Foreword by James Patterson
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Here’s something I’ve learned over the years as a writer: the good guys and the bad guys come out best when they’re written first as people. The good guys might rescue kids from a burning building… but also kick puppies. The bad guys might rob banks… but call their grannies every night. The best and most relatable characters are the ones that seem most human, with all the flaws and virtues that involves. That’s what makes them come alive in our minds.
When I first read Kylie Schachte’s You’re Next, I found that this intriguing murder mystery was elevated to a remarkable level by her unflinchingly honest protagonist, Flora Calhoun. Flora’s past and present are littered with bad decisions, and there are times when you want to scream at her to not do what she’s about to do. Though you believe deeply in her search for justice, there are enough faults in Flora—her lies, her secrets, her refusal to open up—to make her feel extraordinarily real.
To me, it’s this kind of true-to-life writing that makes me a reader. I hope you feel the same.
JIMMY Patterson Books
Greg Garcy leers at me from his mug shot: bastard doesn’t know I’ve nailed him yet. I clutch his WANTED flyer in my hand and race down the hall, but I can’t look away from his crushed, sneering nose and bleary eyes.
You can’t run from me.
The bell rings. Damn. I’m so going to be late for chem.
I spent my free period in the parking lot listening to the police scanner on my phone and lost track of time. It was worth it. Garcy is wanted for a string of serial rapes upstate. He’s attacked dozens of women, and he was allowed to get away with it for years. Until now. The hot pulse of adrenaline zips through me as I dash through the halls. I got him. I really got him. I need to run a plate, but—
I slam into someone. The Garcy flyer, my bag, pens, and various notebooks scatter across the hallway. There’s a brief tangle of sharp elbows, and I yelp when the corner of my chem textbook lands on my toe. Of course this is the day I didn’t wear my steel-toed boots.
“Balls! Fuck! Ow! Shit!” I yell.
“Flora Calhoun, you kiss your mother with that mouth?”
I squint through the red haze of stubbed-toe agony.
Ava McQueen gathers up my papers, pens, and the lone tampon I dropped. One corner of her plum-painted mouth tugs up in a troublemaker’s smile, and a fizzy feeling climbs the back of my neck. It’s been seven months and four days since the last time I kissed her, but I still remember exactly how her lips felt against mine.
“H-hey, Ava.” I drop down to help her.
“How you been? Haven’t seen you around much.”
Yeah. We haven’t talked a whole lot since you started avoiding me. “Um, good. You know, same old bullshit.”
She picks Garcy’s WANTED flyer up off the ground and stands. “Clearly.”
I blush, which is basically the most annoying thing in the world when you’re a redhead. Ava always makes me feel like I’ve just missed the last step in the staircase.
Ava is a year older than me, but we took the same elective on the history of political activism during my freshman year. One day, she shut down this Young Conservatives idiot who called the Black Panthers a terrorist organization. Everyone clapped, Mr. Young Con crapped his khakis, and I fell in love. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she plays bass guitar, or that she’s bananas hot. I mean, with her curls done up in adorable space buns, and the lipstick, and that funny little smile she’s still giving me?
Which is super confusing, since she hasn’t smiled at me like that in a long time.
Seven months and four days.
Can’t be thinking about that. I focus on shoving my stuff back into my bag. “Oh, uh. You know me. Can’t keep myself out of trouble.”
She does know. I’ve always suspected that’s why she stopped talking to me—stopped kissing me—in the first place.
Ava stares at the flyer in her hand. When she glances up at me, the teasing smile has vanished, and something dark flickers in her expression. She looks down again, trying to hide it.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s what fear looks like.
I take a half step forward, any weirdness between us forgotten. “Ava? Are you okay?”
She fingers the edge of the paper. “You ever do something stupid? I mean, like, really, really stupid? Can’t-take-it-back stupid?”
“Almost every day.” My face heats again. Why did I say that?
“You know”—Ava’s eyes flick from Garcy’s face to mine—“I believe that.”
That stings, but I ignore it. “Ava, if you’re in trouble, I can help you.”
She opens her mouth, but her eyes catch on something over my shoulder. She stills.
I glance behind me. Nothing but the usual throng of people trying to get to their lockers. No one looks this way.
Ava folds the Garcy flyer in half, then quarters. “No worries. I have it under control.”
I take another step toward her. “Seriously, I do this kind of stuff all the time. I know we haven’t, um, talked much lately, but I can—”
Ava’s smile is cold, nothing like before. Shit. I shouldn’t have brought up the her-and-me stuff.
“I got it. Just being dumb, right? Nothing I can’t handle. You take care of yourself, Flora.” She tucks the flyer back into my bag. For a second, she’s close enough that I smell her warm, woodsy perfume, but she walks away before I can get another word out.
I’m being dumb, right? She just remembered that she doesn’t want to talk to me, that’s all.
So why is my chest suddenly tight with dread?
I shake off my confusion and chase after her, but by the time I round the corner, she’s already gone.
I tap my pen on the worksheet in front of me.
Balance the equation: C5H8O2 + NaH + HCl → C5H12O2 + NaCl
I usually like the tidiness of balancing equations, but today I can’t focus.
Was Ava worried, or am I manufacturing an excuse to talk to her? Or maybe she was scared, but she didn’t want to talk to me about it?
“Dude, please. You have to listen.” Two tables away, Damian Rivera scribbles on a slip of paper and slides it across the desk to his best friend, Penn Williams. My pen pauses halfway through rewriting the equation.
Penn knocks the note to the floor without looking up. The space beneath his desk is littered with scraps of paper. I lean forward in my seat. Is that a bruise on his cheek? It’s a faint yellowy-purple, like he tried to cover it with makeup.
That’s not sketchy at all.
“Please,” Damian hisses. “Let me explain.”
Penn’s chair scrapes against the linoleum as he stands. He grabs the bathroom pass off its hook and stalks out of the room. Is it me, or is he limping a little?
Mrs. Varner calls out, “Ten more minutes, people, then we’ll discuss.”
I’m only on question two. Between Garcy and Ava, I have enough intrigue in my life for one day. I drag my attention back to the double displacement reaction on my paper.
Balance the equation…
Penn never returns to class.
When the bell finally rings, Damian races out the door. Rushing to hunt down his friend, maybe?
Those abandoned scraps of paper are still on the floor.
I shouldn’t. The last thing I need is to get sucked into the breakup of Penn and Damian’s bromance.
I bend down and scoop the notes up. The first one says: I’m sorry, I had to do it. Please talk to me. The second: You have to understand. And the third: You don’t know what she’ll do to me.
Huh. I pocket the scraps of paper and leave the classroom.
“I have so much to tell you.” Cassidy Yang, my best and only friend, waits for me in the hall. She’s kind of impossible to miss in her oversize safety-orange sweater. Straw-like blond hair peeks out from under her gray beanie. She bleached her hair months ago, and now the black is making a comeback. When I try stuff like that, I look like an idiot. When Cass does, she looks like she’s in some magazine spread on street style.
“What’s up?” I ask, my mind still half stuck on Ava’s terrified face.
Cass and I make our way down the hall. She’s practically vibrating with enthusiasm. One kid winces as he passes, like he’s blinded by her sweater.
“They did it!” she says. “They finally approved the funds for rock ensemble.”
“Seriously? That’s awesome.” For the first time this afternoon, my anxiety about Ava fades a little.
“I know!” Cass does a gleeful little shimmy. “There are only seven spots in the class, though, so I have to do some intense practice this weekend. Auditions are Monday.”
“You should bring some of your original songs.”
Cass stops dancing. “Maybe.”
I roll my eyes. I was a little surprised a year ago when Cass bought a guitar and started teaching herself to play from YouTube videos. She’d never expressed any kind of interest in it before, but she’s already really good. She still gets shy about her own songwriting, though.
I don’t push it. “Hey, you’re in history with Penn Williams, right? Have you noticed anything weird lately?”
Cass considers it. “Not really, but that’s normal. Penn’s so quiet.”
I tell her what I saw in chem class.
“You think he’s in trouble?” she asks.
“Maybe. Or maybe I’m sticking my nose in where it doesn’t belong.”
“Well, you wouldn’t be you if you didn’t,” she says dryly. “Should we try some good old-fashioned internet stalking? If Penn’s got issues, bet you it’s all over Instagram.”
We spend the rest of the walk to her car discussing post frequency, content, and filter choices as possible clues of distress. A few times, I almost tell Cass about the strange, tense conversation I had with Ava, but then I don’t. Maybe I was imagining it. Maybe it was just the same old awkwardness between Ava and me, left over from last summer. If I bring her up now, Cass will want to talk about it. It might have been seven months and four days, but I’d still rather launch myself into the blazing sun than deal with all those feelings.
Cass drops me off, and I promise to call later to help her prep for the audition.
“I’m home!” I call out, dumping my stuff in the doorway.
“Yes, I was able to deduce that from the sound of the door opening at precisely the same time you come home every day.” My grandfather appears in the doorway. I’m about 99 percent certain he’s ex-CIA from the golden years when they had free rein to deal with those pesky Russians. William Calhoun has been retired for years, but he still wears a custom-tailored suit every day.
