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Cricket Thompson's lifetime of overachieving has paid off: she's headed to Brown University in the fall, with a spot on the lacrosse team and a scholarship that covers almost everything. Who knew living in the dorm cost money? An Ivy League education seems to mean living at home for the next four years.
When Cricket is offered the chance to earn enough cash to afford a real college experience, she heads back to Nantucket for the summer. But the faraway island challenges Cricket in ways she hadn't anticipated. It's hard to focus on earning money for next year, when she finds her world opening up in entirely new ways-to art, to travel, and, most unexpectedly, to a future completely different from the one she has been working toward her whole life. A friendship blossoms with Ben, the gorgeous surfer and bartender who encourages Cricket to be free, even as she smarts at the pain of seeing Zack, her first love, falling for her worst enemy.
But one night, when Cricket finally lets herself break all her own rules, she realizes she may have ruined her carefully constructed future with one impulsive decision. Cricket must dig deep to fight for her future, discovering that success isn't just about reaching goals, but also about listening to what she's been trying to ignore-her own heart.
Copyright © 2014 by Leila Howland
Cover design by Marci Senders
Cover photograph © 2014 by Michael Flores
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, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023-6387.
I NEVER LIKED THE LAST FEW DAYS of summer vacation. Hot without the promise of beach days, heavy with the knowledge that a whole school year is ahead, and stuck in a muggy haze between summer and fall, they're the slowest days of the year. Today felt like the most in-between day of all. It was almost eleven o'clock and I was still in bed. The sun streaked through the blinds and made patterns on the walls. I stared at the ceiling, watching the fan go around and around. Zack was starting boarding school tomorrow and we still hadn't discussed whether we were going to stay together or break up. How was it that only a week ago we were at Steps Beach, kissing under the stars, with what felt like an ocean of time sparkling ahead of us?
A few days after we'd returned to Providence, Zack told me he was going to Hanover Academy, an elite boarding school in northern New Hampshire. I understood why he was leaving. His mom, Nina, had died in June and his dad and sister, Jules, had completely shut down. Who could blame them?
Nina was the most alive person I'd ever met. I loved her, too. She taught me how to ice skate backward. She taught me how to make a perfect vinaigrette. She introduced me to Frida Kahlo and William Carlos Williams. She made the best paella. There was no one like her, and now she was gone. Mr. Clayton and Jules were shadows of their previous selves. Zack was living with ghosts.
Hanover would give him a chance to start fresh and be among the living. When he told me that a space had opened up at the last minute and he was taking it, I was happy for him. It didn't feel real. I still had Nantucket sand in my shoes. I was so dizzy-happy in love with him that nothing felt real, but it was starting to sink in: the boy I'd risked everything for this summer was going away. He was coming over in a few hours to spend the afternoon with me, and we had to decide what to do. Break up? I wondered as I kicked off the sheets. Stay together, I thought, and sat up.
I lifted my hair off my sweaty neck, twisted it into a bun, and turned on my laptop. When I logged onto Facebook, Zack's new profile picture was at the top of my feed. He'd taken down the photo of himself on the beach in Nantucket and replaced it with one of himself in a Hanover Academy sweatshirt. No, I thought.
Jules commented: "Don't forget your jockstrap!"
A flurry of "good lucks" and "have funs" and more specific comments followed, references to Hanover that I didn't understand. No, stay with me, I thought and felt myself contract and stiffen. My jaw tightened. My stomach clenched. I wanted to hold on to him and keep him in my world, our world. This feeling, this panicky collapse, was opposite of the sweet effervescence I felt when I was with him; it was foreign and unwelcome, and it didn't feel like love.
"Cricket, it's for you," Mom said with a girlie smile when Zack knocked on the door a few hours later. Mom had never been good with boundaries; my being in love gave her a contact blush.
Zack's eyes lit up as I walked toward him in the new white tank top Mom had bought me from the Gap after she saw the state of my clothes when I'd returned from Nantucket, and my old, worn-out cutoffs she couldn't have separated me from if she'd tried. My hair was still damp from a shower and I knew I smelled like the vanilla soap he liked. A slow grin spread across his face as he leaned in the door frame.
"Let's get lost," Zack said like someone from an old movie. He handed me an iced coffee just the way I liked it: extra ice, lots of cream, no sugar.
Mom lingered in the front hall and placed a hand over her heart, slayed by Zack's charm. "Don't forget to take an umbrella," she said. "It's supposed to rain."
"That's okay. Thanks, Mom," I said as we walked to his car. I slid my fingers through his belt loop. "I know where we can get some privacy." I'd discovered this place on an away game in Newport. It was about a half hour outside Providence, off Route 24, past Dotty's Donuts, down a shady country road. You had to drive by the farm with the self-service strawberry stand and the Catholic school with its low, humble buildings, all the way to where the road ended at the Narragansett Bay.
The air-conditioning was broken in Zack's old station wagon, so we drove with the windows down. We listened to the college station, stopped for donuts, and even spotted one of the monks from the Catholic school talking on an iPhone. We held hands and kissed at stoplights, but we didn't talk about us.
After we parked, Zack headed down to the beach. I balanced on the abandoned train tracks that hugged the shore and watched him pick up a stone, examine it, and send it skipping into the bay. He was having dinner with Jules and his dad in an hour and a half, and then they were heading to New Hampshire, where they would spend the night at an inn so they could move him into his dorm the next morning. It was time.
I hopped off the tracks, walked down the rocky hill to the beach, and wrapped my arms around his waist. There was a pale band on his neck where his hair had been cut for school.
"What are we going to do?" I asked, breathing into his back.
"I don't want to break up," he said, turning to face me. The clouds collected weight and darkness above us. He pulled me close. "What do you think?"
"I think long distance sucks." Zack pressed his fingers into my spine, confusing my chemicals. Part of me was trying to shut down so that I could deal with this, but my blood spun under his touch.
"It's only a few hours away. We can switch off weekends."
"I don't have a car."
"You can take the bus. And there are so many vacations. For as expensive as this school is, I'll hardly ever be there."
"But I don't want to be someone you text or a face on the screen," I said as his hands left swirls of heat on my back. "We'll forget each other. Or fade away. Long distance will distort everything."
"I could never forget you," Zack said as a wave washed over our ankles. My shoes got soaked. I tossed them back on the beach where they landed in ballet third position.
"When I saw you'd changed your profile picture, I felt like this." I clenched my fists and gritted my teeth. He smiled. "Zack, I'm serious." I looped my arms around his neck and leaned in. "I don't want to feel that way about you. All tight and anxious."
"Let's not do long distance, then."
"So we're breaking up?" The words were so far from what I wanted that they didn't feel real—like I couldn't have possibly just said them. "No, no, no. I don't want that."
"I don't either."
"Maybe we can just…pause," I said.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, we'll just stop here, right now, like this, and then pick up where we left off next summer." A few fat raindrops fell. "No Facebook, no Instagram, no texts, no phone."
"Okay," Zack said. "I can do that."
"But we have to stick to the rules, otherwise the pause won't work."
"I'm unfriending you right now." Zack slid one hand in my left back pocket while the other took out his phone. "Well, there's no reception out here, but I'm going to do it as soon as I get home." Then, before I knew it, Zack snapped a picture of us: me looking up as the rain started, eyebrows raised, him with his arm around my neck, smiling at me.
The rain started for real. We ran for the car and dove into the backseat. Rain splattered against the windows as if flung from a million paintbrushes.
"Paused," I said.
"Paused," Zack said. He pulled off my tank top and I slid his T-shirt over his head.
"Wait—the monk!" I said, covering myself with my hands.
"He's on his iPhone," Zack said, and we laughed, trying to guess who it was he was talking to: His mom? A nun? God?
"I love you," he said as we slid back on the seat.
"I love you, too." It was the first time we'd said those three words in that order. I shivered. I knew in my bones that the words were as true and real as the vinyl seats in that wood-paneled station wagon, the rusted rails of the train tracks, the drumroll of thunder in the distance. My foot made a print on the cool, fogged-up window.
Forty-five minutes later, flushed and unable to stop smiling, we drove off. I'd forgotten all about my shoes, which had been left on the beach, waiting, in third position, for our return.
FOR THE FIRST TIME in my thirteen years of attending the Rosewood School for Girls, I was scared to walk through the front doors. I should've been happy. As a senior, I was going to be allowed off campus for lunch. I was going to write the name of whatever colleges I was accepted into on the big piece of butcher paper hanging in the senior lounge. I was going to be captain of the field hockey and lacrosse teams, and for years I'd planned on being one of the seniors who was super nice to the freshman. As I watched girls spill out of cars in spanking-new uniforms, and gather in quartets and trios, I didn't feel nice.
"I can't go in," I said to Mom. "Jules hates me."
"She doesn't hate you. She's been through hell, but you did nothing wrong."
"What about Nina's memorial service?" I leaned against the headrest to offset the nausea.
"You thought you were doing the right thing. It was an innocent mistake."
"Zack?" Innocent was not the word to describe us.
"Falling in love with someone's brother is not a hanging offense," Mom said and checked herself out in the visor mirror. She applied a new shade of lipstick. Coral. It was actually kind of hip. She'd been taking antidepressants for three weeks now and I could tell they were starting to work. She readjusted the mirror. "Now, out you go, I can't be late. It's my first day, too, you know."
I shook my head. God only knows how Jules had spun the story of this summer to our friends. She could tell a story like no one else: pauses so well timed, impressions so accurate, gestures so precise that everyone in her orbit was enchanted. My stomach churned at the thought of being on the wrong side of her talent.
Mom leaned over and opened the door herself. "Cricket, go."
I was biding my time in a bathroom stall before assembly, admiring the paint job they'd done over the summer, when Jules came in. I watched her walk into the next stall. I would know those boat shoes anywhere, as well as the little white scar on the top of her left foot from when she'd dropped an ice skate in the seventh grade. The sound of her peeing seemed horribly amplified. She was humming the school song. I was going to make a run for it, but then I realized that catching her alone was exactly what I needed. I had to face her and apologize again. Better that we weren't surrounded. I opened the latch, stood by the sinks, and braced myself.
"I'm sorry," I said, when she emerged from the stall.
"Ah!" She flung a hand to her chest. "You scared me."
"I'm sorry. About the memorial service, and Zack, and everything."
"Cricket." Jules sighed my name. She looked tired, a little too tan, a little too skinny. I wanted to hug her and ask if she was okay. "I just— I can't right now." She'd said it with such naked honesty there was nothing to do but accept it.
"Okay," I said. "Okay." We washed our hands in silence. We couldn't walk out together. In a strange move, I gestured like some kind of old-fashioned gentleman for her to leave first. She gave me a confused look and left. I counted to twenty and opened the door. I saw our group of friends seamlessly envelop her as they walked toward assembly, moving in one fluid motion, like a river.
They'd repainted the auditorium, too, and even though the windows were open, the fumes were giving me a headache. I sat up front, away from Jules, and tried to focus as the principal, Edwina MacIntosh, welcomed everyone back to school. Teachers made announcements about school activities: student council, the literary magazine, yearbook, choir, community service outreach. Sign me up for everything, I thought. I may be without a best friend or a boyfriend, but this is my school.
I cast a quick glance at Jules, who was whispering to Arti Rai. My college application is going to fucking glow, I thought as I whipped out my plan book and started making notes.
I spent the midmorning break alone in the senior lounge with my school supplies. I could see Jules in the cafeteria, telling summer stories to a table of enraptured girls. They were all eating bagels the way I had invented, peeling off the hard outer shell and eating that first and saving the squishy middle in its original shape for last. That's called Cricket-style, I thought bitterly. I was eating an endlessly chewy protein bar that tasted like wood chips, labeling tabs, and trying to look busy. Miss Kang, the field hockey and lacrosse coach, noticed me as she walked by.
I smiled and held up my plan book. "Getting organized!"
"You are too much, Cricket," she said and sat down next to me on the old couch. "You know I'm in touch with Stacy, head coach over at Brown, right? She's got her eye on you. What do you say we put together some clips to send her?" She elbowed me. "What do you say we get you into Brown?"
"Really? Do you think?" I'd always imagined I'd go away for college and not stay in Providence. Where, I didn't know, but I had this picture in my head of stuffing the Honda to the gills and hitting the road. But Brown was Ivy League—hallowed words, a synonym for the best. I imagined what it would feel like to write Brown on that big piece of butcher paper. It would feel like redemption. I'd seen it happen. The senior girls accepted to Ivy Leagues basked in a haze of adoration, cleansed of all previous misdeeds. "Do you really think I could make the team?"
"They'd be lucky to have you," Miss Kang said. "And they're going to graduate their starting lineup this year." She rubbed her hands together as if devising a plan. Then, glimpsing the clock in the cafeteria, she said, "I have to prep for Algebra II. We'll talk more at practice. You should be ready to lead warm-ups with Jules."
"Yeah, sure." Cocaptains. It had been decided last year, back when we could bust into our synchronized dance moves within three seconds of hearing that Bruno Mars song, but now my stomach elevator-dropped at her name. "No problem."
IT WAS ALMOST HALFTIME and Peabody school was beating us three to zero. The field hockey season was not off to a good start. We'd won only one game out of four, and that was against Hamlin. Everyone could beat Hamlin. But this game was embarrassing. They were playing their second string in the first half. I think they were even giving some of their JV players a shot. And it was the first cold day of the year. We'd gone from summer to winter in a week with only one crisp, sweater-weather day in between. Out on Peabody's field, it was overcast and the air had teeth.
The ref blew the whistle in our favor for the first time the whole game. Jules had the ball. She tapped her elbow. That meant she'd hit the ball hard and long up the field, which was my cue to sprint, make it look like I was going to shoot, and then pass it back to Jules, who would hopefully score. But instead of wielding her stick like an ax, thwacking the ball and sending it flying, she tapped it. It rolled ten feet.
I darted for the ball, hooked it, and started dribbling. My eyes were on the goal, but my head was elsewhere. I knew there was a Halloween party that weekend at Jay Logan's and that a bunch of girls were getting ready at Jules's house. They'd talked about it right in front of me on the bus while I'd pretended to be fascinated by the highway scenery. I was tired of sitting out social events because of Jules. I'd done my time. I wanted to go out and have fun. But what was I going to do, show up alone? Invite myself over to her house to get ready?
"Cricket," Jules called, but I charged ahead, weaving through Peabody's line of defense. I was about to take a shot when a Peabody player, a freshman, I think, stole the ball right out from under me. How did I not see her? The buzzer sounded.
"That's half!" the ref called.
"Cricket and Jules, get over here," Miss Kang said. Her face was red with cold or anger or both. She gestured with a blunt-nailed index finger. "You two need to get it together. You're the captains. You need to be communicating. You're on different planets out there. What the hell is going on?"
I looked at Jules. She shrugged and stared at the ground. Her breath formed faint clouds in front of her perfect, heart-shaped lips.
"Um? You know what?" Miss Kang lowered her voice and looked over her shoulder. Our teammates looked on in curiosity. "Whatever drama you two are going through is taking down the team, and it sucks. You need to decide if you're up to this. If you're not, we need new captains. It's not fair to the other girls. You have five minutes to work this out or I'm holding an emergency election."
Miss Kang marched off. I took in a lungful of frosty air. If we quit it would look terrible on my applications. I was not going to let Jules mar my résumé.
"Well?" I said. Jules wouldn't look at me. "Ugh!" I threw down my stick. "Enough is enough! I apologized on Nantucket. I apologized the first day of school. I feel like I apologize every time I look at you. I can't apologize anymore!" The words came out hot and clear. My ears buzzed even as the tips of them froze. Jules's eyes widened. The cloud in front of her mouth vanished. There was my old friend, alive and looking right at me.
"Hey, I didn't do anything," Jules said in a fierce whisper.
"Ignoring me is not nothing. Excluding me is not nothing. I'm done walking on eggs!"
"You mean eggshells?"
"I mean what I mean," I said, because even if I'd gotten the expression wrong, eggs, with all their gooey, messy insides, seemed much worse to walk on than shells. "I can't keep feeling like I owe you something."
"I can't help how you feel," she said.
"Well, I'm done acting like I've committed the crime of the century." I picked up my stick and kicked off the dirt.
"Okay," she said.
Miss Kang jogged over. "What's the verdict?"
"We're in," Jules said, wiping her mouth guard on her kilt.
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Definitely," I added before the wind had a chance to shift.
"Get over there and talk to your team." Miss Kang gestured to the amorphous pack of girls standing dejectedly around the giant watercooler, sucking on orange slices, shivering, stealing cautious glances in our direction. "Seriously, give them a pep talk."
We didn't score in the second half, but neither did Peabody, and by the end of the game, their coach had subbed back in at least half of their starting lineup. Miss Kang called it a dignified loss.
From that moment on, we had a truce. We could lead our team, hang out in groups, or even be paired up for the Rosewood Cares Food Drive table at the street fair, but we had to obey three simple rules. One, we didn't talk about her mom. Two, we didn't talk about Nantucket, not about her wild, partying ways, not about her mean streak, as bright as a gasoline path aflame, or about her ditching me for Parker Carmichael, the mean-girl senator's daughter. And three, we never, ever talked about Zack.
ONE SATURDAY IN NOVEMBER, I was studying for midterms at The Coffee Exchange. Brown and RISD students had commandeered the place, and were huddled over textbooks, laptops, and sketchbooks. I saw Jules come in with the leather backpack Nina had bought her in Italy. She looked around for a spot, but every seat was taken. I waved, pushed my stuff aside, and made room for her.
"I'm so glad you're here. I'm totally lost with European History," she said and dropped her bag, with a thud. She found the one empty chair in the whole place and carried it over her head across the room to our table. "'Scuse me," she said to a bearded drama student as she lowered the chair next to me. He gave her a dirty look and tweaked his handlebar mustache. "What?" she asked him; then she turned around, pulled out her European History folder, and sighed.
"Which prompt did you pick?" I asked.
"The one on world markets?"
"That's the hardest one. Let me see your notes."
