Today on the site, we’ve got some extra fun in the form of character portrait and excerpt reveals from one of my absolute favorite upcoming releases, Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen! The book releases on April 21 from Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan, but you can get to know its stars now! (And, a fun note: you can also come see me and Kelly talking about said book at Books of Wonder this summer in NYC on Thursday, June 18th at 6:00 p.m., so save the date!)
Here’s a little more info on Late to the Party:
Seventeen is nothing like Codi Teller imagined.
She’s never crashed a party, never stayed out too late. She’s never even been kissed. And it’s not just because she’s gay. It’s because she and her two best friends, Maritza and JaKory, spend more time in her basement watching Netflix than engaging with the outside world.
So when Maritza and JaKory suggest crashing a party, Codi is highly skeptical. Those parties aren’t for kids like them. They’re for cool kids. Straight kids.
But then Codi stumbles upon one of those cool kids, Ricky, kissing another boy in the dark, and an unexpected friendship is formed. In return for never talking about that kiss, Ricky takes Codi under his wing and draws her into a wild summer filled with late nights, new experiences, and one really cute girl named Lydia.
The only problem? Codi never tells Maritza or JaKory about any of it.
And here are the portraits and excerpts! All portraits in this post have been done by Rima Salloum, a good friend of the author’s.
Codi Teller – the protagonist and narrator, a quiet artist who is questioning her wallflower status
You know how adults are always talking about teenagers? When I was in fourth grade, my family drove past a house that had been rolled with toilet paper, and my dad shook his head and chuckled Teenagers under his breath. My mom griped about Teenagers every June, when dark figures hung over the monkey bars of the clubhouse playground long after closing hours, but she never actually seemed mad; she seemed wistful. And then there’s all those shows and movies, the ones where thirty-year-old actors pretend to be high schoolers, and they go on dates and drive their fast cars and dance at crazy house parties where their fellow Teenagers swing from chandeliers and barf into synthetic tree stands. You grow up with these ideas about Teenagers, about their wild, vibrant, dramatic lives of breaking rules and making out and Being Alive, and you know that it’s your destiny to become one of them someday, but suddenly you’re seventeen and you’re watching people cannonball into a swimming pool in the pouring rain, and you realize you still haven’t become a real Teenager, and maybe you never will.
Maritza Vargas – Codi’s best friend, a headstrong dancer who is determined to expand her social world
Maritza leaned forward, an urgent energy about her. “Listen to me,” she said. “Last night we picked up your little brother from a date, something none of us have ever experienced, and we watched him almost kiss a girl for the first time, something I’ve been wanting to do for ages. Didn’t that feel as shitty for you as it did for me? I’m tired of feeling like I’m missing out. We keep hanging out just the three of us, doing the same shit we always do, watching bad movies we’ve already seen . . .” She clasped her hands in front of her and steeled herself. “We need to try something different, meet people who are different. It’s like Einstein said: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result.”
JaKory Green – Codi’s other best friend, a hopeless idealist trying to push beyond his anxiety
“Did you feel horrible yesterday, too?” JaKory asked.
I looked up from the colors I was mixing. “The worst I’ve felt in a long time.”
JaKory was silent. Then he screwed up his mouth and said, “I went home and wrote a poem about it.”
I smiled wryly. “’Course you did.”
“There was one line I really liked. ‘My youth is infinite but my fears are intimate.’”
I mixed my orange and yellow paints. Such bursts of color, such vibrant promises, like the infinite youth JaKory spoke of. And yet those intimate fears loomed larger.
“I’m scared, too,” I admitted. “Scared of . . . I don’t even know what.”
“I’m so pissed at myself,” JaKory whispered. “I always knew I was different . . . black, nerdy, queer… but that’s not why I’m missing out. It’s because I’m standing in my own way.”
Ricky Flint – the closeted football player who takes Codi under his wing and introduces her to a new social group
After a while, we ended up along the river. Ricky parked with his truck facing the water, and we kicked our feet up on the dash, slurping the last of the ice cream from the bottoms of our cups.
“So what do you and Maritza and JaKory do when you hang out?” Ricky asked. “Is it anything like this?”
I told him. I kept checking his expression the whole time, worrying that I was boring him, but he had this open look on his face that made me feel like he cared what I had to say. When I’d said enough, I asked him, “What about your friends? What’s your favorite thing about them?”
He looked out over the river. A whole minute must have passed, but he didn’t seem pressed to come up with the answer right away. Finally, he started nodding to himself and said, “That I feel like I could have met them in kindergarten.”
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t meet most of my friends until high school, but every single one of them is someone I could have met on the kindergarten playground—it’s natural and easy, nothing held against each other. Remember how easy it was to make friends at that age?”
Lydia Kaufman – Codi’s crush who is trying to be brave during her last summer before college
She bit her lip, a secret grin on her face. “What’s your favorite color?”
I laughed unexpectedly. “That’s what you want to follow up with?”
I smiled, my hands in my lap now, all thought of the painting abandoned. “It changes all the time. Right now it’s violet.”
“I love that.”
“Green,” she said right away.
I nodded, unsurprised. “Like your eyes.”
She laughed. “Not for that reason.”
“The first house my family lived in was green. Like a pastel shade, you know? And anytime a friend’s mom would drop me off, we’d turn on my street and I’d say, ‘My house is the green one.’ I didn’t know how to count the mailbox numbers but I knew my house was green, and I loved it.”
My heart expanded inside me. In that moment I felt like it was okay to be exactly who I was, because she was being exactly who she was, and that must have meant something. I absorbed it all: her eyes, her secrets, her space in the world.
The only thing I managed to say was, “I like knowing that.”
“I like knowing that you know it.”
Kelly Quindlen is the author of the young adult novels Late to the Party and Her Name in the Sky. A graduate of Vanderbilt University and a former teacher, Kelly has had the joy of speaking to PFLAG groups and high school GSAs. She currently serves on the leadership board of a non-profit for Catholic parents with LGBT children. She lives in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter @kellyquindlen.