Below is an excerpt from from The Perfect Score Project.

It’s a Wonderful Life

I love arts and crafts.

The day my new Blue Book arrived, I was moved by the creative spirit to change the book just a little. Given that I’d already ruined my chance to use the book the way it was intended, I thought, “Why not be whimsical and make the Blue Book a little more ‘me’?”

So I cut up all the pages and pieced them back together the way I liked them: by category. Linear function problems, all in one place. Right triangle problems, all in one place. Misplaced modifier questions, all in one place.

Then I digitally scanned my newly organized book so I could print off sheets of like problems: all right triangle problems, for instance, or just the dangling modifiers, and so on. There were resources to help me categorize—PWN the SAT Math Guide and The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar—to name two. And when I was done, I printed out my brand-new Blue Book, by category.

It was months before the true fruits of my labor were realized. Ethan was in the thick of it, studying for his SAT, when we had a Hallmark moment. He was in the dining room correcting his practice test from the day before and was frustrated by all the mistakes he’d made on the function problems (who isn’t, right?).

And just then, a lightbulb went off and I remembered my Blue Book project of a few months earlier. I searched my computer for “Functions,” and the most coherent, logical, and useful document I’d ever seen ap- peared at my fingertips—function problems of every sort, from tables and graphs to nested functions and word problems. It was magnificent, if you’re into this kind of thing, which I was, and Ethan now was, too, apparently.

SAT LOVE 2I printed out the document and handed him the first sheets, which consisted of about eight function problems. He looked up when he saw them, wide-eyed and incredulous, so I ran back to the printer and got more—maybe twenty in the next batch—and brought those over, too. He’d already started to work on the first ones, and dare I say, I saw a glimmer of delight in his eye.

When I laid that second batch on the table, he looked up and smiled with such love and tenderness, becoming, for an instant, the same little boy who’d first looked up at me and said “Mama” so many years before, and right then he uttered the magic words without so much as realizing what he was saying. He raised his head and said, “You’re the best SAT mom in the whole world”—just like that, in slow motion.

We both realized in that one instant what I’d done.

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees, but at that moment we both did. Some moms show their love through food. Ethan always says, “Castalucci’s mom makes the best meatballs I’ve ever had” (translation: they’re made with such love. Can you do that?). And Carolyn, his friend Philip’s mom, “makes the best salads,” and grills steak like he’s “never tasted before” (translation: can you at least try to do that?). And Sam’s mom “brings peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to every single game—for the whole team.” (Some moms go to every single game.)

My love showed differently. My love was delivered in the form of test prep for the SAT—function problems specifically, on that day. And I had triangles, and dangling modifiers, and faulty parallelism, too—you name it, I had it. I could serve it up fast, like a short-order cook.

In that moment, Ethan and I both realized that my homemade worksheets were the meatballs in our house that year. Mother love gets expressed in all kinds of strange ways.


You can read the prologue, listen to an audio clip, and see what readers are saying on Goodreads and Amazon.


Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis.