Title HERO MAKER
Author TOM STARACE
Genre YA Magical Realism
Publisher Fiddler’s Bridge Press
Adam is 16 years old and lives on an apple farm. He has a big family, lots of friends, and is normal in every way. Except one.
Jimmy is 15 and new in town. He lives with his father, has no friends, and no memory of the tragedy that killed his mother.
Kip is a 7-year-old boy who lives in secret with his brother. Nobody knows he’s there. But now his brother has disappeared.
Valerie is a shy girl who is used to being mocked and bullied by the mean girls. And now they have played the meanest trick yet.
Jimmy, Kip, and Valerie have one thing in common—they meet Adam. Through Adam’s special power their lives are changed forever. They become heroes.
HERO MAKER is a story of fathers and sons, of family and friends, of bravery and decency, and apple pie.
I walked into the lunchroom that day, and I was thinking about what Adam said—that I didn’t need Penny to be cool. So, I’m thinking, am I cool? Like, do I look cool right now? It’s hard to be cool when you’re wondering whether or not you’re cool.
This is a thing I’ve noticed about Adam. It doesn’t even occur to him to wonder whether he’s cool or not. I used to think this was because he’s totally not cool. But lately I think it might be because he really doesn’t care if he’s cool or not—which makes him truly cool. Way cooler than me!
I only mention this because it becomes important later.
Anyway, I walk into the lunchroom, and Penny is at her usual table with all her nasty-ass girlfriends. Normally I would nod at them and walk to my usual table with the guys. This time, though, I sort of slow down a little, and Penny says, “Hi, Chris,” and the rest of them are like, “Hey, Chris.”
There’s an empty seat next to Penny, so I sit and say, real quiet so nobody else can hear, “I heard what you did to Valerie.”
And she giggles, and goes, “Yeah, isn’t it a scream? Princess Valerie! Too funny.”
“I don’t think it’s too funny.” And I start to leave.
“What do you care?” she says.
“I just think it sucks, is what.”
“Well, it doesn’t make any difference. I mean, it’s a mute point, she’s not going!” (She said “mute point,” even though the expression is “moot point.” She’s not nearly as smart as she thinks she is.) “Nobody will take her,” she said. “Buddy Boland, who was voted prince, called her a skank! He says he’d rather stay home than go with her.”
“Yeah? Well, maybe I’ll take her!”
She gives me a real evil smile. “I didn’t know you liked her!”
By this time everybody at the table is listening to us.
“Right now, I like her a whole lot more than I like you!”
I stand to leave, and she grabs my arm and gets all up in my face. She goes, “If you take Valerie Sun to that dance, I’ll never speak to you again!”
“Good!” I yell. “Two problems solved!”
And I walked away. But now I had to find Valerie.
I found her in the music room, a big room near the auditorium where band equipment is kept and band members sometimes have lunch. Valerie played a trombone in the band. I found her sitting by herself in a corner. She had the trombone in pieces on her lap, like she had started cleaning it but got too bored or depressed to go on.
Somebody said to me, “Band members only in here.”
“I just need to talk to Valerie for a minute,” I say to the guy. Nobody else says anything. They all look a little shocked—like Valerie doesn’t get much company, I guess.
I sat on the bench next to her.
She squinted at me. “What do you want, Chris Decker?”
“To say hello.”
“I broke up with Penny.”
“We weren’t even really dating.”
“And you’re telling me this because?”
“Look,” I said, fumbling around for the right thing to say. “I think it stinks what they did to you.”
She looked like she didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. She finally just said, “Thank you.”
“So, are you going?”
This time she did laugh. “Am I going? Or course I’m not going! You think I haven’t been laughed at enough?”
“What if you go with me?”
“Go with me! Nobody will laugh at you if you’re with me!”
She put the trombone pieces down and stood up. “You better go. If you came over here to make fun of me, you had your little joke! Go back to your girlfriend and have a big laugh!”
“She’s not my girlfriend.”
“I’m sick of all this! I’m sick of people laughing . . . ” She was crying now.
“No!” I say, “it’s not like that! I’m not like that!”
The other kids in the music room were looking at us now, including this big guy named Henry. He was holding a tuba and looked like he could squash me like a bug.
“Come on, Valerie, you know me—since, like, the second grade or something.”
She shook her head and tried to wipe her eyes.
“Remember the field trip to Poet’s Rock, and you fell and scraped your knee? Adam and I walked you up to Mrs. Grennon?”
She nodded now, and laughed, just a tiny little laugh. “I do remember that, sort of. That was you?”
“Me and Adam.”
I smiled. “My cousin.”
She looked at me, and for the first time it almost looked like she was believing me. I explained to her that Penny and her bunch had done a really shitty thing to her. She could stay home that night and not go to the dance, and nobody would blame her. Or she could really show them up by going and having a great time.
She sniffed. “You’re one of the cool kids. Why would you do something as uncool as going with me?”
Well, I had to think about it for a minute.
“Okay, what is cool anyway?” I say, sort of thinking out loud. “You wear your hair a certain way, or you wear certain clothes, you listen to certain music. That makes you cool? My cousin Adam doesn’t think of any of these things. He walks around not knowing whether he’s cool or not—and not even caring. He does what he wants to.”
“Which makes him much cooler than I am.”
“What’s your point, Chris?”
“Point is, sometimes you just have to do what you want to do, and not worry about whether it’s cool or not. I want to go to the dance with you.”
She nodded. “Let me think about it, okay?”
“Sure,” I said.
And she said, “You really broke up with Penny because of this?”
“Well, there’s another reason, too.” And, even though I wasn’t expecting to say this, I just said it. “I’m gay.”
This was the first time I ever said it with those exact words. It felt good.
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Tom Starace is a writer, an artist, an actor, and a musician. In a career that has spanned five decades, he’s worked for most major publishing companies as a designer or art director. He has illustrated six children’s books. This is his first novel.
He lives in New York State’s Hudson Valley, not too far from where Adam lives. He plays banjo, writes books, paints pictures of clouds, and acts in his local theater group. In the fall, he watches the leaves turn colors, and he buys apples and pumpkins from the local farm.
Visit Tom at www.tomstaraceauthor.com
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