Middle Grade Books

SPIRIT

Magical Realism

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Cover Mock-up

Twelve-year-old Camille Russo has a huge problem…and it’s attached to her wrist. The beaded Native American bracelet looks innocent enough when she finds it at school, but so does Chad Bellows, the boy who bullies her. First the bracelet won’t come off then painful scratches crop up on her body. If the jagged lines reach her face, Chad would be adding “freak” to his Arsenal of taunts like “freckle face,” “pumpkin head,” and “dog girl.” Cam asks her best friend Migizi’s grandfather for help. But one look at the bracelet and the Chippewa elder tells Migizi to stay away from her. Now alone, Cam must find a way to break the curse before she turns into a freak of nature.

Migizi Nagani acts like a typical American kid who wears Vans, plays video games, and likes hanging with friends. Except he’s not your typical American kid. He’s the grandson of the head of the Chippewa Tribal Council. His grandfather would love nothing more than for Migizi to follow in his footsteps, but Migizi’s heart is set on getting off the rez as soon as he discards his graduation cap. His grandfather tries everything to bring Migizi into the Ojibwe way of life, including a four day spirit quest of fasting and meditation. But not even the wise words of his guardian spirit Makwa can lessen the lure of the city’s bright lights. When Migizi’s two worlds collide, he must choose. Embrace his Native American heritage, or leave it behind forever?

Currently out on submission to agents.

Excerpt:

A high-pitched squeal made me nearly jump out of my skin, and I joined the rest of the heads turning toward a man dressed in a tan blazer. The ceiling lights reflected off his bald head, making it shine like a polished pearl.

“Sorry about that, kids,” the man said, adjusting a knob on the speaker. “So, how’s everyone doing today?”

Migizi poked me again. “Talk later.”

I sighed. If only I could fast forward time so I could find out what the heck was going on with this bracelet.

“We all know why we’re here, right?” The man looked around, expectantly. “We’ve got to raise money for your class by selling…” He paused for dramatic effect. “Easter candy.”

I groaned. My mom was a dietician. Candy was like brightly colored, individually wrapped poison to her. There sure wouldn’t be any sales from my house.

“Now, who likes free stuff?” The man picked up a glossy brochure and waved it through the air. “If you sell more than ten orders you can earn a fantastic prize.”

I squinted, but could only make out a pair of sunglasses and a tiny toy basketball hoop. Not too fantastic looking.

“Okay, where’s my student council volunteer?” The man surveyed the front row.

Chad Bellows stood up and took the microphone. Just looking at Chad turned my stomach into a lava lamp.

“Hi, everyone.” Chad ran a hand through his platinum hair. “We’re going to play a game to get you in the selling mood. It’s really easy. I’ll give you the choice of two boxes, and you pick one. You get to keep what’s inside.” He moved to the table and grabbed a small green box and a medium yellow box. “Who’d like to go first?”

Hands shot into the air. I kept mine planted firmly in my lap. No way was I going up there in front of everyone. Chad scanned the group then stopped in my direction.

I could feel myself shrink. Please not me. Please not me.

“Migizi!” he said. “Come on up.”

My muscles relaxed.

Migizi jogged to the front. Kids scooted left and right to see what he’d get. Just a little curious, I tilted my head to see around the girl in front of me.

He pointed to the green box. “I’ll take that one.”

“Okay, open it and show everyone,” Chad said, handing it to him.

Migizi ripped the paper off, exposing an MP3 player.

“Very cool.” He grinned. “Thanks.”

A roar of noise grew around me, and kids waved their hands to be picked for the next round. Not me. Not even if they were giving away dates with Nick Jonas.

Over the next ten minutes, kids won CDs, a camera, gift certificates, and a soccer ball. Murmurs surrounded me about what might be in the last two boxes that were wrapped in gold.

Chad held up the gifts and said, “Here’s the last of them. Who wants to pick?”

The excitement in the gymnasium swelled, and I hid behind the kid in front of me. Just one more to avoid and I’d be safe.

“Russo.”

No, he didn’t just call my name.

“Cam Russo.”

Nononononononono! I wasn’t even raising my hand. I stayed glued to my spot, pretending I didn’t hear him. If Chad chose me, whatever was inside that box couldn’t be anything but bad.

Migizi cheered me on from behind. “Go on, Cam. It’s cool.”

Was he that naïve? It totally wasn’t cool. Chad was up to something. But I couldn’t pretend any longer. Everyone stared at me like I was an idiot.

With Jell-o legs, I rose to my feet and slowly maneuvered through the waves of bodies blocking my path. The twenty second walk seemed like hours. If only I could melt into the floor.

Finally I met Chad’s gaze. His blue eyes were unreadable. Not even a glimmer of mischief. But he may just be a good poker player.

He held up the two gifts. “Which one?”

The rectangular packages were identical, both the size of mini-cereal boxes. Something about his posture and the whole situation was off. Cringing, I pointed to the box in his left hand.

He handed it to me with a Cheshire grin. “Open it.”

My hands trembled. What I wouldn’t give to go back to my seat. My class leaned forward like a single mass. Migizi beamed and gave me the thumbs-up. He probably thought this was good backbone training.

“Well?” Chad shifted his weight onto his other leg, almost skipping on the spot.

Holding my breath, I tore open the paper. I choked. No, he didn’t. He couldn’t be that cruel. A picture of a yellow lab smiled back at me. Dog biscuits? My heart shot from Coyote to Road Runner speed in an instant.

Chad gestured to the crowd. “Show everyone what you’ve won.”

My body grew warm, sweltering almost. I swallowed hard, meeting Migizi’s gaze. He had no idea what kind of a bee’s nest he’d just pushed me into.

I was NOT showing off a box of dog biscuits. Both gifts were probably the same and Chad chose me on purpose. I couldn’t believe he did this. Sure he picked on me, but he’d never done anything this humiliating.

Chad’s grin spread from ear to ear.

I gritted my teeth and my muscles clenched, which meant I was either going to punch him or run away, crying. As much as I’d like to wipe that stupid grin off his face, running away won out. It was the coward’s choice. And I was most certainly a coward. I forced my legs to move, but it was too late.

Chad snatched the box out of my hands and lifted it into the air so everyone could see. Roars of laughter erupted, followed by dog barks and howls.

I stared at Chad, slack-jawed. How could he? The urge to throw up inched its way up my throat. I forced it down. Puking on Chad would make things way worse for me, even if it would serve him right.

The salesman shot me an apologetic glance and lifted his palms. He had nothing to do with this. It was Chad. All Chad.

The barks multiplied until the entire gym transformed into a human dog pound. The noise crawled all over me like a thousand fire ants, biting my sides, my ribs, the area around my belly button. I rubbed my stomach, but the pain stayed.

The principal marched to the microphone and grabbed it out of Chad’s hand, giving him a stern look. The microphone squealed then the barks died down.

“This school is a bully free zone. I will not tolerate this behavior.”

I tuned out the impromptu speech and slipped out of the gym. Tears pressed against my eyelids as I ran to the nearest girls’ room. Once inside, the dam broke and hard sobs shook my shoulders. Gripping both sides of the sink, I stared at my reflection. A river of snot poured from my nose, my eyes were bloodshot, and my cheeks blotchy. None of it mattered. My life was officially over. Right now, not even purple and green polka dots on my face would—

I gaped at the mirror and leaned forward until my breath left patches of fog on the glass. It couldn’t be.

I stepped back and pulled down the neck of my shirt for a better look. My hand froze mid-air. A bright glow flowed from the bracelet. Not again. I tugged at my collar and cried out. Five fresh, painful scratches crisscrossed my chest.

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