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By Corrie Wang
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Kyla Cheng doesn’t expect you to like her. For the record, she doesn’t need you to. On track to be valedictorian, she’s president of her community club, a debate team champ, plus the yummy Mackenzie Rodriguez has firmly attached himself to her hip. But a week before college applications are due, a video of Kyla “doing it” with her crush-worthy English teacher is uploaded to her school’s website. It instantly goes viral, but here’s the thing: it’s not Kyla in the video.
With time running out, Kyla delves into a world of hackers, haters and creepy stalkers in an attempt to do the impossible-take something off the internet-all while dealing with the fallout from her own karmic footprint. Set in near-future Brooklyn, where privacy is a bygone luxury and every perfect profile masks damning secrets, The Takedown is a stylish, propulsive, and provocative whodunit, asking who would you rely on if your tech turned against you?
Copyright © 2017 by Corrie Wang
All rights reserved. Published by Freeform, 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 Freeform, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
Designed by Marci Senders
Cover design by Marci Senders
Cover art © 2017 by The Photo Commune/Getty Images
To my mama,
for always answering
I’ll warn you in advance.
You’re probably not gonna like me.
No matter what I write, you’ll think I got what I deserved. So I won’t bother sugarcoating my story or trying to pretend I’m someone I’m not. I mean, you don’t get over five hundred million views and care what people think anymore. Fine. Maybe you care a little. Contrary to what it might seem, I’m not some soulless vampire. But I did always say there were only two ways to emerge from high school.
Scarred or Worshipped.
And ever since freshman year it wasn’t hard to guess which track I was on.
Before I begin, I should mention that I’m not like other girls you read about. Never once have I adorably collided with a large stationary object. I mean, come on; I have eyes. And since being debate-team captain kind of obligated me to come up with the exact words I needed exactly when I needed them, I don’t bumble my sentences around cute boys. Or anyone else, for that matter. And thanks to French-meets-Chinese genetic dumb luck—merci and xièxie, Mom and Dad!—I ended up prettier than almost everyone else at school. And I was never the girl who says, “Oh, I’m okay,” when she knows she’s gorgeous. Who are you kidding, poser?
Remember. I forewarned you that empathy would not be issuing forth.
So never mind that on top of all these things I also tried to be a good daughter, a protective sister, and a loyal friend. Never mind that I was on friendly terms with almost all my classmates. When the video dropped, all anyone saw, all you’ll see, was that I was one of a group of four in that nefarious high school species known as Popular.
(Why we equate “popular” with being liked, I still don’t know. Maybe “popular” always meant most-viewed. In which case, I was undeniably the most popular teenager in the entire world last year.)
But I parenthesize.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I get it. I get the backlash. After all, the girls and I took the lucky gifts we’d been given and we flaunted them. We flaunted our bodies and hair and friendship and fashion sense, and let’s not leave out intellect. Because I think we all knew that if we didn’t embrace our good fortune, we would spend our high school years hiding in our houses every weekend, eating junk food, and waiting for something important to happen.
Still, I maintain that I didn’t deserve it. Because did I ever cyberbully anyone? No. Did girls go home in tears because of me or dread the classes we were in together? No. Did I ever deliberately make anyone’s life hell? No.
Why would I need to? I was on the worshipped track.
Notice the past tense. Turns out, there’s only one way to emerge from high school.
Looking back, the video’s launch day was evil from the start. It had snowed two feet by six a.m. Then I overslept and missed my time slot in the bathroom. Then my brother proceeded to take forever getting his mussed look just right. And then, making matters the worst, my rushing meant I hadn’t contributed at all to the morning massive group txt-athon with the girls. Thereby, at only eight a.m., Audra was probably already pissed at me.
So as I hurried out of the house, I barely glanced at the first txt I received from the creepy no-name sender.
[ ]T minus ten, nine…
I figured it was a countdown app from one of the twenty universities I was applying to. My top ten schools all had January 1 deadlines, and I hadn’t hit submit on any of them. But fifteen minutes later, wading up the snowdrift that equaled the steps of school, I had bigger issues than my unfinished college essays. I was flustered, hot, and seven minutes late for the Walk.
Oh, the innocent worries of an unruined life.
School, by the way, was Parkside Preparatory, a three-story white stone sprawl of turrets and stained-glass windows on the border of Prospect Park. If you’ve never been to Brooklyn, think Central Park but quainter with a few more sketchy parts. And if you’ve never been to New York City…txt me; we need to get you out more.
Inside, frayed oriental rugs coated the floors. Instead of trophy cases in the hallways, there were wall hangings from the 1800s. Was it off-putting going to school in a mansion? Sí. Some days I felt like I’d get expelled if I so much as burped. But most days I loved it. Park Prep exuded an almost British air of higher learning, as if Austen or Dickens or Rowling could have studied there.
Slipping in through the two-hundred-year-old solid-oak doors, I clutched my Doc to my stomach like a security blanket. Cálmate, I told myself. I was only seven minutes late. Audra wouldn’t lose her SHT over seven minutes. I quickly tossed my coat in my cubby (because what two-hundred-year-old mansion has lockers?), smoothed back my hair, inhaled, and began.
Fawn was immediately at my side. Poor Fawnie had gotten stuck with a cub on the third floor near the art room, so every day she had to try to look busy until the Walk without a first-floor cubby to use as a prop. Lucky for her, there was usually a boy more than willing to help her stall. She left one now, midsentence, to fall in next to me. Her arm linked around my waist. Our hips swayed side to side in perfect time. Heads turned.
“You’re late. Ooh, cute red bow tie.” Fawn’s fingers danced at my throat. A moment later, her hands were lightly patting my braids. Nothing existed for Fawn unless she touched it. “And I all-caps LOVE your hair.”
If any parent set deserved an A-plus for naming their child, it was Fawn Salita’s. Half–Irish-Filipino, and half-Iranian, the result was Bambi mixed with old-skool Disney princess: perfect oval face; eyes that were huge and doe-y; cascading spiral curls—that was Fawn. Currently in a hippie phase, she wore a tight cropped tee under a red minivest with a flowing skirt that sat low on her hips so you could just see tummy pudge and her jeweled belly-button ring. One of Fawn’s life goals was to eat at every restaurant along Flushing Boulevard in Queens. “Seventy different countries all repped within, like, two blocks. It’s a chubby’s dream.” If Fawn had her way, she’d be working on a farm in Peru come summer. If Fawn’s mom had her way, she’d be enrolled at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan.
“Love the vest,” I said to Fawn. “It’s so…”
“Eye-searingly red?” She laughed.
Red. That was Sharma’s theme of the day, because Sharma always cut right to the chase. Just as she did as she broke away from Sir Joan—what we called the coat of arms that was next to her cubby—and fell in line with us.
“Late,” Sharma said. “Also, president signed new jobs act and creep congressman stepped down re chat sex scandal. Special elections ASAP.”
While Fawn killed time before the Walk flirting, Sharma swiped. She was our morning roundup of videos to watch, celebrity gossip, and news.
“Tell your parents to vote for the female candidate,” I chimed in. “She’s the most progressive. And she’s got realistic ideas for environmental safeties.”
Postgraduation, Sharma would be joining the military’s Code to Work program. They’d been recruiting her since she was a freshman and won that Young Minds Programmed coding challenge. So we never teased Sharma too much that her outfit themes were mundane and usually color-related, not when she’d be protecting our cyberborders some day soon. Besides, not everyone was Audra, who did the best, most cerebral themes. Rainy Parisian Afternoon was still my all-time fave.
I slipped my arm around Sharma’s nonexistent waist. Sharma was all nerd in a model’s body. If I didn’t see her eat, I’d assume she got her calories from the same place she got everything else that nourished her life—the Internet. Her pin-straight black hair fell to her waist. As always, her light-brown eyes were rimmed with gold—iris and liner—and today were protected by a pair of red glasses.
“Sweet bow tie,” Sharma said, studying me in the holomirror on her Doc because it was easier than turning her head.
“Thanks, it’s my dad’s.”
As I lifted my Doc to send him a pic, I saw that a new no-name creeper message had popped up.
[ ]T minus ten, nine, eight…
“Late and distracted?” Audra. She broke away from the antique hall mirror where every morning she fixed her lipstick or txted (us) until it was her turn to join in. Our quartet was complete. “Always a pleasure being fit into your schedule, Ms. Cheng.”
“Geez, it was only seven minutes.” I slid my Doc into my bag as Audra wedged herself between me and Sharma. “And the weirdest thing just happened—”
“Gasp, President Malin actually responded to one of your Quips?” Fawn teased.
