A girl returns to her exclusive east coast boarding school and finds that she's no longer one of the cool kids on campus in this second novel from the author of For the Record.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Skylar Hoffman’s senior year at her preppy East Coast boarding school should have been perfect:
the coolest friends
the most desirable dorm
But it’s far from it. To her dismay, Skylar’s not going to rule senior year because she’s stuck in Abbot House, a tiny dorm known for, well, nothing. Living with a group of strangers everyone thinks is lame is bad enough. Worse is that Skylar wasn’t exactly truthful about how she spent summer break in Los Angeles—and her little white lie is causing her once rock-solid romance to crumble fast. And when it turns out that Skylar’s best friend is the one responsible for having her booted from Lincoln? It’s an all-out war.
Stepping out of her comfort zone never felt so scary—or necessary. But everything is different now. Including, maybe, Skylar herself . . .
"A love letter--brimming with heart, soul, and wit--to everyone who's ever felt left behind . . . perfect for fans of Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell." --Jeff Zentner, author of The Serpent King
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|Publisher:||Random House Children's Books|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||3 MB|
|Age Range:||12 Years|
About the Author
Follow Charlotte on Instagram & @charlottexhuang on Twitter.
Read an Excerpt
Most people probably don’t spend a perfect California beach day dreaming about going back to school, but that’s exactly what I’m doing as I tilt my face toward the late-afternoon sun. I inhale salty ocean air and dig my toes into the sand, giving them a massage.
My bliss lasts for exactly thirty seconds before Doug, my boss at the exclusive Hayward Beach Club, busts me. “Excuse me, Skylar? The Pattersons need drink refills.” He grimaces at my bare feet before disappearing into the kitchen. I slip back into my wedge flip-flops (cute, but a poor choice for serving food in the sand all day) and walk back to the wait station.
“I got it,” my coworker Elijah mutters. He grabs a pitcher of soda and heads to the Pattersons’ chaises.
“Is that diet?” One of the very blond Patterson girls (Stacy? Macy?) frowns at Elijah. He peers into the pitcher like he might be able to tell by looking hard enough. Though she’s probably all of twelve years old, the girl dismisses him with a haughty wave. “Just get a fresh one.”
When he returns, humiliation rises off him like steam. I take the pitcher out of his hand and walk back to the Pattersons with it. “Diet?” I ask.
The girl offers a curt nod, which I take as my permission to pour. Elijah watches me with a smirk.
I sashay back behind the counter. “See, E? You just have to sell it.”
A cooling breeze blows in off the ocean, causing the ruffled edges of the oversized red umbrellas to flutter.
Elijah grins. “Yeah? How do you know so much about rich people?”
I shrug. “Just observant, I guess. Anyway, Miss Patterson will thank me someday. Too many chemicals in diet.”
“Don’t let Doug catch you doing that,” he says, laughing. But I know Doug wouldn’t say a thing to me, for the same reason he hired me when I had absolutely no experience waiting tables: until last summer I was a member here.
I wave a cheery goodbye to the valet attendants in the parking lot and peel out onto the PCH before they can catch me. Elijah grips his door handle. “Rafael didn’t even see us,” he says, referring to the lot manager.
“I told you. I’ve been sneaking in every day.” It helps that my mom’s white Mercedes blends in with the member cars. And maybe Rafael looks the other way.
Since my mom barely goes to her office anymore, I’ve been able to use her car all summer. This is a serious perk, because it makes my excruciating daily commute much cushier. She had to cancel satellite radio a few months ago, but I just connect my phone, crank my favorite playlist, and hardly notice the bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Elijah hops out at the public lot where most of the employees park. “Thanks for saving me the trek!” he yells as I maneuver back onto the freeway.
As always, I’m desperate for a shower by the time I get home. I rush in, not bothering to raise the knocked-over for sale sign that’s been posted on our lawn since the beginning of summer. Nobody came to the open house last weekend, and my parents probably don’t need the constant reminder.
My mom sits on the couch in our great room reading scripts, like she does every night. Her consistency only adds to the air of futility around here. “Where’s Dad?” I ask.
“In his office,” she says. In other words, the spare bedroom where he conducts his graphic design business.
“Jordana’s coming over to help me pack, so I can’t eat too late.”
“Glad you finally made plans with her,” my mom says.
I swing through the kitchen to grab an apple from a wooden bowl on the counter. “Kind of hard to have a social life when I’ve been taking any shift Doug will give me.”
It’s mean, but I know that’ll keep her off my back. She stares at me, then picks up another script.
After my shower I return to the kitchen to help get dinner together, which means I unwrap the store-bought rotisserie chicken while my mom arranges premade grilled veggies on a ceramic platter. No one in the house actually cooks, so this is our routine.
“We’re a house full of working stiffs, yet we can’t afford delivery,” my dad says.
“Ha ha,” I say. My mom just glares at him. He ducks his head and takes his plate to the banquette, narrowly avoiding yet another fight. It actually makes me miss the nauseating googly eyes they used to make at each other.
I don’t care about having to work. Tuition at Winthrop Academy, my boarding school outside Boston, isn’t cheap, and I’d do anything short of selling my organs on the black market to make sure I get to go back. As far as I’m concerned, senior year can’t start soon enough.
“I talked to Ama today,” my mom says. “She said she’d try to go up for Parents’ Weekend.”
I stifle a groan. As much as I adore my grandmother, I imagine her visit would entail the following: yelling at my teachers about why my grades aren’t better, repeatedly reminding me how much this “fancy private school” costs my parents, insisting I take her to the only Chinese restaurant in Winthrop, then pronouncing the food inedible. At least, that’s what happened the last time she visited. “Don’t make Ama come. She’s too old to do all that walking. Besides, Parents’ Weekend is really for first-years.”
My parents glance at each other. My dad clears his throat. “We just feel--”
“I know. You feel bad you can’t afford to fly out. But seriously, it’s okay. It’s my last year, I know the drill.”
The list of things my parents feel guilty about is never-ending. They’re going to give themselves ulcers. It covers everything from our not visiting enough colleges over the summer to their not being able to give me money for new school clothes--even though I told them it hardly matters, with my talent for scouting sample sales. They mean well, but making up things to worry about has added significantly to their stress level.
I’m not done eating when the doorbell rings, so my mother answers it while I fix an extra plate. I love Jordana, and I’m excited to see her, but even though she’s my oldest friend, the sad fact is we have less in common every year. Hanging out with her just makes me more homesick for Winthrop.
“JoJo! So glad you’re joining us for dinner.” My mom thinks Jordana’s still nine.
“Thanks, but I just ate.” Nonetheless, Jordana sits and nibbles at some food. She knows that while my mom may not be big on cooking, she’s big on feeding people. “So. What’s the latest?”
We don’t even have to ask what she’s referring to.
“No news,” my mom says. Jordana’s face legitimately falls; she’s not even trying to brownnose. They start talking about the trials and tribulations of Hollywood, and I automatically tune out.
My mother produced Over It, which is the highest-grossing teen movie of the last decade. Everyone my age is obsessed with it. When the sequel kept falling through because the studio “didn’t get” the screenwriter and director’s vision, my mom left to form her own company in order to finish the job. That was four years ago. Still no sequel. That doesn’t stop her from being consumed by it, though, and predictably, my friends are an attentive audience.
She looks for other projects, but her heart is never in them the way it is with Over It. So right now we’re living off Over It residuals, which get smaller every day, and my dad’s graphic design work, which was never that busy to begin with. And now my Hayward Club paycheck, I guess. Since it’s a private club, I don’t even get tips, which is a total bummer.
Jordana and I go upstairs, and she sprawls out on my bed. We go months without seeing each other, but since she practically grew up in this house, formalities don’t exist. “I didn’t think I’d get to see you before you left,” she says, taking a long look around. I’m sure everything’s familiar; my bedroom’s a shrine to my eighth-grade self. Pictures of us with our middle school friends are still pinned to the bulletin board, my bookshelves are stuffed with novels that are way below my current reading level, and my dresser is lined with shiny gold soccer trophies. I’ve tried to throw the trophies away many times. They’re all feel-goods--tokens for participation, not evidence of any ability or even a winning team--but my dad always rescues them from the trash anyway.
I toss a pile of clean laundry onto the bed, and we both start folding. This is our ritual. The only difference is that we don’t sob through it like we did the first few times I left.
“Everyone asked about you all summer,” Jordana says.
I raise my eyebrows. Sadly, I don’t know many of Jordana’s friends anymore. I still remember names, but I stopped trying to keep in touch with everyone after winter break my first year. Telling stories about people they didn’t know got old on both sides.
“Don’t worry. I didn’t say anything,” Jordana says. “Although, can I ask, why’s waitressing such a big secret?”
“It’s not. I just don’t want to deal with the onslaught of questions about the movie that would definitely follow.” This is what complicates the issue. Being open about waitressing also means addressing my mom’s ongoing failure, which is not something either of us is prepared to do. I move the stack of folded T‑shirts onto the floor.
Jordana picks up a framed photo of me with my friends from my dorm. “Wow, look at Whitney. She’s changed so much since freshman year.”
We call it “first year,” but I don’t correct her. Hearing Jordana talk about my best friend at school is weird, since they’ve never met, but Jordana has been seeing pictures of her on Instagram forever.
I take the photo out of her hand, barely able to remember what Whit looked like back then. She was always beautiful and had the same take-charge swagger, tastefully packaged in prim Bergdorf Goodman outfits. She befriended me right away and later admitted it was because my LA style set me apart at Winthrop. Then, when everyone found out that Lisa Chen, producer of Over It, was my mother, well, that sealed the deal. We’ve been inseparable ever since.
“Tell me about your summer,” I say. “Did you love teaching?” Jordana interned at our former preschool because she’s thinking about studying child psychology in college.
“Not exactly. Nora’s senile,” she says, referring to the principal.
“Well, then, did you go out a lot, at least?”
She props herself up against my pillows. “Every night. But I’ve been hanging out with the same people for twelve years. I wouldn’t be opposed to some kind of massive shake‑up.”
I laugh. “Any kind in particular?”
“Hmm. Maybe some gorgeous stranger could transfer in. Or aliens could abduct me and turbo-boost my brain so that I skip senior year and go straight to college.”
“Just one more year,” I say.
“Easy for you to say.” She throws a balled‑up pair of socks at my head. “You love school. And you have Leo. Tell me there’s something wrong with that boy.”
I think about it. “Not a thing,” I admit. Jordana looks even more deflated than before. “But just like your ‘meh’ year, my great year will have an end. Nothing lasts forever.”
“Not even you and Leo?” she asks with a grin.
“Well, maybe me and Leo.”
On cue, my phone chimes, and I pick it up, excited to read some sappy-but-adorable text from my boyfriend. Instead, it’s an email from the Winthrop Housing Administration.
I tap on it immediately. “If they think they’re giving me a roommate, they’re insane.” Getting a single your senior year is practically a god-given right.
Dear Miss Hoffman:
Due to an error in the housing office, some students have been reassigned to different dormitories. We regret the inconvenience this may cause. Your faculty advisor will have your new placement when you arrive on campus. Please come prepared to remove your belongings from your previous dormitory and transfer them to your new home.
Winthrop Housing Administration
I click my phone off and clutch it to my chest, staring into space. Around the edges of the phone, my fingertips grip and release my T‑shirt.
Jordana sits up straight. “Will you please blink? Are you having a heart attack?”
“Pretty much,” I whisper.
“But, I mean, how big is the campus?” she asks after I tell her. “It’s not like you’ll be miles away.”
“I could be a mile away, I could be next door. But that’s not the point. It’s my home. I’ve lived in Lincoln since day one. All my friends are there. We do everything together--study, watch TV, share beauty products. I barely know any girls from other dorms.”
“Really?” Jordana wrinkles her nose. “How’s that possible?”
I glare at her. “Because. Anyone worth knowing lives in Lincoln!”
She holds up her hands in surrender. “Okay, but can’t you still do those things together?”
I sigh. “It’s not the same. There’s something special about living next door to your best friends or down the hall from them. Someone’s door is always open. We don’t have to go through the chore of scheduling and picking a meeting place.”
“Learn to make plans like the rest of the world.” Her tone is flat, but I hear the accusation there. “Anyway, maybe the worst is that you’ll graduate with two sets of friends.”
Jordana has no idea what she’s talking about, and I’m about to tell her as much when my mom pokes her head in. “How’s the packing going? It feels like you never unpacked, so you must be almost done.”
“Mom, good, you’re here. I need you to leave a strongly worded voice mail.” I get my game face on.
Her brow furrows. “Really? And where shall I leave this strongly worded voice mail?”
“At the school housing office. They’re trying to tell me that I’m not in Lincoln this year!” Just saying it aloud makes me want to burst into tears.
My mom’s expression turns from quizzical to anxious. “Well, honey, I’m sure they wouldn’t have done it unless there was a very good reason.”
“No. Uh‑uh. I don’t need reasonable, keeper-of-the-peace Mom. I need badass producer Mom. Get-shit-done Mom.”
“Language.” She glances meaningfully toward Jordana, who’s busy plucking at my bedspread, pretending she’s not here. “I’m sure it has to do with the change in circumstances.”
What she’s trying not to say in front of Jordana is that maybe Winthrop Housing shafted me because I’m now on financial aid. She feels like they’re doing us a favor and is therefore hesitant to rock the boat.