An empowering look at finding your voice, facing your fears, and standing up for what's right, from the author of Property of the Rebel Librarian.
Charlotte Andrews is perfectly fine being quiet--in fact, she prefers it. When she doesn't speak, people can't make fun of her stutter. But when she witnesses bullying on the school bus and doesn't say anything, her silence comes between her and her best friend.
As if that wasn't bad enough, her parents signed her up for musical theater. Charlotte doesn't want to speak onstage, but at least she doesn't stutter when she sings. Then, just as she starts to find her voice, the arts program is cut. Charlotte can't stay silent anymore.
So she begins to write. Anonymous encouraging notes to her classmates. Letters to the school board to save the school musical. And an essay about the end of her best friendship--and her hope that she can still save it.
Words could save Charlotte Andrews and everything she believes in . . . if she just believes in herself enough to speak up.
An Excerpt fromSay It Out Loud
Two Truths and a Lie
“Truth or dare?” Maddie asks from the other couch, her eyes pleading with me to play along.
Like I’d say “dare” again. Last time, I had to give her dog a haircut, and we were both grounded for a month. Her dog didn’t seem to mind, though.
“Truth,” I say, settling deeper into my sleeping bag on the love seat. We always play Truth or Dare when we have sleepovers, and my parents let us sleep downstairs so we can watch movies a little bit later than usual.
“Oh, okay. Fine.” Maddie sighs and rolls back onto her pillow. “What scares you more than anything?”
“Clowns,” I say immediately.
She giggles. “You’re kind of a chicken, Charlotte.”
“Am not! You don’t like them, either. They’re creepy!”
She wiggles her eyebrows at me. “I’m going to make you a stuffed clown for your birthday. At Build-A-Bear.”
I shake my head and toss a tiny embroidered pillow at her head. “And it will go straight into the t-trash!” I frown. I hate it when I stutter, even when it’s in front of a good friend like Maddie.
Maddie laughs even harder. Her teeth are bright white against her sun-kissed skin. “Aren’t you afraid it will climb out and get you?”
“NO!” I shiver at the thought of it. “Okay, your turn. Truth or dare?”
She stops laughing and grows quiet. “Truth.”
“What are you scared of most?”
Maddie groans. “Really, Charlotte? Can’t you think of something else?”
“No. You asked me. Totally fair.”
“I don’t know. I . . .”
“Come on!” I say. “Out with it!”
“Middle school,” she says.
Neither of us laughs this time. After a summer of our usual neighborhood games and sleepovers, middle school starts next week. We haven’t talked about it much, but it’s still coming. Middle school should’ve been my answer, too, if I were completely honest.
“What do you think it will be like?” Maddie asks.
“I don’t know,” I say. I secretly hope it will be like the middle schools I’ve seen on TV shows, where kids have classes with their friends and they burst into song in the hallway. I know that won’t happen, but it’s hard to picture a new school. Plus, I’ve never even ridden the bus! My parents drove me to elementary school every day because they work there. So this year will be completely different. It’s going to take a while to get used to it.
“Me neither.” She sighs. “I hope we have classes together.”
Maddie frowns. “It’s a big school. What if we don’t?”
I prop my head on the back of my arm. Maddie and I have been in the same class since third grade. She’s my best friend, and she lives right down the street. I don’t want to think about not having a class with her. “What if we d-do?”
The gum sinks into Ben Hooper’s red hair with a wet thwack, and the entire bus falls silent. Well, okay, everyone except for Tristan and Josh, who laugh and high-five each other a few seats back.
Maddie gasps next to me.
I can’t believe they actually did it. Tristan and Josh were mean in elementary school, but they’re even worse as sixth graders. Middle school might as well be another planet, and it’s only week two. Everything is bigger now--the school, the classes, and especially the kids.
But not Ben, who’s exactly the same size as he was last year. He reaches behind his pale, freckled neck and pulls the gob forward, stretching long, pink strings across his shoulder. “What is this?” he cries, turning in his seat. The country radio station crackles over the speakers.
I stare at my hands, leaning forward so my long, light brown hair falls around my face and blocks my view. I can’t stand to watch.
A voice from the back yells, “What’s the matter? You wanted gum!” Several kids laugh.
Ben’s lower lip trembles.
I give Maddie a look. We watched him ask almost everyone for gum when he first got on the bus this morning.
The bus driver calls over his shoulder, “Settle down now! No yelling!”
I wish one of the older kids would say something. The bus is full of them, but all they’re doing is snickering and filming the drama with their phones. It’s going to be all over the school by the end of homeroom.
This is so wrong. But what can I do? They wouldn’t listen to me anyway, and if they did--
Maddie pokes my arm. “I’m going to say something,” she whispers.
“No,” I say. “D-d-don’t.” I inwardly cringe. Stuttering in public is the worst. My cheeks flood with warmth.
She frowns. “Why not?”
Because I want to stay invisible, since I’m new to riding the bus. Because if I sit here quietly, there’s a chance no one will mess with me and I can escape without gum in my hair. But I can’t say that. I’m already stuttering more because I’m worried, and my speech will just get worse if I try to explain it. Not that Maddie is bothered by that. She’s heard me stutter a million times since we met in third grade, and she’s never made me feel bad about it. “I don’t know. Just stay out of it.”
The wheels groan as the bus lurches to a stop. Carol Burnett Middle, here we come.
“It isn’t right.” Maddie pivots in her seat and eyes Tristan and Josh.
I peek at them over the top of my seat as they gather their things. It’s weird how they look like nice boys. Josh’s fair skin doesn’t have a single zit, and his smile is so perfect, he doesn’t need braces. Tristan’s light brown curls fall perfectly around his tanned face, and he has a little cleft in his chin. Let’s face it--they know they’re cute, and they play football.
“It’s not like you can do anything about it,” I say, but I might as well be talking to myself. Maddie would fight to the end if she thought she could change something. Last year, she begged her mom nonstop for a cell phone, and it actually worked!
The bus doors open, and Ben disappears down the steps.
Maddie follows me into the aisle. “Who says we can’t?”
Oh no. There’s no “we” in this. I say nothing as we file off the bus and walk through the back doors of the school. I’m not getting involved. Snack machines line the hallway, and my stomach growls. I wish I’d remembered to grab a granola bar before I left home.
“You don’t have an extra dollar, do you?” I ask. I brought only enough money for lunch. Sometimes my dad gives me lunch money for the whole week and throws in a little extra for snacks, but he didn’t today.
I sigh. At least I changed the subject. “Oh! I can’t believe I almost forgot! Did you ask your mom if you can go see Wicked for my birthday?” The Wizard of Oz was my favorite movie when I was little, and Wicked is about what happened before Dorothy went over the rainbow. I’ve listened to the soundtrack a million times. But it’s not enough, because I still don’t know the whole story. I need to see this show.
Maddie sighs. “I knew I was forgetting something.”
“Maddie! Tickets go on sale Friday, and you know you love musicals! Write it on your hand.”
Maddie nods and twirls her braid like she used to do in math when she was trying to figure out a problem.
The main corridor is packed with groups of kids playing on their phones. Some sit on benches reading books. Others have earbuds in their ears, which is code for Leave me alone. I should remember to bring mine for the computer lab. Some seventh-grade girls by the bathroom stop applying lip gloss as we pass. One leans in and whispers to another. I glance down at my jeans and tug at my T-shirt. I don’t know why they’re staring, but they did it on the first day of school, too. Just past them, Tristan laughs with Josh while he retrieves a few books from his locker. I turn away, but Maddie openly glares at them. We’ve barely made it to the end of the hallway when the homeroom bell rings, and everyone darts in different directions.
Maddie blurts out, “Tell Mr. Burton that I’ll be late,” and walks the opposite way.
“Where are you going?” I yell after her.
“There’s something I have to do,” she calls over her shoulder.
I was afraid of that.
I slump over my novel in English class and read the same paragraph for the third time. I have no idea what it says. I can’t think. I can’t focus on anything because Maddie never made it to homeroom. What could possibly be taking so long? All she had to do was walk to the office, tell them what happened, and come straight back. No big deal.
But of course it’s a huge deal. If Tristan or Josh finds out what she did, everything will change, and--
The phone rings.
Ms. Harper puts down her book and answers the classroom phone on the second ring. “This is Ms. Harper, educating young minds and making the world a better place. How may I help you?” She tucks a stray strand of light brown hair behind her ear.
