"Reinhardt writes wonderfully about delicate, precarious human relationships, articulating dynamics I never noticed but which ring brilliantly true. The Goldens radiate charm, but beneath their charm is heartbreak, ambition, and delusion. There is so much to dissect and discuss here: this book will leave crowds of people eager to talk about the ending."--E. Lockhart, author of We Were Liars and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Nell worships her older sister, Layla. They're one unit, intertwined: Nellayla. As Nell and her best friend, Felix, start their freshman year in high school, on Layla's turf, there's so much Nell looks forward to: Joining Layla on the varsity soccer team. Parties. Boys. Adventures.
But the year takes a very different turn.
Layla is changing, withdrawing. She's hiding something, and when Nell discovers what it is, and the consequences it might have, she struggles. She wants to support Layla, to be her confidante, to be the good sister she's always been. But with so much at stake, what secrets should she keep? What lies should she tell?
Award-winning young adult author Dana Reinhardt explores questions of loyalty, love, and betrayal in this provocative and intimate novel.
|Publisher:||Random House Children's Books|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||2 MB|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
There's something I need to tell you.
Don't be mad.
Please. Please don't be mad. I hate it when you're mad at me.
Have you ever woken in the middle of the night, and for just a second you don't know where you are, or the shape of the room, or if you even belong in this world? Yes. I know you have because we used to share a bedroom, and I've heard the sharp intake of your breath. The scrambling through tangled sheets. The blind searching until you realize you're home, in your own bed, and that you're you.
Well, that's the sort of feeling I get when you're mad at me, but it lasts for much longer than a breath and a scramble through sheets; it lasts until I know you're not mad anymore. When things are right between us, that's when I feel like me.
It's always been this way; we know the family joke. When I first learned to talk I called myself Nellayla.
You were so much a part of me I thought we shared a name until you told me: "I am Layla," and you tapped your chest, then reached out to touch mine. "You are Nell."
I'm sure this rattled my tiny universe. Swept the ground right out from beneath my chubby, uncertain legs. I know this because it's how I feel now when you have to spell out the ways we're not the same.
What divides us is clear to the world around us but has always been murky to me.
Nellayla. The family joke. One of the only things the four of us can still laugh about together.
But is it funny?
Or do I laugh because that's what you taught me to do?
I counted on this being the best year of my life. I say this even though I know it's foolish to count on anything, that all sorts of stuff happens we never see coming.
I never imagined Mom and Dad would divorce when I was five. Or that we'd give up dolls, or that you'd want to sleep in your own room, or that I'd have bigger boobs than you. I never imagined that boys as beautiful and perfect as Parker and Duncan Creed could die, but they did, and their parents sold their house and we never spent Christmas there again.
Still, even though I knew better, there were things I looked forward to, hoped for. I believed my freshman year at City Day would kick some serious ass.
My last two years at Pine Academy were fine. I'd been there since kindergarten, and of course I had Felix, but I couldn't wait to start City Day and be Layla's little sister again.
You know all those movies where the kids go to their first day of high school? They walk down the hall and people stare at them, or don't stare, which is sort of worse. Or maybe they wear the wrong clothes, say dumb things, choose the worst place to sit at lunch, and so they become the target of the unspeakably evil cool kids. Etc. Etc. Cliche, cliche.
Yeah, well, those movies always seemed pretty fake to me. The villains and the heroes too simple and obvious when there's probably a little of both in every one of us. And also: none of the kids in those movies had an older sister like you.
Mom dropped us off that morning. Remember? You wanted to drive. Mom said that even if she didn't need her car to get to work, and even if she was crazy enough to lend it to someone whose license was still wet with ink, where on earth would you park it?
That's Mom. The Fun Killer.
If we'd been with Dad the night before that first day, he'd probably have given us the keys to his convertible, and donuts for breakfast.
That's Dad. The Fungineer.
Heroes and villains. It's not that simple.
Felix was waiting out front on the sidewalk. I knew it was Felix, even though he wore a flat-brim baseball cap, the kind he mocked. I'd know Felix if I woke in the middle of the night not sure where or who I was.
"Hello, lovely ladies." He tipped his ridiculous hat.
You gave him a quick hug and he blushed. You did this because you know that beneath his cool exterior he burns for you with the intensity of a thousand white-hot suns, to quote some Shakespeare.
This should bother me, but come on. How could Felix not harbor a passion for you? You're Layla. Beautiful and brilliant and kind and funny with a good head on your shoulders.
That's what everyone always says: Layla has a good head on her shoulders.
Mom and Dad. Gramma and Gramps. Your first-grade teacher even wrote it on your report card.
I used to think this referred to your actual head and its auburn curls. I'd look in the mirror--why wasn't my head good on my shoulders? Hair too stick-straight? Too many freckles?
Of course, I now know having a good head on your shoulders means that someone is careful, cautious, makes good decisions, and knows right from wrong. Once, this was true of you.
I knew City Day. You'd been there for two years, and sometimes I got to join you at school. The community potluck. The musical your freshman year, when you worked on the lighting crew. The student art open house in the spring, where I ate cold Brie on stale crackers while you showed us your self-portrait in charcoal. A face I knew better than my own stared back with sorrowful, faraway eyes. The next spring you molded your torso in clay. Stunning, but a little too generous in the breast department if you'd asked me, and too skimpy in the waist. It made Dad blush.
I wondered if that was who you wished you were and how you could ever want to be anything other than who you are. I look back and I can see how much you put into your art, how hard you tried, how deeply you felt, and now I know why.
But I didn't see it then.
Maybe you didn't either.
And of course, there was soccer. I only missed your games if I had to play with my team. Standing on the sidelines and shouting "Go, Lightning!" and wearing my purple and gray City Day beanie made me feel part of the school. I could see a flickering image of a future me, the only freshman on the varsity team, warming up the bench.
Hey. This was my fantasy, so why wasn't I sprinting downfield to score the winning goal with a perfect high-to-the-right-corner left-footed kick? Because I'm a realist. I try not to waste my time imagining impossible things.
But I did dream of making the team, and that didn't feel so out of reach because I've always been a damn good player--the leading scorer on the eighth-grade team, cocaptain, MVP--and you've been talking me up to the coach since you made varsity your sophomore year. Coach Jarvis loves you. So why wouldn't she want another--younger--version of you on the team?
That first day you left me in the hallway to head upstairs to your first class--US History, I'd already memorized your schedule--and said, "Don't forget about tryouts today."
I laughed. Forget?
"So that's who you've decided to be," Felix said to me as he watched you walk away. "The jock? The sporty type? Didn't you get the memo that this is a hipster-urban high school? We're supposed to go gender-bendy and write ironic poetry and whatever. We're not supposed to try out for organized sports."
"I'm not a jock, per se," I said, though explaining myself to Felix felt like a waste of precious people-watching minutes. "I'm just good at soccer."
"First of all, don't say per se. And second, I'm good at math. Do you see me signing up for the math club? No. Because I will not be pigeonholed as the math nerd."
See? Even Felix, one of the smartest people I know, believes those stupid movies about high school.
"You're unpigeonholeable, Felix," I said. "Just look at your stupid hat. I'd never have pegged you for a fashion slut."
We stood in the hallway and compared schedules. We had only one class together. Spanish I. Spanish is my Achilles' heel and Felix's native tongue. He declined to point this out when he registered for classes because he's an evil genius, and he figured why not get one free pass in a school as academically rigorous as City Day? And whoever makes the schedules didn't question why Felix De La Cruz was in Spanish I, because that sort of assumption is verboten in politically correct City Day.
A win for Felix, and a win for me, because I had every intention of making him do my homework.
We walked together to freshman orientation in the gym. It felt good to have someone to sit next to, someone to be seen with, because most people didn't yet know that I was Layla Golden's little sister.
I recognized some faces. There were two other kids from Pine Academy, but neither of them were friends of ours. There were some girls I knew from the soccer field and there was Hugh Feldman, the son of a colleague of Dad's, who he tried to force-friend on me when we were in second grade. Remember? It backfired because Hugh pulled down his pants when they came over for brunch and Dad freaked out. So ridiculous. Who cares if you wear pants or not in second grade?
I stared at Hugh Feldman across the gym and imagined him pulling down his pants right then, in the middle of freshman orientation, and it made me giggle. Felix whispered, "What's so funny?" but I didn't tell him because I didn't want him to think I was a big perv.
My classes were okay. I liked English the best, obviously. The syllabus surprised me. We'd be reading books that I knew had things like sex and drugs and bad language, and that was when it first hit me that I was in high school. There would be freedom. There would be choices. There would be blurred boundaries. You know this because you're over halfway done here, but I'm wondering now if it's a mistake, if maybe we shouldn't be expected to find our own way, or put away childish things. Maybe we still need someone to hold our hand.
I looked for you at lunch. No luck. I sat with Marina Baker, whose team we beat 2 to 1 in the finals last season. She's good, but honestly, I wasn't too worried about her when it came to the varsity benchwarming spot with my name on it.
I thought about Parker and Duncan Creed, those poor dead brothers. Sometimes I found myself talking to them, like how when I was younger I used to talk to my stuffed animals. That first day I imagined them seated across the cafeteria, waving me over, gesturing to the empty chair at their table. Sit with us, they'd say. Whenever I thought about high school, I pictured beautiful, perfect boys like them. Not the acne-prone, greasy-haired boys with humongous Adam's apples who filled the seats around me.
Anyway, I know I'm going on and on, but it just feels good to go back and remember a time when I still thought I was starting what would be the best year of my life. When there were all kinds of possibilities, plans, things to count on.
But now life has killed the dream I dreamed, or whatever that line is from Les Miserables, the musical I sat through three nights in a row just because you were in charge of turning on and off the lights.
I made the team.
I'll probably never know if I made it because I'm your sister or because Coach Jarvis saw my potential, but I don't really care.
I know I'm supposed to want to be judged for who I am and what I can do, but I've never minded being judged for you.
Everyone was really nice to me at tryouts. They know me from my sideline cheering and from pizza parties at Dad's. They joked about what should be printed on the back of my jersey. Little Golden? Golden #2?
Felix watched from the bleachers. He said he'd decided to walk home through the park and stumbled upon us in our purple and gray sweats, but I knew he was worried about me. He understood I'd take it hard if I didn't make the cut. But also, I knew he liked watching you. And the other girls on the team.
Coach Jarvis didn't post the results until the next day, but as I sat on the grass unlacing my cleats and slipping off my shin guards, she said, "Nice work out there, N. Golden," and I knew that meant Go home, relax, you have nothing to worry about.
N. Golden. That's what it says on my jersey. Does yours say L. Golden? No, it does not. We both know that you are The Original Golden. You don't need a qualifier.
Mom and Dad fought hard for you. They didn't meet until they were in their midthirties, and then for years they enjoyed their lives as a cohabitating couple with lots of pocket change. They had successful careers and took fancy vacations. They lavished attention on their Bernese mountain dog, who perished, thankfully, before I joined the family because as you know, I'm terrified of dogs, especially big ones.
As Mom approached the big 4-0 it struck them that they might like to have a baby. That's how Gramma tells it. She makes it sound like they were characters in a cartoon comic strip who one day realize what every reader knew all along. Thought balloon: BABY.
So: Quick trip to City Hall. Sad little bouquet of white Gerbera daisies. Wedding lunch at Zuni Cafe. Then years spent trying to get pregnant. Doctors. Tests. Pills. Hormone shots. Dad depositing his contribution into a little plastic cup, but God knows neither of us wants to think about that, so let's forget I said anything. Several rounds of IVF and voila: The Original Golden.
Perfect Baby Layla.
Damn if your pictures aren't cute. So smiley and round and wide-eyed. If Mom and Dad had less class, they'd probably have pimped you out to sell teething biscuits or wet wipes. They say you hardly cried, and I don't think parents lie about that sort of thing. You slept through the night at four weeks.
Finally, they had it all.
And then, eight months later: surprise.
Sometimes I think you willed me into existence. Took a look around and thought I don't want to do this on my own. I need backup.