The Final Cut
An hilarious coming-of-age story about home, friendship, and learning that sometimes the most exciting adventures happen behind-the-scenes.
Alex Davis is convinced that seventh grade is going to be his year. After spending all summer at skate camp, he knows he’ll finally be seen as one of the “cool kids” . . . until he’s mistakenly put in the wrong elective. Now, instead of taking a popular video games class with his friends, he’s stuck in Filmmaking with hipster teacher Pablo and a group of eccentric classmates.
But when it’s announced that their films will be entered in the school’s annual Golden Reel competition, Alex becomes determined to claim first prize and salvage his seventh-grade year.
With the help of his longtime crush, his best friend, and a peculiar new student, Alex sets out to make a masterpiece. Soon he discovers that someone is trying to sabotage his film and finds himself embroiled in a mystery—one that leads him and his crew to conniving classmates, traitorous teachers, and even corrupt city politicians!
An Excerpt fromThe Final Cut
The Hero’s Journey Begins with a Thud
“Call me Xan.”
I smile my coolest smile at the mirror.
Okay, if my voice hadn’t cracked, it probably would have sounded cooler.
And the expression on my face looked less like “I’m the most chill kid in seventh grade” and more “I have digestive issues that need to be taken care of immediately.”
But other than that, I’m pretty satisfied.
Let’s face it, seventh grade is a big deal.
The truth is, I had hoped that sixth grade would be a big deal.
A few years ago, my older cousin Leo, who goes to public school on Long Island, told me about how they had a whole graduation after fifth grade, and sixth grade meant moving to a whole different school, like it was the start of something new and fresh.
But I go to this weird private school where there’s no fuss made about changing grades. There’s no new start, just the same kids who’ve known you since the first grade when someone caught you eating your booger or something.
(For the record, that totally did not happen to me. It was another kid. I was just using it as an example.)
But this is the beginning of the school year. A fresh start, right?
No more boring Alex Davis.
Time to introduce my friends and fellow students to Xan Davis, the awesome kid who went to skate camp, becoming a legend in the process.
So they don’t need to know that I became a legend by spraining my ankle the first day of camp and spending the rest of the time there taking videos of the other skaters.
I might not have learned how to do a kickflip or a grind or an ollie (I did master the Biebelheimer, which is just a sweet-looking way to put down your board), but I ended up getting really good at editing videos of the other kids.
Ranger, who was definitely the coolest kid there, decided that “Alex” was nerdy, so he dubbed me “Xan” and it stuck.
And now here I am, back home in Brooklyn Heights, embarking on the adventure of seventh grade.
I inspect my outfit. On the one hand, you want to look good on your first day, but on the other, you don’t want to look like you tried too hard. I have on my sk8 kamp T-shirt and cargo shorts.
Alex Davis wouldn’t have the nerve to wear this to school. But Xan definitely does. I pull on my Vans (the same style that Ranger wore) and look in the mirror next to the front door one last time.
I muss my hair. For that casual, “I don’t care” look.
My mom comes up and hugs me.
“You look so grown up!” she exclaims, and promptly licks her palm and applies said wet disgusting hand to my hair, dorkifying it with one stroke.
Mom sighs. “Alex, you--”
“Sorry, Xan,” my mom says, reaching for my hair, “but you don’t want to start seventh grade with bedhead, do you?”
I grab my backpack and push open the front door. “I don’t want to start seventh grade by being late either. Bye.”
From the kitchen a yell. “Mooooom!”
My little sister, Violet, who is also starting school today.
But it’s only third grade, so really, who cares?
Mom grabs me and kisses me. “Have a great day! I hope you get all your electives!”
I head out onto the street and give her a quick wave goodbye.
Truthfully, I am a little anxious about the electives. At my school, you don’t get your schedule until the first day.
From what I understand, this is supposed to stop what my mom and dad call “a certain type of parent” from phoning the head of school and screaming because their precious little gift to the world didn’t get their preferred teacher or elective.
Which might have been true in theory, but seriously, do you think this actually stops any of them? All it means is that we don’t find out which classes we have until the very last minute.
I should explain that this is one of the big deals about seventh grade at Saint Anselm’s. It’s the first year you can pick certain classes for yourself--electives.
There’s all sorts of cool stuff being offered, from studying mushrooms in nearby Prospect Park to fashion design to folk dancing (okay, not my thing, but there are kids in my class who live for that kind of stuff).
