A 2020 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Selection
Girls on the Verge is an incredibly timely novel about a woman’s right to choose. Sharon Biggs Waller brings to life a narrative that has to continue to fight for its right to be told, and honored.
Camille couldn't be having a better summer—she kills it as Ophelia in her community theater's production of Hamlet, catches the eye of the cutest boy in the play, and nabs a spot in a prestigious theater program. But on the very night she learns she got into the program, she also finds out she’s pregnant. She definitely can’t tell her parents. And her best friend Bea doesn’t agree with the decision Camille has made.
Camille is forced to try to solve her problem alone…and the system is very much working against her. At her most vulnerable, Camille reaches out to Annabelle Ponsonby, a girl she only barely knows from the theater. Happily, Annabelle agrees to drive her wherever she needs to go. And in a last minute change of heart, Bea decides to come with.
Over the course of more than a thousand miles, friendships will be tested and dreams will be challenged. But ultimately, the girls will realize that friends are the real heroes in every story.
"[C]ompelling... This title offers realistic viewpoints on teenage pregnancy, along with what it is like to have the right to choose, wanting that right, and living knowing that you will be judged for having exercised it." —School Library Journal, Starred Review
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|Publisher:||Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)|
|Product dimensions:||6.25(w) x 8.41(h) x 0.88(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I've been ready to leave for the past hour, but that doesn't mean I want to. I didn't sleep. I lay in bed all night, watching the glowing red numbers on my alarm clock blink down the hours.
I straighten the quilt my grandma gave me for what seems like the hundredth time.
My phone buzzes, startling me.
Here. I'm early so take your time.
I pick up my backpack and purse and take a last look around my room to make sure I have everything.
I shut my door and head down the stairs, sliding my hand along the banister worn smooth from seventeen years' worth of touching. I make sure to avoid the squeaky step Dad always promises to fix but never will.
In the kitchen, I get a glass of water and gulp it down. The refrigerator hums, the hall clock ticks, the AC makes that weird noise that no electrician can figure out. It's strange the things you notice when you're really paying attention. The family pictures on the dining room wall across from me have hung there my whole life. There's a formal portrait of my grandma and mom, both of them in powder blue dresses, standing side by side. Next to it, a collage of my brother and me from kindergarten to junior year, baby-toothed smiles to awkward braces, a blank space reserved for my senior picture. And then there's my parents on their wedding day. Dad in his rented tux, Mom in her glittery gown and poofy veil. She holds a huge bouquet of lilies.
I scribble a note for my parents, draw a heart on it, and pin it to the bulletin board. I throw a couple of bananas, two granola bars, and a bottle of Sprite into a plastic bag, cram my feet into my Chucks, and open the door.
* * *
The sun is just starting to come up, but it's already hot. The paperboy appears over the hill; his loaded bag, crossed over his chest, pulls him sideways. I stop and watch as he flings the folded newspapers at the houses. They all fall short, landing on lawns. But the next one thunks onto my neighbor's porch, and the boy pumps his fist in the air.
Annabelle, seeing me, jumps out of the car and opens the passenger door.
Annabelle's car seats are covered with black fleece seat covers embroidered with the words Black Cherry over the headrests. A cobalt-blue evil eye swings from her rearview mirror by a leather strap. The floor is littered with flattened foam coffee cups. I carefully place my feet between a Giddyup cup and a Sonic one.
Annabelle has two orange plastic go-cups of coffee in her cup holders. The smell of the coffee makes me feel nauseous and hungry at the same time. She gets in the driver's side and shuts her door. "Sorry the car is such a mess. I didn't have time to shovel her out." She points to the cups of coffee. "I did bring nectar of the gods, though. And I wore my new favorite T-shirt."
I look at it. I STAND WITH WENDY DAVIS, it reads. And underneath the caption is a pair of pink sneakers.
"I thought we could use some of Wendy's courage. Coffee and courage, what more do we need?" She pauses for a moment, studying me. "Are you okay?" I shake my head. "No, not really."
"We don't have to do this if you don't want to," Annabelle says. "We can turn around at any point. Just say the word."
"I do," I blurt out, a little harder than I mean to. "I mean ... I do want to do this."
"It's going to be all right, Camille."
Annabelle grabs one of the coffees from the cup holder, takes a sip, puts her car in gear, and drives off.
"Didn't you have a Bug before? I remember you driving a yellow Volkswagen," I say.
"I sold her before I went to England. I bought Buzzi for when I'm home."
"That's what I named this car — after Ruth Buzzi. Have you heard of her?"
I shake my head.
"She's this comedian from the sixties. She lives near Stephenville on this big horse ranch, and she collects all these cool vintage cars with her husband. She used to be on Sesame Street a lot. Anyway, I'd love to have vintage cars like hers someday." Annabelle pats the steering wheel. "Buzzi's not much of a car, but she tries."
"I've never heard of anyone naming a car before."
"You gotta name your car! It's the only way to really get to know it. Otherwise it's just a hunk of metal and wheels." She smiles and pushes the gearshift.
Annabelle looks so cool shifting, like she's a race car driver. After she shifts, she leaves her hand on the gear knob, her fingers cupping the bottom of it. I like how that looks. Kind of tough. Like you really know what you're doing and don't really care what anyone thinks about it.
"Is it hard to drive a stick shift?"
"It is at first. But then it's easy when you get the hang of it. My cousin taught me because my asshat of a father couldn't be bothered to."
I reach for a granola bar to settle my stomach. I eat it, watching out the window as the familiar landmarks of my town go by: the Holler Up, Jess's Jewelers, the Giddyup.
"God, I'm so glad to get out of Johnson Creek," Annabelle says.
"Even if it's a shitty reason why," I say. My shoulders are so tense, my muscles ache.
"So, listen. Bea called me last night."
"What? God, she never gives up." I should have known that Bea would search for a work-around. "Did she try to talk you out of taking me?" "No. She wants to come."
"Well, she can't."
I take a sip of coffee, but the taste of it makes me feel pukey. I jam the cup back into the cup holder and grab the plastic bag. I dump the contents on the back seat and put the bag on my lap, just in case. I open the Sprite and take a sip.
"Do you need me to pull over?" Annabelle asks, casting a nervous look my way. "I mean, I won't hate you if you puke, but I'd rather you not."
"No. I'm okay."
"I told her I'd ask you, but I wouldn't guarantee it."
"I don't know why she'd want to."
"She told me she wants to support you."
We reach the YMCA. A pack of boys are running laps around the track outside. We stop at a traffic light by the chain-link fence that borders the track. As the pack gets closer, I can see their arm muscles flexing as they run. Their eyes are intense, and their shirts are soaked with sweat.
Guys get to run in the fresh air and then probably hang out with their girlfriends or their buddies while I get to travel to nearly Mexico to chase down some pills.
Annabelle takes a drink from her coffee and looks at the runners over her go-cup. "I can't imagine running around a track at the butt-crack of dawn like that."
Annabelle rolls the window down and sticks her head out. "Hey, assholes!" she yells. One of the boys in the back of the pack turns his head.
I can't help it. I burst out laughing.
She looks over at me and grins. "So, what do you want to do?"
If I say no to Bea after she has tried to reach out, I'm pretty much ending our friendship. I can't stand the thought of that. But I also can't stand the thought of listening to her trying to convince me to change my mind. I sigh. "She can come."
I direct Annabelle to Bea's house. She's waiting on the porch step already. A huge duffel bag, a pillow, and a grocery bag rest at her feet. "Overpacked as usual," I mutter.
Bea gets up and walks toward the car. Mrs. Delgado waves at us from the door. It's just after seven o'clock, yet she's already fully dressed in white pants and a striped shirt and pearls. Her hair is gathered into a bun.
Annabelle gets out and goes up the walk to help Bea. I stay in the car, staring straight ahead. The driver's door opens, and Bea climbs into the back.
I don't turn around. I don't look at her. "You say one thing to try to make me change my mind, Beatrice Delgado, and I swear we'll dump you on the side of the road."
"I know," Bea says. She puts her hand on the seat by my shoulder. "I promise I won't."
Annabelle slides in, puts on her seat belt, and drives off.
"Why do you want to come anyway?" I ask.
She takes her hand away. "You're my best friend, and I should be here with you."
It's hard to believe that just ten days ago, my life was exactly what I wanted it to be. I was heading to Willow, a supercompetitive theater camp, and I'd played my dream role of Ophelia at the midsummer production of Hamlet at the Globe Southwest Youth Theater. The actor who played Hamlet — a very dreamy boy from France — liked me. And that very same boy, Léo, was going to be at said camp sans parental supervision for a whole week.
I stare out the window and hope no one sees the tears in my eyes.CHAPTER 2
I feel a tap on my shoulder.
"Do you want to dance?"
I turn around and Léo is there, all six feet of gorgeousness, and I swear I swoon in French.
"I am dancing," I say, even though I'm standing dead still.
He makes a face. "Well, that is very sad because I was hoping you would dance with me."
"I don't want to make you sad."
An old song from the eighties starts to play, "Time After Time."
If you fall I will catch you — I'll be waiting. Time after time ...
He steps toward me and puts his hands on my waist, and I set mine on his shoulders. I don't know how kids dance in his country. I hope he doesn't start waltzing or something. But we do the ubiquitous high school slow dance, shuffling around in a circle, swaying back and forth. Bea, dancing with Mateo, gives me a look that says I told you so. The song ends, and I remove my hands from Léo's shoulders, even though I really don't want to stop touching him.
"Do you want to go outside?" Léo asks.
I would go anywhere with you, I nearly blurt out, but I catch myself. "Sure," I say as casually as I can. Léo takes my hand and leads me through the crowd. I've held hands onstage with him tons of times, but this is not the same thing. I like the way he holds my hand — palm to palm, instead of threading his fingers through mine.
"I hate closing night," I say. "I hate saying goodbye to my character."
"Me too," he says. He casts a glance at me, shy, or maybe uncertain. "I am very glad you are going to Willow."
"I'm glad you're going to Willow, too." I wonder how long he'll hold my hand or whether I should drop it or let him decide.
We're a little way from the theater when he stops. "I like your hair like this," he says, gently tugging my braid.
"It's Ophelia's hair," I say. "I only borrowed it."
"I'm sure she doesn't mind lending it to you."
"No, I don't think she's rolling over in her grave."
"And this flower thing you're wearing. You smell like a pixie."
"That's some line. You've smelled a pixie before?" I say.
"Of course," he says. "Hasn't everyone?"
"Not that I know of," I say, laughing. "It must be a French thing."
He shrugs. "Perhaps."
We stand there for a moment, and I try to find something else to say. "Um, do you want to see the creek?" I ask.
He taps his finger on his chin, pretending to think. "A 'creek'?"
"It's like a stream. Or a brook. A small river."
"Ah, oui. Un ruisseau. I would like to see a creek, yes."
He follows me down the path. The creek runs behind the theater, bordered by a band of woods. There's a steep path, and I've never seen anyone but me there.
The path opens up down a little hill and to the edge of the creek. The wind is waving the tree branches around, and the creek rushes over a bundle of sticks and logs jammed against the side of the bank, making that babbling noise that everyone loves. Air from the day mixed with air from the night creates weird pockets of warm and cool.
"Camille! C'est très formidable," Léo says, looking around. "It's like Ophelia's water, where she drowned herself."
I like how Léo says my name. His accent makes it sound romantic. Special. His face glows in the moonlight.
We sit on a patch of grass on the bank. A cool breeze cuts through the cotton of my dress, and I nudge a little closer to Léo.
"Where do you live in France?" I ask.
"I live in the Dordogne, way in the southwest of France. There we have troglodyte dwellings and cave paintings and a cathedral where the stone steps are worn in the middle from pilgrims climbing on their knees."
"That sounds painful," I say. "Have you climbed the stairs on your knees?"
"No. Only on my feet."
"What's a troglodyte dwelling?"
"A place where troglodytes dwell."
I shove him, and he falls backward onto the bank and rolls into a ball, pretend-moaning in pain.
I pull up some grass and fling a handful at him. "Seriously, what is it?"
He sits up and runs his hands through his hair, making it stand up. He laughs. "I told you already."
I clap the dirt off my hands and take my phone out of my dress pocket. "It sounds like you don't know, so I'll just google it." I go to nudge Léo with my shoulder, but he's turning toward me and I end up against his chest. I stay there, like it's perfectly normal, and start searching online for troglodyte dwellings.
He puts his hand over my phone. "I'll tell you. These are houses that are built into the front of caves." Léo drapes his arm around my shoulders. Everywhere his arm touches feels like a kiss. He holds me close. I can hear his breath, feel his chest rise and fall under my cheek, hear the thump of his heart. I wonder if this is what falling in love feels like — comfort, safety, excitement, and desire for that one person, all bunched up together.
"Tell me a story about your home," I say.
Léo thinks for a moment. "I'll tell you about a cave in the Vézère valley called Grotte de Rouffignac."
"Okay, tell me about the Grotte de, uh, what you said."
"You go in a little electric train. At the beginning of the cave you see hollows of clay big enough for an elephant, but these are dens of cave bears."
"Cave bears? That sounds made up."
"And then there are pictures of mammoths drawn into the clay walls with fingers, and handprints pressed into the wall over thirteen thousand years ago. The train goes, and the dark takes over so you can't even see your hand in front of your face. And then suddenly the train stops, a light comes on, and you look up." He snaps his fingers. "And there on the roof of the cave you see them — hundreds of drawings of mammoths, ibex, woolly rhinoceroses, and horses painted in red, tan, and black."
"Who painted them?"
I feel Léo shake his head. "No one knows."
"I want to see it."
Léo plays with a piece of my hair. "I'll take you."
I imagine myself doing things in France with Léo like characters in a romantic comedy. We carry balloons, eat croissants at a café, and kiss on bridges while French accordion music plays in the background.
His fingers brush against my cheek. "I would very much like to kiss you, Camille," he whispers. I can feel his breath on my face, his nose touching mine.
"I would very much like you to kiss me." I say this in a French accent, and then immediately regret it, hoping he doesn't think I'm making fun of him. But he smiles. And then he kisses me.
His mouth is soft, his kiss gentle. He doesn't press me back or shove his mouth on mine with all tongues and smashing lips like some boys do.
Léo stops kissing me, but he doesn't move back. He keeps his forehead against mine, his fingers light against my cheek. My heart melts into a puddle. "Kiss me again," I say. He does, and I never want it to stop. I want to stay on the bank forever, Léo holding me, hearing nothing but his breathing and the rush of the creek and the sound of the wind in the trees.
And then nausea hits me. My stomach starts to feel like a piece of paper being crumpled up into a ball, and I pull away from him.
"Camille?" Léo tries to take my hand, but I shake him loose. I sprint to the tree and throw up in the grass, puking my brains out to the point of tears. Léo is there at my side, patting my back.
"I'm okay," I say. "I'm sorry." I'm beyond embarrassed. I never puke, ever. Even when I'm sick.
"I think we should go to the ... the clinic ... what's the word? Hospital?"
"No, no, I'm okay," I say. I literally almost just threw up in this French boy's mouth. "I must have eaten something bad at the party. I have a really sensitive stomach."
Léo doesn't look convinced. "Still, I think I should take you, Camille."
"If it happens again, I promise I'll see a doctor." I'm trying my damnedest to sound casual.
He takes hold of my hands and rubs them between his own. "What can I do?"
"Gosh, I don't know? What's a guy to do after a girl pukes right after he kisses her?" I try to joke, but it falls flat and Léo doesn't laugh. "Um, you can walk me back?"
I try to act like it's no big deal. Like hey, this happens all the time, it's an American thing. But if it's possible to die of embarrassment, then I don't have much longer to live.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Girls on the Verge"
Copyright © 2019 Sharon Biggs Waller.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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