By Kat Yeh
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Everything in Bea’s world has changed. She’s starting seventh grade newly friendless and facing big changes at home, where she is about to go from only child to big sister. Feeling alone and adrift, and like her words don’t deserve to be seen, Bea takes solace in writing haiku in invisible ink and hiding them in a secret spot.
But then something incredible happens–someone writes back. And Bea begins to connect with new friends, including a classmate obsessed with a nearby labyrinth and determined to get inside. As she decides where her next path will lead, she just might discover that her words–and herself–have found a new way to belong.
When I’m figuring out a haiku, I place my right hand on my chest like we do at school for the Pledge of Allegiance. The first line of a haiku is always five syllables, and I like to count out each beat, starting with my pinky finger and working my way across.
one, two, three, four, five
I know it’s exactly right when my thumb gives that final thump (five) over my heart.
There are only three lines in a haiku.
The first has five beats
the second has seven beats
and the last has five.
(Five, seven, five)
Haiku are nothing like the poems I used to write. Those were free verse, which is exactly what it sounds like. Poems that are loose and flowy and free. The kind you sing or shout or paint all over your bedroom walls. With free verse, you can pretty much do whatever you want.
A haiku is different. One wrong choice and you have to go back and start again.
But it doesn’t even matter how different they are, because all poems begin the same way: from something you feel inside. Like being mesmerized by the sound of certain words. Or feeling sad that you’re alone at the turn of a path.
Or being afraid.
A poem could begin one night when you’re so lost and afraid that the last thing you’re even thinking about is writing one. But the words will come anyway, whether you want them to or not, and you will find yourself with your hand on your chest, just like the Pledge of Allegiance, counting out the beats.
I do not know the way
Until that extra thump (six) on your heart tells you that you’ve made the wrong choice. Only this time, it’s not just a haiku—it’s real life. And there’s no starting over.
There are things that are okay to say out loud and things that should definitely just stay in your head. Everyone knows that.
Except maybe Mr. Clarke.
The official name of his class is Social Studies: Ancient Civilizations, but he always likes to say the colon along with the rest of it.
As in, “Good morning and welcome to Social Studies Colon Ancient Civilizations!”
He says it every day like it’s the funniest thing ever. Like he doesn’t know how weird this is. Mr. Clarke doesn’t know a lot of things. I mean, he knows social studies, but he doesn’t know that it’s too much to come back from summer with a full beard that he’s slowly trimming away and changing each week. We’ve been in school for a month now, and so far, he’s had a caveman, a Viking braid, a waxed beard with a pointy tip, and now, muttonchops.
Today, I’m late as usual. I try to open the door as quietly as possible so I can just slip in, but the second my head appears, Mr. Clarke calls out, “Welcome, welcome, Miss Beatrix Harper? Lee!”
Mr. Clarke’s been trying to guess my middle name since the beginning of the year. I know he just wants to be funny, but does he always have to make such a scene? This is my only class with S, and all I want is to get through it with as little attention as possible. I don’t want to talk, I don’t want to be called on, and I definitely don’t want to be part of any scenes.
But so far, every day in this class feels like that game—the one where everyone takes turns pulling the blocks out of a tower, then when it topples over, they all yell Jenga! No matter how hard you try, the tower always falls.
“Hurry, hurry, now, Beatrix!”
I put my head down and quickly make my way in, pulling my headphones onto my neck. I reach for my phone to check my splitter. I got it this summer in Taiwan. Most splitters are just boring, but this one is shaped like a smiley bunny face that clicks into the headphone jack. You can connect two sets of headphones into the two bunny ears whenever you want to listen to the same song with someone else. I just haven’t had a chance to use it yet.
The whole class is standing around a large table up front. I find a spot across from where S is huddled with L and L and A.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see a swish of pale hair and think maybe S is looking at me, but when I turn to check, I hear “Ow!” and realize I’ve clonked the boy next to me, because I still have my backpack on. What’s his name? Justin something? I turn the other way to try and slip it off, but then—“Hey!”—I whack into Kirsten Henry on the other side. She shoots me an annoyed look. I don’t even really know Kirsten. She’s from one of the two other elementary schools that come together in our middle school.
People start craning their necks to see what’s going on. I grip the straps of my backpack tightly and stare straight ahead. I just won’t move again for the next hour. If Kirsten and Justin want an apology, they’ll be waiting a long time. I haven’t said a single word in this class yet, and I’m not going to start now. I try to focus on whatever it is on the table in front of us.
It’s a big wooden maze.
Mr. Clarke is standing behind it with Dan Ross.
He clears his throat. “For his presentation today, Dan has chosen the topic ‘Politics in Ancient Greece.’ I will thank you in advance for being courteous and giving him your full attention.”
Dan smirks. “Long ago in ancient Greece, King Minos, son of the almighty Zeus, commanded that a labyrinth be built to house his man-eating beast, the Minotaur.”
Mr. Clarke drums his fingers on his chin in the space between his muttonchops. “Fascinating start, Dan. Are you sure this isn’t a report on Greek mythology?”
“Nah,” says Dan. “It’s ancient Greek politics. It’s political because there’s a king.”
“Fair enough.” Mr. Clarke nods. “And while we’re at it, class, how about an Extra Credit Curveball! Draw a map of Zeus’s family tree. Hint: you’ll need big paper and a strong stomach. Please continue, Dan. I can’t wait to see where this goes.”
“The labyrinth of King Minos was an impossible maze where he’d throw all his prisoners. I got this one from my cousin. My mom gave it to him for his birthday, but he didn’t like it.” Dan shrugs. “He’s kinda weird. Anyway, today my weird cousin’s maze will demonstrate what happens to those who wander in the Labyrinth of Minos!”
I feel sorry for this cousin who has to go through life being related to Dan Ross. Dan has been a sworn enemy since his birthday party in kindergarten, when he told me his dog was one of the Killer Hounds of Leland Estate that got kicked out for being too ferocious. I cried and cried because I’ve always been afraid of big dogs, but S held him around the neck, petting him. She said as long as I acted like I wasn’t afraid, he wouldn’t hurt me. But how does someone do that? Act like something they’re not? We swore never to speak to Dan again.
S’s voice rings clearly across the room. “Whooo-hoo! Dan the Man!”
Then A chimes in, “Yeah, Dan!”
Mr. Clarke rises up on his tiptoes and carefully studies the maze from above. “Unnecessary comment about your cousin aside, I will say that this is a very impressive maze, and it looks like… yes, it is. It’s a perfect maze.”
“Thank you! Thank you!” Dan bows and waves. “No applause, just throw money.”
Mr. Clarke pats him on the back. “Perfect refers to the specific type of maze you have here. A perfect maze is actually one of the only mazes that can be solved quite easily. Which I believe merits another Extra Credit Curveball if anyone can tell me how.”
I stand on my tiptoes and look down at the maze the way Mr. Clarke did. I like how all the walls are connected together. Connected and holding each other up. With no lonely wall left stranded by itself.
A perfect maze.
It sounds like something that should be in a poem.
When I close my eyes, I can see things more clearly. I can imagine how I would write and draw a poem about a perfect maze. The words could wind around the page, maybe filled with curling vines that climb along a turning path, up and around and…
“Why, yes, Beatrix!”
With a start, I open my eyes to giggling in the room. My hand is raised, my finger tracing words in the air. I feel my cheeks go hot and shake my head no as I shove my hands deep into my pockets, where I plan to keep them for the rest of the year.
Dan Ross snorts. “It doesn’t matter how easy it is to solve, Mr. Clarke,” he says. “Hammy’ll never make it.” That’s when I see he’s holding a little ball of fur. “She’s too scared. Watch—boo!” She squirms in his grip and he laughs. “Wait’ll you see what happens when she gets stuck in a dead end.”
“First of all, Dan, the proper term for a dead end in a maze is a blind alley. And I say give little Hammy here a chance. She’s got it in her, maybe she just doesn’t know it yet.” Mr. Clarke reaches over and scratches Hammy on the head.
“You’re just saying that because you haven’t met the Minotaur yet!” Dan pulls out an action figure with rows of teeth and a long, whippy tail. “The Ridley Scott Alien, circa 1979.” He turns to Mr. Clarke. “My dad keeps it up on a shelf in the original sealed box.”
Mr. Clarke frowns. “Uh, perhaps that had better go back in the box.”
Dan shrugs. “Can’t have a maze without a monster in the middle.”
And he drops Hammy in, headfirst.
I push forward as Hammy tumbles down in an awkward somersault and scrambles to her feet, her teeny little hamster sides panting. I can almost hear her heart pitter-pattering away. She doesn’t even move at first. She doesn’t know which way to go. It’s not fair.
Hammy looks left to the path that leads to the exit and then right to the path that leads to the blind alley. Left… right… left…
She makes a bobbling run straight into the dead end.
Hammy hits the wall and turns in a circle. Stops and then turns again. She pants for a second and then starts clawing at the dead end, trying to get through.
Dan snickers. “Now watch what happens.…” And he starts to sneak the alien right behind her.
“Dan…” Mr. Clarke warns.
I look at Mr. Clarke. Then at Hammy in the maze. I can’t even imagine how scared she is, trapped and trying to get out—and that Dan Ross! He’s still the same. Scaring people—and hamsters!—just because he can. Why won’t someone stop him? Why won’t anyone stand up to his stupid, smirking—
Dan laughs as he raises the alien up—
And someone screams out, “NO!”
I clap a hand over my mouth.
My eyes dart over to where A and L and L are cracking up. And S is just staring at the floor. Worried someone will remember that up till a month ago, we were best friends.
I turn and run out.
I rush down the hall and push through the exit, running across the soccer field, into the woods, and onto the path that leads home. I don’t stop until I get to the clearing by the Wall.
It’s like stepping into a safe zone. I let myself collapse onto the ground and try to catch my breath.
No one knows who made the paths that wind through the little woods and feed into all the streets in our neighborhood. They’ve just always been there. Maybe since the very first houses here on Long Island were built. They connect our street to S and L and L’s streets and then to the main path, where you can take a left to the elementary school, a right to the middle school, or an even farther right to, well, to pretty much anywhere. Over the years, we’ve searched every inch of every path, and ours is the only one with a stone wall.
We were little the first time we came upon our crumbling Wall, and it looked like a stone creature to us, hunched over like a baby elephant in the clearing. We ran back to my parents’ studio, yelling, “Why is there a wall in the woods? What is it? Where did it come from?”
Without looking up, Dad yelled, “Portal to the land of the goblin king!” and kept on drawing his comics.
And from her side of the studio, Mom called out, “Portal to the underworld!” and threw more black paint on her canvas.
Just as quickly as we’d come in, we ran back out to check the Wall for clues.
It might have been left over from an old mansion. Or a prison gate. Or a secret tower. But it didn’t matter; it was ours. And the best part was that it had this… opening. Nothing special to look at. Just the kind of small dark hole you’d expect to find filled with crawling beetles and maybe moss. But it was more than that. Because when we pressed our eyes to it, we could see that it reached farther and deeper than any ordinary crawling-beetle-and-maybe-moss-filled hole should. As if the inside were bigger than the outside.
We named it the Portal.
We whispered our deepest secrets into it. We asked it our scariest questions. We could tell it anything. Inside the Portal was the safest place we knew.
A twig snaps.
I force myself not to look up. Because when you’re waiting for someone on a path, every twig will snap and every bush will rustle, but no one will ever be there. No one ever is. Not in the mornings when I wait here until I’m late for school every day and not now.
And there’s no way S would run after me after the scene I made.
Barging in late and crashing into everyone with my backpack.
Doing my weird skywriting in front of the whole class.
Ugh. And then screaming NO! like I was at a horror movie and not just watching a class presentation.
Why, why, WHY do I always have to be so…
For the first time, I’m glad I still have my backpack on. I squirm out of it and unzip the front section, scrabbling around until my fingers touch what I’m looking for. I close my eyes and take a deep breath.
People do different things to calm down or relax. My mom starts a painting. My dad shops online for new inks and old pens.
I make poems.
My hand finds the stack of paper I cut into little three-by-three-inch squares and I can already feel my breathing slow. Next is a small glass bottle.
Lemon juice with exactly three drops of water in it. Invisible ink.
We learned all about invisible ink from this book called Start Your Own Secret Club that S and L and L and I got from the book club flyer at school when we were in third grade. There are lots of different formulas, but the best is lemon juice and water. To make the ink visible, you need someone to light a match and carefully hold it underneath.
The book has all these funny cartoons with this guy who explains what to do. My favorite one is where he’s peeking from behind a tree, watching this girl read his invisible letter. His voice bubble says Now all you have to do is wait for your friend to light a match, and your message will be received! But it takes her so long to get the matches to light that by the time she finally does, he has this long white beard and he’s all mad and she sees that the message says Can you bring me a sandwich? I’m hungry!
In the book, it says you can use a cotton swab to dip and write your message, but that just doesn’t feel very poetic to me. I use this dip pen I stole from my dad. It has a golden nib etched with curly lines and tipped with a fat sort of nubbin. I wonder if he’s even noticed that it’s missing. He’s been pretty busy, so he isn’t really noticing much lately.