“You got an A but no plus on your gov exam?” Sharma asked.
“No, no, no, I’ve got it,” Audra chimed in. “Your mom made you pancakes without chocolate chips this morning?”
Audra’s arm slipped around my waist, mine around hers. Even with the red stilettos she wore, I had to stoop to get it there. Audra was pint-size. When she was all done up—like today—I felt like I had a porcelain doll as my best friend. Two weeks before, in honor of her eighteenth birthday, Audra had hacked off her long tresses and dyed her hair platinum. Her new pixie cut was gelled and held back by a red heart-shaped clip. Everything else she wore was black, except the lacy red bra that peeked out beneath her tight blouse. No one did cleavage quite like Audra, because, as tiny as she was, her package was slamming. What Audra was doing after graduation equaled anyone’s guess. All soph and junsies she’d been set on applying to FIT. But when we started Prep this fall, she suddenly began talking about taking a gap year…to “grow herself.”
I sighed inwardly. I loved my girls, but they definitely required a certain level of on-ness. It was like I constantly had ten screens up and if I didn’t interact simultaneously and wholeheartedly with each one my entire system would crash.
“Why, gee, gals, funny enough it’s none of those things, but thank you for the touching insights into my apparently frivolous existence. What is actually weird is that my Doc is acting uberglitchy and—”
All the girls groaned, the potential that I might have juicy gossip clearly obliterated.
“So have Sharmie take a look at it in class,” Audra said, tsking. “Which we now need to speed to as some lanky betch was seven and a half minutes late and I still have to finish my E-N-G essay. Kisses?”
We’d come to the sweeping staircase in the back that led to all the humanities classes on the upper floors and was the endpoint of the Walk. Since the stairs were right next to Coffee Check, the tiny snack-and-coffee bar that resided in a former coat closet, this particular foyer was the gathering spot for almost every upperclassman in the building. With all eyes on us, we brought our Docs together and commenced our much-Quipped-about morning tradition.
Like it’s not obnoxious enough that they air-kiss with their Docs, one of our classmates had posted, they European air-kiss and do each cheek.
When I pulled mine out, yet another creeper message was on it.
[ ]T minus ten, nine, eight, seven…
This wasn’t an admissions app reminder or a glitch. Someone was intentionally stretching out the suspense before…what?
I felt it then: hate eyes on me.
It wasn’t hard to spot the source. Over by the potted ficus, Jessie Rosenthal and Ellie Cyr were staring at us. The Walk warranting laser death eyes wasn’t unusual, but this combination was. Ellie Cyr was Park Prep’s basketball star. Junior year, college recruiters had taken up their own section at our home games. She’d get a full ride anywhere she wanted—luckily, since her wicked three-point shot wasn’t much helping her C-minus average.
Meanwhile, Jessie was the sole student in Park Prep on an art track. She exclusively cloaked her painfully thin body in vintage couture, and her permanent vibe was world-weary disdain. (Life with her collection of Puccini bags and shoes must be so hard.) A loner by definition, her Quip stream was all about how soul-destroying daily life was with “the locals”—i.e., us, her classmates.
I won’t say that the only reason Jessie was my competition for valedictorian was because all her classes consisted solely of spreading color on paper. I’ll just think it.
I flashed the girls a bright smile. Ellie smiled back. Jessie did not. I held up a fist and then four fingers. Point four. The exact number of points Jessie’s GPA was below mine.
I could hear Mom disapprovingly gasp, Kyle! But Jessie’s family was loaded. She’d be the kind of artist who had Chelsea galleries representing her straight out of art school and would be in MoMA by the time she was thirty. This would be the one time in her life she didn’t get exactly what she wanted. A little healthy razzing was good for her. She needed to build character somehow.
Jessie held up only one finger back.
It wasn’t the nice one.
“You’re bad,” Fawn laughed.
Grinning, I refocused on the girls only to find Audra casting a half-genuine, half-benedictory smile over my shoulder. Behind me, curls and an eager-to-please look of puppy devotion were pushing their way through the crowded foyer. Speaking of weird pairings…not this again.
“Konichiwa, Ailey-chan,” Audra cooed.
“Konichiwa, Senpai.” Ailey beamed.
