Tag Archives: Forward March

Fave Five: Queer MCs with Asthma

Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson (YA)

Ziggy, Stardust & Me by James Brandon (YA)

Forward March by Skye Quinlan (YA)

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert

Happy Asexual Awareness Week!

Books to Buy Now

This Golden Flame by Emily Victoria

Orphaned and forced to serve her country’s ruling group of scribes, Karis wants nothing more than to find her brother, long ago shipped away. But family bonds don’t matter to the Scriptorium, whose sole focus is unlocking the magic of an ancient automaton army.

In her search for her brother, Karis does the seemingly impossible—she awakens a hidden automaton. Intelligent, with a conscience of his own, Alix has no idea why he was made. Or why his father—their nation’s greatest traitor—once tried to destroy the automatons.

Suddenly, the Scriptorium isn’t just trying to control Karis; it’s hunting her. Together with Alix, Karis must find her brother…and the secret that’s held her country in its power for centuries.

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Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen

54539799. sy475 Caiden’s planet is destroyed. His family gone. And, his only hope for survival is a crew of misfit aliens and a mysterious ship that seems to have a soul and a universe of its own. Together they will show him that the universe is much bigger, much more advanced, and much more mysterious than Caiden had ever imagined. But the universe hides dangers as well, and soon Caiden has his own plans.

He vows to do anything it takes to get revenge on the slavers who murdered his people and took away his home. To destroy their regime, he must infiltrate and dismantle them from the inside, or die trying.

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The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun

Dev Deshpande has always believed in fairy tales. So it’s no wonder then that he’s spent his career crafting them on the long-running reality dating show Ever After. As the most successful producer in the franchise’s history, Dev always scripts the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life crashes and burns. But then the show casts disgraced tech wunderkind Charlie Winshaw as its star.

Charlie is far from the romantic Prince Charming Ever After expects. He doesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to the show as a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s a stiff, anxious mess with no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold, awkward, and emotionally closed-off.

As Dev fights to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a whirlwind, worldwide tour, they begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars. But even reality TV has a script, and in order to find to happily ever after, they’ll have to reconsider whose love story gets told.

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Goddess of the Hunt by Shelby Eileen

A poetry collection about the mythic life of Artemis, Greek Goddess of the hunt. Told through the perspective of Artemis herself with the contributions of a few other Greek Goddesses. This collection reimagines and follows Artemis navigating her lifelong vow of chastity and, rather than suffering through it, owning it as a facet of her aromanticism and asexuality. Immerse yourself in a cultivated tempest of poems illustrating Artemis as a warrior, whose shoulders have known an excessive weight of responsibility, and who always fights to remain her authentic self among people who would change her.

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Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer

Dexter meets This Savage Song in this dark fantasy about a girl who sells magical body parts on the black market — until she’s betrayed.

Nita doesn’t murder supernatural beings and sell their body parts on the internet–her mother does that. Nita just dissects the bodies after they’ve been “acquired.” Until her mom brings home a live specimen and Nita decides she wants out; dissecting a scared teenage boy is a step too far. But when she decides to save her mother’s victim, she ends up sold in his place–because Nita herself isn’t exactly “human.” She has the ability to alter her biology, a talent that is priceless on the black market. Now on the other side of the bars, if she wants to escape, Nita must ask herself if she’s willing to become the worst kind of monster.

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Create My Own Perfection by E.H. Timms

“It’s not every day you get to put the fear of Medusa into a god.”

Emma Stone, medusa, is the groundskeeper for Olson College of Extensive Education, a place where everyone is welcome, from the mythical to the magical. When her selkie best friend loses her skin in Fresher’s week, the race is on to find it before someone uses it against her.

The search brings Emma face to face with her oldest enemy – and forces her to confront the worst nightmares of her past.

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Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Like everyone else she knows, Mallory is an orphan of the corporate war. As a child, she lost her parents, her home, and her entire building in an airstrike. As an adult, she lives in a cramped hotel room with eight other people, all of them working multiple jobs to try to afford water and make ends meet. And the job she’s best at is streaming a popular VR war game. The best part of the game isn’t killing enemy combatants, though—it’s catching in-game glimpses of SpecOps operatives, celebrity supersoldiers grown and owned by Stellaxis, the corporation that runs the America she lives in.

Until a chance encounter with a SpecOps operative in the game leads Mal to a horrifying discovery: the real-life operatives weren’t created by Stellaxis. They were kids, just like her, who lost everything in the war, and were stolen and augmented and tortured into becoming supersoldiers. The world worships them, but the world believes a lie.

The company controls every part of their lives, and defying them puts everything at risk—her water ration, her livelihood, her connectivity, her friends, her life—but she can’t just sit on the knowledge. She has to do something—even if doing something will bring the wrath of the most powerful company in the world down upon her.

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The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl

50638223The Descendants meets Pretty Little Liars in this story of four reimagined fairytale heroines who must uncover connections to their ancient curses and forge their own paths… before it’s too late.

After the mysterious death of their best friend, Ella, Yuki, and Rory are the talk of their elite school, Grimrose Académie. The police ruled Ariane’s death as a suicide, but the trio are determined to find out what really happened.

When Nani Eszes arrives as their newest roommate, it sets into motion a series of events that no one could have predicted. As the girls retrace their friend’s final days, they discover a dark secret about Grimrose—Ariane wasn’t the first dead girl.

They soon learn that all the past murders are connected to ancient fairytale curses…and that their own fates are tied to the stories, dooming the girls to brutal and gruesome endings unless they can break the cycle for good.

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Books to Preorder

A-Okay by Jarad Greene (November 2, 2021)

When Jay starts eighth grade with a few pimples he doesn’t think much of it at first…except to wonder if the embarrassing acne will disappear as quickly as it arrived. But when his acne goes from bad to worse, Jay’s prescribed a powerful medication that comes with some serious side effects. Regardless, he’s convinced it’ll all be worth it if clear skin is on the horizon!

Meanwhile, school isn’t going exactly as planned. All of Jay’s friends are in different classes; he has no one to sit with at lunch; his best friend, Brace, is avoiding him; and–to top it off–Jay doesn’t understand why he doesn’t share the same feelings two of his fellow classmates, a boy named Mark and a girl named Amy, have for him.

Eighth grade can be tough, but Jay has to believe everything’s going to be a-okay…right?

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The Reckless Kind by Carly Heath (November 2, 2021)

It’s 1904 on an island just west of Norway, and Asta Hedstrom doesn’t want to marry her odious betrothed, Nils. But her mother believes she should be grateful for the possibility of any domestic future, given her single-sided deafness, unconventional appearance, and even stranger notions. Asta would rather spend her life performing in the village theater with her fellow outcasts: her best friend Gunnar Fuglestad and his secret boyfriend, wealthy Erlend Fournier.

But the situation takes a dire turn when Nils lashes out in jealousy—gravely injuring Gunnar. Shunning marriage for good, Asta moves with Gunnar and Erlend to their secluded cabin above town. With few ties left to their families, they have one shot at gaining enough kroner to secure their way of life: win the village’s annual horse race.

Despite Gunnar’s increasing misgivings, Asta and Erlend intend to prove this unheard-of arrangement will succeed. Asta trains as a blacksmith; Erlend cares for recovering Gunnar. But as race day approaches, the villagers’ hateful ignorance only grows stronger. With this year’s competition proving dangerous for the trio, Asta and Erlend soon find they face another equally deadly peril: the possibility of losing Gunnar, and their found family, forever.

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A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger (November 9, 2021)

Nina is a Lipan girl in our world. She’s always felt there was something more out there. She still believes in the old stories.

Oli is a cottonmouth kid, from the land of spirits and monsters. Like all cottonmouths, he’s been cast from home. He’s found a new one on the banks of the bottomless lake.

Nina and Oli have no idea the other exists. But a catastrophic event on Earth, and a strange sickness that befalls Oli’s best friend, will drive their worlds together in ways they haven’t been in centuries.

And there are some who will kill to keep them apart.

Darcie Little Badger introduced herself to the world with Elatsoe. In A Snake Falls to Earth, she draws on traditional Lipan Apache storytelling structure to weave another unforgettable tale of monsters, magic, and family. It is not to be missed.

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At the End of Everything by Marieke Nijkamp (January 25, 2022)

53403613. sy475 The Hope Juvenile Treatment Center is ironically named. No one has hope for the delinquent teenagers who have been exiled there; the world barely acknowledges that they exist.

Then the guards at Hope start acting strange. And one day…they don’t show up. But when the teens band together to make a break from the facility, they encounter soldiers outside the gates. There’s a rapidly spreading infectious disease outside, and no one can leave their houses or travel without a permit. Which means that they’re stuck at Hope. And this time, no one is watching out for them at all.

As supplies quickly dwindle and a deadly plague tears through their ranks, the group has to decide whom among them they can trust and figure out how they can survive in a world that has never wanted them in the first place.

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Forward March by Skye Quinlan (February 1, 2022)

All Harper McKinley wants is for her dad’s presidential campaign to not interfere with her senior marching band season.

But Harper’s world gets upended when the drumline’s punk-rock section leader, Margot Blanchard, tries to reject her one day after practice. Someone pretending to be Harper on Tinder catfished Margot for a month and now she’s determined to get to know the real Harper.

But the real Harper has a homophobic mother who’s the dean and a father who is running for president on the Republican ticket. With the election at stake, neither of them are happy about Harper’s new friendship with out-and-proud Margot.

As the election draws closer, Harper is forced to figure out if she even likes girls, if she might be asexual, and if it’s worth coming out at all.

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The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong (March 8, 2022)

Hunted by those who want to study his gravity powers, Jes makes his way to the best place for a mixed-species fugitive to blend in: the pleasure moon where everyone just wants to be lost in the party. It doesn’t take long for him to catch the attention of the crime boss who owns the resort-casino where he lands a circus job, and when the boss gets wind of the bounty on Jes’ head, he makes an offer: do anything and everything asked of him or face vivisection.

With no other options, Jes fulfills the requests: espionage, torture, demolition. But when the boss sets the circus up to take the fall for his about-to-get-busted narcotics operation, Jes and his friends decide to bring the mobster down. And if Jes can also avoid going back to being the prize subject of a scientist who can’t wait to dissect him? Even better.

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The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann (April 12, 2022)

Thirty, flirty, and asexual Joy is secretly in love with her best friend Malcolm, but she’s never been brave enough to say so. When he unexpectedly announces that he’s met the love of his life—and no, it’s not Joy—she’s heartbroken. Malcolm invites her on a weekend getaway, and Joy decides it’s her last chance to show him exactly what he’s overlooking. But maybe Joy is the one missing something…or someone…and his name is Fox.

Fox sees a kindred spirit in Joy—and decides to help her. He proposes they pretend to fall for each other on the weekend trip to make Malcolm jealous. But spending time with Fox shows Joy what it’s like to not be the third wheel, and there’s no mistaking the way he makes her feel. Could Fox be the romantic partner she’s always deserved?

Buy it: Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | The Ripped Bodice

Arden Grey by Ray Stoeve (April 26, 2022)

58667398Sixteen-year-old Arden Grey is struggling. Her mother has left their family, her father and her younger brother won’t talk about it, and a classmate, Tanner, keeps harassing her about her sexuality—which isn’t even public. (She knows she likes girls romantically, but she thinks she might be asexual.) At least she’s got her love of film photography and her best and only friend, Jamie, to help her cope. Then Jamie, who is trans, starts dating Caroline, and suddenly he isn’t so reliable. Arden’s insecurity about their friendship grows. She starts to wonder if she’s jealous or if Jamie’s relationship with Caroline is somehow unhealthy—and it makes her reconsider how much of her relationship with her absent mom wasn’t okay, too.

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The Summer of Bitter and Sweet by Jen Ferguson (May 10, 2022)

(Lou is demisexual.)

58782872. sy475 Lou has enough confusion in front of her this summer. She’ll be working in her family’s ice cream shack with her newly ex-boyfriend—whose kisses never made her feel desire, only discomfort—and her former best friend, King, who is back in their Canadian prairie town after disappearing three years ago without a word.

But when she gets a letter from her biological father—a man she hoped would stay behind bars for the rest of his life—Lou immediately knows that she cannot meet him, no matter how much he insists.

While King’s friendship makes Lou feel safer and warmer than she would have thought possible, when her family’s business comes under threat, she soon realizes that she can’t ignore her father forever.

Buy it: Amazon | IndieBound

The Bruising of Qilwa by Naseem Jamnia (August 9, 2022)

(Firuz is aroace.)

Firuz-e Jafari is one of the fortunate ones who have emigrated to the Democratic Free State of Qilwa. Firuz has escaped the slaughter of other traditional Sassanid blood-magic practitioners. They have a good job at a free healing clinic in Qilwa; a kindly new employer, Kofi; and a gifted new student, Afsoneh, a troubled orphan refugee.

But Firuz and Kofi have discovered a terrible new disease which leaves mysterious bruises on its victims. The illness is spreading quickly through Qilwa, and there are dangerous accusations of ineptly-performed blood magic.

In order to survive, Firuz must break a deadly cycle of prejudice while finding a fresh start for their both their blood and found family.

Buy it: Amazon | IndieBound

Add to Your TBR

Exclusive Cover Reveal: Forward March by Skye Quinlan

Today on the site, I’m thrilled to be revealing the cover of Skye Quinlan’s debut, Forward March, which releases from Page Street on February 1, 2022 and promises to the band geek ace YA of all of our dreams! Take a look:

All Harper McKinley wants is for her dad’s presidential campaign to not interfere with her senior marching band season.

But Harper’s world gets upended when the drumline’s punk-rock section leader, Margot Blanchard, tries to reject her one day after practice. Someone pretending to be Harper on Tinder catfished Margot for a month and now she’s determined to get to know the real Harper.

But the real Harper has a homophobic mother who’s the dean and a father who is running for president on the Republican ticket. With the election at stake, neither of them are happy about Harper’s new friendship with out-and-proud Margot.

As the election draws closer, Harper is forced to figure out if she even likes girls, if she might be asexual, and if it’s worth coming out at all.

And now feast your eyes on the festive cover, designed by Laura Benton and illustrated by Alex Cabal!

Preorder: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N | IndieBound

Can’t wait until February? Good news! We’ve got an excerpt right here, so check it out!

Unless you want your instrumental section to shun you for the entire season, you never start a story with, “This one time at band camp.” It’s an official rule of marching band, one that’s been carved into the missing door of the tuba locker, somewhere between “tie your shoes” and “keep your eyes on the field commander.”

But the door isn’t actually missing from the locker. Mrs. Devereaux ripped it from the hinges after Natalie Portman—no, not that Natalie Portman—had been caught having sex with her boyfriend inside. I still don’t know how they’d fit, even after Nadia and I squeeze inside to test our latest theory.

“Obviously, they took out the tubas.” Nadia’s great at stating the obvious. It’s one of the things I love most about her. What I don’t love is her elbow currently wedged between my ribs. She’s standing on top of a muddy tuba case, her forehead against my temple to avoid hitting the shelf above our heads, the bottom of which is covered in wads of old, still-tacky bubblegum. “But Matt is tall, and Natalie has a bad knee. Maybe they did it on the floor?”

“I don’t know.” I shove my hands against Nadia’s boney shoulders, her bronze skin slick with a sheen of sweat from rehearsal.

“But I’m pretty sure there’s gum in my hair, and I think I smell mold in here.” I tilt my head forward, and my hair snags on some- thing that feels gross and sticky and that I might have to cut out of my curls later. With my back pressed into the far corner of the locker, Nadia pushes against my front, her knee digging painfully into my hip. “No one’s cleaned this locker out for months,” I say glumly. My hair snags again, and I groan; this is why gum is illegal in the band room. “Not since Natalie tainted it. Let me out before I die of something worse than suffocation.”

Nadia snorts and sprays my cheek with spit. Her dark eyes gleam a golden brown like the polished brass of her trumpet, except maybe with a touch more deviance. She’s kissed a few boys in here, too, but she swears that the mechanics are different. I’ve never cared enough to ask how, and I still don’t know why Nadia brought me in here. Bellamy or Evelyn would’ve done this with far more enthusiasm. “Natalie wasn’t the first to get laid in here, you know.”

“No,” I say dryly, wiping off my cheek. “But she’s pregnant and people think it’s cursed.”

“It’s not cursed, Harper, for God’s sake. Natalie poked a hole in the condom.”

Tomayto, tomahto, who cares? I don’t want to be in this locker.

I twist my hips and force Nadia off the tuba case. She slides down with a grumble of protest, then stands in the doorway and narrows her eyes, pondering a new theory. “Let me out, Nadia. It’s hot, you’re sweaty, and I feel gross. I want to take a shower while there’s still hot water in the bathroom, preferably before the color guard takes it over. The mystery of the sex-locker can wait.”

Nadia hops out of the locker and stumbles over a flip-folder with sheet music from next week’s halftime show. She kicks it aside, knowing I’ll slip on the folder’s plastic pages and break my neck if she leaves it there. “Shower after dinner,” Nadia says. As soon as I’m free from the locker, she loops her arm through my elbow. “You promised to help me clean the dorm, and I won’t let you weasel your way out of it again.”

Our dorm is on the south side of campus, tucked behind the empty field where the band practices every afternoon. It isn’t messy, per se; Nadia’s half of our shared bedroom is spotless, not a book out of place or even a shoe left out on the floor. She likes it that way, the sparkling cleanliness that makes my skin crawl. I thrive in the organized chaos that’s my half, my clothes and books and a pencil or three scattered across the stained beige carpet. Everything I have has a place, on the floor, beneath my bed, or on the rotting window- sill, but at least I know where everything is. As organized as Nadia might be, she can never find anything she’s looking for.
And if there’s a week-old slice of pizza that’s still sitting out on my desk, well . . . it’s entirely Nadia’s fault. She shouldn’t have Door-Dashed pizza last weekend.

“The room is starting to smell, and I don’t know how you can even tolerate it with your asthma. Honestly, Harp, you have no self-preservation. If not for me, you’d be—”

Dead. I don’t need the reminder.

If not for Nadia Juliette, I would have died last spring when our boarding school’s cafeteria served seafood for the first time. On top of forgetting both my allergy to fish and my EpiPen, I’d forgotten to make sure that a piece of shrimp hadn’t swum onto my plate by accident. Nadia had stabbed me in the leg with one of the extra pens she keeps stashed in her backpack for emergencies, hard enough to leave a bruise that lasted for weeks. She never lets me forget it, though it’s usually more of a reminder for me to take care of myself than it is for her to boast about having saved me. It depends on her mood that day.

She has one of my emergency inhalers, too, stuffed into the special “Harper Bag” she’d made for her backpack after I’d collapsed during band camp sophomore year.

I wouldn’t say I’m forgetful, but Nadia begs to differ. Things just slip my mind.

“Can we not talk about how much I suck at being a human?” I ask, shoving open the back doors of the band room.

A warm blast of stifling, end-of-summer air heats my sun-burnt skin. I breathe in deep and can smell the rain on the wind, can feel the sticky mugginess that plays hell with my lungs and makes my shirt cling to all the wrong parts of me. “Is it supposed to storm tonight?”
The clouds above are an ominous gray and rumble low in answer. Nadia’s smile is sympathetic. “We can blast Demi Lovato if you want?”

“I knew there was a reason we still live together.”

Nadia and I have been rooming together since we were seven, when my mom became the dean of Golden Oaks Academy and Nadia’s father uprooted their family from Indonesia for better job opportunities. We transferred late in the semester, and since there hadn’t been anywhere else to put us, they shoved us both into the smallest room in the dormitories. It was either that or a broom closet. We’ve come a long way since then—now we have the second smallest room on campus. Mom keeps offering to place us in one of the empty suites in the faculty building, but I don’t want any special treatment. Being her daughter already makes me the school pariah. Besides, no one wants to live with their teachers, and Nadia and I have a good system: I keep my chaos contained to my side of the room, and Nadia won’t smother me in my sleep. It works best with a limited amount of space for me to dirty up.

Beyond the faculty parking lot that stretches like an inky sea of black, blistering pavement, our sprawling green practice field is a flurry of stick-spinning motion. The drumline always stays late after rehearsal to practice their crappy cadences. They draw in crowds from all over campus, mostly upperclassmen who clap and cheer and stomp their feet in sync with the snares and bass drums. They’ll beat on their drums for hours, crashing their cymbals until my skull is splitting and I hide beneath a pillow to escape it.

Drums are my absolute least favorite instrument. They’re loud, and our drumline sucks.

Nadia and I trudge through the muddy grass, the blades tram- pled flat from the day’s long hours of high-stepping. The yard lines, painted fresh every morning, are nearly gone from the abuse of slides and crab-walks. They’ll disappear entirely if it rains tonight. But the lines that mark out the end zones are still clear, and the drumline has gathered in the nearest one in a circle. Stick a penta- gram in the middle and they’re a cult.

“Drummers,” Nadia scoffs, the word like acid on her tongue. She tugs on my arm and we give them a wide berth on our way back to the dorm. Zander Bryant purposely beats his mallet through the warped head of his bass drum and cackles. “I can’t believe I dated one freshman year. It’s like all they care about are sticks and mallets and banging on a drum until it breaks.”

I stifle a snort behind my fingers. She says it loud enough that they probably hear her. “That’s not nice, Nadia. That’s like saying that all trumpets are obnoxious and only care about blasting their horns in people’s ears.”

“We are obnoxious, and it’s not my fault that trumpets are naturally loud.”

She’s not even the slightest bit wrong; I’ve never met a trumpeter who wasn’t full of themselves. “Truer words have never been spoken.” Nadia bumps my shoulder and grins at me, her lip gloss from this morning still shining. Or maybe she put more on. She keeps a mirror in her trumpet case. “What do you think they say about people who play the saxophone?” she asks.

My freckled shoulders are the color of a lobster left in the sun for too long, properly baked and overdone. Shrugging them at Nadia makes me wish she had some aloe in the drawstring bag she carries around with her everywhere. “We’re wise.”

Nadia’s hoot of laughter cleaves through the field, and I pretend not to notice the heads that swivel in our direction. “Have you met Michael Briggs? That is absolutely not true.”

“Hey, McKinley! Wait up!”

I whirl around on my heels, a quick “to the rear,” like the call of my name is a command given by Mrs. Devereaux. My shoes twist into the mud with a gross squelching sound, and Nadia squeals as I wrench her around with me. “Christ, Harper, a little warning would be nice!”

A snare drum and harness thud into the grass from inside the drumline’s circle, splattering mud on a set of sparkling blue tenors. A pair of multicolored sticks clack against the snare’s silver rim, and discontent ripples through the drumline in the form of cursing and groans.

Margot Blanchard squeezes between two bass drums, phone in hand as she jogs toward Nadia and me. I don’t have the slight- est idea why Margot would ever want to talk to me, though the drumline doesn’t need her, not with ten other drummers still harnessing their snares. But as their fiery section leader, she’s the only one among them who can keep a steady beat while screaming at the football team on game nights.

I’ve never spoken to her before. Margot transferred here from Canada in the eighth grade because her dad is the ambassador for the Canadian embassy in D.C. I’ve seen them together at fund- raisers, but in the great wide world of politics, my dad doesn’t like Margot’s dad because, apparently, he’s “too damn liberal.”
Nadia raises an eyebrow and nudges me with her elbow. “How do you know Margot?”

“I don’t.” I smile nervously and raise my hand in greeting. “Hi, Margot.”

“Hey.” Margot stops in front of me. She rolls her shoulders and stretches her arms until her spine cracks like a glow stick. Snares are heavy and even though they’re padded, their harnesses look uncomfortable. As little as she is, I don’t know how Margot even carries one. “Look,” she begins, panting to catch her breath. Mar- got has a slight French accent, a pretty lilt I could listen to for days if she were anyone else. “I know that we, uh, don’t really know each other, but . . . do you think we could talk? Just for a minute. It’s important. If you’re busy, I won’t keep you, but we really need to talk.”
I tilt my head and take this opportunity to stare at her. Margot will have to take it out once classes start, but she’s biting on the back of the silver stud pierced through her thin bottom lip. “Talk about what?”

Margot glances at Nadia and shifts her feet in the mud. “Do you mind if we talk alone?”

Nadia bristles, crossing her arms and puffing out her chest like a bird whose feathers have been ruffled. “Anything you want to tell Harper, you can tell me, too. We live together, and I’ll find out anyway.”
“She’s right,” I warn, not unkindly. There’s nothing I keep from Nadia. “What’s up?”

Her sigh is more annoyed than resigned, as if we’ve given her the runaround. Margot drums her fingers against the back of her phone, and I notice her nails are painted black. “Look,” she says again. She turns to face me and ignores Nadia entirely. “I really appreciate that you think my hair is cool and that I rock some lesbian aesthetic, or whatever, but we are never going to work. I’m sorry.”
It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard because it’s something I would never say, especially to Margot Blanchard.

My eyes instinctually dart to the top of her head.
Margot’s curly black hair is shaved on the sides and longer on top than in the back. It compliments her golden-brown skin, the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, and the beauty mark that’s just above her lip. But the longer I look at Margot, the more I realize she’s a walking dress-code violation. Her tattered black shorts are nowhere near the required length of just above the knee. She’s wearing a loose-fitting tank top with some weird indie band logo across the front, one that’s dingy and sweaty and shows off the straps of her bra, and an old red flannel is tied around her waist by the sleeves.

I guess she is some kind of punkish, lesbian stereotype; everyone knows that Margot likes girls. We’ve all seen her kiss plenty at football games. But I’ve never spoken to her before now, and I’ve definitely never told her that I like her hair or her aesthetic. I do kind of like her combat boots, though. They’re cute.

“What on earth are you talking about?”

Margot has the nerve to look guilty, her mouth pinching at the corners. “You’re funny, Harper, and I like talking to you about books. But I think it’s best for both of us if we stop this whole thing right now. I’m moving back to Canada once we graduate, you know? I don’t want to be tied down.”

Nadia’s suspicion is palpable, as if she truly believes I’ve lied to her about knowing Margot. I can feel the heat of my best friend’s glare burning its way through my temple. “Stop what now?” I ask, absently picking at my fingernails. I tear at a cuticle until it bleeds, a nervous tick that I’ve been trying to break for years. “We’ve never even talked before today.”

Margot frowns and glances sidelong at Nadia. “We’ve talked every day for a month, Harper. Since the end of band camp. See, this is why I said we should talk alone, in case you were keeping this a secret. I’m not judging you; I know your dad’s a Republican or whatever, but—”

“Keeping what a secret?” My heart is beating in the back of my throat. I can hear my pulse roaring in my ears as if my head has been shoved underwater, Margot calling out to me from just above the surface with some outlandish accusation. It feels as if I’m being outed to Nadia when there’s nothing to actually “out” me for. I don’t know what Margot is talking about. “I don’t know who you think you’ve been talking to, Margot, but it’s not me. I didn’t even know you knew my name.”

Margot’s frown only deepens. It carves out the dimples in her cheeks. “You really have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”
“Not a freakin’ clue.”

Margot unlocks her phone. She taps and scrolls with her thumb. “I’m on Tinder,” she says. I don’t point out the irony that she’s just told me she doesn’t want to be tied down. She turns her phone around to show me and Nadia the screen. It’s cracked. “And apparently it’s news to you, but you’re on Tinder, too.”

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Skye Quinlan is a debut author. She lives in the Midwest with her girlfriend and two dogs.