I want to write something, but I’m not sure what and that makes me think of this thing my mom always says: Whatever you feel on the inside is what you put out there in the universe.
And what I’m thinking about now is Hammy and the maze and how unfair it is when you think a path will lead you somewhere amazing and you just end up running into a dead end.
I close my eyes, hold my hand over my heart, and count out the beats of words that come from the inside.
if you are in a maze… (six).
a blind alley up ahead… (seven).
tell me why, my friend (five)
blind allies have to appear (seven)
on the paths we walk (five)
Five, seven, five.
Thumb over my heart on the last beat.
The way I know when something I’ve written is perfect is that I feel truly connected to it in a way I didn’t before. It’s like the words and the feeling behind the words are coming right from my heart. Whether they’re happy or wondering or sad, they just feel right and real and right.
I dip my pen into the invisible ink and write the words down. They shine bright and clear, made up of lemony water and whatever it is inside me that makes poems want to be in the world. I quickly close my eyes again before they can evaporate.
I know the whole point of invisible ink is to make things disappear, but today, this thought makes a little sting in my heart. Because no matter how long I wait out here, no matter how many snapping twigs or rustling bushes I hear, I know that no one is coming with a light to make my words visible again. And after all the thinking and feeling and writing, all I’m really left with is an invisible haiku that doesn’t belong anywhere.
I open my eyes and see the Portal.
I stare for a second—then begin to roll the little paper as tight and tiny as I can. I search the ground and pull up a long piece of grass. The kind that’s sturdy and wide. The kind you can make a long, loud whistle from when you hold it between your thumbs and blow. I wrap the grass around the roll twice and tie it.
I hear nearby rustling and quickly look side to side, but I’m still alone.
I take a deep breath.
Look into the Portal.
And tuck my invisible haiku inside.
I’m about to walk away, but then I stop and grab the pack of matches I keep in my backpack for testing out my invisible inks. And I tuck that in, too.
Because even invisible things deserve to have a little hope.
The one time S and I tried to sneak out of study hall in sixth grade, we got caught, and she said it was all my fault because I had come up with this elaborate plan and then panicked and couldn’t stop laughing. Bea, your problem is you’re just—you’re too much. Just act like it’s no big deal. Walk fast, but not too fast. If you walk too fast, they’ll know something’s up. It’s all about Going Stealth. Of course I believed her. She knew all about this kind of stuff from her brother, Jay, who’s a year older.
So who would have guessed I’d be the one sneaking off campus every single day since seventh grade began? Though the truth is that I don’t usually cut classes. Just lunch. I sneak out here to the Wall every day, so I don’t have to face the cafeteria. Being out here during an actual class feels strange, and I want to head back in. Also, I just really don’t want any of my teachers to be mad at me.
I peek out from behind a tree.
I may have bolted across the middle of the soccer field on the way out. But there’s only one way to make it back in. Go Stealth. I sneak around the soccer field, staying hidden in the trees, and slip back into the building with no problem. First period has just ended. It’s noisy and crowded in the halls. All I have to do is blend in. Try to be as anonymous as possible. I let out a sigh of relief.
I’ll talk to Mr. Clarke tomorrow and just tell him I had to go to the bathroom. How could anyone get in trouble for going to the bathroom? I’ll say I had a stomachache or something and then decided to go straight to second-period study hall. Who would question that?
And then I suddenly remember something about second-period study hall. I yank out my phone and look at the date. Tuesday. Today is Tuesday. And on Tuesdays, second-period study hall is replaced with—
Go Stealth. Go Stealth. Go Stealth. I put my head down and walk fast. But it might be too fast, so I slow down. What is Fast But Not Too Fast supposed to feel like anyway?
Two neon sneakers appear in front of me.
There is no fighting the sneakers.
My favorite librarian, Mrs. Rodriguez, doesn’t wear boring grown-up shoes. Mostly because she’s not a boring grown-up. If Mrs. Rodriguez were a superhero, her power would be the ability to make every student love her. All the high school kids call her the Rodreeg-inator or Reegster or Reegs. I can’t think of any other teachers around here who get nicknames. Today, her sneakers are bright yellow with pink and purple swooshes and they’re pointing right at me. I look up.
“Oh… hi, Mrs. Reegs.…”
She gives me her I Know You Were Trying to Get Away But I’m Not Going to Call You Out on It Look. She’s also slightly out of breath from chasing me down the hall.
“Bea, I hope you didn’t forget that on Tuesdays—”
I know what she’s going to say, and I have to keep her from saying it. I need to walk in the opposite direction she’s going to want me to walk. So I blurt out the first thing that comes to me. “I cut Social Studies Colon Ancient Civilizations!”
Mrs. Reegs stops short. “You cut a class? You cut Mr. Clarke’s class? Beatrix!”
I hate for her to think of me this way, but I have more important things at stake. “I’m sorry, but it was Hammy’s fault. No, wait—I mean, actually, it was Dan Ross’s fault.”
“Slow down,” Mrs. Reegs says. “Take a breath. Start over. What happened?”
I have to keep her moving away from the other end of the hall. I take a step and she follows me. “Okay, so you know Dan Ross? We ran away from him during recess in second grade, and you had us read the stories about the brother and sister who find the tree house filled with magic books?”
Mrs. Reegs nods.
Another one of her superpowers is that she remembers every single book she’s ever given us. She’s also the only person at school these days who can get more than two words out of me. By the time I see her, I usually have so many words backed up, they come out like a flood.
“Well, he was doing this presentation for Social Studies Colon Ancient Civilizations that wasn’t even political and there was this poor little hamster and his cousin’s maze and these dead ends and it was so unfair and I kind of yelled like I was in a horror movie or something and it was so embarrassing that I just ran for it—but I don’t want to get detention or suspension or whatever, so can you please, please let me go… over in this direction to explain to Mr. Clarke, so he won’t be mad?”
Mrs. Reegs holds up a hand and shuts her eyes. “Okay, Bea. Yes, you need to go and apologize to Mr. Clarke, right now. I’ll come with you and it will be fine.”
I stop. “Oh. You don’t have to come,” I say. “I’ll be fine. Actually, I feel better already!”
But Mrs. Reegs just points down the hall, and there’s no choice but to turn and go.
When we get to Mr. Clarke’s classroom, she stays outside the door, because if her superpower is getting along with kids, her kryptonite is making friends with other grown-ups. I don’t really get it. Grown-ups are so much easier to talk to than kids.
She gives me a little push.
I step inside and Mr. Clarke looks up from his desk.
As usual, he’s all jokes. “Well, it looks like someone’s recovered from last period’s trauma. Come in, Beatrix! I’ll have you know that Hammy survived. I put a stop to her visit with the Minotaur.”
He points over to a glass cage lined with newspapers. It has one of those wheels in it and a little food dish. There’s a sticker on the glass that says PROPERTY OF MATTIE ROSS DO NOT TUCH (THAT MEENS YOU DAN!) in crooked blue crayon. Hammy is snuggled in a corner behind a little cardboard wall. She looks safe.
I’m trying to figure out what to say, but Mr. Clarke just laughs. “Don’t look so worried. Just try to come up with a better option than running away next time. All it takes is one person to run, and the next thing you know, someone’s chasing after you, and then the whole class, and then who would be left to listen to my charming lectures?”
As if anyone would chase after me.
Mr. Clarke studies my face. “Hmmm. Would you like to help me give Hammy a little snack? I think I have something here.” He pulls out a bag of carrot slices and lets me hand one to Hammy. She’s so cute, eating it like it’s a big orange cookie. “Extra Credit Curveball! If you can name the main health benefits of carrots.”
The first day of school, Mr. Clarke told us that his Extra Credit Curveballs were a chance to see that learning with him was about more than just Social Studies Colon Ancient Civilizations. He said they were about the power of information. No matter where it came from or what it was, information could really make a difference in your life. I guess none of us will ever know, because the thing is: no one ever does his Extra Credit Curveballs. You don’t even get real points for them. But I don’t think he really cares.
“Well, Hammy has now been nourished and rested, so I guess we will see you tomorrow, Miss Beatrix Potter? Lee.”
I shake my head, but I smile.
“Well then—is that Ms. Rodriguez waiting outside? I’d recognize those sneakers anywhere! Come in, please.”
Mrs. Reegs peeks in. “Oh, uh, sorry.”
“No need to apologize. You’re welcome here anytime. Will you be escorting young Beatrix here to her next class?”
I suddenly remember why I was avoiding Mrs. Reegs and begin to back out of the classroom. But she’s too fast. She blocks the doorway with both arms awkwardly. Then looks up at Mr. Clarke. “Oh, sorry—it’s just—we’re on our way to a Broadside
- Praise for The Way to Bea:
—School Library Journal (starred review)
*"Yeh's characters are full of heart and she perfectly captures the middle school parent-child dynamic."
—Library Media Connection (starred review)
- On Sale
- Sep 18, 2018
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers