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By Alexa Martin
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Format:ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
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Then Amanda enters her orbit like a hot-pink meteor, offering Charlotte a ticket to popularity. Amanda is fearless, beautiful, and rich. As her new sidekick, Charlotte is brought into the elite clique of the debate team-and closer to Neal, the most perfect boy she has ever seen.
Senior year is finally looking up. . . .or is it? The more things heat up between Charlotte and Neal, the more he wants to keep their relationship a secret. Is he ashamed? Meanwhile, Amanda is starting to act strangely competitive. Could Charlotte’s new BFF be hiding something?
A riveting debut novel full of magnetic characters, romantic intrigue, and dark humor, Girl Wonder is a poignant story of first love, jealousy, and friendship that will keep readers rooting for Charlotte until the very end.
Copyright © 2011 by Alexa Martin
All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.
For Connie Martin, the best mother and cheerleader a girl could ever have. You taught me the importance of having dreams. Thanks for never letting me quit, and for carrying me through the hardest parts.
And for Larry Martin, my father, a brilliant story- teller who read to me often when I was a little girl. Your Oscar-worthy character voices helped me to internalize the rhythm of language, and when I started to read, the words became movies in my mind.
“You kids are lucky,” my father said, putting on his blinker and turning down the lane to the Barclay School. “Moving isn’t easy, but it sure gives you a real jump start on life.”
Closing my eyes, I imagined those ski jumpers from the Olympics bulleting down an icy ramp, shoving upward to launch, the loud whack their skis made when they hit the ground.
As I recalled, a lot of them fell when they finally landed.
My dad rolled down his window. “You smell that?”
“The pine trees, you mean?” James Henry asked.
My father chuckled. “That’s the smell of money, son. They don’t cut corners at a place like this.” The Barclay School was spectacular. If you didn’t know any better, you might think it was a resort. The buildings were made of wood and stone and had enormous glass windows. There were tennis courts. The lawns of the athletic fields were immaculately groomed and bordered by giant cedar trees. According to the glossy admissions catalog, the school’s sports and academic teams were respected nationwide.
A pack of guys jogged by us, headed in the opposite direction. They wore silver and navy tracksuits and looked as sleek as thoroughbred racehorses.
One of them waved at us. He was tall and muscular, and looked like he might be cute. “That’s Milton!” James Henry exclaimed.
I flipped around in my seat to look at my brother, lowering my sunglasses over my nose. “We’ve lived out here all of three days. How can you possibly know anyone yet? And what kind of name is Milton?”
“Why are you wearing sunglasses?” he asked. “It’s not even sunny.”
My dad pointed. “Hey. Check out that sign.”
CAUTION: FUTURE LEADERS OF AMERICA AT PLAY!
Crossing my arms, I sank down in my seat. Unlike my brother—who’d been offered a scholarship to every private school in Seattle—I was not a future leader of America. Because of my math scores, the Barclay School had rejected me.
After dozens of arguments, I’d finally convinced my parents to let me go to a public school. I was ready for a change. I was ready for boys. And, quite frankly, I didn’t want to deal with the anguish of another rejection letter.
“Know where you’re going?” Dad asked my brother as we pulled up to the main middle-school building.
James Henry grinned. “I memorized the map.”
“Of course you did,” I muttered.
“Good luck today, Charlotte,” he said, scrambling out of the car.
“Yeah, yeah.” Smiling weakly, I waved him away.
James Henry. Boy genius. At the tender age of almost twelve, he understood calculus. Teachers were always talking about what a privilege it was to teach him. I’d probably hate the kid if it weren’t for the fact of his size. There were eight-year-olds who were bigger than my brother. To compensate for his smallness, he spiked his hair with gel, wore lug-soled hiking boots, rode a skateboard, and played the drums.
Still, in spite of his best efforts, I suspected James Henry was no stranger to bullying. Back in Florida, he’d get these texts sometimes that would make his face turn green. He never told us what they said, but you could tell they weren’t of the warm-and-fuzzy variety. More than once in our old neighborhood I’d overheard some kids calling my brother a fag.
A horn honked. My dad moved the car forward, then stopped.
“Are we waiting for something?” I asked.
“How about you drive?”
My stomach sank. “Or how about not?”
Ignoring me, he got out and walked around to the passenger side. Reluctantly, I traded places with him, convinced that everyone was staring. “You remember the basics, right?” He made this motion with his hands—the right representing the gas pedal, the left representing the clutch. “It’s all about finding the sweet spot.”
“Now’s not really a good time,” I mumbled.
“There’s never going to be a perfect time, Charlotte,” he said. “You’ve got to learn.”
It was no use arguing with my dad. Now that he was a published author, he thought he was the authority on everything. Just being around him lately gave me an eye twitch. I swallowed a couple of times, cracked my neck to loosen up, and positioned my feet.
“You’ll want to look at the road, not at your shoes,” he said.
Letting off the clutch, I gave the car gas. The Audi—his new I’m-an-important-person-now-and-I-deserve-nice-things purchase —shot forward…and died.
“Jesus, Charlotte, you’ve got to be more careful. How many times have I told you—gas first, clutch second.”
“I told you,” I snapped. “I can’t do this!”
Without speaking, we traded places again. A wad of bird crap splattered the windshield as we left the Barclay School. The day could only get better. Right?
A short while later, we turned into the entrance of Shady Grove High School. The building was gritty and its façade was crumbling. The students I saw walking around had angry looks on their faces. My stomach dropped. Instantly I felt like “other.”
“Let me out here,” I told my dad.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “We’re almost to the front door.”
I slid my sunglasses down over my eyes. On second thought, the day could get worse in a hurry.
* * *
“There must be some kind of mistake,” I said, sliding my class schedule across the desk to the guidance counselor. “I’m supposed to be in the gifted and talented program.”
The woman—one of those ageless types with dusty gray-brown hair—pursed her lips and plugged something into her computer. Then she shook her head. “I’m sorry, but there’s no mistake. Your math scores didn’t qualify—”
“Oh. That. I have a learning disability. It affects how I see numbers. I explained that in my application.”
“You’re a special-needs student?”
“No!” I took a deep breath to calm myself. “Look—I talked to this guy on the phone? He said it was fine about the math, that I could at least take gifted and talented English and History.”
She seemed taken aback. “To whom did you talk to? Mike Burke?” When I nodded, she said, “He no longer works here. The gifted and talented educational program is a school within a school. Students are either in all of those classes or none of those classes.”
“I’ll take them all. I can get a math tutor,” I said, trying to keep the panic out of my voice.
“There’s a long waiting list for GATE.”
“That’s short for gifted and talented education,” she said, making me feel very ungifted and untalented for asking.
The guidance counselor beckoned suddenly to someone behind me. Turning around, I saw a girl about my age. She was rail thin with limp brown hair, braces, and clothes that looked downright cultish. “Hello, Mimi,” the guidance counselor said. “I hope you had a nice summer.”
“I had to work,” the girl replied. “Welcome to Shady Grove,” she said to me, her voice entirely too cheerful and bright.
“Charlotte—I’d like you to meet Mimi Zupinski. She’s one of our student ambassadors. She’ll be showing you around today.” She rose from her seat. “You’ll have to excuse me now—my next appointment is here. For the time being, I’d suggest you give your schedule a few days. And if the math feels too challenging, I’d be more than happy to arrange a meeting with our special-needs coordinator.”
“That won’t be necessary,” I said quickly.
Mimi gave me a pitying look.
A bell rang. The meeting was over. I’d now, officially, missed the smart boat.
“Where are you from?” Mimi asked as we walked out of the office. “You have an accent.”
“We just moved here from Tallahassee,” I said, feeling like a lemming in the all-too-narrow hallway. “But I’m not really from the South. We lived in Boston before that.”
“Are you a military brat?”
“My mom’s a professor. She got this teaching job at Seattle University. We just found out a month ago.”
Mimi made a sympathetic clucking sound. “Pretty sudden.”
“Yeah. I kind of feel like I got kidnapped by my own two parents.”
Right then we walked out into the main corridor.
The noise was deafening. Students scurried in every direction, like ants whose hill has just been kicked. It was impossible to see which way to go, but you’d be trampled if you stopped moving. Maybe I just wasn’t used to going to school with boys, but the kids here seemed spectacularly enormous to me, like some mutant species of teen. Whether from body odor or some foul thing the cafeteria workers were preparing for lunch, the entire place reeked of raw onions.
“You okay?” Mimi shouted over her shoulder. “You look a little pale.”
“Can we stop at the bathroom?” I asked.
She pointed across the hall and raised an eyebrow. “Want me to wait?”
I nodded. This place was a war zone. What had I done? Trying to think, I pushed my way into the girls’ lavatory. As I stood in line, I studied the graffiti scribbled all over the plaster walls.