What is stressing me out is that the one elective I really, really want--Game Theory: Video Game History and Design--is also the most popular (I know, go figure, right?). There are always more kids who sign up for it than there are spots in the class, so it’s kind of a lottery. I won’t know until I see my schedule if I’m one of the lucky ones who got it.
I’m thinking about how awesome it would be to actually design and make my own video game (and during school too!) when I hear a familiar voice.
“Alex! Hello? I’ve been waiting like five minutes here.”
Lexie Mizell has lived across the street from me ever since we were in kindergarten. We used to walk to school with our moms, but since last year, we’ve been walking together.
“Call me Xan,” I say.
Lexie takes a moment to let that sink in. Then she bursts out laughing. “Call you what?”
“Ummm . . . Xan . . .” I can feel the coolness leaking out of me like air escaping a balloon.
Minus the farting noise.
At least for now.
“Wait,” Lexie says, trying to catch her breath. “Is it spelled with an X or a Z?”
I start down the street, not answering.
“That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Lexie calls after me. “Hey! Wait up!”
I’m pretty sure my face is redder than Mario’s hat (yes, I have video games on the brain right now). “Look, I thought you wanted to get to school.”
Lexie catches up with me at the light. “Alex, hold up. You cannot be serious about having everybody call you Xan all of a sudden. It’s just so . . . not you.”
“You don’t know me,” I say. “A lot has changed over the summer. And of course it’s spelled with an X since my name is AleXander. Duh.”
Lexie shrugs. Then she looks at my outfit. “Oh jeez, Alex--I mean Xan. What are you dressed up as?”
“I’m just wearing my skate clothes,” I explain patiently.
“So . . . if you’re such a cool skater dude now, where is your board?” Lexie asks.
“Well . . . it’s at home. It needs to be repaired. I messed it up doing ollies.”
“Oh brother,” Lexie says, shaking her head.
I try a different approach. “At least I made an effort to wear something nice for the first day of school.”
Lexie, unlike me, hasn’t changed a bit over the summer. She’s wearing the same ratty Powerpuff Girls T-shirt and pink jeans that she rotates with a series of other anime and vintage cartoon clothing throughout the year. She’s been wearing the same stuff for so long, I know them by heart. And she’s wearing her hair the same way, pulled back from her face and held in a ponytail with an old plastic Pokémon barrette.
Lexie snorts. “Like I’m going to take fashion advice from a poser like you.”
But I can see that her face has gotten red too.
We arrive at the front door of our school, where kids from the various classes are all bunched up together.
There’s an explosion of high-pitched screams and giggles as a group of girls hug and jump up and down as if they’ve just found a long-lost relative instead of having spent all last month in their summer homes together out on Long Island.
Guys, of course, are cooler.
Brandon, one of my buddies, sidles up. “’Sup, Alex?”
“He’s not Alex anymore,” Lexie feels the need to say. “He’s Xan now. The cool skater kid.”
Brandon shakes his head. “Dude, no way. Xan? That is so wrong.”
I am about to explain why Xan is actually a very cool name when Brandon calls out to two boys passing by, holding skateboards.
“Yo, Dylan! Lucas! Alex wants to be called Xan now!”
Lucas nods. “Wow. That is some name. Very cool.”
He then pokes Dylan in the ribs. “We should all change our names! You can be Dill! Like the pickle!”
Dylan smacks Lucas in the rib cage. “Yeah, and you can be Puke. Pukus.”
I decide to get in on the fun. “And Brandon could be Bran Muffin!”
They all stare at me.
“That’s a stupid name,” Lucas declares.
“Almost as stupid as Xan!” Brandon says, and they all laugh.
Lexie lets me off the hook. “You guys get your schedules already?”
“They haven’t opened the doors yet,” Dylan says, twirling on his board in ways I can only dream of.
Just then, there’s a commotion and kids of all ages start crowding around the entrance.
“Guess they just did,” Lexie says.
I go for the kill. “Good one, Einstein.”
Lexie rolls her eyes. “Ooh, what a burn. That’s like from fourth grade.”
Cedric, the security guard who is like six feet infinity, stands blocking the doorway.
“Welcome back!” he booms in his deep, melodic voice. “Now line up nice before I start hurting people!”
We all know that Cedric would never hurt a kid (he might yell if you run across the street without looking), but we all quiet down and get ourselves into something kind of resembling a line.
