Finding Yvonne


By Brandy Colbert

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For fans of Nicola Yoon and Nina LaCour comes a striking novel about difficult choices from acclaimed author Brandy Colbert.

Since she was seven years old, Yvonne has had her trusted violin to keep her company, especially in those lonely days after her mother walked out on their family. But with graduation just around the corner, she is forced to face the hard truth that she just might not be good enough to attend a conservatory after high school.

Full of doubt about her future, and increasingly frustrated by her strained relationship with her successful but emotionally closed-off father, Yvonne meets a street musician and fellow violinist who understands her struggle. He’s mysterious, charming, and different from Warren, the familiar and reliable boy who has her heart. But when Yvonne becomes unexpectedly pregnant, she has to make the most difficult decision yet about her future.

From the author of Pointe and Little & Lion, comes another heartfelt novel about the twists and turns that can show up on a path meant only for you.




There are three things I know about my father: He smokes pot daily, he doesn’t like to speak unless he really has something to say, and he is one of the most respected chefs in Los Angeles.

I also know that the best time to see him is at Sunday breakfast. We aren’t around each other much; Dad gets home from work so late during the week that he’s rarely up in time to make a proper breakfast. He usually grabs something light when he gets up, around noon, and then eats family meal with the staff before the restaurant opens for dinner. But Sundays are special. He reserves Sunday mornings for an actual meal that he plans in advance, and there’s always plenty to eat.

Sometimes I want to skip it on principle alone. I shouldn’t have to set aside one day a week to see my own dad for more than a few minutes. But I love Sunday breakfast, and he’s usually in a good mood because he gets the day to himself, so I find myself at the table every week.

He’s standing at the counter when I stumble into the kitchen this morning, coating pieces of chicken in a mixture of flour and seasonings.

“Morning,” he says over his shoulder. “Coffee’s on.”

“Thanks.” I pour a mug and stand next to the fridge, watching him. “Is Warren coming over?”

“Should be here any minute.”

Which means I’ll need to down this cup of coffee if I want to brush my teeth again before he gets here. I slurp steadily at the mug, but the doorbell rings before I can finish. Well, it’s not like anything is going to happen with my father here.

Warren Engel is standing on the porch in jeans and a plaid button-down with the sleeves rolled up. He smiles and wordlessly reaches for my hands. I pull him inside and we stand looking at each other for a moment, his big tea-colored eyes roaming softly over me before we hug.

“Missed you last night,” he says in a low voice, though Dad couldn’t hear us over all the banging around he’s doing in the kitchen anyway.

“Sorry I didn’t make it over. The party went late, and then I just wanted to sleep in my own bed.”

“It’s cool. I was at the restaurant until late.” Warren was promoted to sous chef at my father’s restaurant a couple of months ago, a big honor in itself but especially since he’s just barely twenty-one. “What’s Sinclair making today?”

“Come see for yourself,” I say, leading him back through the hallway. His hands trail lightly over my hips as we walk, sending warm shivers up the small of my back, but it ends as quickly as it started. We break apart when we’re standing in the same room as my father.

We’re not official, Warren and I. We probably would be if he weren’t so paranoid about our age difference. We’re only three years apart, and I don’t think my father would care. He basically thinks Warren can do no wrong.

Dad is carefully placing chicken legs and thighs into a skillet of hot oil as we walk in.

“Chicken and waffles?” Warren says, grinning like the day just turned into Christmas. My father has a lot of fans, known and unknown, but I think Warren might still be his biggest.

“You know it.” My father moves the skillet to a cool burner. “Want to get the waffles going? Iron’s already hot, and the batter’s in the fridge.”

I reach into the refrigerator to hand Warren the pitcher of batter, then grab the jug of orange juice, too. “Isn’t he off the clock?”

“Happy to let you take over if you’re so concerned about Warren,” Dad says, smirking as he heads over to the sunroom.

Not two minutes later, the skunky scent of marijuana wafts through the air above us. Neither Warren nor I bat an eye. My father’s frequent pot-smoking isn’t exactly public knowledge, but it’s certainly no secret around here. He says it’s mostly to combat the stress that comes with owning a successful restaurant, but he also swears that he’s created some of his most iconic dishes while stoned. He probably knows that I’ve smoked, but we don’t talk about it and we’ve certainly never done so together.

Dad is what I call a professional stoner. He’s been smoking for so long that it’s hard to tell when he’s high. The whites of his eyes turn just slightly pink, and sometimes he takes a little longer between thoughts, but other than that he’s completely functional. Almost disturbingly so. I’ve seen him carry on extremely involved conversations when I know he’s blazed up pretty recently.

I down a glass of orange juice while Warren tends to the waffles, creating a generous stack on a plate next to the chicken. Dad comes back in just as they’re ready, and we all help transport everything to the table. I carry plates and silverware and quickly set the table as they place the food.

Eating with my father and Warren isn’t like sharing a meal with anyone else I’ve ever known. Usually people taste a few bites of their food, declare how good it is or what it’s lacking, then move on to more stimulating conversation. Warren and my dad analyze each bite, discussing which spices were or were not used and what they’ve changed since the last time they made the meal. Sometimes Dad gives him tips on his method, but I realized how much he respects Warren when he started asking for his opinion.

I grew up in the restaurant industry, but I don’t understand food the way they do. Except for sweets. Baking makes sense to me, maybe because there’s science behind it. There’s so much trial and error with cooking. I get frustrated when a recipe doesn’t turn out right the first time, even when I follow it to the letter.

“I was thinking about going to check out that new spot in Venice,” Dad says to Warren. “The one Courtney Winters just opened up.”

“Oh, that place is supposed to be the real deal.” Warren wipes his mouth and takes a long drink of water. “You’re going today?”

“She has a Sunday supper. What do you think?”

“Yeah, sure.” Warren pauses and looks at my dad first, then me. “You want to come?”

I pour more syrup over my waffle and take a bite. Even I can’t help but stop and think how perfectly light and fluffy it is as I chew. “I don’t know,” I say, looking at my father. “Am I invited?”

“Of course you are, Yvonne. I thought you’d be practicing,” Dad says with a shrug.

I do usually practice my violin on Sunday. It feels like a good end to the weekend. A structured start to the week. But I need a break from the routine sometimes. And now that I’m no longer taking private lessons, I can make my own practice schedule.

“Can we stop at the boardwalk?”

“Yeah, sure.” Dad waves one hand in the air as he drags a forkful of chicken and waffles through a pool of syrup with the other. He’s already done with this conversation, ready to get back to food talk.

The meal with them tonight will be almost exactly like the scene at this kitchen table, only they’ll sample an unreasonable amount of food, and my father will go back to the kitchen to talk to the chef, and I’ll have to hear everything from why he thinks the dining-room sconces are incompatible with the space to him breaking down the components of a sauce.

It’s exhausting, but I know the meal will be good. My father won’t try just anyone’s food. And I’ll get to spend time with Warren, which always makes me happy. He works such long hours that we don’t get to see each other as often as I’d like.

Besides, I don’t have anything else to do today. My Sundays used to be filled with violin practice, but with Denis no longer around to crack the whip, I don’t see much of a point.

It’s hard not to give up on yourself when the person who’s supposed to believe in you the most already has.


My geology teacher, Mr. Gamble, used to live in Venice Beach before we were born, and he says none of us would have survived it back then. He says the streets were full of gangs and crumbling bungalows and people addicted to crack.

Gentrification has changed a lot of that, but luckily the boardwalk has remained as weird as ever. One area is devoted to shirtless meatheads who like to lift weights in front of tourists, the aptly named Muscle Beach. Then there’s the section where the skaters take turns braving the terrifying maze of concrete ramps on their boards.

But my favorite part is walking down the pavement-lined path that stretches by booths of tie-dyed clothing, shops hawking cheap souvenirs, and doctors who will prescribe medical-marijuana cards in thirty minutes. There are places to grab a drink or a bite to eat, and on the other side is the ocean, separated only by the art vendors, the street performers, and the wide expanse of sand.

Salt water and incense and competing strains of weed fill the air as I stroll down the boardwalk between Warren and my dad. My father’s phone rings and he looks down at the screen, says he has to take it and he’ll catch up with us.

Warren and I walk so that our arms occasionally bump into each other, but no closer than that. I think he’s afraid my dad will freak out if he ever sees us touching, but I keep telling him he’s paranoid. My father knows there’s something between Warren and me, even if there’s no label. The fact that I spend the night at Warren’s place so often and Dad never says anything about it should reassure him more than it does.

“Would you ever live over here?” Warren asks as we pass a table full of heavy silver jewelry displayed on black velvet.

“I don’t know.” I wrap my arms around myself. The beach is always noticeably cooler than the rest of the city. It feels like we’re not even in Los Angeles, the temperature has changed so much from when we left Highland Park. “It’s so different. And I’d pretty much need to be a billionaire to rent an apartment.”

“You’re so practical.” He nudges me gently. “If money were no object and you could live anywhere in the city in your dream house—could you live in Venice?”

“I guess the beach is nice, but I like where we live better,” I say. “I couldn’t handle so many tourists.”

“It’s probably easy to avoid them when you know your way around.” He pauses. “I think I could hang at the beach.”

“You’re not allowed to move this far away from me,” I say, shaking my head. “I’d never see you.”

“You mean not until you leave next year?” Warren’s voice is more matter-of-fact than accusatory.

Still, it makes me wince. I’ve been trying not to think about the fact that there will probably be a day when we don’t live in the same city. Even if I don’t go to an out-of-state school, there’s a chance Warren could move on himself. He could get scooped up by another chef when my father isn’t paying attention. Or he could just move somewhere else to start his own restaurant, which he’ll inevitably do one day.

“That’s a whole year away. And we don’t even know what’s going to happen.”

He doesn’t say anything else about it, and I’m trying to figure out what to say to bring the mood back up when I hear the strings.

If cooking is my father’s and Warren’s thing, music has always been mine. Dad got me my first violin about a year after my mother left, when I was seven. We tried a few different activities—I guess so I wouldn’t spend all my free time wondering why I suddenly had no mother: dance lessons, Girl Scouts, classes at a local children’s theater. None of it stuck, but as soon as we walked into the violin shop, which was also filled with beautiful violas and cellos that seemed absolutely monstrous at the time, I felt right at home. Even the shop owner, whose deep frown made it clear that he didn’t like children getting too close to the merchandise, said nothing as I walked around slowly, staring in awe at the instruments.

My elementary-school orchestra teacher, Ms. Francine, told me I had a gift for music. She didn’t say I was the best in the orchestra or even the best in the violin section, but I never forgot what she said. I never told anyone, though. I had been taking private lessons with Denis for a couple of years by the time I started playing in her orchestra. I only realized recently that maybe I wanted that praise all to myself because I didn’t want anyone to taint it. People are always telling my father how great he is at what he does—one of the best—but that was the first time anyone had said that to me, and I didn’t want the validation taken away. Even then, I knew I had to be protective of it; I’ve never stood out for anything besides violin.

Coaxing bittersweet melodies from the strings of my instrument has always been satisfying, but performing has never given me the same thrill as listening to other people play.

The music is coming from a guy and a girl at the edge of the boardwalk. A crowd stands in front of them, but it’s a small group. No more than a dozen people tapping their feet on the pavement, leaning closer to better hear the notes. The makeshift audience is trying to place the song, but if anyone knows it, I can’t tell. Most of them stand there with bemused but pleasant expressions on their faces, as if they were unaware that such music could come from string instruments.

