Once you misspell a word, you never forget it. "Doesn't matter." I swirled a stale French fry through a glob of ketchup. "I'm switching favorite colors." Wiggling the limp, gooey fry in front of her face, I said, "To red. R-e-d."

She laughed and passed the dictionary across the table. "First word."

Here we go again. I sighed wearily. "Malacostracan. Mal-uh-KOS-tri-kan. Derivation Greek." I sucked in a smile. Kimberly hates foreign words.

"Definition," she said.

I scanned the dictionary page to find the word again. " 'Any of a large subclass of crustaceans having a thorax consisting of eight segments usually covered by a carapace and including the decapods and isopods.' Yikes! Sounds like attack of the pod people."

"Crustaceans aren't people," she replied dryly. "They're like crabs."

I looked again. "Could be crabby pod people."

No response.

I picked up my milk and took a swig. "Okay. Here's a sentence. Did you sample the malacostracan salad last week? It was delectable, except the decapod shells got stuck in my teeth and I crunched all during study hall."

Something resembling a smile flickered across Kimberly's lips. A long moment passed. Then another. My hand waved in front of her eyes. "Yo, anybody home?"

"I'm thinking. Malacostracan. M-a-l-a…" She paused to push her glasses up her nose. "M-a-l-a… Did you say Greek?"

An audible sigh betrayed my impatience.

"Okay, okay. M-a-l-a-k-o-s-t-r-a-c-a-n."

"Errrrrt." My loudest buzzer imitation.

"I knew it. C, right? M-a-l-a-c?"

"I'm keeping score. So far it's Kimberly Tyne minus one, Ann Keller, zip. Hey, I'm ahead." For the first time ever.

She exploded. "You don't have to make a big deal out of every word I miss. I feel stupid enough as it is."

Then I exploded. "Stupid? When did you ever feel stupid? Every year we practice for the spelling bee, you start up where we left off last year. I have to relearn every word from aardvark on. Don't talk to me about feeling stupid." My voice shook. Even oblivious Kimberly noticed.

She lowered her eyes. "I'm sorry, Ann. I'm just under a lot of pressure. This is our last chance, and I really want to win. Everyone expects me to win. Especially you-know-who."

I knew who. Her parents. The little Hitlers. They expected Kimberly to be perfect. The one time she brought home a B on her report card, she had to do extra credit for the class.

"Well, tell your mom to stop worrying. You're not going to win the spelling bee this year."

She arched an eyebrow.

"That's right. I am. In fact, I'm going to Washington and I'm going to win there, too. So there." I stuck out my tongue.

Her eyes fixed on me. "You sound like you mean it."

"Just try to stop me."

The air between us suddenly chilled as we tried to intimidate each other with frozen stares. Naturally I blinked first. That was my problem—no killer instinct.

"Next?" I passed the dictionary back to her.

She studied the page. "This word is perfect for you, Ann," she said. "Maladjusted. 'Poorly or inadequately adjusted; specifically: lacking harmony with one's environment from failure to adjust one's desires to the conditions of one's life.' " She smirked.

"What does that mean?"

"Sentence: Ann Keller is severely maladjusted if she thinks she can beat me to the National Spelling Bee."

I sneered.

The warning bell jolted us back to reality. Hastily we shoveled the remainder of our lunches into our mouths and scrambled for the cafeteria doors.

"Are we on tonight at your house?" Kimberly asked as she bounded gazelle-like down the hall.

"No, Dad has to work late again, and Chase is going to be home." I made an ugly face that only a brother could love. "Let's make it your place, six-thirty."

Kimberly waved over her shoulder while I slammed my locker in unison with—as usual—the late bell.


Study hall. A whole hour of pretending to do algebra while sneaking a peek ahead in my Webster's. Okay, I admit it: I'm a glutton for punishment. "Maladjusted," I mumbled. "M-a-l-a-d-j-u-s-t-e-d." I checked, just to be sure. What was the definition?

"Failure to adjust one's desires to the conditions of one's life." A sigh escaped my lips.

Kimberly was right. I was maladjusted. Definitely kidding myself about my chances this year. Everyone knew she'd win. She was the best. Plus, last year's first and second place winners had graduated to the ninth grade, leaving Kimberly alone at the top.

I glanced at the next word. Meager. Why wasn't it spelled m-e-e-g-e-r? Long e, right? Medal. Was it medal, meddle, metal, or mettle? You'd need bionic ears to hear the difference. Dad teased me once that Ann was short for Analyze.

The next word was a doozie. Mnemosyne. Ni-MOSS-en-ee—I stumbled over the pronunciation. The Greek goddess of memory. Good. I'd pray to her for help tonight—if I remembered.

Sick of practicing, I slammed the dictionary closed. Mr. Howell shushed me from the front of the room and got an apologetic shrug in response. Opening my algebra book, I took up my usual study hall position, head on arms on book. Staring out the window, where a Colorado spring snowstorm littered the air with frozen confetti, I repeated the maladjusted definition to myself. Lacking harmony with one's environment.

That hit home. My entire life was off-key. My parents' divorce was the pits. Dad kept the house since his computer consulting business was just a couple of miles away, and part of the time he worked in his office at home. Mom moved to Colorado Springs to open Keller Real Estate. She asked us to move with her, but Chase and I didn't really want to change schools. I mean, we grew up in Denver. All my friends were here. We saw Mom on weekends, when she wasn't busy, which was once a month, maybe, if we made an appointment. I missed her.

"Look, Annie, it's not that bad," my big brother Chase's voice echoed in my head. "We get two of everything now. Two homes, two allowances, two working parents. If we play our cards right, we can really rake in the big ticket items—cars, CDs, computers. We just make sure Mom and Dad have to compete for us." His dark eyes twinkled mischievously.

What a material boy. Though maybe he was right. I could use a whole new wardrobe. Plus, if I had pair of leather boots, like the red Georgios Jennifer Caldwell was wearing beside me…

"Ann? Ann!" I blinked back to earth. Mr. Howell loomed over me, breathing onions from lunch on my face. "Mrs. Welter would like to see you in her office," he said.

"Why?" I shot upright. "I've only been late twice this week."

"Maybe you're receiving the high productivity study hall award." He chuckled as he handed me a hall pass. Adults were so terribly u-n-a-m-u-s-i-n-g.

The principal's office was filled with a lower-life assortment of middle school dropouts. Vacant-eyed flunkies hung around in the waiting area, straddling the wooden benches or just sniveling in place.

"I have a message from Mrs. Welter," I said, handing the school secretary my pink slip.

"Have a seat and I'll let her know you're here." She motioned me to park myself on a bench.

Considering all the diseases communicable through wood, I decided to stand. Not to appear totally stuck-up, I leaned against the wall and faked gum chewing. There was a geeky girl standing next to me. She smiled.

Revolting. A hunk of bread stuck in her braces.

Mrs. Welter's door opened suddenly. "The next time I catch you with cigarettes, it's an automatic suspension," she warned the turf-head leaving her office. "Do you understand, Dwayne?"

He mumbled some obscenity under his breath.


He turned to holler, "Yeah!" and bumped into me. Cooties crawled up my arms. Clucking with disgust, I brushed off the invisible vermin.

"Oh, Ann, hello." Mrs. Welter caught me in her crosshairs. "Please come in." She motioned me into her office, which looked as if it had been bombed by terrorists in training. "Excuse the mess," she said, gesturing to a chair. "I was just reorganizing my files."

She took up her place behind the desk. Smiling at me through steel gray eyes she said, "I'd like to ask a favor of you."

I hate it when adults say that, like you get a choice.

"We have a new student starting today, and I thought it'd be nice if she had someone to show her around. You know, teach her about the way things are done here. Be her sponsor."

Inwardly I moaned. "Is she an exchange student or something?"


Then why would she need a sponsor? "She's not…" Oh, no, special ed?

Mrs. Welter said, "She's been home schooled all her life. I won't know where to place her until she takes her achievement tests. She comes from a small town in"—Mrs. Welter opened a folder—"Kansas, I think." She closed that folder, then opened another. "Or Nebraska."

Great. A hick. When was I going to have time to tutor a hick from the sticks? "Mrs. Welter, I appreciate your picking me, but I don't have time to tutor. My schedule is like totally full. Maybe Kimberly—" Oops, she wouldn't appreciate me dropping her name.


On Sale
Apr 1, 2009
Page Count
144 pages

Julie Anne Peters

About the Author

Julie Anne Peters is the critically acclaimed author of Define "Normal," Keeping You a Secret, Pretend You Love Me, Between Mom and Jo, She Loves You, She Loves You Not…, It's Our Prom (So Deal With It), and Luna, a National Book Award finalist.

Learn more about this author