Ailey was my BFF K thru eight, but we drifted freshman year when we came to Park Prep. Or, skip the sugarcoating? I drifted. Ever since, Ailey and I had swum in entirely different circles. Her, quite literally, as swim-team captain and all-around likable jock. Since she still cropped up in my feeds, I knew she went to perfectly adequate parties, was now the aforementioned Ellie Cyr’s bestie, and did plenty of the enviable cultural stuff that is the hallmark of any NYC teen’s life.
And that was all great until, in a weird turn of events, Audra deemed Ailey “cute” this, our senior, year. They’d only been in the same classes for three years prior, but then they found themselves the lone two seniors in the Japanese Life, Art, and Love elective, and suddenly my new best friend was talking my old best friend up to me as if she were Brooklyn real estate at the turn of the century and I’d passed on the chance to buy her.
Whenever they saw each other, to the exclusion of everyone else—namely me—they embraced in, I kid you not, a full-minute-long hug. I pretended absorption in Sharma’s zombie-dedicated screen until it was over and Ailey was back on her way.
And then my Doc chirped a familiar tone and I didn’t give a swipe about any of it. Not the creepy txts or my lateness or the fact that I lived in a constant state of stress over my bestie’s mood while she merged new, apparently more fulfilling, friendships in maddeningly adorable Japanese. My heart skipped in my chest.
macBoys’ room. Now, betch.
“Toodles, lovelies,” I said as my battery light went from yellow to red. “Ran so seven and a half minutes late this morning, didn’t have time for a proper pee.”
“I-C-K.” Sharma crinkled her nose.
“Sharma,” Fawn said, and tsked. “Pee is natural.”
“Boo!” Audra called after me. “We aren’t going up together?”
“Audy, I’ll see you in two minutes.”
“But how am I supposed to survive in the meantime?”
Just like that, all was right with the world again. Tossing me a coquettish wink, Audra linked arms with Fawn and Sharma. I blew them a kiss. And even though my favorite part of the morning was almost there—Mac time—I paused to watch my vivacious girls climb the stairs. We only had six more months together, and then it would be separate schools, states, social calendars, lives. This time was precious. Precious and finite, because more than ever, right at that moment, I had the worst feeling it was all about to go away.
And what do you know? Like always, I was right.
I barged into the bathroom, very Audra at a sample sale: What I want is in this room and I will have it. A freshman was picking at his face in one of the mirrors.
“Out,” I said.
“Oh gawd, I’m sorry.”
The boy bumped into the sink, dropped his Doc, fumbled to pick it up, then fled. I laughed, not so much at his freshie antics, but because there at the end of the row of sinks, also laughing at them, was the latest, yet most indispensable, addition to my life.
“Did you just kick a boy out of the boys’ bathroom?” Mac arched the eyebrow of ruin. “That’s a pretty boss move even for you, Ms. Cheng.”
Utilizing my best impersonation of Mac’s strut and light Chicano accent, I said, “You’re, like, not the boss unless you make people work for you, you know?”
As much as I would miss the girls in the fall, I couldn’t even grapple with not being around Mac. But he’d accepted early admission into NYU, and my top five schools were out of state.
“All right, my little Szechuan baguette.” Mac snorted. “Let’s promise you’ll never do that impression again. I just heard my primos cringe all the way from Sunset Park.”
“Wouldn’t want you to lose further cousin cred. Maybe I should stop meeting you in the little boys’ room altogether.”
His eyes widened in mock horror. “No, don’t do it.”
Grinning again, Mac wrapped me in a one-armed hug. As the full length of half our bodies pressed together, my brain made analogies. Hugging Mac was like crawling into a lifeboat after a day lost at sea. It was more invigorating than a pot of Dad’s Chemex. It was like setting foot on Mars after decades spent traveling through space. His soft, wild curls brushed my cheek. For the nine thousandth time, I was floored by how beautiful he was.
Bachata beats sounded tinnily from his EarRing. As averse as Mac was to tech dependency, he proceeded through life accompanied by an endless playlist. During school that meant caving and trading in his enormous old-skool headphones for the nearly invisible slim ear cuff that everyone else permanently wore.
He started to dance me side to side in a bachata two-step, singing under his breath. My EarRing’s Translate whispered the lyrics in English: “Time passes and passes, and I keep wanting you in my arms….”
I gently disentangled myself.
Before letting me go, Mac placed his lips lightly against my cheek. Just as I was about to utter my regular, discouraging “Mac,” he blew air so it made a loud farting sound. Then he cranked the volume on his Doc, did a fancy little bachata spin, and elbowed the wall-mounted paper towel holder. It popped open, revealing a jar of hair product. As he felt for his comb, hidden on the high ledge by the bathroom windows, I hopped up onto the garbage can. He said he didn’t slick his hair back until school because he was barely on time as it was, forget grooming. But he knew I liked seeing his curls crazy.
In the mirror his eyes flicked to me because whenever we were in the same space that was what our eyes tended to do. I could still feel the press of his lips on my cheek.
“Bow tie, huh?” he said. “Am I gonna get squirted with water if I get too close?”
“Um, it’s called fashion? What’s that look? Flannel shirt layered under a tee? It’s so retro it’s already been out twice.”
“Nah, I’m all the rage. Bra&Panties told me so.”
“Ew.” My fingers paused over my Doc, mid-Quip. “What were you doing on the B&P slut’s feed?”
“Audra sent me a link.”
“Yeah, they did a year-end music wrap-up that she thought I’d like.”
“Oh. That was nice of her.”
This past summer, a Brooklyn teen got e-famous for streaming half-naked pics with the username Bra&Panties. When she launched her site in the spring she wasn’t any different from all the other slutty girls who posted trying-to-look-alluring, boobs-pushed-together pics online. Then the B&P chick did a post about those girls and all the reasons they were degrading themselves. She harped on them for showing their faces. She never showed hers.
Let’s celebrate and adore ourselves but not confuse our bodies with our identities. Screw boys. Let’s be sexy for ourselves.
“A teenager wrote that?” Mom asked when I showed her the feed. “Sounds like a marketing firm.”
In June the B&P slut (my name for her) got mentioned on bigger media channels and even NYMag. Next click, she had a full-on designed website, her pics looked Vogue-worthy, and she was giving fashion and dining-out advice. Nowadays her skimpy outfits were regularly “brought to us by” the next-big-deal fashion designers, and she ran a column on new products she called Die-For-Worthy.
Girl was making bank.
Since day one, my girls were obsessed with her.
Progressive or not, she got rich off of boob pics. I’d rather follow girls who were advancing in life solely thanks to their brains.
Mac grinned. “Aww, amorcita, are you jealous? Why would I need to see faceless pics of half-naked girls when I’m friends with the most beautiful girl who refuses to let me get her half-naked? Hold on, it’s like the perfect combination.”
My Doc dinged. Mac groaned. Since our class schedules never overlapped, every five minutes we could get together was sacred.
[ ]T minus seven, six…
He loudly cleared his throat. I held out my Doc.
“I plead extenuating circumstances. I think someone’s messing with me.”
Scrolling through the creeper messages, he frowned. “What happens when it gets to zero?”
“Does something have to happen?”
“Why else have a countdown?” Noticing my insta–panic expression, he set down his comb—only half his head gelled back—and adjusted my bow tie. “Tranquila. It’s probably spam. Sharma can fix it. Or maybe it’s only clocking the seconds till you jump from the high dive into a barrel of water.”
“Still with the clown jokes.” I rolled my eyes, hopped down off the garbage can. “You’re the funniest one, Rodriguez. Come on, time to go learn stuff.”
“Be right there.”
Completely unconcerned that the bell was about to ring, Mac hummed as he tweaked his curls, a residual smile gracing his lips. Mac was the primest cut of meat at Prep and he was rumored to be better at crunching numbers than all our math teachers combined. Don’t think he wasn’t entirely aware of both these facts. I’d almost made it to the door when he called out.
“I heart you, Ronald.”
Here we were again. Audra would have played it coy and said I know. Fawn would have told him the truth, that she hearted him too—like, a lot—because her philosophy was to spread love every chance she got. And Sharma…actually, I have no idea what she’d have said. She wouldn’t have been in that bathroom to begin with. Boys were so beneath her.
- "Wang has managed to write an exciting, prescient story that brings to mind the unlikely combination of M.T. Anderson's Feed, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, and Sara Shepard's Pretty Little Liars series, with a little of Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy and the cult classic film Heathers thrown in the mix. . . . Highly recommended."—School Library Journal
- "Wang's smart, technocentric debut-Gossip Girl meets M.T. Anderson's Feed-addresses identity, public perception, and social media skewering."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Apr 10, 2018
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers