PW #219: Middle Grade Contemporary: STEPPING UP

Manuscript Status: Finished

Mentor Name: Shari Schwarz
Mentee Name: Patrick Thornton
Category: Middle Grade
Genre: Contemporary
Word Count: 40,000


When twelve-year-old Nate’s dad deploys to Afghanistan, Nate’s Xbox, a gift from Dad, is stolen and he feels responsible. Father/son emails gloss over the dangers and hardships each face while Nate is determined to make Dad proud by catching the thief and holding their family together.


Twelve-year-old boys don’t cry. They just don’t. Not when they get sucker punched, not when a bad hop gets them a baseball in the face, and not when their dad could be killed.

“Think fast!”

I look up just in time to grab a flat plastic box before it hits me in the chest. It’s a new Xbox game, the one Dad and I’ve been waiting for.

“Nice catch.” Dad is standing in my bedroom doorway in his National Guard police uniform. He comes in, sits next to me on my bed, and puts a hand on my knee. It’s a big hand, strong, heavy.

I hold up the game. “Guess we’ll play when you get back.” I almost choke on the words.

“Practice up so I don’t embarrass you.”

I give him a fierce grin. “Fat chance.”

He claps me on the shoulder and stands up. “Time to go.”


“I don’t want to have to arrest myself for being AWOL.”

AWOL, I think as I follow him downstairs. As if. Dad’s a good soldier. He’s as tough and brave as any soldier I ever saw in a movie. But this isn’t a movie. It’s real life and it sucks.

In the living room Dad puts his hands on my shoulders and bends down just enough so we are eye to eye. “I know this will be hard. But we have some important things to do, you and I, and we can make each other proud. People depend on us. Focus on that.”

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