“You know, most parental guardians open with a ‘Hello, honey, how was your day?’ when their progeny return from the battlefield of high school education.”
“How quaint.” He retrieves my bag from the floor and throws me a pointed look as he hangs it neatly on its hook.
The scents of butter and cinnamon draw me into the kitchen. “Did you make cookies?”
“Yes, I thought you might appreciate a post-battle snickerdoodle.”
“Forget those other loser grandfathers, you’re the best,” I call back. I’ve always wondered if he learned to bake when he was undercover. He’s a little too good at it.
Gramps hums to himself as he dons oven mitts and pulls out a fresh batch of cookies. He’s downright cheerful today.
I guess it’s as good a time as any to ask. “So, I need a favor.”
He ignores me and grabs a spatula. Maybe some buttering up is in order.
“I have a new theory about you,” I tell him. “You were attempting to unveil a Soviet spy stationed within the French government. You went undercover as a baker’s apprentice at the patisserie where the pinko went every morning for his petit déjeuner, and that’s where you learned this delicious sorcery.” I brandish my cookie in the air for emphasis.
“Inventive.” He scrapes dried batter off the tray.
“So, this favor…”
No one sighs like William Calhoun. So soft, and yet weighted with such vexation.
He begins transferring cookies from the baking sheet to the cooling rack. “In case I have not mentioned it yet today, I must tell you that your tenacity is a rather ugly character flaw. What can I do for you this time? Plant listening devices in the home of a Venezuelan dignitary? Order the assassination of your physical education teacher?”
“Nah, I’m saving that one for a graduation present. I was hoping one of your old buddies could run a plate for me?”
“I thought we had finally realized that potential love interests seldom appreciate stalking as a precursor to courtship.”
“Yeah, well, if I never have a serious relationship, we’ll know who’s to blame. No crush. It’s Greg Garcy.” I pull the WANTED flyer from my bag. “The case has been cold for months, but I heard on the tip line he’s been spotted a few times in the area. I’ve got a lead on the car.”
“Flora, we’ve discussed this.” He scoops fresh cookie dough onto the baking sheet. “I do not mind you illegally tapping into the police phone system; I simply don’t wish to hear about it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. You’ll call some of your friends in Virginia?”
He blinks. “I have no idea what you mean. I was nothing but a humble midlevel diplomat.”
“Is that why there’s a framed photo of you and William J. Donovan, founder of the CIA, on your desk?” I ask through a mouthful of cookie.
“Has anyone mentioned how off-putting it is for young ladies to be so observant?”
“Yes. You. Frequently.”
“Well, all right, then. I will call up some of the old boys for you.”
“I love you, and not because you’re my affable and genteel grandfather, but because of the goods and services I can extort from you.”
“I would expect no less.”
Olive walks into the kitchen. She’s dressed for ballet class, every strand of her hair pulled up tight in a perfect bun. I finger the ends of my own sloppy braid. Olive is only thirteen, but she has her shit way more together than me.
“Mom called.” She grabs a banana from the fruit bowl to put in her bag. “You just missed her.”
Yeah, I bet.
My mother has lived in Germany for the last two and a half years. She’s a painter at this artist-in-residence thing in Berlin. She was only supposed to be gone for six months, but here we are.
She knows my school schedule, and yet somehow she always calls about fifteen minutes before I get home. It’s a convenient way for her to pretend to be my mother without having to, you know, mother me.
“Hmm,” is all I can think to say. Gramps watches me, but I avoid his eyes.
“She’s good, if you were wondering. Her gallery show is next weekend.” Olive’s spine has gone very straight. She does that when she’s annoyed—practices her dance posture.
“That’s great.” I try to sound sincere, but it mostly comes out exhausted. I don’t even know how I’m supposed to feel about my mom anymore. Olive rolls her eyes. My attempts to appease her only piss her off.
Olive and I get along about as well as any sisters would, for the most part, but it’s no secret she blames me for Mom leaving.
She’s not wrong.
Olive turns to my grandfather. “Can we go?”
“Of course.” He wipes the flour from his hands with a dish towel. As they’re about to leave, he turns to me with pretend sternness. “Allow those cookies to cool before gorging, please.”
I give him a salute. “Yes, sir.”
“I’ll get that license plate for you this evening.” The look in his eyes is gentle, and a little sad. He doesn’t really know how to feel about the Mom stuff, either.
Later, after my grandfather has plied me with more tacos than I should reasonably be able to fit inside me, I call in the Garcy tip. The cops aren’t particularly thrilled to hear from me—we don’t have the best working relationship—but Gramps cashed in a favor with the Department of Transportation and got me the tollbooth photos of Garcy entering the area, his face and license plate number clear as day. Hard for the police to ignore me when I hand them a perp on that kind of silver platter.
In the state of New York, you must be at least twenty-five years of age and have a minimum of three years’ relevant experience to apply for a private investigator’s license. Needless to say, I fall short on both of the requirements.
The cops pretend that I’m some dumb kid who barely stays out of their way. I play along because it protects their delicate egos and keeps them occupied while I do my job.
Because it is a job. Garcy was a special case—I found him in an article about how the NYPD finally tested thousands of rape kits they’d held in storage for years—but most of the time I work for hire, and I get paid. All under the table, of course, and if the IRS ever calls, Cass and I are simply running a very lucrative babysitting business.
I pull up all of Penn’s and Damian’s social media accounts and start combing through them. The two of them are part of that crowd that hangs out in the art studio during their free periods, so most of their pictures are of their work. Half of Damian’s feed is taken up by progress shots of a giant white snake sculpture. There are no obvious signs of distress, but one thing sticks out to me right away: up until about three weeks ago, both Penn and Damian commented on every single one of each other’s posts. And then nothing.
I hesitate, then pull up Ava’s profile. I haven’t let myself look at this in a long time, but I can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong and Ava was too afraid to talk.
Not much has changed on her feed. Lots of pictures of her and her friends, laughing and goofing off. A screenshot of a bell hooks quote. A dark, grainy video of her playing her bass in her bedroom.
I scroll down farther. I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself.
There: last July. One picture, the only proof that the two of us were ever anything. A selfie she insisted we take. We’re lying on our backs, our cheeks pressed together. I’m flushed with giddy embarrassment. Ava’s smile is as dopey and glittering as mine. No hint that a month later she would refuse to speak to me, let alone be in the same room. If you look closely, you can see the floral print of my pillowcase under her head.
My phone vibrates. Ava McQueen’s name lights up my screen.
There’s a flutter of fear and pleasure in the no-man’s-land below my belly button. Does she know I was looking at her, somehow? Does she want to talk to me?
But she had that look on her face earlier. That dark look.
“Flora?” Ava whispers. “I need your help.”
I haul myself off the bed. “What’s wrong?”
There’s a hitch in Ava’s breathing, like she’s running. I close my eyes and press the phone against my ear. I can’t make out any background noise. Rustling. Maybe the wind?
“Ava, are you there?” My voice comes out too loud.
“Come. Okay? I’ll text you the address.” Her voice is ragged with terror.
“Okay. I’ll come. I promise. But—”
The call disconnects.
Each of my heartbeats comes faster than the last. My room is too warm, too small. I push my hair behind my ears and count to five. I need control.
I grab my coat and backpack off the hook on my door. Should I call Cass? Her parents probably won’t notice or care if she takes her car out in the middle of the night. Plus, Ava and I haven’t really been alone together, not since… Well, the coward part of me wouldn’t mind a buffer.
The phone vibrates again in my hand. A text from Ava:
Intersection of Fourth and Mason in Whitley. Come fast.
I can’t be thinking about my failed love life when Ava obviously needs help. I have to face this one on my own.
I open my window and pop off the screen. March air rushes in, cold on my clammy cheeks. I climb out the window and into the night.
I ride my bike to meet Ava. I can drive, and Gramps is cool about letting me take the car as long as I explain where I’m going, but I don’t have time for that right now.
There’s a nasty crunch in my stomach, like my gut is eating itself with nerves.
Maybe it’s fine. Maybe it’s nothing.
I pedal harder. It’s like those dreams where you move your legs faster and faster, but they’re just rubbery noodles that get you nowhere.
The night is too cold for clouds. The wind claws my face, and my fingers are numb on the handlebars, but sweat trickles down my back from all the pedaling.
It’s about a thirty-minute bike ride from my house in Hartsdale—one of those cookie-cutter suburbs where everyone knows each other’s secrets—to Whitley, the city next door. This late at night, the streets are mostly deserted. I ride by warehouses and run-down storefronts. Past cars that have been parked in the same spot for decades, their tires sagged with defeat, no longer waiting for their owners to come back.
I try to concentrate on the movement of my body pushing me forward, but my mind keeps drifting to other stuff. Stuff I shouldn’t be thinking about.
Ava and I almost dated. Or maybe we did, but it fell apart so quickly I didn’t even have time to realize we were dating. I had liked her for ages, since I met her in that class freshman year, and we even kissed once, but all my crap baggage kept us from actually getting together. And then last year, right before school let out for the summer, I helped Ava’s friend on a case. Ava and I started talking again, and before I knew it we were making out in the photo lab darkroom.
All through last summer, Ava would come over to my house, and we’d curl up on my bed and kiss and kiss until both of us were about ready to burst into flames. But I didn’t know if she was officially my girlfriend, and I was too awkward to know how to ask. Then I went to visit my mom in Germany for three weeks. When I got back, Ava wouldn’t answer any of my texts. She’s been avoiding me ever since.
Gunshots crack through the night—three of them—and I nearly fall off my bike. I grip the handlebars tighter, but they’re slick with sweat.
A few blocks away from Ava’s intersection, I hop off my bike and prop it against a wall. I don’t want to screw around with a bike lock if I need to make a run for it.
I go the rest of the way on foot. Where Hartsdale is all trees and fancy Colonial houses, Whitley is nothing but high-rise apartments, metal, and pavement. The smell of exhaust, trash left out on the street, and old coins. My footsteps are multiplied as they echo off all the concrete. I keep turning around like there’s someone behind me, but I’m alone. I’m trying to watch every direction at once. The voice in my head says I’m that girl, the one at the beginning of the horror movie.
That voice can go fuck itself.
One block away. Everything’s gone quiet. No gunshots, no footsteps. Nothing but the wind.
I arrive at Fourth and Mason. No Ava. No one at all.
“Ava?” I whisper. No answer.
“Ava?” I try again. I don’t want to shout. Icy wind rakes through the damp, sweaty hairs on the back of my neck.
Across the street, there’s a rustle of blinds in one window, but when I turn, they go still. The light turns off.
Maybe she was messing with me. She’ll leap out—Boo!—and laugh while I try to act pissed off. We’ll hold hands and get hot chocolate. We’ll pick up where we left off last summer, before everything got weird.
Given my track record, this seems unlikely.
I search for signs of life up and down the street. There’s not a sound, not a flash of movement anywhere. No cars driving past. No people. My throat closes up with panic.
My eyes snag on a narrow gap between two buildings. An alleyway. As I creep closer, I reach into my backpack and pull out my Taser. The slick plastic is soothing against my sweaty palm. I grip it tighter.
I am not the girl in the horror movie. I’m not.
I grab my flashlight, too, but don’t turn it on yet.
I’m at the mouth of the alley when I hear the faintest wheeze, like a sigh of relief.
“Ava?” I pop the button on the flashlight and flood the alleyway in harsh white LED light.
Ava McQueen is sprawled on the ground. Blood trickles lazily from three bullet holes in her chest and abdomen.
I drop my flashlight. The night has become a vacuum, sucking all the air from my lungs. I scream and scream, but I can’t hear it.
This isn’t happening. Not again.
The world around me turns to jagged flashes. My vision goes black, then flares bright like a lightning strike. Each time it snags on a new, horrifying image.
Three bullet holes smolder in her shearling coat.
A blackish pool grows wider and wider beneath her.
Her eyes dart left and right.
She’s still alive.
My heart slams against the front wall of my rib cage. Everything zooms back into focus all at once, and my mouth fills with warm, syrupy saliva.
I pick up the flashlight and scramble to kneel at Ava’s side. The pool of her blood seeps into the knees of my jeans.
“In her gripping debut, Schachte merges the spirit of Nancy Drew with modern-day sensibilities: Flora’s intrepid drive for justice is keyed to intense vulnerability and lingering trauma.”
“Schachte’s debut novel has the pacing of a stick of dynamite: a slow burn leading to an explosive ending.”
—School Library Journal
"Schachte has done an impressive job taking a hard-boiled detective story and turning it on its head... This is an addictive page-turner for YA mystery fans, especially those looking for a Veronica Mars-like read."—Booklist
"This read would suit a...young adult who welcomes a tumultuous ride and eventual heartbreak."—BCCB
"The treatment of the subjects of trust and emotional vulnerability between friends adds an extra dimension."—Kirkus Reviews
“A serrated, black-lipsticked Nancy Drew, You’re Next is a tantalizing neo-noir joyride."
—Derek Milman, author of Swipe Right for Murder
"Get your popcorn ready because You're Next is compelling as hell.”
—Stephanie Tromly, author of the Trouble Is a Friend of Mine trilogy
"With a sharp-edged, savvy heroine and a plot that twists and digs, You're Next is both a page-turning thriller and the witty, authentic story of a teenage girl forging her own identity. Kylie Schachte has crafted a debut that will pull you into the dark from start to finish."—Hannah Capin, author of Foul is Fair
- On Sale
- Jul 6, 2021
- Page Count
- 464 pages
- JIMMY Patterson Books