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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Planet Girl

Charlie Joe Jackson Series (Volume 5)

Tommy Greenwald; illustrated by J. P. Coovert

Square Fish



I have an announcement to make: The middle school years are the best years of your life.

Oh sure, I know what some people say. They say, "Just get through middle school, and everything will get better after that."

Well, if you ask me, those people are crazy.

Listen, I get that it's not for everyone, but I happen to LOVE middle school. It's really fun. The homework is a little hard, but not ridiculously hard. The books you have to read are a little too long-five pages is too long, if you ask me-but not ridiculously long. You don't have all the crazy pressures of high school, like my older sister, Megan, does. And there's still recess! I mean, come on, people! Life is good!

Except for one problem.

I don't have a girlfriend.

Here's the thing: When kids are just starting middle school, guys and girls still haven't really figured each other out yet. At all. They circle each other, like two dogs who have just been put in the same cage together for the first time. They think they should be friends, they want to be friends, but they just don't know how to go about it yet.

But then, as middle school goes on, it starts to happen. The huge ocean between girls and guys becomes a river.

Then, a stream.

Then, a puddle.

And finally, the next thing you know, Timmy McGibney is yelling in my ear, "I have a girlfriend!"

Which is exactly what happened at lunch one day.

I looked up from my lukewarm meatball hero and snorted in Timmy's general direction. "Right." Timmy was not exactly a chick magnet. There was that one two-week period where he dated the former girl of my dreams, Hannah Spivero, which should have improved his overall status with the ladies. But sadly, he'd come up empty ever since.

"I'm serious, I do," he said, with a mouthful of ice cream sandwich on full display. "Erica Pope said yes."

"Erica Pope?" I rolled my eyes. Erica was wwwayy out of Timmy's league.

"Yup. Apparently she has a thing for lacrosse players." Timmy was my oldest, closest, and most annoying friend, but there was one thing that no one could argue about: He was by far the best lacrosse player in our grade.

"Well, I'll believe it when I see it," I said.

About eight seconds later, I saw it.

Erica came up to Timmy, gave him a big hug, then whispered, "See you after Spanish" in his ear, and ran off.

Timmy looked at me with a way-too-big smile. "Like I was saying."

I shook my head and stared into my chocolate milk. Times were definitely changing. Oh sure, Jake Katz was still going out with Hannah, and Phil Manning and Celia Barbarossa were already acting like an old married couple, but for the past year, they'd been pretty much the only real couples in the grade.

Oh, wait. I forgot about Katie and Nareem.

You know who I'm talking about, right? Katie Friedman and Nareem Ramdal were a pretty hot-and-heavy couple too there, for a while. But they broke up a few months ago. I was sad for them, but a part of me wasn't sad, because Katie's been my unofficial best friend for practically forever, and I guess I was a little jealous that she had a boyfriend. Which felt very weird at the time.

So anyway, Timmy chattered on happily about Erica for another minute. I wasn't really paying attention, though, until I heard two words I'd never heard in the same sentence before: Pete and dating.

I looked up. "What did you just say?"

"Pete's dating her best friend, and they're coming to the movies with us on Saturday night."

"Pete's dating Mareli?" I was shocked. Mareli was the girl who had moved from Puerto Rico around a year ago. She was a really sharp dresser. According to Eliza Collins, she had the most amazing earring collection of anyone in the school-and she seemed way too sophisticated for Pete Milano. Actually, now that I think about it, a warthog is too sophisticated for Pete Milano.

"Mareli likes Pete," Timmy confirmed. "She thinks he's really funny. And she thinks it's really cool that his family keeps chickens." It was true. Pete's family had been raising chickens ever since I'd known him. According to him, the eggs were delicious. "And they make great pets," he'd say. "Although they don't play fetch or anything."

But back to the matter at hand. "So they're going out?" I asked Timmy.

"Yup," he said. "He asked her out today."

Pete always had a lot of guts-I'll give him that.

"So do you want to come?" Timmy added.

I blinked. "Huh? Come where?"

"To the movies. A lot of us are going."

"Like who?"

Timmy smiled, as if he knew what he was about to say would annoy me, which it did. "Oh, Hannah and Jake, Phil and Celia, Pete and Mareli, Erica and me, and I think Katie and Nareem even though they're not going out anymore, and I think that new kid Emory is going to ask Eliza."

"Emory? No way." Things were getting weirder and weirder. Eliza Collins was the golden girl of Eastport Middle School, and no one had ever had the nerve to ask her out. Now some new kid was going to do it?

"Yes way. Emory is from California," Timmy added, as if that explained everything.

I took a swig of chocolate milk and sighed deeply. Then I considered my options: go to the movies and watch a lot of couples hug and possibly even kiss, or sit at home and listen to my parents talk to my sister, Megan, about which colleges she should apply to.

Hey, wait a second.

Remember that whole "middle school years are the best years of your life" thing?

I take it all back.

Text copyright © 2015 by Tommy Greenwald

Illustrations copyright © 2015 by J.P. Coovert