Sarah Sun and The Contest
Sarah stared at her bedroom wall. Special paint had turned it into an all-encompassing whiteboard that was now covered in differently colored ideas, schedules, and things to remember. The room looked like a science lab and Sarah buzzed with the energy of someone on the verge of a breakthrough.
Sarah's eyes were focused on the three lists
CHORES was a bold blue. This list told Sarah what she had to do around the house before she could go out with her friends. It commanded her to do everything from making her bed daily to picking up the dog poop weekly. Sarah thought that making her bed was pointless. She slept in her bed every night. Why bother
Finally, Sarah looked at the third list. She had used her favorite purple marker to label it LIFE, writing only one item underneath: WIN EVERLEY WRITING CONTEST.
Every year Sarah had entered this contest and every year she had received the same form email: Thank you for your entry, please try again.
Sarah had always learned from failure and had gotten better because of it. She’d lose a race and figure out how to swim faster the next time. But clearly, her writing wasn’t getting any better, so why was this year to be any different?
Sarah had all but given up hope of ever winning when the contest committee announced a second category: non-fiction. Sarah thought that this was surely the change that she needed.
“Let’s go!” Lindsay’s
Sarah got in the back, since they would soon pick up Madison, a fellow
After catching up with Lindsay, Madison turned to Sarah.
“Did you write your essay yet?” the
“No,” said Sarah, “I don’t know what to write about. It’s due tomorrow, though.”
“Way to leave it ‘til the last minute,” said Madison jokingly. “Seriously, though, just write what you know and you’ll be fine. And did you see what Shameer wrote on my picture?” Madison had returned to her dialogue with Lindsay, leaving Sarah to
Write what you know. How the heck was Sarah supposed to do that?
Sarah needed some inspiration, so she put on her shiny red headphones. As much as Sarah liked people and school, nothing topped a funky beat and a catchy melody. It didn’t matter what was happening around her, if Sarah had a great pop song blasting into her ears, then she was happy.
- Sarah wants to enter a writing contest
- Sarah wants to write non-fiction (something that's true)
- Sarah hasn't written anything yet
- Sarah essay is due tomorrow
remember to bring in $10 for captains' gifts!
Sarah was busy rocking out to Katy Perry when Lindsay pulled up to the school parking lot. As a junior, Lindsay had to park in the lower lot, which, according to Sarah, was
Even though Sarah would have enjoyed an easy shortcut, she was secretly thankful that her sister had refused. In walking up the hill, Sarah was just one of the kids and could be proud of herself every time she succeeded. She had faced a challenge and achieved her goal. Now if only she could apply that success to this darn writing contest
Sarah passed through the open doors into Everley High School and was immediately lost in the crowd of acne-riddled, growth spurt-having, iced coffee-slurping teenagers. Everyone’s monogrammed LL Bean backpack weighed at least thirty pounds and the girls were in sweatpants, sweatshirts, and LL Bean slippers while the boys wore sweatpants, tee shirts, and construction boots. It was a real classy place.
The 4’10” Sarah (4’10.5”, if you asked her) pushed her way through the crowds to get to Room 31, where she would spend almost all of her day. Once she finally got there, she burst into the large classroom and saw Mr. Bee. Though his real name was Ugochukwu Onwuatuegwu, he had worn his favorite black-and-yellow striped sweater to his first day of teaching and the nickname of Mr. Bee had stuck.
Mr. Bee was a tall, strikingly handsome man who had emigrated from Nigeria as a young teen a mere decade ago. Every kid in the class had at least a bit of a crush on him and he had received many prom requests the previous year, all of which he had very gently declined. He coached the varsity girls’ soccer team and was a well-liked presence at Everley High School.
“Mr. Bee, what are we gonna do about this contest?” asked Sarah. She was not the most patient girl and would often ignore what was going on in order to ask a question of her own.
“One moment,” said Mr. Bee in his
Normally, his voice could soothe anybody, but when Sarah wanted something she would stop at nothing to get it.
“Mr. Bee, I need to talk about my essay for the contest,” she said.
“Sarah, I am speaking with Dexter right now. You will have to wait your turn,” he said.
Sarah was shocked. Nobody had ever made Sarah wait her turn and yet this whole first month of school this guy had been on her about interrupting people and being impatient. What was his deal?
“Yes, Mr. Bee,” said Sarah as she shot daggers into his eyes. “I need to talk to you about my essay. I am determined to win this year’s Everley Writing Contest and have decided to enter under non-fiction. That’s when you write about something that’s really happened.”
“I’m familiar,” he said. “Have you started writing it yet?”
“No,” said Sarah, “but I have been thinking a lot about it. Madison told me to write what I know, but I still don’t know what to write about. Nothing interesting has ever happened to me.”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” said Mr. Bee. He waited for her to continue, but she did not.
Satisfied that their conversation was over, Mr. Bee turned his attention to the entire class. “Okay, guys,” he said, “we’re going to start with-”
“Ooh, do you think I should write about the Special Olympics?” Sarah asked.
