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Meet the Misfits

Zoey’s pretty sure her life is over when her wannaba-rockstar mother uproots her from from their home in Seattle and deposits her in Nowheresville, Oregon to live with her whackadoodle grandparents. Things start to look up, though, when she reconnects with Louisa, the girl from across the street. Maybe, just maybe, Louisa won’t mind that Zoey’s always been a bit of a misfit. Louisa’s ex-BFF, however, doesn’t seem too happy to welcome Zoey to the neighborhood. And when they all end up at church camp together, it’s not just a matter of whether or not Zoey can fit in…it becomes a firsthand lesson in what it really means to “love your enemy.”

Chapter 1

It’s not easy being me. Okay, I’m sure a lot of preteen girls might feel like this, but I’ll bet their lives are easier than mine. And more normal. Having a wannabe-rocker mom who recently decided to tour the planet with her heavy metal band isn’t exactly what I’d call normal…or easy. Especially if you’re eleven and just want to enjoy your summer vacation, hang with your friends…you know, the normal stuff. Seems simple enough—for other kids anyway. Not for me.

“You’re going to love living with your grandparents,” Mom says as we cram most of my earthly possessions into the back of our old minivan. “And Cedarville is absolutely charming.”

“Isn’t that the place you usually call Nowheresville?” I wedge my box of art materials between my duffel bag and backpack.

“Oh, that’s because I was a kid then.” She frowns as I pick up my Little Mermaid sleeping bag. And, okay, this bag’s way too juvenile for someone my age, but for some reason, I couldn’t leave it behind. My mom would just toss it into the throw-away pile.
“I’m a kid now.” I shove the sleeping bag into a tight corner, punching Sebastian right in the choppers.

“Yeah, but you’re a very mature kid, Zoey.” She closes the hatchback and turns to me. “You’re one of those old souls, born wise beyond your years.” She pats me on the head, jingling her keys in my face like her clue that we’re outta here.

Well, that just makes me angrier. Like my childhood has been stolen from me, like I’m not allowed to be a kid. Like I’m supposed to act mature and grown-up simply because my parents never have. It’s wrong. Unfair and just plain selfish. But instead of throwing the hissy fit I want to, I get into our old beater, which smells like dirty socks and stale potato chips, and slam the door so hard that the van shakes. Without saying a word, I snap my seat belt on and glare out the window. My plan? To freeze her out.

As we leave Seattle, I completely ignore her lame attempts at conversation. And for the next few hours of our boring road trip, I don’t utter a single word. Even when we stop for a bathroom break, I don’t speak. When she asks if I’m hungry, I don’t answer. I simply get back into the van. Even though I didn’t eat breakfast and my stomach is rumbling, I don’t care.

Maybe I’ll starve to death. That’d teach her.

As she continues driving into Oregon, I decide that I will never speak to her again. And she’s probably glad I’m not talking. And more glad that I’ll be out of her hair before long. I sneak a glance at the strange woman behind the wheel. Totally oblivious to my broken heart, she hums to herself like she hasn’t a care in the world. Like she’s perfectly happy! Probably dreaming of her new life on the road with her weird band friends—imagining the crowd’s applause and that she’s the star of the show. Sickening. And delusional.

Even my BFF, Sofia Gray, whose dad is a real professional musician, doesn’t get it. Her dad is always saying, “Fame takes years of hard work.” And Sofia told me that he thinks my mom must be crazy.

I think he might be right.

I snatch a glance at my mom’s new hairstyle. For as long as I can remember, her naturally brown hair was shoulder-length and highlighted to look blonde. But now it’s cropped short and dyed jet black with neon-blue tips that stick out like an electrocuted porcupine. She changed her hair like she changed her name.

Instead of being Saundra Petrizzo, my mom now goes by KT Love. I have no idea what KT stands for. I take a peek at the elongated skull tattoo on the side of her neck. She got that several months ago, along with the Sanskrit symbols that she claims translate to say “Live love dangerously.” But since she doesn’t actually read Sanskrit, I suspect it means something stupid—like, “Beans cause gas.”

I honestly wonder why this weird-looking woman ever wanted to be a mother in the first place. Maybe she didn’t. She’s already made it clear she didn’t want to be a wife. And that my biological father, a man I’ve never met, didn’t want to be a dad. I’m tempted to open my mouth to question her maternal instincts, to demand to know how she can abandon her only child, but I won’t break my silence. With my arms still folded tightly across my chest, I slump down in my seat, jut out my jaw, and remain fully resolved to never ever speak again. To anyone.

“I don’t know why you’re being so stubborn about this new adventure.” She reaches over to give my ponytail a friendly tug, but I jerk it away from her. “You know, honey, I’m doing this for you as much as for me. Grams and Gramps are so excited to have you come live with them, to finally get to know you. They’ve felt bad we were in Seattle. And when I make it big—and I know I will—I’ll be able to come back and give you all the things we’ve never been able to have before. Don’t you get it, Zoey? I’m doing this for us. For you and for me. You’re usually such a bright and thoughtful girl. Why can’t you understand this? Why can’t you accept it?”

My answer is to simply turn away and stare out the side window as if the evergreen trees whizzing by are fascinating. My mom lets out a long, dramatic sigh, probably trying to guilt me into talking. Not.

I bite into my lower lip, determined not to cry. I hate to be a crybaby. So humiliating, so juvenile. I will not cry…will not cry! Tears won’t make this easier. I might as well accept this stupid, stupid move.

I might as well accept that life as I knew it is over.

Chapter 2

“Look, Zoey, we’re already in Cedarville. Can you believe it?” Mom slows down as we cruise past frumpy, old buildings that line what I assume must be Main Street. “Isn’t this town perfectly charming? I’d forgotten just how sweet it is here. Look, there’s the old ice cream shop.” She makes a happy sigh. “Just like when I was a kid.”

I say nothing and show no sign that I see any of this. This whole thing feels like a bad dream. A nightmare, really. Hopefully I’ll wake up soon.

“That’s the grade school there.” She nods toward a low brick building with a large green playground. “And the middle school over there.” She points toward a newer-looking building down the street. “It’s walking distance from Grams and Gramps’s house. Won’t that be nice for you? No more long bus rides.”

And no more friends. No more familiarities. No more anything good. I press my lips tightly closed and shut my eyes, trying to block it all out. I will not give my mom the satisfaction of any response. She doesn’t deserve it. I still can’t believe I’ve been uprooted from my life like this, taken away from my Sofia just one month before we’d have gone to middle school together. And now to be dumped with some very weird grandparents that I barely know? Who does that to their kid?

For all I know “Grams” and “Gramps” could be serial killers hiding out from the law in the backwoods of Oregon. And even if they’re not dangerous sociopath murderers with dead bodies buried in their backyard, I know for a fact they’re wackadoodles. Two summers ago, Mom brought me here for a few days, and it was like visiting the funny farm. Gramps, obsessing over this smelly greenhouse where he raises not only strange vegetables but these creepy-looking fish—to eat. And Grams, wearing baggy overalls and tie-dyed shirts, swinging a hammer and bragging she could fix anything. And how about my mom’s younger brother, Ned? He’s in his thirties but still lives with his parents. In their basement. How weird is that? Pathetic.

I remember the saying “apples don’t fall far from the apple tree.” Although, in our case, it must be a nut tree—because my relatives all seem to be nuts. Which raises a question… Why am I nothing like them? I used to think I was adopted or kidnapped or perhaps accidentally switched with another baby at the hospital. But, according to my online search, no babies were ever reported missing on my birthdate, and my mom even showed me my birth certificate, claiming she’d had a home birth—in an inflatable wading pool. Of course.

“We’re here!” Mom slows down in front of a bright-colored, two-story house. “Isn’t it pretty?”

The house is purple with lime-green trim and a fuchsia front door. It actually hurts my eyes to look at it. Who in the world paints their house those colors? Wackadoodles.

Mom parks in the driveway and sighs. “This house is more than a hundred years old. It’s a Queen Anne Victorian. Looks like it’s been repainted. I’ll bet those are historical colors too. Mom always wanted to do that after retiring.” Suddenly my mom is gushing, acting like she’d never been eager to escape this very house or her parents and pretending she’s never called Cedarville a “backwater, one-horse” town. What a hypocrite.

“Come on, Zoey, let’s go inside.” Mom opens her door and gets out, but I remain glued to the seat, arms still folded tightly across my chest. She just shrugs, closes the door, and marches up to the house. I watch as she talks to my grandmother on the front porch. They both glance at me, and Grams, wearing her funny overalls, smiles and waves to me, but I just stare straight ahead.

My mom says something to Grams, then throws back her head and laughs so hard I know her joke must be at my expense. I’m so angry I want to hit someone or break something or scream so hard that the neighbors all call 9-1-1.

Then, as the two go into the house, I know exactly what to do. I’ll run away! I grab some things from the back of the minivan, and, determined to escape the madness, I take off. With my backpack over one shoulder and my Little Mermaid sleeping bag under my arm, I make my getaway. As I get closer to town, I realize it’s not a well-thought-out plan. But, for now, it’s all I have.