After almost three hours of drinking too much coffee, consuming two giant pieces of cinnamon cake each, and mapping out our essays, we decided to reward ourselves with a movie at the Avon. Since they showed only one movie at a time, we had to see whatever was playing. It was a weird Danish murder mystery set in a 1970s nudist colony, told from several naked perspectives. We were dying of laughter at all the flapping boobs and bobbing penises, even though the ten other people in the movie theater were very serious.
After, we went to CVS, even though neither one of us had anything specific to buy, and tried to figure out who the killer was.
"It had to be the guy with the man boobs," she said as she sniffed a new brand of shampoo.
"No, it was the lady with all the…" I said, and gestured in front of my crotch.
"That's it! She hid the weapon in her bush!" We doubled over in laughter. She handed the shampoo to me to sniff. "Is it just me or does this smell like poop?"
"Ew!" I said, pushing it away, "I don't want to sniff it." We kept bumping into each other as we meandered toward the magazines. We discussed everything from the latest teacher gossip (Miss Kang was dating Señor Rodriguez again) to the best type of jeans for our butts, to the subtle British accent one of our classmates had picked up on a recent trip to London. We sampled body lotions until our hands were sticky. They smelled like lavender and medicine and roses and grandmas. We pushed up our sleeves and sampled more on our forearms. We decided the apricot one was the best and slathered it up to our elbows. By the time we left, it was dark and we reeked of synthetic sweetness.
"So, who do you have your eye on this year?" she asked as we lingered outside CVS with mascara, some hot pink lip gloss, Teen Vogue, Lucky magazine, Red Vines, Junior Mints, and Fresca, which we'd long ago deemed the world's most underrated soda.
"No one," I said, realizing that she thought Zack and I had broken up. I opened my mouth to speak, but changed my mind. I didn't want to correct her and explain that we had "paused," because having my old best friend back, even for a day, felt like returning home, setting down a heavy suitcase, and curling up in a favorite chair. "How about you?"
"Actually," she said, sticking her hands deep in the pockets of her puffy jacket. "I kind of like Jay."
"Really?" I'd had a crush on Jay Logan from the eighth grade until last summer. It was weird to think of Jules liking him, only because of the time I'd invested in studying him, memorizing his lacrosse statistics, and daydreaming about our life together as a private school power couple. I still claimed him out of habit.
"Do you care?" she asked. Did I feel a pinch? A pang? A twinge? Nope. Zack had turned my Jay Logan crush into ancient history.
"Not at all. Go for it." Strands of soft rock blew out of the glass doors as a group of guys carrying Brown University ice hockey equipment bags exited, dropping f-bombs and potato chip crumbs.
"Cool," she said. After our summer, it surprised me that she would care how I felt about the whole thing, but her shoulders sank with relief. Her eyelids fluttered and she smiled one of her huge, movie star smiles. It felt so good to give her something she wanted. "Good. 'Cause I think he likes me, too."
"That's great," I said.
"I'm going to call him tonight," she said, rocking on her heels.
I took the shortcut home through the Brown athletic complex. Warm gusts of chlorinated air wafted from the aquatics center as I tightened the straps on my backpack. I skipped across the playing fields. The motion detector lights illuminated my path in brief, consecutive bursts.
That night I was sitting at my desk memorizing French verbs when my phone vibrated, panicking on the hard surface of my desk. I saw Zack's name, grabbed the phone, and stared at the screen as the buzzing traveled from the phone up my arm, and to my heart. He was breaking our rule. But I had to pick up. It was Zack. Zack.
"Hey, beautiful." His voice wrapped around me like a summer breeze.
"What are you doing?" I asked, absurdly alert.
"I'm calling you," he said.
"Oh." I slid off my chair and expanded like a starfish.
Praise for Nantucket Blue:
"[Howland] evokes the Nantucket setting vividly . . . when it comes to indulgent beach reading, sometimes it's more fun to get pushed over by a wave than to stay safely on your towel." -- The New York Times
- * "Readers should feel empowered by Cricket's efforts to grow up into a strong, honest, and emotionally intelligent young woman, even as they are enchanted by the romantic and exclusive island setting. This is a natural beach read, but will easily win Howland year-round fans, too."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- "Sand, secrets, Nantucket Reds, and romance. A fresh, feel-good debut."—The Boston Globe
- "Fans of Sarah Dessen will find much to like here, as the charm of this summery yarn lies in Cricket's open appeal. Readers will root for her as she falls down, takes her lumps, and moves forward to her final year in high school, always remembering what she learned under the Nantucket sun."—Library Journal
- On Sale
- May 5, 2015
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers