Law dean pens humorous, insightful novel about middle school outcasts

In the summer of 2020 when the COVID-19 disruption had turned into a heavy slog, Martin Pritikin, dean of the Concord Law School at Purdue Global, found a respite in writing a young adult novel about a 7th grader befriending the class outcast who has a habit of spewing random facts like “most toilets flush in E flat.”

The self-published novel, “Scrute,” tells the story of Connor Zane facing the trauma of being the new kid in class and longing to be part of the popular crowd at his new middle school. However, he ends up palling around with the student others call Scrute.

Connor and Scrute form a bond as they wrestle with the challenges of navigating their own difficult worlds. Punctuating the story is Scrute’s constant sharing of his encyclopedia knowledge of factual snippets about things like the distance to the sun and armadillo farts.

“It was fantastic fun,” Pritikin said, of writing the novel. “…My day job is pretty serious. I enjoy it but it’s law, it’s higher education, regulatory issues, it’s essentially running a department of a business in a lot of way. This was just pure relaxation.”

Pritikin’s tome has a breezy style that is combined with humor and keen insight into pre-teen life. The opening to the first chapter captures the dread that comes from moving to a new town, leaving behind friends and trying to fit in or at least not to stick out too badly.

“Question: What’s the difference between being the new kid on your first day of middle school and shoving lemon juice-soaked toothpicks under your fingernails?,” the first chapter begins. “Answer: when you remove the toothpicks, you don’t have to go back the next day and do it all over again.”

Indeed, how the outcast got his nickname carries the flavor of the schoolyard. When his elementary school classmates tried to enlighten him that he was weird, Scrute replied, “I’m not weird, I’m inscrutable.” Not being able to pronounce such a long and obscure word, the classmates labeled him with the shortened version.

The inspiration for the tale came from Pritikin’s own life. He has three children including a son who is “twice-exceptional.” Pritikin explained his son is exceptionally bright but also has exceptional social and emotional challenges. As a father, he is part of the world of parents who have children with similar issues.

“I’ve heard parents of high-functioning autistic kids describe their kids affectionately, as being from another planet,” Pritikin said. “They don’t speak the way kids their age typically speak, they don’t interact the way kids their age typically interact act.”

Thus, the idea hit him, what if a youngster actually was from another planet?

“So, the basic plot line is the main character moves to a new school, and through a strange set of circumstances ends up befriending the outcast, Scrute, who can’t stop telling people random facts,” Pritikin said. “He is clearly very bright but he’s just obsessive with telling people facts. He’s so strange that he seems like he’s from another planet and Connor has to wrestle with the idea of what if he actually is.”

Having been a creative writing major in college, Pritikin has experience writing fiction and once started a legal thriller screenplay. He continues to exercise his story-telling skills these days by spinning a saga whenever he needs to keep his children entertained.

The tale of Scrute started taking shape when his brood asked for a story. Although he knew immediately the yarn would be too long and too complicated for the short time his children wanted to be distracted, he began toying with the notion of turning it into a book.

Pritikin then began carving some time from his early morning routine to develop the story. He stood at his standing desk with his feet planted on a gel mat and elbows positioned on arm rests and before he turned his attention to preparing class materials, he would tap out a few pages about Connor and Scrute. The first draft was completed in about a month.

The law school dean sees a parallel between his fiction writing and legal writing. While briefs filed with a court require citations to legal precedent and arguments that are credible and persuasive, they still have come together to tell a certain story.

“With fiction, it’s similar,” Pritikin said. “You’re not trying to persuade anyone necessarily but you’re trying to figure out how to craft the wording in a way that they’re going to find funny or compelling. We’ll want them to keep reading. I think that legal writing makes you very attuned to tone, … and being efficient and clear.”

Also like legal writing, “Scrute” is written with a message to make readers reconsider some of the outcasts they encounter in their own lives.

“I think there are parts that are designed to be funny,” Pritikin said. “It’s not moralistic, it’s not trying to preach but ‘Scrute’ is really about people who seem different and have sometimes what appear to be weaknesses can actually be strengths.”

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