Eric Walters has written over 100—yes, you read that correctly—beloved books for young people, and won countless awards. Now a Member of the Order of Canada and a grandfather, Walters shows no sign of slowing down, and the compelling characters and delicious mysteries of his novels are as fresh as when he started writing in the early '90s.
In his newest tale, Made 4 You (DCB), Becky James knows it's tough being the new kid in school. So when Gene Newman arrives in her small town, she takes him under her wing.
But strangely, Gene isn't nervous, even though he's not just in a new school – he's in his first school ever, after a lifetime of homeschooling. And that's not the only weird thing about Gene. He's brilliant at nearly every subject in school, and yet he can't answer simple questions like the name of his favourite song or TV show.
Becky soon finds herself equal parts fascinated and confused by her new friend. When she earns his trust, Gene confesses his secret to her, and things finally make sense. But now Becky has a new problem, because Gene's secret is way bigger—and far more dangerous—than she ever could have guessed.
We're sharing an excerpt from Made 4 You today courtesy of DCB, to give a glimpse into Walters' entrancing new story. Get a glimpse of Becky and Gene here, and read on by picking up a copy of Made 4 You.
Excerpt from Made 4 You by Eric Walters:
Walking through the hall by myself, I suddenly realized how much I enjoyed being alone. Gene was nice, and innocent, and obviously bizarrely smart, but it felt more like childcare than hosting. It was funny how he knew so much about school subjects but so little about life. I’d tried to get him talking about regular things. He didn’t watch television, didn’t have a favorite movie or song, and didn’t know anything about sports. It would be good to be in music and not have to struggle to make conversation with him.
I happily settled into my seat and pulled out my clarinet. All around, other students assembled their instruments, playing scales or snippets of songs, waiting for class to formally begin. Funny how, thanks to Gene, I seemed to be more aware of the sounds of the school.
I looked up. Gene was standing at the door, and in his one hand was a saxophone case. I was surprised. No, I was shocked. Part of me had really believed that he didn’t play the saxophone, that he was just trying to impress me, and now here he was, carrying a saxophone.
I got to my feet, still carrying my clarinet, and rushed over.
“You can’t just walk into a class and join. It’s not like homeschooling, you have to follow your timetable.”
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“I changed my timetable so I could be in music instead of physics.”
“But why would you do that?”
“You said, ‘Just out of curiosity. If you play the saxophone, why didn’t you take music?’”
“That doesn’t mean that I thought you should drop out of physics and sign up for music!”
“Should I sign back up for physics?” he asked.
“You should do what you want to do.”
“Then I want to be in music.”
“Okay, but are you good enough to be in the school band?”
“I believe I am.”
I suddenly realized all the instruments had gone silent. All eyes were on us, including those of Ms. Freeman, who was standing at the front, waiting and listening.
“I’m assuming you must be my potential new student, Gene Newman.”
“I was informed by the office about you,” Ms. Freeman said. “You are aware that to be part of an advanced music class, a student has to audition to show they can perform at this level?”
“Yes. Mrs. Evans informed me of that. Would you like me to play now?”
“Gene, you don’t have to do this,” I said.
“He does if he wants to be in this class,” Ms. Freeman said. “Can one of the alto sax players give him a piece of music to play?” she added. “Something challenging. Becky, why don’t you help your new friend to get a music stand and a seat out front, where everybody can hear and see him.”
I wanted to argue with her, to protect him, the way I should have protected him from the biology test — wait, he got a ninety-seven on the test. But this was different. It didn’t matter if he could play the saxophone, he’d have to be amazing to see a difficult piece of music for the first time and play it perfectly. Especially with all these people staring at him. This was less like an audition and more like a public execution.
I put the stand in front of him as he opened up his case. “You don’t have to do this,” I whispered again. “You can play for me later, when I come to your house.”
“I have to play for Ms. Freeman if I wish to get into the class.”
He pulled his saxophone out. It was beautiful and looked brand new — like it had never been played before. Glenn, one of the sax players, put a piece of music on the stand.
“Good luck, man, this one’s really hard. I’ve been working on it for the last two weeks.”
“Thank you,” Gene replied. He slung the instrument around his neck and adjusted the strap slightly.
“Would you like to look the piece over first?” Ms. Freeman asked.
“No, that will not be necessary, ma’am.”
“Can he warm up, practice the piece in the hall for a few minutes?” I asked.
“That would be fair,” Ms. Freeman replied.
Her voice had softened. She must have realized that it wasn’t right to have him —
“That will not be necessary either, ma’am.”
He put the sax to his lips and started playing. The first few notes were clear and round — he was playing, and he was playing well. I recognized the piece. It was part of our band repertoire, and the sax had a solo part. It was a very complicated part, and Glenn and the other two sax players hadn’t been able to play well enough for us to do it in performance. I also knew that the piece got progressively harder. Would he be able to keep it up? Then again, even if he didn’t, he’d already proved that he could play. He was really good, better than the other sax players in the class. His tone was wonderful. He was playing with such feeling, such emotion.
And then I realized how stupid I had been to think he’d lied about playing to try to impress me.
This excerpt is taken from the book Made 4 You by Eric Walters, published by Cormorant Books Inc., Toronto. Copyright 2022 © Eric Walters. Reprinted with permission.
Eric Walters began writing in 1993 as a way to entice his grade 5 students into becoming more interested in reading and writing. Walters has now published 120 novels and picture books. His novels have become best-sellers, been translated into 16 languages, and have won over 100 awards, including 8 Forest of Reading awards and the 2020 Governor General’s Literary Award. He conceived of the I Read Canadian Day and is a tireless presenter, speaking to over 100,000 students per year across North America. In 2014, Walters was named a Member of The Order of Canada. He lives in Guelph, ON with his wife, Anita, and they have 3 grown children – Christina, Nicholas, and Julia – and 6 grandchildren.