PW #208: Middle Grade Historical: BAD HABITS

Manuscript Status: Finished

Mentor Name: Gabrielle Byrne

Mentee Name: Greg Pattridge


Category: Middle Grade

Genre: Historical

Word Count: 48,500 words


Eleven-year-old Christopher Ponder and his best friend launch a desperate plan to escape Catholic school, but keeping their friendship intact isn’t easy in the face of a ruler-wielding, patch-eyed Sister, the events of 1963, and a whole lot of BAD HABITS. WEDNESDAY WARS meets HOLES.


Dear God, I don’t think you like me. Amen.

I shrink back. Wiggly trails of nerves race through me like wildfire. There is no escape. The beast called my name.

Sister Mary Dymphna pushes up the black sleeves of her flowing robe. Two massive arms emerge. “Christopher Ponder,” she repeats. “Recite The Lord’s Prayer… In Latin.” Her single eye bores into my soul.

I’m doomed.

I grip the desk and push myself to a standing position. My legs are like Play-Doh, weak and unsteady. I shoot a panicked look at Matt Flannigan. He shrugs. Last week Matt snagged my card from Sister’s name-calling pile. She must have counted and figured out I was missing.

Rosary beads jangle as Sister rises—quicker than Jesus ever did. “Ponder, your head is an empty shell.” She writes Monday, November 18, 1963 on the chalkboard and executes a slow turn.

My chest and stomach switch places, twice.

Her flabby upper lip curls more than usual. The deep folds of three extra chins sag over the top of her half-moon collar. I wouldn’t wish this moment on anyone—not even a girl.

Please let me stay upright.

Our nun is a few inches taller and a foot wider than me. A black and white veil frames her face. Large gold-wire glasses can’t disguise the black patch over her left eye.

Word on the playground is she lost the eye in a fight with a Jehovah’s Witness who made the mistake of knocking on the convent door.

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