SKIP School

Karo Amelia Robinson has a persistent habit of spinning through doorways; just one quick rotation every single time she crosses over a threshold. It’s been that way forever.

Karo has this theory that if she could just force herself to walk through doorways like a regular, normal, everyday person, her whole life would simply fall into place. School wouldn’t be so miserable, strangers wouldn’t gawk, and her mother’s ridiculous belief in mystical, magical, new-age nonsense wouldn’t be nearly so annoying. Unfortunately for Karo, all she ever gets from her dogged attempts at non-spinning are a smattering of bothersome bruises.

On this particular bitter cold and snowless January morning Karo’s left elbow was sporting a rather painful, purple lump. She had spent a long, fruitless night crashing herself into every last doorjamb of her new apartment.

“Stop fighting yourself,” her mother had said. Karo ignored her.

Now she was standing on a crumbling concrete sidewalk, sizing up the enormous front doors of Lackville County Middle School. She had a sour, potato-chips-for-breakfast taste in her mouth and a knot in her chest. Karo stifled a nervous yawn and pulled her too-thin coat up around her ears. Her new school was looking bigger and more ominous by the second.

The traitorous doors looming in front of her were made of thick, greenish glass. Karo could see straight though them into a shallow entryway and a second set of doors. “Stupid, rotten luck,” she fretted.  Then the morning bell rang. and the doors swung wide open. Karo took a shivering breath and followed the crowd up the wide cement steps. Bone-tired and bleary-eyed, she spun into the chaotic front entryway of Lackville County Middle School.

As if on cue, heads turned and fingers pointed. Karo bit her bottom lip and a familiar scratchiness roiled in her stomach. With no other choice but to move with the crowd, she spun through the second set of doors. The snickering began in earnest. Welcome to another new school, she thought.

Down every disorienting hallway, loud whispers of spaz girl and freak pinged at her ears. Karo lowered her head and did her best to go unnoticed, but each time she spun into a new class, ripples of laughter erupted in the room. All morning, Karo was greeted by the sharp disapproval of one teacher after another. By lunchtime, she had been branded a show-off, troublemaker and disruptive. Sixth period had barely begun and Karo was sitting in the principles office—again.

“I’m not doing it on purpose,” Karo insisted.

The stony-faced principal of Lackville County Middle School was not moved. “This is your first day here and the third time you’ve been sent to my office,” he frowned.

“I told you, I can’t help it,” Karo said. “I have a chronic complex tic disorder. My doctor even said so.”

“And I’ve told you,” the principle looked down his nose at Karo. “We have no such records.”

“But it’s true,” she insisted.

The principal scratched his chubby neck with a bright yellow number two pencil. “I have asked you to tone it down,” he said, “yet your behavior continues to be unacceptable.”

“I’m not hurting anybody,” Karo huffed. “In my old school—”

“This is not your old school,” the principal snapped. “You are no longer in California; this the Midwest and in the Midwest—in Lackville County—we practice self-control.”

“Actually,” Karo corrected, “we moved from Colorado.”

The principal held his pencil with both hands, as if he might snap it in two. “I can’t keep sending you back to class with that insolent attitude of yours,” he said and handed her a pink slip directing her to the school guidance counselor. In turn, the counselor sent a letter home to Karo’s mother strongly suggesting behavior modification through corrective therapy.

“Nonsense,” her mother said, opening a can of macaroni and cheese. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”

“I have a tic.” Karo countered. “It’s not normal.”

“Of course it’s not normal,” her mother raised her eyebrows. “It’s magical.”

Karo winced. Despite a lifetime of evidence pointing to the contrary, her mother stubbornly insisted that spinning through doorways was proof-positive of magical tendencies. “I’m not magical,” Karo said emphatically. “People aren’t magical.  How many times do I have to tell you; I’m too old to believe in your ghosts and fairies and magical blah, blah, blah?”

“I never said anything about fairies,” her mother said as she put the macaroni and cheese in the microwave. “Since when have I ever mentioned fairies?”

“I have a disease,” Karo reminded her mother. “Nobody wants to be seen with a diseased freak. I’m never going to make any stupid friends.”

“You don’t have a disease,” her mother replied dismissively. “You are not a freak and you don’t need therapy.” Her mother balled up the letter and threw it in the trash.

Something hot and brittle snapped inside of Karo. “Why can’t you act like a real mother? You’re supposed to protect me,” she spat. “I’m tired of being the school freak. Whenever you have one of your random, time-to-move-again dreams, I’m the one who suffers. I’m the one who get’s laughed at all over again. I’m—”

“Are you telling me you actually like the idea of corrective therapy? Of behavior modification?” her mother interrupted. “Do you want some stranger to turn you into something you’re not?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I do!” Karo kicked at a haphazard stack of unpacked boxes. Behavior modification did have a rather horrifying ring to it, but she didn’t care.  “I want to be normal, I want to be like everybody else. Is that so hard for you to understand?”

“What’s hard for me to understand is how you can be so blind. All the signs of the universe clearly point to the fact that you have a gift. What’s it going to take for you to open your eyes?”

14 thoughts on “SKIP School

  1. kcpwriter says:

    I liked your piece. I put a few word corrections and deletions in ( ). I think you are very talented.
    Karo Amelia Robinson has a persistent habit of spinning through doorways; just one quick rotation every single time she crosses over a threshold. It’s been that way forever.
    Karo has this theory that if she could just force herself to walk through doorways like a regular, normal, everyday person, her whole life would simply fall into place. School wouldn’t be so miserable, strangers wouldn’t gawk, and her mother’s ridiculous belief in mystical, magical, new-age nonsense wouldn’t be nearly so annoying. Unfortunately for Karo, all she ever gets from her dogged attempts at non-spinning are a smattering of bothersome bruises.
    On this particular bitter cold and snowless January morning Karo’s left elbow was sporting a rather painful, purple lump. She had spent a long, fruitless night crashing herself into every last doorjamb of her new apartment.
    “Stop fighting yourself,” her mother had said. Karo ignored her.
    Now she was standing on a crumbling concrete sidewalk, sizing up the enormous front doors of Lackville County Middle School. She had a sour () taste in her mouth and a knot in her chest. Karo stifled a nervous yawn and pulled her too-thin coat up around her ears. Her new school was looking bigger and more ominous by the second.
    The (huge) doors looming in front of her were made of thick, greenish glass. Karo could see straight though them into a shallow entryway and a second set of doors. “Stupid, rotten luck,” she fretted. Then the morning bell rang and the doors swung wide open. Karo took a shivering breath and followed the crowd up the wide cement steps. Bone-tired and bleary-eyed, she spun into the chaotic front entryway ().
    As if on cue, heads turned and fingers pointed. Karo bit her bottom lip and a familiar scratchiness roiled in her stomach. With no other choice but to move with the crowd, she spun through the second set of doors. The snickering began in earnest. Welcome to another new school, she thought.
    Down every disorienting hallway, loud whispers of spaz girl and freak pinged at her ears. Karo lowered her head and did her best to go unnoticed, but each time she spun into a new class, ripples of laughter erupted in the room. All morning, Karo was greeted by the sharp disapproval of one teacher after another. By lunchtime, she had been branded a show-off, troublemaker and disruptive. Sixth period had barely begun and Karo was sitting in the principle(’)s office—again.
    “I’m not doing it on purpose,” Karo insisted.
    The stony-faced principal () was not moved. “This is your first day here and the third time you’ve been sent to my office,” he frowned.
    “I told you, I can’t help it,” Karo said. “I have a chronic complex tic disorder. My doctor even said so.”
    “And I’ve told you,” the principle looked down his nose at Karo. “We have no such records.”
    “But it’s true,” she insisted.
    The principal scratched his chubby neck with a bright yellow number two pencil. “I have asked you to tone it down,” he said, “yet your behavior continues to be unacceptable.”
    “I’m not hurting anybody,” Karo huffed. “In my old school—”
    “This is not your old school,” the principal snapped. “You are no longer in California; this (is) the Midwest and in the Midwest—in Lackville County—we practice self-control.”
    “Actually,” Karo corrected, “we moved from Colorado.”
    The principal held his pencil with both hands, as if he might snap it in two. “I can’t keep sending you back to class with that insolent attitude of yours,” he said and handed her a pink slip directing her to the school guidance counselor. In turn, the counselor sent a letter home to Karo’s mother strongly suggesting behavior modification through corrective therapy.
    “Nonsense,” her mother said, opening a can of macaroni and cheese. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
    “I have a tic.” Karo countered. “It’s not normal.”
    “Of course it’s not normal,” her mother raised her eyebrows. “It’s magical.”
    Karo winced. Despite a lifetime of evidence pointing to the contrary, her mother stubbornly insisted that spinning through doorways was proof-positive of magical tendencies. “I’m not magical,” Karo said emphatically. “People aren’t magical. How many times do I have to tell you; I’m too old to believe in your ghosts and fairies and magical blah, blah, blah?”
    “I never said anything about fairies,” her mother said as she put the macaroni and cheese in the microwave. “Since when have I ever mentioned fairies?”
    “I have a disease,” Karo reminded her mother. “Nobody wants to be seen with a diseased freak. I’m never going to make any stupid friends.”
    “You don’t have a disease,” her mother replied dismissively. “You are not a freak and you don’t need therapy.” Her mother balled up the letter and threw it in the trash.
    Something hot and brittle snapped inside of Karo. “Why can’t you act like a real mother? You’re supposed to protect me,” she spat. “I’m tired of being the school freak. Whenever you have one of your random, time-to-move-again dreams, I’m the one who suffers. I’m the one who (gets) laughed at all over again. I’m—”
    “Are you telling me you actually like the idea of corrective therapy? Of behavior modification?” her mother interrupted. “Do you want some stranger to turn you into something you’re not?”
    “Yes, as a matter of fact I do!” Karo kicked at a haphazard stack of unpacked boxes. Behavior modification did have a rather horrifying ring to it, but she didn’t care. “I want to be normal, I want to be like everybody else. Is that so hard for you to understand?”
    “What’s hard for me to understand is how you can be so blind. All the signs of the universe clearly point to the fact that you have a gift. What’s it going to take for you to open your eyes?”

