Fly high, defy limits, and discover the new you: Joss’s story
Catching a new wave
In her first book, Joss™ is stoked to enter a surfing video contest, but she needs the help of her brother to film it. He will—but only if Joss tries out for the cheer team. She’s 100% surfer girl, but for the chance to win the contest, can Joss afford to turn down her brother’s dare?
I dragged my foot to stop my skateboard in front of the school. Then I checked to make sure Sofia was behind me.
Whenever we skate, I practice surf tricks, because some of them are easier to learn on a skateboard. The ground below my wheels never shifts—not like waves, which are always changing. And this morning, I had a special trick in store for Sofia.
As I skated toward the curb, I crouched low, kicked the tail of my board down, and popped an ollie, catching air with my board glued to my feet. I landed with a clack on the sidewalk. Score!
Had Sofia seen? Sure enough, when she caught up to me, she mouthed the word wow. She gave me a high five and said, “You’re the only girl I know who can . . .”
My helmet brushed against my hearing aid, so I missed the end of her sentence. “What?” I asked, unbuckling the strap.
“You’re the only girl I know who can catch serious air on flat ground,” she repeated. Then she pulled out her phone. “Check out the art I made after you left the Break yesterday.”
She showed me a photo of a dolphin outlined with shells. When I saw the broken comb she’d used for a dorsal fin, I laughed.
“What?” she asked. “What’s so funny?”
I pointed to the comb. “You’re cleaning up the beach and creating art at the same time.”
“Well, yeah!” she said, putting her hand on her hip. “If people see plastic in my art, it’ll remind them to stop trashing the beach and hurting animals. I thought we could include that in our video for the surfing contest. Tina Hart will like it, don’t you think?”
“She will!” I said. Tina Hart was my surf idol, and I knew she cared about protecting the ocean just as much as catching a good wave. “Good idea.”
Sofia zoomed in on her art. She’d written a word in the sand inside the dolphin: courage.
She shot me an excited glance. “Maybe we can film a word, like courage, and then show video of a brave surf trick. Or friendship, and show video of us surfing together. That way we combine art and surfing. Cool, right?”
“Yes!” But I knew how to make it even cooler. “What if for the brave surf trick, I pull off a frontside air?”
Sofia laughed out loud. “Yeah, right.” When she saw that I was serious, she bit her lip. “That’d be awesome. But . . . can you do it?”
I wasn’t loving the doubt in her eyes. “Not yet. But we’ve got a month and a half before the contest deadline. Besides, I only have to land it once for the video.”
Sofia shrugged. “True. But it’s a really tough trick. And didn’t it take you two months just to learn the floater?”
Ouch. I didn’t know she’d been keeping track.
She cocked her head. “Anyway, our video isn’t going to be about just one trick, right? It’ll show lots of words and tricks.”
I hesitated. I wasn’t as crazy about this idea as she was. I mean, the video was supposed to be about surfing, not art, right? But I just said, “Yeah, we’ll do lots of different tricks. And your beach-art words will be cool.”
Sofia grinned. “Thanks.” She glanced toward the school. “Oops, there’s the bell.”
I couldn’t hear the high-pitched bell, but I followed Sofia toward the door. I wanted to stay positive about our video, but no matter how awesome her beach art was, I wasn’t sure those words plus a few basic surf tricks would be enough to win. I had to land the frontside air—and Sofia needed to get it on video! But would there be enough time for me to learn the trick and for Sofia to become an expert filmmaker?
Tuesday afternoon at the Break, I moved my phone left and right, looking for Sofia in a sea of gray waves. How was I supposed to track her on that tiny screen? Wait, there she was! Taking a roller coaster ride on a wave. Bottom turn, top turn, bottom turn . . .
I’d offered to film Sofia for our video, thinking that maybe I had some secret camera skills. But just as she did a snap, spraying water behind her, the phone slipped through my sweaty fingers. No!
By the time I’d wiped all the sand off the screen, Sofia was jogging out of the waves. “Did you get my roller coaster?” she asked.
“Some of it, but . . . not the last part.” I replayed the clip, which ended with a shot of the blue sky and then my worried face filling the frame.
“Ha!” Sofia made me play it again. “Okay, you’re fired from filming. My turn.”
She grabbed her own phone and sent me out into the water. But half an hour later, Sofia was the one looking like she wanted to dig a hole in the sand and crawl into it.
Her first video showed me carving across the wave—until I surfed right out of the picture. The next one showed me doing cutbacks, like figure eights. At least I think it was me. Sofia zoomed in with her fingertips, but I was just a speck in a sea of blue. And the last one was so blurry that I couldn’t tell where the wave ended and my board began.
I sighed. Without my brother Dylan’s camera equipment, how could we get any good clips? I was fresh out of genius ideas.
As I gazed at the waves, hoping for inspiration, I spotted Dylan’s friend Nico lying on his board as it sailed down a wave. His arms were crossed over his chest. Was he taking a nap? Dylan was filming him from shore. Great. He was probably getting stellar video.
When Nico sat up on his board and rode it off the wave, Dylan burst out laughing. “Sick, dude!” he shouted. “I got it!” A few teenagers sprawled out on beach towels started cheering, too.
I waved Dylan over. “Can I see the video?”
He held out his phone to show me. The video was so clear and close-up that I felt as if I was in the water with Nico. Dylan was great at tracking him, too.
Too bad he won’t film our video, I thought.
Or would he? I hadn’t asked that question yet. Maybe if I buttered him up with compliments, he’d throw me a bone.
“That’s a really good shot,” I said. “I mean, you’re pretty much the best filmer here at the Break. Just so you know.”
Dylan stared at me as if I had two heads. Sofia did, too.
“Okay,” Dylan said slowly, “what do you want, Joss?” His eyes narrowed.
Shoot—he was on to me.
“Want?” I asked innocently. “Nothing really. Oh, but here’s an idea,” I said, as if I’d just thought it up. “You could film Sofia and me for our contest video! Just a couple of clips—since, you know, you’re so good.”
He shook his head. “Nah. You and Sofia should do your own thing. Leave the serious filming to us boys.” He puffed out his chest in a joking way, but his words stung.
Behind him, I noticed the Surfers Code posted on the lifeguard tower. I could read the first line of the list of rules, written in all caps: GIVE RESPECT TO GET RESPECT.
I snorted. So much for that. “C’mon, Sofia.”
I grabbed my board and headed toward the board shop, hoping Liam was there. Sometimes when I’m in a lousy mood, my oldest brother is the only one who can get me out of it.
When we pushed open the door, Sofia’s mom popped up from behind a clothing rack.
“Hi, Ms. Goto,” I said.
She waved at us with a hanger in her hand.
“New rash guards?” cried Sofia. “Cool!”
She raced over to see the box of swim tops her mom was unpacking, while I scanned the shop for Liam. There he was, hanging out with his girlfriend, Reina—who also happens to be Nico’s older sister.
She waved. “Hey, Joss!”
Reina has Nico’s dark hair and golden-brown skin, and for some reason, she always smells like lemons. She’s super friendly, but I never know what to say to her.
“Hey,” I said back. I figured it was a good start.
“Got a repair job for me?” Liam asked, pointing at my board. He was wearing his orange SoCal Board Shop shirt, which meant he was officially on the job.
I scanned my board for a ding he could fix with resin. There were plenty of them. Dings let water in, making surfboards feel heavy—like my mood right now. When I pointed out a ding, Liam grabbed some sandpaper and got to work. That’s when I sighed—one of those super loud sighs that no one can ignore.
Liam stopped sanding. “What’s up, Joss? Spill it.”
So I told him what was on my mind. “Sofia and I are working on our contest video, but Dylan won’t film us. And I don’t think any of the tricks I can do will impress Tina Hart. I want to do a frontside air, but I don’t know if I can.”
“That’s a tough trick,” agreed Liam. “But you’ve [scritchscratch, scritch-scratch].”
I put my hand on his so he’d stop sanding. “What?”
“Sorry. I said you’ve mastered tough tricks before. Plus, you’re really good at ollies on your skateboard, so you’ll figure out the frontside air, too. You just can’t do it yet.” He grinned.
“Thanks, Liam.” I suddenly felt lighter. “I just hope I can land it in time for the video contest deadline.”
I felt a tap on my shoulder, and then Dylan stuck his big mug in my face. “Are you still talking about the video contest?” he asked. “Give it up, Joss. You’re already looking at the winners.”
When he threw his arm over Nico’s shoulder, Nico shot me an apologetic smile. He was a whole lot nicer than Dylan. I’d do a brother swap with Reina any day.
Reina hopped off her stool and came to stand beside me. “If you and Sofia ever get tired of hanging out with these clowns, you should come try cheerleading with me and my crew,” she said with a smile.
Yikes, said a voice in my head. Did she say cheerleading? I knew Reina was a cheerleader, and that was fine for her. But for me? Um, no, thanks.
Sofia stood up from behind a clothing rack, her eyebrows raised sky-high. I knew my Surf Sister wouldn’t be caught dead dancing around a gym either, waving pompoms and cheering on a bunch of boys.
Reina caught my eye again. “Tryouts are next Monday. You and Sofia would be great at cheer!”
Not a chance, I wanted to say. Sofia and I are real athletes. We’re surfer girls—one hundred percent. But Reina was just trying to be nice, and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
Luckily, Sofia spoke up for both of us. “Thanks, Reina. We’ll probably stick with surfing, though.”
I almost hugged her—seriously.
“Joss doing cheerleading?” Dylan smirked at me. “I’d pay money to see that. In fact, I’ll give you . . . twenty bucks if you try out and make it.” He licked his thumb and pretended to count a wad of bills.
I don’t usually back down from Dylan’s dares. But cheerleading? That’s where I drew the line—until an idea began to form in my mind . . .
“Do I actually have to join the team?” I asked.
He cocked his head. “Nah. I wouldn’t make my little sister do something that horrible.”
“Hey!” Reina swatted his arm. “Not nice.”
Dylan darted away, laughing. “So? What do you say, Joss?”
That’s when I sprang it on him. “Keep your twenty bucks,” I said. “If I make the cheer team, you have to help me and Sofia film our contest video.”
It was the perfect bet! I’d never actually join the cheer team, but if I could win the bet and get Dylan to film our video, we might have a chance of winning the contest.
Sofia’s jaw dropped open. “You’re really going to try out?”
“Um, yeah,” I said. “If it means we might meet Tina Hart, I’d do pretty much anything.”
Dylan hesitated. But he doesn’t back down from bets, either. He finally said, “Deal. But while you’re practicing your little cheerleading routine, I’m going to get some great video of you.” He rubbed his hands together like an evil villain.
Reina laughed as she grabbed her backpack. “You’ll be amazing, Joss. There are a couple of pre-tryout practices—tomorrow and Thursday. Six o’clock at the gym. See you then?”
As the door jingled behind her, my insides jangled.
Cheerleading? What had I just gotten myself into?
As her second book begins, Joss is looking for new ways to soar. She’s ready to be a flyer on the cheer team, but when her act at the talent show goes wrong, Joss loses confidence. Can she renew trust in her cheer teammates to master a tricky stunt for the big competition?
On Monday night, I headed straight for the trampoline to work on my back handsprings. I couldn’t do them on my own yet, but I could practice them using the spotting rig harness.
Is Mila ever going to be done with her turn? I wondered, glancing up at the ropes suspended from the ceiling. She was using the spotting rig to practice back tucks, not handsprings. When it came to tumbling, Mila was always a step ahead of everyone else.
Beside me, Brooklyn waved to get my attention. “I’m already making plans for the sleepover we’ll have in the gym if we win the cheer competition,” she said. “Maybe I’ll sleep right here!” She pretended to take a snooze on the wedge mat, which looked like a giant hunk of cheese. She started sliding slowly downhill.
“Only if you want to end up on the floor by morning,” I said, laughing.
When I turned back around, Mila was climbing off the tramp—finally. She stepped toward us. “You know, there won’t even be a sleepover unless we beat Team Fury,” she said.
“Who?” I asked.
Brooklyn hopped up to explain. “Fury Athletics is the other cheer gym in Huntington Beach. Team Fury is our top rival in the SoCal Spirit Challenge.”
“Their stunts are amazing, and they get better every year,” said Mila. “So we’re going to have to rock our own stunts in that competition.”
“We will,” I said. “With you and Lauren as our superstar flyers, we’ll win hands down.”
Mila gave me a high five and then jogged toward a group of girls who were practicing tumbling.
After I climbed onto the tramp, I put on the spotting rig belt and adjusted my headband. It keeps my hair out of my face and holds my hearing aid in place. I did three handsprings in a row and then steadied myself, waiting for the walls around me to stop swirling. Across the gym, I saw Reina towering over her teammates from the top of a pyramid.
What would it feel like to be a flyer like Reina? I wondered.
As my eyes flickered back to my own team, I saw Mila showing off her back handsprings. Wow, she was really flying! But out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone else cartwheeling from the other direction—in a crooked line. Lauren.
I wanted to holler at them to stop, but it was too late! Lauren launched into one final cartwheel, and a split second later, the two girls collided.
Mila rolled and popped back up on her feet, but Lauren hit the mat hard. When she sat up, she was holding her ankle, and tears streamed down her face.
Coach Kara was beside her in a flash. Mila rushed over, too. I kept hoping Lauren would hop back up and say, “I’m good, no worries. Take two!” But she didn’t. When Coach Kara finally helped Lauren off the mat, she was limping.