I grin into my hand. I love it when she answers the phone. She teaches English and musical theater, and I have her for both.
She turns and fixes her gaze on me. “Sure, I’ll send her.” With a click, she hangs up and then says, “Charlotte, they need you in the office.”
The smile drains from my face. I didn’t do anything. My heart pounds. I reach for my bag and feel everyone’s eyes following me as I walk to the door. Getting called out in front of the whole class is the worst. I hate that this is happening when I told Maddie that I didn’t want to be involved. I didn’t see anything, and even if I did, no good ever comes from being a snitch. Everyone knows that
I drag myself down the endless hallway, glancing up at the bulletin boards as I go. I’d already be at the office by now if I were in my old elementary school, but Carol Burnett Middle is five times as big, with five times as much wall art. There are inspirational quotes painted in different colors on the walls near the office. be the difference, the choice is yours, blah, blah, blah. It’s a bunch of encouraging stuff from famous dead people. I wish they had some advice for what to do when you see a kid get pelted with gum.
I take a deep breath and pull the door open, the bell at the top jingling against the glass. The entire front office is full of kids from my bus. This can’t be happening. I don’t even know what this is, but it can’t be good. I tug at my collar, which all of a sudden feels like it’s choking me. I walk up to the receptionist, who has a fire engine–red pixie cut.
“Name?” she says, peering at me from behind pink-rimmed glasses.
“Charlotte Andrews,” I say.
A deep voice from the hallway booms, “Have a good day.” The secretary glances over her shoulder as Maddie walks toward us.
I open my mouth, but the words don’t come.
Maddie’s wide eyes meet mine. A flicker of guilt crosses her face, and then something stronger replaces it. She holds her chin a little higher.
“Take a seat,” the secretary says, crossing my name off a list on her desk. Her nails have little flames painted on them. “No talking.”
Maddie’s brown eyes plead with me as she passes by. It’s like she’s saying, Do the right thing, Charlotte. Why does doing the right thing have to involve the principal’s office?
I perch on the edge of the stained fabric chair. One of the older kids from the bus stares at me.
The receptionist answers the office phone. “Will do!” she says. Turning to me with a sigh, she says, “Mr. Sinclair will see you now, Charlotte.” I almost trip over my shoe, but I catch myself just in time.
I walk as quickly as I can to the open office door. Mr. Sinclair sits behind his huge desk in a navy pin-striped suit, the deep bronze of his scalp shiny under the humming fluorescent lights.
“Ms. Andrews! Thank you for coming.”
Like I had a choice. If it were up to me, I’d still be reading my book in English.
“We need to discuss an incident that happened on your bus this morning.”
“Okay.” I squirm in my seat.
He holds up a cell phone displaying a picture of Ben pulling strings of gum out of his hair. Wow. That really did travel fast. “Do you know anything about this?”
Don’t fidget. Just stay calm. It’s all going to be okay. “Ben g-got gum in his hair.”
Mr. Sinclair’s expression softens, probably because I stuttered. I hate the moment when someone realizes I’m different. It changes the way they look at me. “And how did that happen?”
“Someone threw it.”
“And how do you know they threw it?”
I gulp. “Just g-guessing.”
“Mmm. Did you see who threw that gum?”
“No.” Which is true--I really didn’t.
He leans back in his leather chair. “How far away from Ben were you sitting?”
I shrug and look down at my hands. “I don’t know. He was on the right near the front. I was a few seats b-back on the left.”
“I see. So you were maybe, what, eight feet away?”
Mr. Sinclair makes a note on a piece of paper on his desk. “Okay, being maybe, oh, eight feet or so away, you didn’t see anything?” He tilts his head, his eyebrows knitted together.
“No.” My voice travels up a little too high.
He sighs. “That’s too bad, Ms. Andrews. I was hoping you’d be able to help us find out who did this to Ben. We’ve interviewed some students and the bus driver, and we still don’t have the answers.” He puts down his pen. “Bullying is not tolerated at this school.”
He studies me for a minute. I look away while my face warms. I always stutter worse when I’m nervous or excited, which has been every minute of middle school so far.
“Do you have any idea who might have thrown the gum?”
Oh no. He changed the question, and now I can actually say something. I know it had to be Tristan and Josh. I can still hear them laughing. But I didn’t see them do it. I shrug.