Aspiring novelist is an eighth-grader at Oakdale Junior High

Teens in the NewsroomApril 16, 2014 

  • Preview the book

    An excerpt from Chapter 6 of “My Life as the Socially Awkward Narwhal,” “A Subtle Forthcoming”:

    The next day I found myself standing in the sludge-paced lunch line to buy Olivia gummy worms.

    It turns out she’s in all of my classes, being equally smart and cunning and funny. But instead of awkward, she’s always felt invisible. She said she’d rather be noticed for random acts of clumsiness than to be invisible to the average human being.

    After five minutes of scrupulous standing, accompanied by the blinding light of an overly friendly sun, I returned to our rickety seating arrangements and plopped down, offering Olivia some gummy worms.

    “Hey! It’s opened already!” Olivia exclaimed.

    “Opening tax,” I said, catching the red and yellow worm attempt to free itself from the depths of my dark, moist mouth. I heard Olivia mumble a mixed “eww” to which I responded by chewing with superfluous effort. She giggled a goofy giggle.

    I have a friend.

    How’d that happen? Me out of all people, the narwhal, the socially awkward uncoordinated goofy me. I have a friend, one I don’t plan on losing anytime soon.

    – Ruby Zoom Houchens

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Not many kids aspire to write a novel before they’re even in their teens. But 12-year-old Ruby Zoom Houchens, an eighth-grader at Oakdale Junior High, is well on her way to doing just that.

After falling asleep in her second-grade class, Ruby skipped the rest of that grade level in pursuit of more challenging material. Now in pre-AP and the Gifted and Talented Education program, Ruby has plenty to challenge her. Being ASB president and a Kids CrossFit instructor, playing on a volleyball team and horseback riding keep her busy. So does that novel.

Teachers told her she had a gift for writing, so she decided to pursue it. About two years ago, Ruby started writing poems and began to enjoy writing. “Writing is all about compiling your emotions,” she said.

She wrote some short stories, too, but noted, “The ‘short’ part was hard for me. I elaborated one of my stories into ‘MLATSAN.’ ” That acronym stands for her novel-in-progress, “My Life as the Socially Awkward Narwhal,” a tale about her alter-ego, Jessica Ashley, who deals with social awkwardness throughout her middle school experience.

Ruby was born in New York, moved to Vermont and finally to California in the third grade. She’s been bullied and understands what it is like to be “socially awkward.”

“I do struggle with feeling awkward about myself,” said the only child of mom Melinda, a doctor with Sutter Gould, and dad Kyle, who is self-employed.

“My classmates have high expectations of me and tend to act surprised when they are not met,” Ruby said. “Sometimes I fear they are not kidding, even if they say, ‘Just kidding.’ 

Having, at last count, 18,452 words under her belt, Ruby Zoom (yes, that’s her real middle name) is excited to be near completion of her novel and promises readers that the end is redeeming. She hopes to be done writing in May, then approach publishers with her manuscript. Most publishers like to see a completed manuscript before committing, she has learned.

Current and former teachers at Oakdale Junior High are highly impressed with Ruby’s talent and drive.

“Ruby is one of the most talented writers I have ever taught,” said English teacher Dee Hawksworth. “She writes extremely well, whether it’s poetry, essays or fiction.

“I won’t take any credit for her skills! Ruby came to me already knowing the importance of revision, and she’s always been motivated. She crafts her sentences and paragraphs carefully and thoughtfully, and she is descriptive without overwriting. Reading her work is a pleasure.”

Ruby’s former history teacher, Rachel Torres, now has her as a teaching assistant in a world history class.

“She is an awesome student and person. … She is always striving for excellence in all she attempts, she is self-motivated and has worked hard to develop the skills that have helped her succeed in anything she sets her mind to,” Torres said.

“I have seen her writing on several occasions, and she has such a well-developed vocabulary, especially for only being in eighth grade,” Torres added.

Though at 12 years old Ruby admits it’s hard to imagine what her future holds, she said she wants to continue writing, she enjoys math and she wants to explore the world. Simply put: “I want to know more than I do now,” she said.

Dominique Germann is a freshman and Modesto Junior College and a member of The Bee’s Teens in the Newsroom program. Bee local news editor Deke Farrow contributed to this report.

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