Authors: Andrew Smith
To my friend and editor, David Gale
THERE ARE A MILLION THINGS
that almost caused
to never happen, which naturally would have prevented
from ever reaching the hands of readers as well. Fuck you, million things.
and I found a home at Simon & Schuster, Ryan Dean West and I had an awful lot of growing up to do. I still don't know if I look at myself as a “real writer,” but I'm getting closer to that place, with much gratitude to all the people who have patiently supported and believed in my work along the way.
And as far as patience and kindness are concerned, you'd be hard pressed to find a man with a larger capacity for these qualities than David Gale, my editor, to whom I dedicate this book. Thank you, David.
Simon & Schuster's offices are in one of those monstrously big Manhattan skyscrapers. It would take hundreds of pages to list all the people there who worked on Ryan Dean West's team, but I am so grateful to every one of you. The first time I met Justin Chanda, just after he'd read
, he took me aside and told me how much he loved the book. That encouragement had such an impact on me, but it still didn't make me quite feel like a “real writer.” Thank you, Justin. Lucy Ruth Cummins, who has designed all my covers at
Simon & Schuster, is such a bright, glowing soul with an amazing power to give off smiles no matter what kind of mood you're in. Thank you, Lucy, for just being you. And Liz Kossnar put so much work into
for us, despite having to exercise her patience due to how slow I was in finally turning it in.
But I had a lot of fun writing it. I'm going to miss all that private time I got to spend with Ryan Dean West, Nico, and Sam Abernathy, whom I now have to set free and allow to go off on their own.
I also need to thank all the readers who fell in love with
. Talk about patience! It was a long haul between
, and you managed to hang in there. I hope this is an adequate payoff for your efforts.
As always, great thanks to my friend and agent Michael Bourret. I know I don't bother you as much as I should, but I'm really working on being more clingy and high-maintenance. Hopefully, uncontrollable weeping will occur.
And finally, I could never do any of this if my wife Jocelyn, son Trevin, and daughter Chiara ever refused to put up with me. I sometimes marvel at their tolerance, and I love them very much.
amicus certus in re incerta temporum cernitur
EVERYONE KEPT TELLING ME, “YOU
need to draw again, Ryan Dean. You need to draw.Â .Â .Â .”
So I did.
I started drawing again in the summer before Annie and I went back to Pine Mountain for our senior year. The problem is, I'm pretty sure I didn't draw what everyone expected.
Let me explain.
Annie Altman, the most beautiful and together girl on the planet, an undeniable five out of five Swiss Army knives on the Ryan Dean West If-You-Could-Only-Have-One-Thing-When-You're-Stranded-with-Nothing-Not-Even-Your-Clothes-on-a-Deserted-Island-What-Would-It-Be Scale, happened to be on an island with me, but it wasn't deserted, so decency laws required us at the very least to have our swimsuits on. And I didn't have a Swiss Army knife either, which would have come in handy because neither one of us remembered to put any utensils in our picnic basket, so we had to eat my mom's potato salad with our fingers, whichâ
âI thought was kind of sexy when our fingers touched in the cold mayonnaisey mush. But at least I had Annie, and we both had our swimsuits, and it was August, on one of those rare crystal-clear windless afternoons in Boston Harbor.
We spent the day at the beach on Spectacle Island, lying next to each other on a blanket in the sand. Naturally, I couldn't help but think about how there was only one thin article of clothing on my body; and how Annie and I were so close, our hands and feet touched, and I could feel her electricity sending sparks right up through me.
But I couldn't help thinking about a lot of other things too: about going back to Pine Mountain in a week, about how tough last year had been on me, and about the likely impossibility of me surviving my senior year there.
Annie put her hand on my belly and rubbed.
“You have to know how crazy that makes me, Annie.”
“In about five seconds, I don't think I'll be held legally responsible for my actions.”
Annie laughed. “Calm down, Ryan Dean. I was only trying to get the potato salad smell off my fingers.”
“Oh. Nice. Ryan Dean West, fifteen-year-old human napkin.”
Annie lived on Bainbridge Island, in Washington. It meant a lot that her parents trusted us enough to let her come to Boston to spend the last whole week of summer vacation with me before we had to report back to Pine Mountain Academy. But it wasn't like anything was going to happen, right? Annie was seventeen, and so beautiful. And I was just a fifteen-year-old napkin-boy who couldn't
shake the feeling that something terrible was going to come out of nowhere and ruin everything for me again and again.
Drawing, for me, was like Pine Mountain Academy: I wanted to go back to it, and I also didn't want to go back.
OKAY. YOU KNOW HOW WHEN
you're a senior in high school, and you officially know absolutely everything about everything and no one can tell you different, but on the other hand, at the same time, you're dumber than a poorly translated instruction manual for a spoon?
Yeah. That was pretty much me, all at the same time, the only fifteen-year-old boy to ever be in twelfth grade at Pine Mountain Academy.
When you're a senior, you're supposed to walk around with your chest out and your shoulders back because it's like you own the place, right? I didn't feel that way. In fact, from the first day I got back to Pine Mountain, I was quietly considering flunking out of all my classes so I wouldn't have to move on with my life and be a sixteen-year-old grown-up.
What a bunch of bullshit that would undoubtedly be.
And, speaking of bullshit, the day I came back to Pine Mountain Academy to check in and register, I learned that I would be roomingâin a double-single room no lessâwith some random kid I didn't even know. It had somehow failed to sink in to my soiled-napkin brain that my last year's roommates, Chas Becker and Kevin Cantrell, had
graduated from Pine Mountain and moved on to the fertile breeding grounds of adulthood, leaving me roommateless, condemned to a single-size room with two beds in it, and matched up with Joe Randomkid, whom I'd already pictured as some bloated, tobacco-chewing, overalls-wearing midwesterner who was missing half a finger from a lawn-mowing or wheat-threshing accident and owned a vast collection of '70s porn mags (since we weren't allowed to access the Internet at PM and look at real porn like most teenagers do).
Not that I look at porn, like most
teenagers. I'm not like that.
But nine-and-a-half-fingered Joe Randomkid would be exactly like that, I decided.
So by the time I turned the key on my all-new, 130-square-foot boys' dorm prison cell with two twin beds, two coffin-size closets, and matching elementary-school-kid-style desks with identical 40-watt desk lamps, I already deeply hated Joe Randomkid and, at the same time, had no idea in the world who he was.
Even before I fully opened the door on our bottom-floor-which-is-usually-only-reserved-for-freshmen dorm room, I had pretty much everything about Joe Randomkid all figured out.
A very small ground-floor room in the boys' dorm at Pine Mountain Academy, a prestigious prep school for future deviants
and white-collar criminals, located in the Cascades of Oregon.
a chubby and pale redhead from Nebraska with a stalk of straw pinched between his lips, is lying with his hands behind his head, dressed in overalls (with no shirt underneath the bib) and work boots, on one of the two prison-size twin beds, as
ryan dean west,
a skinny, Bostonian, rugby-playing fifteen-year-old upperclassman, enters the room from the outer hallway.
Howdy! The name's Joe. Joe Randomkid. I'm from Nebraska, and my pa's a hog farmer. We have, I reckon, close to twenty-two-hundred hogs on the farm, give or take a few depending on how hungry me and my brothers are. I have ten brothers! And no sisters! Can you imagine that? Ten of them! Their names are Billy, Wayne, Charlie, Alvin, Edmund, Donny, Timothy, Michael, Eugene, and Barry, and then there's me, Joe. How come I ain't ever seen you around? Are you a new kid? I been here every year since ninth grade, but you look like you're just a kid who can't possibly be old enough to be in twelfth grade. What sport do you play? Me? I'm on the bowling team. Got a two-oh-four average, which is number one in the state in Nebraska and Oregon for twelfth-grade boys. I bet being all skinny like that, you're on swim team or maybe gymnastics. Or do you cheer? Are you one of those
? I don't think there's nothing wrong with that at all. Cheerleading's probably more of a sport than NASCAR is anyhow. Who's your favorite driver, by the way?
Are you one of them ones who get to pick up the girls and spin them around over your head like that? If I ever did that, I couldn't help but look up their skirts, am I right? Or do you not like girls and stuff? 'Cause if you don't, that's okay too. I realize it takes all kinds. All kinds. And maybe you're from California, after all.
RYAN DEAN WEST:
Ryan Dean West walks across the room and looks out the window.
) Now I know why they put me on the ground floor.