A YA contemporary mixing MEAN GIRLS with the searing sociological insights in THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES and mental illness recovery in THE WEIGHT OF ZERO.
Seventeen-year-old Carter Harper may be building an app and have a 3.89 GPA, but her successes are overshadowed by a failed suicide attempt. She wanted to escape the bleakness of major depressive disorder and the cruelty of the clique that used her as a personal plaything. Carter yearns for a catalyst for another, successful parlay with pills.
Abby Wallace is Carter’s biggest tormenter and the second-most popular girl in the junior class. That is, until the rape trauma syndrome she’s tried to suppress floats to the surface. Abby loses her social status due to her increasingly erratic and abusive behavior. She can only claw her way back to the top if she tackles her mental illness by unlocking strength she never realized she had.
Carter and Abby’s tumultuous relationship comes to a boiling point when Abby saves Carter’s life. As a desperate bid to regain popularity, Abby tells Kelsey, her monstrous ex-best friend with benefits, about the attempt. Kelsey blackmails Carter into taking Abby’s place as secondary queen bee. Carter’s found her catalyst for self-destruction, and Abby decides to double-cross Kelsey with Carter’s help. If Carter and Abby can stand each other for more than three minutes, they can save each other and maybe the entire school from Kelsey’s court of misrule.
STATUS: Revising at 93,000 words.
AWARDS: 2013 YoungArts Merit Award for Writing: Selection from Novel
Most junior students aren’t afraid of winning the pretentious Future Leaders Essay Contest, but most don’t have an enemy like Abby Wallace.
Mr. Callahan calls Abby and I to the front of the classroom. I pray to a nonexistent God that Abby doesn’t trip me. Though, if I’m being rational, Abby doesn’t bully me around authority figures. She waits for opportunity in unsupervised locker rooms, the chronically understaffed cafeteria, and bustling hallways between classes.
Too bad there’s nothing rational about fears surfacing from constant victimization.
“These two ladies analyzed Hamlet and The Scarlet Letter in innovative ways. You should applaud their initiative,” my over-enthusiastic AP English teacher says. Hmm, should I? Abby’s idea of initiative is starting a new rumor about me before her equally evil best friend Kelsey Maxwell.
Somebody in the back gives a weak hand clap. If I liked any of my classmates, I’d snicker. But I respect myself and Callahan too much to show such blatant disrespect and sycophancy.
“However, the subcommittee and I could select only one student to win the scholarship and Washington, D.C. summer trip.” Callahan shakes his head like he’s crestfallen.
He forgot to mention the prestige that comes with writing FUTURE LEADERS ESSAY CONTEST FINALIST on your college applications. MIT, Drexel, the University of Rochester, and Penn State (safety) will be proud next year.
Abby beams, like she’s already won. I wouldn’t be pissed if she did: from what I’ve seen from mandated peer edits, she’s a brilliant writer. Maybe better than me. And she wins everything, from Prom Queen runner-up to the Creative Writing Club vice presidency. She’s one of four reasons why I stay far away from extracurricular activities. I can’t run the risk of running into her or another one of the POPS (aka Petty, Oppressive, and Popular Shitbags) who make my life hell for sport. Queen Bee Kelsey oversees the daily announcements and heads the Prom Committee, where she puts her scheming skills to good use. Mei Xiang cheats off tests (I should know; I’m her copyee of choice), but manages to take the Academic Decathlon team to state every year. Slater García-Schaeffer, the only one who isn’t a complete asshole, is the President of the Gender & Sexuality Alliance. It’s the one club I’ve considered joining.
If they weren’t so cruel, I’d admire their ambition.
“Harlow High’s representative for this year’s FLEC conference is….” Callahan bangs out a quick drumroll on the whiteboard. His choppy brown hair shakes along with the weak porcelain. He can be a bit of a dork. By the way, this is coming from the Princess of Social Pariahs.
A swell of pride rolls into my chest. I smile broadly before reverting to my standard, passive facial expression. For one second, I’m filled with such joy that I forget the consequence of winning.
A little monster in my ear whispers you beat Abby. I wrote this essay during a major depressive episode, and I still beat the girl who would beat me into a grave if she could get away with it.
“Congratulations, C,” Abby says. Her voice is syrupy, like honey designed to trap you. “I’m not surprised you won. I’m sure you spent all your free time revising your essay.”
“That’s the spirit, Abby.” No, no it’s not, Callahan. You see, I’m an expert in coded cruelty. By saying I spent all my free time on the essay, she’s implying I don’t have a life. She’s not wrong, but she doesn’t need to tell everybody.
I nod in lieu of a verbal response. I sound like a babbling brook around the POPS, prone to using archaic, stumbling language like, well, babbling brook. Words rush out of me, whiny and unguarded, before I can lock them back in.
I stare at the wall behind Abby as my eyes grow glazed and glassy. My pride is snatched away. Congratulations, Abby. You’ve won. I don’t even want this prize anymore, or the trip to D.C. that could help me meet people who could be my friends.
“Could you tell the class about your essay? Carter?” Callahan beckons me back into the present. Abby’s gunmetal blue eyes bore into me, as if she dares me to one-up her Hamlet essay, even though I already have.
Breathe and speak, I order myself. I inhale—
—At least I tried.
Callahan sighs. He’s used to my lack of speech from social anxiety. Luckily, he doesn’t know the main cause behind it. The few failed interventions by teachers over the years have led me to believe that they’re useless for bullying interference. “Carter connected Hester Prynne’s scarlet A to modern-day social media callout culture and cyberbullying. One of her main points was the inherent hypocrisy of claiming morality while crucifying others.”
I have firsthand experience in the subject, since Abby made my insecurities go semi-viral in eighth grade, thanks to a misguided decision fueled by a long crying jag. Fun times.
“Oh, please,” Kelsey mutters. My skin prickles. I return to my seat, though nobody’s told me to. A pinch on my back tells me Mei’s angry on behalf of her jilted friend.
Well, I’m angry at myself, too, for thinking I could win and get away with it.
And another version, created by the lovely Christine L. Herman!