A Buzzfeed Best Young Adult Book of the Decade
A Paste Magazine Best Teen Book of the Decade
A Book Riot Biggest YA Book of the Decade
A Professional Book Nerds Best Book of the Decade
A Bustle.com Most-Anticipated YA Novel
A Goodreads YA Best Books Pick
A Goodreads Choice Award Finalist for Young Adult Fiction
Kids Indie Next List Pick"Marieke Nijkamp's brutal, powerful fictional account of a school shooting is important in its timeliness." Bustle.com"A gritty, emotional, and suspenseful read and although fictionalized, it reflects on a problematic and harrowing issue across the nation." Buzzfeed"A compelling, brutal story of an unfortunately all-too familiar situation: a school shooting. Nijkamp portrays the events thoughtfully, recounting fifty-four intense minutes of bravery, love, and loss." BookRiot
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This Is Where It Ends
By Marieke Nijkamp
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Marieke Nijkamp
All rights reserved.
The starter gun shatters the silence, releasing the runners from their blocks.
Track season starts in a couple weeks, but no one has told Coach Lindt about winter. He's convinced that the only way to get us into shape is to practice — even when my breath freezes right in front of me.
This is Opportunity, Alabama. Sane people don't leave their homes when it's white and frosty outside. We stock up on canned food, drink hot chocolate until we succumb to sugar comas, and pray to be saved from the cold.
Still, Coach Lindt's start-of-season training beats Principal Trenton's long and arduous start-of-semester speech — virtue, hard work, and the proper behavior of young ladies and gentlemen. After almost four years at Opportunity High, I can recite her words from memory, which is exactly what I did for Matt at breakfast this morning — responsibility, opportunity ("no pun intended"), and her favorite, our school motto: We Shape the Future.
It sounds glorious, but with months left until graduation, I have no clue what the future looks like. If Opportunity shaped me, I didn't notice. Running, I know. This track, I know. One step after another after another. It doesn't matter what comes next as long as I keep moving forward.
My foot slips, and I stumble.
From his position on the field, Coach curses. "Claire, attention! One misstep's the difference between success and failure."
Straightening, I refocus.
A familiar laugh colors the still morning. "Did you freeze up over holiday break, Sarge? A snail could catch up with you floundering like that." On the straightaway of the track, Chris falls into step with me.
I suck in a breath before I answer him. "Oh, shut up."
My best friend only laughs louder. The even rhythm of his footsteps and his breathing challenge me to find my pace. His presence steadies me like it always does. At six-foot-five and with sun-touched hair and blue eyes, Chris is not just our best runner but also Opportunity's poster-boy athlete. On uniform days, the freshman girls fawn over him.
With Chris by my side, my stride shortens. The other two runners on our varsity team are far behind us, on the other side of the field. Chris and I move in perfect synchrony, and the very air parts before us.
Nothing can touch us. Not snow. Not even time.
* * *
Time's up. The small clock on the bookshelf strikes ten with an annoying little tune, and I thumb through the tabs in front of me at supersonic speed. C'mon, c'mon, c'mon.
It only took superglue — strategically squirted on the desk drawers of my favorite Spanish teacher, Mr. Look-At-Me-Strutting-My-Stuff-Like-A-Walking-Midlife-Crisis — for Far and me to find our way to the administrative office. But it took both our student IDs before we managed to jiggle the lock on Principal Trenton's door. And it'll all be for nothing if I can't find the file I'm looking for. I scan the folders in the filing cabinet. When an elbow pokes my side, I startle. "Dammit, Far. What the hell?"
Fareed rolls his eyes and gestures for me to keep quiet. Someone's in the hallway, he mouths. He tiptoes back to the door.
How do I explain this? "No, ma'am, I'm not doing anything, just breaking into school records"?
Whatever. I'm sure I have a legal right to see my own permanent record, so I can always use that as my excuse. The fact that these folders just happened to be "Last Names, A–C" instead of "Last Names, M–N" is nothing more than a coincidence. No one knows whose file I'm looking for, except Far. And even he doesn't know the whole reason.
If anything, I can always "find" Al-Sahar, Fareed as a cover. The school administration can't even file his name right.
A door opens and closes. A lock clicks.
Footsteps squeak on the linoleum outside the administrative office.
Footsteps that pause before the principal's door — our door.
I quietly push the file drawer shut. Better not to stir up trouble — more trouble — if I get caught red-handed.
Far and I both hold our breath.
After what feels like forever, the footsteps move on. Whomever it was, they're not out to get us. Not today.
* * *
"... it's all a matter of the decisions you make, today and every day. Your behavior reflects not only on yourself but also on your parents, your family, and your school.
"Here at Opportunity, we pride ourselves on shaping the doctors, lawyers, and politicians of tomorrow. And it's the choices you make now that will determine your future. You have to ask yourself how you can become the best you can be. Ask not what your school can do for you but what you can do for you."
Trenton holds the microphone loosely while she scans the crowd, as if memorizing every single face. So many students come and go, leaving nothing but the faintest impression, names scratched into desks and graffitied onto bathroom stalls, yet she knows us all.
All our hopes. All our heartbreaks. All our sleepless nights.
Her eyes linger on me, and my neck burns. I reach for the chair to my right, but it remains as it was when the assembly started. Empty.
To my left, Sylv groans. "After all these years, you'd think she'd come up with something more original."
"Don't you want to be the best you can be?" The words come out harsher than I intend.
In truth, Sylv will have plenty of colleges to choose from. She's a shoo-in for all her dream schools. And I should be happy for her. I am happy for her.
But for me, college is the only way out of this misery, and Dad sure as hell isn't going to pay my ride. Not to study dance. "Look what happened to your mother," he'd say, as if I haven't counted the days, hours, minutes since Mom's accident. "Dance took everything from her. No daughter of mine is going into that business. Not if I can stop it."
So he tries to stop me — every day. And with Mom gone, there's no one to stop him. Not from drinking. Not from hitting me. There's no one to keep our family from falling apart.
I grip my crumpled coffee cup, grab the threadbare denim messenger bag from under my seat, and block out Ty's voice in the back of my mind. My brother would tell me that Principal Trenton's words are truer than I think, that the world is at my fingertips and it's up to me to make my future the best it can be.
I tried that and I lost. Now I'd rather escape.
* * *
I sink deep into my seat and glance at the empty place next to Autumn. He's not coming after all. He'd have been here by now. He won't come. I'm safe here.
He won't come.
The knot in my stomach unfurls and recoils with every twist and turn of my mind. I could ask Autumn about Tyler, but she's lost in memories. Today is two years since the accident. She refuses to share her grief with me — or anyone. Even when she smiles, she isn't the girl she used to be.
And I miss her.
Some days, when she thinks no one is watching, she still moves across the floor as if she's flying. La golondrina, Mamá used to call her. The swallow. All grace and beauty. When Autumn dances, all her worry falls away and she shines.
I wish she could dance forever.
Madre de Dios, how I wish I could watch her dance forever.
Instead, it is another Monday. Life goes on. The assembly is over, and Autumn holds herself ramrod straight. I'm the only one who knows she'll fly out of this cage and leave us all behind as soon as she can.
Meanwhile, next period is the last review for my AP U.S. History midterm, and I haven't even touched my books. Mamá had another one of her bad spells over break. We were supposed to go into town together last Saturday, but when Abuelo brought the car around, she barely recognized him. She didn't want to leave the house. She didn't understand where we were going. I sat with her for hours, talked to her — listen, Mamá — told her the stories that wove our family around her. She was disoriented for days afterward, and I can't shake the feeling that with every day that passes, she slips away like starlight at dawn.
At least history suits me. You already know if those stories will end happily.CHAPTER 2
I reach for the bowl on top of the desk and pop a few mints into my mouth. Far peeks around the principal's door. When he gives the all clear, I open the filing cabinet again. I haven't lost much work. Just time.
Principal Trenton may still live in the pre-digital era, but she's like a cyborg. She always speaks until ten sharp, leaving five minutes for announcements before the bell. By the end of the assembly, everyone has to run to make it to class on time for third period. Well, in theory. The teachers and other personnel are in the auditorium too, and they don't run.
So everyone pushes to leave, then strolls, dawdles, sneaks out for a smoke and some air (the two aren't mutually exclusive, thank you very much). After all, even nicotine and tar smell better than what my sis once described as our "odor-torium," a unique blend of testosterone, sweat, and burned coffee.
But we're cutting it far too close. "I hate paperwork."
"Maybe you should stay on the farm then," Fareed drawls. "Honest work and hard labor don't require brains."
"You're hilarious." My fingers skim his file, and I pull it out of the drawer. "D'you want to see the letter of recommendation Mr. O'Brian wrote for your college applications?"
He holds out his hands, and I toss him the file. A few sheets flutter from the folder before Far catches it.
I snort. "Sorry. Not sorry."
"I look so young and innocent in this picture," Fareed muses, staring at his cover sheet. For most of our class, the picture used by the administration is three years old, taken when we enrolled as freshmen. In his case, however —
"That was taken last year!"
"How you've corrupted me. Without your brilliant ideas, I'd have been a straight-A student, never in trouble with the law, girls following me everywhere."
"Sure." I pull another folder out of the filing cabinet. "Keep telling yourself that."
Fareed makes another comment, but I'm not paying attention. A familiar picture stares at me from the cover sheet.
Browne, Tyler. Gelled blond hair, pale eyes, and an oh-so-familiar blank look. The one time his eyes weren't glossed over with contempt was when I slammed his head into a locker. My fingers itch to do it again.
Does the administration note criminal charges in student records? Probably not when the files are this easy to access. Definitely not when said student dropped out at the end of last year. Besides, I don't even know if he has a criminal record. According to his grades, he was a perfectly respectable C student. Three years at Opportunity and Tyler coasted through all his classes.
He only — spectacularly — failed Humanity 101.
The latest note in his file is unmistakable though: Reenrolling. Effective immediately.
Sylvia mentioned it this weekend. It was the first time she's confided in me in months. She looked ready to puke her guts out, she was so scared, but she refused to tell me why. So here I am, breaking into school records. To make sure she's safe. Twin-brother privileges.
Not that I'll ever admit to that or even hint that I care. Twin-brother reputation.
I lean against the principal's desk and read.
Date of birth, address — boring. Emergency contact information for father, mother deceased. Last school, date of admission — nothing I don't already know. Present class: not applicable. Not yet.
SAT score: 2140.
Huh. A closet genius.
Maybe that explains why, despite his bravado, Tyler never made good on any of his threats. He may be a maggot, but he's the smartest kind: a harmless one.
* * *
My back aches. I roll my shoulders to loosen the knotted muscles. Sylv lingers instead of rejoining the rest of her class. She cracks her knuckles with sharp snaps. "Are you okay?"
"I ..." I hesitate.
I woke up drenched in sweat last night, expecting a knock at the door like two years ago. But this morning was breakfast as usual. Ty was nowhere to be found, and after this weekend, I didn't mind. Figures. Dad didn't bother to get up. He started — or never stopped — drinking last night. These days, he doesn't even try to hide it. When Mom was still alive, he only drank when she was away and only during the darkest times. He still knew how to smile then, and he could make both Ty and me laugh.
Now he's angry at the entire world, at anything that reminds him of Mom.
I don't know how to put all that into words. I'm not okay. I haven't been okay in a long time. It isn't just Mom's death. Dad — sometimes I'm afraid.
And Ty ... I'm afraid I'll lose Ty too.
But Sylv and Ty hate each other. How can I begin to make her understand?
She places her hand on my arm, then remembers where we are and nervously tucks a long, black curl behind her ears. Her bright-blue top matches her eyeliner, which makes her eyes sparkle. At Opportunity, where so many of us prefer to stay hidden, she's the brightest spotlight on the darkest stage. She looks at me expectantly. "It's understandable, you know. Anniversaries can be difficult. You can be sad. No one will judge you, least of all me."
I nod, but the words still won't form. The voices ebb and flow around us as students climb the raked aisles between the four blocks of seating. Sylv's eyes flick to the other side of the auditorium, where some of the football players are getting loud.
I shrug. "It's fine. I'm fine."
She'd never understand. No one does.
I'm counting down the minutes to seventh period, when the music room behind the stage is dark and deserted. In the shadows, I'll be alone.
I'll be safe.
Sylv opens her mouth, but before she can say anything, a girl from her class appears at her elbow — Asha, I think. She used to get into arguments with my brother before he dropped out. I can't — I don't want to keep up with all of them. They will only bind me to this place, and it hurts so much to care.
Asha clings to her AP U.S. History textbook. Under strands of rainbow-colored hair, her mouth quirks up in a half smile. She whispers something. Sylv tenses before she laughs, her voice rising above the crowd. "Contrary to popular opinion, I'm not looking forward to midterms."
Asha rolls her eyes. "You have nothing to worry about."
Sylv blushes, but Asha's right: Sylv's a straight-A student. The teachers adore her. She couldn't flunk an exam if she tried.
Asha turns to me, and that's my cue. I plaster on a fake smile. "Midterms aren't until next week. And I had better things to do than study over break."
"Philistine." Sylv sighs. "How do I put up with you?"
Because I'm yours.
The buttons on Asha's bag clink against each other. She flicks a purple lock of hair out of her face. "No stress? Lucky you."
Lucky me. Before I can say anything, Sylv beats me to it.
"So what did you do?"
Around us, the drone of voices becomes louder, more agitated. The first few moments after Trenton's speeches are always a mess, with everyone tumbling over each other trying to get out, but this is far more chaotic than usual.
A teacher pushes through. Probably to see what the holdup is.
Asha grins. "All of break? Absolutely nothing? C'mon, spill."
Sylv's eyes are soft and questioning, and I nibble on my lip. I don't want to let her down. "I found an old video recording of my mother's first Swan Lake in the attic this weekend. It was her audition for the Royal Ballet. She wasn't much older than me."
It's not salacious news, so I expect Asha to be disappointed, but she leans in closer. "Was it good?"
This surprises a smile out of me.
Opportunity High is a county high school, with students from all the small surrounding towns. Asha isn't one of us. She isn't Opportunity, where everyone knows everything about Mom and me. She isn't part of our home turf of familiar street names, churches, and shared secrets.
In Opportunity, everyone knows Mom danced around the world at every great company: London, Moscow, New York. She saw more countries than all of us combined. She told me about her travels and made me restless. For how much that memory of her hurts, watching her dance never does. "She was amazing."
Excerpted from This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp. Copyright © 2016 Marieke Nijkamp. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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