For a good time call Jonas Atkins.
Missy Valone sucks ASS.
Drugs, not hugs.
Some of the writing described sexual acts I’d never even heard of.
A toilet flushed. A girl burst out, reeking of cigarettes. “It’s all yours,” she said.
Covering the seat with toilet paper, I sat down and held my head in my hands. Soiled maxi-pads sprouted from an overflowing sanitary bin like bouquets straight from hell. There was some kind of syringe in the wastebasket.
Someone started pounding on the door. “This ain’t free real estate!”
Too tense to pee, I flushed the toilet for show.
As I washed my hands, I studied the cluster of girls gathered around the sink. Everything about them was calloused, from the way they talked and laughed and teased one another, to the look of their tattooed and overly pierced bodies. One of them had a nasty bruise on her cheekbone.
She caught me staring, and her eyes narrowed. Then she backed me into a corner. “You got some problem?”
Rendered mute, I shook my head and tried not to stare at her boobs. Which was no easy feat since they were practically mashed into my face. The girl looked me up and down, checking out my dark jeans, red sandals, and sailor shirt. It was an outfit, I realized all too late, that was entirely too preppy for Shady Grove.
“Nice outfit.” She laughed harshly. “Stupid bitch.”
A moment later, she and her posse left in a cloud of hairspray and smoke.
Mimi was there when I emerged. Though it crossed my mind briefly that maybe she’d set me up, I glommed on to her like a stalker.
“What happened?” she asked.
“I pissed off some girls.”
“I know the ones you’re talking about,” she said. “If I were you I’d try to stay out of their way.”
Looking around, I saw that the halls were finally clearing out. Teachers stood at the doors yelling at students to sit their butts down.
Mimi sensed my discomfort. “Guess you’re not in Tallahassee anymore, huh?”
“Yeah—well this place ain’t exactly the Emerald City,” I muttered, staring at a poster across the hall that said STOP THE VIOLETS. I really hoped it wasn’t a misspelling.
“My old school,” I began. “It was the all-girls parochial kind. Not that my parents are religious. And they’re definitely not rich or anything. But the school was a bargain and way better than the public high school.”
“Sounds unreal,” she said.
I didn’t tell Mimi that none of my old friends even drank. The only peer pressure I ever got in Florida was to “accept Jesus into my heart.” I imagined Mimi would scoff at this.
“There’s a nicer bathroom upstairs,” Mimi said. “In the GATE wing. I’ll show you later.”
As the final bell rang, I stumbled into my first class, feeling as if I’d just been banished to the ninth circle of hell.
FIRST PERIOD: CHEMISTRY
Our teacher, Miss Gordon—“Call me Anita”—took an “expeoriential” approach to learning. She divided us into groups of four by lab table and handed us a copy of the periodic table along with a “fun” fact sheet about the elements. Then she walked around the room taping the name of a single element to each of our backs. “We’re going to play a little icebreaker game,” she said. “To figure out which element you are, you’ll have to ask your classmates for clues. The first table to figure out all four elements wins the grand prize.”
“What’s the grand prize?” someone asked.
“Do we get cookies?”
Anita beamed. “Each member of the winning team will start out the semester with ten bonus points!” When everyone groaned, she waved her arms for silence. “One of the main reasons we have an obesity problem in this country is that we use food to reward our young people.”
“Bring on the fat!” someone shouted.
This, apparently, was our cue to begin. I turned to the kid on my left. He was cute in a punk kind of way, with blue eyes and dyed black hair. More importantly, he was wearing a Radiohead T-shirt.
“What’s your favorite album?” I asked.
The guy stared at me without blinking. “Um—what are you talking about?”
I bit my lip. “Your shirt? Radiohead? They’re like my all-time favorite band.”
He stared at me blankly. “Never heard of them.”
Mimi, who was sitting across from me, passed me a quick note. Don’t mind Nick. He’s an asshole. Is Radiohead a boy band?
I didn’t dignify this question with an answer.
The other guy at our table, a redhead with a short neck and a receding chin, showed us his back. “Am I a noble gas?”
“No,” Nick said. “But that reminds me—I really have to fart.”
Nick’s element, as irony would have it, was sulfur. He wasn’t kidding about the farting either. Suffice it to say, our table didn’t win the game. So long, bonus points. So long.
When the bell rang, Mimi and I hightailed it out of the chemistry room.
“Yikes,” she said, fanning the air with her hand. “Nick needs to lay off the beans.”
“There’s some bad chemistry going on inside that guy’s gut,” I joked.
She laughed, then glanced at her copy of my schedule. “Shit. None of our other classes are the same. How about we meet outside the cafeteria for lunch?”
To buy myself a minute to think, I pretended to search for something in my backpack. On the one hand, I didn’t want to encourage Mimi. I had a feeling she might be something of an albatross—at least in the popularity department. But at the same time, I guessed that eating alone at Shady Grove would be akin to painting a giant bull’s-eye on your back.
“Sure,” I said. “Whatever.”
She blinked a couple of times. “Are you going to be okay until then?”
“Of course,” I said, bristling. Who was she to pity me?
She shot me a funny look, then said, “Hand me your map.”
She drew on it, circling where we were currently standing (near a gym, where some kids were playing a game that involved lots of screaming), and circling where I needed to go. “It’s kind of a haul from here. You better get going or you’ll be late. Good luck.”
As she walked away, I felt as alone as Orphan Annie.
I ran to make my Spanish class on time. But when I finally got there I discovered that I’d sweated for nothing, that half the kids weren’t even there anyway, and that it didn’t matter since the teacher was missing.
I would have laughed if I hadn’t been so out of breath.
“Guess he’s gone walkabout,” I overhead this kid behind me say.
Another kid snorted. “Yeah. Right. If by walkabout you mean he had a nervous breakdown.”
Nervous breakdown—the idea had some appeal. Not the actual breakdown part, of course. But maybe I’d get to go to one of those luxury retreats where they send the stars for “exhaustion.” After what I’d been through this morning, I kind of liked the idea of lying in a sterile room with nice doctors and nurses checking in on me every few minutes. I sure as hell was exhausted.
Language Arts, my favorite and best subject, was down in the basement. After my first two “regular classes,” I couldn’t imagine what our teacher would have us read. Winnie-the-Pooh, maybe? Walter the Farting Dog? Or would we read abridged classics?
The room was very dungeonlike. Paint was peeling off the pipes and walls. There were no windows. The ventilation was terrible. The oniony smell was getting worse, only now there was a meat loaf aroma as well.
As I took a seat, a girl came up to me and asked my name. This was a plus. She was pretty and a snazzy dresser. She wore knee-high boots, a cute flared skirt, and a V-neck shirt that was just this side of daring.
“Are you excited about this class?” she asked.
I shrugged nonchalantly, having read somewhere that the fastest way to push people away is to seem overeager. “It’s school.”
She gave me this sad look that I had no idea how to interpret. A few minutes later she walked to the front of the room and cleared her throat. “Hello, class. I’m your teacher, Miss Mason.”
It was all I could do not to bang my head on the desk.
At least I wasn’t the only idiot in the room. Halfway through the period, Miss Mason made the mistake of telling us that this was her first year teaching. Even worse, she added, “You guys are lucky. You get to break me in.”
“We’ll break you in!” some guy shouted. “Pop!”
The class erupted with whoops and laughter. Miss Mason tried to regain control by steering the conversation to all the amazing books we’d be reading this quarter, starting with Great Expectations, a book I’d read in the eighth grade.
“It’s a wonderful romance,” Miss Mason said, completely missing the point of the novel.
The class, however, was not ready to learn about literature or romance. A couple of the guys started harassing Miss Mason about her V-neck top. One of them asked if she had a boyfriend, and without waiting for her to answer, he asked why her boyfriend hadn’t broken her in yet. She ended up fleeing the room with her hands over her face. If even the teachers couldn’t hack this place, what hope was there for me?
The vice-principal came in a short while later, yelled at us for causing a disruption, and threatened suspension.
The girl behind me woke up from her nap and tapped me on the shoulder. “Did someone just say something about suspension?” she asked. “I could use a little more vacation. Summer’s never long enough.”
Lunchtime. Finally. “I hope you don’t mind biohazards,” Mimi said when I met her outside the cafeteria.
“That bad?” I asked.
Mimi, I was noticing, tended to act very gleeful when delivering bad news. There was a word for that, right? Schadenfreude?
But she was right about the food. You could smell the preservatives on the salad bar vegetables. None of the toppings on the pizza resembled cheese or tomatoes or anything natural, for that matter. The spaghetti, on the other hand, looked all too natural—kind of like swollen earthworms.
“I usually just make a sandwich,” Mimi said, leading me over to a counter where there were loaves of Wonder Bread and jars of generic peanut butter. “If you toast the bread you don’t even notice that it’s stale.”
A fight erupted in the cafeteria line. A moment later a guy stumbled past me clutching a bloody nose. “Isn’t someone going to do something?” I asked.
“Oh, someone will call security,” Mimi said, sidestepping a mound of something that might have once been a hard-boiled egg. “You have to understand, though—fights are more or less white noise around here. Kind of like the morning announcements. If you stick close to me and give everyone else a wide berth, you’ll be fine.”
As we wove our way through the lunchroom, Mimi gestured around at the various tables, narrating their various idiosyncrasies. “We’ve got jocks, preps, goths, gangsters, ghetto babies, skaters, emos, losers, whatever.”
“What are you?” I asked.
Was it my imagination or did Mimi stiffen at the question? After a minute she said, “I get along with everybody. You could say I’m a floater.”
Wasn’t floater a police nickname for people who’d drowned?
Mimi eyed me speculatively. “We should hang out sometime after school. What’s your number?” she asked, whipping out her phone.
“I’m getting a new cell,” I lied. “I don’t know what the number will be.”
We sat down at an empty table near the back of the cafeteria. Surveying the room, I tried to figure out who the GATE kids were. If nothing else, Mimi was a decent mind reader. “They have their own cafeteria,” she said.
I tensed. “What—are they spoon-fed catered gourmet as well?”
She giggled at this. “Now you’re catching on.”
We ate quickly, then took our trays over to the dishwasher. “C’mon,” Mimi said, adjusting her backpack. “We still have some time. I want to show you something.” She led me to the third floor. Topping the landing, she waved her hand before her as if showing me some great buffet.
“This is it,” she said. “Home of the GATEs.”
Now this was more like it. Though it wasn’t the Barclay School or anything, the GATE wing was clean and bright and lit by skylights. There were couches and alcoves where students could hang out. Groups of kids sat around with textbooks and laptops—reading, typing, and quizzing one another. Apparently if you were a GATE, it was kosher to care about your grades. Teachers mingled with students, smiling benevolently and bantering in a fun way. The students up here looked a lot more like me. Had I made it into GATE, my preppy outfit would have been closer to okay.
Skimming my fingers along the freshly painted lockers, I tried to mask the yearning I felt. I was supposed to be here.
“Feels like an oasis, huh?”
I could only nod.
Suddenly, I heard this rhythmic clomping sound. Shuffling down the hall in wooden clogs was a girl with a mane of hot-pink hair. On anyone else it would have looked absurd or cheap. But for her it worked. Tremendously. It was like her hair was a reflection of some inner radiance.
“That’s Amanda Munger,” Mimi whispered. “Otherwise known as Girl Wonder. Last year she spray-painted a giant penis on the school gymnasium. The only reason she wasn’t expelled was that her grandfather—some big-time executive for Microsoft—donated a bunch of money to the district. She’s been kicked out of all the private schools.”
Amanda was wearing this cool hobo hat and a vintage T-shirt that said lucky across the bust. It hit her curves in just the right places. Her green eyes glittered in a feline way—there was a lot of thought going on behind those eyes. Bossiness beamed from her like a blinding light. She looked neither to the left nor the right, but you knew that she knew that everyone was staring—and that this fact amused her. She was polished and cool. You knew she broke hearts, right and left. I wanted to be the kind of girl who could break hearts. I felt a tug of envy. I’d never seen anyone like her before, so instantly and flawlessly compelling.
“We should get going,” Mimi said. “The warning bell’s about to ring.”
I was late to Precalculus—they’d put the wrong room number on my schedule—which meant that the only seat left by the time I got there was the one right in front of the podium. Most of my classmates were in a food coma—or poisoned.
If only our teacher had been too.
Mr. Johnson sputtered when he talked—and I was sitting dead center in the splash zone. I wasn’t sure what was worse—this or the fact that his PowerPoint presentation on linear functions was as foreign to me as hieroglyphics. He was nothing like the teacher at my old school—a woman who explained math so well I didn’t even need a tutor. It wasn’t fair. My other classes at Shady Grove had been babyishly easy. How many ways could one stupid subject ruin my life?
Toward the end of the period, he announced that the current seating arrangement would be the permanent seating arrangement. Did this mean I was going to have to buy a wet suit?
When class was over, I waited until all the other students had left the room, then approached Mr. Johnson’s desk. “Do you know of any good tutors?” I asked.
- On Sale
- May 4, 2011
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers