Waverly Camdenmar spends her nights running until she can’t even think. Then the sun comes up, life goes on, and Waverly goes back to her perfectly hateful best friend, her perfectly dull classes, and the tiny, nagging suspicion that there’s more to life than student council and GPAs.
Marshall Holt is a loser. He drinks on school nights and gets stoned in the park. He is at risk of not graduating, he does not care, he is no one. He is not even close to being in Waverly’s world.
But then one night Waverly falls asleep and dreams herself into Marshall’s bedroom—and when the sun comes up, nothing in her life can ever be the same. In Waverly’s dreams, the rules have changed. But in her days, she’ll have to decide if it’s worth losing everything for a boy who barely exists.
"Waverly and Marshall burn brightly . . . both refreshingly flawed as they come into their own. Readers will forgo sleep themselves to witness their vibrant, achingly real story unfold. A brilliant romance." —Kirkus Reviews, Starred
"A tightly woven, luminously written novel that captures the uncertain nature of high school and the difficult path of self-discovery." —Booklist, Starred
"Yovanoff offers a multilayered exploration of human connections, particularly those that manifest in unpredictable ways."—Publishers Weekly, Starred
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There’s something awful about the sun.
It rockets up from the horizon like a hot-air balloon. One minute, you’re looking at the shy, glowing sliver of it. The next, it’s glaring down at you like the wrath of God.
Sometimes, if you spend too many nights staring at the clock, it gets hard to tell what’s real and when you’re only anthropomorphizing.
Every day, I walk myself through the sequence of events, trace my way back through the hours. If one moment logically follows another, that means it’s actually happening.
It is 1:23 in the afternoon. I’m at my desk in Mrs. Denning’s Spanish class, behind Caitie Price and in front of CJ Borsen, because that’s where I sit.
I’m in Spanish because I have officially exceeded the allowable quota of French offered at Henry Morgan and I’m running out of elective options. It was this or home decorating. Sometimes when you show too much initiative, they have trouble knowing where to put you.
We’re demystifying sports and activities, waxing inarticulate about our hobbies. So far, we have five aspiring musicians, three football players, and a handful of ill-motivated boys who enjoy taking apart cars and putting them together again.
My book is open to the chapter on Deportes y Pasatiempos and I know it’s not a dream because the letters don’t slide off the page. I know the answers to the review questions, and when Mrs. Denning calls on me, I know that I will not tell the truth about my recreational activity.
At the front of the room, she’s wringing her hands, trying to figure out how her life went so wrong. “Emily,” she says, looking hopeless, “how about you? What are some of your hobbies?”
There is a fantasy and it is this: during class, Mrs. Denning only speaks to us in Spanish. It couldn’t sustain itself. Like all best-laid plans, it collapsed early, crumbling under the weight of its own ambition.
“Me gusta bailar,” says Emily Orlowski, and then goes back to painting Olivia Tatum’s fingernails with Wite-Out.
Dutifully, I picture them dancing—a savage riot of eyeliner and cleavage.
“Very good,” says Mrs. Denning, in a voice that implies it is not good at all and is, in fact, kind of horrifying.
Using her desk as a barricade, she settles on the back row. “Marshall? Would you like to tell us about your favorite recreational activity?”
Marshall Holt looks up. Then, just as fast, he stares back down at his desk and says in an impeccably accented monotone, “Me gusta jugar a los bolos con mis amigos.”
Mrs. Denning leans forward, sincerely convinced that he is not mocking her. “Bueno. Y a donde juegas a los bolos?”
“En el parque.”
I enjoy bowling with my friends in the park. Brilliant. Marshall Holt, you are a genius. Also, mature.
Around us, people are snickering into their textbooks. Mrs. Denning is still watching Marshall in this sad, hopeful way, like she might eventually see the punch line.
For a second, he almost looks contrite, but the damage is done. She wilts, fidgeting with the plastic cup that holds her pens, searching the room for someone who won’t betray her.
“Waverly, can you tell us another recreational activity?”
I am the bright, shining face she fixes on so she doesn’t feel like she’s drowning. So full of promise, so full of hope. Waverly will tell you the square root of any perfect number and how to conjugate the verb quemar. Yes, Waverly knows all about immolation. What is the significance of Bastille Day and who can list three thematic elements of The Metamorphosis?
Waverly will never tell you that her primary hobby is getting stoned in the play tunnel at Basset Park on a weeknight.
Waverly is a good, good girl.
Waverly is so virtuous it makes you want to die.
I keep my hands folded on my desk. People are looking at me now, looking at my helpful expression, my neat hair, thinking how good, how sweet, how nice. How fucking perfect. Thinking, who does she think she is?
When I answer, my voice sounds thin and almost doubtful. “Me gusta correr.”
Wrong, says the girl in my head. Incorrect. Woefully inaccurate. I run, but not because it pleases me. What gives me pleasure doesn’t enter into it. I run because the nights are long, and because I can’t not run.
When the lights go out and the moon goes down, I slip out the french doors and through the gate. Down Breaker Street and along the median. I turn onto Buehler and let out my stride. From Buehler, I head for that one unreachable point on the horizon. Sometimes I run for miles.
Behind her desk, Mrs. Denning smiles. “Gracias, Waverly.”
I make up a little postulate and write it down. Theorem of Perfection. The effectiveness of your persona is inversely proportional to what people know about you. I provide an illustrated example: two diverging trajectories, racing away from each other on the graph.
There are two Waverlys. One is well groomed, academically unparalleled, reasonably attractive, and runs the cross-country course at Basset in under eighteen minutes. Sixteen point five on a good day.
The other is a secret.
Secret Waverly is the one who never sleeps.
Maribeth Whitman is my best friend in the whole world, forever and ever, if you believe in that kind of thing.
The Watson to my Crick, the Donner to my Blitzen. We’ve taken all the same AP classes, joined all the same clubs, know all the same corollaries and equations and scandals. We have been making bracelets out of rainbow-colored string since kindergarten.
When I fight my way down the language arts hall and into our locker bay, she throws herself at me, arms flung wide, and even though the bay is full of roughly half the junior class and I hate being touchy-feely where people can see it, I reach back and let myself lean into her.
Maribeth knows how to arrange all her features to maximum effect. Her face is so sweet that if you look at her for too long, your teeth decay in spongy black patches, like time-lapse photography. Her hair is the kind of blond that makes you picture halos made out of kittens.
“God,” she says, tucking my bangs behind my ear. “Your smile’s malfunctioning again. Have you even been sleeping at all?”
I adjust my mouth to look pleasant and spin my combination lock. “Some.” Which is the literal truth. I’ve been averaging roughly three hours a night.
She fishes a pencil from her bag and starts flipping through her notebook for a clean page. “Better get that sorted out if you don’t want to look like the walking dead for homecoming. So, you’ll be at the thing tonight, right?”
“Unless someone from cross-country sets practice on fire. No, wait—that’s Huns. Yeah, I’ll be there.”
Her forehead wrinkles as she adds my name to her list, pencil scraping diligently across the page, and it’s remarkable how well I know her—how she’ll always make her notes in pencil, not because she ever needs to erase anything, but because pencils can be sharpened to a very fine point, and when she says thing, she means the dance-planning meeting. Just like she knows that I don’t always sleep and I think siege jokes are funny even when no one else does. That my natural habitat is so deep inside my own head I don’t always remember what expression I should be wearing.
With a conspiratorial smile, she leans so that her cheek is almost touching mine. “I think I’m making headway on the dance committee—for real, this time. You’re going to be so proud of me.”
This is the fascinating territory where Maribeth and I overlap. My greatest utility is my understanding of patterns and hierarchies. Hers is her relentless commitment to winning.
She taps the notebook. “I got Loring’s minions to agree to have the meeting at my house instead of hers, and possession is nine-tenths of the law. Now, tell me I’m good.”
There are two Maribeths, but unlike second Waverly, second Maribeth reveals herself to certain individuals at certain opportune times. If you are privy to her covert, secret identity, this does not make you lucky or special. The second Maribeth is a flaming bitch.
Her hand is nestled in the crook of my elbow and she smells like permanent markers and vanilla frosting.
Loring has been in charge of every nonathletic extracurricular event for our class since freshman year, and for the exact same span of time, she has always been terrible at it. That and her conspicuous lack of guile make her ripe for supplanting.
“I don’t know if you know this,” Maribeth says, giving my arm an emphatic squeeze. “But we’re about to own every social function from now until graduation.”
There is a single, perfect syllable forming in my mouth, unbidden. Why? Why are we focusing on this? Why is this desirable? Why are you so obsessed with organizing things?
But I don’t have to ask why, because I know.
The dance-planning committee is something you submit to. The payout is another extracurricular activity to go on your Ivy League applications.
Your GPA is not enough. Your intelligence and your commitment are not enough. Cross-country means drive and discipline, the violin means that you do in fact have a soul. The food-drive committee means a devotion to service and community. Formal dance committee means that you are not socially defective.
Maribeth is drawing up her agenda for the meeting, pontificating on how we need to start making posters.
I am not listening.
I’m thinking about Loring and her wide, earnest smile. Her way of focusing intently, trying devotedly, and then failing. About all the ill-fated Lorings before her and the ways that Maribeth dismantles them.
“Come on,” she says, reaching for my arm. “I have to fix my face before Chem so Hunter will ask me to the movies this weekend.”
Machiavelli became enamored with Cesare Borgia because Borgia’s ruthlessness fascinated him.
Maribeth Whitman is the most ruthless girl I know.
In the west hall bathroom, a few underclassmen are clustered around the sinks, but when we shoulder between them, they shuffle dutifully out of the way. They understand the pecking order, and it’s only October.
I watch as Maribeth applies lip gloss in a cheerful rosebud, then digs in her bag for a brush.
She was the one who told me in elementary school that people thought I was weird. Too quiet, too serious. “You should smile more,” she said one day when we were in fifth grade, waiting in line for tetherball during recess.
“Why?” I said. “It’s not like anything’s wrong. I just don’t feel like it.”
And Maribeth had looked at me like I was some kind of new species, her head tipped to one side.
“Well, you don’t have to feel like it,” she said. “Smiling’s on the outside. When you smile, it’s for someone else.”
Which, as revelations went, was kind of mind-blowing. I decided, there on the playground, watching Caitie Price lose her tetherball round to Cynthia Lopez who was a head taller, that maybe this was the whole point of extroverts—they understood how the outside worked.
Maribeth leans close to the mirror and rakes her fingers through her hair. Her gaze is shrewd, her paddle brush poised, but there’s nothing there that needs fixing.
She goes to work on herself anyway while I stand by the paper towel dispensers, studying the collection of highly confessional graffiti that covers the spill wall floor-to-ceiling. This is where people come to tell their secrets. No names, no identifiers, but a wide variety of pens.
Some of the secrets are not secrets (Mr. Cordrey has nose hair). Some are too sad to contemplate and so no one acknowledges or mentions them.
Most are just the hard, ugly things that people feel, but no one says. Things like:
I only like guys who are completely uninterested. If they start to like me back, I crush on someone else. What if I’m alone forever?
I wish I was skinny. If I was, though, I know I’d be a total slut.
I think I lost my virginity on Saturday, but I can’t remember for sure and I don’t want to ask him.
The warning bell rings and Maribeth turns, leaning back against the sink. “I look good, right? I want Hunter to be intractably smitten.”
Her hair is a shining curtain of Nordic genes and ambition. On the wall by the soap dispenser, someone has written in a cascading scrawl:
The first letter of each word is printed in oversized capitals that align vertically to spell out FINE.
At my elbow, Maribeth is squinting at her reflection again, like something about it displeases her, even though she looks fine. Everything is fine.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Strong beautiful writing with developed characters, but there's very little story to put the characters in. It's a book full of characterization but very little to put it into context, and of what there is, it's the same high school cliches you've heard and seen before. There isn't much background to the magical realism, and while it sometimes doesn't need explaining, it feels like there's a gaping hole here without it in this one. I wanted to love it, but there just wasn't enough for me to grab onto.
"I start, because if I don't, then everything just stays the same." -- "I thought he made me a different person altogether, but maybe I was always holding those pieces inside me, waiting for a chance to use them." Waverly Camdenmar doesn't sleep. She runs instead going as fast and as far as her legs will allow until she can't think and the only option is collapse. Then the sun comes up, she pastes on her best face, and pretends everything is normal. It's easy to hide behind her academic achievements and the popularity her best friend Maribeth so covets. Marshall Holt is too apathetic to pretend anything is normal in his life or even remotely okay. Neither has been true about his family or his life for quite some time. He doesn't care because he's busy trying to lose himself in the oblivion of drinking too much, smoking too much, and making too many bad decisions. It's been working great so far except for the whole maybe not graduating thing. Waverly and Marshall are used to watching each other from afar--a little wary and a little hungry--but never anything more. Not until Waverly's attempt at deep relaxation dreams her into Marshall's bedroom and everything changes. Now when the sun comes up Waverly's carefully ordered world is stifling instead of safe. After years of trying not to feel anything, Marshall is feeling far too much. Waverly and Marshall thought they knew exactly who they were and who they could be. Now neither of them is sure what that means in Places No One Knows (2016) by Brenna Yovanoff. Yovanoff's latest standalone novel is a razor sharp blend of contemporary and magic realism alternating between Waverly and Marshall's first person narration. This character driven novel focuses on the way their two personalities clash and intersect throughout their strange encounters. Waverly is analytical and pragmatic. She knows that she is the smartest person in the room and she doesn't care if that makes her threatening. Her sometime friends describe Waverly as a sociopath or a robot and she feels like she should care about that but it also seems to require too much effort. Marshall, by contrast, is hyper-sensitive and philosophical and impractical. He doesn't want to care about the way his family is falling apart or the way everything else in his life is crumbling. But he does care. A lot. And it's wrecking him. At its core Places No One Knows is a story about how two people engage with each other and also the greater world. Yovanoff's writing is flawless with deliberate structure and scathing commentary both as a whole and on a sentence-by-sentence level. This story subverts gender roles and societal norms all in the guise of a slightly unconventional love story. Places No One Knows is an excellent novel filled with fascinating characters. Although Waverly and Marshall's relationship is a centerpiece of the story both characters also have their own stories to tell and their own journeys to make, which sometimes mirror each other and sometimes diverge, as they struggle to make the active choice to save themselves. Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt
Where to begin with Places No One Knows? It’s about a girl who can’t sleep and the literal boy of her dreams. It’s about a boy who feels too much and all the ways he tries to dull it. It’s about pain and the different ways of coping with it. It’s about high school and heartache and heading committees. Through it all is this tiny thread of something else, because the girl who cannot sleep sees the boy who cannot stop feeling when she lights a candle and counts down from eleven. And in that in-between place, both feel realer than they ever do in actual life. Brenna Yovanoff constructs a high school love story without using the cliche elements of the high school love story. She develops a world so real it feels like you just left it yesterday, or maybe only an hour ago. Her descriptions--not just of the two main characters, Marshall and Waverly, but of everyone--create unique individuals you can remember from your own group of friends or high school careers, or, at the very least, imagine sitting next to you, even if you’ve never met them. Brena Yovanoff’s Places No One Knows is perfection bound in a pink dust cover. It is a book you never want to be interrupted from, a story you finish and then flip over so you can immediately read it again. It’s haunting beauty will stand defiantly on your shelf of seemingly similar YA and pull your attention to it again and again. I never thought I'd be able to answer this impossible question, but after reading this book I can now say with certainty what my favourite book is. Cliche time--Places No One Knows is quite simply a must-read.
**Thank you so much to the publisher for allowing me to read this in exchange for an honest review!** As soon as I heard about this book, I knew that I'd have to check it out because I read and loved Brenna Yovanoff's The Replacement in the past. It was the perfect twist of confusing and contemporary, just like Places No One Knows. The story follows Waverly who is one of the more popular girls in school along with her best friend. The thing is, Waverly is too smart to be part of the popular crowd. She knows how messed up and dumb it can be, yet she stays a part of it just for fun. She just goes along with whatever her best friend tells her to do. However, that all starts to change after she meets Marshall who is one of the people that Waverly never thought she'd ever talk to. He drinks all the time and doesn't try hard in school. Yet, as the two hang out a lot, things begin to change. I really liked Waverly as a character. She was interesting because even though she was really popular, she was super smart and saw through a lot of what people were doing. I also just liked the way that she handled herself on a day to day basis. I didn't like Marshall at first, though the more that I got to know him, the more I liked him. He was going through a lot in his life which just made me appreciate him as a character more. He also began to change a lot through the book which was very wonderful to see. I know that a lot of people might finish this book and say that it's confusing, which it definitely was at times. I think that's just part of Brenna Yovanoff's signature. You get confused but you're still so intrigued so the book is still amazing because the concept is kind of hard to wrap your head around. However, I'm here to tell you that this book is still worth reading despite that. The characters are just so interesting and lovable that you won't want to put the book down. Plus, the writing was impeccable.