Little Women and Me - By Lauren Baratz-Logsted


“There’s no such thing as a perfect book,” Mr. Ochocinco says.

Mr. Ochocinco is my English teacher, but that’s not his real last name. Or at least it wasn’t until last year when my older sister, Charlotte, had him. Back then his name was Mr. Smith, but then when he thought his favorite football team, the Bengals, had a shot at the Super Bowl, he legally changed his last name to that of his favorite player, Chad Ochocinco, who had changed his name to match the number on his jersey and whose own real last name before he changed it was Johnson.

This is all by way of saying that Wycroft Academy, the K–12 school where I’m currently a freshman, is an odd place. But then, aren’t all schools?

“A writer may think his or her book is perfect when completed,” Mr. Ochocinco continues, “and pity the poor writer who thinks that! But in reality, there’s probably something that the reader would change. Maybe it’s just a single extraneous paragraph. Maybe it’s a character or an entire plot point! And of course it’s possible that no two readers will agree on what that imperfect something is. But no matter how beloved a book, there’s usually something.”


I normally love English class, which doesn’t even feel like school to me, but today I just want him to get on with it. Never mind if some novel needs changing. I’ve got my own problems, my own things that need changing. Like destroying Charlotte’s love life. Well, not for the sake of destroying it, but because—

“Your assignment,” Mr. Ochocinco goes on, “is to pick a novel that you have always loved deeply. Then I want you to write a paper telling me three things you love about it and one thing you would change. Just one.” Mr. Ochocinco glances at the clock on the wall, sees we’re out of time just as the bell rings, and hurries to finish assigning the assignment.

“It’s Friday,” he says in a rush, raising his voice to be heard over the sounds of students tossing items into backpacks, pushing back chairs, and stampeding toward the door. “I want outlines on my desk Monday morning, finished papers the following Monday. Dismissed.”

For a guy who loves football so much, he sure can sound all formal English teachery at times. But who cares? I’m finally sprung!

Now I can get down to what this day should really be about.


Well, no, I’m not really excited about it being lunch because of the food. I mean, normally I would be, because it’s pizza day, but that’s not it. Plus, I don’t even get pizza, because I don’t want Jackson to think I’m a pig, so I quickly hit the salad bar, piling a plate high with as much designer lettuce as I can. Then I throw on a few other fresh vegetables and put some fat-free dressing on the side in a little cup. Put the cup of dressing in its neat little slot on the salad plate, add a carton of juice to my other hand, and voilà!

Salad is the one food that even when you pile it into an enormous mound on your plate, like I have done, does not make you look like a pig. On the contrary, the more on your plate, the more you look like an anti-pig.

Which is definitely the image that I want to project when I sit down to eat with Jackson, like I’m about to do right now.

Jackson is an architectural marvel of a boy, the architectural part having to do with the way he’s constructed. He’s tall, thin, but with wide shoulders—only a sophomore, Jackson’s a starter on the varsity football team. He’s got a Roman nose, Slavic cheekbones, Scandinavian blond hair, and Mediterranean blue-green eyes. Really, looking at Jackson is like going on a tour of Europe. Right now, though, his cheek is lethargically smushed against a lethargic half fist, his elbow lethargically slouched on the table as he stares at his uneaten pizza.

He comes to life at the sound of me putting my plate and juice carton on the wooden table.

“Emily!” he says, excited to see me.

If only that were really the case.

Yes, he is excited to see me—in theory—but the truth of the matter is it’s really my sister Charlotte he wishes were seated across from him. How can I be sure of this?

Because Jackson has had a thing for Charlotte all year, but he’s too shy to express himself directly to her. You could say