Monday, March 9, 2020

Prompting Fictional Scenes in Response to a Novel by Jordan Sonnenblick

      Using NOTES FROM THE MIDNIGHT DRIVER, by Jordan Sonnenblick, for a writing lesson on how to convey a distinctive narrative voice, I challenged two middle school boys to write their own fictional scenes in response to the novel. We had read aloud and discussed the opening pages of Sonnenblick's novel, just past the point when the self-deprecating narrator, who is hospitalized after an embarrassing drunk-driving accident, discovers that he now bears a scar on his forehead as a reminder of his recklessness. I asked the students, Oliver and Ryan (8th and 7th graders, respectively), to write a future scene about the protagonist, Alex, having to explain his scar to someone he has a crush on, without revealing the mortifying truth about his uncharacteristically irrational behavior. The aim of the lesson was to maintain the humorous voice of the narrator while flexing their own creative muscles. Here are the outstanding results. I hope that Jordan Sonnenblick will read and enjoy these scenes! 

1) By Oliver T.: 

     I wipe my tears with my sleeve, realizing the severity of my scar. My finger rubs against the bumpy patchwork on my forehead. What will Alyssa think? I can’t get the thought out of my mind. I start thinking about cover-up stories: "My dad was driving when a drunk driver hit us head-on;” or “I was jogging and a car ran a red light and hit me." Probably not the last one, since I would likely be dead if that happened. I’m not sure what excuse to use; all I know is that I can’t tell her the truth. 
     Surprisingly, I kind of want to go back to the hospital. That way, no one will know what I did. Yet for some reason, one small part of me believes that the truth will reveal itself. 
I almost forget that Dad is driving me home. He is lecturing me about responsibility for the third time this week. I drowsily listen, trying not to fall asleep, or, at least make it look like I’m not asleep. 
    "You need to be more careful, always ask yourself before you do something if it is beneficial. Use that brain of yours. If you really are my child you should have at least some part of my intelligent brain," my dad lectures.
     He drops me off at Mom’s place, where my mother takes me up in a loving embrace. "I am so glad my boy is home," Mom says, squeezing me in a hug. "I hope you are alright."
     I know exactly what will happen next. Oh no, here it comes. I brace myself for my mother to change her tone and slap me on the cheek. She always does that when I mess up, but instead, Mother releases me from the hug and takes a good look at me. She looks at my tired, disappointed self and hugs me. "Go to sleep now. You still have school tomorrow," Mom says as she lets go of me.
     "Alright, Mom, Goodnight," I say, trying to have a cheery tone. I limp over to my room and collapse on my bed, exhausted from the hospital, but dreading tomorrow.
     In the morning, I walk to school, my head feeling much better than yesterday, and my confidence is better as well. After all, I spent the majority of yesterday thinking about what to say. Today, I finally decide to listen to the angel inside of me … sort of. Bending the truth ain’t so bad right? My plan is to tell Alyssa … 
     Thud! My shoulder rams straight into a pillar. I fall on my butt, wincing in pain.
     “You alright?” says a familiar voice. 
     I look up to see none other than Alyssa Stone. My palms start to sweat and my legs are trembling. I awkwardly get up and wipe my hands on my shirt.
    “Where’ve you been? You were missing for the past week.”
    “I was in the hospital,” I reply. “I was in an accident.”
    “What kind of accident?”
    “I was in a car crash,” I answer. Concern fills Alyssa’s expression. “But definitely not like too severe, but … well, like really bad but … I didn’t get injured too much cuz I was lucky but, like … Yeah.”
    I wince, cringing at my weirdness. My heart starts thumping.
    Alyssa raises her light eyebrows. “Uhh … well, alright, see you later. I gotta get to class.” Alyssa walks away, biting her lip.
    “Umm, see ya later … Alligator.”
    Oh my gosh, what am I doing? I quickly walk away and take a detour to my first-period class. That was really bad; I don’t know what happened. 
     A class period passes and the accident is still on my mind. I’m pretty sure Alyssa’s not looking for a guy that wrecks cars and murders garden gnomes. All I had to do was make a normal story and avoid the truth. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?
    Three periods pass, and before I know it, it is my lunch period. Time flies when you can’t get something out of your mind. I make my way through the lunch courtyards. My friends motion me to sit with them, but I ignore their invitation. I look through the crowded courtyard and meet eyes with Alyssa. I briskly walk through the sea of students toward her lunch line.
    “Hey,” I start, “sorry about earlier.”
    “Hello,” Alyssa replies, adding lettuce to her sandwich. “What happened when you ‘got injured really bad, but not too severe, but definitely not, yeah,’” Alyssa teases.
    I laugh nervously and start to blush. “It was a car accident.”
    “Oh my gosh, what did you do? Drive drunk or something?” Allysa jokes.
    “Yeah,” I respond.
    “What?!” Allysa jumps.
    “Only joking,” I quickly correct myself, with an awkward chuckle. “I was driving … erm, my dad was driving me home when a drunk driver ran a red light and went 50 miles per hour into our car.”
     “So that’s what happened to your forehead.” Alyssa points to my forehead. “It’s a miracle that you are alright. Is your dad alright?”  I quickly smooth my hair down.
     “Yeah, I just had a concussion and some alcohol pois—I mean food poisoning … and an upset stomach. My dad is fine.” 
     “What does food poisoning have to do with this?” Alyssa implores.
     “We were at a party, and … umm, their microwaved taquitos weren’t very good for my stomach.” I gulp.
     “So, you were coming home from a party and your dad was not drunk?” Alyssa replies with shock.
     “Umm, yeah, he doesn’t drink at all.”
     “Oh, sorry to assume. But I am just used to my old man getting really drunk at parties, and still wanting to drive home.” 
     I look to the side.  My mind is overflowing with questions and shock. That was pretty personal. She trusts me enough to say that? Does she like me, too? Should I say something personal back? What do I say back? If I just respectfully leave, it won’t be awkward anymore, right? I slowly back away.
     “Well, my friends are waiting for me right now. I’ll see you in English,” I awkwardly break the silence. 
     “Me, too,” Alyssa blushes. 

2) By Ryan H.

A Truth Too Hard To Reveal
I pick up some hot, crusty bread, placing it in a little bag that has the words ‘‘Bake ‘n’ Flake’’ across the center.  I smile at a customer as I quickly pull out the receipt, handing both items to him.
Pit-a-Pat, Pit-a-Pat, footsteps of employees and customers echo into the pleasant morning air as the aroma of sweet bread drifts under my nose.
Finger-combing the long strands of hair that cover my forehead, I glance around.  My eyes stop like an eagle spotting something interesting.  Amelia, I look at her, feeling a mixture of enthusiasm and eagerness as I steadily walk towards the table where she’s sitting at.
“Ahem, hi… Ummm... everything’s alright here?” I ask.
She always arrives in the campus bakery in the morning for coffee and mini-croissants, and I’m satisfied I have the morning shift.  I really can’t keep my eyes off her.
“Yeah, everything’s fine.”
I gesture towards her shirt that says “Class of “2020,” saying, “Hey, I think you’re in one of my classes.”
I stupidly grin and push my hair back.  Suddenly, her eyes change, they looked a little wide, maybe even concerned.  I swallow, pulling down a few strands of hair.
       “Where did you…” She paused.  “...get that huge scar over your forehead?”
       I gaze down, feeling her eyes dig into my forehead. “Ummmm… when I was young… I actually fell off a tree… and got a couple of scratches here and there.”
       “Oh, I’m sorry….my brother loved to climb trees as well.  He always fell off, too, but didn’t get too many gashes.”
       I quickly look away, realizing I have been staring at her light blue eyes so intently.     “Yeah, cool!” I blurt. “I mean...” Amelia looks at me, confused. “You know… I mean…uhhhh…It was nice talking to you, Amelia…”
       “You too—” she glances at my nametag—“Alex.” She quickly sits up and walks out as if in a hurry.
       Soon, my shift ends, and I see the bright yellow sun glistening in the warm afternoon through the windows of the bakery.  I scratch my head, as I head toward my sedan, looking back toward the table where Amelia had sat.  Where l had lied to her.  I rub my hand along the long, jagged, scar.  I let out a sigh as I step into my little car, taking my apron off and placing it on my bulging backpack.
       Screeeeeech!! I slam the brake as my car jolts to a sudden stop.  The student who was crossing the street backs away, shouting, “Man, are you drunk!? You could have killed me!”  He raises his hand, sticking up a nasty finger, baring his teeth, and cursing all the profanity I’ve ever heard in my life.
       I mumble under my breath, “No, I only kill garden gnomes.” I realize I’m not breathing.  I take a deep breath, feeling a throb on my forehead.
       The memory ripples over me like a vast wave, the time I had driven drunk and crashed, leaving behind a pile of crumbled gnomes and the zig-zag on my forehead.  I look down at  my white knuckles, as I grip onto the leather wheel.  How in the world would I have gotten a scar from falling off a tree?  And if I did, it wouldn’t be on my forehead, since that would mean I would fall on my head, and I’d probably be dead....