The Misfits #1: A Royal Conundrum is a part of the The Misfits collection.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • When a notorious thief is out for priceless treasure (gems! cats! general decorum!)—who're you gonna call? An elite team of crime-fighting underdogs, that's who! The Misfits are on the case in this hilarious illustrated series from Newbery Honoree Lisa Yee and Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat!
“For any kid who’s felt like a misfit, this crackling adventure packs a wallop!” —Lincoln Peirce, creator of Big Nate and Max & the Midknights
Olive Cobin Zang has . . . issues. And they mostly aren’t her fault. (No, really!) Though she often slips under the radar, problems have a knack for finding her. So, imagine her doubts when she’s suddenly dropped off at the strangest boarding school ever: a former castle turned prison that's now a “reforming arts school”!
But nothing could’ve prepared Olive for RASCH (not “rash”). There, she’s lumped with a team of other kids who never quite fit in, and discovers that the academy isn’t what it seems—and neither is she. In fact, RASCH is a cover for an elite group of misfits who fight crime . . . and Olive has arrived just in time.
Turns out that RASCH is in danger of closing, unless Olive’s class can stop the heist of the century. And as Olive falls in love with this wacky school, she realizes it’s up to her new team to save the only home that’s ever welcomed them.
An Excerpt fromThe Misfits #1: A Royal Conundrum
Weird things had a tendency of happening to Olive Cobin Zang, but this morning was weirder than most.
First, her InstaFriends social media account had vanished entirely--never mind that she had fewer than five followers. Then, when she opened her locker to grab her books before class, all traces that Olive had ever been there had been removed, including her Meggie comics and flower power stickers. And at the school library, when Olive tried to apologize for her overdue library books, she learned that all the fines had been wiped clean.
By the time Olive reached second period, she was so deep in thought that at first she didn’t notice the black cat perched on the classroom’s window ledge. Unlike her classmates, who never paid any attention to her, the cat was staring right at Olive. When she finally noticed it, it seemed to wink at her before running away.
Olive watched the cat disappear, wishing she could run away, too. She hated school. A lot.
Turning to the front of the room, Olive heard the school’s PA system crackle. Then a tinny voice said, “Olive Cobin Zang”--Olive tried not to panic--“please report to Principal Gates’s office immediately.”
Instantly, prying eyes were on her. She felt her face flush red. Often overlooked, Olive did not long for this sort of attention. As she began to gather her books, the teacher shook her head. “Leave those. You won’t be needing them anymore.”
Olive bolted from the classroom, her heart racing. The last time she was called out of class, a mere month earlier, she had been informed that her beloved grandmother Mimi was gone. Who would it be this time?
Upon entering the principal’s office, she saw her mother seated across from Principal Gates. Olive was instantly relieved--then panicked.
“Is it Dad?” Her brown eyes began to fill with tears.
Olive’s mother, Dr. Cobin Zang, arched an eyebrow and handed her a tissue. As usual, she looked perfectly polished, often making her daughter feel like a “before” photo in a fashion magazine. “Hello to you, too,” Dr. Cobin Zang said gently. “Your father is fine.”
“Then . . . ,” Olive sputtered. “Then why are you here?” It wasn’t even 10:30 a.m. She paused to note that her mother’s new short haircut made her look stylish and chic, two words that were never used to describe Olive.
Dr. Cobin Zang offered Principal Gates a perfunctory smile before turning back to her daughter. “I’m taking you out of school,” her mother said.
Principal Gates yawned, flipped open a magazine, and stuck his nose in the pages.
Still holding the tissue, Olive asked hopefully, “For the day?”
“Yes . . . ,” Dr. Cobin Zang said cautiously, “and then some.” Her mother bit her lip the way she did when she suddenly remembered something Olive-related. “I meant to tell you yesterday, but I got swamped.”
Now that Olive knew no one had perished, she could feel her heartbeat returning to normal. Maybe they were going on a girls’ day? That’s what Mimi had called it when she’d let Olive cut school so they could go to the movies or the mall. On occasion, Olive even did this on her own, though she usually ended up at the library.
Principal Gates squinted at Olive over his magazine. “You are Olive . . . ?”
When the principal couldn’t remember her last name, Olive could feel herself shrinking. Not literally, of course, but in the oh-here-we-go-again-I-feel-invisible sort of way.
Olive tamped down her discomfort. Invisibility had its benefits, she was quick to remind herself. Say assassins were chasing you, or a teacher asked about cell homeostasis and you hadn’t done your homework--if they couldn’t see you, you were safe from embarrassment or death, which often felt like the same thing.
Still holding his magazine in one hand, Principal Gates clicked through his computer with the other. His unkempt black hair stuck up in two places, reminding Olive of the cat from second period. “This is odd, but we have no record of you. Did you say you were a student here?”
Olive began to deflate like a tire with a slow leak. “I’ve been a student here since kindergarten.” She pushed her student ID across the desk as proof.
Principal Gates examined the dented plastic card. “Per this, you’re Olive Cobin Zang, age twelve?”
“She’s not twelve, she’s eleven,” Dr. Cobin Zang said without looking up. She was now furiously tapping on her cell phone.
Olive winced. “Actually, I am twelve.”
Her mother stopped mid-text and studied Olive. “When did that happen?”
“Same time as last year,” Olive muttered. She eyed her mother’s phone. Even though everyone at her school had a cell phone, she could never bring herself to ask her parents for one. Besides, who would she call? It wasn’t as if there was ever an emergency, anyway. Olive’s life was so boring.
“Well then!” Dr. Cobin Zang straightened the lapels of her gray wool suit. “We shall have a belated birthday celebration when your father and I return.”
When your father and I return. How many times had Olive heard that before? She pretended to be pleased about the celebration, but she knew they’d forget. They always did. She had no doubt that her parents loved her. Still, they never hesitated to go on their endless business trips. They always brought her back a snow globe, as if this made up for leaving.
Olive tried to convince herself that a missed birthday wasn’t that important. After all, her grandmother Mimi had said, “I wouldn’t mind skipping a few birthdays now and then!”
Suddenly Olive was hit by a discomforting thought. In her parents’ eyes, maybe the thing that wasn’t important . . . was her.
She was barely three months old the first time her mother and father had left her in the care of Mimi. “You were always very adaptable,” her parents would say with pride. “You never cried.”
It was no wonder Olive loved the Meggie & Her Fun Family comic books. She dreamed of uproarious family adventures by day and home-cooked meals every night. Meggie’s mother and father never went on business trips. If Olive had learned to cry, would her parents have stayed home more?
Principal Gates set his magazine down. The headline--“GLORIOUS DAME GLORIA!”--blared merrily up at Olive. The cover showed an older woman with unnaturally smooth skin, wearing an overflow of snazzy jewels on her neck, ears, wrists, and fingers. But it was the small black cat brooch with glittery green eyes on Dame Gloria’s gown that caught Olive’s eye.
“Well!” Principal Gates declared. “Bon voyage to you, Oliver Corbin Zing!” He hoisted his mug in the air, spilling coffee all over Dame Gloria.
“Olive Cobin Zang,” Olive and her mother corrected him. Both looked at each other, startled but pleased to be in sync for a change. Was this a mother-daughter bonding moment? Olive wondered. Meggie and her mother had one at least every five pages.
“Where will you be going?” Principal Gates mopped up the coffee from the magazine. Dame Gloria’s face was starting to wrinkle.
Dr. Cobin Zang beamed. “Olive will be attending the acclaimed Reforming Arts School near San Francisco,” she announced proudly.
Principal Gates looked stunned. “The prison?!”
Olive tried to speak, but no sound came out.
“Former prison,” Dr. Cobin Zang said firmly. “They haven’t had a prisoner there for years.”
“Prison?” Olive asked her mother as they got in the car. Her throat was suddenly dry. “I’m going to prison?” she finally managed to ask.
Was Olive being punished because she repeatedly freed the neighbor’s rabbits from their overcrowded pen? Or maybe it was because she broke into that abandoned haunted cottage to try to meet a ghost. . . .
All right, maybe Olive had bent a few rules over the years. Invisibility had its benefits, and she wasn’t about to let them go to waste. Yet she was sure she had never gotten caught.
Dr. Cobin Zang’s car backed out of the school parking lot, leaving skid marks in their wake. “You’re not going to prison,” she said brightly. “You’re going to RASCH. You’ll love it!”
“Rash?” Last year, Olive had gotten a rash from her class nature field trip. One of the popular girls, Kelsey Lawrence, had pointed at a patch of poison ivy and said, “If you want to be my friend, touch that plant.”
The horrible itch lasted days longer than Olive’s friendship with Kelsey, who later declared, “I don’t hang around with misfits.”
“R-A-S-C-H, RASCH,” her mother enunciated, though to Olive it sounded exactly the same as “rash.” “It’s the original Reforming Arts School, a top-tier boarding academy. Very prestigious, on its own quaint little island. You could learn how to swim!”
Olive felt herself gasping for air as fear washed over her. They both knew what had happened the last time she tried to swim, or had her mother forgotten that, too? She had seemed scattered lately.
“So, I’m being shipped off to a boarding school?” Olive could hear the distress in her own voice. Not that she was sad to leave her school, where she had never fit in, anyway. But at least there she knew what to expect--the boring classes, the bullies, the subpar cafeteria lunches. All Olive knew about boarding schools involved wizards, flying brooms, and house elves, but those were only in books. “Why--?” she started to ask.
Dr. Cobin Zang held up a finger and angled her head toward the radio. The newscaster was reporting: “Jaguar Gems has been robbed, making this the fifth ultra-expensive jewelry store targeted in as many days. And now here’s the countdown to this week’s Top Ten Greatest Hits. . . .”
Dr. Cobin Zang turned down the radio and swerved into the fast lane. “Olive, unforeseen circumstances are dictating this. Your father and I have an extended business trip. This one may be for months, and there’s no one to take care of you, and you’re still only eleven--er, twelve, and . . .”
The more the excuses piled on, the more Olive missed her grandmother. Mimi had always been on call to stay with Olive when her parents were away. She even kept a packed suitcase by her door for those emergency trips her parents were sometimes sent on.
Olive loved spending time with Mimi. Whenever they were together, her grandmother would stuff Olive with Chinese delights like take-out mapo tofu and slippery chow fun noodles. For dessert, they often split a container of peppermint ice cream.
Tragically, she didn’t even have a chance to say a final goodbye to Mimi. No one would even tell Olive what had happened. “She’s no longer with us” was all her mother would say, tearfully.
Olive was expected to zigzag through grief on her own. She had long suspected that her parents withheld information in a misguided attempt to shelter her. But from what--the truth? How much more painful could that be?
In the Meggie comic books, her fun family discussed everything, including Meggie needing braces and Meggie’s mom losing her job--but getting a better one. They had no secrets.
Now, with Mimi gone, Olive felt empty and lost. To make matters even worse, she was being banished to a boarding school.
“. . . and so,” her mother continued as they pulled up to their unremarkable two-story house, “we decided that RASCH would be the best place for you!” In a failed attempt to sound cheerful, Dr. Cobin Zang’s voice hit an unnaturally high pitch, like she was about to break into song. “That sound good to you?”
“Not at all,” Olive said glumly. But by then her mother was already out of the car. Olive unbuckled her seat belt and dragged herself inside.
When she got to her room, her mother was standing by the window, grinning. She stepped aside and pointed. “I got us matching suitcases!” Dr. Cobin Zang sang with the enthusiasm of the lady in the detergent commercial who had just removed the stubborn stains from her husband’s shirt. “Look, Olive! Orange, your favorite color!”
“Orange is your favorite color,” she reminded her mother. Olive’s room was painted purple, with purple bookshelves weighed down by dozens of snow globes, plus a purple comforter Mimi had helped Olive pick.
“Hurry and pack,” Dr. Cobin Zang instructed. “I’ll do the same. We have to get on the road soon.”
When did her mother even buy the suitcases? Didn’t she say she’d just learned about the business trip? Eyeing the orange suitcase, Olive slumped into her desk chair and opened her laptop. She typed “RASCH” in the search bar.
Instead of a school website, the first thing that popped up was an ad: “FOGGY ISLAND TOUR! EXPERT TOUR GUIDES! FAMILY DISCOUNTS!”
Olive blinked and then rubbed her eyes. She was going to school at a tourist attraction?
Relentlessly upbeat music accompanied images of a huge castle. “Foggy Manor mansion has been a monastery, a yoga retreat, and a prison,” a woman intoned. “Over a hundred years ago, Remy Triste bought Foggy Island off the San Francisco coast for his bride and began building the grandest mansion in America. However, she perished under mysterious circumstances before it was completed, and Remy died of a broken heart. . . .”
Mimi would have loved this, Olive thought. Her grandmother relished a good mystery, though it was a little odd that the school wasn’t mentioned at all.
“Are you almost done packing?” Dr. Cobin Zang stuck her head into Olive’s room. “We don’t want to be late!”
Olive shut down her computer. She scribbled in her diary, held it briefly to her chest, and tossed it into the suitcase along with her clothes and Meggie & Her Fun Family comics. With a heavy sigh, Olive took one last look around her room, taking in her unmade bed, the vintage poster of the famous Flying Wallendas acrobat family, and an overabundance of snow globes. Could you feel homesick when you were still at home?
Olive shut the door and then trudged back to the car.
Her mother seemed lost in thought, which was often the case before a business trip. Olive knew enough not to bother her when she got this way. Anyway, the four-hour drive (three if Dr. Cobin Zang sped) allowed Olive time to overthink about what lay before her.
Her parents’ business trips had grown longer as she’d gotten older. They were gone three months for their last trip, and her mother couldn’t even say when they’d be returning this time. Olive kept making the window go up and down until her mother asked her to stop. At least a new school meant she could start over, right? Maybe she’d even make a friend at RASCH.
The hum of the car’s engine was hypnotic, and Olive stared at the blur of trees rushing past. “This time, a trio of supermodels were targeted,” the radio DJ was saying. “Rumors are swirling that there’s a criminal mastermind on the loose who’s overly fond of expensive baubles. . . .”