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Dear weird toes, crooked nose, stressed out, left out, freaked out
Dear missing parts, broken hearts, picked-on, passed up, misunderstood,
Dear everyone, you are cordially invited, come as you are, this party’s for you
Welcome to Pity Party, where the social anxieties that plague us all are twisted into funny, deeply resonant, and ultimately reassuring psychological thrills.
There’s a story about a mood ring that tells the absolute truth. One about social media followers who literally follow you around. And one about a kid whose wish for a new, improved self is answered when a mysterious box arrives in the mail. There’s also a personality test, a fortune teller, a letter from the Department of Insecurity, and an interactive Choose Your Own Catastrophe.
Come to the party for a grab bag of delightfully dark stories that ultimately offers a life-affirming reminder that there is hope and humor to be found amid our misery.
Dear weird toes
stressed out, left out
Dear strep throat, chicken pox
ate a moldy muffin
stepped in poison oak
Dear lost sweatshirt
Dear lost dog
Dear didn’t make the team
didn’t get the part
didn’t pass the test
Dear just moved to this town
Dear desperate to get out of this town
Dear missing parts, broken hearts
picked on, passed up
Dear ADD, ADHD, OCD
WX, Y and Z
You are cordially invited
Come as you are
Help yourself to the cake
Spin your troubles round the dance floor
This party’s for you
For as long as Katya could remember, The Voice had been with her. Her earliest memory: Three years old, returning from an afternoon at the pond with her older sister, she had ridden her tricycle directly into the street. Over the growl of an approaching truck, The Voice came to her, loud and clear. PEDAL PEDAL PEDAL, it said. FASTER, it said, FASTER, until Katya’s tiny legs had spun her safely to the other side. No more than a second later, the truck sped by. Had it not been for The Voice, she most certainly would have been flattened under the truck’s enormous wheels.
Recalling the event later, Katya would often imagine a flattened version of herself next to a flattened version of her tricycle. It was not a horrible image. There was no blood involved, no broken bones, not even so much as a scratch. She was simply flat. Like the peel-and-stick books she had always loved but rarely received (except for the worn-out, fuzz-covered hand-me-downs from her older cousins). Sometimes Katya would imagine peeling herself off the page of her own life and placing herself in an altogether different life. A fancier life filled with fancier things.
She imagined flattened versions of her sister and parents too, and her dog Mudjo, and in their peel-and-stick world, she and her family and Mudjo would travel to exotic places, where they rode flattened elephants and ate flattened cakes under flattened chandeliers. Her mother wore brightly colored flattened sun hats. Her father: flattened safari shorts, a chatty flattened parakeet riding on his shoulder—at least, she imagined him chatty, revealing the locations of buried treasures, demanding crackers in return. Mudjo always had a flattened bone between his paws. He made friends with a flattened monkey. Gone were her parents’ worries about money, their fights in the kitchen over who worked harder, who spent more of their earnings on unnecessary things.
In this peel-and-stick world, Katya had little need for The Voice, and when it came time to leave this imagined life behind, she was older and more capable of looking out for herself. She knew better than to ride her bike into traffic. She had long ago mastered the dangers of the house, learned to stand upwind of campfires, learned (the hard way) not to poke blueberries up her nose. Only very occasionally did The Voice return, to warn her of an unfriendly dog, or sometimes person, but as the months passed, she heard fewer and fewer of its warnings. Which is why she was so startled when, as she sat on the living room floor before her record-setting haul of Halloween candy, unwrapping a 3 Musketeers, The Voice suddenly called out: STOP! DO NOT EAT THAT 3 MUSKETEERS!
Only then did Katya remember. That day at school she had overheard Jonah Michaels talking about people who put poison in Halloween candy.
DO YOU KNOW EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO GAVE YOU THAT CANDY? The Voice asked.
The Voice was right! There could be poison in any one of these candies!
Once again The Voice had saved her life.
That night, The Voice slept in Katya’s room. It was like a slumber party, except the kind of slumber party that isn’t very fun. Like when you sleep over at your much younger cousin’s house and have to pretend you’re squirrel sisters. Or like the kind of slumber party where you’re awakened every half hour by the family’s grandfather clock, and just when you’re about to finally fall asleep, a cat walks across your face. That’s the kind of slumber party it was. The kind that felt to Katya like it would never, ever end.
(To be continued.)
Immediately Julian knew that something was not right. He could feel it all over his body. And then he saw it. That. His head spun at the thought of how close he had come to stepping on it—he came this close.
Twenty-two dirty grey steps down to the subway, that’s how many there were supposed to be—there were always twenty-two dirty grey steps. Today, though, there were twenty-one dirty grey steps and one very shiny grey step with not one scratch or spot of dirt on it anywhere.
This shiny step meant that Julian now had a problem. There was only one step like it, and one meant odd, and odd numbers were the very worst numbers. Odd numbers made everything all wrong.
However, if Julian were to step over that one shiny step, he would then have to step over a second step in order to make it two steps that he stepped over, and the very obvious problem with stepping over a second step is that this second step would be a grey step: a single grey step: one grey step: odd.
Julian’s therapist, if she were here with him, would not only make him step on that one shiny step, which now appeared to be floating and swirling before his eyes, but she would make him say the number out loud. Sometimes, in her office, she made him read an entire list of numbers—terrible numbers—odd numbers. And every time, she would say, “See, Julian? Did anything bad happen?”
