by Glenn Miller. Shortlistee of the Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults competition 2023

The other boy—
the one with a sharp nose and eyes the color of dead sawgrass—
finally speaks.

We’re in a juvenile detention van,
an hour from our destination,
and this kid turns to me and starts saying that, before we arrive,
I should adopt a persona.
‘You know,’ he says. ‘An alter-ego.’

I swallow hard.
My whole life, I’ve been trying to come up with a better version of myself,
but nothing has fit.
I try to picture myself as someone stronger, leaner, meaner.
A few minutes later, though, my mind is still blank.
I am who I am.

‘Goon,’ I mumble, slouching further down in the vinyl seat
that’s sticky with sweat and humidity.
‘The name’s Goon.’

Goon (noun): a thug; a fool; someone stupid or awkward; a follower

The other boy’s face shrivels up,
like he’s just been forced to eat a turd.
‘Goon?! That’s the stupidest name I’ve ever heard.’

The JDD officer in the driver’s seat laughs.
The back of his head and the road beyond
are chopped into squares by the metal cage
that separates him from Sawgrass-eyes and me.

‘What’s your name?’ I ask, trying to turn the tables.

He ignores my question. ‘Goon,’ he mocks in a stupid voice.
‘It sounds fat and ugly, like you.’

I glance toward the officer again.
He doesn’t laugh this time, just turns up the radio.

I’m a big kid.
I’m what you might call huge,
but not in a Dwayne Johnson ‘The Rock’ I-could-kill-you-with-my-little-finger way.
No, I’m huge in a ‘Fluffy’ Iglesias way—only taller, with longer hair.
I even had a pretty good sense of humor once upon a time.