Authors: Ralph Fletcher
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003
Copyright Â© 2011 by Ralph Fletcher
All rights reserved.
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book,
write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.
Clarion Books is an imprint of
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
The text was set in Phontina MT.
Book design by Sharismar Rodriguez
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Fletcher, Ralph J.
Also known as Rowan Pohi / by Ralph Fletcher.
Summary: After impulsively lying his way into an elite preparatory school,
sophomore Bobby Steele hopes to escape the shame of his father's
well-publicized incarceration but keeps waiting for his secret to be revealed.
[1. IdentityâFiction. 2. Family problemsâFiction. 3. High schoolsâFiction.
4. SchoolsâFiction. 5. BrothersâFiction. 6. Social classesâFiction.] I. Title.
Manufactured in the United States of America
DOC 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Chris Crutcher
fine writer and friend
who helped me envision this book
when it was still a tiny wet thing,
rising from the straw on wobbly legs
T WAS BIG POOBS WHO FIRST SUGGESTED THE IDEA. WE
were at the International House of Pancakes: Poobs, Marcus, and me. The tables at the IHOP are sometimes sticky with syrup, but it's the only place around where a kid can order a coffee or soda and nobody complains if he wants to hang out for an hour or two.
The booths were crowded, mostly with Whitestone Prep kids. Stonys, we called them. Even without their green uniform shirts, they were obviously Stonys. They were the ones with braces and designer jeans. The ones with new backpacks. The ones talking about "wild times" at summer music camp in places like Tangle-wood or Chautauqua.
Five Stony girls were jammed into the booth next to us. The tallest girl was blond and cute; very. They were talking about college. I heard her say something about coed dorms, which made the other girls giggle.
Marcus spun his fork like he was playing spin-the-bottle, except there was no girl in his near future, and no college either. After (more like
) he graduated from Riverview High, he was joining the Marines.
The three of us leaned back in our seats. We were beyond bored.
Big Poobs sighed. "Let's do something."
Poobs was a straight-C student, except for the occasional D. There was no college in his plans either, but he didn't need it any more than Marcus did. His parents owned Vinny's, a popular local Italian restaurant. Big Poobs worked busing tables there. In a year he would be a waiter; eventually he would own the restaurant himself.
My grades were actually good, but with Mom gone for over a year now, and no sign of her coming back, I couldn't picture myself waltzing off to the University of Whatever after high school. I figured I should stick around for my little brother, Cody, at least for a few more years.
When the Whitestone girls got up to pay their check, they left behind a piece of paper on the table. I reached over and picked it up.
"What is it?" Marcus asked.
"Looks like an application to Whitestone. Hey, why don't you apply, Marcus?"
"Why don't you eat my shorts?" he calmly replied.
It was mid-August and hot. One good thing about the IHOP: they really cranked up the AC. We had a booth by the window with a view of the street. The cars turning left onto Main Street got blasted by midmorning sun. The drivers all reacted by dropping their sun visors.
"Look: they all do the same thing when they turn," I said. "They all reach up for their sun visors. What are they, programmed like robots? I swear, people are sheep."
Marcus added more sugar to his coffee. "Baa."
That's when it happened. Big Poobs, who to my recollection had never had one truly original idea in his life, spoke up.
"We should do it," he said. "Try to get accepted at White-stone Prep."
"You, get accepted at Whitestone?" Marcus snorted. "Last time you saw an A or a B, it was in your alphabet soup, genius boy."
Big Poobs shook his head. "Not us. Somebody else. We could, like, invent somebody. A real smart kid. Like, bionic."
I stared at Marcus. "Bionic?"
"Yes!" Poobs was grinning like a jack-o'-lantern. "We can help him apply to Whitestone, see if he gets accepted."
Marcus shook his head. "That's stupid."
At that moment Darla, the waitress, approached the table. "More coffee, boys?"
"No," I told her. "Wait; yes."
Darla peered at me suspiciously but refilled my mug. After she left, I pointed at Big Poobs.
"You are a genius," I told him.
Poobs blinked. "I am?"
I smacked a fist into the palm of my hand.
"Let's do it!" I whispered. "Let's create somebody! Then we'll take that somebody and get him accepted to Whitestone!"
Marcus hesitated. "Create somebody?"
"Yeah, how hard could it be?" I said, studying the application. It was surprisingly short, a single page, front and back. "First thing we need is a name."
"Austin? Brady?" Marcus said.
I shook my head. "Those sound like little-boy names. How about Owen?"
"Or Rowan," Poobs suggested.
"Rowan." We repeated the name, turning it over on our tongues.
"Sounds like a warrior," Marcus mused. "I like it."
"Me too." Carefully, I printed the letters on the application. "Rowan what?"
For some reason that simple question stumped us, almost derailed the project right there and then. Marcus and Poobs threw out some last namesâSmith, Johnson, White, Hoffmanâbut they all sounded lame.
I glanced at the glass window where the letters
were stenciled. From where we were sitting, inside the restaurant, the letters appeared in reverse:
" I stated. "That's IHOP backwards. His name is Rowan Pohi."
Big Poobs thumped the table with his big soft hands. "Rowan Pohi!" He pronounced it like I did:
"Rowan should have a middle name, shouldn't he?" Marcus said. "How about Ian? Rowan Ian Pohi."
"Bingo." I nodded.
"We're in business, baby!" Poobs exclaimed. In his excitement he knocked over the syrup dispenser, causing some syrup to dribble onto the bottom of the application.
"You idiot!" I snapped. "This has to be handed in!"
"Sorry," Poobs muttered.
I wet a napkin and carefully wiped away the liquid. I did manage to get it off, though it left a faint stain on the paper.
"That will have to do, I guess." I looked at the application. "Sex?"
Marcus laughed. "Obviously!"
I marked the box for Male.
"They want to know where he went to school last year." I drummed the table, thinking hard. "If we say Riverview, we're screwed. If they check for Rowan's name, they'll find nothing and realize that the application is bogus. We better pick someplace far away."
"My mom used to live in a tiny town in Arizona," Marcus put in.
"Yeah?" I looked at him. "Got a name?"
"Pinon," he said. "I went there once. It's really the boonies. Indian country. No green anywhere. Nothing but desert, scorpions, cactuses."
"Cacti," Poobs corrected him.
I wrote it down. "Rowan went to Pinon High School ... home of the Stingin' Scorpions."
Poobs rubbed his hands together. "Oh yeah!"
"What's Rowan like?" I said. "We're gonna have to know him real good if we've got any shot at getting him into a school like Whitestone."
"He's a dweeb, like you," Marcus replied.
"I'm serious, numb-nuts."
"Remember Terry Lernihan?" Marcus said.
I nodded. "He moved after fifth grade."
"Lernihan didn't say jack," Marcus remembered. "I hardly ever heard him speak in class. Then one day he comes into school with that refracting telescope he made himself. Took first place in the science fair."
I just looked at him. 'And your point is..."
"That's what Rowan's like," Marcus continued. "Maybe the dude doesn't say much, but he's smart as hell. A doer, not a talker."
Big Poobs smiled. "Yeah."
"That's a start," I said. "Clubs and activities?"
"Boy Scouts," Marcus suggested. "Definitely put that in. Oh, and National Honor Society."
I nodded. "How about sports?"
"Football!" Big Poobs exclaimed.
Football was a very sore subject at Riverview High. It got cut out of the budget last year, along with a bunch of other stuff, so we didn't have a football team anymore. Kids were still pissed off about it. Whitestone Prep had a strong football team; they traveled all around the East Coast to play other private schools. Their school had just added two new turf football fields.
"How about extracurricular activities?" I said.
"Volunteers at soup kitchen."
"Hey, let's not make him into kind some of saint," Poobs warned.
Marcus grinned. "Why not?"
"Sounds good to me," I agreed, and jotted that down.
"Mr. Pohi loves to cook," Poobs suggested with a giggle. "Especially pancakes."
'Are you really that stupid?" I demanded. "That would give it away!"
Poobs sucked his thumb, baby-style. "Sowwy."
"Hey, I skipped this part," I said. "Academics. They want to see Rowan's grades from his old school. We've got to tell them something. Rowan's a good student, right?"
"Damn good!" Big Poobs agreed.
"What's his grade point average?" I asked. "He has to be smart enough to get into a school like Whitestone."
"Four point oh," Poobs declared. "We're talking genius material."
I shook my head. "Let's not get greedy. How about three point six?"
"Yeah, that sounds more realistic," Marcus put in.
My eyes snagged on something I hadn't noticed before, a box on the lower-right-hand corner of the page. Letter of Recommendation.
"Uh-oh," I muttered.
"It says he has to send in at least one letter of recommendation." I read out loud: "'Letter should come from an adult within the school community who has personal knowledge of the applicantâa teacher, coach, or administrator.'"
We stared at each other.
Marcus shrugged. "We'll have to fake one."
"Sign somebody else's name?" Big Poobs looked worried. "Isn't that forgery?"
"We're just goofing," Marcus told him. "Besides, there's no way anybody's gonna trace it back to us."
I gave Marcus a straight look. "Can you do it?"
He smiled. "Sure. Piece o' cake. I'll write a recommendation from his football coach, RamÃ³n GarcÃa."
Marcus's sudden Spanish accent made Big Poobs snort with laughter.
"You'll have to make up some fake letterhead to write it on," I told Marcus.
He nodded. "Can do. Pinon High School. Home of the Rattlesnakes."
"Home of the Scorpions!" I hissed. "Jeez!"
Marcus smiled lazily. "Scorpions, rattlesnakes ... what's the diff?"
"There's a huge diff!"
"You can't mail it from here," Big Poobs pointed out. "They put the name of the town on the postmark. So the letter has to be mailed from Pinon, Arizona. If it's from around here, they're going to smell a rat."
"No worries," Marcus said. "My cousin Devon lives out there. I'll write the letter, put it in an envelope, send it to Devon, and have him mail it from there."
"You're good at this," I told Marcus. "A little
He bowed. "Thank you very much."
"They want a local mailing address," I said with a shrug. "I'll just use mine."
"So is that it?" Poobs asked eagerly. "Is the application finished?"
"Almost," I told him. On the last line there was a space to sign, which I did nowâRowan I. Pohiâwith a flourish and a bold dot above the final
Poobs's face turned serious. "Do you really think we can get him into Whitestone?"
"You better believe it." Marcus theatrically raised his head and began speaking in a mock-solemn tone. "All his life Rowan Pohi has dreamed of going to Whitestone Prep. I ask you: Would you deny this fine young man the chance to make something out of his life? Would you?"