“Yes, Sarah,” said Mr. Bee, “but please wait until you’ve been called on. Remember, think before you speak.”
Sarah’s face scrunched up in frustration. Teachers had always let her shout things out. They told Mr. and Dr. Sun that she was enthusiastic and bright and wonderful and needed to work on…something, but Sarah could never remember that part. But regardless, she had never been silenced so much in her life. Sure, Mr. Bee gave Sarah five minutes in class every day to talk about whatever was on her mind, but 300 seconds of unadulterated attention was not enough. Sarah would crack this attractive nut, but it might take some time.
- Sarah is a ninth grader at Everley High School
- Sarah is short but walks up a big hill each morning
- Sarah's teacher is Mr. Bee, a Nigerian hottie
- Mr. Bee makes Sarah raise her hand and wait until she's claled on
- Sarah still doesn't know what to write about!!!
**** #### CHAPTER 3
need an A on the final!
Sarah was squished into the backseat of the mini-Cooper, stuffed alongside Madison and Kate, Lindsay’s other best friend. Sarah sat directly behind Malik, Lindsay’s
“So, Sarah,” said Malik, “what are you gonna write about?”
“I’m gonna do a memoir,” said Sarah.
“Awesome. Write what you know,” said Malik.
“Yeah,” said Sarah, “that’s what I’m going for.”*Why do these people keep telling me the same thing instead of giving me actual ideas,* Sarah thought.
After arriving home, Lindsay and her group went to do homework while Sarah retreated to her room to write. She took out her trusty spiral notebook where all her best ideas went and picked up her favorite pencil. She brought the pointy lead to the soft paper, but nothing happened. Sarah stared at the paper for a moment before shaking her head. Okay, she thought, just write what you know. She returned her Ticonderoga pencil to the paper, but again was struck by blankness.
Sarah thought about the books she loved and the TV shows she watched. They were all about kids like her, except the kids were always special. Some were wizards and witches, some were winners of golden tickets, and some had super powers that could punish all the adults around them.
- Sarah is a very busy girl
- Lindsay maybe (???) has a boyfriend
- Sarah tries to write and can't think of anything
- Sarah thinks about the stories she likes
- Sarah figures out how to write her essay
**** #### CHAPTER 4
history - ch 15, 16; essay
math - ch 14, 1-17 odd
bio - ch 6, lab; watch video!
latin - TEST; remind self why I'm learning a dead language
“Mr. Bee! Mr. Bee! Mr. Bee!” Sarah yelled as she ran through the halls of EHS. She slid into the room, nearly knocking a classmate over. Sarah ran to Mr. Bee, but was too out of breath to tell him the news, so she handed him the bright white piece of paper she was clutching.
“Hey, you won the contest!” Mr. Bee said. “Congratulations, Sarah. I knew you could do it.” Mr. Bee held out his large palm for a high-five, which a panting Sarah excitedly met. He asked, “Can I read what you wrote?”
“Of course!” said Sarah. She handed him a copy of her essay and watched eagerly as Mr. Bee’s eyes scanned it. Unlike the joyous excitement that Sarah expected, though, she saw Mr. Bee’s face fall. He looked up in disbelief, large brown eyes
“Sarah,” said Mr. Bee, “I happen to know that your parents are very much alive.”
“Yeah I know,” said Sarah.
“And,” Mr. Bee continued, “you are not a best-selling author.”
“Yeah,” countered Sarah, “but I will be.”
Mr. Bee put his hands together while searching for the right words.
“Sarah,” he said finally, “this essay is a work of fiction. I thought you understood the difference between the truth and fiction.”
Sarah wasn’t getting it. She had won the contest. Why was he yelling at her?
“I just wanted to win,” she said, “and this is what all the books I read are like.”
“But Sarah,” said Mr. Bee, “those characters are fictional. And if you had entered in the fiction category, that would have been fine. But you entered in non-fiction, which means you were supposed to tell the truth.”
“But I won,” said Sarah meekly.
“But it’s not a real win,” he said. “You won for what they thought was your life, not for the quality of writing.”
Sarah was confused. She hadn’t won in any previous year, so she had made an adjustment and now she had won. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?
“Sarah,” he asked, “why didn’t you just write about what’s real?”
Sarah let out a slight groan and said, “Because my life is so boring.”
“But look at what you’ve done with your life,” said Mr. Bee. “You have all these great friends, a best friend in your sister, some obvious talent in the arts, and parents who not only are not dead, but
“But, Mr. Bee,” said Sarah, “that’s all so boring. It’s just my life. Why would anyone want to read about that?”
“Because,” said Mr. Bee, “you’re special, Sarah Sun. Even your name is great. It’s bright like you. Why can’t you see that?”
“Because I haven’t done anything with my life,” Sarah said. “Harry Potter saved his friends and Hogwarts. Charlie got a whole chocolate factory. Dora has a backpack that talks.”
Mr. Bee rolled his eyes. Teenagers always thought their lives were unbearably boring and as such, were incapable of seeing the excitement and beauty of a so-called normal life.
“Sarah,” he said, “you have to tell whoever’s running this contest that you lied. You can tell them that you meant to submit in fiction and ask that it only be considered in that category. But no matter what happens, you have to tell the truth.”
Sarah gave Mr. Bee her patented death stare, but he didn’t seem too bothered, so she turned around and left. It was only first period, but she was so sick of Mr. Bee telling her what to do that she decided to leave school and never come back.
- Sarah wins the contest
- Sarah shows her essay to Mr. Bee
- Mr. Bee tells Sarah that her essay is NOT non-fiction, which means that she lied
- Mr. Bee tells Sarah that she needs to fix things
- Sarah is not having any of it and peaces out
**** #### CHAPTER 5
Sarah was cowering in the kitchen as Lindsay enjoyed some dumplings. Sarah thought her parents would be proud that she had won the contest and stood up to Mr. Bee, but they were now yelling at her in
A few minutes later they sent Sarah to her room. She couldn’t come back down and have dinner until she had written an apology to Mr. Bee and to the contest committee.
“Because you lied and said Mom and Dad were dead. How’d you think they were gonna react?” asked Lindsay as she
“But I won and Mr. Bee is always yelling at me,” said Sarah, still
“You won because you lied,” said Lindsay. “How would you like it if you had to swim 20 laps and the other guy only had to swim 10?”
“I’d be mad,” said Sarah.
“Why?” asked Lindsay.
“Because that’s not fair,” said Sarah. “Of course it’s gonna take me longer to swim 20 laps and of course I’m gonna lose.”
“Exactly,” said Lindsay, as she took a momentary break from texting to plug in her phone. She looked up at Sarah and said clearly, “The other guy would be doing something different and that’s not fair. But that’s what you did in the contest. You may feel good about winning but what about the other people who had to tell the truth? They’re probably feeling pretty bad right now. They had to write things that were true and they lost to someone who didn’t.”
Sarah thought about it like this and started to understand. If she didn’t want someone else to do something, then she probably shouldn’t get to do that thing either.
“Well yeah,” Sarah protested, “but Mr. Bee is-”
“Is awesome and just doesn’t wanna put up with your crap all the time,” said Lindsay.
“But he doesn’t have to yell at me,” said Sarah in an
“Okay first of all,” asked Lindsay, “has he ever actually sounded mad or actually raised his voice?”
“But nothing,” said Lindsay. “If I spoke out without being called on, I would get into trouble too.”
“But no one’s ever yelled at me before,” said Sarah. “They just say how great I am.”
Lindsay rolled her eyes. If there was one thing her sister lacked, it was certainly not self-confidence.
“A lot of people probably let you off the hook because you have special needs,” said Lindsay. “They underestimate you because they don’t know any better and they don’t bother to find out what you’re capable of. It happens to a lot of us.”
Lindsay continued, “We all need a Mr. Bee in our life. He pushes you to be better because he believes you can do better. That’s really rare, and you only do that with people you respect.”
The elder Sun sister looked at the
“Come on,” said Lindsay, as she grabbed Sarah’s slumped shoulders, “I’ll help you write the letters.”
- Sarah's parents yell at her in Chinese, which means they're mad
- Lindsay explains to Sarah why people are upset
- Sarah cheated without realizing it because she wrote things that were not true in her non-fiction essay
- Lindsay offers to help Sarah write her letters of apology
- I could really go for some dumplings right now!
**** #### CHAPTER 6
Sarah entered Room 31 earlier than usual the next day, holding a handwritten note on her
“Thank you, Sarah,” he said. “I appreciate and accept your apology. I do hope you understand why I’m so tough on you.”
“My sister explained it to me,” said Sarah. “Also, I emailed the people at the contest and they said it was too late to be in the fiction category, so I’ll just have to wait until next year.”
“So you didn’t win the contest,” said Mr. Bee.
“I didn’t win the contest,” said Sarah.
Mr. Bee continued to look at the
“You see this?” he asked.
“Yeah, it’s a can,” said Sarah.
Mr. Bee opened its top and said, “Smell it.”
Sarah inhaled a rich scent of vanilla and caramel. “What is that?” she asked.
“That, my friend, is creamy caramel chai,” said Mr. Bee. “Now, this particular tea can be hard to find, takes a long time to make, and is probably more expensive than what you’d get at the store, but this tea is one of the best and it is unlike anything else. People like to ignore what’s not easy, but it doesn’t make what they’re ignoring any less special.”
*Dude is really obsessed with tea*, Sarah thought, but she smiled and went along with it anyway.
As classmates began to trickle in, Sarah settled into her seat. She thought of her friends in Room 31 and on her soccer and swim teams. She thought of her sister and her parents. She even thought of crazy Mr. Bee.
*Maybe*, she contemplated, *boring isn’t so bad.* At this thought she kicked back and smiled.
*At least until next year.*
- Sarah apologized to Mr. Bee
- Sarah told the contest committee the truth
- Sarah decides that her real life isn't so bad