"I'm wrecked with love for this funny, joyful, bighearted book." --Becky Albertalli, bestselling author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Elouise (Lou) Parker is determined to have the absolute best, most impossibly epic summer of her life. There are just a few things standing in her way:
• She's landed a job at Magic Castle Playland . . . as a giant dancing hot dog.
• Her crush, the dreamy diving pirate Nick, already has a girlfriend, who is literally the princess of the park. But Lou's never liked anyone, guy or otherwise, this much before, and now she wants a chance at her own happily ever after.
• Her best friend, Seeley, the carousel operator, has always been up for anything, but she's decidedly not on board when it comes to Lou's quest to set her up with the perfect girl or Lou's scheme to get close to Nick.
• And it turns out that this will be their last summer at Magic Castle Playland--ever--unless she can find a way to stop it from closing.
Jennifer Dugan's sparkling debut coming-of-age queer romance stars a princess, a pirate, a hot dog, and a carousel operator who find love--and themselves--in unexpected people and unforgettable places.
"Both classic and new, hysterical and heartfelt, and packed with all the awesomeness and awkwardness of first love, first job, and the painful thrill of growing up." --Mackenzi Lee, bestselling author of The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Everybody seems to think the summer after your senior year is the stuff of legends. That it’s two months of pure teenage bliss or something. It’s almost as if there’s this big conspiracy surrounding it, like, sure, kid, throw your cap in the air, cue up that hit pop song you will definitely hate by fall, and then you, too, will be guaranteed the most epic summer of your life. I mean, we all know that’s not how it actually goes down, right?
Even though I won’t kick off my own senior year for another couple of months, I’ve already witnessed way more than my fair share of post-senior summers. It’s a hazard of attending a tiny school—you can’t really be picky about how old your friends are. But yeah, I think I can conclusively say that frantically searching Target for extra-long twin bedsheets while freaking out about what to major in does not an epic summer make.
So no, I don’t buy into that whole post-senior-year magic thing. I think pre-senior year is where it’s at, and for me, that starts right here in this tiny breakroom—with a stomach full of butterflies and a brain full of fireworks.
This is going to be my summer, no doubt about it.
I take a deep breath and slide my finger down the crisp page in front of me, searching for my name on the corkboard of destiny. Seriously. That’s what we call stuff like this at Magic Castle Playland. It’s not a bulletin board; it’s a “corkboard of destiny.” It’s not a list of job assignments; it’s a “character reveal chart.” I swear to god everything here is about as whimsical as it is rusty.
I look lower, past the names of the ride operators and the food service people, over housekeeping and maintenance, until I get to the costume crew. I pause at the listing for princess. It’s not my name. Okay, that’s fine, disappointing but fine. I knew it was a long shot when I put in for it. My finger dips even lower, gliding past the prince, and the pirates, and all the furry park mascots, until it hits my name: Elouise May Parker. I drop my head against the board. No, no, no. Not again. I can’t. This has to be a mistake.
My best friend, Seeley, nudges me out of the way. “What’s it say?”
“I’m the hot dog.”
Pity flashes in her hazel eyes. “It could be worse.”
“Could it, See? Could it really?”
“Yeah! What if they put you in housekeeping and you were stuck in the bathroom by Swashbuckler Bay?” She shudders, cracking herself up.
“It’s not funny.” I pout, but technically, yes, that would be worse. I mean, the bathroom crew finishes every shift smelling like mildew and old diapers, so . . .
Seeley holds up her hands. “Hey, I’m just kidding, but it’s going to be okay, Lou, promise.”
She’s right. I know she is. This is a minor speed bump. I mean, it’s not like anybody died or there’s a giant meteor about to strike Earth or anything. But still, there are so many things I have planned for these last few months before we’re sucked up in the frenzy of senior year, and playing the hot dog isn’t one of them.
I glance back at the list, letting out a little humph, and then look back at Seeley with an exaggerated frown. She bursts out laughing, shaking so hard her teal hair tips right into her sun-kissed face. Seeley’s always got it a different color these days, almost like a mood ring. The happier she is, the brighter her hair gets.
Meanwhile I’m her slightly duller, significantly paler sidekick. My skin doesn’t tan—it just burns—and my hair is this permanent mousy brown color because it doesn’t hold dye. My dad calls it “caramel brown,” which makes me think it’s been way too long since he’s actually seen any caramel.
Seeley grins and shoves her bangs out of her face as we start to walk toward the main stage for orientation. “Seriously, what are the odds that a vegetarian ends up in a hot dog suit two years in a row?”
“Shut up. What did you get?” I almost hope it’s something awful like the Scrambler, where she’s guaranteed to clean up tons of puke on the daily. It’s only fair we both suffer.
“The carousel.” She shrugs, her lips twisting into a smirk.
“I hate you.”
“No you don’t.” She laughs. “Besides, would you honestly rather have Marcus or Brynn in charge of the carousel? They’d have Butters and Racer scratched all to hell from day one.”
“I would kill them.”
Seeley crosses her arms. “Exactly. So really, you should be thanking me for helping you avoid a lengthy prison sentence.”
I snort, running my hand along the rock wall. This is the only time of year I even dare to touch it, the only time when it’s still sort of semi-clean—well, as clean as the filthy old rock wall of a run-down amusement park can be, anyway. But tomorrow the gates will open, and everything will be sticky from the sweat and garbage of our less-than-stellar clientele.
I drop my hand, smiling at the familiar sight of co-workers finding seats and talking excitedly to everybody they haven’t seen since the last time the cold broke in our unforgiving little mountain town. Most of them aren’t townies like me; some of them live in neighboring areas, and some of them—the lifers, as I like to call them—follow the seasons. They spend their summers up here where it’s a little bit cooler, and the winters down south where the weather is mild.
You don’t realize how many people it takes to run an amusement park, even an old midsize one like ours, until you try to cram them all into the seats at Mr. Johnny’s Magic Emporium. Even though our little rust bucket can’t compete with the corporate giants, we have some cool stuff here—a couple roller coasters, some games, enough rides to pass an afternoon, and, of course, our namesake: a tiny pink castle smack-dab in the middle of the park—and it takes tons of people to keep it going each day.
Tons of people who are currently causing a human-shaped traffic jam right ahead of me. I take a sharp right and turn down the lower path to hit up the amphitheater’s side entrance. Seeley follows close behind me, stepping hard on the back of my sneaker, so hard my heel pops out. I glare at her, grabbing onto her arm for support as I fix my shoe.
“Sorry.” Her voice lilts up like this isn’t an offense punishable by death.
“Hey, Seeley,” a boy says, nodding at her as he walks by. It’s Nick, because of course it would be Nick when I’m hunched over looking like I don’t know how to operate a shoe. Seeley lifts her hand to wave and nearly sends me sprawling. Thanks for that, universe.
“Hey, Nick.” I smile, jumping forward as I regain my balance.
“Hey, Elouise.” He nods.
“Elle, Nick, call me Elle.” I grit my teeth.
He clamps his hand on my shoulder, and I praise the gods that I decided to wear a tank top today. “If ‘Elle’ hasn’t stuck by now, it’s never going to. But I applaud your determination.” He squeezes his fingers a little like he’s giving me a massage and oh, okay, no big deal. I’ll just be over here dying because Nick’s skin is touching my skin and that’s—
“Have you guys seen Jessa?” he asks.
Oh, right. Jessa. His super beautiful, so-nice-it-hurts girlfriend. How could I ever forget?
“Haven’t seen her,” I grumble, but then Seeley pokes me in the ribs and I force out a smile. “She might still be checking the list.”
“Oh, yeah. How’d you two make out?” Nick shoves his hands into his pockets, and I try not to frown from the loss of contact.
“Carousel.” Seeley grins, which Nick apparently thinks deserves a high five.
“I’m the hot dog. Again,” I blurt out, which apparently Nick thinks doesn’t. Not that I can blame him. My face burns and I huff out a breath so big my cheeks puff out.
Nick opens and shuts his mouth a few times, like he doesn’t know where to start. “Another year in the bun? Tough break, Elouise.” He shakes his head. “I’m so lucky I don’t have to deal with random jobs.”
He is lucky; I’m glad he realizes that. See, Nick’s a diving pirate, which isn’t exactly a job you can just walk into. He swam for his old school, I think, and he made the dive team at ours like two seconds after he moved here. He even got a partial scholarship to Presley University this fall, which I’m pretending doesn’t exist. The last thing I want to think about is him leaving for college. But anyway, yeah, he doesn’t have to worry about being a hot dog because he’s too busy being the absolute best pirate on the planet. No way will Mr. P ever assign him anywhere else.
Nick brushes his hair out of his eyes. “All right, I’m gonna go look for Jessa and find the guys. I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Bye,” I say, a little too eagerly, and I swear I see a tiny shake of his head as he walks away.
“Bye,” Seeley repeats, stretching the word out with a little giggle. It’s simultaneously her best and worst impression of me.
I wait until he disappears around the corner, then widen my eyes. “He totally just massaged my shoulder. You saw that, right? He was all in.”
“All in on squeezing your shoulder?” If there’s some kind of world record for highest eyebrow raise ever, I’m pretty sure Seeley just broke it.
“He massaged it. You witnessed it. It was glorious.”
“Oh my god, Lou, it finally happened: you’ve lost your last remaining marble.” I try to elbow her, but she grabs my arm, laughing.
“Hey, guys.” Angie Martinez appears out of nowhere right then, giving Seeley a little nod as she skirts around us. Her black hair is pulled tight in a ponytail, which bounces against her light brown skin as she walks down the hill to the Emporium. Angie’s a year ahead of us, like Nick, and she runs the Ferris wheel. I’m 93 percent sure she’s got a thing for Seeley, but I’m also about 100 percent sure Seeley is oblivious.
Seeley tugs my arm, snapping my attention back to her. “Come on, Lou, let’s go find a place to sit.”