What lengths would you go to in order to attract the attention of your crush? In Jake Gerhardt's debut middle-grade novel, three eighth-grade boys are all crushing on the same girl: Miranda Mullaly. Told in alternating voices of class clown Sam, studious Duke, athletic Chollie and oblivious Miranda, this comedy of errors is a breezy, fun read.
Gerhardt perfectly captures those awkward middle-school years with lots of humor and plenty of heart. In a Behind the Book essay, he shares his own hilarious story of noticing girls for the first time.
The characters in my book, Me and Miranda Mullaly, fall deeply for their first crush during class one fateful day. It’s the first time a smile from a girl meant more to these eighth-grade boys, and it’s a moment that sets them on a path. My aha moment—as far as girls are concerned—happened just as swiftly, and it’s tied to a flashy movie from the early ’80s. Let me explain.
When I was 12 years old, I spent a lot of time palling around with a set of twin brothers who lived nearby. The twins were the youngest in a family of 11 children, many of whom were in college or otherwise didn’t spend much time at home. We usually had the whole place to ourselves, and our favorite thing to do besides playing basketball was watch “The Dukes of Hazzard” while eating junk food.
Ah, the good life.
I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was about “The Dukes of Hazzard” that captivated us. I guess there were just enough car chases, bad guys and mysteries to keep 12-year-old boys interested.
This all changed after we heard about Flashdance.
We’d just finished watching the Dukes break up a gang of bootleggers when the front door burst open and a seemingly endless stream of high school and college girls danced into the house—friends of the twins’ sisters. They were kicking up their legs and shaking their heads in a way we’d never seen before. They shimmied into the kitchen where they raided the refrigerator. We watched and tried to make sense of what was happening.
Apparently they had just seen a movie called Flashdance, and it had changed their lives. They couldn’t stop dancing. And we couldn’t stop watching.
They bounced out as quickly as they’d bounced in, leaving behind an empty milk carton, chocolate cake crumbs and an air of promise.
We went outside to play basketball, but anything resembling our usual camaraderie was gone. The game we played that night was quiet but much more contentious than usual. There were many hard fouls and nasty picks. I got a ride home even though I wanted to walk back, alone.
The next Friday night started out like normal. We sat around the large television and watched in silence as Waylon Jennings began, “Just some good old boys. . . .” After a chase that ended with the bad guys in a rancid pond, no one cheered. We were, in fact, bored.
“This sucks,” we said.
And then someone produced a surprise: a VHS tape containing “What a Feeling” and “Maniac,” songs from Flashdance taped from MTV. Watching the music videos put us in a stupor. We did not blink. We did not touch our buttered popcorn. We ignored our sodas.
“Play it again,” we muttered when the videos ended.
After watching “Maniac” 15 times in a row our blank expressions began to change. Smiles slowly stretched across our faces. They were the smiles of anticipation, the smiles of better days ahead. These were the smiles, I imagine, of the scientists and engineers when Apollo 13 landed on the moon.
We hadn’t accomplished anything yet, but we were excited to embark on a new frontier.
It was the end of “The Dukes of Hazzard” and the beginnings of the rest of our new lives.
Author photo credit Karen Todd.