Skateboard Renegade

Is Image Everything?


By Matt Christopher

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Buzz cut or ponytail? Grunge look? Tattoo, body paint, or earring? How about none of the above? When Zach takes up skateboarding, he doesn’t realize that he’s expected to look a certain way — and cop a certain attitude, too. At least that what it seems like. But Zach just isn’t comfortable with any of these things; he wants to skateboard for the fun of it, and maybe take part in a few competitions. Will he be ostracized because he looks and acts so “normal”? Or will his decision to stay true to himself mark him as a renegade, the very attitude his skateboarding buddies will appreciate?



All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Little, Brown Books for Young Readers is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. The Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

First eBook Edition: December 2009

ISBN: 978-0-316-09428-3

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Matt Christopher® is a registered trademark of Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.



Zach Halper was in midair when he heard his mother's voice calling him. The sound threw him off, and he nearly wiped out on landing, his skateboard sliding out from underneath him.

"What do you want?" he called to her, annoyed, as he got up and dusted himself off.

"Come here, quickly!"

She sounded excited. Zach left his skateboard where it lay, on the strip of grass beside the long, wide driveway, and went inside to see what the fuss was about.

His mom was in the kitchen. She held a fat envelope in her hand and wore a big smile on her face. "It's from Amherst Academy," she announced, handing him the already-opened envelope.

Zach read it out loud. "Congratulations. You have been accepted to Amherst Academy for Technology and Computer Science.…" His voice faded to a whisper. "Wow … I thought when I got put on the waiting list, that meant 'no'.…"

He wasn't kidding. He really hadn't expected this. After all, it was the very end of August—only a few days till school started. He'd been on the waiting list since July 6. Now here he was, all set to go back to Brighton Middle for the start of seventh grade —back with his usual gang in the same old school —and suddenly his whole world was about to change.

"Aren't you excited?" his mom asked, still smiling broadly. "I'd have thought you'd be jumping for joy."

"Oh. Yeah, it's great!" Zach said, but a little uncertainly. Sure, he was excited—proud of himself for doing well enough on the entrance exam to get into the exclusive school. Amherst had all the most up-to-date equipment, software, and Internet connections and offered a superior program in math, science, and technology. "It's just … I'd already given up on going," he explained.

"Well, isn't this a wonderful surprise then!" his mom said, giving him a big hug and kiss. "Wait till I tell your father!" She let him go and went straight for the telephone.

It hadn't been Zach's idea to apply to Amherst Academy. His parents had practically made him do it. "You're not being challenged enough at Brighton" was what they said. "That school is going downhill fast."

Zach thought Brighton was okay. He suspected that it was his choice of friends his parents really objected to—though, of course, they always denied it.

Still, once Zach had decided to apply to Amherst—once he'd gone through the tests, the interview, and all the paperwork—he'd actually started to get excited about going. When the school had put him on the waiting list, he'd been terribly disappointed. So part of him really did feel great, now that he'd been accepted.

Zach tucked the envelope into the pocket of his shorts. He couldn't wait to tell the guys he'd made it into Amherst! He ran out the kitchen door to get his board, then stopped in his tracks. His nine-year-old sister, Zoey, was trying to ride his skateboard—and was heading right into the street!

"Hey!" he shouted at her. "Get off my board!"

She obeyed, but not on purpose. Zoey's arms flailed out to either side, and suddenly she was airborne!

The board slid out from under her and scooted into the road, where it rolled right between the front and rear wheels of a delivery truck that was barreling down the road.

Zoey sat on her butt in the driveway, sniffling back tears.

"Zoey, you idiot!" Zach scolded her. "That could have been you under that truck!"

"Well, if you'd given me lessons, like you promised all summer, I wouldn't stink so bad at skateboarding," she said, looking up at him accusingly.

"Aw, nuts," he said shaking his head and helping her to her feet. "I told you, I will… when I have time." He looked to make sure the coast was clear, then crossed the street and retrieved his board. It seemed none the worse for wear.

"You could at least have worn a helmet," he muttered to Zoey as he came back up the driveway.

"I was just trying to balance on it for one second," Zoey protested. "But it started rolling downhill."

"Yeah, well, one second is all it takes sometimes," Zach told her. "What if you'd landed on your head?"

"Mom would have punished you," Zoey said with a smug smile. "It's your skateboard, and you're supposed to be responsible for me."

"Now look," he said, shaking a finger at her, "I'm going over to Moorehead Park to see my friends. If you don't say anything about what just happened, I won't. That way, neither of us gets into trouble. Okay?"

Zoey scrunched up her face, apparently trying to figure out what kind of trouble she could possibly be in.

"You nearly got yourself killed by riding my board without my permission and without a helmet, okay?" Zach explained, reminding her. "So just keep quiet about it. I'll see you later."

Strapping his helmet back on and adjusting his knee, wrist, and elbow pads, he pushed off on his skateboard, rolling down the sidewalk toward Moorehead Park.

"Give my regards to your stupid friends!" Zoey called after him.

Zach smiled, not looking back. Zoey didn't like his friends, and neither did his parents. Well, too bad. They were his friends, not theirs.

As he went, he practiced his skateboarding skills, which were pretty good, if Zach could say so himself. He zigzagged down the gentle slope toward downtown, deftly avoiding the pedestrians he passed. He did a grab over a fire hydrant, then stopped at the traffic light at Foley and Whitmore by doing a skid stop called the cess slide.

That's the best thing about skateboarding, Zach thought as he waited for the light to change. It's so versatile. You can go places on your board or you can do tricks and perform with it. You can even slalom or go on a half pipe, just like you were on the ski slopes.

The light changed, and Zach pushed off into the road. He hopped the curb on the other side and kept on going.

Moorehead City wasn't much of a city, really. It had once been a booming mill town, and now the mills had closed. Even worse, the new mall out in Oakmont had drawn shoppers away from downtown, where more and more stores these days were closing.

Still, today was the Friday before Labor Day weekend, and all the stores on Foley Square were having sidewalk sales. Zach had to skateboard out into the street to avoid all the people and tables on the sidewalk.

Right away he drew the attention of the policeman directing traffic at the corner of Foley and Main. "Hey, you! Kid! Back on the sidewalk! No skateboarding around here!" the cop yelled at him.

Zach immediately did as he was told, his face flushed with humiliation. Everyone was turning around to look at him! And what had he done that was so awful?

This town needed more places for kids to skateboard! It just wasn't fair!

Moorehead Park, on the other side of downtown, had seen better days. The rusty swings were old, and the water fountains didn't work. The whole place was due for renovation as soon as school started.

Meanwhile, the park had been pretty empty all summer long. No mothers wanted to take their babies there. That should have made it the perfect place to go skateboarding.

Except there was one problem. The park was full of broken pavement, skateboard-stopping rubble, and broken glass! Zach had to stop, grab his board, and walk through the park entrance. You could really get cut up falling here—especially the palms of your hands. Zach wished he'd worn his skateboarding gloves instead of just wrist protectors.

He looked over to the far corner of the paved playground area. There were his friends, practicing their boarding skills on the least-broken-up section of pavement.

"Hey!" Zach called out, waving as he trotted over to join them. He stopped when he saw someone unfamiliar among the others—a kid with spiked, platinum-blond hair.

Then he realized who it was. "Jeffers? Brian, man, what did you do to your hair?"

"You like the 'do?" Brian asked with a wicked grin. "It's the new me! And hey—check this out!" He turned to show Zach that he was wearing a sparkly earring in his left ear. "I'm pierced! The first of many, man. And I'm getting a tattoo soon. The complete look, right? Ha! You should have seen my mom's face when I came home looking like this!"

"It freaked her right out," Kareem Walker said. He proudly put a hand on Brian's shoulder and, with the other hand, gave him a high five. "I was there!"

"She about fainted," Brian bragged, chuckling as he remembered the golden moment.

"We're all gonna get our hair bleached and ears pierced to match!" little Sam Vasquez announced. "Tattoos, too—right guys?"

"Right," Kareem agreed. He was tall and very dark, and was going to look awesome with bleached blond hair, Zach thought with a smile.

Sam was only starting sixth grade, but they let him hang around with them anyway. He was a pretty good boarder and a good sport, too. He let Brian tease him all day long and never stopped smiling. Besides, as Brian always pointed out when Sam wasn't around, Sam's parents owned the local sporting-goods store. It didn't hurt to be nice to their kid.

"How about you, Halper?" Brian asked him. "You gonna do it, too? We can be the Brighton Boarding Crew!"

The others all whooped and high-fived each other, liking the idea a lot. But Zach hesitated. He wasn't sure he wanted to bleach and spike his hair, let alone get his ear pierced. And a tattoo? Forget it!

"I don't know," Zach said. "I … got some news today, guys."

"What?" Farrell Simon asked, the first to pay attention.

"I got into Amherst Academy."

A sudden silence fell on the group like a shadow, darkening their expressions. Nobody said a word, or even breathed, for several seconds.

"Really?" Sam was the first to break the spell. "Wow. That's great … I guess."

"I thought you were only on the waiting list," Farrell said.

"I was," Zach replied. "Till today. To tell you the truth, I'd forgotten all about it myself."

"So I guess … you're gonna go there, huh?" Kareem said softly. "I mean, they accept you, you don't say no, right?"

"Guess not," Zach said, looking at the ground.


On Sale
Dec 19, 2009
Page Count
144 pages

Matt Christopher

About the Author

Matt Christopher is the best-selling name behind more than 100 sports-themed books for young readers.

Learn more about this author