Shingaling: A Wonder Story, p.2R. J. Palacio
So, one day right before last period, I slipped Jack a note to meet me in room 301 after school. Which he did. And then I told him everything that was going on. You should have seen Jack’s face! It was bright red! Seriously! The poor kid! We pretty much agreed that this whole thing was so messed up! I really felt sorry for him.
Then, after we were done talking, I sneaked out of the room without anyone seeing me.
How I Wanted to Tell Ellie About My Talk with Jack Will
At lunch the next day, I was going to tell Ellie that I’d talked to Jack. Ellie and I both had had a tiny secret crush on Jack Will going back to the fourth grade, when he played the Artful Dodger in Oliver! and we thought he looked adorable in a top hat.
I went over to her when she was emptying her lunch tray. We don’t sit at the same lunch table anymore, ever since she switched to Savanna’s lunch table around Halloween. But I still trusted Ellie. We’ve been BFFs since first grade! That counts for a lot!
“Hey,” I said, nudging into her with my shoulder.
“Hey!” she said, nudging me back.
“Why weren’t you in chorus yesterday?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you?” she said. “I switched electives when I came back from winter break. I’m in band now.”
“Band? Seriously?” I said.
“I’m playing the clarinet!” she answered.
“Wow,” I said, nodding. “Sweet.”
This bit of news was really surprising to me, for a lot of reasons.
“Anyhow, what’s up with you, Charly?” she said. “I feel like I’ve hardly seen you since we got back from winter break!” She picked up my wrist to inspect my new bangle.
“I know, right?” I answered, though I didn’t point out that that was because she had canceled on me every single time we’d made plans to hang out after school.
“How’s Maya’s dots tournament going?”
She was referring to Maya’s obsession with making the world’s largest dot game to play at lunchtime. We kind of made fun of it behind her back.
“Good,” I answered, smiling. “I keep meaning to ask you about this whole boy-war thing. It’s so lame, isn’t it?”
She rolled her eyes. “It’s totally out of control!”
“Right?” I said. “I feel kind of sorry for Jack. Don’t you think Julian should just call it quits already?”
Ellie started twisting a strand of hair around her finger. She took a fresh juice box off the counter and popped the straw into the hole. “I don’t know, Charly,” she answered. “Jack’s the one who punched him in the mouth. Julian has every right to be mad.” She took a long sip. “I’m actually starting to think that Jack has serious anger-management issues.”
Hold up. What? I’ve known Ellie since forever, and the Ellie I know would never use a phrase like “anger-management issues.” Not that Ellie isn’t smart, but she’s not that smart. Anger-management issues? That sounded more like something Ximena Chin would say in that sarcastic way of hers. Ever since Ellie had started hanging out with Ximena and Savanna, she’s been acting weirder and weirder!
Wait a minute! I just remembered something: Ximena plays clarinet! That explains why Ellie switched electives! Now it’s all making sense!
“Either way,” said Ellie, “I don’t think we should get involved. It’s a boy thing.”
“Yeah, whatever,” I answered, deciding it was better if I didn’t tell Ellie I had spoken with Jack.
“So are you ready for the dance tryouts today?” she asked cheerfully.
“Yeah,” I answered, pretending to get excited. “I think Mrs. Atanabi is—”
“Ready, Ellie?” said Ximena Chin, who had just appeared out of nowhere. She nodded a quick hello my way without really looking at me, and then turned around and headed to the lunchroom exit.
Ellie dropped her unfinished juice box into the trash can, clumsily heaved her backpack onto her right shoulder, and trotted after Ximena. “See you later, Charly!” she mumbled halfway across the lunchroom.
“Later,” I answered, watching her catch up to Ximena. Together, they joined Savanna and Gretchen, a sixth grader, who were waiting for them by the exit.
The four of them were all about the same height, and they all had super-long hair, with wavy curls at the ends. Their hair colors were different, though. Savanna’s was golden blond. Ximena’s was black. Gretchen’s was red. And Ellie’s was brown. I actually wondered sometimes if Ellie hadn’t gotten into that popular group because of her hair, which was just the right color and length to fit in.
My hair is white-blond, and so straight and flat, there’s no way it would ever end in a curl without massive doses of hair spray. And it’s short. Like me.
How to Use Venn Diagrams (Part 1)
In Ms. Rubin’s science class, we learned about Venn diagrams. You draw Venn diagrams to see the relationships between different groups of things. Like, if you want to see the common characteristics between mammals, reptiles, and fish, for instance, you draw a Venn diagram and list all the attributes of each one inside a circle. Where the circles intersect is what they have in common. In the case of mammals, reptiles, and fish, it would be that they all have backbones.
Anyway, I love Venn diagrams. They’re so useful for explaining so many things. I sometimes draw them to explain friendships.
Ellie and me in first grade.
As you can see, Ellie and I had a lot in common. We’ve been friends since the first day of first grade, when Ms. Diamond put us both at the same table. I remember that day very clearly. I kept trying to talk to Ellie, but she was shy and didn’t want to talk. Then, at snack time, I started ice-skating with my fingers on the top of the desk we shared. If you don’t know what that is, it’s when you make an upside-down peace sign and let your fingers glide over the glossy desk, like they were figure skaters. Anyway, Ellie watched me do that for a little while, and then she started ice-skating with her fingers, too. Pretty soon, we were both making figure eights all over the desk. After that, we were inseparable.
Ellie and me now.
How I Continued to Stay Neutral
Ellie, Savanna, and Ximena were hanging out in front of the lockers outside the performance space when I showed up for the dance tryouts after school. I knew the moment they looked at me that they’d just been talking about me.
“You’re not really taking Jack’s side in the boy war, are you?” said Savanna, making an eww expression with her lips.
I glanced at Ellie, who had obviously shared some of my lunch conversation with Savanna and Ximena. She chewed a strand of hair and looked away.
“I’m not on Jack’s side,” I said calmly. I popped open my locker and shoved my backpack inside. “All I said is that I think this whole boy-war thing is dumb. All the boys are just being so jerky.”
“Yeah, but Jack started it,” said Savanna. “Or are you saying it’s okay that he punched Julian?”
“No, it’s definitely not okay that he did that,” I answered, pulling out my dance gear.
“So how could you be on Jack’s side?” Savanna asked quickly, still making that eww face with her mouth.
“Is it because you like him?” asked Ximena, smiling mischievously.
Ximena, who probably hasn’t said more than thirty words to me all year long, is asking me if I like Jack?
“No,” I answered, but I could feel my ears turning red. I glanced up at Ellie as I sat down to put on my jazz sneakers. She was twirling yet another part of her hair in preparation for putting it into her mouth. I can’t believe she told them about Jack! What a traitor!
At that moment, Mrs. Atanabi came into the room, clapping to get everyone’s attention in her usual, theatrical way. “Okay, girls, if you haven’t signed your name on the tryout sheet, please do so now,” she said, pointing to the clipboard on the table next to her. There were about eight other girls standing in line to sign in. “And if you’ve already signed in, please take a spot on the dance floor and start doing your stretc
“I’ll sign in for you,” Ximena said to Savanna, walking over to the table.
“Do you want me to sign in for you, Charly?” Ellie asked me. I knew that was her way of checking to see if I was mad at her. Which I was!
“I already signed in,” I answered quietly, not looking at her.
“Of course she signed in,” Savanna said quickly, rolling her eyes. “Charlotte’s always the first to sign in.”
How (and Why) I Love to Dance
I’ve been taking dance lessons since I was four. Ballet. Tap. Jazz. Not because I want to be a prima ballerina when I grow up, but because I intend on becoming a Broadway star someday. To do that, you really have to learn how to sing and dance and perform. Which is why I work so hard on my dance lessons. And my singing lessons. I take them very seriously, because I know that someday, when I get my big break, I’ll be ready for it. And why will I be ready for it? Because I’ve worked hard for it—my whole life! People seem to think that Broadway stars just come out of nowhere—but that’s not true! They practice until their feet hurt! They rehearse like maniacs! If you want to be a star, you have to be willing to work harder than everyone else to achieve your goals and dreams! The way I see it, a dream is like a drawing in your head that comes to life. You have to imagine it first. Then you have to work extremely hard to make it come true.
So, when Savanna says, “Charlotte’s always the first to sign in,” on the one hand it’s kind of a compliment because she’s saying, “Charlotte’s always on top of things, which is why her hard work pays off for her.” But when she says, “Charlotte’s always the first to sign in,” with that eww expression on her face, it’s more like she’s saying, “Charlotte only gets what she wants because she’s first in line.” Or at least that’s what I hear. A put-down.
Savanna’s really good at those kinds of put-downs, where it’s all in the eyes and the corners of the mouth. It’s too bad, because she didn’t used to be like that. In lower school, Savanna and Ellie and me and Maya and Summer: we were all friends. We played together after school. We had tea parties. It’s only been since we started middle school—ever since she got popular—that Savanna’s become less nice than she used to be.
How Mrs. Atanabi Introduced Her Dance
“Okay, ladies,” said Mrs. Atanabi, clapping her hands and motioning for us to walk toward her, “everybody on the dance floor, please! Take your positions. Everybody spread out. So what we’re going to do today is, I’m going to show you a couple of different dances from the sixties that I’d like you to try. The twist. The Hully Gully. And the mambo. Just those three. Sound good?”
I had taken up a position behind Summer, who smiled and waved one of her cute happy hellos at me. When I was little and still into Flower Fairies, I used to think that Summer Dawson looked exactly like the Lavender Fairy. Like she should have been born with violet wings.
“Since when have you been into dance?” I asked her, because she had never been one of the girls I’d see at dance recitals.
Summer shrugged shyly. “I started taking classes this summer.”
“Sweet!” I answered, smiling encouragingly.
“Mrs. Atanabi?” said Ximena, raising her hand. “What is this audition even for?”
“Oh my goodness!” answered Mrs. Atanabi, tapping her forehead with her fingers. “Of course. I completely forgot to tell you guys what we’re doing here.”
I, personally, have always loved Mrs. Atanabi—with her long flowy dresses and scarves and the messy bun. I love that she always has the breathless appearance of someone who’s just come back from a great journey. I like that. But a lot of people think she’s flaky and weird. The way she throws her head back when she laughs. The way she mumbles to herself sometimes. People have said she looks exactly like Mrs. Puff in SpongeBob SquarePants. They call her Mrs. Fatanabi behind her back, which I think is incredibly mean.
“I’ve been asked to put together a dance piece to perform at the Beecher Prep Benefit Gala,” she started explaining. “Which is in mid-March. It’s not a performance that other students will ever see. It’s for the parents, faculty, and alumni. But it’s kind of a big deal. They’re having it at Carnegie Hall this year!”
Everyone made little excited chirpy sounds.
Mrs. Atanabi laughed. “I thought you’d all like that!” she said. “I’m adapting a piece I choreographed years ago, which had gotten considerable attention at the time, I don’t mind saying. And it should be a lot of fun. But it will take plenty of work! Which reminds me: if you’re chosen for this dance, it will require a big time commitment! I want to be clear about that right from the start, ladies. Ninety minutes of rehearsal, after school, three times a week. From now, through March. So if you can’t commit to that, don’t even try out. Okay?”
“But what if we have soccer practice?” asked Ruby, in the middle of a plié.
“Ladies, sometimes in life you have to choose,” Mrs. Atanabi answered. “You can’t have soccer practice and be in this dance. It’s as simple as that. I don’t want to hear any excuses about homework assignments or tests or anything else. Even one missed rehearsal is too much! Remember, this is not something you’re required to do for school! You don’t have to be here, girls. You won’t be getting extra credit. If the appeal of dancing on one of the world’s most famous stages isn’t enough for you, then please don’t try out.” She extended her arm all the way and pointed to the exit. “I won’t take it personally.”
We all looked at each other. Ruby and Jacqueline both smiled apologetically at Mrs. Atanabi, waved goodbye, and left. I couldn’t believe anyone would do that! To give up the chance to dance at Carnegie Hall? That’s as famous as Broadway!
Mrs. Atanabi blinked but didn’t say anything. Then she rubbed her head, like she was warding off a headache. “One last thing,” she said. “If you’re not selected for this particular routine, please remember there’s still the big dance number in the spring variety show—and everyone can dance in that one. So if you don’t make this performance, please don’t have your mom email me. There are only spots for three girls.”
“Only three?” cried Ellie, covering her mouth with her hand.
“Yes, only three,” Mrs. Atanabi responded, sounding exactly like Mrs. Puff sounds when she says, Oh, SpongeBob.
I knew what Ellie was thinking: Please let it be me, Ximena, and Savanna.
But even as she wished that, she probably knew it wasn’t going to work out that way. The thing is, everybody knows that Ximena is the best dancer in the whole school. She got selected for the summer intensives at the School of American Ballet. She’s at that level. So it was a pretty safe bet that Ximena would make it in.
And everybody knows that Savanna made the finals in two different regionals last year, and had come close to placing at a national—so there was a good chance that she would make it in.
And everybody knows that…Well, not to brag, but dance is kind of my thing, and I have a bunch of huge trophies on my shelf that prove it.
Ellie, though? Sorry, but she’s just not in the same league as either Ximena or Savanna. Or me. Sure, she’s been into dance all these years, but she’s always been kind of lazy about it. I don’t know, maybe if there were room for four girls. But not if there can only be three.
Nope, it seemed pretty clear as I looked around the room at the competition: the final three would be Ximena, Savanna. And me! Sorry, Ellie!
And maybe, just maybe, this would be my chance to finally work my way into the Savanna group, once and for all. I could go back to having Ellie as my best friend. Savanna could have Ximena. It could all work out.
The twist. The Hully Gully. And the mambo.
How to Use Venn Diagrams (Part 2)
In middle school, your lunch table group isn’t always the same as your friend group. Like, it’s very possible—in fact, it’s probable!—that you may end up sitting at a lunch table with a bunch of girls that you’re friends with—bu
At first, I thought it was the greatest table in the whole lunchroom! I was sitting right between Ellie, my best friend from first grade, and Maya, my other best friend from lower school. I was sitting directly across from Summer and Megan, both of whom I knew from lower school, too, even if we weren’t necessarily good friends. And I knew Lina from the Beecher Prep Summer Camp program. The only person I didn’t know at all was Rand, but she seemed nice enough. So, all in all, it looked like a totally awesome lunch table!
But then, that very first day, Summer switched tables to go sit with Auggie Pullman. It was so shocking! One second we were all sitting there, talking about him, watching him eat his lunch. Lina said something really mean that I won’t repeat. And the next second, Summer, without saying anything to anyone, just picked up her lunch tray and walked over to him. It was so unexpected! Lina, I remember, looked like she was watching a car accident.
Shingaling: A Wonder Story by R. J. Palacio / Young Adult / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes