|Publisher:||Little, Brown Books for Young Readers|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
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I DON'T KNOW HOW THE WARRIORS DO IT. After walking three miles on the Lakefront Trail on the hottest day on earth, I'm sweating like a pig, even with the cooling assist from Lake Michigan. Every inch of my body is a moist, stinky mess, and I hate even thinking the word "moist." What is the point of wearing moisture-wicking workout gear if you still end up looking like you just crawled out of the world's most polluted ocean? Heroes don't have this problem. They could emerge from a burning building, carrying multiple victims on their backs, and barely drip a drop, able to save lives and be camera-ready seconds later. It's so freaking amazing. I love them so much.
"Claire, are we almost done here?" my best friend, Demi, asks, wrestling a tangled web of dog leashes attached to a pack of five panting pooches. I told her I'd help with her dog-walking business today but didn't exactly mention how far I planned to go. "I don't think the dogs can make it much farther in this heat. And honestly my shorts are beyond wedged up my butt."
"I know, I'm sorry," I say, watching an English bulldog drool all over the Lakefront Trail and melt under the blazing sun. It's only the first day of summer break, but Chicago weather can never just ease into a new season. It's either freezing cold or unbearably hot, with little to no in-between. "Just ... five more minutes? Please? I really need to make this happen today, or else they might not pick me. And then my life would be over. You don't want to end my existence, do you?" I bat my lashes, giving an innocent smile.
Demi groans, sitting down as she pulls out yet another water bottle from her custom-designed dog-walking vest to quench the thirsty pups. She's a one-stop shop for doggy needs, with treats, poop bags, tennis balls, and more tucked into those meticulously planned pockets. "Ask me again when I'm not responsible for the well-being of all these rich people's dogs." From another pocket she grabs cooling towelettes, which she rubs on the dogs' bellies, much to their delight. I kind of wish she would offer one to me, but I already know I'm pushing my luck. "Why couldn't you just get a normal internship that doesn't make you jump through all these hoops? I would've hired you full-time this summer."
"Because normal is boring," I say, wiping my face with my shirt. "Heroes are never boring, and neither are we."
She sticks her tongue out at me, and I teasingly mirror the expression. In a world full of superpowers, us nobodies must work extra hard to stay in the game. Not that I'd consider myself a nobody, but I certainly can't crush concrete with my bare hands or jump ten city blocks in seconds flat. I used to dream I'd wake up one day and suddenly be able to scale walls with suction-cup fingertips or zap opponents with a literally withering stare, but my origin story is sadly void of any supernatural plot twists. The average hero's powers develop during childhood, and since I'm seventeen, I guess that ship has sailed. I could cry about it (and, okay, I definitely have), but eventually, you have to make the best with what you've been dealt. It doesn't mean I'm a nobody. It just means I have to go the extra mile to be somebody.
Which is why I'm out here today, dripping sweat in humid air that's so thick, it feels like breathing in clam chowder, all to make a lifelong dream come true. Last week I found out I was in the FINALS for a Warrior Nation summer internship, and the interview process has been grueling. Not only did I have to submit a background check and application (complete with six letters of recommendation and three essays on what heroism, service, and community mean to me), but I've also undergone countless aptitude tests in logic, problem solving, cognitive ability, and more. While each test has been thrilling, they've all been completed remotely, with no in-person assessments or interviews yet. Just seeing official Warrior Nation correspondence in my inbox has been enough to make my heart explode, but I'm ready to take it to the next level.
What at first seemed like an impossible goal is now so close I can taste it, and every bar I clear, every test I ace, brings me that much closer to connecting with the greatest, most amazing organization the world has ever known. I can't fail now, especially when I'm so close! I may not have super strength, X-ray vision, or any real tangible power like traditional heroes, but if they could just meet me, they'd see what a smart, strong, kick-ass contribution to the team I would be. They'd have to. I JUST KNOW IT.
Warrior Nation is rumored to have a giant headquarters hidden underneath the city, with entrances scattered throughout Chicago so heroes can safely escape into the underground lair that spans the loop. The final internship round is to try and find one of the secret passageways. Which is no small feat! People have been looking for these entrances for years. In the past couple weeks, I have personally visited each and every theorized entrance, only to turn up empty-handed. And time is running out. But I won't give up. I won't!
I take a seat next to Demi, who has successfully managed to keep the pups comfortable. They crowd around her, happily slobbering on her bare chestnut legs like she's the best human to have ever lived. She definitely has the whole dog-whisperer thing down, which will come in handy, since she wants to be a vet someday. "So, where are you headed, anyway?" she asks, stroking an enthusiastic pug. "Since you hijacked our walk and all."
"Well, since you're wondering ..." As a golden retriever tail fans my face, I pull out my Warrior Nation guidebook — or grail diary, as I like to call it — to check my notes. "North Avenue Beach."
My grail diary is absolutely bulging with Post-its and scraps of paper; I can only close it with a leather cord I wrap around the outside. This isn't some cheap "ultimate fan" hero book written by a novice and sold at Walmart — no, it's a lifetime-in-the- making collection of Warrior Nation specs, lore, charts, and drawings. Every hero throughout the decades, every fan theory worth its weight, is cataloged in these pages, and I'm going to use them to my benefit. Last night I read on WarriorHunt.com — one of my favorite WarNat fansites — that there's a hidden HQ entrance somewhere near the North Avenue boathouse, which is where I'm headed today. I doubt Warrior Nation would place an escape route in such a visible, touristy area, but I have to check it out, just to cross it off my list. I couldn't live with myself if this DID turn out to be the one rumor that was true.
Demi shakes her head, pulling her dreadlocks up into a ponytail. "Nope, too far. I'm almost out of water, and I need to take these dogs home, anyway, since my next walk is starting in forty minutes."
"How many walks are you doing today?" I ask.
She looks up, mentally reviewing her schedule. "Ten. Fifty dogs total."
"Yeah. Veterinary school isn't going to pay for itself."
I laugh, though I shouldn't be surprised she's tripled her dog-walking business now that school's out. Demi is the most ambitious person I know, myself not included. We've been battling it out for valedictorian ever since freshman year, trying to one-up each other by adding on new clubs and academic organizations to lead. It wasn't until sophomore year, when we were running against each other as president for National Honor Society, that we decided to ditch the rivalry because we'd be more powerful as allies. It was like two supervillains teaming up for ultimate domination, and I loved it. She's been my best friend ever since, even if she is currently in the lead for valedictorian by one-tenth of a point. Don't worry, there's still all of senior year for me to beat her.
"Okay, well, thanks for totally abandoning me in my moment of need," I joke, petting the bulldog's wrinkly head.
"Oh, please." She rolls her eyes. "If Warrior Nation doesn't pick you for this internship, I'm sure you'll pester them to death with an angry letter campaign, just like you did when the academic decathlon timed out your final math equation."
"They were in the wrong and they knew it!" I shout while Demi rounds up her canine friends.
"Text me if you find anything!" she calls as the dogs pull her back up the trail. I wave, happy that she came with me this far. Demi may not be a WarNat, but she gets prestige when she sees it. We've both been working on our college application essays since eighth grade, and landing this internship would put me over the top at any university. But that's not why I'm doing it. In fact, even though I've toured schools with Demi and have stacks of university brochures on my desk, I have no intention of going to college. Working for Warrior Nation — to be one of them — is my true purpose, the only thing I want to devote real energy toward.
Tucking my grail diary back in my bag, I stop at a fountain, splashing water all over my face and hair, thankful that I recently shaved down the undercut on the right side of my head, leaving me with less weight in the tangled bun hanging limp on my neck. I originally got an undercut because Demi dared me to, saying I needed to upgrade my "basic brownnoser" look, and while it definitely did accomplish that, I now have no idea how to ever grow it out, so I guess this is my look for life. The other half of my long wavy locks are dyed dark purple; I would've done blue to match the Warrior Nation logo, but worried it'd give off a hypothermia vibe. Ahead on the trail I spot a massive boat-shaped building hugging the shoreline, which puts some extra pep in my step. I pick up the pace, letting the red-white-and-blue vessel act as my finish line.
It is so hot, but the scenery can't be beat with the mix of high-rises glittering on my right to the lapping waves of Lake Michigan on my left. Once I reach North Avenue Beach, I start canvassing the perimeter of the boathouse, which was designed to look like an ocean liner washed ashore. Out on the sand, scantily clad bodies play beach volleyball, splash in the waves, and drink brightly colored beverages with little umbrellas poking out. B96 blares from a random speaker, prompting people to sway to the pop beats. But now is not the time to soak up the sun: I need to focus.
Taking on the role of a hero anthropologist, I get to work, carefully observing the double-decker boat, weaving in and out of the people buying overpriced chicken fingers and sunscreen. I run my hands over the concrete walls, looking for cracks in the foundation or levers hidden in plain sight. Heroes are all about hiding in plain sight: secret identities and whatnot. They spend their whole lives living a double existence, both proudly in the public eye and quietly amongst the rest of us. I mean, there could be a hero standing around us right now, fully absorbed in their civilian persona, pretending to be in awe of this wannabe Titanic. I'd like to think I could spot a hero even when they are Clark Kent–ing it, though. I certainly spend enough time scrolling through forums and fansites to have every available scrap of Warrior Nation info implanted in my brain.
Of course, out of all the heroes in all the world, the one I'd want to find most is Blue Streak. The legend. The inspiration. The man who started it all for me. Blue Streak! God, I love him. All the heroes give me life, but he's the beating heart, pulsing in my veins every day. No other hero in any chapter can even aspire to the bravery and selflessness he's exhibited over the past several decades. He's the oldest, most decorated Warrior ever to have lived, and if you ask me (which you should because I'm the expert), he's the greatest American hero of all time.
Just thinking of bumping into him now — his strong, commanding frame draped in iconic red-white-and-blue spandex and cape — gives me goose bumps, and the reality of meeting a real-life hero sets in. If I stumble upon an HQ entrance today like I desperately need to do, I could be face-to-face with one of my idols. Ahh! Excitement and nerves tangle together in my chest: Even though I have several drafts of my "What to Say to a Hero" speech in my grail diary, each composed for different kinds of encounters (being rescued, being recognized as the official WarNat Club president, etc.), I suddenly can't remember any of the words and my heart races at the thought of being caught off guard. If unprepared, I'll revert to a fangirl freak-out, and I have to show them I am different than the average squealing WarNat.
I take a beat, sitting against the cool concrete while flipping to my written speech. Taking deep breaths, I review my carefully composed "Meeting a Hero as Equals" speech:
Hello, my name is Claire Rice, and I am so honored to meet you. Your service and heroism has inspired me to commit my life to community, and I hope to one day join your ranks. ...
I run the words over and over in my head, their clarity resetting the hysteria in my head and helping me resume my mission. But after thirty more minutes of exploring, my search comes up fruitless. Fake fish in decorative nets laugh at me as my thoughts return to their usual question: Where are you, Warrior Nation? Please reveal yourself to me! I'm worthy, I swear!
My phone buzzes with a text:
Hi hon! How's it going? Any luck yet?
Oh, Mom. She's just as excited about this and almost called off work today to help me. But we can't really afford a missed day of work, so I've been trying to live-text my progress.
Not yet, but I'm not giving up
Never cease, never cower!
Nice, the Warrior Nation creed. She's the best. I can't let her down.
I've poked my head through every porthole and looked for clues in every room, though ... maybe there's a trapdoor on the top of the boat? Actually, that would make sense! An entrance only a hero could spot from the air! It's genius!
Two red ocean-liner funnels stare down at me, taunting me with possibility. A bold "DO NOT CLIMB" sign also stares me down, challenging my rule-following heart. Upholding a model-citizen status gives me another advantage for Warrior Nation recruitment, but even heroes have to break the rules sometimes in the pursuit of justice, right? I grab hold of a pole, sneakers screeching as I try to shimmy up to the roof, which is more than challenging, seeing as how my physical abilities cannot compete with my academic prowess. My upper arms quiver in resistance, but after a couple pathetic attempts, I manage to pull myself onto the roof, only to find I'm not alone at the top.
"Hey!" a voice calls, and before I know it, an exceptionally strong girl is balling up the front of my sweaty tank in her fist, hoisting me an inch off the ground like it's nothing. Her nose hovers just above mine as I screech in fear, her bright blue eyes squinting in disapproval. "Who are you? Who sent you? Are you part of the siege?"
Still catching my breath from my awkward climb, I gasp, "Do I look like a person who's conducting a siege?" My toes dangle over the edge of the roof, and I grab her arms in desperation. I really don't have time to break a limb today. "Please put me down!"
Brows pinched, she sneers. "Hmm, lucky for you I'm not supposed to apprehend suspects just yet." Setting me down, she releases the death grip on my top and steps back to observe my trembling body with a smirk. "Besides, I don't think a real siege against the city would involve a shrimpy teen girl."
"Shrimpy?" I readjust my shirt over my admittedly lanky frame, pointing my chin up to give me some extra height. Who does this girl think she is? I mean, super-scary strength aside, she's wearing a freaking jean jacket on the hottest day on earth and doesn't even look like she's dripping a drop. I'll never understand people who don't dress seasonably appropriate and yet don't suffer the consequences, like Chicagoans who break out the flip-flops the second the snow melts. She stands there, extremely self-satisfied with her non-sweaty long blond hair and smudge-free white shorts, and I immediately decide this girl embodies all the flawless, annoying popular people at school who float through life without ever having to face the problems we mortals do every day. Ugh. What is she even doing on top of this fake boat right now? Wait a minute. ... "Why are you up here?"
Taken aback, she crosses her arms. "Why are you?"
Suddenly I freeze, the real stakes of this random encounter hitting me hard. There's only one reason this wannabe badass is climbing around the North Ave beach house on the hottest day imaginable: She must be out for the internship too! NO! I won't let her win.
"Something's off about you ..." the girl says, head tilting to the side as a golden curl falls over her shoulder. Her tanned skin shimmers in the sun, free of the red heat splotches my peachy arms and legs are covered in. Annoying. "You know something, don't you?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Super Adjacent"
Copyright © 2020 Crystal Cestari.
Excerpted by permission of Disney Book Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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