A talented teen athlete questions reality—and the role she plays in it—when a mysterious injury upends her world.
Athletics are everything for eighth-grader KT Sutton. She’s a softball star, and she’s on track to get a college scholarship and achieve international fame. Then one day during a championship game—in the middle of an important play—she suddenly blacks out.
When she wakes up, she’s in a different world. One where school is class after class of athletic drills, and after-school sports are replaced by popular academic competitions. One where KT is despised for her talent, and where her parents are fixated on her brother’s future mathletics career rather than KT’s softball hopes.
KT is desperate to get back to reality as she knew it, but bits and pieces of disturbing memories and dreams make her wonder if something truly awful happened there. What if she’s lost something a lot more important than a softball game?
From New York Times bestselling author of Sent and Sabotaged, an engaging and highly relevant exploration of society’s debate of smarts versus sports.
It’ll hurt, she thought. Can’t face it . . . can’t . . . can’t . . .
As lullabies went, this one sucked. Each “can’t” forced her closer and closer to consciousness, as inevitably as a swimmer surfacing after a dive.
Stubbornly, she kept her eyes squeezed shut. She held her body perfectly still.
Can’t look, she thought. Can’t move. Can’t call the pain to me.
She had a vague sense that she might be in a hospital, might be in traction, might be in one of those full-body casts where nothing showed but the patient’s eyes. If she let herself listen, she was fairly certain that she’d hear beeping monitors, doctors’ and nurses’ regretful voices, maybe even her own parents’ sobbing.
She didn’t want to let herself listen.
Then, as so often happened, she heard Coach Mike’s voice in her mind.
There’s no room for cowards on a softball team, it was saying.
KT forced herself to open her eyes.
She wasn’t in a hospital room. There was no traction, no cast; there were no monitors, no doctors or nurses. She was simply in her own bed at home, the morning light streaming in through the windows so blindingly that she couldn’t see through it.
Perfect softball weather, she thought, as she did any time it was sunny.
Automatically, she rolled over to squint at the clock on her nightstand. It said 7:23, and a little M–F glowed red beside the numbers, meaning that her usual weekday alarm was on.
School day, KT thought, relaxing muscles she hadn’t quite realized were tense. Just an ordinary school day.
She still had seven minutes before her alarm went off, so she reached for the softball nestled on the nightstand beside the clock. She flipped over onto her back and tossed the ball up into the air a few times, letting gravity bring it back to her again and again and again.
This was her favorite way to wake up.
I’m KT Sutton, pitcher, she thought. There’s nothing else to say.
She savored the pull of her muscles, the smack of the ball against her bare palm. She tightened her grip around the ball, as if ready to throw it as hard as she could, and her hand and arm and shoulder felt absolutely fine. She flexed her wrists, her ankles, her neck. Not a single nerve ending complained.
This was miraculous. KT couldn’t remember the last time she hadn’t had some part of her body aching at least a little—a pulled muscle, a shin splint, a tender bruise growing on her leg from sliding into base. She sat up on the edge of her bed, and still nothing hurt.
See? She told herself. I’m fine. Better than ever. Nothing’s wrong at all. Nothing happened last night except . . .
The Rysdale Invitational.
KT actually gasped out loud. How could she have forgotten? Last night had been the Rysdale Invitational championship game—the game she’d been longing to play for the past three years, the game that could help determine her high-school and college career, and maybe even her post-college career too. And what had happened?
She remembered the first four innings. She remembered striking out the first two batters in the fifth inning. She remembered pitching to the mighty Chelisha. Strike one. Strike two. Chelisha swinging for the third pitch, the ball bouncing, KT catching it. And then . . .
KT’s memory shut down.
Well, of course I threw the ball to first, KT thought. Of course.
Why couldn’t she remember that throw? Why couldn’t she remember anything that happened after that throw? Why did her memory keep backing away every time she tried to think about it?
Don’t worry about any of that, she told herself. Who won? How’d we do in the rest of the game? How’d I do?
She reached for her iPod from behind the alarm clock. She checked the clock again. She still had four minutes. Plenty of time to log on to the Rysdale Invitational website, find out the final score. If she was lucky, they’d have a description of the championship game posted too.
She logged on to the Internet and swiped through choices on the iPod screen. For some reason, the shortcut to that site was missing, so she had to type out each letter individually: www.rysdaleinvitational.org.
“Sorry, we couldn’t find www.rysdaleinvitational.org” appeared on the screen.
That was weird. Had KT misspelled something? Was it “.com” or “.net” or something like that? She tried all the other possibilities she could think of.
The alarm on her clock went off—a deep, disturbing buzz. KT jumped.
Stop it, she told herself. You set that alarm yourself. Nothing’s wrong. Do you hear me? Nothing’s wrong.
She shut off the alarm and dropped the iPod back onto the nightstand. KT had patience for pitching and pitching and pitching, and listening to instructions to move her foot a millimeter to the left or slide her thumb a millimeter to the right. She didn’t have patience with iPods or computers or other electronics if they didn’t do what she wanted them to do instantly so she could get back to things she really cared about.
Duh, KT thought. Just go see if you have the winner’s trophy or the runner-up trophy.
She pulled a warm-up jacket and pants over her T-shirt and shorts and dashed out of her room.
KT’s trophies—dozens and dozens of them, maybe even hundreds—were all displayed downstairs on a family-room bookshelf that her parents lovingly referred to as “the shrine.” It was actually silly to call it a bookshelf, since it contained no books. The trophies and medals and team pictures had completely taken over. Anytime KT came home with a new trophy, it got the prime position on the shelf, and then a day or so later her dad would prop up a picture beside it of KT holding the trophy at the end of the game: tired, sweaty, sometimes covered in mud and bruises, but always grinning triumphantly.
It’ll be the championship trophy, KT told herself as she raced down the stairs. It’s got to be. We had to have gotten Chelisha out at first. We had to have come back and gotten at least two more runs . . .
KT leaped past the last three stairs and spun around the corner into the family room. She saw the vast wooden structure of the shrine. She turned her head, zeroing in on the center shelf, the position of honor. She saw . . .
It wasn’t just that there was no Rysdale Invitational championship or runner-up trophy on the center shelf. There was nothing there at all. The shelf was completely bare. KT took a step back, her gaze taking in the entire structure.
All the shelves were empty. All of KT’s trophies were gone.
KT let out a sound that might have been a whimper.
“What? Oh—I’m dusting,” Mom said. She held up something that must have been a trophy, enswathed in a huge dust cloth. Mom bent down again, her head disappearing behind the couch once more.
KT sagged against the wall in relief. Of course Mom was just dusting. KT had seen her do this many times: moving all the trophies and medals and pictures down to the floor, wiping down the shelves, then running the cloth over each individual trophy before placing it back in its exact right spot.
KT waited for Mom to bob back up. Maybe Mom would say something like, “Great game last night!” and then KT could say, “What was your favorite part?” And just by saying “uh-huh” and “you think so?” a few times, KT could get Mom to tell her everything.
Mom and Dad loved reliving KT’s games.
Mom didn’t reappear. Should KT just say, “Hey, let me see last night’s trophy again?” Could she do that without making Mom suspicious?
Mom’s phone rang. It wasn’t her usual ring tone—“Take Me Out to the Ball Game”—but some chant KT had never heard before. She couldn’t quite make out the words.
“Hello?” Mom said, after standing up and pulling the phone out of her pocket. She twisted side to side, as if her back was sore from bending over dusting.
Maybe it would be Grandma and Grandpa, and Mom would tell them the whole story of how the game had gone last night. Maybe it would be the mother of one of KT’s teammates, and KT could figure out from the conversation whether the two moms thought KT had earned her choice of spots on the best high-school club teams, or if KT had hurt her chances.
“Oh, yeah, it’s a big one,” Mom said.
That sounded promising.
“Yes, we’re very proud of our little Max,” Mom went on.
Max? KT thought. Liar. Why would you be proud of him?
Amazingly, it seemed that the entire conversation was going to be about Max.
“Yes, yes, he’s been working very hard . . . . Yes, everyone says his chances are good . . . . Yes, that’s just what my husband and I think . . . ,” Mom was saying.
KT started tuning out the Max talk. But she decided she could inch closer to the couch. All she needed was one glimpse of the Rysdale Invitational trophy on the floor behind the couch and she’d at least know if her team had won or lost. Then maybe she could check Facebook for more details.
Even as she said, “Uh-huh, uh-huh,” into the phone, Mom screwed up her face and shook her head at KT. Mom made a shooing motion with her free hand.
“Breakfast,” she half mouthed, half whispered to KT.
KT froze. Something weird was going on. Mom did not yammer on and on about Max and just shoo KT away. Mom liked to sit with KT while she was eating breakfast. They’d reminisce about the most recent game or sync plans for which teammates’ moms were driving the carpool to practice when. Or they’d just daydream together about the big games KT would play in the future. Usually KT was the one who wanted to shoo Mom away.
“But—,” KT started to say.
Mom’s head-shaking became even more stern.
“Go on,” she said, pointing toward the kitchen. She went back to her phone conversation. “I’m sorry. My daughter just interrupted me. What were you saying?”
KT backed away.
Interrupted? she thought resentfully. Didn’t that phone call interrupt me and Mom?
KT felt so strange—maybe breakfast would be a good idea. Could a bowl of Wheaties restore her memory of last night’s game?
In the kitchen KT found that Dad had left the local suburban newspaper in a pile on the table. KT fell on it eagerly. The newspaper wasn’t very good about covering softball, but the Rysdale Invitational was huge. And it was the only big tournament of its kind in the area. The fact that a local team had won—if KT’s team really had won—was almost like someone winning the Olympics in her hometown.
It should be front-page news, KT thought.
That was probably too much to hope for—yep, nothing about softball on the front page. KT shuffled through the pages, looking for the sports section.
There wasn’t a sports section.
Maybe there was a story, maybe even a picture, and Dad took the whole section to work to show to his coworkers, KT thought.
She flipped through the pages once more, just to be sure, and a thick section labeled ACADEMICS fell out. Its front page was covered with four huge stories about a new chemistry professor starting at the local university. There were three different pictures of the professor, posed with a Bunsen burner, a rack of test tubes, and a pair of safety goggles.
Yeah, and this is why no one reads newspapers anymore, KT thought, dropping the whole stack back onto the table.
But her stomach felt too queasy all of a sudden for cereal and milk. She grabbed an energy bar and, chewing it, went back to her own room.
Facebook, she told herself. Should have tried that in the first place.
Vanessa, the backup pitcher on KT’s team, loved Facebook. Coach Mike had accused her once of trying to post to it between pitches.
“You don’t see KT doing anything like that, do you?” Coach Mike had asked. “You want to be as good as KT, you’re going to have to learn how to concentrate like KT.”
KT had glowed over those words. She’d memorized them, and replayed them in her mind again and again and again.
But right now she hoped that Vanessa hadn’t followed Coach Mike’s advice too completely. She had to find out how the game had turned out.
KT crammed the last of the energy bar into her mouth and grabbed her iPod from the nightstand once more. She sat down on the bed and opened Facebook.
Some kid she barely knew from school was asking how she did on some test.
Some other kid from school was asking about some other test.
Oh, who cares? KT thought impatiently.
She decided to go straight to Vanessa’s wall. She typed in Vanessa’s name, and her profile picture came up—not the one of Vanessa in batting stance that she usually used, but Vanessa in some nerdy-looking argyle sweater vest and nerdy-looking glasses.
Must be Dress Like a Nerd Day on Facebook, KT thought. Yeah, Vanessa, think how much pitching practice you could have gotten in while you were posing for and posting that stupid picture.
She hit Vanessa’s link and a question came up:
“Send Vanessa Oglivy a friend request?”
“I’m already Vanessa’s friend,” she muttered to the iPod.
Re-friending Vanessa was too annoying to deal with right now, so she tried Kerri’s Facebook page instead.
“Send Kerri Riverton a friend request?” the iPod asked.
“You have got to be kidding,” KT muttered.
KT tried Bree. She tried the rest of the infield players, the entire outfield.
According to Facebook, KT wasn’t friends with a single one of them.
Great. This would be the day that Facebook messes up, KT thought. She dropped the iPod and picked up her cell phone instead.
“What’s your favorite memory of last night’s game? Pls share,” she typed into the text-message window. That would do it. She’d simply text this to every member of the team at once, and the information would come rolling in. Everyone would think it was a little strange, but KT was beyond caring about that right now. She clicked over to her address book, looking for the group designation for the entire team.
It wasn’t there.
In fact, all her team members’ individual numbers were missing too. So was most of KT’s address book—just about every number except the ones for Mom, Dad, Max, and a few random people from school.
KT dropped her phone, too.
“Mom,” she called. She gathered complaints in her head, trying to figure out which to unleash first: Facebook is broken and my cell phone is messed up and the Rysdale Invitational website is down and the sports section of the paper is missing and why’d you pick today to dust my trophies?
She could already hear Mom’s footsteps on the stairs. Belatedly, some sense of caution swam over KT. Can’t let Mom know I don’t remember what happened at the game last night. Can’t let her think there’s anything wrong with me. She might not let me go to softball practice this afternoon.
“KT, whatever it is, just hold on a minute,” Mom called from out in the hall. “I have to wake up Max.”
Yeah, that lazy bum was probably up half the night playing video games, KT thought scornfully. Of course you have to wake him up.
But the irritated tone in Mom’s voice stung. The way Mom sounded, you’d think KT was some annoying little brat calling out “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!” over nothing. Not a star pitcher who’d maybe (probably?) won the Rysdale Invitational last night.
KT sat perfectly still, straining her ears to listen.
Mom’s footsteps went into Max’s room.
“Good morning!” Mom exclaimed, and the hallway that joined KT’s and Max’s rooms grew brighter. Mom must have just opened Max’s curtains.
Lazybones can’t even do that for himself, KT thought.
“Rise and shine!” Mom was saying to Max. Her voice brimmed with excitement, with pride. “It’s your big day!”
Big day? For Max? What? KT thought.
Of all the strange things that had happened this morning, this was the strangest of all. Something was really, really wrong.
Mom had said exactly those same words, in exactly that same way, to KT yesterday.
Margaret Peterson Haddix is the author of many critically and popularly acclaimed YA and middle grade novels, including the Children of Exile series, The Missing series, the Under Their Skin series, and the Shadow Children series. A graduate of Miami University (of Ohio), she worked for several years as a reporter for The Indianapolis News. She also taught at the Danville (Illinois) Area Community College. She lives with her family in Columbus, Ohio. Visit her at HaddixBooks.com.
"Haddix illuminates the pressure middle school-aged students often feel to confrom to predetermined roles. Her cleverly constructed tale gives a voice to all students, encouraging them to look beyond the labels of sporty, smart and so on, to define themselves. KT's transition from athlete to advocate is calculated to inspire readers to celebrate their individuality. Haddix's insightful tale is a compelling blend of sports, action and mystery."
– Kirkus Reviews
"This fast-paced novel will fit well on back-to-school displays."