Table of Contents
Dial Books
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Copyright © 2008 by Elisha Cooper
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cooper, Elisha.
Ridiculous/hilarious/terrible/cool : a year in an American high school / Elisha Cooper.
p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-4406-3467-3
1. High school students—Illinois—Chicago—Juvenile literature.
2. High schools—Illinois—Chicago—Juvenile literature.
I. Title: Ridiculous, hilarious, terrible, cool. II. Title.
LA269.C4C56 2008
Some individuals in the book have requested that their names be changed. Some names have been changed to protect identities. In a few instances, the timeline of events has been rearranged for clarity.


for 1989
This is the dawning of the rest of our lives
Green Day
On the first day of school, Daniel Patton wakes at 5:15. Then he hits the snooze button. At 6:15 he wakes for good, showers, and puts on a blue pinstripe shirt, new jeans, and clean white sneakers.
At 6:30 he's out the door and striding past the rough brick houses of the South Side. The streets are deserted, the corner store still locked. Daniel boards his bus, taking a seat in the back so he can stretch his long legs. As the bus accelerates up the lake, the skyline of downtown Chicago shimmers on the horizon.
When the bus enters the Loop, Daniel transfers to the subway. He gets off three stops later and buys a bagel to go. Heading west in his loping gait, Daniel—a lanky African American teenager with cropped hair, black-rimmed glasses, and a backpack over his shoulder— looks exactly like a high school class president, which, in fact, he is.
Daniel is excited for his senior year. He's excited to be a leader of his high school, excited for his classes, excited to be applying to college. He's especially excited about applying to Harvard.
Then Daniel takes a left turn, and there is his school: Walter Payton College Preparatory High School. As the brick walls of the school come into focus, Daniel quickens his pace. A year of possibility stretches in front of him.
Payton sits in an athletic field like a block of butter on a green plate. Its walls are a cream brick, broken by tall windows that reach up to a curving metallic roof. The surrounding field has soccer goals, a baseball diamond, bushes and trees growing against the sides of the building. West of the school, past the rusted steel ribbon of the elevated train tracks, the Cabrini Green Housing Projects loom, countless concrete buildings in various states of demolition. East of the school, past steel and brick condos under construction, rise the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago. Payton is wedged between these two worlds.
Payton is a new high school, a magnet that draws students from all over the city. The students divide roughly along racial lines: a third black, a third white, a third Latino, with a smaller percentage who are Asian. Payton is a selective public high school, created as an academic urban alternative to the suburban high schools. They have a motto: “We nurture leaders.” They have a mascot: the Grizzly. They have an address—1034
North Wells Street—which intentionally contains the number (34) of the legendary Chicago Bears running back for whom Payton is named.
Today, on the first day of school, students gather outside the front door, looking as fresh and polished as their building. Or at least, freshly resolved. This year, this is what I am going to
. Then the doors open and the students surge past the security desk, and into the high school.
Emily Harris walks through the halls as if she were knocking people out of the way. Leading with the right shoulder, then the left. The expression on her face could knock people over too.
She doesn't look to either side of her. Doesn't look at the red lockers, the beige brick walls, the trophy cases packed with Walter Payton memorabilia: photographs of Walter playing football, balls that Walter signed, the box of Wheaties with Walter on the front. She doesn't even look at the bust of Walter outside the administration offices. Her eyes stay focused straight ahead.

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