I put my hand on Warren’s arm so he’ll stop. He looks confused at first, then nods as he sees them. We stand silently, and I let the notes of the old song soar through my ears and into me. Sometimes I hear songs that I like, that are interesting or catchy enough for me to take notice as I’m doing homework or getting ready for the day. Then there are melodies that seep into me, winding through every part of my body with such intensity that I can’t do anything but sit still and listen. It’s not always the song itself; sometimes it’s a certain variation or the musician’s individual stamp that resonates. I can’t pinpoint what it is about the music I’m listening to now, but all I want to do is close my eyes and let it settle into me.

The girl’s arms are long and graceful as she strikes the bow with confidence against the strings of her viola. The guy’s sandaled foot keeps beat on the ground, barely visible beneath the tattered hem of his wrinkled pants. He’s playing a battered violin as beautifully as if he were standing onstage at Carnegie Hall with a shiny new instrument. He catches my eye through the space between people, and it makes my heart thrum its own distinct rhythm in my chest. I stare back at him for too long before I turn to Warren.

“So good, right?” I whisper, though it’s not like we’re at a concert. The boardwalk is very much still the boardwalk, with children darting back and forth and people shouting and the commotion around the other performers cutting through the music. But I know what it’s like to perform, when you want to think people are really listening, taking in every single note that you’ve been practicing for months.

Warren pretends to consider this, tilting his head to the side and squinting at the musicians. “You’re better,” he finally whispers back.

I’m not, but I like hearing it, so I keep my mouth closed. Besides, I don’t want to miss any more of them. I thought I would recognize the song by now, but it’s a tune on the tip of my tongue, a melody I still can’t place. I’m jealous that they get to play contemporary—it’s classical or bust with Ms. Ortiz in the school orchestra. Denis felt the same way.

They finish to a smattering of applause. Some people drop money into a hat placed in front of them. Others sort of stare for a while before wandering off, on to the next person or thing that will hold their attention for a few moments. Soon it’s just me standing a few feet in front of them, and I’m trying to get up the nerve to say something, but I don’t know what.

“What’s wrong?”

Warren. I’d forgotten he was still here, right next to me.

“Nothing,” I say, though my heart still isn’t beating normally.

“You look out of it.”

I shake my head, then turn back to the musicians. The guy picks up the hat and hands it to the girl, who quickly counts the money and drops it into a small canvas bag at her feet. They exchange a few words, and whoever they are to each other, it looks easy between them. I can’t tell if they’re brother and sister or if they’re together, but I keep staring, trying to figure it out. I don’t realize how long I’ve been looking at them without the barrier of people between us until the guy turns back to replace the hat and stares right at me.

“Can I help you out with something?” His voice is softer than I imagined.

“Oh—I—just, um, you—you’re very good.” I reach for my purse until I remember I left it in the car. My pockets are empty. I nudge Warren.

He sighs, but digs into his jeans pocket and hands me a couple of bills. I walk forward and drop them into the hat. I’m embarrassed, acting like the type of tourist they must see every day, but I don’t know what else to say. Do I admit that their playing enchanted me? That it’s been a long time since music, especially strings, has made me feel this way?

The guy is cute, which doesn’t help my inability to form another sentence. He has tawny skin and broad shoulders with a head of thick brown dreadlocks that fall past them. I like looking at him, but it’s not just that. There’s an electric feeling I can’t ignore, a charge pulsing through the air as I stand close to him. As if a part of me I didn’t know was sleeping has suddenly awakened.

“Thanks, sis,” he says, then nods at Warren. He smiles at me before he turns around to talk to the girl, who has a mass of tightly curled hair pulled up into an Afro puff. She’s busy wiping the chin rest of her viola with a rag.

“We should find Sinclair.” Warren briefly puts his hand on my elbow, snapping me out of my daze. “Maybe head over to the restaurant?”

“Yeah, sure.” I turn to go with him, but look back over my shoulder.

Warren tugs at my arm. “Yvonne, seriously, is everything okay?”

When I glance over, he’s looking back and forth between them and me, trying to figure out what just happened. Warren and I don’t spend a lot of time with other people when we’re together, and it occurs to me that it’s been a while since he’s seen me with another guy. I don’t know if he’s ever seen me with one who intrigues me like this. There’s a bit of jealousy mixed with the bewilderment in his eyes.

“I’m fine.” My voice comes out thin and unsure. Not very convincing.

Warren is still watching me. I smile to ease his worry and let him pull me away, back into the pulsing throng of beachgoers.

We took two cars down to the beach, so after dinner Warren and I go off on our own. He drives us back to his neighborhood.

“There’s a full moon tonight,” he says, pointing out the window when we pull up to a stoplight. “Want to take a look?”

We wind along Silver Lake Boulevard, parking on a side street near the reservoir. The sky darkened on our way back from Venice, but people are still walking along the path. A few are running around in the dusty dog park, tossing balls to their pets.

“What was all that stuff earlier about living in Venice?” I ask as we begin our walk. There aren’t many people on this section of the pathway.

“I don’t know.” Warren shrugs. “Sometimes I think about the future. Don’t you?”

“Of course.” Except it scares me to think about it too much because I’m not sure I know what I want. “But I don’t think about where I’ll be living. More like what I’ll be doing.”

Warren is quiet for a moment. Then: “I think about us. Where we’ll be. Is that weird?”

“No.” I pause. “I think about us, too.”

“Oh yeah?” I can hear the smile in his voice. “About us being together?”

“Maybe,” I tease, smiling, too.

His fingers dangle near my hand, then slowly thread their way through mine. “There was a full moon the first time we hung out.”

“The night we had dinner with Lou and my dad?”

“Yvonne. You don’t remember the first time we were alone together?”

I do, vaguely. It’s just that Warren and I have spent so much time together in the last two years and it’s so easy to be around him that it all sort of runs together. Like, being with him is just one big happy block in the schedule of my life.

“Was it that terrible party at Eugene’s house?”

“Yeah, the night after your dad let him go. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone so drunk.”

“You put him to bed! I remember thinking you were the nicest guy I’d ever been around.”

He laughs. “Yeah, I’m a real saint.”

“It was sweet.” I squeeze his fingers. “All the guys I know would’ve let him keep drinking until he puked, just so they could laugh at him. Or drawn dicks on his face after he passed out.”

Warren shrugs. “I was just doing what I would’ve wanted someone to do for me. He was a horrible server, but I felt bad that he lost his job.”

We move off the path and lean against the fence that circles the reservoir. The moon is luminous, spider-webbed by tree branches that stretch to the sky.

“I can’t believe we’ve known each other for two years,” I say, looking away from the bright white disk.

“Feels like I’ve known you forever, Yvonne.” His voice is soft, and then his hand is on my arm. I face him and when I look up, his smile is soft, too. “We may not know where we’ll be in a year, but let’s make it a good one until then, okay?”

I nod and then I put my arms around his neck and we kiss. He is hesitant at first, as if he’s afraid my father is going to suddenly appear. I lean my body into Warren and he relaxes, his soft lips assured as they press against mine. As he remembers that it’s just us right now, our only witness the moon.


I meet Sabina at the set of concrete benches on the far side of the quad during lunch on Monday.

She’s managed to snag our favorite seat, the bench under the giant eucalyptus. It’s the coolest place to be out here on the unseasonably but predictably hot early-September days, and it’s close enough to the tree that the thick, wide trunk can serve as a backrest. She scoots over to make room for me.

“So,” Sabina says before I even sit down. “Damon has to have his party on Friday. His parents are going up to Tahoe for the weekend but sometimes they surprise him and come home early, so he doesn’t want to risk having a bunch of people over on Saturday.”

“Okay, but you know I have plans with Warren that night?” Friday is my birthday. I don’t look at her as I slide onto the bench and drop my bag to the grass.

“Yeah, I know. I was just thinking you two could stop by if you get bored or whatever.”

I pull out my lunch sack. “I’m pretty sure we’re not going to get bored that night, Sabs.”

I unwrap my peanut butter and banana sandwich, and, like every day, I’m glad Sabina is the only one around to watch me eat lunch. People think I get fancy lunches made and lovingly packed by my father the night before when the reality is that the more successful he becomes, the less time he has to cook for either of us. Lunches are out of the question.

“Is Warren too good to hang out with people still in high school or something?” Sabina always gets a bit defensive when she talks about Warren. She likes him well enough, but I think the idea of me dating someone older makes her feel left behind. Warren and I haven’t slept together—yet—but I already crossed the great divide of best friendship when I had sex for the first time last year.

“He hangs out with me.”

She rolls her eyes.


  • "Brandy Colbert has crafted a meaningful and masterful book that explores all of the different ways that we can surprise ourselves. Yvonne's path through family ties, hidden talents, and difficult decisions reveals the hard-won truth of an unforgettable character. I loved this book."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px Times}Robin Benway, National Book Award Winner and New York Times bestselling author of Far from the Tree

  • "A pitch-perfect song of a book about all the ways a heart can break and mend, Finding Yvonne will stay with you long past its final, bittersweet notes."—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 13.0px Times}Elana K. Arnold, author of National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of

  • "Colbert's excellent ear for dialogue is on display in her latest, and she does a fantastic job of capturing the particular anxieties of a highly intelligent, talented teen at a crossroads, as well as the weight of microaggressions about everything from race to sexuality to economic status."—Booklist

  • "Colbert delivers another emotionally layered story."—Publishers Weekly

  • "Readers will be able to relate to the challenges faced by the diverse and realistic characters that Colbert has created."—School Library Connection

  • "[Yvonne's] a compelling protagonist, and she'll speak to readers thrown by the lack of certainty in their own futures."—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

  • Praise for Little & Lion:

    "Little and Lion is beautifully insightful, honest, and compassionate. Brandy's ability to find larger meaning in small moments is nothing short of dazzling."—National Book Award Finalist and #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything Everything, Nicola Yoon
  • "Brandy Colbert further establishes herself as one of contemporary YA's biggest talents in this thoughtful and thought-provoking examination of identity, loyalty, and what it means to live with integrity. Little & Lion is a stunningly good novel."—Kiersten White, New York Times bestselling author of And I Darken

  • "Brandy Colbert takes us on an emotional and gorgeous journey with a protagonist who is trying to figure out where she fits in with her family as well as in the world. A book full of overwhelming love and courage."—Sara Farizan, author of Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel

  • * "This superbly written novel teems with meaningful depth, which is perfectly balanced by romance and the languorous freedom of summer."—Booklist, starred review

  • * "A moving, diverse exploration of the challenges of growing up and the complicated nature of loyalty."—School Library Journal, starred review

  • * "Colbert sensitively confronts misconceptions about mental illness, bisexuality, and intersectional identity.... A vibrantly depicted Los Angeles."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

  • * "From the threads of love and romance, to redefining family life, readers of all walks of life will find an entry point to this title."—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review

  • "A moving and well-realized examination of secrecy, trust, and intimacy."—Publishers Weekly

  • " Hand [Little & Lion] to readers who like thoughtful, edgy stories with no easy answers."—VOYA

  • "With compelling honesty, Colbert portrays Suzette's evolving understanding of her sexuality, Lionel's longing for self-sufficiency alongside the challenges of his mental illness, and the difficulty of shifting familial relationships."—Horn Book

On Sale
Aug 7, 2018
Page Count
288 pages