How to Be a Starby M. Doty
High school is the time to shine.
Tired of playing sidekick to her superstar-athlete best friend, Kimi Chen has decided it's time to step into the spotlight and snag her own place at the coveted center table of the cafeteria. When her low-budget music video hits the Web and goes viral, forget about being just popular Kimi is famous! Boys want to date her,… See more details below
High school is the time to shine.
Tired of playing sidekick to her superstar-athlete best friend, Kimi Chen has decided it's time to step into the spotlight and snag her own place at the coveted center table of the cafeteria. When her low-budget music video hits the Web and goes viral, forget about being just popular Kimi is famous! Boys want to date her, girls want to be her, and she is even asked to perform on her favorite TV show. After years of feeling stranded on the bottom rung of the social ladder, Kimi finds that things are finally looking up.
But when fame gets in the way of her friendships, Kimi's celebrity begins to lose some of its sparkle. Being a star, it turns out, may be more than she bargained for.
Discover the high price of fame and stardom in this second novel in the Surviving High School series, based on the hit mobile game from Electronic Arts.
"Snappy dialogue [and] adorable chemistry..."Kirkus"
The story moves along at a compulsively readable pace. Teens will want to clear their calendars after they start this one."SLJ
Read an Excerpt
How to Be a Star
By M. Doty
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2013 M. Doty
All rights reserved.
Kimi Chen shivered in the crisp January air. Despite the fact that this was California, winters were still cold, certainly no time to wear a thin silk top. Yet she was doing just that. The winter air pricked at her bare neck like a thousand tiny needles. Pain is the price of beauty, she'd read in the November issue of Vogue. Now she believed it.
Kimi had sewn the silk top herself after watching a winning contestant on Project Runway craft a similar look in the show's most recent episode. Of course, she'd also added her own flair, accessorizing with a flower pin placed just above her heart and adding a strip of lace around the neckline.
The top hid all of Kimi's worst features: her too-thick waist, her too-wide hips. Her mother called Kimi's extra weight "baby fat," which didn't help. Was there a worse phrase in the English language? Guys didn't write love poems to fat girls, and they definitely didn't date babies.
The top had required hours of painstaking labor to sew, but she had no other option. Thanks to her lackluster report card for the fall semester, her parents had lowered her allowance to subsistence level—not that they'd let her buy anything so trendy anyway.
Naturally, Kimi had hidden the shirt from her mother, burying it beneath a green-and-white school hoodie until her mom's minivan disappeared from sight. What did her mother know about fashion? She still wore the same blue-gray pantsuit every day—she'd picked it up at Sears three years ago for her job interview at the district attorney's office.
Kimi shuddered to think that she herself had worn a similar outfit on her first day here at Twin Branches. She'd been going for a sophisticated look, but no one seemed to get it, and it took months before the popular girls stopped joking that she dressed like a Realtor.
Before heading into the cafeteria, Kimi paused for a second and removed a compact from her backpack, quickly checking her skin for breakouts and applying just a little blush—unnecessary, since her cheeks were rosy from the cold. At least her skin looked okay.
And she had a pretty face. Right? She exfoliated, applied whitening strips to her teeth, and plucked her eyebrows regularly. She had also just updated her haircut last night, cutting her own side bangs to take the focus off her too-round face. Bottom line: She was doing as much as she could with what nature had given her.
Of course, the most popular girls at school tended to be skinny, and rich, and effortlessly beautiful. They were born with petite noses and full, pink lips that framed teeth that had never needed braces. But that's how life was. Some things the universe gave you; the rest you had to earn.
As Kimi passed through the double doors leading to the cafeteria, a wave of warm air rushed over her. The room vibrated with bits of laughter and conversation and smelled of toast and hash browns. During the winter, everyone hung out here until the first bell rang. At the center of the room, she spotted her best friend, Emily Kessler, sitting at a circular table, surrounded by the more popular half of the school's cheerleading team and their football-player boyfriends.
Of course, even among the popular girls there were three who composed the true social elite of Twin Branches High. Kimi would have given anything to be friends with them. The Big Three were:
1. Amanda Applebee. A wide-eyed, very cute redhead. Dumb yet adorable, she was friends with everyone, simply because she didn't know any better.
2. Nicole Black. Generally considered the hottest girl at school, she'd already dated most of the guys at Twin Branches. Her hair was currently brown, but no one, including Nicole, quite knew what color it had originally been.
3. Maria Gonzalez. The school's head cheerleader and queen bee. She'd been spotted in the presence of celebrities, including Justin Bieber, Ryan Gosling, and Snoop Lion (back when he was Snoop Dogg). Rumor had it that she aspired to extend her reign beyond Twin Branches and take over Hollywood.
Of course, Kimi knew Maria hadn't always been so popular. Up until Maria was in fifth grade and Kimi in third, the two girls had been neighbors, hanging out all the time despite their two-year age gap. They'd played endless games of checkers, built pillow forts, and argued over which Pokémon they wanted to be.
There was no single event that ended their friendship; rather, Maria had slowly grown apart from Kimi after she left for middle school. Halfway through sixth grade, she had already started faking her parents' signatures to get piercings and sneaking out with boys, as if overnight she'd turned from a child into a woman.
She'd still hung around with Kimi on occasion over that year, but less frequently, and never in a way that felt as close. Soon she was saying things like "Once you get to middle school, you'll realize that ..." or "That is so fourth grade."
After Maria hit seventh grade, Kimi barely saw her at all. The next summer, Maria's family moved across town, and any lingering excuse they'd had to hang out had disappeared. By the time Kimi was in sixth grade and started going to middle school, Maria hardly even made eye contact with her when they passed in the halls, as if any memory of their friendship had disappeared.
So what, though, right? People changed. Kimi couldn't fault Maria for that. She'd worked hard for her popularity—and sometimes that meant leaving old acquaintances behind. Plus, by then Kimi had moved on and made a new best friend: Emily Kessler.
Kimi smiled. That's right. There was technically a fourth member of this prestigious "most popular" list. Over the past few months, ever since Emily had risen from social nothing to celebrated athlete (and likely future Olympian), she'd been the most-talked-about girl at school, literally. Kimi estimated that at least 10 percent of all conversations in the hallways centered on everyone's favorite swimmer.
Unfortunately, Kimi didn't share Emily's popularity. Her social stock had fallen drastically, thanks to last fall's "rate the guys" debacle, in which Kimi's written assessment of every guy at the school had become public knowledge.
These days, the popular guys shot her dirty looks, and the popular girls barely tolerated her. If she hadn't been Emily's best friend, she probably would have had to go into permanent exile. As it was, she had to be content with the role of sidekick.
Today, though, Kimi was hoping to get noticed. If nothing else, she thought, the popular girls should respect my keen fashion sense and skill with a sewing needle, right? She knew for a fact that Maria watched Project Runway religiously.
As Kimi approached the table, Emily caught her eye and smiled warmly, scooting over to make room. Maria, for her part, didn't seem to notice Kimi was there.
"Nice haircut!" said Emily, checking out Kimi's fresh side bangs. "You look so different now. Like, sophisticated, you know? Older."
Across the table from them, Lindsay Vale smirked. "Yeah," she said. "Now she looks like she's twelve instead of eleven."
Lately, Lindsay's star had risen. Before, she'd been nothing but Dominique Clark's minion, a pretty blonde with a bad attitude. But Dominique had left shortly after losing several races to Emily at Junior Nationals. Rumor had it that she was training under mysterious circumstances in some foreign country, but no one really knew exactly where she'd gone. Cameron, for his part, said nothing about his sister's whereabouts, and no one wanted to ask.
Since then, Lindsay had secured a spot on the cheerleading squad, befriended several of the most popular older girls, and made out with Marcus Jones after a football game. Other than Emily, Lindsay had become the most popular freshman at school, and she'd even taken on a follower of her own, a tiny yet pretty girl named Shannon, who agreed with everything Lindsay said. Kimi couldn't have despised them more.
"I like looking young," Kimi said, forcing a smile. "When I'm thirty, I'll probably look twenty-two. Guys'll be all over me."
"That's just sad," said Lindsay. "Even in your imagination you're going to be thirty and single."
"Yeah!" said Shannon.
A few of the cheerleaders around the table laughed, but most of them weren't even paying attention—which was arguably worse. Instead, they were all looking at Maria, who was showing off her new iPhone. Holding it out, she snapped a picture of herself next to Emily.
"Awesome," said Maria. "I'm totally posting this in my 'Pics with Celebs' album on Facebook." She looked closely at the photo and then at Emily. "Did I mention that I love your top?"
Kimi grimaced. Emily was wearing a fairly standard gray shirt that Kimi had helped her pick out at Anthropologie a few weekends back. Sure it was cute, but it definitely wouldn't have made the cut on Project Runway, and Emily definitely hadn't stayed up all night sewing it.
Emily's face turned bright red as she looked down at her chest.
"It's ... it's just a shirt," she stammered. "It's definitely not as cute as what Kimi's wear—"
Her sentence was cut off as the first bell rang and the girls stood, picking up their book bags and purses without even glancing Kimi's way.
As Kimi left the cafeteria, Deependu Mahajan, who, she'd learned, went by the nickname "Dex," approached her from the side.
"I couldn't help but notice you hanging out near Nicole Black just now," he said. "I don't know if she happened to mention me at all?" He looked at her hopefully.
Dex was one of the nerdiest guys at school. But since he was best friends with Kimi's pseudo-boyfriend, Kevin, she'd gotten to know him pretty well—and as impossible as it seemed it would be to get him together with Nicole, Kimi didn't want to shatter his hopes.
"I, uh, don't think so," she said. "But she may have glanced over at you once or twice."
"I knew it!" he said, suddenly beaming. "Every once in a while I catch her looking. Put in a good word for me, okay?"
"I'm not sure it'll mean much coming from me," said Kimi.
"You never know," he said. "And I can use all the help I can get."
"I'll do what I can," Kimi said, shaking her head. Like it or not, people at the bottom end of the social totem pole had to stick together.
As she turned away from Dex and started walking to class, Kimi couldn't help but think about the stupid smile on Lindsay's face as she'd hurled her insult.
"Even in your imagination you're going to be thirty and single."
Whack. Kimi imagined smacking Lindsay in the face. Why hadn't she kept up with her kickboxing lessons? Kimi's gloves and pads were still hanging in the hall closet, right next to her aikido orange belt, her fencing mask, and her tennis racket with the broken string—each object a testament to her inability to stick with an activity longer than two minutes.
"Are you okay?"
Kimi looked up to see Emily now walking by her side, a worried look on her face.
"Yeah," said Kimi. "Fine."
"It's just ... you look kind of, uh, ready to murder someone. And I'm guessing that someone is Lindsay?"
"I just don't see why she has to go out of her way to be mean to me, like it's her job or something," said Kimi. "And the worst part is, all those other girls laugh right along with her. I know I'm not exactly the most popular girl at school, but that doesn't mean they can just—"
"Hey, it'll be okay," said Emily, putting a hand on Kimi's arm. "Popularity comes and goes. One day you're everyone's best friend. The next day they hate you. Then they love you again. I definitely know what that's like. You can't let it get to you like this."
Kimi couldn't help but smile. Emily was a good friend, always looking out for her, optimistic, hopeful—and all that despite the brutal last year Emily had endured, first losing her sister, and then nearly giving up on her swimming career.
Of course, Emily was also naive. Popularity had arrived at her doorstep, practically gift-wrapped, without her having to lift a finger. She'd never had to try.
"Thanks," said Kimi, giving Emily a brief hug. "I'm sure you're right. Things'll get better."CHAPTER 2
After a brutal morning of pop quizzes and enough note-taking to make her hand cramp up, Kimi was looking forward to lunch. She approached the center table, prepared to vent to Emily immediately, but her best friend was nowhere in sight.
Maria cleared her throat. "If you're looking for Emily, she's off with her boyfriend," she said, acknowledging Kimi for possibly the first time in years.
"Speaking of boyfriends, I think I see yours watching us from over there," added Lindsay, pointing to the far reaches of the cafeteria, where the nerds sat. In the distance, Kevin Delucca waved for Kimi to come over as his friends Dex and Amir Singh focused on an intense card game.
"He's not my boy—" started Kimi.
"Whatever he is, it seems like he wants to talk to you," said Maria. "Don't worry. We'll tell Emily where you went if she comes back."
And just like that, Kimi realized she was not welcome at the center table. Without Emily to stand up for her, she had no choice but to leave. Grimly, she turned and walked toward Kevin's table, trying to stay calm. If she blew up now, that would be it. The popular girls would giggle about the story for weeks, and any chance she had of ever returning to the center table would be gone.
"Nice haircut!" said Kevin as Kimi sat down next to him. "You look ... beautiful. And the shirt is ... Wow."
Kimi blushed. She'd hung out with Kevin pretty regularly ever since their homecoming date, and she'd really started to care about him, but she still wasn't sure if she liked him as just a friend ... or something more.
Kevin was definitely handsome. Tall and thin with messy brown hair, he looked a little like Liam Hemsworth from The Hunger Games, though not as dour. But he didn't act like the other guys she'd dated. Kimi and Kevin had sat through a half-dozen movies together at the local theater, and he hadn't so much as tried to hold her hand, much less kiss her. And now here he was, saying she looked beautiful.
Dex snorted and muttered "Get a room" as he turned three of the cards in front of him sideways and then announced "Fireball."
Amir rolled his eyes.
"Thanks for nothing," Kevin said to Kimi. "You distracted me."
"Don't blame the girl," said Dex. "You were going to lose anyway. Besides, this is the perfect chance to switch out the card games for a little role-playing."
Dex reached into his bag and took out a book titled Monster Manual.
"This edition isn't necessarily compatible with the new rule set I've been working on, but there are some really excellent crossbreeds of dragons and—" He stopped for a second to catch his breath. "The point is, we have enough players now. Kimi can be a healer, and we can finally start a real campaign!"
"Say the word dragon one more time and I'm eating lunch in the library," said Kimi. "Let's get one thing straight. I may be sitting here for now, but it's temporary. So don't count on me sticking around for any of your campaigns."
"Wait," said Kevin. "Don't leave. He'll be cool. Right, Dex? I'm sure we can make it through a lunch or two just, you know, having a conversation."
Dex shook his head and reached down for a pair of oversize headphones. "Fine," he said. "Go ahead, then. Converse. I'll try to amuse myself on YouTube."
"Look," said Kimi, smiling—playfully, she hoped. She knew Kevin was trying. "I like hanging out with you, Kevin, I really do. But let's keep the Magic talk to a minimum if we're going to keep eating lunch together, okay?"
Across the table, Amir had cracked open a sci-fi novel, and Dex was snickering to himself, watching videos on his phone. A few seconds later, he started softly singing, "Monday, Monday, gonna skip school on Monday ..."
"Are people still listening to that song?" asked Kimi.
"Just Dex," said Kevin, shaking his head. "He tends to keep thinking things are funny for a long time. He still makes references to Tron...."
"Guys," Dex was saying between chuckles. "Guys, you have to check this out."
In the distance, a different sort of laughter arose from the center table. Kimi wondered what joke she had missed. Just this morning, she and Emily had been sitting there, privy to every last comment and nugget of gossip. Now she didn't even know what they were laughing about. A few seconds later, she heard Lindsay and Maria giggling yet again. Kimi resisted the urge to look.
Excerpted from How to Be a Star by M. Doty. Copyright © 2013 M. Doty. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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