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  • Pool Boy
  • Written by Michael Simmons
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  • Pool Boy
  • Written by Michael Simmons
    Read by Chad Lowe
  • Format: Unabridged Audiobook Download | ISBN: 9780807223246
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Read by Chad Lowe
On Sale: March 23, 2004
ISBN: 978-0-8072-2324-6
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Fifteen-year-old Brett Gerson is a real-life S.R.K. (spoiled rich kid)–the guy you love to hate. Yep, Brett’s pretty much got life in the bag–until his dad is jailed for insider trading, and the family money swirls down the drain.

Brett wishes things could go back to the way they were–until some dirty swimming pools change everything.

Excerpt

It's like this. I used to be one of those kids who could coast through life without having to do any of the unpleasant things most people have to do. I'm fairly smart, pretty athletic, and some have even told me I'm reasonably handsome. The key to the cushy life I used to lead was that I also used to be rich. Not fairly, or pretty, or reasonably, but extremely. Extremely rich. All that changed one day when cops and guys in suits showed up at my house and told my dad that he was in big trouble and that he owed the U.S. government ten million dollars.

Dad tried to run. He pushed one of the cops and tried to make a getaway out the back. It's actually funny when you think about it. Eight armed cops and my dad tries to outrun them through the kitchen. He got as far as the stove before a bald guy they called Pointy tackled him to the ground. I guess it wasn't funny at the time, what with my mom and my sister crying hysterically and my dad's face bleeding. But it's sure funny now, now that it's over and now that I hate him.

My mother says that Dad's a different kind of criminal. He's a white-collar criminal, which she says means he didn't really hurt anyone. (Anyone but me, I always say.) But they still threw him in jail. Our rip-off artist of a lawyer said he'd be in less trouble if he hadn't tried to run.

The thing is that Dad never really acted like a criminal. He laughed a lot, always kept his hair neatly combed, always wore a suit and tie, blah blah blah. And he had a smile that made you trust him, made you think everything would be all right. He even cried when they finally carted him off. That's something you never see in the movies--a bad guy who cries when the cops nab him. That was a rough thing to see. That was probably the hardest thing of all--watching Dad cry as cops threw him into the back of a squad car. Don't get me wrong. Right now, I hate the guy. But that was rough.

But enough about him. He blew it and now he has to live with it. So let me tell you what's really unfair: the fact that I, an entirely innocent human being, had to give up my easy life. I know, plenty of people live happy lives without being loaded. But if you go from the life of leisure that I once had, to the life of toil and drudgery that I have now, it's very, very hard.

My mom even forced me to get a job. She said I needed to start a college fund. Let me tell you what I really need: my old life back. That's it. I don't need college and I don't need a job. I need a house with a pool, and an expensive stereo, and a beach house. Just so I'm clear, let me say that I now have none of these things.

It's not like I thought I'd never have to work. But I planned to put it off until after I went to business school. And I even imagined that I might have to scrimp and save a bit. My best friend, Frank, and I were planning a trip to Mexico for the summer after we graduated from high school. We were going to live by our wits, sleep on the beach, surf all day, and catch fish for dinner. Maybe we'd live like that forever. Never come home. Now life on the cheap doesn't seem so exciting.

When my dad was first carted off, my family tried to be hush-hush about it. "We have to keep up appearances," my mother kept saying. My sister and I continued going to school, playing sports, attending class dances like nothing had happened. My mother even decided to go ahead with an addition we were building on our house. "We don't want people to think anything's wrong," she said. But when a huge article about my father was finally plastered on the front page of the Glenwood Times, people didn't have to spend time wondering what was up with the Gerson family. It was all there in black and white.

After our contractor read the story, he told my mom he was going to bill her for the work he had already done on the addition. He said he billed all his customers this way--bit by bit. My mom was pretty mad after he left. "He's never billed anyone like that in his life," she yelled. "He just wants to make sure he gets his money."

Guess what. She was right. He did want to get his money. And he was right to be worried, cause we haven't paid him a dime. We still owe him. Now the beautiful, happy suburb of Glenwood, California, knows that the Gersons are a bunch of welchers.

"Can't you ask your grandparents for money?" my best friend Frank asked one afternoon by his pool after I finally told him what was going on.

"My grandparents?" I said. "Two are dead and the other two live in Maine and haven't got a nickel. The only one in my family who ever got rich was my dad."

Getting rich was, in fact, something Dad took lots of pride in. He loved to talk about how he was a big-time stockbroker and made lots of money. "Gerson boy makes good," he used to say every time he bought something big. He said it the time he bought a boat, the time he drove home a new Mercedes, and the day he bought our beach house.

He doesn't say it now.

"You must have some money somewhere," Frank said, after thinking it over for a few minutes.

I wanted to hit him. But I forgave him for this stupid remark because it's exactly what I said over and over to my mother.

"We must have some money somewhere," I kept saying. But she only shook her head.

"I know this is hard for you to understand," she told me. "It's hard for me to understand. But even after we sell everything we have, we're still in debt. We've got nothing." She said this and then started crying for the hundred-and-fiftieth time. Funny, after watching your mother cry one hundred and fifty times, it doesn't get any easier. It always hurts. And I'm sure it'll hurt after I see it for the thousandth time.
Michael Simmons

About Michael Simmons

Michael Simmons - Pool Boy

Photo © Courtesy of the Author

Q. What was your inspiration for this story? Is the book autobiographical in any way?
A.
I was doing research for a prison literacy project and kept reading about kids whose parents were locked up. It was pretty heartbreaking stuff. I started thinking about what that would be like–having a parent go to jail–and the story kind of took off from there. But not much about this book is autobiographical. Brett reminds me of a few people I’ve known over the years, but I think I’ll keep that to myself.

Q. Brett can be a pretty obnoxious guy. Was it easy to 'channel' him in the first person?
A.
Brett masks a lot of pain through a kind of blunt and sarcastic sense of humor. I don’t think I’m quite as obnoxious as Brett can be, but I definitely deal with trouble by finding the humor in it. It can be a good way to deal with things, so long as you can be serious when you need to be. I think Brett’s problem is that he has a hard time ever slipping away from his sarcastic outlook. There are times that he’d definitely benefit from a more sober take on things, but he can never quite resist cracking a joke. As for channeling him in first person, I’d say that once I had a good sense of Brett’s personality and voice, it was pretty easy to write from his perspective. I think it’s a little like being an actor. Once you’ve inhabited your character, you can see the whole world through their eyes.

Q. Brett’s observations about his parents are so real– for example, when he talks about how we’re nicer to everyone else’s mom than to our own. When you write, do you draw on your own childhood or try to observe teens today?
A.
I actually don’t spend too much time trying to get into the mind of a teenager, mostly because I think that teens face the same kinds of problems as anyone. For instance, in the case you mention, Brett cares a lot about his mother–he worries about her, wants her to be happy, etc.–but he doesn’t treat her very well, and definitely doesn’t treat her as well as he treats his friends’ mothers. Brett is pretty confused about this gap between his feelings and his actions, and it makes him feel guilty. This gap (and the guilt that follows) is pretty universal, in my opinion. I think most people wonder why they don’t treat people they love better. I definitely wonder about this. At any rate, in this respect, when I was trying to figure out Brett, I’d say I thought more about myself as I am today than what I was like when I was younger.

Q. What was your first job? Were you as unhappy as Brett is at Fast Burger?
A.
My first job was delivering newspapers in northern New Jersey. I actually liked the job a lot. I kept it for two years and never got in any fights with my boss. Different from Brett, I guess. I think Brett’s problem with Fast Burger is that he’s never had to do anything he didn’t want to. Pretty spoiled. But Brett’s a good guy–deep down–and he just hasn’t learned very much about the world yet. When he becomes a pool cleaner he changes, mostly because he’s got a guy like Alfie to help him along.

Q. How did you become a writer? What do you like about writing?
A.
I’m not really sure how I became a writer–it’s actually something I think about quite a bit. I sometimes think that I was just trying to get out of having a regular job. Writing is funny because it takes a lot of discipline and yet constantly makes you feel like you’re lazy and irresponsible. That is, sometimes it feels like a very difficult and time-consuming occupation, and other times it feels like I’m just goofing around.
As for what I like most about it, writing a book is a lot like reading one–once you get involved in the story, it becomes addictive. You can’t wait to see what will happen next. I really enjoy following my characters through their various escapades and adventures.

Q. When you write a book, do you have the whole story in your head before you begin? Did you know from the start that Alfie would die?
A.
Frankly, I didn’t even know Alfie was a character until Brett bumped into him while walking home one day. (I hate to admit that, but it’s true.) I think that when you’re starting a book, the important thing is to have some sort of solid sense of your narrator, or main character. Once that’s set, you can put him in almost any situation and the plot will kind of unfold on its own. People appear, the story changes, new situations arise, but you’ve still got the same, central person who’s trying to deal with it all.