As we watch the younger kids file in, I think, This is it. The moment of truth. Where I’ll see if this will be a year filled with promise, filled with video games and adventure, or a waking nightmare where I’ll long for the sweet release of death.
That last part is actually from a story I wrote for sixth-grade English.
My teacher Mr. Halverson wrote three exclamation points next to it and said it was “hilarious!” So I thought I’d use it here.
We enter the lobby of the school and see the familiar long tables set up, one per grade. There are three teachers at each table, with the letters of the alphabet split among them. I run to A–F and find my favorite history teacher, Mrs. Kantor, waiting with a big smile.
Mrs. Kantor shuffles through the papers in front of her and pulls out my schedule. “Hey, Alex! Welcome back! Looks like you’re stuck with me again this year.”
“Wow! I’m so stoked!” I say, meaning it. She made fifth-grade history interesting, doing stuff like dressing up as Abraham Lincoln and letting us reenact famous battles with Lego Minifigs.
I hold my breath as my eyes race down the page.
History with Kantor.
English with Mr. Sackler, who is supposed to be good.
Intro to Algebra, science, Biology 1 . . .
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Then I see it.
Pottery with Graciela Livonia.
As the room begins to swim around me, I hear Lexie’s triumphant voice from down the table:
“Game Theory! Yes!”
Alex (the) Potter and the Half-Baked Elective
I am still trying to process all this when I dimly hear Mrs. Kantor’s voice.
“Alex? If there’s a problem, you need to see Mrs. Hannigan.”
I look up to see her kind eyes and sympathetic smile.
“But . . . but . . . ,” I stammer.
“Alex, please.” Mrs. Kantor gestures, and I realize there are a lot of ticked off students lined up behind me. I wander out of line in a daze.
We were asked to pick three electives, and we would definitely be given one of our three. I never signed up for pottery.
I push through a crowd of high-fiving kids who have clearly gotten their first choices.
I hate them with the cold, hard fury of a thousand dead stars.
(Yes, that’s also from my paper for Mr. Halverson. He wrote A little too over the top? next to that line, but I like it.)
In the corner, with a dozen or so kids crowded around her, is Mrs. Hannigan, who is in charge of the sixth and seventh grades. I know her already, since she taught my math class last year, so I feel I have a good chance of getting what I want.
“But you have to!” Persephone Chang is wailing. Tears are pouring out of her eyes.
Mrs. Hannigan looks unmoved. “Just give it a chance. I would change it if I could--”
“But Mr. Melrose hates me!” Persephone sobs.
I should mention that Persephone is by far the best actress in our class. She doesn’t always know when to stop performing, but I have to admit this is an amazing display.
“He doesn’t hate you,” Mrs. Hannigan says evenly, handing Persephone what looks like her fifth tissue. “He’s actually quite a fan of your work.”
Persephone brightens. “Really?”
“He just wishes you’d bring the same . . . passion . . . to science that you do to theater.”
“That’s not possible,” Persephone says. “I mean, theater is my life.”
Mrs. Hannigan scratches her head. “How about this. I bet you could act like you’re interested.”
Persephone thinks for a minute. “It’s a challenge. But I accept.”
With a flourish, Persephone grabs her schedule from Mrs. Hannigan and flounces off.
Having vanquished Persephone, Mrs. Hannigan takes a deep breath. She then turns to me and brightens. “Alex! Welcome back!”
There is a “Finally! Someone sane!” tone to her voice, which I take as a good sign.
Before I can answer her, there is shouting from behind me.
“Hey, Xan! Xan the man!”
It’s Mateo and Nathan, two of the bigger jerks in our class. Not really mean, but the kind of kids who think they are funnier than everyone else.
Obviously word of my new name has gotten around.
Mateo pushes me out of the way and leans on the table. “Hey, Mrs. Hannigan! Haven’t you heard? His name isn’t Alex anymore! It’s Xan!”
“Xan the man!” Nathan crows. As if it’s twice as funny if he says it twice.
Mrs. Hannigan has probably heard everything in her years at Saint Anselm’s. I know there’s an eighth grader who decided to change his name from Eric to StormRider (I am totally not kidding), and in our class a kid named Ralph is just known by his initials, RPG.
“Is that why you wanted to see me?” Mrs. Hannigan asks. “To change your name?”
“Um, no, Alex is fine,” I say. “It’s more . . . this . . .”
I point to the elective box on my schedule.
“Yes . . . pottery. I know that wasn’t your first choice.