This was a difficult question to answer because, in a way, something bad did happen. There was the shaky dizzy feeling, and the cold sweaty feeling, followed by a tightness in his head, as if a giant hand had grabbed hold of his skull and squeezed. And always in that moment, Julian found it difficult to breathe, as if another giant hand had grabbed hold of his throat.
His therapist also liked to say, “Next time it will be even easier,” when he had never agreed to it being easy in the first place. And anyway, this was also untrue. Never was it ever any easier the next time.
It was difficult enough to just sort out which was worse—step on that one shiny step (awful) or step over that one shiny step (horrible)—because both possibilities gave him an equally terrible feeling in his head and chest. And so Julian felt it best to wait for a while, at least until the terrible feeling passed.
This presented an entirely new problem, however.
There were certain people from Julian’s school who also rode this subway, certain people who knew about his preference for even numbers, and if those certain people were to find him just standing here on the stairs, they might suspect that he was counting, which could lead to any number of possible cruelties, such as whispering odd numbers—or worse, odd—into his ear, as they had been known to do.
To avoid such a fate, Julian brought a notebook out from his backpack and looked at it with great concentration, as if he were puzzling out the most challenging of math equations—though why would he choose to work on his math homework while standing on the subway steps? No, what he was doing instead was searching his notebook for something… a paper he was to bring home… a paper that he just realized he might have accidentally left in his locker and so it was very important that he stop here on these subway stairs to search his notebook.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” That was another of his therapist’s favorite things to say. “Will the world end if you eat five potato chips instead of four?”
Personally, Julian did not feel that she was qualified to be his therapist because she had zero experience. Yes, she had college degrees—an odd number of them hanging on her wall—but she did not have any real experience. She did not know anything at all about being Julian.
Also, how did she know that the world would not come to an end? Was she an expert on world endings?
Oof. Someone just bumped into Julian and he nearly fell onto the shiny step!
It was a guy from school who did it, and now he was grinning, so Julian was pretty sure that he did it on purpose. Jake—that was his name. Jake P.
Julian waited for Jake to reach the bottom of the stairs and turn for the tunnel, and then he waited for these two girls from his school to pass by. They were not girls who knew about his counting, and Julian preferred to keep it that way.
It almost seemed as if Julian’s therapist herself had arranged to have this one step cleaned and polished, just so he would be forced to step on it. Just so he would finally learn that nothing bad could come of an odd number.
Fine! He would do it. He would step on that shiny step. It wasn’t as if he had much choice. The sky was beginning to darken, and soon his parents would grow worried.
He just had to check two things in his notebook and then he would do it. He would step on that shiny step.
He just had to check four things first and then he would totally do it.
Just six things.
Just eight things and then for sure he would do it.
Two deep breaths in, two deep breaths out.
Four deep breaths in, four deep breaths out.
Now for his foot. Foot out… foot out a little farther… just a little farther. And lower… lower… lower…
And this is where our story ends. For, as Julian had predicted—just as he had told his therapist so many times—as soon as his foot touched down upon that single shiny step, the sky went dark, the planets dropped like fallen apples, the trees and flowers drew themselves back into the earth, space and time collapsed into one (the most dreadful of all odd numbers), and the world as we know it came to a sudden end.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN CATASTROPHE
You are walking through a field when suddenly you fall into a deep pit. Fortunately—miraculously—you have not broken any limbs. Though you must have fallen thirty feet, you have only a small scratch on your arm to show for it. You cannot see this scratch—it is so dark inside the pit that you can barely make out your own hands—but you can feel the sting of it just below your elbow.
Patting the ground around you, you discover what feels to be a shoe, a skull-sized rock, a matchbook, and a pile of wood.
Duck was especially ugly today, her splotchy spots brightened by the morning light angling into the fish tank. Yes, the angling light also highlighted the poo swirling through the water, but Cora only had eyes for Duck—the fish that all of Cora’s classmates agreed was the ugliest of the tank, her jaw jutting out farther than those of the other “normal” fish and her spots, according to many of Cora’s classmates, the color of puke. But to Cora’s eyes, Duck’s spots were the magical green of the moss that clung beardlike from the trees in Forest Park.
Though Cora’s (now least favorite) aunt had once said, on the death of Cora’s betta fish, Betty, “Well, at least fish don’t have feelings,” and Cora’s (now least favorite) uncle had added, “Not the brightest creatures on the planet either,” Cora knew better. Fish just had their own way of communicating, and from Cora’s experience, it was a much better way than how most humans communicated. Like her aunt and uncle, for instance. Like Naomi and all of Naomi’s friends. If only people could be more like fish. “Right, Duck?” Cora whispered, and Duck, in her own wordless, lippy way, agreed.
- Praise for Pity Party
- "In this collection of absurd, funny, and thought- provoking stories, Kathleen Lane shows genuine compassion and empathy for her characters, and even more importantly, for the reader. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever felt socially awkward or inadequate - well, to everyone."—Louis Sachar, Author of Holes, and the Wayside School series.
- "Few authors have ever put their fingers on the surreal pulse of the experience of middle school as effectively as Kathleen Lane. Listen to me, readers, this peculiar and downright delightful little book is a veritable lifeline. Grasp it tight."—Betsy Bird, A Fuse #8 Production, School Library Journal
- On Sale
- Jan 19, 2021
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers