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  ALSO BY GARY PAULSEN

  Alida’s Song • The Amazing Life of Birds • The Beet Fields • The Boy Who Owned the School • The Brian Books: The River, Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Return, and Brian’s Hunt • Canyons • Caught by the Sea: My Life on Boats • The Cookcamp • The Crossing • Crush • Danger on Midnight River • Dogsong • Father Water, Mother Woods • Flat Broke • The Glass Café • Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books • Harris and Me • Hatchet • The Haymeadow • How Angel Peterson Got His Name • The Island • Lawn Boy • Lawn Boy Returns • The Legend of Bass Reeves • Liar, Liar • Masters of Disaster • Molly McGinty Has a Really Good Day • The Monument • Mudshark • My Life in Dog Years • Nightjohn • The Night the White Deer Died • Notes from the Dog • Paintings from the Cave • Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers • The Quilt • The Rifle • Sarny: A Life Remembered • The Schernoff Discoveries • Soldier’s Heart • The Time Hackers • The Transall Saga • Tucket’s Travels (The Tucket’s West series, Books One through Five) • The Voyage of the Frog • The White Fox Chronicles • The Winter Room • Woods Runner

  Picture books, illustrated by Ruth Wright Paulsen

  Canoe Days and Dogteam

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Text copyright © 2013 by Gary Paulsen

  Jacket art copyright © 2013 by James Bernardin

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

  Wendy Lamb Books and the colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  Visit us on the Web! randomhouse.com/kids

  Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at RHTeachersLibrarians.com

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Paulsen, Gary.

  Vote : the theory, practice, and destructive properties of politics / Gary Paulsen. — 1st ed.

  p. cm.

  Summary: Fourteen-year-old Kevin impetuously announces that he will run for student body president, mainly to impress his girlfriend, Tina, but soon gets excited about making a positive difference in his school and community.

  eISBN: 978-0-307-97452-5

  [1. Politics, Practical—Fiction. 2. Middle schools—Fiction. 3. Schools—Fiction.

  4. Interpersonal relations—Fiction. 5. Humorous stories.] I. Title.

  PZ7.P2843Vnt 2013

  [Fic]—dc23

  2012023059

  Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

  v3.1

  This book is dedicated

  with affection and deep gratitude

  to Adrienne Waintraub

  and all the teachers and librarians

  she’s worked with over the years,

  who’ve done so much for my books

  and for young readers.

  Contents

  Cover

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Foreword

  1: The True Politician Never Backs Down from a Challenge

  2: The True Politician Seizes the Day

  3: The True Politician Plays to His Strengths

  4: The True Politician Carefully Builds a Strong Support Team

  5: The True Politician Is Not Afraid to Fly Solo

  6: The True Politician Keeps His Friends Close and His Enemies Closer

  7: The True Politician Relishes the Opportunity to Switch Things Up

  8: The True Politician Finesses the Fine Line Between Personal and Professional Obligations

  9: The True Politician Deftly Sidesteps Problems That Might Arise from an Overabundance of Truth

  10: The True Politician Enjoys the Growth Opportunities That Allow Him to Reassess His Position Based on the Needs of the Public

  11: The True Politician Goes Down Swinging

  12: The True Politician Comes Out Swinging

  13: The True Politician Studies, Evaluates and Benefits from What Others Would Consider a Setback

  14: The True Politician Knows How to Make a Dignified Exit

  About the Author

  Foreword

  I’m the most gifted leader you’ll ever meet.

  I should be good; I’ve had a lot of practice. I’m only fourteen, but I’ve known for as long as I can remember that some people lead and some people get out of the way. It’s a universal rule. A cosmic inevitability.

  If you ask me, people who aren’t out in front are just looking at someone else’s rear end.

  My ability to lead is a gift. I must have been born with the innate ability to take control of the situation.

  See, people like being around someone who’s not afraid to exercise authority.

  I’ve shown my capacity to assume command ever since I first had a name tag stuck on my shirt in kindergarten; I raced to be the line leader every time we went to the drinking fountain or out to the playground for recess. I’m quick to raise my hand to volunteer to head class projects.

  I’m the one who took it upon himself to post the emergency exit routes out of our house and put together that disaster survival pack in our crawl space. Upon reflection, a loaf of bread probably wasn’t the best item to stash under the family room in case of a terrorist attack or severe-weather warning. But my mother is totally exaggerating when she says she can still smell mold every time she goes downstairs to do the laundry. And I’m pretty sure that forgotten, moldy bread is a valuable survival tool—isn’t that how penicillin was invented in the first place?

  And I’m the one who showed foresight by bringing the video camera to the baseball play-offs to capture the candid moments of our team in the dugout. I don’t care what Dash says, it wasn’t my fault that he didn’t know he was being filmed and I happened to catch him spitting in Wheels’s water bottle because he was mad that Wheels struck out and didn’t sacrifice to move Dash to second like he was supposed to.

  If you look at it the right way, I’m doing everyone a favor with my initiative.

  I’m not bragging or being conceited. I’m just saying what everyone knows deep down.

  I don’t lie and I don’t hustle for money and I don’t set up my friends and family to study their reactions.

  Not anymore.

  I merely recognize my administrative influence, superior people skills and habit of acting definitively in moments of maximum need. I have a knack for being calm, cool and collected.

  I used to think like that.

  Until my life took a flying leap into the deep end of a nuclear power plant’s spent-fuel pool.

  1

  The True Politician Never Backs Down from a Challenge

  I was sitting on the front stairs of school Monday morning, waiting for the first bell so I could head to homeroom. I was also watching Tina, who was standing by the flagpole with her friends.

  Katrina Maria Zabinski, the World’s Most Beautiful, Most Perfect, Best-Smelling Girl. Never in the history of girls has anyone been as … radiant as Tina. I looked up pictures of Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Mata Hari and Nefertiti and, even though they’re supposed to be world-class babes, they’ve got nothing on Tina. In fact, I thought they were kind of horrible-looking, but when you’ve seen perfection up close and in person, everything else seems dismal in comparison. Especially if all you have to go by is ancient artwork that usually makes them look super crabby.

  I was now Tina’s official boyfriend. I no longer had to worry about how to get her. Now I was panicked about
how to keep her.

  We’d had a great time at my neighbor Betsy’s grandparents’ fiftieth-anniversary party a week ago. It had been everything I’d ever dreamed of—me and Tina talking and laughing and eating chunks of banana dipped in the chocolate fountain. The perfect first date.

  I freaked out after the party, though, and reverted to form last week at school.

  Which meant that I fell over my own feet every time I saw her and, for conversation, made sounds like the dinosaurs probably did the nanosecond they saw the giant meteorite hurtling toward them. She didn’t seem to mind, she’d smile and wave as I hurried away from her, so I didn’t make a bad situation worse. But I couldn’t count on her tolerance forever. If you want a girl like that to stay your girlfriend, you’ve got to raise your game.

  I had to find a way to impress her. Fast.

  “Hey.” My best buddy, JonPaul, appeared as if out of thin air. That’s the thing: when Tina’s around, I don’t notice anything else. A volcano could erupt next to me and I wouldn’t flinch. Unless, of course, the molten lava threatened Tina’s safety, in which case I like to think I’d swoop in to save her. Kevin Spencer: middle school superhero.

  “Hey.” I watched JonPaul pull Baggies of edamame and slivered almonds and dried figs out of his messenger bag. He’s a health nut and a jock and he eats the ugliest food on the planet. This was his post-breakfast, pre-midmorning-snack snack. He’s obsessed with fueling his body for optimum performance on the field. On the court. In the ring. Whatever. I can never keep track of what sport he’s playing.

  “What are you doing sitting on the steps all by yourself?” He slurped from a bottle of pulverized-seaweed juice. I shuddered at the scummy green mustache it left behind.

  “Watching Tina.”

  “Why?”

  “She’s beautiful.”

  “If you say so.” JonPaul had a girlfriend of his own, Sam, and wasn’t the kind of shady boyfriend who’d notice other girls. Even if they were shockingly gorgeous. “Why are you just watching her? Thought you two were official.”

  “We are. Kind of. Sort of. I guess.” I was about to explain my dilemma when I noticed Cash Devine working his way through the crowd, handing out buttons, flashing his big phony smile and shaking hands. He was wearing a sandwich board—VOTE 4 CA$H.

  “What’s he doing?” Cash is my mortal enemy. He doesn’t realize I can’t stand him, but I’ve loathed Cash from the moment I saw him two weeks ago, when he transferred to our school and latched on to Tina. Cash looks exactly like the kind of guy who should be dating a girl who looks like Tina. Therefore, I spend a great deal of time thinking about how he annoys me.

  “Running for student-body president.”

  “Don’t we already have one?”

  “Not anymore. Danny Donnerson moved.”

  “What’s with all this moving all of a sudden? Don’t today’s parents care about providing stability for their kids—and their kids’ classmates—anymore?”

  “Dunno.” JonPaul stays pretty detached when I rant and rave. He’s very calming that way.

  Just then Cash headed for the group of girls standing near the flagpole.

  He headed toward Tina.

  The same primal instinct that prompted the cavemen to wave spears in the air when the woolly mammoth came too close kicked in and I was on my feet, barreling toward my competition.

  I arrived at Tina’s circle of friends just as Cash was reaching out to hand her a button; I slid between them at the last second. He jerked his hand back and jabbed himself in the leg with the pin.

  “Oh, hey, Cash, you okay there? Gotta be careful,” I said, hoping Tina would appreciate the concern in my voice and not realize how insincere I was.

  “Uh, yeah, I’m good. First blood of the campaign season,” he guffawed, sounding exactly like the guy on the local-access cable channel who’s way too excited about selling used cars. “Can’t win an election without a little wear and tear.” He looked over my shoulder and winked at the girls.

  I heard a collective sigh and turned to face Tina and her friends. JonPaul had Tina holding one of his gluten-free rice cakes while he drizzled organic honey on it, so she, thank the gods of love, wasn’t one of the sighers. Connie Shaw and Katie Knowles, my sorta friends, were two of the girls oohing and aahing over Cash. I felt a stab of jealousy even though I’m with Tina and I don’t like Katie and Connie that way.

  “Cash is going to run for student-body president,” Katie told me, a soft look on her face as she gazed at Cash. A flyer she’d been holding fluttered to the ground. I stooped to pick it up.

  CA$H 4 PRE$IDENT.

  That’s it? Three measly words. And one was a misused number! I flipped over the so-called campaign literature to see if I was missing the meaty message. We’d just finished a section in social studies on the American political process, so I knew that a voter should expect dazzling rhetoric and impressive verbiage.

  Nope. Nothing. The other side of the paper was blank. I shook my head: I’ve written more engrossing and persuasive text messages. The slogan, if that’s what you call it, was underneath a huge head shot of Cash, winking and flashing a combination double thumbs-up/finger pistols. Totally cheesy and lame.

  Too bad the girls didn’t think so. They were staring at him. Either they’d used a real heavy hand with the makeup that morning or they were coming down with fevers, because they were all rosy-cheeked.

  Ick.

  I peeked at Tina. JonPaul, good man, had accidentally dribbled honey on her, so she was paying more attention to her sticky sleeve than to Cash’s cry for attention. He’s so obvious.

  “I’m running too.” I hoped I didn’t look as surprised as I felt to hear my own voice blurt that out. I jammed a hand behind my back to cross my fingers, hoping that I looked casual, almost bored, like I made announcements like this all the time.

  I hadn’t woken up that morning planning to run for student-body president, but it’s undemocratic to have a candidate run unopposed. This is how third world countries begin to languish under oppressive regimes. Besides, I couldn’t let Cash steal the spotlight.

  “You are?” JonPaul choked on a rice cake.

  “You are?” Katie gave me a cool once-over.

  “You are?” Connie clapped her hands.

  The other girls were all staring at Cash as if he were the embodiment of every member of every boy band on the planet.

  Double ick. But their mindless adoration of his surface perfection stiffened my resolve.

  “Yes.” I lifted my chin, wishing a sudden gust of wind would ruffle my hair and make me look rugged. Rugged and determined and a little like a male model.

  Tina, who was patting JonPaul’s back because he was still yakking up rice cake, smiled at me, and as my heart skipped a beat, I knew I had the perfect opportunity to dazzle her. Girls like Tina were born to date student-body presidents. “I didn’t get a chance to, uh, mention, my, um, intentions before, but, yeah, I—”

  “I’ll help you,” Connie blurted out. She’s very politically minded, and ever since we’d worked together on a debate in front of the city council a few weeks back, she’d been forwarding me articles about, um, whatever it was we’d argued in favor of. Or against. It was really boring, and I only paid attention to the details long enough to fake my way through the meeting. I’m good like that: I know exactly how long I need to retain information before I can purge it in favor of something new. I have a mind like a constantly upgrading computer operating system.

  “Glad I can count on you,” I told Connie. Before I could turn to Tina and ask for her support, or at least her vote, if not yet her hand in marriage, Katie spoke up.

  “Cash,” she said in a tone that made my stomach clench up, “I’d like to offer my services to your campaign.” I bet that Katie’s sudden interest probably had less to do with Cash’s qualities and more to do with his perfect smile. And the fact she doesn’t trust me as far as she can throw me. We’ve had a few … misunderstandings in the
past that have made me one of her least favorite people.

  Volunteering to work on Cash’s campaign gave Katie the chance to spend more time with him and get under my skin. Good one, Katie, I thought; you’re so devious and forward-thinking, you could almost be me.

  She caught my eye and we nodded, like two gunfighters in the Old West before they turned and counted off paces. She knew and I knew: Cash and I might be running against each other, but Katie and I were the ones who would be fighting it out.

  Game on.

  2

  The True Politician Seizes the Day

  I don’t dislike Katie, and we’ve had a few nice moments where we’ve clicked as friends, but we mostly seem to get on each other’s nerves. The combined force of our personalities repels us from one another. They say nature abhors a vacuum, but it doesn’t like two take-charge personalities in the same vicinity either.

  I keep trying to get along with Katie, but it never seems to work out. And I could tell from the looks we gave each other that we weren’t about to start getting chummy now. But I wasn’t going to let something personal distract me. I was in this race to win. I’d harness our tension as inspiration; her … antipathy toward me would motivate me to do my best. Every politician needs a worthy opponent, and from what I’d seen of Cash, he wouldn’t give me the run for my money that I knew Katie would. This way, I’d impress Tina, put dopey Cash in his place and become a seasoned veteran of a hard-fought political war by defeating Katie’s candidate. Which was perfect, because everyone knows that good things come in threes.

  The second after Katie and I silently acknowledged the battle lines, the bell rang. We sprinted toward the building, weaving between slow-moving students and leaping the front steps in single bounds, neck and neck as we crossed the foyer. I gained a few feet on her when Mrs. Nickerson, the home ec teacher, stopped to sip from her cup of coffee. Katie dodged to the left and missed knocking Mrs. Nickerson over, but the maneuver cost her valuable seconds and I raced down the hall ahead of her.

 
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