When you're about to face the world, who do you turn to?
Andrew is leaving high school behind and looking ahead to a fresh start at college and distance from his not-so-secret infatuation: Laura Lettel. But when a terrible accident leaves him without the companionship of his two best friends, Andrew is cast adrift and alone—until Laura unexpectedly offers him comfort, friendship, and the support of a youth group of true believers, fundamentalist Christians with problems and secrets of their own. Andrew is curiously drawn to their consuming beliefs, but why? Is it only to get closer to Laura? And is Laura genuinely interested in Andrew, or is she just trying to convert him?
This provocative and compelling debut novel will resonate deeply with readers as it explores questions of identity, sexuality, and spirituality.
|Publisher:||Penguin Young Readers Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Pratima Cranse was born and raised in Vermont. She now lives in New Hampshire with her husband, daughter, and their two magnificent cats. When she’s not writing, Pratima enjoys jogging very slowly (some might call it shuffling), and spending time with her family. You can learn more at pratimacranse.com and follow her on Twitter @PratimaCranse.
Read an Excerpt
HE STOOD AT THE TOP of the stairs and listened.
A single note.
A vibrational pull.
A silk string.
“Jeeeesus, Jesus saves. He saves . . . me,” she sang. And then the single note returned, a wordless mmmm. Like the sound you make when you’re kissing someone, or pretending to kiss someone when you’re actually just pressing your face into your pillow.
Their eyes had met in the hallway that morning. She had blinked at him, slowly, like a cat. Hadn’t she? What did it mean? Maybe she’d merely been blinking because people constantly blink, and time had slowed down when their eyes met. Laura’s almond-shaped eyes were dark blue and beautiful, but it was their expression that most intrigued him: unreadable. Her long hair was the lightest shade of amber, like custard under burnt brown sugar. She looked like a doll, a Disney princess, a Greek statue, a goddess.
“They shouldn’t be doing that. Church and state, right?”
Andrew glanced toward the voices and saw two girls from the junior class. They looked like preppie high-achievers. One of them smiled up at him and tossed her hair over her shoulders. He returned her smile but then looked away. The sound of their retreating giggles echoed down the hall. A piece of paper slipped from the wall and drifted down to his feet. He picked it up and studied it. An Uncle Sam–like caricature pointed at him with a stern accusation: Class of ’95! Have YOU ordered your GRADUATION gown? His graduation. Then summer, then college. This was it.
“Fuck it,” Andrew said, and he squared his shoulders and marched in the direction of the singing.
The hallway was quiet, except for the low hum of voices coming from the girls’ bathroom. It was ridiculous, church and state aside, to sing about Jesus in a high school bathroom. And yet that was exactly what Laura and her friends—the girls, anyway—did almost every afternoon. Their free periods must have lined up. Or maybe some of them snuck out of class or got passes just to join in a song or two. Everyone knew about it, including the teachers. But they were harmless, and the singing was nice, so no one bothered much about it. It was Vermont, after all. People were pretty laid-back about stuff.
Laura was deeply religious, some fundamentalist something or other. Andrew wasn’t quite sure. She kept to herself and her crowd of Christian fellows. They were a mild and nice bunch of kids who went to church together, hung out together, and sometimes, he suspected, quietly dated one another. They had an after-school club with an open invitation for new members. How many times had Andrew walked past the door of their gatherings, eyes fixed on the ground, headphones jammed in his ears, hands shaking in his pockets? More times than he liked to recall.
Her devotion to her faith made her practically inaccessible. Infatuated as he was, Andrew was smart enough to understand that Laura’s untouchable quality was part of her appeal, her mass appeal. He was well aware that he was one among the many boys who loved her. At best, a lovesick army; at worst, a horny horde. There were boys who bulked up their muscles because of her, became better students because of her, cultivated sexy sneers and reckless rebellion in case that was her thing. It’s not, obviously, Andrew thought with contempt for his rivals.
The singing grew louder, more impassioned. Andrew wondered, Why the bathroom? Privacy? Refuge? Or perhaps it was just because the acoustics of the tiled walls made their voices sound better.
“Hey, you,” Sara said.
“What’s up?” Andrew said, taken aback. “I thought you had gym.”
“Class canceled. Mrs. Calin went home sick.”
“What can I say? End-of-the-year madness. Marcia scurried off to the library before I could stop her.”
“Poor Mar,” he said.
“Are you coming over today? She wants to practice her valedictory speech on us.”
“Nah. I got work.”
“Avella already?” Sara said.
“Busy this year. We’re making a pond or some shit.”
“Making a pond? What are you, God?”
“And on Thursday, He made a pond for the pharmaceutical company,” he said in a deep, portentous voice.
“And it was good,” Sara said with equal solemnity.
“Speaking of which, you here for the show?” Sara said as she glanced at the bathroom. She gave him a sly smile.
“Uh, no. Just wandering around,” Andrew said. He could feel himself blushing.
“I love to go in there to get tampons when they’re at it. I wish there was a condom machine. That would be hilarious.”
They started walking in the opposite direction, toward the lockers, and Andrew glanced behind him. The bathroom door swung open as someone went in, and Andrew thought perhaps he caught a glimpse . . . but he turned away. Don’t be a perv, he thought.
“Are they weird?” he asked.
“That’s a loaded question,” Sara said. “No, they’re fine. They’ll even stop singing if you ask. And hardly anyone uses that bathroom because the one on the second floor is nicer.”
“But you use it.”
“Well, yeah, but I like to mess with people.”
“Please,” Andrew said.
“You sure you’re not checking out Laura? Hell, even I think she’s a piece of ass,” Sara said, and nudged his shoulder.
“Cute, sure,” Andrew said. He tried to look disinterested. He did not want to be teased about his pathetic unrequited crush. It just seemed so typical, so high school. He had tried hard to hide his obsession from Sara and Marcia, his two best, and only, friends.
“Come on, you can tell me anything,” she said.
“Okay, you have something in your teeth,” he said.
“Bullshit!” she said. But she started rubbing her teeth vigorously with her finger.
“And you have something right there,” he said, tickling her stomach. “And there,” he said, aiming for her armpit but accidentally grazing her breast. He started to apologize, but she dissolved into laughter as she grabbed his hands.
They were still wrestling around when Kyle Donovitch walked up to them and said loudly, “Hey, Sara. ’Sup?”
“Nothing,” Sara said. Andrew and Kyle nodded to each other. Sara started sifting through one of her notebooks, not looking up. Kyle watched her for a moment, tossing a baseball back and forth in his hands. Kyle was team captain of everything, it seemed, and was good-looking and popular. Andrew didn’t know him that well. Sara had become engrossed with her history notes, so Kyle turned his attention to Andrew.
“How’s Brian?” he asked.
“Fine,” Andrew said.
“Hell of a season for him.”
“Been down there at all?”
An awkward silence followed this exchange. Sara continued to flip through her notes. Kyle cleared his throat.
“Busy this weekend, Sara?”
“Yup,” Sara said, and snapped her notebook shut. “Sorry.” She slipped her arm through Andrew’s, and they walked away.
“What was that about?” Andrew asked.
“What’s it ever about? Old news.”
Andrew looked at her sharply, but she seemed, as usual, careless and carefree.
“Besides,” she said, “who gives a shit about shitty Brian?”
“Except us,” she said, and squeezed his arm tightly to her side.
“I’M STARVED,” ANDREW SAID.
“So let’s get Marcia and go to lunch.”
They went to the library and threw things at Marcia, little bits of fluff and crumpled-up pieces of paper, until the librarian shooed all three of them out.
“Thanks a lot,” Marcia griped as they walked to the cafeteria.
“You’re going to ace all your exams anyway,” Sara said. “Like always.”
“Seriously, you study too much,” Andrew said.
“I do not,” Marcia said.
“You make yourself sick with anxiety,” he said.
“Chance favors the prepared mind,” Marcia said.
“Chance is just ‘chance’ by definition,” he said.
“That’s a facile argument,” Marcia said.
“Whatever,” he said.
They got in line at the cafeteria. Andrew got a cold deli sandwich, Sara a burger and fries, and Marcia a salad.
“And you always say ‘whatever’ when you know I’m right. I hate that comeback. It’s not even a real response,” Marcia said once they were seated.
“It’s the perfect response. It dismisses the speaker. It dismisses the whole argument. If you don’t care, you can’t lose.”
“It’s mean and sarcastic. It’s a cheap way to step back and refuse to engage.”
Marcia half stood up as she spoke, closing her little hands into fists as if readying herself to pound on the cafeteria table. A few kids sitting near them giggled. Andrew glared at them before he continued. “But isn’t that what being a teenager is all about? The privilege of not giving a shit?”
“So that’s victory? To not care, to not be invested?”
“A pyrrhic victory, for sure, but still a win.”
“Now you’re just screwing around, which is a lesser form of sarcasm.”
“Or a higher form.”
“Come on, knock it off,” Sara said.
Sara disliked it when Andrew and Marcia argued, especially when they threw around words like facile and pyrrhic. Marcia was the valedictorian, Andrew an effortless and lazy B student, but Sara had to work hard to maintain her own B average.
“Can I have some of your fries?” Andrew said.
“Go ahead,” Sara said.
“Do you have any salt?”
Sara dug around her tray and found a mini salt packet. She tossed it to him.
“So, how’s the speech coming?” Sara asked.
Marcia waved her hand in response.
“Don’t ask,” Andrew said.
“Don’t you have to turn that thing in, like, tomorrow?” Sara said.
“Technically. But graduation is still two—no, shit, a little over a week away,” Marcia said. She began chewing on her fingernails.
“Marcia, chill,” Andrew said. He placed his hand over her torn cuticles.
“Easy for you to say. You’re not the one—”
“Just thank everyone ever and get out of there,” Sara said.
“Or pass out kazoos and lead the audience in a round of ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’” Andrew said.
“Or flash your bra—”
“Or your panties—”
“Or give the speech in Korean with, like, no explanation.”
“Or declare your undying allegiance to some obscure band.”
“And then drop the mic.”
“The possibilities are endless!”
Marcia finally laughed. “I’ll run it by Mr. Gonzalez tomorrow,” she said.
“Good plan. He’s cool,” said Sara.
Marcia frowned as she pulled the sprouts off her salad. Then she left to get some milk. Andrew made a stick figure out of Sara’s fries. He drew a face with ketchup and decorated it with curly sprout hair.
“That your girlfriend?” Sara asked.
“My dream girl.”
Sara smirked at this, then took the fry girl’s torso and popped it into her mouth. Marcia returned with three chocolate milks and three straws.
“Thank you,” Andrew said as he reached for one of the milks. Marcia liked surprising them with little treats every once in a while. Chocolate milk never failed to delight.
“Oh, Marcia. You’re a peach,” said Sara. She tore the wrapping off the straw with her teeth and blew it gently. The headless tube drifted down across the table and out of sight. “Andrew’s making a pond at Avella. We should break in and go night swimming,” she said.
“Break in to Avella? We’ll get shot,” Marcia said.
“I’m sure Andrew has an in,” Sara said.
“I have no in,” Andrew said.
“No big jangling set of keys?” Sara asked.
“Why would you want to go swimming in a man-made pond anyway?” Marcia asked.
“Even if it is nighttime,” Andrew added.
“Oh, I don’t know. I just thought it would be something silly and fun to do during our last summer together.”
“Oh,” Marcia said. They finished their lunch in silence. The din in the cafeteria grew quieter as kids left for their classes. Marcia began packing up her bag.
“Wait for me, okay?” Sara said.
Marcia liked arriving early to her classes. She had a little routine of setting up her desk, sharpening her pencils, and even checking her pens for ink. Sara preferred drifting in just under the wire.
“She likes making an entrance,” Marcia had once complained to Andrew, but Andrew knew better. Sara, with her curly blonde hair and phenomenal body, was one of the prettier girls in their school. She generally made an entrance whether she intended to or not. Her wanting to go in late was actually an attempt to break Marcia away from her spastic little habits.
“Sara, let’s go. I don’t want to be late,” Marcia said.
“All right, all right.” Sara put their leftover food and wrappers on her tray and grabbed her bag.
“I got that,” Andrew said, reaching for the tray.
“Thanks,” the girls murmured as they got up.
Andrew watched them as they left for class. Marcia had a focused walk. Her steps were brittle and nervous compared to Sara’s loose and graceful stride. He and Marcia were smarty bookworm types with fucked-up families. They found solace in each other’s loneliness and awkwardness. Sara was different; there was nothing awkward about her. She was vivacious and confident. Her mom was working-class and single, so Sara never quite fit in with the popular crowd, which tended to be preppie and sporty and well-to-do. She took great pleasure in the fact that the guys who used to make fun of her secondhand clothes now pined after her first-rate looks. She dated a lot, fooled around a little, but her heart was untouched.
Sara had befriended Marcia freshman year after defending her against the type of people that bullies harmless nerds, and then the three of them became almost inseparable. Their little triad was disturbingly like a family, Andrew mused. He and Sara hovered protectively over Marcia, who was practically parentless, Andrew was like a brother figure to both, and Sara was instinctually mothering. Andrew had never sought friendships beyond the trio, nor had they. They were a self-contained unit, the only members of a gang of three, and they needed no one else. In a few short months they’d go in separate directions. It was hard to comprehend the idea of life without them always near. At the same time, a small part of him was looking forward to something new.
He turned his attention back to the tray of trash. It was his free period, which meant he could do one of three things. He could report to the library, aimlessly wander the halls, or continue to stare at the garbage in front of him.
Or he could go ahead and keep stalking Laura Lettel.
A WALL OF WATER APPROACHED him, a vertical ocean that threatened to engulf and crush him beneath waves and waves of moving weight. He was in such a panic that when he woke up, he knocked his bedside lamp to the floor. Becky bolted up and started barking.
“Shh,” he said.
Becky quieted down, but she remained alert, standing at the foot of his bed. He listened to her pant. Or was that him? Yes, he was panting like a dog and quivering like a child. Her bark had oriented him, at least.
I’m in my bedroom.
I just had that fucking ocean dream again.
He glanced at his alarm clock. It was two in the morning. He thought again of that moving wall of water. The dream had felt apocalyptic and inevitable. Those feelings lingered with him now, even as he calmed down and steadied his breathing. He listened for his parents. He heard nothing.
A little moonlight came in through his window. The lamp, a sturdy plastic thing, was unbroken. He placed it back on the table and turned it on. Becky blinked at him. He’d had some kind of night terror, he realized, because his sheets and blanket were half across the room. How had Becky stayed on the bed? He reached over to pet her. She stretched and yawned beneath his hands. Then she jumped up and started wagging her tail.
“Two in the morning, Becks, not time for a walk.”
Andrew sighed and got out of bed. His back ached from digging at Avella for three hours after school. All twenty men on the maintenance crew, the regulars and the summer hires like him, had been tasked with shoveling dirt for the pond. They couldn’t use the excavator because the suits complained that the noise disrupted their meetings. He groaned as he bent over to put on his sneakers.
He opened his bedroom door. There was only silence and darkness in the hallway. Apparently his parents had not been awoken by the lamp falling to the floor or his thrashing around in bed. Or more likely, he had woken them up, his mother at least, but she’d probably just turned over and gone back to sleep.
He and Becky slipped out the back door and walked up the street. It was colder than he’d expected. Late May in Vermont could still be frigid at night.
He wondered if he shouted during these nightmares, which had been with him since he was a kid. He was almost eighteen, and he still had dreams that were bad enough to wake him up. It made him feel foolish. When he sheepishly admitted his problem to his friends, Marcia had suggested he keep a dream journal, and Sara had told him to jerk off before going to sleep. That, or get a girlfriend.
The first two were easy, but the last was impossible. There was only one girl Andrew really wanted.
Laura lived in his neighborhood, which was a source of both pleasure and pain for him, as he frequently walked his dog past her house. It was nice to be near her, however remote the possibility of an actual connection.
He gazed at her house as he stamped his feet and rubbed his arms to ward off the chill.
Andrew’s proposed dream journal had quickly become a Laura journal. It was filled with pictures of her, poems about her, but mostly unsent letters to her.
I feel like I can smell your hair around the school, around our neighborhood. It’s like I’m always just missing you. I never know where you are, but I know where you’ve been. I love you, but you haunt me like a nightmare. When I’m an old man, I know that I’ll still dream about you.
He knew the memory of her would haunt him, because he didn’t really believe he’d ever get to have her in the first place. But the knowledge of his inevitable doom didn’t stop him from obsessing over her. He entertained himself daily with dozens of scorching, crazy, lurid fantasies, imagining a Laura who most certainly did not exist. Other times he daydreamed about some idyllic future together. He knew she was going to college somewhere out West. They’d get together this summer, fall in love, he’d transfer to whatever school she was attending, maybe even study the same stuff, take the same classes. They’d live in each other’s dorm rooms, or get an apartment together. They’d probably have to get married first because of her religion. That was all right; he’d marry her tomorrow if he could. Their life together would be wonderful. Would he have to convert to whatever sect of Christianity she belonged to? That was the only question mark in his fleeting fantasies.
Sometimes he wondered why he loved her so much. After all, he barely knew her. But she was kind, that much he knew, because she did volunteer work and was nice to everyone, even the most decrepit and socially outcast misfits at their school. And she had some self-contained confidence, some inner glow unrelated to her beauty that made her mysterious and compelling. Was it her faith?
She was asleep inside that little house. Andrew felt attuned to her every toss and turn. He thought that he might wake her with the force of his will or summon her to him with the strength of his love. He stared hard at her house and at the window that he imagined to be hers.
“What the hell am I doing?” he asked himself out loud.
A light came on. Andrew felt a painful rush in his heart.
There was a slight movement. A shadow flickered across the window frame, and the curtains fluttered. He did not blink.
The coherent part of him knew that in a moment the light would go out. The other him, the one whispering to himself in the dark, held out for better things. She’ll come to the door. She’ll open the door. Our eyes will meet, and it will be like the movies where neither of us has to say anything, but whole histories and lifetimes will pass between us. It’ll be like that but better. . . .
The light went out.
With fury, he wiped at the tears that ran down his cheeks. He felt romantic despair, but also he just felt fucking cold. He was dying of cold. He was ashamed of not being a stronger person who could somehow withstand cold and disappointment. He turned around and walked home, jogging and then sprinting the last few blocks to his house. Becky followed, fast on his heels.
When he got inside, he sank to the kitchen floor. He buried his hands deep inside Becky’s fur while she licked his face. They stayed that way for a while. Becky was a big dog, a black Lab mixed with some other large breed. She stood strong and solid and still as Andrew leaned against her.
“Where were you?”
Andrew looked up at his mother. She wore her old purple robe and a pair of tiny slippers, small and pink like those of a ballerina. Under her slippers she had on a pair of gray wool socks. The seams of the slippers were permanently overstretched from this arrangement. She was thin and tall like him, her younger son. They shared the same coloring too, a sort of peachy paleness and hazel gray eyes.
“Going for a walk. Becky had to pee,” Andrew said.
“It’s two thirty in the morning.”
“I know, I know,” he said. He looked away from her.
“You’re not . . . You’re not on drugs or something, right?”
“Well, then, where were you?”
“I just told you,” he said. “What, were you actually worried?” he added.
She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the floor. He regretted his words, but just barely. His mom had chosen sides a long time ago. He stood up and headed for the stairs.
“Your brother’s home in two weeks,” she said.
He stopped. “So?” he asked, without turning around.
“He’s coming home, that’s all,” she said. Her voice was vague and soft, as though she had spoken through a pillow.
“Whatever,” Andrew said.
When he reached his room, Becky leaped around, grabbed one of his socks in her mouth, and curled into a tight ball. Andrew felt himself deflate. Two weeks. Two weeks before Brian came home and took over. Andrew and Brian barely spoke at this point, but Brian’s presence was like a poisonous fog: suffocating and unavoidable.
Andrew got into bed and pulled the covers around him tightly. As he warmed up, his body hurt all over with tingly, prickly sensations. Were these his nerves coming back to life? Had they been frozen? Marcia will know, he thought. Marcia knows everything.
“IT’S YOUR BLOOD.”
“Yeah. Your blood rushes back to your extremities once you’re in a warmer environment.”
“Where’s it been? What’s it rushing back from?”
“From protecting your vital organs. Once you’re safe, back under shelter, so to speak, your blood redistributes and causes that painful tingling.”
Marcia was editing her valedictory speech and talking to him at the same time. First drafts, second drafts, index cards, pencils, pens, and highlighters were strewn across the desk—Sara’s desk actually, but at this point it belonged to Marcia. Marcia and Sara more or less lived at each other’s houses. They had been holing up in Sara’s room together every day after school for years, with Andrew frequently dropping by to join them or smoke pot or watch TV. It was Friday night, one week from graduation, and Marcia had yet to complete her speech.
“Why were you wandering around in the middle of the night, anyway?” Marcia asked.
“I’m a vampire, baby,” he said. She snorted in response.
“Someone come hang out with me. I’m bored!” Sara shouted from the bathroom, where she had just showered and was shaving her legs. Andrew and Marcia rolled their eyes at each other before Andrew got up and walked down the hallway. He knocked on the half-open bathroom door.
“You decent?” he asked.
“Oh, please,” Sara said. He walked inside.
Sara was messy with a razor. Her right leg was propped on top of the bathroom sink and covered with uneven globs of strawberry-scented shaving cream. She shaved her legs carelessly and fast. If her shapely limbs suffered only one or two nicks, she considered herself lucky.
“Careful,” he said. He closed the toilet seat and sat down.
“Got something for you,” she said, gesturing toward a magazine that lay on the counter. Andrew picked it up and flipped through it. It was a porn magazine and looked to be about twenty years old.
“Chicks were hairy back then,” he said.
“Still are,” Sara said. “The fucking upkeep is brutal.”
“Where did you get this thing?” Andrew asked.
“Attic. It was in a box labeled DIRK’S STUFF.” Sara ran the razor under the water and readjusted the towel that was wrapped around her chest. Sara had never met Dirk, her father, so in a way it made sense that she didn’t get upset when the subject was brought up.
“I wouldn’t think your mom was the type to keep an old boyfriend’s back issues of Barely Legal,” Andrew said.
“You never really know your parents.”
“Or anyone else.”
“So true,” she said. With a washcloth she wiped down one leg and proceeded on to the next. The shaving cream made a horrid squishy sound as Sara sprayed it on her legs. She frowned, shook the can vigorously, and sprayed again. Andrew grimaced. He sometimes resented how casual Sara could be in front of him. We may be friends, he thought, but I’m still a dude.
“This is kind of grossing me out,” Andrew said.
“That’s why I brought the magazine for you,” she said.
“Give me a break,” he said.
Sara laughed. He watched as she ran the blade up her leg. The white of her thighs flashed beneath her towel. She followed his gaze.
“What’s up?” she said softly.
He thought of Laura. “Nothing.” He looked at the floor when he spoke, then looked back up at her and smiled. She nodded.
“So, UVM?” she said. Both he and Sara had been accepted to the University of Vermont. Marcia would be attending Stanford and was already enrolled in the premed program.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. With a sigh, he folded up the magazine and slapped it against his knee.
“At least we’ll be close,” she said. “After my trip,” she added. Sara had vague plans to take a year off before college and bum around abroad on a Europass.
“I know. I just—”
“Didn’t want to be so close to home,” she said, finishing his thought.
“I could join Brian in Georgia. You know, be a superfan, go to all his games,” Andrew said with a forced laugh. Sara reached down and pushed back the flop of bangs that fell over his eyes.
“You need a haircut,” she said. She tucked the hair behind his ear and turned back to the sink.
“I’ll be in the living room.” He stood up.
“Alone in the living room with a dirty magazine?” she said with an impish grin that Andrew knew drove other boys mad. Him, too, a little bit.
“Don’t worry. I’m leaving the porn here. It’s not my thing anyway,” he said. Andrew thought about Brian’s collection of porn under the floorboards of his old bedroom, which Andrew occasionally pilfered. But he wasn’t lying to Sara; porn made him excited in a nauseated kind of way, and the satisfaction it provided was empty.
“Come on, hang out with me. I’m almost finished,” Sara said. She began to hurry even more. Andrew flinched, thinking about the little micro cuts she was giving herself. Sara liked constant company. She became quite petulant when left alone for too long.
“I’m going to check on Marcia.”
“Leave her alone,” Sara singsonged back to him.
“She’s going to make herself crazy,” Andrew said. He put his hand on the doorknob.
“I’m telling you: don’t bother her,” Sara said. She examined a trickle of blood as it slid down her shin.
“You need a Band-Aid?”
“Nah,” she said.
From the bedroom they heard Marcia curse in German, a habit from her childhood abroad.
“Uh-oh, she’s speaking in tongues. Maybe you should go check on her.” She stood up straight, and her brow wrinkled with concern.
Andrew walked out the door, careful to close it behind him. He felt a sudden chill out in the hallway. It had been stuffy in the bathroom, but also warm and cozy, with the steam of the shower and his pretty, half-naked friend perched like a bird of paradise on the sink. A bleeding bird of paradise.
Sometimes he thought Sara was challenging him to get an erection when she pranced and chatted, half naked, in front of him. Would she do anything about it? Did he want that? Of course he wanted it—sort of. Sara could sometimes be a little too flirty. Or confusingly flirty.
He walked down the hallway and opened the bedroom door a crack. Marcia still sat at the desk with her back to him. She was scribbling and muttering at the same time. Andrew crept up close to her, peered over her shoulder, and read what she had written.
When my father was killed
After my father died
My father was a surgeon, and I’ve always felt a strong desire to follow in his footsteps. My best friends, Andrew and Sara, as well as Ms. Devaux, have been so supportive. . . .
“Andrew!” Marcia stood up and spun around to face him.
“It’s good!” he said. He laughed and tried to get at the speech.
“You were reading it?” Marcia shouted, and stamped her feet like a child. In response, Andrew grabbed Marcia around the waist and slung her over his shoulder. With his free hand he took the papers on the desk and tossed them up in the air. For a moment the papers and index cards rained around them like white flakes in a snow globe. He spun her amidst the paper storm while she alternately shouted in rage and laughed hysterically, pounding her fists on his back.
“You . . . are going . . . to help . . . me,” she said between gasps, “put . . . all . . . my shit . . . back . . . together.” Her voice trailed off in a half sob. Andrew stopped spinning her and loosened his grip. She slid from his shoulder.
“Sorry,” he said. He breathed hard, unsure what had come over him.
Together they gathered up her speech. Sara swept into the room. She looked strangely magnificent, Andrew thought, with her gleaming legs and her hair wrapped up in a pink towel like a turban on her head.
“Are you two fighting again?” Sara asked.
Andrew flopped onto the bed. The ceiling was painted dark green, like the walls, and gave the room the feel of a mossy cave. He’d spent half his adolescence in this room, sometimes a little buzzed, staring at the walls and wondering what inspired Sara and her mother to paint them such an unusual color.
“When’s the movie start?” he asked.
Marcia reached for the newspaper and began searching for the movie section. Sara unwrapped the towel turban and shook her head. Andrew watched her. Sara was pretty, no doubt about it, and her curly blonde hair was especially beautiful: exuberant, sexy, unrestrained—always on the verge of falling apart or coming undone. He started to reconsider his actions, or rather non-actions, in the bathroom a few moments earlier. She caught him looking at her and gave him a slight smile. He smiled back, then shifted his gaze toward Marcia, whose brows were furrowed in concentration.
“How’s the speech?” Sara asked. She slipped behind her closet door to change. Marcia tossed the newspaper at Andrew. It fluttered through the air and landed, disassembled, at his feet.
“I can’t find it,” Marcia said to Andrew. She turned toward the closet, adding, “And it’s terrible. Terrible. The speech is crap. I don’t want to do this.”
“We’re proud of you. You’re doing this!” Sara shouted from the closet. She emerged in a tight blue dress. “And you’re not letting that douche-bag Jason take your place,” she said with her hands on her hips.
“Who cares? What’s the point? I don’t give a shit about anyone from school except you two. Everyone else can kiss my ass,” Marcia said. Marcia wasn’t exactly disliked by her classmates, but people thought she was nerdy, weird, and way too into school. But they were wrong about her, thought Andrew. It wasn’t school that she was into; it was knowledge. Marcia actually cared about things like Spanish poetry and physics and the Crimean War. A guy like Jason just pretended to.
“It’s not about that. It’s about celebrating how hard you’ve worked and how brilliant you are.” As she spoke, Sara walked toward Marcia and put her arms around her shoulders. She shook her lightly and said, “Marcia, don’t be ashamed or embarrassed.” Sara was a close talker, and her face was inches from Marcia’s. Marcia laughed nervously and stepped back.
“I’m not embarrassed. It’s just stupid,” Marcia said.
“Bullshit,” Sara said, raising her eyebrows.
“Marcia’s right,” Andrew said, throwing the paper aside. “Fuck ’em. And the movie starts in twenty minutes, so let’s get going.”
“What are we seeing again?” Sara asked with dread in her voice.
“Un Chien Andalou,” Marcia and Andrew said together.
Sara threw her head back and sighed.
“It’s a revival. Remastered and everything,” Marcia said, her eyes pleading. Driving to the little art house cinema just outside of town and watching old movies had been part of Marcia’s Let’s watch real films! initiative. It drove Sara nuts.
“I hate those depressing old European films. Why can’t we just get some pot and pizza and rent an action flick?” Sara said.
“I’m game for that,” Andrew said.
“Again?” Marcia said, and she looked to Andrew for support.
Andrew stood up. “Un Chien Andalou is short, Sara. Besides, maybe you’ll pick up some French.”
“I’m not even sure that I’ll be in France.”
“You’re going to backpack around Europe and not go to France?” Marcia asked.
Andrew snorted, and both girls looked at him. Sara’s year-after-high-school backpacking plans grated on him for reasons he was unable to define. It just all seemed so stereotypical. “Marcia’s right. Go to France, see the Louvre, stay in hostels, write in a journal, get a tan, and contract herpes,” he said.
“Jealous?” Sara shot back.
“Please stop arguing,” Marcia said.
“And for your information,” Sara continued, “I always use condoms. Not that either of you would know anything about that.”
He scowled and crossed his arms over his chest, wounded at this reminder of his virginity.
Marcia cleared her throat and said, “Actually, condoms don’t really protect against herpes, because herpes—”
“Oh, shut up, Marcia!” Sara and Andrew shouted together.
Lately they’d been bickering. It didn’t help that Marcia had become infatuated with yet another medical book, this one about infectious diseases, and could not seem to stop herself from announcing these transmissible illness tidbits at the most awkward moments. Sprinkles of anxiety to flavor your day, Andrew called them.
“Well, if we’re not going to the real movie theater,” Sara said as she went behind her closet again, “I’m going to slip into something more comfortable.”
“Whose car are we taking?” Andrew asked.
“Can we take both? That way you can give Marcia a ride home, and I can pick up my mom when her shift is done,” Sara said.
“Or drive off alone with that sleazy projectionist,” Marcia muttered.
“What was that?” Sara shouted from the closet.
“I thought Janet wasn’t working nights,” Andrew said, less out of curiosity and more to prevent a spat from developing between the two girls. Andrew was more or less indifferent to Sara’s occasional promiscuity with older guys, but he knew it annoyed Marcia.
“Not regularly, but she took a night shift for a friend. They’re the worst. She can’t get the smell of rancid milk out of her hair for days.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Before we start, I want you to take a moment to look at the cover. Isn't it beautiful? This cover really sums up the overall feeling I got from this book. When I was a teenager I would spend a lot of time contemplating life while looking up at the night sky. I loved and still love the stars. So even before starting this book it was already pulling on my heart strings a little bit. This is a hard story to describe. It is actually quite complex. There are a lot of different things going on at once. The main characters name is Andrew. I couldn't help but feel for him. The guy has it rough. He has a hard home life - he doesn't get along with his older brother or dad at all...and his mom seems distant. The girl he is in love with is virtually unattainable. And to top it all off one of his 2 best friends was in a horrible car accident. One of the biggest themes in All the Major Constellations is religion. At first I was really worried that the whole story was going to be about finding God and accepting him into your life, but it isn't. Not really any way. This story is a story of self discovery and self understanding. I will say that I thought there were some points that the narration went a little weird, but most of the time it worked out quite well. I do think that some part of the story would have been more hard hitting if it had actually been Andrew telling us the story and not us reading about him experiencing it though. Also, in case these things matter for you when reading, there is quite a lot of language use in this book. It goes throughout the whole thing. There are also some sexual things. Nothing descriptive, but it is in there. All in all, I felt that this was a beautiful story. I enjoyed watching it all unfold. I really liked watching Andrew grow throughout. It was hard for me to decide between 3.5 and 4 stars, but ultimately I went with 4 stars. This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Find more of my reviews here: http://readingwithcupcakes.blogspot.com/