The Trouble with Mark Hopper

Chapter One

The Hoppers

Mark Geoffrey Hopper had brown hair that he wore gelled in a side part, blue eyes, and a splattering of freckles across his face that made him look like he’d fallen asleep on a freshly laid gravel driveway. He usually wore khaki pants, a tucked-in shirt, and a look that said he would not only get farther than you in this afternoon’s geography bee, but he would look cuter doing it too. Mark Geoffrey Hopper had brown hair that he wore parted to the side, though without gel, blue eyes, and a spread of freckles across his face that looked like they’d been splattered on with a paint brush. He usually wore khaki pants, a tucked-in shirt, and a look that said he was impressed with everything around him, though he wasn’t quite sure how he got there.

Mark Geoffrey Hopper did not really look like Mark Geoffrey Hopper, but if you were describing him to a friend because you had a crush on him, or to the principal because he called you a dimwitted doofus, you would describe him the same way. That was the problem with Mark Hopper and Mark Hopper. Well, that and the fact that they had the same name.

Mark Hopper had lived in Greenburgh, Maryland, and had argued with most of its residents, for all eleven years of his life. The teachers at Ivy Road Middle School were tired just thinking that they might have Mark Hopper in their class when he started at the school next year, as they had just—finally!—gotten rid of Mark’s older sister, Beth, whose mouth was just as big and permanently sneered as her younger brother’s. Beth didn’t think school could teach her anything useful, and she made a point, daily, of asking each of her teachers how each lesson could possibly help her in real life. She was never absent, though—not once—since school was a good place to pull pranks. She’d pull them indiscriminately, on both teachers and students, which made her about as popular with her classmates as she was with the faculty. But that didn’t stop her. On her last day of eighth grade, Beth placed gum on every seat in every classroom on her schedule. She then prided herself on having everyone stand in her honor all day. Mark prided himself on everything.

The other Mark Hopper and his mother and sister moved into Greenburgh the summer before Mark was to start Ivy Road Middle School. And this Mark’s older sister Beth was just as quiet and pleasant as her little brother. Unlike Beth Hopper, Beth Hopper wasn’t going to the local high school in Greenburgh, but to the Lefko School for Science, where she was getting a scholarship to do one of her favorite things: research earthworms. When she found out that she was accepted to the Lefko School and that she had gotten a scholarship, she kissed her favorite earthworm, Inty (so named for his internal circulatory system—all of her earthworms were named for their biological features), right in front of Mark and some of his friends. After a few weeks of being called “Worm Lover” by everyone except his best friend, Sammy, Mark was kind of looking forward to moving to Greenburgh and starting at a new school.

Moving to Greenburgh also meant that Mark would get to spend lots of time with his grandpa, Murray. Mrs. Hopper found a nice big house for all of them: Mark, Beth, Grandpa Murray, herself, and her husband, who was only going to be living there on occasional weekends and holidays until he could find a job closer to Greenburgh and sell their old house in Massachusetts. Mark and Beth missed their father and couldn’t wait for him to move in with them permanently, but they loved living with Grandpa Murray. He was absentminded when it came to things like picking up after himself—he left half-eaten apples on the kitchen table, half-read newspapers on the living room couch, his underwear on the bathroom floor after half a day—which their mom said had always been the case, but he never failed in coming up with ways to make everyday tasks fun, such as inventing themes for their dinners. Mark and Beth’s favorite was the caveman dinner, which involved eating all of the food with their hands, using a rock or leaf for a napkin, and communicating only in grunts. In response, Mrs. Hopper suggested a royalty theme that required being very clean and polite and proper, but that idea was democratically voted down, three to one.

Mark and Beth Hopper would surely have enjoyed the caveman dinner, too—though they probably would have been more rowdy cavemen—if they knew Grandpa Murray and the Hoppers, which they didn’t; not yet. And since the Hoppers just moved in, they didn’t yet know the Hoppers either. But the Hoppers wanted to become a part of the community in their new town; they didn’t realize that most people in Greenburgh had the same reaction to the name “Hopper” as they did to the phrase “routine dental work.” That was the trouble with the Hoppers and the Hoppers. Well, that and the fact that they had the same name.