In How to Be Manly released by Giant Squid Books, when Fatty Matty Sullivan finds a self-help book by former football great Tad Manly at a yard sale, he secretly starts following the old pro’s advice to get in shape and get the girl. Summer goals: lose the milkshake weight, join the football team, and turn himself into the kind of guy super hot Cassie Bale will love.
But between taking care of his grandfather, trying to pass remedial Algebra, and getting caught up in his friend Jester’s half-baked weed-dealing schemes, Matty’s summer isn’t quite the game-changer he’d planned. When on top of it all his dad moves back in with his own plans to get rich quick, Matty suddenly has much bigger things to worry about than football and whether or not Cassie’s going to call him back. And it turns out that there might be more to being manly than he thought. Available now.
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Praise for How to Be Manly
“I have found a new hero in Matty Sullivan, and a new favorite writer in Maureen Wanket. How To Be Manly is more than a coming of age story–it’s a gritty quest full of heart. Buy two copies of this book–one to read and one to give to someone you love. I couldn’t put it down. Neither will you.”
–Jodi Angel, author of You Only Get Letters From Jail (Tin House Books, 2013)
“How to be Manly is an amazing book, and I absolutely love it. It’s smart and funny and Matt Sullivan is a wonderful character—totally believable and indelibly likeable. I would and will recommend it to anyone.”
–Tricia Stirling, When My Heart Was Wicked (Scholastic Press, coming 2015)
“Readers of all ages will laugh and cry as Matt Sullivan learns How To Be Manly. Maureen O’Leary Wanket has written a beautiful and engaging first novel.”
–Vanessa Diffenbaugh, author of The Language of Flowers (Ballantine Books, 2011)
Chapter One: Hefty Boy
If I trace everything that happened during the summer that changed everything, it started the day I was trying on jeans in the Hefty Boys. The store where I buy clothes at is too polite to have a Fat Kid department. Somebody thought it was better to call it Hefty Boys.
Hefty Boys pants are sized by how many letters X they can fit by the letter L. You start off with the size L, which is pretty skinny for a Hefty Boy. Then it goes up to XL, XXL, and so on. It doesn’t go past 4 X’s. By then I guess the people who make clothes figure the Hefty Boy has problems they can’t help him with.
There was a guy who was on one of Grandma’s talk shows who lay in bed all day hollering for his mom to bring him food. They couldn’t even get him into the studio. The cameramen had to go to his house. A couple weeks later they did a follow up show and it turns out that guy died and firemen had to take his body out the window with a crane.
That fat man on the TV show was on my mind when I pulled up a pair of XL jeans in the dressing room of the Hefty Boys. XL was the size I usually got but I should have known better because my old pants were too tight. I folded in my stomach like a big taco and pulled up the zipper. I didn’t even try the button. I stood there for a minute to see how stupid my fat looked. I jumped up and down to see it jiggle around.
I needed XXL at least. The thing was I didn’t feel like telling Grandma to go get a bigger size. She wouldn’t care or be mad. It was just that the guy on TV needed to be loaded out on a crane. Maybe I would keep getting more and more Extra Large until nothing ever fit me and I couldn’t get out of bed.
Grandma got past the attendant and knocked on the dressing room door.
“You all right in there, Matty?”
“I’m fine Grandma,” I said.
“Yeah. I’ll be right out.”
My forehead was sweaty and my stomach hurt. I unzipped. Carefully.
My legs must have expanded or else the jeans got tighter because I could not pull them off me. I took a deep breath and sucked everything in as much as I could. I pulled so hard I was shaking. Still nothing. They would not come down.
Another kid went into the stall next to me. No matter how fast I tried to go it didn’t make a difference. The jeans weren’t coming off.
The seams dug into my legs like razors. I couldn’t catch my breath. I had a crazy thought that these were jeans of evil and that they meant to kill me.
` “Grandma,” I called. The boy in the other stall snorted.
“Matty. I’m right here,” she said. I unlatched the door so that I could hide behind it.
“I’m stuck,” I said.
She put down her purse and ordered me to stand still. She hooked her thumbs in the belt loops and crouched down and pulled. The jeans moved an inch. She farted a little bit and I thought the kid in the next stall was going to die laughing. I wished he would.
Grandma acted like she couldn’t hear. She got a look in her eyes like she was going into war. She told me to lie down on the floor.
“Maybe we can just get a pair of scissors—“ I suggested, but Grandma wouldn’t have it.
“On the floor,” she said. I had to do it. I must have lost my mind to think that Grandma would ever pay for a pair of jeans that were cut up with scissors. I tried to position my head so the kid next to us wouldn’t think I was trying to look at him from underneath. Grandma bent over to grab the cuffs and then stood straight so that my feet were sticking up in the air. She pulled as hard as she could. The fabric squeezed my legs but those stupid jeans were no match against Grandma. They gave way. When she fell back the whole stall rattled like it was going to fall down.
The store worker pounded on the door, yelling that this was the BOYS DRESSING ROOM ONLY. Grandma neatly folded the jeans that tried to kill me into a big blue square and wiped her face on it. She went out and asked for the next size up.
“Go on,” she said, following the worker down the aisle. “We don’t have all day.”
I wasn’t in the mood for shopping anymore. The kid from the other stall walked past, shaking his head like I was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. I shut the door.
I didn’t know what one Hefty Boy was laughing at another one for anyway.
After trying on more stuff I walked out with a couple XXL pairs that just fit. Triple X would have been more comfortable but no way was I going that far.
What happened next was even worse than getting stuck in those jeans. Grandma was standing by the register talking with Coach Grimes. My P.E. teacher. To make it worse, Coach’s daughter Jessica was with them. She stared up at the Hefty Boys sign with a picture of this happy looking fat kid on it. Whoever designed the Hefty Boys department should have known better than to put it right by the door to the parking lot so people coming into the mall had to walk through. They should have put it in a corner somewhere. Better yet underground. In a cave.
Jessica hung out with the jock types at school. She went to the same church as me but I didn’t know her well enough for it to be okay for her to see me at the Hefty Boys. If anybody at school found out they would tease me every day until I graduated or died.
I crept backwards towards the dressing rooms where I would be safe. Jessica couldn’t follow me in there. It was for boys only. The guy in charge even said it. But Grandma spotted me. She waved me over. Coach Grimes nodded like he knew what I had been trying to do. He would come in after me, too. He’d pull me out before ordering ten push-ups right there on the floor.
Jessica smiled. Maybe she was laughing.
I tried to look cool like this wasn’t a nightmare happening.
Grandma touched the back of her afro lightly and smiled. “Look who’s here, Matty,” she said. “Mr. Grimes tells me that you should go out for football.”
“I think we could use him on the team,” Coach said. He was still looking at me. “Try outs are over, but I would make an exception for your grandson, Mrs. Sullivan. We could train him for Junior Varsity. He’d make a good offensive lineman with hard work.”
Coach put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. His hand was huge and it kind of hurt.
He patted me on the back a couple times then crossed his arms in front of his chest. His muscles bulged out. There was a rumor at school that Coach lifted this kid George over his head like a barbell at a football practice. He gave me the eye like he was wondering if he could do the same to me.
I looked down at my shoes while they talked about football so that he wouldn’t get any big ideas. I didn’t think he could lift me but I didn’t want him to try it. I was having a hard enough day. Grandma was saying that she would think about signing me up for football like I wasn’t standing right there to ask about it. The answer would be no and she knew it.
Jessica tapped my arm. “I’m so sick of school. Only one more day till summer,” she said. Her father’s voice boomed through the whole mall. He was laughing at something my grandmother said like they were best friends all of a sudden.
“I know,” I said.
“Are you doing anything fun for vacation or whatever?” she asked.
“Just hanging out. You?”
Jessica shrugged. She was wearing a tank top and her skin looked smooth. I tried to remember which sports she played. I tugged at the front of my shirt so it wouldn’t stick to my chest and outline my man boobs. After what I’d just seen in the dressing room mirror I wasn’t taking any chances.
“I’m helping my dad train the team over the summer,” she said. “He’s paying me to spot in the weight room and carry water. Stuff like that.”
“That’s cool,” I said.
“Are you going to Mike’s party tomorrow?” she asked.
“Maybe I’ll see you there,” she said. Coach Grimes was giving my grandmother a card with his number on it. Jessica turned to wave at me as they walked away.
“What a wonderful man,” Grandma said as we went to the car. “So nice that he took the time to say hello. Kyle’s mother and I were friendly before she passed away, you know.”
“Huh,” I said. Grandma was friendly with everybody. It was hard to think of Coach Grimes as a guy named Kyle. It was hard to think of him with a grandmother. As a matter of fact I didn’t think Coach Grimes had ever been a kid.
“You should go out for the team. Kyle seems to think you’d be good at it.”
“Yeah right,” I said.
“His daughter is very pretty. Didn’t you think so, Matty?”
“I don’t know.”
“If you weren’t so hung up on that Cassie Bale, you could see that Jessica was flirting with you.”
“Grandma! Don’t be so loud,” I said. Luckily there was nobody near us in the parking lot. Grandma laughed even though there wasn’t anything funny.
“You’ve been holding a torch for Cassie for too long and it’s time to blow it out,” she said. “Maybe you should call up Jessica Grimes. I have their phone number right here.” She waved the card Coach gave her in my face.
I put on my sunglasses and walked faster. I told Grandma that I liked Cassie way back in eighth grade before I knew better than to tell her anything like that. Anyway I could never make Grandma understand what it was between Cassie and me. I couldn’t just “blow out the torch”. Even if I could, Jessica would probably never like me either. That was something else I could never make Grandma understand. She thought I was the best looking guy who ever lived.
It was a million degrees outside. Grandma and I looked around right quick as she passed me the car keys. I was only fifteen and didn’t even have a learner’s permit yet so I wasn’t exactly supposed to be driving. But Grandma didn’t like driving and when Grandpa failed his DMV test when I was in seventh grade, she taught me how. I liked it. I was the only kid I knew in the freshman class who could drive a car.
Once I got behind the wheel I put the air conditioner on full blast. Grandma stopped teasing me about my love life. She got back on the subject of football.
“I think you should give the team a try. Just go for one practice,” she said.
“Grandma. No.” She just clicked her tongue and kept on talking about how much fun it would be for her and Grandpa to sit in the stands and watch me play and wave a pom-pom at me while I ran down the field. Me, the kid she’d just had to rescue from a pair of Extra Large jeans in the boys dressing room. It didn’t make sense.
It also didn’t make sense that Coach Grimes even wanted me to play football. I could do the mile run in P.E. without falling over, but not very fast. Plus, the man scared the crap out of me. Maybe this was his way of getting back at me for being slow in P.E. Maybe he was just trying to be nice to Grandma. Either way, Grandma could buy my clothes without me next time. If I didn’t like what she picked she could bring it back. No more stupid dressing rooms in the Hefty Boys. No more going to the mall where there might be P.E. teachers and girls.
We went to the drive-thru for dinner. I passed her the food and she put it in the back seat. The whole car smelled like French fries by the time we got home.
Grandma was cheerful as she brought the shopping bags into the house. “It’s settled. You’re going out for football,” she said.
“No way,” I said. But I wasn’t sure. Grandma couldn’t literally make me go out for football. Could she?