A debut young adult rom-com about an African American ballerina who finds love on the road to an audition.
"In a world where it's easy to lose faith in love, I Wanna Be Where You Are is a brilliant burst of light. A dazzling debut." Nic Stone, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out
When Chloe Pierce’s mom forbids her to apply for a spot at the dance conservatory of her dreams, she devises a secret plan to drive two hundred miles to the nearest audition. But Chloe hits her first speed bump when her annoying neighbor Eli insists upon hitching a ride, threatening to tell Chloe’s mom if she leaves him and his smelly dog, Geezer, behind. So now Chloe’s chasing her ballet dreams down the east coasttwo unwanted (but kinda cute) passengers in her car, butterflies in her stomach, and a really dope playlist on repeat.
Filled with roadside hijinks, heart-stirring romance, and a few broken rules, Kristina Forest's I Wanna Be Where You Are is a YA debut perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sandhya Menon.
About the Author
Kristina Forest earned her MFA in Creative Writing at The New School and lives in Brooklyn, New York with two huge bookshelves. I Wanna Be Where You Are is her first novel. You can follow her on Twitter.
Read an Excerpt
For the Greater Good
Here's something you should know about me: I'm a terrible daughter.
"For the thousandth time, Chloe, you are not a terrible daughter," my best friend, Reina, groans on the other end of the phone. "We've talked about this, remember? What did we say?"
I lie back on my bed and stare at the poster of Avery Johnson on my ceiling. It's a still of him as Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake. He's wearing white tights and a white tunic with gold and silver trimming. His brown skin is shiny with sweat. His knees are bent and his arms are outstretched, waiting for Odette, the beautiful white swan, to waltz toward him. I've spent countless nights staring at this poster, dreaming that it was me he would twirl in his arms. And now that the opportunity to meet him is finally here, I'm lying on my bed, frozen, because I'm terrified to lie to my mom.
"Chloe," Reina prods. "What did we say?"
I sigh. "We said that the plan is for the greater good."
"Right, so put your mom on the phone. I'll pretend to be my mom, and I'll tell her you're staying at my house for the week like we planned. You'll go to your audition and she'll never know the difference."
I roll over and cover my face with my pillow. "But what if it doesn't work?"
Reina gasps. "Are you seriously doubting my natural-born thespian talent?"
"I don't mean that," I say. Reina takes being an actress very seriously. She's a chameleon who can be anything, anyone. I've witnessed her imitate her mom's Dominican accent more times than I can count, so I have no doubt she'll be convincing. "I mean, what if we're lying to her for no reason? What if I get to the audition and I freeze up, or I get lost on the highway, or I forget to put on deodorant and my armpits stink every time I lift my arms, or —"
"CHLOE." Reina's voice cuts through my downward spiral. "Put your mom on the phone or you can kiss your dreams of being a professional ballerina good-bye."
That makes me jerk out of bed. "Hold on."
I walk to my mom's room and take a deep breath before I open her door. I never lie to her. Ever. I've never had a reason to. I'm a girl who goes to school, goes to dance class, has only one best friend, and watches YouTube clips of ballet performances from the 1970s for fun. I don't even have a curfew because I never go anywhere. I especially never drive alone to another state for a dance audition without telling my mom.
This is a mistake. The worst idea I've ever had. In the dictionary, you will see my photograph right next to the word idiotic because —
"Hey, baby," Mom says, opening her bedroom door. "Do you have Reina's mom on the phone?"
"Yes." My voice is high-pitched like I just sucked helium out of a balloon.
"Okay." She looks at the phone in my hand, waiting. Quickly, before I can change my mind, I place it in her palm.
"Hello?" Mom says as she presses the phone to her ear. "Yes, hi, Camila. I'm doing well. How are you?"
I let out a shaky breath. Mom walks toward her bed, and I follow her, stepping around the open suitcase and clothes strewn across her floor. This morning she's leaving for a weeklong cruise with her boyfriend. This is nothing short of a miracle. The only time Mom ever leaves New Jersey is when she's taking me to ballet class in Philadelphia.
I sit on the edge of her bed as she crouches down to throw more clothes in her suitcase. "I don't want Chloe to be a burden to you," she says to Mrs. Acosta/Reina. "I'm really grateful that you're letting her stay with you while I'm away." She reaches up and pushes her long braids out of her face. They're so tight that if she moves her head too quickly, she winces in pain. She usually wears her hair in a short Afro. I walk over and tie her braids into a ponytail. She smiles at me gratefully. I feel another pang of guilt, and I turn away because I'm afraid she'll know something is up just by looking at me.
It's April and this week is spring break. Mom thinks I'll be spending it around the corner at Reina's house. Reina is actually spending the week working at a kids' theater day camp, and today I'm really auditioning for a spot with Avery Johnson's ballet conservatory, a preprofessional dance school for teens. I'll spend the rest of the week at home, most likely replaying the audition over and over in my mind. Although the audition is in Washington, D.C., the conservatory is in New York City, a city that Mom would never let me live in by myself. To be honest, I don't think she'll ever let me live anywhere alone. No matter how old I get.
I don't want to lie to her, but I have to. Last month, Miss Dana, my ballet teacher at the Philadelphia Center for Dance, pulled me aside and showed me the conservatory audition schedule.
"You need to be there, Chloe," she said, pointing to the New York City audition date. She leaned forward and lowered her voice. "If you do well, there's a chance they'll offer you an apprenticeship with the company."
Me, Chloe Pierce, a seventeen-year-old Black girl living in the middle of nowhere, New Jersey, could spend all of senior year in New York City, learning from Avery Johnson, the youngest Black dancer to start his own ballet company, and now his own conservatory? And afterward, if I was offered an apprenticeship with the company, I'd be one step closer to becoming a professional.
"And thanks to a few generous donors, the conservatory is offering scholarships to everyone accepted in its first year," Miss Dana continued. "Your mom won't have to pay a cent. You should take this chance, Chloe."
I looked down at the scar on my left ankle and felt doubtful.
"You've trained so hard these past few months," Miss Dana went on. "You've got to do it."
She was right. There was no way I would pass up auditioning for Avery Johnson.
It's too bad Mom wasn't on the same page. She wasn't excited about the audition. Instead, she tried her best to conceal a horrified expression when Miss Dana spoke to her after class.
"New York City isn't really in our plans," she said.
Miss Dana looked as disappointed as I felt. She'd trained me for this moment since I was thirteen. She tried to convince Mom that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The conservatory was only for high school students. I wouldn't be able to audition next spring, as a senior. But Mom wasn't swayed.
"I'd really appreciate it if you could help Chloe look into some college dance programs," she said. "Maybe at some of the colleges nearby."
College? Why would I want to go to college when I could be a professional ballerina? Why would I waste all the time I spent working so hard? All the physical therapy and tears.
"But — Mom —" I stammered. My mouth opened and closed like a dying fish's.
"No," she said firmly. And that was that.
Miss Dana slipped the schedule into my hand as Mom and I left. "In case she changes her mind," she whispered.
But I knew Mom wouldn't change her mind. She has her reasons for wanting to keep me close. My dad died in a car accident when I was three years old, and I think she has this irrational fear that something just as terrible will happen to me. It doesn't help that a year and a half ago, I nearly got hit by a car and ended up with a broken ankle. After my ankle healed, Mom almost didn't let me come back to ballet because she thought I'd be under too much pressure. Her tendency to be cautious had never really bothered me until I realized she definitely wouldn't let me move to New York City alone, even if it meant my dreams would be crushed.
A few nights after the New York City audition came and went, I sat on my bed and stared at the Avery Johnson poster on my ceiling and wondered why I even bothered going to ballet class anymore. When I started to cry, something weird happened. The poster fell from the ceiling and drifted right into my lap. It looked like Avery was staring up at me, telling me it was going to be okay. The next morning, Mom's boyfriend, Jean-Marc, surprised her with a vacation, and to everyone's surprise, she actually agreed to go. I took it as a sign.
Avery Johnson and his team will be holding auditions in different cities this week. D.C., Raleigh, Atlanta, and all across the country. Once Mom and Jean-Marc leave today, I'm driving to the Washington, D.C., audition.
"Knock, knock." Jean-Marc pokes his head in the doorway just as Mom ends her phone call. He crosses the room in three strides and scoops Mom up in his big arms.
"Are you ready for vacation?"
"Yes." Mom giggles as he sets her down.
Like always, I'm struck by how much younger and carefree she seems whenever Jean-Marc is around. She's dated other people here and there since my dad died, but she's been with Jean-Marc the longest.
Jean-Marc turns his attention to me, and as he walks closer, I realize that his T-shirt is decorated with small coconut trees.
"Someone's feeling festive," I say.
"Don't be jealous." He plops down on the edge of the bed next to me, and it creaks under his weight. Jean-Marc is huge. Almost three times my size. I'm not even kidding. He was a bodybuilder when he lived in Haiti, but he stopped once he moved here. Like Mom, he's an emergency room nurse, and he's one of the gentlest people I've ever met. He's the type of person who gets excited when he enters contests to win a brand-new sports car or vacations to Tahiti. He's probably entered, and lost, thousands of contests. It's like a hobby. But that changed a couple weeks ago when he won two free tickets to a cruise in the Caribbean. Part of me thinks this is the only reason Mom decided to go.
Right now, she's pacing around the room, muttering to herself. She pauses and bites her lip, something she does when she's nervous. Jean-Marc sighs and walks over to zip up her suitcase. "Carol, we need to go. If we don't leave now, we'll miss our flight. The meter is running."
And I'll be late to my audition because I can't leave until you're gone.
"Okay," Mom says. She grabs her Bible from her bedside table and drops it inside her suitcase.
Jean-Marc reaches for the suitcase, but Mom swats his hand away. "Just let me check one more time to make sure I have everything."
He reaches again, and this time he grabs it and lifts the suitcase high out of her reach.
"No, no, no," he says. "I'm not spending all of my vacation money on the taxi before he's even taken us to the airport. We have to actually make it to Florida in order to get on the cruise ship."
He leaves the room, and seconds later, his big feet pound down the stairs. Mom stares at her doorway, then looks at me. Her lips slowly shift into a frown.
"I don't know about this, baby," she says.
My stomach drops. "Know about what?"
"I can't leave you here alone. I'm not comfortable with it." She rubs a hand over her face and looks around her room. "Maybe we can wait until summer, when I have enough money to bring you with us." She stares at a spot on the wall, still frowning. "Yes, that's what I'll do. This is silly, leaving you here for a week."
"No!" I jump up, and Mom startles. "You have to go. When's the last time you went on vacation?"
She waves me off. "I can always plan another vacation."
She heads for the stairs. I have to do something to stop her, to change her mind.
I grab her shoulders and turn her to face me. "If you don't go, I'll blame myself. Jean-Marc is so excited about this trip. You know he's never won anything before. If you don't go, you'll break his heart, and I'll have to live with the fact that it was because of me."
She blinks. I'm definitely laying the dramatics on thick right now, but I have to do what I have to do.
"I'll be fine," I continue. "I've stayed at Reina's plenty of times. Her parents will take care of me. Mrs. Acosta said so herself."
Mom sighs. "I know, but I'll still be worried about you. I know how you get with your nightmares. I don't want you to have dreams about something bad happening to me every night."
I hug her so she'll stop talking, and I feel her tense shoulders relax.
When I pull away, she looks at me closely. People always comment on how similar we look. We're the same height and have the same brown eyes and medium-brown complexion. But I know that when she looks at me, she sees traces of my dad. I wonder what it must feel like to see the person you've lost and the person you could lose all at once. I lay my head on her shoulder so she can't see the guilt on my face.
"I'll be fine," I repeat.
Jean-Marc calls for her again. We break apart, and I follow her outside. Jean-Marc and the taxi driver are piling their suitcases into the trunk. The taxi driver says something to Jean-Marc in Creole, and they burst into laughter.
Mom abruptly freezes and sprints back toward the house, yelling that she forgot her makeup bag. Jean-Marc groans, and he and the taxi driver continue their conversation.
There's a sudden commotion at the house directly across the street. I watch as the screen door swings open, and Geezer, my neighbor's pit bull, gallops down the porch steps as fast as his old legs will allow. Then Eli Greene, AKA the worst person on the planet, steps outside, and he looks up and down the street. He pauses when his eyes land on me. I suck in a breath and wait for him to turn away like he usually does, but he lifts his hand ... and waves.
Is he waving at me?
Not possible. We haven't spoken in over a year. I glance at JeanMarc and the taxi driver. Neither is looking in Eli's direction. When I look back at Eli — as if I didn't see him the first time — he waves again.
Okay. This is weird. And suspicious. I'm so stunned that without thinking, I actually lift my hand and wave back. Oh my God. Why did I just do that? I shouldn't be waving at Eli! He's public enemy number one and I don't want him thinking otherwise.
The sun is in my eyes, so I'm not exactly sure if this is true, but it looks like Eli is smiling. Smiling. What is happening? And why am I just becoming conscious of the fact that I stepped outside in my pink heart-print pajamas, still wearing a hair bonnet?
Flustered, I spin around and collide with Mom. She tosses her makeup bag into the back seat of the taxi.
"I'll try to find a way to call you from the cruise ship," she says, but we both know she probably won't be able to. Apparently, getting Wi-Fi on cruises is really expensive, and Mom and Jean-Marc don't plan on spending any unnecessary money during this free vacation.
She stands there, uncertainty clouding her features. For a moment, I'm afraid she's going to try to cancel the trip again. "And if anything goes wrong at the Acostas', Ms. Linda doesn't mind if you stay with her. Our flight lands Sunday evening, so we'll be back in time for Easter dinner."
She goes through all the emergency and safety protocols. If Ms. Linda doesn't answer, I should call her coworker, Eileen. Watch my surroundings. Always carry a little bit of cash, don't just rely on my debit card. If someone tries to rob me, throw my purse and run. I've heard this speech so many times I can recite it word for word.
"Don't throw any wild parties while we're gone," Jean-Marc says, winking, giving me a hug good-bye.
I smile. "I promise I won't. You guys go ahead. You'll miss your flight."
"Please take care of yourself," Mom says.
She hugs me again and climbs into the back seat. Jean-Marc slides in next to her. They lean out of the window and wave as they drive away. Mom still looks worried. I wave back until they turn the corner and I can't see them anymore.
Against my better judgment, I glance across the street. Eli is still there, pacing back and forth with his phone pressed to his ear.
I don't have time to wonder why he smiled at me. Or to wonder about him at all. I turn around and race back into the house. D.C. is three hours away, and I have to be there by two p.m. It's only ten a.m. now, but I hate the highway — and driving, in general — so I want to give myself extra time.
I tear up the stairs to my room and drag the duffel bag with all my dance gear from underneath my bed. I throw off my pajamas and slide on my pink tights and my new purple leotard. I put on my scuffed purple high-top Chucks to match. I quickly take off my bonnet and brush my hair into a topknot.
Before I leave my room, I stand on my bed and jump up to kiss my Avery Johnson poster for good luck. Then I go to my dresser and kiss my favorite photo of my dad standing in front of our house, cradling baby me in his arms. He's smiling at Mom, who's holding the camera. Mom always says that he was a good dancer, and that's where I get it from. She also says that he was clumsy, but I didn't get that gene. Sometimes I envy that she has so many memories of him when I don't have any. I'd like to think that if he were here, he'd give me a kiss for good luck, too.
I run downstairs, but when I grab the doorknob, I pause. Is it really worth going to D.C. and lying to Mom?
I imagine myself at the audition, in a room full of dancers who didn't spend seven months out of the studio to have surgery and then rehabilitate. Dancers who, unlike me, are in top-notch form. But then I imagine myself a year and a half from now, sitting in a college classroom, learning about things that have nothing at all to do with ballet. The kind of life I don't want.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "I Wanna Be Where You Are"
Copyright © 2019 Kristina Forest.
Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1. For the Greater Good,
Chapter 2. A Favor for a Favor,
Chapter 3. Road Trip,
Chapter 4. The World's Smallest Circus,
Chapter 5. Game Plan,
Chapter 6. Eli Has an Idea,
Chapter 7. Promises,
Chapter 8. Reunited and It Feels So Good?,
Chapter 9. Be Social,
Chapter 10. Self-Defense,
Chapter 11. Our Nation's Capital,
Chapter 12. Frenemies: A History,
Chapter 13. The Radcliffe Hotel,
Chapter 14. The Nobleman,
Chapter 15. Secrets Revealed,
Chapter 16. Wishes for Daughters,
Chapter 17. It Starts Here,
Chapter 18. Dance Is Art,
Chapter 19. Starting Over,
Chapter 20. Audition Day,
Chapter 21. Merde,
Chapter 22. Eli Has Another Idea,
Chapter 23. Mr. Greene,
Chapter 24. Life's a Beach,
Chapter 25. Eavesdrop,
Chapter 26. Lost and Found,
Chapter 27. Now or Never,
Chapter 28. Quarantined,
Chapter 29. The Miserables,
Chapter 30. Resurrection Day,
Chapter 31. A Philosophy,
Chapter 32. Pas De Deux,
Chapter 33. Message,
Chapter 34. Promenade,
Chloe's Prom Playlist,
About the Author,