I started rewriting my middle grade book as more of a YA novel. Here is the beginning…I would love some feedback.


My dad told me the story so many times that it is almost my own. I mean, I can see the railroad tracks in the little town even though I’ve never been to Mexico. I can taste the beer that my dad had drank earlier that night even though I’ve never tried it in real life. I can even smell the rail yard even though I have no idea what it really smelled like.

The three friends in the story were strangers to me: Juan, Ernesto and Frank. My dad would sometimes laugh about how Frank was the darkest skinned of them all but his mom loved American TV and had gotten the name from some cop show. Frank was the one who swung the ax.

The four friends had known each other since they were kids. When the accident happened, they were 18 and my dad was talking about going to America with his girlfriend Inez. His friends did not want him to leave and the more they talked about it, the more they drank beer and they were drunk by the time they left the bar.

Here was where my dad told me that drinking was bad for you. If he hadn’t been drunk, he wouldn’t have been horsing around on the railroad track. And if he hadn’t been horsing around, his foot wouldn’t have gotten caught.

The four friends thought it was funny at first: Pepe’s foot caught in the tracks. “You can’t go to American now!” one of them cried and they all laughed as they tried to pull my dad free. They pulled and tugged and twisted for a long time. And then….

When they heard the train whistle, the friends all stopped dead still. My dad usually stopped at this point in the story and looked at me. He then said that there were a few seconds of complete panic and then Ernesto ran to find a phone. Later he said he was going to call the train station even though he had no idea how he would find the phone number or if anyone would even answer. Juan ran to try to flag down the train. Frank and my dad kept trying to free my father from the track. All this time, the train got closer and closer.

Juan came back with an ax. Later he said that he had no idea why he had grabbed it or where he had even gotten it from. The train would be impossible to catch, he told my father and Frank. He looked at the ax and they looked up at the light that was coming down the track. Juan took off again, leaving Frank and my dad alone.

My dad said that they talked about it but I don’t believe this. If the train was that close, they couldn’t have had much time. They could smell the train and that is when Frank crossed himself and swung the ax. It took several swings, my dad said but I don’t know how he knows this when he admitted to passing out.

Frank caught my father’s body and pulled him away from the track. A few meters from where my father’s foot was, the conductor saw Juan, saw the commotion and pulled the emergency brake. He stopped the train about four feet from my dad and Frank.

My father said that if he had been conscious when this happened, he would have died on the spot. Frank had a nervous breakdown and Juan couldn’t leave his house for almost a year after. Ernesto took to drinking and my father got some crutches, married my mother and came to America.


The last thing my dad said to me was that he hoped I would visit him. Now in these movies I have seen, when a dad leaves he usually tells his son that he is the man of the family or that he loves him. But the one time my dad called the house after he went to jail, he said he hoped I would visit. That was it. The bad part is that I haven’t been to visit him even once. He is over to the Jackson prison and that is over an hour away even if you have a car. I once asked Mr. Perkins if the bus went out that far and he laughed and said, “Boy, the buses barely take me home to the northwest side of town.” That was bad news but there was some good in it: Mr. Perkins only called you “boy” when he liked you.

I wished I had a car today. It was Devil’s Night and that was always my least favorite night even before the night our house got burned out a few years ago. I wanted to be anywhere but Southwest Detroit. And I hated my foster home.

I took my time walking home from school. When I got there, my foster sister was on the porch and gabbing on her phone. She made a face at me and tried to block the door. I am quicker than her though and made it in. She yelled a few cuss words at me but I just closed the door and went inside.

The first thing I saw made me almost cry out with delight: my two younger foster siblings were back home and in front of the TV. My foster mom had disappeared a few nights ago and I hadn’t seen them since.

“Joy-Joy!” I cried out. “Little Man Tae!”

Both kids turned to me and were at my feet in a second. I picked each of them up and hugged them. Then I took a good look at them and determined that they were okay. They had not gotten a whuppin like I had, at least not that I could tell.

Joy-Joy grabbed my arm and pulled me to the TV set. “Wiggles,” she said and grinned at me.

Even though the Wiggles gave me the creeps, I sat down next to them and held them close. Tae, acting all big, put up with it for about a minute and then plopped down to watch the show.

I hate to tell you this but I was kind of getting caught up into the show when the front door slammed open. Both kids jumped into my lap; Tae wasn’t pretending to be a big shot any more when he saw who it was.

“You lazy fools,” our foster mom muttered as she walked inside. She kicked a pile of cat toys out of her path and then turned back to the door. “Well come on in Jasper—don’t be a bump onna log!”

The name “Jasper” made both Tae and Joy-Joy giggle. They stopped in a hurry when a real big white kid with braids walked in and glared at all of us. “You gots a problem with my name?” He muttered it so low that I could barely hear him. He also had a toothpick in his mouth that bobbed around when he talked.

“Them just fools,” our foster mom said as she picked up one of her many cats. “Now these cats here my real babies,” she kissed the top of its head. “Go on upstairs and find a room, Jasper. We all stayin in tonight cuz it’s Devil’s Night.”

“Mmm hmmm,” Jasper walked upstairs carrying a duffel bag with him. A minute later I heard my other foster brother Charles cuss at him and then they started fightin. The foster mom just rolled her eyes and went into the kitchen.

I should probably tell you that the Foster Mom has a name—Deniece. She went by the name “Necie” but that was too close to “Nicey” for me so I preferred to think of her as Foster Mom; I only called her “Necie” in public. She had about a million brothers and sisters who stopped in from time to time as well as a boyfriend named Fred. The house was almost always full and now with Jasper we had seven foster kids in our house: me, the little kids, Stanky Pants, Charles, Weed and Jasper.  My friend Raze nicknamed my foster sister because she wore some nasty Apple Bottom jeans the first week of school. And you can probably guess what Weed does by his nickname. Charles didn’t stay around too much (he had a girlfriend up the block) so it was mostly just me and the young’uns. This was fine with me. I hoped Jasper would make himself scarce as well.

The kids and I watched TV until Foster Mom’s friend from Meals on Wheels came by about five. He dropped off a bunch of extra meals like he always did and then the two disappeared out to his truck for a minute.

While they were outside, I got Tae and Joy-Joy set up with some pot roast before the older kids could get to it. By the time I got them settled, Charles and Jasper had already grabbed up the other meals. Stanky Pants came busting in and started yelling and hollering about where was her meal? Jasper took one look at her and dumped the entire dish on her front. Tae started laughing so hard that he started to choke so I pounded on his back. By the time I looked up, Stanky had busted up onto Jasper and had knocked him down. Charles just stood there laughing and eating out of the bowl with his fingers.

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