A few minutes later, when Coach asked us to move on to the dance portion of our routine, I waited for Lauren to join us. Mila kept shooting her guilty glances, too.
I was so busy worrying about Lauren that I missed Coach Kara’s count—twice. She finally waved a hand at me. “Pay attention, Joss,” she said, speaking into the special microphone that delivers sound directly to my hearing aid.
I tried, I really did. But why was Reina bringing Lauren another ice pack?
Our whole team kept getting distracted, so Coach finally gave us a water break. Brooklyn and I grabbed our water bottles and sat down next to Lauren.
“Reina thinks I might have sprained it,” Lauren said tearfully. When she lifted the ice pack to show us her ankle, I sucked in my breath. It was swollen and turning three shades of purple.
“Are you going to be okay?” Brooklyn asked.
She shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“I’m sure you’ll be back on your feet by tomorrow,” I said, trying to sound cheerful. But my stomach churned.
Lauren was our best flyer. We needed her to do the pyramid at the end of our cheer routine. If Team Fury kept upping their stunt game, we needed to do our best stunts, too.
But how could we do our best without our best flyer?
Friday morning before school, Sofia dragged Brooklyn and me down the hall toward the Talent Show Wall of Fame. “For inspiration,” she said.
The wall was decorated with photos of all the past talent show winners. Right away, I spotted Liam with his skateboard. It was weird to imagine my big brother as a fifth-grader. But there he was, about two feet shorter than he is now, with skinny arms and a crooked smile.
Dylan’s goofy face stood out a few photos away. He was wearing a magician’s hat. Next to him, Nico wore rabbit ears. Sofia nudged my shoulder. “Does your brother still do those magic tricks?” she asked.
“Nah. Dylan’s magic show was more like a comedy act, remember? He and Nico were total goofballs onstage.” I might do anything to win, but Dylan would do anything for a laugh.
Brooklyn cracked up just looking at the photo, until redheaded Annika walked up beside us. She was in the other fifth-grade class. I didn’t know her well, but Brooklyn must have, because her smile disappeared. “What’s up, Annika?” she asked.
“Just checking out the talent show rules,” said Annika. “Some of us from Team Fury are doing a [squeak, squeak, squeak].”
A kid wearing sneakers jogged by, making it tough to hear Annika. But I’d caught the two most important words: Team Fury. Annika was on the other cheer team in town—our rivals for the SoCal Spirit Challenge!
Annika leaned against the wall. “I heard Team Shine is down a flyer. Is she going to recover in time for the cheer competition?”
“Yep,” said Brooklyn. “I’m not worried.”
I knew that wasn’t true. Lauren had sat out at practice all week, and our whole team was nervous about what it might mean. But Brooklyn wasn’t going to let Annika see her sweat.
“That’s good,” Annika said a little too sweetly. She crossed her arms. “So are you doing cheer for the talent show?”
Sofia opened her mouth to answer, but Brooklyn jumped in. “We’re skateboarding,” she said.
Sofia caught my eye and raised an eyebrow.
“I mean, Joss and Sofia are skateboarding. They’re really good. Joss’s dad built a . . .” Brooklyn started talking so fast that I missed half her words. “And you should see Joss’s dog ride a . . . She could win the talent show all by herself!”
Annika’s cheeks turned pink. “Your dog is going to be in the talent show?”
Brooklyn turned toward me, pleading with her eyes.
“Maybe,” I said casually, playing along. “I mean, who knows? She might.”
Annika’s face tightened. As she hurried away, Brooklyn blew out her breath. “Thank you,” she said. “Annika tries to psych me out whenever competition season comes around. But this year, I’m not gonna let her.”
“Who is Team Fury?” asked Sofia.
“Only the toughest Junior One cheer team around,” said Brooklyn. “They win the SoCal Spirit Challenge every year. At least, every year since Reina’s team won.”
“Every year?” I asked, wondering if I’d heard her right.
Sofia bit her lip. “That means their talent show act is going to be pretty good, too.”
“Not better than Murph, the Amazing Skateboarding Dog!” said Brooklyn. “Right?”
“Slow down, guys,” I said. “I mean, Murph can skate the driveway all day, but she’d rather nap on the skate ramp than ride it! Besides, we don’t even know if Principal Harris will allow dogs in the talent show.”
Sofia shrugged. “She let Greyson Lewis bring his dancing Chihuahua last year, remember? So we should at least try to teach Murph how to ride the ramp.”
I took a deep breath. “I guess we have to now. If Team Fury is as good as you say they are, we might need Murph in order to win.”
Brooklyn turned to face me. “I sure hope Murph is a fast learner,” she said, holding her math book tight to her chest. “The talent show is less than two weeks away.”
The next day, as Mom, Sofia, and I finished our lunch at Jo-Jo’s Café, we watched beachgoers heading toward the pier. We couldn’t see the ocean from the café patio on Main Street, but we could smell the salt water and seaweed.
Mom nudged my shoulder. “Look who’s here,” she said.
I did a double take. A woman with a reddish-brown ponytail was walking toward our table. Coach Kara? I’d never seen her outside the gym before. It felt so weird!
She waved at me. “Hi, Joss!”
“Oh, hey!” I waved back.
Coach didn’t waste any time getting down to business. “I’m glad I ran into you. I’ve been wanting to talk to you about Lauren,” she said.
When Mom offered Coach a chair, she took it.
“Lauren suffered a pretty bad ankle sprain and will be in a boot for a while. She won’t be able to practice again for four to six weeks.”
“Four to six weeks?” I blurted. “But our competition is only a month away!”
“That’s right,” said Coach Kara. “So I’d like to talk to your team about making some changes to your stunt groups—maybe moving Mila over to Lauren’s stunt group.”
My jaw dropped. Mila was part of my stunt group. “Who would be our flyer then?” I asked.
The next words out of my coach’s mouth caught me off guard. “Joss, I’d like you to try that spot.”
She spoke again, as if she thought I hadn’t heard. “Are you interested in being a flyer, Joss?”
A flyer? Like Reina?
My brain finally caught up, and the answer popped right out of my mouth. “Yes!”
“You’re a strong athlete,” said Coach Kara. “I think you could fly tight, keeping your body straight and strong, like Mila does. And you’re flexible. We’ve seen that with your jumps, right?”
“And you have good balance—probably from all that surfing.” She winked at me.
“Yes!” That seemed to be the only word I could come up with.
“You’re not afraid of heights, are you?”
“Yes! I mean, no. Wait, what was the question?”
Luckily, Sofia was sitting beside me. “Nope, she’s fearless,” she declared.
I blushed and gave my Surf Sister a grateful smile.
“Good,” said Coach Kara. “But you’ll need to come to . . . on Thursdays.” As a chatty group of kids biked past, I struggled to make out Coach’s words.
“To what?” I studied her face.
“A flyer class on Thursdays,” said Mom, signing as she spoke. “And yes, you have my permission.” She was smiling so wide that I thought her face might burst.
“I’ll go to the class!” I said to Coach, finally finding my voice. “I’ll do whatever it takes to help our team win the competition in October.”
“Great!” said Coach Kara. “I’m glad to hear it, Joss. We’ll see how you do over the next couple of weeks, okay?”
As she pushed away from the table, I felt that familiar rush of excitement and nervousness, like I do whenever I try a new surf trick or surf a really big wave.
Except this time, wiping out wasn’t an option. Not when my whole team was counting on me!
Guidance for girls today
Free thinking. Joss discovers that experiencing new things can help a person grow, especially when she tries out for the cheer team and sees she can do and be more than one thing.
Dedication. As a surfer, Joss is always “all in,” and she takes that same drive to cheer with her determination to make the team.
Respect and teamwork. Even though it takes time, Joss learns the importance of balancing her own ambition with the feelings and safety of others.
Getting Joss’s story right through research
Just as with previous Girl of the Year™ characters, we chose to bring Joss’s world to life because her themes connect with girls growing up today.
To ensure we accurately depict Joss’s storylines and the challenges she faces—from competing on the waves and in the gym to the partial deafness Joss was born with—we consulted with experts in these areas.
Introducing our advisors
Crystal DaSilva, the women’s short board champion at the 2009 biannual World Deaf Surfing Championships, plus a swimsuit and athletic wear designer
Bianca Valenti, a big-wave surfer who takes on the most advanced waves in the world, including Mavericks in Half Moon Bay, California and Peahi in Hawaii, as well as the co-founder of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing, which led the fight for equal pay for women in surfing
Sara Jo Moen and Julie Petersen, owners of Fury Athletics in Madison, Wisconsin, a cheerleading-only gym that grows competitive teams—many that have won prestigious events
Sharon Pajka, professor of English at Gallaudet University, a private university for the deaf, and a specialist in representations of deaf characters in adolescent literature
Jennifer Richardson, Au.D, an educational audiologist and founder of Hearing Milestones
Partnering for greater accessibility
Like many Americans, Joss navigates the world with a hearing loss. To show our support for helping others like her, we’re donating $25,000 to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA)—and you can join us by contributing online or at American Girl stores.
Explore more of Joss’s world