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