Q. Do you ever start writing a book and not finish it? Any stories that you knew were doomed from the start?
A.
I mostly finish projects before I realize they’re doomed. I think the important thing is to be able to move on. Most writing is a kind of trial-and-error process, and the more time you spend wringing your hands, or polishing up something that’s never going to make it, the further you’ll be from publication. The other thing is that you have to be honest with yourself. Waiting around for an editor to tell you something is no good is not a smart idea. You’ve got to be willing to shelve your own work, no matter how much effort you’ve put into it.

Q. After his dad goes to prison, Brett vows repeatedly to never to let his guard down again. Do you think this is a theme that many readers can identify with?
A.
I think most people are pretty guarded about a lot of things, whether they realize it or not. It’s hard not to be– there are lots of ways to get hurt. The one thing about Brett (and I think this is true for most people) is that even his most carefully constructed defenses are pretty easy to tear down in certain situations. Brett acts like a tough guy, but by the end of the book, he reveals that he’s just as sentimental and vulnerable as anyone else.

Q. Do you ever think about Brett’s future?
A.
I think Brett has big plans for himself, and making lots of money is definitely on the list. But I don’t know if he’ll succeed or not. Obviously, people’s desires change from minute to minute, so who knows what he’ll want by the time he finishes high school? I am pretty sure that he’ll have a good time running the pool-cleaning business, though.

Q. In the book, Brett experiences two traumatic events in his life–the imprisonment of his father and the death of Alfie. Do you think he would ever have learned what he does without these events?
A.
I think that it’s important to see things from as many perspectives as possible. I’m not sure pain itself is all that helpful, but major life changes tend to let people see things in new and different ways. But there are lots of ways to find a new way of thinking about something without watching your dad get carted off to prison. Even stuff as simple as music and books can teach you a lot. But there’s no question that Brett’s world kind of melted away the day his dad went to prison–it’s hard to face a thing like that without learning something.

Q. Why did you want to write this book for a teen audience in particular?
A.
I was working for a publishing house, writing teaching guides for popular young adult novels. I liked a lot of them, and thought I might be able to write one myself. I had published short stories in the past, but never a novel, so this was my first crack at a longer piece. But it seemed to fall into place pretty easily. As for teen audiences, the best way to write for them is to forget that they’re teenagers. When books for young readers don’t succeed, it’s usually because the author is too conscious of his or her audience. Good stories will fly with all kinds of people–young and old. Frankly, I hope that anyone could read Pool Boy and get something out of it.
Praise | Awards

Praise

“With surprisingly sharp insight for a first novel, Simmons doesn’t bat an eyelash in his forcing his arrogantly smug antihero to combat a truckload of issues.”–School Library Journal, Starred

A Washington Post Book World Best Book of the Year

A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age

Awards

SELECTION 2005 YALSA Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. Brett’s friend Frank doesn’t seem to understand that Brett can’t spend money the way he used to. Have you ever had a friend or classmate who was clueless about your personal circumstances (like your financial situation or your family’s rules, for example)? Can you think of a situation in which you might have been insensitive to someone else?

2. You let your guard down, and they nail you. I wasn’t getting nailed. No way (p. 101).
How does Brett keep his guard up throughout the story? Is there a point at which he lets it down?

3. You’re looking for a solution. We’re human beings, after all.
We’re problem solvers
(p. 143).
With these words, Brett describes his initial reaction to Alfie’s death. Do you agree that a human being’s first reaction to a problem is to try somehow to solve it? Can you describe your feelings at a time when you had to confront a problem that couldn’t be solved?

4. How does Alfie’s death change Brett’s perspective on his own life? Has anyone close to you died? Beyond the sadness at the time, did this death permanently affect the way you think about your life?

5. What does Brett mean by "a kind of love that doesn’t really come with a list" (p. 162)? Are there people in your life whom you love but don’t really like?

6. Mostly I’d respond by saying, "Mom, you’re like boring me out of my mind" (p. 44).
Brett is very blunt. How would you compare yourself to him in the way you talk with your family? Do you wish you could change the way you and your family communicate? What would be your ideal?

7. How do Brett and his sister differ in the way they react to their father’s imprisonment? How do they deal differently with anger (see p. 89)? How do you think you would respond in Brett’s situation?

8. Why does Brett decide to visit his father after Alfie dies?
Have you ever changed your relationship with a person because of an event that had nothing to do with that person?

9. Why is working with Alfie so much better than working at Fast Burger? In your opinion, what makes a job a good one?

10. Have you ever had a friend who wasn’t in your age group, as with Alfie and Brett? How was your friend’s perspective or way of life different from yours? What could you learn from each other?


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