The Charming Life of Izzy Malone by Jenny Lundquist
Izzy Malone isn’t your typical sixth grader. She wears camouflage combat boots and tie dye skirts; the Big Dipper and Orion are her two best friends; and she’d rather climb trees or shoot hoops than talk about boys and makeup. And after only a month of middle school she’s already set the record for the most trips to the Principal’s office.
The only time Izzy feels at peace is when she’s on the open water, and more than anything else, she wants to become a member of the Dandelion Paddlers, her school’s competitive rowing club. But thanks to those multiple trips to the Principal’s office, Izzy’s parents force her to enroll in Mrs. Whippie’s Charm School, a home-study course in manners and etiquette, or they won’t let her race in Dandelion Hollow’s annual pumpkin regatta—where Izzy hopes to prove to the Dandelion Paddlers she is more than qualified to be on their team.
When Mrs. Whippie’s first letter arrives it’s way different from what Izzy was expecting. Tucked inside the letter is a shiny gold bracelet and an envelope charm. Izzy must earn her first charm by writing someone a nice note, and once she does more tasks will be assigned.
Izzy manages to complete some of the tasks—and to her surprise, she actually finds herself enjoying the course. But when one of her attempts at doing something good is misinterpreted, she fears her chances at passing the course—and becoming a Paddler—are slipping away. With some unexpected friends there to support her, can Izzy manage to earn her charms and stay true to herself?
“Izzy’s frank, vulnerable, sassy first-person narration reveals her surprising journey from a solitary girl talking to the stars to a girl with friends to light her way…This story of an atypical girl, her family, and friends, laced with middle school drama, is indeed a charming one.” –Kirkus Reviews
“A heartwarming coming-of-age journey…Lundquist deftly portrays the pain of being odd girl out, both at school and at home.” –Publisher’s Weekly
Excerpts – Choose 1 and delete the other 3 prior to posting
The bracelet and the first charm appeared the day I punched Austin Jackson in the nose. I didn’t mean to slug him. His face just got in my way. It was a bruising end to a disastrous first month in middle school.
You know that kid in class that everyone secretly (and not so secretly) thinks is weird? The one people laugh and point at behind their back, the one who gets picked last in gym class, the one you wish you hadn’t gotten stuck with for a science partner?
At Dandelion Hollow Middle School, that kid is me, Izzy Don’t-Call-Me-Isabella Malone.
Truthfully, my slide into loserdom started in elementary school and was pretty much an established fact by the time sixth grade started last month. It’s partly because my mouth often has a mind of its own. But I think it’s also because there are a bazillion other things I’d rather do than talk about boys, clothes, and makeup, and I refuse to wear strappy sandals and short skirts.
(If you ever catch me wearing strappy sandals or a short skirt, you have my permission to kick my butt.)
I do like skirts, though. Really long colorful ones I get from Dandelion Thrift. I like to wear them with my camouflage combat boots.
I call the look Camohemian.
Coco grunted and stuck a pumpkin on her bookcase. “Consider yourself lucky. The only reason you’re not in Principal Chilton’s office right now is because Ms. Harmer decided stealing keys is a bigger offense than climbing trees…And how many more times am I going to have to tell you not to put your feet up on my desk?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “How many more times do you think I’ll get sent to your office?”
“That’s a mystery to me. You’ve only been here a month and I think you already hold the school record. It’s been—What?—two days since I last saw you? When you kicked Tyler Jones in the shin.”
“That was totally not my fault. Tyler called me a weirdo and a waste of space.”
“‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.’ It’s a saying,” Coco said. “Ever heard of it?”
“You know what? Now that you mention it, I think I have!” I nearly sprained my eyeballs; I was trying so hard not to roll them. Words are a weapon, and rotten kids like Tyler Jones get a free pass when it comes to using them, because the marks they leave are invisible. Why don’t more adults realize that?
Mom opened the letter, and sure enough, I was right.
“It’s from Ms. Harmer. It says you frequently refuse to follow instructions.” She paused, and said, “Well?”
I frowned. “Well, what?”
“Well—what do you have to say for yourself?”
“I guess I would say…instructions are for kids who have no imagination.”
Mom sighed loudly and ran a hand through her hair, but behind her back Carolyn grinned and gave me a thumbs up.
“What? You told me to say something, so I did.”
Mom read the letter again. “Apparently you were supposed to write an essay about a famous poet, and instead you turned in a story.”
“So what? Ms. Harmer didn’t actually say it had to be a real life famous poet—so I made one up.” If you ask me, what I did was actually harder; and, the best part of all, it only took me fifteen minutes. I wrote a story about a poet named Wanda Wordsmith who went fishing for her poems. Except instead of a fishing pole, she used a kite to catch her words on the wind. I thought it was a great story, and deserved an A. But apparently The Hammer thought it deserved a note home, which made no sense to me at all. Sometimes I think teachers like Ms. Harmer view creativity as something dirty and slightly embarrassing, and would prefer to turn kids into people who color inside the lines.
Generally speaking, I don’t care much for lines.
I stared at my own bracelet; at the tiny jukebox, paint palette, cupcake, envelope and treasure box, and wondered what my story would look like, if I kept adding to it, charm by charm. When I was as old as Aunt Mildred, would I care that some rotten kids at school used to call me Toad Girl? I bet I wouldn’t—but maybe one day I’d buy myself a tiny toad charm, because I wouldn’t want to forget it, either. Maybe I’d even buy a star charm, to remind myself that once upon a time I was the Star Bandit, and for a short time, the whole town was talking about me.
Aunt Mildred held out her bracelet. “This is the most valuable thing I own. It represents the life I’ve lived these last forty years. But it’s too heavy for my wrist now; I haven’t put any charms on it in a long time. I suppose I’m too old for adventures, and since I don’t have any children of my own, well…I’d like you to have it. I’d planned to give it to you after your last task, but I guess now is as good a time as any.”
I looked at the bracelet, all golden and colorful; it was making a musical, tinkling sound as the charms clinked together in Aunt Mildred’s trembling hands.
But if the bracelet was the story of her life, it seemed wrong for me to take it. After all, her story wasn’t over yet. Aunt Mildred was still alive.
Author Jenny Lundquist
Jenny Lundquist was born and raised in Huntington Beach, CA, where she spent her time unsuccessfully learning how to surf. When she was younger, she wanted to be either a rock star or a published author. After she taped herself singing and listened to it on playback she decided she’d better opt for the writing route. Jenny is the author of Seeing Cinderella and Plastic Polly as well as the young adult titles The Princess in the Opal Mask and The Opal Crown.
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