Today on the site we’re welcoming Honni van Rijswijk, author of dystopian thriller Breeder, which just released on Tuesday from Blackstone publishing! Honni’s here to talk about the writing process for their novel, the “dark/bleak” elements that dominate it, and why such fiction can be kinda cheering, actually, regarding both their queer sexuality and nonbinary identity. But before we get to that, here’s a little more on the book:
Will Meadows is a seemingly average fifteen-year-old Westie, who lives and works in Zone F, the run-down outermost ring of the Corporation. In the future state of the Corp, a person’s value comes down to productivity: the right actions win units, the wrong ones lose them. If Will is unlucky and goes into unit debt, there’s only one place to go: the Rator. But for Zone F Breeders, things are much worse–they’re born into debt and can only accrue units through reproduction.
Every day in Zone F is a struggle, especially for Will who is fighting against time for access to an illegal medical drug, Crystal 8. Under the cover of night, Will travels to the Gray Zone, where life is less regulated and drugs–and people–are exchanged for gold. There, Will meets Rob, a corrupt member of the Corporation running a Breeder smuggling operation. Will also meets Alex, another teen whom he quickly recognizes as a Breeder in disguise.
Suddenly, Will has an illicit job and money, access to Crystal, and a real friend. As the pair grows closer, Alex shares her secret: she is part of the Response, an uprising to overthrow the Corporation. Caught up in the new friendship, Will and Alex become careless as the two covertly travel into Zone B for a day of adventure. Nothing goes as planned and Will’s greatest fear is realized. Will his true identity be revealed?
My novel Breeder is set in a bleak world. It takes place after a catastrophic environmental apocalypse, where an avaricious corporation has taken control of all resources, and treats all people (except its shareholders) as resources to be used and then discarded. Part of its violence involves the ways it controls people through rigid gender norms–boys/men are only used for labor, and girls/women are only used for reproduction. The main character, a 15-year-old called Will, has to navigate this extreme world and readers witness Will doing so in ways that are often ethically problematic. Why did I want to set up this world, as an author, and what do we gain, as readers, from bleak possibilities and morally gray characters?
I’ve always been drawn to “dark” novels and films–horror, sci-fi, and extreme realism. As readers, we gain a lot from these bleak worlds. Samara Morgan, the vengeful ghost/demon in the horror story THE RING helps us understand the brutal possibilities of the mother/daughter relationship. Serena Joy’s callous upholding of religious and gender norms in The Handmaid’s Tale reveals white women’s complicity in historical oppression. The devastating realist trauma represented in Stone Butch Blues brings home the violence experienced by gender queer people. As a nonbinary person brought up as a girl, I’ve experienced violence based on gender identity and sexuality, and I needed these dark tales as catharsis, recognition and articulation. It has always been a relief to me to see violence I’ve experienced told back to me as stories. Why is this the case? Because these bleak tales offer frameworks of recognition from places that sometimes haven’t been recognised before. They provide us a language of trauma, and also languages of responsibility and accountability–once we have these languages, we can recognise and speak to each other, we can speak back to power. These stories provide ways to call for justice, through the frameworks of revenge, tragedy and revolution.
In Breeder, the main character, Will, is nonbinary, trying to navigate a world that refuses any possibility of gender fluidity and, indeed, any lived experience outside that of being a productive cog within the Corporation. I wanted to explore this extreme world as a way to explore our current world–where we’re absolutely facing environmental collapse, hyper-capitalism and conservative backlash on reproductive freedom as well as LGBTQI rights. Through the character of Will, I wanted to explore what a young person at the intersections of these crisis might do. Will is at the bottom of the class order in the Corp; they are nonbinary, assigned AFAB, and they have no legacy Units. Structurally, everything is against them. I wanted to explore what moral choices a character might make in that situation–will they conform or will they rebel? Will they create alliances with other excluded people, or will they try to make the best of their difficult situation? In Breeder, I set up extreme versions of choices that I, and many LGBTQI people, have had to make throughout our lives. We might not always agree with the choices that Will makes, but hopefully people can empathise with why Will might make these choices. For me, as both a reader and a writer, it’s only in these extreme and bleak worlds that I see versions of my own experience reflected and so I will always seek them out!
Want your own copy of Breeder? The author is giving away two copies, and yes, this giveaway is international! Just comment below with what kind of fiction you gravitate toward for comfort and/or catharsis and we’ll pick two winners on Friday, July 23rd!
Honni van Rijswijk is a writer, lawyer, and academic. Breeder is their debut novel. Their fiction has appeared in Southerly and was short-listed for Zoetrope: All-Story. They are a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney, where their research focuses on intersections between law, technology, and culture. They live in Sydney, Australia, with their partner and daughter.
Welcome to part two of the Kosoko Jackson Cover Reveal Extravaganza here on LGBTQReads! (If you missed the reveal for I’m So (Not) Over You, it’s time to remedy that immediately!) In the space of approximately no time, Jackson is jumping from contemporary adult romance to YA sci-fi thriller, and I know everyone’s along for the ride, so let’s get to showing off Survive the Dome, which releases March 1, 2022 from Sourcebooks Fire!
The Hate U Give meets Internment in this pulse-pounding thriller about an impenetrable dome around Baltimore that is keeping the residents in and information from going out during a city-wide protest.
Jamal Lawson just wanted to be a part of something. As an aspiring journalist, he packs up his camera and heads to Baltimore to document a rally protesting police brutality after another Black man is murdered.
But before it even really begins, the city implements a new safety protocol…the Dome. The Dome surrounds the city, forcing those within to subscribe to a total militarized shutdown. No one can get in, and no one can get out.
Alone in a strange place, Jamal doesn’t know where to turn…until he meets hacker Marco, who knows more than he lets on, and Catherine, an AWOL basic-training-graduate, whose parents helped build the initial plans for the Dome.
As unrest inside of Baltimore grows throughout the days-long lockdown, Marco, Catherine, and Jamal take the fight directly to the chief of police. But the city is corrupt from the inside out, and it’s going to take everything they have to survive.
And here’s the powerful cover, with art by Jeff Manning!
Kosoko Jackson is a digital media specialist, focusing on digital storytelling, email, social and SMS marketing, and a freelance political journalist. Occasionally, his personal essays and short stories have been featured on Medium, Thought Catalog, The Advocate, and some literary magazines. When not writing YA novels that champion holistic representation of black queer youth across genres, he can be found obsessing over movies, drinking his (umpteenth) London Fog, or spending far too much time on Twitter.
It’s been a year since this ridiculously fun, delightful, romantic, and inspiring YA released, and if you’re looking for the perfect bit of joy to extend Pride month, you’ve found it in Lyla Lee’s K-Pop bi/bi m/f romance, I’ll Be the One! (Or, if you’d rather wait for the paperback, that’ll be out on December 21st!)
Skye Shin has heard it all. Fat girls shouldn’t dance. Wear bright colors. Shouldn’t call attention to themselves. But Skye dreams of joining the glittering world of K-Pop, and to do that, she’s about to break all the rules that society, the media, and even her own mother, have set for girls like her.
She’ll challenge thousands of other performers in an internationally televised competition looking for the next K-pop star, and she’ll do it better than anyone else.
When Skye nails her audition, she’s immediately swept into a whirlwind of countless practices, shocking performances, and the drama that comes with reality TV. What she doesn’t count on are the highly fat-phobic beauty standards of the Korean pop entertainment industry, her sudden media fame and scrutiny, or the sparks that soon fly with her fellow competitor, Henry Cho.
But Skye has her sights on becoming the world’s first plus-sized K-pop star, and that means winning the competition—without losing herself.
Step aside, because today on the site we have an utter icon, doing iconic things! Like publishing a beautiful romance between two neuroatypical nonbinary Mexican teens! Anna-Marie McLemore’s Lakelore releases March 8, 2022 from Feiwel & Friends! Here’s the story:
“Lovely and deep, colourful and creeping, perfect magic.”
—#1 New York Times best-selling author E. K. Johnston
In this young adult novel by award-winning author Anna-Marie McLemore, two non-binary teens are pulled into a magical world under a lake – but can they keep their worlds above water intact?
Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate.
Then the lines between air and water begin to blur. The world under the lake drifts above the surface. If Bastián and Lore don’t want it bringing their secrets to the surface with it, they have to stop it, and to do that, they have to work together. There’s just one problem: Bastián and Lore haven’t spoken in seven years, and working together means trusting each other with the very things they’re trying to hide.
And here’s the beautiful, affirming cover, illustrated by Carolina Rodriguez Fuenmayor and designed by Liz Dresner!
Anna-Marie McLemore (they/them) grew up hearing la llorona in the Santa Ana winds, and now writes books as queer, Latinx, and nonbinary as they are. They are the author of The Weight of Feathers, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; Stonewall Honor Book When the Moon Was Ours, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature; Wild Beauty, a Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist best book of 2017; Blanca & Roja, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Best Fantasy Novels of All Time; Dark and Deepest Red, a Winter 2020 Indie Next List title; The Mirror Season, a Junior Library Guild Selection; and the forthcoming Lakelore (March 8, 2022) and Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix (Fall 2022). Find them online at annamariemclemore.com and on Twitter at @LaAnnaMarie.
Historical YA is maybe the slowest-growing of all queer YA genres, so when we get a new one, and when it looks this good, it is exciting. Thus, I am thrilled to be sharing the cover for Kip Wilson’s upcoming The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin, releasing March 29, 2022 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, on the site today! Here’s the story:
After her eighteenth birthday, Hilde, an orphan in 1930s Berlin, goes out into the world hoping to find her place. She comes up short, at least until she stumbles into Café Lila, a vibrant cabaret full of love and music, and meets Rosa, the club’s waitress and performer, whom she can’t take her eyes off of. There, Hilde starts to find her voice and embrace her blossoming feelings for Rosa.
But Berlin is in turmoil. Between elections, protests in the streets, and the growing unrest in Café Lila itself, Hilde will have to decide what’s best for her future . . . and what it means to love a place that will soon be changed forever.
Kip Wilson is the author of WHITE ROSE, which won the Malka Penn Award for Human Rights in Children’s Literature. Kip holds a Ph.D. in German Literature and was the Poetry Editor of the Young Adult Review Network (YARN) for five years before joining Voyage in 2020. She lives in Boston, MA. Find her online at www.kipwilsonwrites.com, on Twitter @kiperoo, and on Instagram @kipwilsonwrites.
Today on the site I’m thrilled to be sharing the cover of All That’s Left in the World by Erik J. Brown, a post-Apocalyptic m/m (gay and bi) YA releasing March 8, 2022 from Balzer+Bray! Here’s the story:
When Andrew stumbles upon Jamie’s house, he’s injured, starved, and has nothing left to lose. A deadly pathogen has killed off most of the world’s population, including everyone both boys have ever loved. And if this new world has taught them anything, it’s to be scared of what other desperate people will do . . . so why does it seem so easy for them to trust each other?
After danger breaches their shelter, they flee south in search of civilization. But something isn’t adding up about Andrew’s story, and it could cost them everything. And Jamie has a secret, too. He’s starting to feel something more than friendship for Andrew, adding another layer of fear and confusion to an already tumultuous journey.
The road ahead of them is long, and to survive, they’ll have to shed their secrets, face the consequences of their actions, and find the courage to fight for the future they desire, together. Only one thing feels certain: all that’s left in their world is the undeniable pull they have toward each other.
And here’s the cover (complete with glorious finger graze oh my God I died when I saw this), designed by Chris Kwon with art by Na Yeon Kim!
Erik J. Brown (he/him) is a writer of genre-blending books for young adults. His debut novel, ALL THAT’S LEFT IN THE WORLD, will be published by HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray in March 2022. When not writing, he enjoys traveling (pre-pandemic), collecting disco compilations on vinyl, remodeling his haunted house, and embarking on the relentless quest of appeasing his Shiba Inu. He lives in Philadelphia with his husband. You can find his website at erikjbrown.com, on Twitter @WriterikJB, and Instagram @ErikJB.
Today on the site I’m thrilled to be revealing the cover of Rebecca Podos’s extremely Jewish contemporary bi YA fantasy, From Dust, A Flame, which releases from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins on February 8, 2022! Here’s the story:
Hannah’s whole life has been spent in motion. Her mother has kept her and her brother, Gabe, on the road for as long as she can remember, leaving a trail of rental homes and faded relationships behind them. No roots, no family but one another, and no explanations.
All of that changes on Hannah’s seventeenth birthday when she wakes up transformed, a pair of golden eyes with knife-slit pupils blinking back at her from the mirror—the first of many such impossible mutations. Promising that she knows someone who can help, her mother leaves Hannah and Gabe behind to find a cure. But as the days turn to weeks and their mother doesn’t return, they realize it’s up to them to find the truth.
What they discover is a family they never knew, and a history more tragic and fantastical than Hannah could have dreamed—one that stretches back to her grandmother’s childhood in Prague under the Nazi occupation, and beyond, into the realm of Jewish mysticism and legend. As the past comes crashing into the present, Hannah must hurry to unearth their family’s secrets—and confront her own hidden legacy in order to break the curse and save the people she loves most, as well as herself.
Rebecca Podos, award-winning author of Like Water, returns with a contemporary fantasy of enduring love, unfathomable loss, and the power of stories to hold us together when it seems that nothing else can.
And here’s the cover, designed by Sarah Kaufman and illustrated by Lisa Sheehan!
Rebecca Podos’ debut novel, THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES, was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a B&N Best YA Book of 2016. Her second book, LIKE WATER, won the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Children’s and Young Adult. THE WISE AND THE WICKED, her third novel, was recently released. Forthcoming books include FOOLS IN LOVE (Running Press Kids, 2021), a co-edited YA anthology with Ashley Herring Blake, and FROM DUST, A FLAME (Balzer + Bray, 2022). An agent at the Rees Literary Agency in Boston, she can be found on her website, Rebeccapodos.com.
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 for- gotten 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 spe- cial “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; every- one 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.”