Clara Shin lives for pranks and disruption. When she takes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck, the KoBra, alongside her uptight classmate Rose Carver. Not the carefree summer Clara had imagined. But maybe Rose isn't so bad. Maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) crushing on her is pretty cute. Maybe Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means that Clara has to leave her old self behind? With Maurene Goo's signature warmth and humor, The Way You Make Me Feel is a relatable story of falling in love and finding yourself in the places you’d never thought to look.
Praise for The Way You Make Me Feel:
“With massive amounts of humor, heart, and soul, this love letter to L.A. and its diversity is a celebration of friends, family, and food trucks.” Booklist, starred review
“A spirited teenager learns about the meaning of love, friendship, and family. . .Snappy dialogue and an endearing cast of characters bring to life this richly-drawn portrait of multicultural LA.” Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
This paper plane was near perfect.
Crisp edges, a pointy nose, and just the right weight. I held it up, closing my left eye to aim it toward the stage. Rose Carver and her short-brimmed black hat were in fine form today, a perfect target, her face lit up beatifically by the stage lights. As she went on about junior prom announcements, I grew more focused.
"Clara, aim it at her face."
My eyes swept over to Patrick Keen sitting next to me. He was slouched so far down in his seat that his chin was touching his chest, his long, pale limbs folded into an impossible position.
"That's not how I roll, jerk," I said.
"Yeah, we're here for the giggles, not tears," Felix Benavides whispered from my other side. He looked at me for approval when he said it, eyebrow arched.
Sometimes these two really knew how to kill a joke. Glancing around the auditorium to make sure no teachers were watching, I lifted the plane into my line of vision ...
I startled, the paper plane dropping by my feet with a clatter. The voice had come over the speakers. Why was Rose saying my name up there?
I cupped my hands around my mouth and bellowed, "WHAT?" It reverberated off the wood-paneled walls and high ceilings.
Rose rolled her eyes and exhaled into the microphone, making it squawk. "I just said you're nominated for junior prom queen." She held up a piece of paper and stared at it, in disbelief at the words she was seeing.
Patrick and Felix burst out laughing and then reached over me to high-five each other. Oh my GOD. "I'm going to kill you guys," I hissed. As people swiveled their heads to look over at me, I started to form an idea.
Rose cleared her throat into the microphone. "Anyway, the other nominees are —"
I stood up, making the folded upholstered seat bounce loudly as it closed. "Thanks, Rose!" I hollered. She frowned, then squinted into the audience to see what I was doing. I remained standing, then held up my arms dramatically. "And thank you, student body, for this honor." I projected my voice as I looked around. I saw a few teachers get up. Need to make this quick.
"Thank you for letting me into your hearts. And now, my promise to you: if I get voted prom queen, there will be some much-needed changes made to Elysian High ..."
Rose's voice interrupted me from the speakers. "You don't get to do anything if you win prom queen. It's not like being class president!" she scoffed into the microphone. She would know; she was junior class president.
"Regardless!" My voice boomed. "I will promise you all one thing ... as Queen Clara." I racked my brain for what, the improvisation making me buzz. Then, an idea struck. I motioned for Patrick to hand me my backpack. He tossed it to me, and I reached into the front zippered pocket. "I promise that us girls will not be prisoners to our bodies! We will have equal rights!" Some girls cheered in the audience.
Rose spoke again. "We do have equal —"
"So, in the spirit of feminism and equality — THERE WILL BE FREE TAMPONS FOR ALL!" I yelled, releasing fistfuls of my tampons into the crowd. Good thing I had just bought a new box that morning. Yellow-patterned, regular-flow — they flew into the air and landed on the heads and laps of the people in the rows around me. The laughter came in waves, and girls sprang out of their seats to pick up tampons off the floor, some chasing them as they rolled down the aisles. Boys threw them at one another. More teachers stood up to calm everyone down. Rose Carver stomped offstage in a huff.
The disruption and mayhem fed my soul, and I looked around the auditorium triumphantly.
"Aren't you glad we nominated you?" Felix asked, popping a toothpick into his mouth and grinning. Felix thought chewing on toothpicks made him look like James Dean or something.
I shrugged. "It made things interesting."
I looked down the row of seats toward the voice of my young, white homeroom teacher, Mr. Sinclair. I threw him a wide smile. "Hey, Mr. S."
"Hey, yourself. I'm reporting you to the principal, let's go." Because these assemblies were always held during homeroom, Mr. Sinclair was left in charge of me. Lucky him.
Patrick let out a low whistle. "I'll go with you, Mr. S." He winked at him.
Young, handsome Mr. Sinclair, with the chiseled jaw and thick blond hair, rolled his eyes. "Not this time. Clara. Now." He adjusted his tortoiseshell glasses, a nerdy little signature gesture that made everyone in his classes swoon.
I grabbed my backpack and took my sweet time walking by everyone in my row to get to him. The audience was already starting to disperse when I followed Mr. Sinclair down the aisle toward the double doors.
"Nice stunt," Mr. Sinclair said as we wove through the streams of students headed out of the auditorium.
"I live to please."
He shook his head. "Aren't you sick of detention by now?"
"Nope, can't get enough."
"Why can't you channel that smart-mouth into your schoolwork?"
The May Los Angeles sunshine blinded me the second we stepped outside, and I pulled on my mirrored aviators. "Are you saying I'm smart?"
Before he could answer, someone called out my name from behind us. I turned around and made a face. It was Rose Carver.
Tall, graceful, and precise in her movements, Rose walked briskly over to me. Her skinny jeans fit her dancer's legs like a glove, her floral-print blouse was tucked in, and the pixie cut under her hat showed off her delicate features. Rose looked like a long-lost Obama daughter.
When she reached me, I was annoyed that I had to look up at her. "What?" I asked.
Her expression was focused and determined. I could feel the bossiness rolling off her in waves.
I hated Rose Carver.
She jabbed a finger into my shoulder. "You need to shut this down."
"Shut what down?"
"This whole prom-queen thing. You had your fun.
Tampons, hardy har har," she said, throwing her head back. Then she focused her laserlike eyes on me again. "Now, drop out of the running and let someone who actually cares have a chance to win."
Her condescension was like manna from the gods. I squinted up at her. "You mean, someone like you?"
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, or anyone else, really."
"You're so selfless, always thinking about the greater good," I said with a smile.
Her eyes closed briefly, as if she was harnessing all that impeccable self-control exercised by high-achieving ballerinas everywhere. "I didn't spend months as the head of the prom committee only to have you make a joke out of the whole thing." The thought of spending months caring about prom was suffocating.
I stood on my tippy-toes to try to be at eye level with her. "I'm not going to apologize for you wasting your social life on prom." Her eyes flashed and I continued, "You know, I was considering dropping out. But you just made me change my mind."
"Clara, Rose. That's enough," Mr. Sinclair said. "Let's go."
I patted Rose's arm before walking away. "See you at prom, Rose."
From behind me, I heard her shout, "You're such a child!"
I continued down the familiar path toward the principal's office.CHAPTER 2
There weren't enough hot dogs and Flamin' Hot Cheetos in the world to satiate Patrick and Felix. After my inevitable detention that afternoon, I met up with them at one of the thousands of 7-Elevens in Los Angeles, this one on Echo Park's main drag — Sunset Boulevard, a few blocks away from Elysian High.
Despite what it means to popular culture, Sunset Boulevard isn't a glamorous street littered with movie stars driving around in convertibles or something. For one thing, Sunset runs here all the way from the beach. It's like twenty-two miles long. It starts at the Pacific Coast Highway, passes by mansions near UCLA, gross clubs and comedy bars in West Hollywood, tourist traps in Hollywood, strip malls with Thai food and laundromats in East Hollywood, juice shops and overpriced boho boutiques in Silver Lake, and then lands here in Echo Park, another quickly gentrifying eastside neighborhood full of coffee shops and taquerias.
When I got to the 7-Eleven, the AC hit me with an icy blast as I stepped inside, the electronic bell chiming. Patrick and Felix were picking out change from their wallets to pay for their hot dogs, and Felix's girlfriend, Cynthia Vartanyan, was there, too. She sat in front of the magazine rack, her skinny, crossed legs encased in sheer black tights, her long, thick black hair tucked into a knit beanie, her fingers flipping through the latest issue of Rolling Stone. Of course. She was one of those insufferable snobs who pieced together a personality with obscure music facts.
We didn't get along. One, because Felix was my ex-boyfriend from freshman year, and she couldn't hang with that no matter how many years it had been. Two, my favorite thing to do around her was ask if she'd ever heard of X band — a band that was always on the radio. The self-control needed on her end not to go off on some pretentious rant about mainstream music was amazing.
"Hey, kids." I dropped my backpack down next to Cynthia, and she looked up at me with a small, tight smile.
"Please keep your belongings on your person!" barked Warren, the gawky and perpetually greasy-haired clerk.
I opened a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and popped one in my mouth. "Only if you ask nicely, babe." He flushed but let it go. Warren secretly loved having us hang out here. Once, we ran off a potential robber by throwing candy bars at him and screaming until the guy dropped his switchblade and bolted. There was an unspoken rule from that day on that we were allowed to loiter for as long as we wanted. And that's literally all we did. Hang out at 7-Eleven. My adolescence would end up being represented by a variety of Frito-Lay products.
"What's up, future prom queen?" Patrick asked before taking a huge bite out of his hot dog. Patrick probably ate more calories in a day than Michael Phelps, but he still looked like a Goth scarecrow.
I tossed a chip at his head. "Thanks for that."
Felix grinned, his teeth straight, white, and slightly vampiric. "It was a last-minute stroke of genius." Like me, Felix lived for pranks and disruption. Compact and graceful, he was basically a male, Mexican American me, but with much better personal grooming habits. And that's what ultimately killed our relationship — turns out when both people in a couple are stubborn and easily bored, things get tiresome, fast.
And if there was one thing that bonded the three of us, it was the ease of our friendship. There was never any drama or conflict. We existed in a carefully balanced ecosystem of chill — while making sure we kept things interesting, always.
And normally something like running for prom queen would be considered too much work. I looked at Patrick and Felix, who had gotten me into this mess. "You know, this backfired on you guys. I was going to drop out, but then freaking Rose Carver confronted me after the assembly," I said, swinging myself up on the counter by the coffee machine.
I blew Warren a kiss. "Just keepin' it warm." He harrumphed but continued to organize cigarettes.
Patrick frowned. "What did Overlord Carver have to say?"
"I should drop out since I don't really care about winning."
Felix plopped down next to Cynthia and tossed an arm across her shoulders. "Who does?"
Cynthia snorted as she snuggled into Felix. "Dorks."
Felix and Patrick laughed, and I let out a brief guffaw. Something about Cynthia's jokes never flew with me, but I knew if I didn't laugh I'd hear it from Felix later. He was always asking me to be nicer to her, as if we should naturally be friends by our gender alone. Or by the fact that we've both had his tongue down our throats.
"So, are we gonna do this? Really?" Felix asked.
I nodded. "Yup, good job, bozos. We're in this now."
"All right. I guess we've gotta up our campaign game," Patrick said, tossing the foil hot dog wrapper into the trash. "Signs, slogan, the whole eight yards."
My eyelid twitched. "Nine yards."
He shrugged. Precision was not Patrick's strong suit. He was funny, though — quick to abuse his slim body to make us laugh, and a pitch-perfect impersonator who once made me pee my pants during a school play by imitating the lead's nasal voice, which had vibrated with phlegm on every vowel. I was never bored with Patrick.
I leaned back against the wall. "Can I just be the pretty face of the campaign?"
"Consider us your campaign managers," Felix said, feeding Cynthia some Sour Patch Kids. Ugh. While Patrick and Felix brainstormed ways to win me the junior prom crown, I flipped through a celebrity tabloid magazine, making Warren rate all the outfits.
* * *
The smell of frying fish hit me the second I stepped into my apartment. Although I had eaten an entire bag of Doritos (topped off with Red Vines) mere minutes ago, my stomach grumbled with hunger.
Nineties hip-hop was blasting, and my dad was in the kitchen, fanning the smoke detector with a dish towel. Our cat, Flo, hid under the sofa, her striped tail poofed like a raccoon's and sticking out in plain view.
"Pai, it smells like all the grease in the world came here to die," I said, flinging some windows open to air the apartment out.
"You're such a poet, Shorty," he said as he tucked the towel into his back pocket and checked the pans on the stove before facing me to ruffle my hair — long, unruly, and growing out of its lavender dye job on the bottom.
"What's for dinner?" I asked. I peered over his shoulder.
"Fried catfish. I found a cool recipe that uses a batter inspired by KFC's secret recipe," he said, adjusting the splatter guard on one of the pans.
I swiped a bottle of some fancy root beer on the counter and took a sip. "Uh, like Kentucky Fried Chicken KFC?"
"No, the other one, Kentucky Fried Corn."
Root beer bubbled into my nose as I laughed. My dad hit my back, hard, when I started to choke.
My dad, Adrian, was always experimenting with recipes. As the owner and chef of a food truck, that was pretty much his job. Since before I was born, he'd always worked at various restaurants, starting off as a busboy when he first immigrated here from Brazil ("Adrian" was the Americanized "Adriano"). My clearest childhood memories were the nights when, after his late shift, my dad would pick me up from my babysitter's and carry me home on his shoulders as I dozed off. Finally, two years ago, he had saved up enough money to open his own food truck, the KoBra — a literal and metaphorical merging of Korea and Brazil. My grandparents had made the trek from Seoul to São Paulo, a city with an established Korean immigrant population, where my dad was born. Months before I was born, my parents packed up for LA.
The food was symbolic of my dad's upbringing. People were always confused by my dad's Korean face and Portuguese-accented English. It helped with the ladies, though, which was gross.
While it hadn't been a wild overnight success, the KoBra had a pretty loyal following. My dad's dream, though, was to open a restaurant. He was hoping the KoBra could springboard that.
I pulled myself up onto the counter and swung my legs back and forth as I watched him cook. "Guess what?"
"What?" He drizzled some olive oil on a neat row of green beans laid in a cast-iron pan.
"I got nominated for junior prom queen."
He looked at me quizzically, a half smile on his face. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah, Patrick and Felix nominated me, and somehow I'm on the prom court. Which means people get to vote on whether or not I become prom queen."
My dad cackled as he opened the oven and slid the pan of beans onto a rack. "You? Prom queen? I would pay good money to see that."
"I know, right? Anyway, I wasn't going to take it seriously until this uptight B literally ordered me to drop out. So I'm going to stay in the game."
He closed the oven and grinned at me as he straightened up and wiped his hands on the dish towel. "Ah, my Clara, always shaking things up." My dad pronounced my name differently from everyone else, Clahhra instead of Clerra.
"You know it," I said.
I shrugged. "I dunno. Probably soon since school's almost over."
"Time flies, Shorty. I can't believe you'll be graduating high school next year. Makes me feel old."
I snorted. "You're like two decades younger than everyone else's dads." My dad was only thirty-four; he had me when he was eighteen, just a couple of years older than I was right now. Patrick called us the Gilmore Girls.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Way You Make Me Feel"
Copyright © 2018 Maurene Goo.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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