Nothing Interesting Ever Happens to Ethan Fairmont is the kind of sci-fi adventure we love here at Nerdist. The story of a young inventor who stumbles across an alien visitor in his local town has all the hallmarks of the classic science fiction we grew up on. As award-winning filmmaker and author Nick Brooks told us over email, that’s entirely the point.
“Ethan grew out of a conversation I had with Dhonielle Clayton of Cake Creative, around centering Black and Brown boys in sci-fi,” Brookes explained. “Dhonielle suggested we tell a story featuring a young Black inventor and instantly I was hooked because it’s a character we don’t get to see often but one that reminds me a lot of myself when I was a kid. Nothing Interesting Ever Happens to Ethan Fairmont pays homage to film classics like E.T. and Short Circuit, and hopefully, Ethan will inspire a new generation of young readers the way those films inspired me.”
The official description of the book gives readers even more insight into Ethan’s epic adventure.
Something cool happening in Ferrous City? Not a chance.
Until one day . . . when self-proclaimed genius inventor Ethan Fairmont runs into an abandoned car factory to avoid a local bully and accidentally stumbles across his ex-best friend Kareem, new kid Juan Carlos, and an extraterrestrial visitor. Cheese (the alien) is stuck on Earth in need of some serious repairs, spicy snacks—and absolute, total secrecy. That’s easier said than done when mysterious agents descend on Ferrous City to search for Cheese. With time running out and their family and friends in potential danger, can Ethan, Kareem, and Juan Carlos pull off an intergalactic rescue before they’re all found out?
E.T. meets Stranger Things in the kickoff to Nick Brooks’s middle-grade series that weaves contemporary issues of racial profiling, industrial community struggles, and everyday life in a fast-paced out-of-this-world adventure.
With the book almost out in the world, Brooks shared what he can’t wait for readers to experience when Nothing Interesting Ever Happens to Ethan Fairmont hits shelves. “I’m excited for readers to discover, or even rediscover their curiosity. Curiosity is really what drives innovation, and I can’t wait for readers to become inspired by Ethan’s curiosity. I’m excited for them to go explore, discover, and invent after reading this book.”
You can read our exclusive excerpt of Nothing Interesting Ever Happens to Ethan Fairmont below!
(SHHH, DON’T TELL ANYONE)
Our house sat at the bottom of a long, slanted block that faces east. I knew that because every morning the sun hit my eyes, trying to burn them or something. I darted through the yard. We were on the corner lot, so we had more yard than most of our neighbors. But no worries; I planned to add a mowing attachment to Handy-Bot to keep me from having to cut the lawn all summer.
I headed up the quiet block, which always felt like a workout. The sidewalks turned this way and that, sloping up and dropping suddenly down as if they couldn’t make up their mind. A few neighbors sat on their porches reading their newspapers, while others watered their lawns. My neighborhood was kind of asleep, if a neighborhood could wake up and go to bed. Most of the people who lived around here were older, like Mrs. McGee, and their children were all grown up with families of their own. I liked it this way—not too many forced interactions with neighborhood kids. Who wants to do all that talking? I was too busy.
At the top of the hill, next to the last house on my street, was a fenced-off field. Overgrown weeds and small trees crawled in and out of the fence. It looked like a giant green wall. But if someone was clever enough—say, a genius inventor with time on his hands—there were ways to sneak onto the field.
The sun had started to sink to the west by the time I snuck around several droopy bushes and behind a rotting tree. I heard something rustling in the bushes down the street, so I turned to make sure no one was following me. Several seconds passed. It looked like the coast was clear.
The fence the city put up surrounded the Sanctuary, except in one particular spot just big enough to crawl under. I hated crawling because I’d scraped my arm on the sharp edges of the chain-metal once. Wasn’t pretty. So, with necessity comes invention. I pulled my Magna-gloves out of my backpack and connected them to a power pack, one of almost a dozen that I’ve put together.
I’ve got to say, the Magna-gloves were one of my coolest inventions. Biker gloves, super-strong magnets, and a little power, and you can climb any metal surface like a giant bug. A giant, awesome bug. I was over the fence and off to my stash in three seconds.
Now, the Sanctuary requires some explaining. Not because of where it is, but because of what it is. See, my secret hideout is an abandoned car factory, but not just any old, regular factory. I’m talking about THE Factory.
Ferrous City was built around The Factory. The town divided into two halves: East End and West End. A river separated them, with the factory sitting on the east side, where I lived. Dad told me once that they built it like that a long time ago so that the river could help power part of the building. But again, that was a long, long time ago, before video games and probably the Internet, too, I think.
Everybody worked there, and I mean just about everybody. If your parents weren’t on the assembly line, they answered the telephones or sat at the front desk or cleaned it as janitors. Dad worked on the line when he was a teenager. His father and mother worked on the line, too.
So when The Factory shut down a few years ago, it felt like we all lost a home. It was no longer The Factory, said with emphasis and pride, but just the factory. Like it had all of a sudden shrunk down.
I cleared the field and jogged across the cracked parking lot. The front door of the factory and all the windows were completely boarded up. But there was a back door that only appeared to be shut. A closer look would reveal a movable piece of wood that opened the building to visitors. I approached the back of the enormous brick building, ducked under the boarded-up door, and slid aside a fallen table. Inside, the air felt dusty and heavy. I pulled out a scarf and tied it around my face until only my eyes were exposed. Always come prepared. Take note.
“Now, then, where are those old speakers?” I asked myself.
For a while, the inside of the factory had become Ferrous City’s unofficial junkyard. People left their old gadgets and gizmos, whatsits and doodads, and whatchamacallits everywhere. I mean, it was a graveyard of parts, electronics, and, quite honestly, treasure just waiting for an inventor like me to breathe life into it. Things were quiet here. I could think. I could build. I was free, unlike in my cramped-up house. This was my . . . Sanctuary.
The factory was one long, open room, like a warehouse stretched out over a football field. Then again, I never actually played football, so I wouldn’t know. At the very front of the factory was a little hallway with small rooms on either side. One had a sign that said supply room, and the other said storeroom. If the factory were a plane, this was where the captain sat. In the back of the factory were stairs that led down to the basement. I didn’t visit the basement much, not because I was afraid or anything. That’s ridiculous.
The main floor was littered with piles of junk. Some piles were so high, you couldn’t even see over them.
I moved through the dusty, cluttered factory floor to a storeroom in the rear corner. The roof had a fresh hole in it, letting in a stream of sunshine. I stopped and stared at it. “That’s new,” I said to myself. My Sanctuary was falling apart. I felt a pinch in my stomach. I had a huge stash here; I couldn’t lose this place.
I rummaged through old parts, glancing at the long worktable that hosted a collection of some of my other experiments-in-progress. And, to be honest, some of my failed experiments that didn’t fit at home. Combination panini maker and waffle iron. Car muffler that makes bubbles. My favorite, even if it didn’t work yet: a miniature greenhouse, complete with grow-lights. The grow-lights worked, but I couldn’t get the humidity right. But none of this was what I was looking for with regard to Handy-Bot. I scanned the whole room. Far on the other side, I spotted the intercom speakers I’d tossed aside on an earlier trip.
“Bingo! That robot is going to win me a Nobel Prize in Physics.”
I usually wasn’t concerned with awards. The thrill of watching an invention work was validating enough. Although, I did win first place in the citywide science fair once. But when, well, when the traitor left, I tossed the trophy we were supposed to share into a garbage press.
I filled my backpack with parts and odds and ends. Handy-Bot 2.0 would be my greatest invention yet.
Something scraped along the floor, and I froze.
What was that?
The noise came again. This time from my left. It was near the entrance. Had someone followed me, I wondered.
I narrowed my eyes and clenched my fists. Spies! They were going to try and steal my ideas! Inventors always have to guard their secrets. That’s why they write in codes with ciphers to keep other people from taking their ideas.
“Who’s there?” I yelled.
Nobody answered. I slipped on my Magna-gloves and powered them up. Screws and paper clips and other small pieces of metal flew toward my hands. Soon each glove was covered in a wiggling ball of metal.
“I’m warning you,” I yelled again. “If you don’t leave, I’ll pulverize you!”
To be honest, I was scared. Dad had told me time and time again about going to the factory, but I always ignored him. “You can get hurt in there, Ethan,” he would say. “There are sharp objects in that factory,” he’d warn. But never did I think I’d get kidnapped.
“Don’t make me tell you again,” I shouted, banging the metal on my gloves against an old filing cabinet I was hiding behind. “All right, here I come!” I started to yell like I was going to charge. I banged my fists faster. I raised my hands over my head like how red pandas do to make themselves look bigger when they’re ready to fight.
Something shuffled near the entrance to the storeroom. A small head peeked around the corner. A mop of black hair fell over a brown face that looked nearly as frightened as I was.
“Whoa! Don’t pulverize me!” the voice said.
I stopped yelling and banging. “Come out where I can see you,” I said with bravery I didn’t feel.
He came around the corner and inside the storeroom. I relaxed. The voice belonged to a skinny brown boy who looked about my age. He wore shorts and a white T-shirt smeared with red-orange stains. He must’ve shimmied through that hole in the fence. I turned off the Magna-gloves and put them away.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Juan,” came the reply. “Juan Carlos Hernandez. My family just moved here last week.”
Oh, shoot. He’s the new kid my mom told me to introduce myself to. And here I just threatened to pulverize him in a place I wasn’t supposed to be with metal fists I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to have.
“Uh . . .” How do you do introductions? I struggled to remember what Mom always told me to do when starting a new year of school, before reality crashed down and I spent lunchtime hiding out in the library. “Hi.”
“My name is Ethan.” I stepped out from behind the filing cabinet and dusted myself off as if I hadn’t been terrified just seconds ago. “I think I live right across the street from you.”
Juan Carlos nodded. He was shorter than I was—then again, most kids were.
“Yeah, my grandmother said I should introduce myself. I saw you walking up the block and was trying to catch up with you,” he said.
“So you weren’t spying on me?”
He seemed sincere.
“Well, you should have spoken up sooner. I could’ve hurt you.”
“I’m sorry. What were those glove things? And what’s in your backpack?”
I threw my hands up. “What’s with all the questions? For someone who said he’s not spying, you sure do act like a spy.” I took my backpack off and gathered up a few more parts. This Juan Carlos kid was annoying.
“Well, okay, then. See ya’, I guess,” Juan said, sounding disappointed.
Juan Carlos shoved his hands into his pockets and headed back toward the door. For a moment, I thought about apologizing and starting over. Just for a moment. But he didn’t look back, so I shrugged and turned to grab a few more things. In case it wasn’t obvious, I have never been good at making friends. Maybe I was missing that kind of programming.
Something rattled across the room.
“Don’t touch anything on your way out.”
The noise continued as sections of the junk pile began to shift and slide.
“What?” a voice said behind me, making me jump. Juan Carlos peeked in from outside again. The junk pile continued to rattle, and my heart started to thud in my chest. If Juan Carlos wasn’t making the noise, then . . .
The junk fell in heaps as something emerged from beneath it. Slowly, a giant silver orb floated higher and higher until it loomed over the factory floor, shaking and rattling as it came to life. It zoomed toward us. I could see it wasn’t actually hovering—it was growing! As the orb gained on us, it expanded, as if preparing to swallow us whole.
Someone started screaming.
Me. I’m someone.
I turned to escape and almost bulldozed Juan Carlos. “Wait for me!” he shouted.
I ran the fastest I’ve ever run in my entire life, and it still wasn’t quite fast enough. I looked back, and the orb was barreling toward us with no plans of stopping.
As Juan Carlos and I bolted, our mouths were wide open, probably because we were screaming. It didn’t matter, though, because I couldn’t hear anything over the clanging of the metal monster closing in on us.
So this is it. This is my legacy. Boy genius crushed by giant unidentified object.
We could see the sunlight glowing right outside the factory door, almost there. The metallic heap started to turn a bright golden light. Then it made a low humming noise, like it was preparing to blast us! Juan Carlos must’ve heard it, too, because he grabbed my hand. I wanted to snatch it away; but when I looked at him, I could see he was even more terrified than I was.
I clenched Juan Carlos’s hand, dug deep to accelerate, and gave it my all as we lunged out the factory door, crashing through the loose wooden planks and landing outside with a thud. We curled up in a ball and closed our eyes tight, expecting to be squashed.
But we weren’t.
I opened my eyes and the monster was gone. Well, it wasn’t gone, but we could hear it clanging its way around the factory floor. Surely that thing could have blasted its way out of this old brick building, but it didn’t.