  2. Todd Roberts says:

    Maggie, you gave me really helpful advice with my piece, so I hope I can reciprocate.

    I like the idea of a novel about a nervous tic, or an obsessive compulsion, which is what I’m getting from this so far (though, your genre was Mystery). It brings titles like Wonder to mind. Again, I’m not sure this is what you’re going for.

    The writing is very smooth and easy to understand, so I hope my suggestions don’t seem pedantic. There are a couple places a little more economy might be good. For example,

    //“Are you telling me you actually like the idea of corrective therapy? Of behavior modification?” her mother interrupted. //

    If you have the hyphen in the previous line, I think you can get rid of “her mother interrupted.” Especially here when there’s two full sentences between it and the interruption.

    Also,

    “regular, normal, everyday person”

    This sounds like a phrase I’ve heard often in Middle Grade writing. I think just “regular” would sound stronger here.

    The word choice is mostly simple, which is great. I only found one hiccup, and it was the word “threshold.” I realize it’s an awkward concept and there aren’t a lot of ways to express it. You could give examples of thresholds like cracks, different surfaces, etc., though I might just take “a threshold” out entirely.

    If you have any questions, please feel free to direct them towards me.

    • maggiehasbrouck says:

      Thanks Todd, your suggestions are very helpful. I’ve struggled with finding an alternate word for threshold. Figuring out a way to eliminate it all together might be a better path.
      Thanks again 🙂

  3. cbowers911 says:

    First let me state that I like the storyline although the chosen genre does not seem to fit. It almost feels as if it could fall under sci-fi as the mother keeps speaking of the spinning being a gift or something magical.

    I am not sure of the relevance of the third paragraph. It could very well be left out.

    The overall language used seems to be appropriate for middle school aged children, however there were a few words that I feel should be more simplified, such as traitorous.

    • maggiehasbrouck says:

      Thanks for your comments. You are right about the genre; the story has elements of magical realism. I hope that is conveyed well enough for the reader to have a sense of what they are getting into.
      Thanks again

  4. Eliza Worner says:

    Loved. It. This is the first piece I’ve really fell for.

    I would like to see more of her first day of school. The principle comes across as a bit harsh and I’d like to see a bit more of her disruptive behaviour. Is it just spinning through doors? Because I doubt she’d get in too much trouble for just that unless she has accidentally hurt someone or broken something.

    The conversation with her mum was a little bit long and I lost interest, but otherwise I just thought this was gorgeous and the cheekiness of the character reminds me a little of Pippi Longstocking. Have you read that?

    Chronic complex tic disorder doesn’t manifest as someone spinning through doors, so it’s an interesting diagnosis. Does she do anything like wink at people, flap her hands, grunt inappropriately or pull faces at the teachers?

    Maybe instead of something a doctor has said it could be a list of things she has found on google as possible explanations, but honestly it seems more likely to be diagnosed as OCD.

  5. Lori Parker says:

    This was fun to read. YA isn’t my strong suite but I have tons of respect for people who write it because I fell in love with reading thanks to Robert Heinlein’s YA novel, “Have Space Suite Will Travel.” It delights me no end to know writers are still in the business of entertaining children with books that will turn them into avid readers too.

    From a purely technical standpoint, I have just two issues: eliminate qualifiers such as the word “rather” whenever possible and make certain the adjectives match the noun, in this case “nervous yawn.”

    Qualifiers are almost always adverbs. Stephen King once said the road to hell is paved with adverbs; I would also add “and most adjectives” but that’s a topic for another day. Qualifiers and modifiers do add real value to a sentence. The bruise on her elbow was either painful or not. If it was a purple lump of a thing then I’m certain it was painful. Here’s a list of qualifiers I have taped above my desk to remind me to look for them in my own work: actually, really, basically, probably, very, definitely, somewhat, kind of, extremely, practically . . . and now I’ll add rather. Just remember, whenever a word needs either a qualifier or a modifier, chances are you need to look for a stronger word.

    I was pulled out of the story with the words “nervous yawn.” I can’t think of a single time I’ve ever heard of someone yawning because they were nervous. Giggle? Yes. Gulp? Sure. And of course I’ve heard of people who blink or twitch when they are nervous. But because I can’t imagine anyone yawning because they were nervous, I had to stop a moment and think about it. (By the way, I’m one of those people who yawns every time I see someone else yawn. As a matter of fact I yawn when someone just says the word yawn. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to write about yawning while you’re yawning? Ahhhhhh! Just wanted you to appreciate the effort I’m putting forth on your behalf here. LOL) If, on the other hand, this is another affectation of hers, along with the spinning, then you might want to mention that. Then it would be a part of the story instead of a stumbling block.

    I hope you go forward with this novel. I’m interested to see how it all plays out. Is her mother really as neglectful as she comes across so far (potato chips for breakfast and mac and cheese from a can for dinner, not to mention wadding up the councilor’s note and tossing it away). She seems very set in her ways and oblivious to her child’s problems. This screams selfishness and neglect to me. Or is she just lousy at being a mom but turns out to be a real champion for her kid when the time comes? Hey, I see real potential for character and relationship arcs there. And what about the kids. Is Karo (did you mean to name her after a manufacturer of one of America’s favorite sweeteners: Karo Syrup?) going to make any friends and will they be as quirky as she? Is her spinning really OCD or is it a harbinger of a powerful magic that develops as she grows older? Or is growing into the woman she was meant to be the real magic?

    Yep, as you can see, I liked it. I liked it a lot. Keep up the good work. Heinlein and I both tip our hats to you. (Shut-up Heinlein–I so too can speak for you –you’re dead–now hush or people will think I’m crazy talking to a dead guy.)

    Sure hope you’re laughing!
    -PEACE-

    • maggiehasbrouck says:

      Thanks for your very helpful comments- clearly I need to take a strong look at qualifiers. I admit I love them and have no doubt overused/abused them. I think when used well, they can contribute to the voice of the narrator. Walking that fine line is tricky for me. Looking for a stronger word that better serves the story is a great suggestion.

      And yes, she is named after corn syrup 🙂
      Thank you again for all your thoughtful (and entertaining) comments.

  6. Emily says:

    I liked this book but I agree with the other commenters the sour chip breakfast taste in her mouth was a little over doing it I just a little bit felt like I had a connection with the character I don’t walk through doors weird but I do get made fun of so I hope you keep writing

  7. Hari Paruchuri says:

    This was a very nice read. I just read it in one go without having to stop. Great going. Only few things I felt, take them as opinion/inputs and not as a critique. 1)That spinning through doorways while nice and makes a good beginning does not marry well with the tics part – or I didnt get it. In fact I would love to know whether they are connected. 2) The tics could be more interesting if they were elaborated – like a motor tic or a phonetic tic. A phonetic tic of making sounds could be really annoying in any school and a nice reason for anyone to get annoyed. 3) And that part where she says I am not going to make any “stupid friends” was for me out of place. Wouldnt just friends alone be enough. But the voice is good, you got it right.

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