From the author of The Wave comes a poignant and timely novel about a group of seventh graders who are brought together—and then torn apart—by an afterschool club that plays a video game based on WW2.
There's a new afterschool club at Ironville Middle School.
Ms. Peterson is starting a video game club where the students will playing The Good War, a new game based on World War II.
They are divided into two teams: Axis and Allies, and they will be simulating a war they know nothing about yet. Only one team will win. But what starts out as friendly competition, takes an unexpected turn for the worst when an one player takes the game too far.
Can an afterschool club change the way the students see eachother...and how they see the world?
"By using a gaming lens to explore the students’ entrée to prejudice and radicalization, he succeeds in lending immediacy and accessibility to his cautionary tale."—Kirkus Reviews
An Excerpt fromThe Good War
The morning bell rang. Goofy Foot, aka Zach Cook, dodged through the mob funneling into Ironville Middle School.
Wearing a backpack and carrying a skateboard, he weaved and sidestepped through the crowd. When he accidentally bumped into a girl with long black hair, she snapped, “Watch where you’re going.” Other kids gave him dirty looks as he squeezed past them. But they were the bad guys. In Goofy Foot’s mind, he was in the video game called The Good War, and the entire school was enemy territory.
After stashing his skateboard in his locker, Goofy Foot enters the pissorium and is greeted by the harsh odor of bodily waste. He ducks into a stall for shelter before the next bell. Goofy Foot does not want to risk being ambushed at a urinal by the bad guys.
The boys’ room door opened with a creak, accompanied by the voices of Gavin Morgenstern and Ratface Fugard. In the stall, Zach held his breath. Ratface, whose real name was Crosby, picked on Zach every chance he got. Zach knew that if Ratface caught him in the pissorium, he’d be dead meat.
Goofy Foot hunkers down inside the stall. Through the sliver between the stall door and doorstop, he spies on the enemy’s activities.
“I heard Robbie’s parents moved to Franklin so he can play on their football team,” Ratface said, standing in front of the mirror and raking his fingers through his dark hair. His long nose reminded Zach of a rat.
“Yeah,” Gavin said at a urinal.
“Wish my mom could do that,” Ratface said. “It totally sucks that Ironville canceled football. Imagine if we could all move to Franklin and play?”
“It’s a big school,” said Gavin, who had red hair and freck-les. “Think you could make the team?”
“Hey, I may not be big, but I’m fast,” said Ratface.
Hidden in the stall, Zach wondered about that. Ratface might have been fast, but he was small. Smaller even than Zach. There were plenty of bigger kids who were just as fast. Gavin, on the other hand, was the biggest kid in the grade. He reminded Zach of Duke Nukem. You wouldn’t think a kid that brawny could be quick and agile, but when they played flag football or basketballingym,theteamwithGavinonitalways won.
Gavin backed away from the urinal. He cleared his throat loudly, then gazed up at the ceiling.
Inside the stall, Goofy Foot looks upward. His eyes take in an astounding sight. Stuck to the ceiling of the pissorium are a dozen dried brownish- green hanging loogies! Like a cave with mucus stalactites.
His head tilted back, Gavin hocked and fired. Splat! His loogie smacked into the ceiling and stuck. But from the mid-dle, it drooped, stretching like light brown Play- Doh Slime until the bulbous end broke and fell to the floor with a plop!
“Darn,” Gavin grumbled.
“Maybe next time,” Ratface said.
The bell rings, and Gavin and Ratface leave the bathroom.
Once again alone, Goofy Foot exits the stall. But before he goes to class, he stands in the middle of the pissorium, face tilted upward. It is too tempting not to try. He hocks his own glob of slimy ammunition, aims, then fires!
Alas, his mucus projectile lacks firepower. It doesn’t get half-way to the ceiling before it sputters and falls short.
It plummets back down and splatters all over Goofy Foot’s face.
The bell was going to ring at any moment. Ms. B had finally managed to get Principal Summers down to the computer lab to show her the eight shiny new Providia gaming computers that had just arrived.
Principal Summers was a petite, neatly dressed woman with short black hair. She was also a tough, but always fair ad-ministrator. She slid a glossy red fingernail along the top edge of one of the twenty- four- inch monitors. “How can these not cost us anything?” she asked.
“We got them with a technology grant for low- income schools,” Ms. B said. “It even includes an upgrade for our inter net connection, new routers, and these gaming setups.”
rincipal Summers nodded slowly. Ms. B could tell that the principal had doubts about encouraging eSports at school. “Can we use them for anything besides gaming?” the principal asked.
“Absolutely,” said Ms. B. “When they’re not being used by the eSports club, they’re available for schoolwork. And they can run three-D modeling programs and Photoshop, which our present computers can’t handle.”
Principal Summers picked up one of the new headsets that had come with the Providias. “I just don’t see how an eSports club will ever replace the football team.”
“It’sawfulthattheschoolboardhadtocutfootball,”Ms. Bsaid, “but hopefully this will give students something else to focus on and get excited about.”
Principal Summers smiled thinly, as if she wasn’t sure that was true. “Do me a favor? Make sure the rest of the staff knows that these computers came from a grant. I don’t want anyone to think our school spent its meager funds on an eSports club.”
Ms. B promised she would. She’d known from the get- go that getting behind eSports in school was risky. But without their football team, she felt they had to do whatever they could to encourage school spirit.
The bell rang. Principal Summers had to get back to the office for the morning announcements. Ms. B went to her classroom. Even though school had been in session for only a few weeks, she no longer had to check the seating chart to know who wasn’t there. One student had been out for two days with a cold. Another’s mother had emailed that morning that her son wasn’t feeling well. And that left Zach Cook, who al-ways came to class late.
Ms. B settled at her desk. She was eager to see how the kids would react to that morning’s announcements.
Sitting in the front row in Ms. B’s class, Caleb Arnett chewed anxiously on a pen. Just a short time ago, on the bus to school, he’d overheard Crosby telling Gavin about his plan to cheat on the geometry test that afternoon. Caleb didn’t think of him-self as an angel, but he hated when kids cheated. The way he saw it, if everyone were allowed to cheat in school, that would be fine. Because it would level the playing field. But most kids chose not to cheat. Not always because they believed it was wrong, but because they knew that if they got caught, it would be a stain on their reputations. Caleb might have only been in seventh grade, but he was smart enough to know that once you got labeled a cheater, it stuck forever.
Caleb was trying to decide what to do about Crosby when the classroom door swung open, and Zach dashed in late as usual, lugging his backpack and wiping his face with a paper towel.
“Why are you late this time, Zach?” Ms. B asked.
Zach was squirmy kid who never looked you in the eye. Hardly spoke. Had more nervous habits than anyone Caleb had ever seen. Bit his nails, chewed on his lip, picked at his scalp, blinked excessively, couldn’t sit still. “Sorry, Ms. B,” Zach said. “I spit myself.”
The class erupted into laughter. It was classic Zach Cook. Even as he’d said it, his eyes flicked for an instant toward the class to make sure they were listening.
Ms. B stiffened. “Zach!” she snapped. “What did you just say?”
“I said I spit myself.” Zach repeated the word with emphasis. The class was still tittering, but Ms. B relaxed. “Oh, I thought you said something else.” Ms. B relaxed. “Take your seat. And maybe tomorrow, by some miracle, you could be on time?”
Zach went to his desk at the back of the room. Caleb re-turned to wondering what he should do about Crosby’s plan to cheat.
The class might have found Zach’s antics funny, but to Emma Lopez they were deeply disturbing. Emma couldn’t imagine drawing attention to herself like that. Just the thought of all those eyes on her made her want to slide down in her seat and disappear. If she ever made a spectacle of herself, what would they say about her? What if someone had their phone out and posted it to Snapchat? Think of the memes! The idea of being singled out online terrified her.
Just then the morning announcements began. “Heard about the new eSports club here at Ironville Middle School?” the student announcer asked. “What? Did you say eSports? You heard right. Thanks to Ms. B and Caleb Arnett, we just got eight brand- new fully-loaded Providia X- Master gaming PCs. If you’re a gamer, you’ll want to hit the informational meeting in the computer lab after school today to learn more.”
As usual, half the class wasn’t listening, but Emma’s ears perked up. An eSports club? She glanced at Caleb, who sat a few seats away. He was a tall, slender boy with light brown hair and ears that stuck out just a tad too much. At that moment, he was grinning with pride. As if feeling Emma’s gaze, he turned and looked at her. Emma felt her face grow warm and hoped that it didn’t look like she was blushing. She mouthed the word “Thanks” to him. Caleb’s grin grew broad.
Meanwhile, those who had listened to the announcement started chatting with their neighbors. From a few rows away came Crosby’s loud voice: “What’s the point? We can play all the video games we want at home.”
A reply came from an unexpected source: a new kid at school whose name was Nathan. “On a Providia X- Master? That’s the fastest, most powerful gaming computer there is. It’s what all the pros use.”
Crosby raised his hand. “Ms. B, how fast are the pro-cessors?”
“What’s the refresh rate of the screens?” asked Nathan.
“Do they come with gaming mice?”
“And those cool LED keyboards?”
“You’ll have to come to the meeting to find out,” Ms. B said, pleased to see that at least some of the students were in-terested. She rose from her desk. “All right, everyone. There’s an assembly in the gym. Let’s go.”
The class lined up and filed out of the room. Ms. B started to follow. Being the last person to leave, she looked back to make sure the classroom was empty. It wasn’t. Zachary was still seated in the last row, staring intently at a notebook propped against the edge of his desk. He was so engrossed in whatever was in that notebook he hadn’t noticed that the rest of the class was gone.
“Zach?” Ms. B said from the doorway.
Zach raised his head and blinked in astonishment. Ms. B saw the sudden panic in his eyes as he looked around, no doubt wondering where everyone had gone.
“The assembly?” she reminded him.
Zach quickly slid the notebook into his backpack and headed toward the door.
“Just a minute,” Ms. B said. “I’d like to see that notebook.”
The hall was filled with kids walking toward the gym for the assembly. Gavin and Crosby were a few steps ahead of Caleb. Once again, Caleb thought about Crosby’s plan to cheat on the geometry test. Every morning, Gavin and Crosby got on the bus a few stops after Caleb’s. Two sixth graders usually sat behind Caleb, and Gavin and Crosby often sat behind them. The sixth graders were both awestruck and terrified by Gavin. They’d be jabbering like a couple of meerkats, but as soon as Crosby and Gavin sat, they’d shut up and listen. Crosby’s voice carried, so even when he was talking low, Caleb could hear him. On the bus that morning, Crosby had told Gavin how he planned to cheat that day. Most of the time when Caleb heard about cheating, it involved a phone or a calculator, but Crosby’s plan was so low- tech, it was almost brilliant.
What bothered Caleb was that unless he did something, Crosby would probably get away with it. Walking with the crowd toward the gym, Caleb looked around, expecting to see Ms. B, but she wasn’t with the class. So this could be the perfect time to find her and tell her what Crosby planned to do. But Caleb would still have to return and sit with his class during the assembly. Then he noticed Emma walking be-hind him. She was a nice kid and one of the smartest in their grade. Sort of quiet, but during the announcement about the eGaming club, she was the only one in class who’d smiled and mouthed “Thanks” to him.
“Hey, Emma?” Caleb said.
Emma looked up at him with wide, startled eyes. “Yes?” “I have to go back to class,” Caleb said. “Save me a seat?” Before Emma could answer, he turned away down the hall. When Caleb got to the classroom, Ms. B was talking to Zach. In her hands was an open notebook. Caleb was sur-prised to see a phone nestled snuggly in a cutout space inside. It appeared that Zach had used an X- Acto knife to cut into the pages so he could hide his phone there.
When she saw Caleb, Ms. B closed the notebook. “Why aren’t you at the assembly?” she asked.
“Uh, there’s something I need to talk to you about,” Caleb said.
Ms. B raised an eyebrow uncertainly. “Wait in the hall. I’ll just be a minute.”
She closed the door. While he waited in the hall, Caleb thought about Zach’s phone- in- the- notebook scam. It was pretty clever for a kid who often walked through the halls with his hoodie pulled so tight that only his nose and one eye were visible. A kid who’d been pantsed practically every day in fifth grade and who some called Zach the Wack because of how weird he could be.
A few moments later the door opened, and Zach and Ms. B came out. “You’d better hurry,” Ms. B said. Zach began to run down the hall toward the auditorium. “Zach!” Ms. B called. Zach skidded to a stop. Ms. B pointed up the hall. “It’s in the gym.”