Where I End and You Begin


By Preston Norton

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Two sworn enemies suddenly switch bodies in this witty and heartfelt novel of romantic relationships, gender identity, and the joy of being yourself.

Ezra Slevin is an anxious, neurotic insomniac who spends his nights questioning his place in the universe and his days obsessing over Imogen, a nerdy girl with gigantic eyebrows and a heart of gold. For weeks, Ezra has been working up the courage to invite Imogen to prom. The only problem is Imogen’s protective best friend, Wynonna Jones. Wynonna has blue hair, jams to ’80s rock, and has made a career out of tormenting Ezra for as long as he can remember.

Then, on the night of a total solar eclipse, something strange happens to Ezra and Wynonna, and they wake up in each other’s bodies. Not only that, they begin randomly swapping back and forth every day! Ezra soon discovers Wynonna’s huge crush on his best friend, Holden, a five-foot-nothing girl magnet with anger management problems. With no end to their curse in sight, Ezra makes Wynonna a proposition: While swapping bodies, he will help her win Holden’s heart, but only if she helps him woo Imogen.

Forming an uneasy alliance, Ezra and Wynonna embark on a collision course of mistaken identity, hurt feaelings, embarrassing bodily functions, and a positively byzantine production of Twelfth Night. Ezra wishes he could be more like Wynonna’s badass version of Ezra — but he also realizes he feels more like himself while being Wynonna than he has in a long time.

Wildly entertaining and deeply heartfelt, Where I End and You Begin is a brilliant, unapologetic exploration of what it means to be your best self.


very reliable source that Imogen Klutz was watching the total solar eclipse from the roof of Piles Fork High School.

I mean, technically I heard it from Holden, who heard it from Jessica, who heard it from Brittany, who saw Imogen post about it online, only to promptly delete it two minutes later. But Holden was trustworthy. And Jessica liked to gossip, and Brittany lived every moment of her waking life on social media, so…it wasn’t exactly an unreliable source.

“Have you asked You Know Who to the You Know What yet?” Holden asked me.

You Know Who was Imogen, and You Know What was prom. And no, I hadn’t. My excuse was that I was an antisocial loser with crippling anxiety who had no intention of branching out of my small, sad, pathetic world, thank you very much. I mean, my greatest strength was math, for Christ’s sake!

I was condemned to a life of celibacy. I had accepted this fact.

Holden told me to shut my Valium hole—as best friends often do—and then told me of Imogen’s eclipse plans. And then he told me of our plan. We had a plan, apparently.

The plan was simple: We’d break into school, too. And then—under the magic of the total solar eclipse—I would ask Imogen to prom.

That was all fine and dandy. Except that if Imogen was watching the eclipse from the roof of Piles Fork High School, it was guaranteed that Wynonna Jones would be there. And Wynonna Jones’s favorite hobby—aside from photography, jamming to ’80s rock, and macking down on pork rinds—was making my life a living hell. It was part of who she was. A key ingredient to her identity.

“What about Wynonna?” I said. “You know she’ll be there, too. I mean, it was probably her delinquent idea.”

“I’ll keep Wynonna preoccupied,” said Holden. “You just worry about asking You Know Who to the You Know What.”

“But you hate Wynonna.”

“More than anything in the world,” Holden agreed. “But I care about your antisocial loser ass more than I hate her. So are we doing this or what?”

•    •

Little did we know, traversing Carbondale an hour before the eclipse—even on foot—was a low-key nightmare.

“I’m trying to decide if this is a really cool thing or a nightmare,” said Holden. “Because every time I see another schmuck wearing a fanny pack, I lean more and more toward the nightmare scenario.”

Holden was being dramatic—but only slightly. The tourists had descended on Carbondale like a plague of locusts. Except these particular locusts were wearing cardboard eclipse glasses, cargo pants, Crocs, and—tragically—fanny packs. Pedestrians filled the sidewalks in droves. Automobile traffic resembled what I imagined my uncle Gary’s arteries looked like on his breakfast/lunch work diet of McGriddles and XXL Grilled Stuft Burritos that he had been subsisting on for the past twenty years. Everyone and everything was heading in the general direction of Saluki Stadium. That was where the biggest eclipse viewing party was taking place.

“Speaking of nightmares,” said Holden, “you look like shit. You okay?”

“Didn’t sleep last night,” I said. My tone was flat. Unaffected. Completely resigned to my fate.

“Man, tell me something I don’t know. Forget sleeping pills. You need some good ol’-fashioned chloroform.”

Although the stress of asking You Know Who to the You Know What may have been a factor, the root of the problem was my chronic insomnia. I hadn’t slept in the past seventy-two hours and counting. And boy, was I feeling it. I could feel the ache for sleep in my bones. I could feel the circles under my eyes. But I didn’t dare crawl back into bed. That would be putting too much pressure on my not-so-trusty hypothalamus—the dysfunctional part of my brain responsible for shutting things down. It was like the concept of “stage fright” when you pee at a public urinal. It didn’t matter if your bladder was in nuclear meltdown mode. Performance was impossible. When it came to sleep, it was best just to let things shut down on their own—wherever that may be. At my desk in Biology, in the passenger seat of Holden’s car, in the booth of an IHOP. Wherever. On bad weeks, my chronic insomnia would build and build and build until my sleep deprivation reached criticality and I just blacked out. It didn’t matter if I was standing, walking, or doing jumping jacks. My body just dropped like I was in the Matrix and someone pulled the plug on me.

I could feel the shutdown closing in. It felt like the thing holding my atoms and particles together was slowly coming unglued.

“I mean, normally the sleep deprivation works in your favor,” said Holden. “You’ve got this unhealthy, anemic male supermodel thing going on. Like that Twilight vampire meets Jared Leto playing a heroin junkie. But you really look like shit today. I’m saying that as a friend.”

“Thanks,” I said. I held my hand over my heart. “I’ll cherish that right here.”

Holden nodded, like he expected nothing less. I returned my attention to the sidewalk ahead and the hordes of people occupying it.

And the fanny packs.

And the Crocs.

“Okay, I get the fanny packs,” I said. “They carry the stupid glasses, right? What I don’t get are the Crocs. Have you ever seen so many Crocs?”

“Oh, I totally get that,” said Holden. “They’re comfortable.”

“No, walking around my bedroom naked is comfortable. Wearing Crocs is just obscene—in public, no less, Jesus!”

“Crocs are comfy as shit,” said Holden. “Deal with it. If you want to get mad about something, get mad that these bastards are commercializing outer space. Next thing you know, they’ll be selling real estate on Uranus. Like, who the hell owns Uranus? God, it makes me so mad!”

To demonstrate his madness, Holden clenched his fist, aiming his fury at a low-set construction stop sign—clearly a symbol of capitalist socioeconomic oppression. But because Holden was five foot nothing—no shit, roughly the height of a really tall hobbit—he still had to give it a running jumpstart. He bolted, jumped, reared his fist back, and unleashed it like a spring-operated can of whoop-ass. The impact of his fist gave a sharp metallic clang that seemed to echo for blocks. This earned us plenty of startled and annoyed looks from the tourists crowding around us.

Holden barely landed on his feet, staggered for balance, and crumpled.

“Shit,” he said. He recoiled his fist, cradling it to his chest. “Shit, shit, shit.”

“Easy there, Fight Club. You okay?”

“Shit, shit, shit,” Holden continued, in worlds of pain. He brought his fist to his mouth and started sucking on it like a gigantic Tootsie Pop.

Meet Holden Durden—the biggest idiot in all of Jackson County. Also, my best friend. He technically earned this honor by being my only friend, but I liked to think that his merits outweighed the clear and utter lack of competition. And because his name was rich with pop-culture potential, I liked to call him Fight Club—or sometimes Caulfield—depending on his mood, which was like a Green Day album. It ranged from lost, alienated soul seeking connection to anti-consumerist anarchist reaping destruction. And I guess there was a weird middle ground that appreciated Crocs.

But despite his height—as well as his aggressively nonconformist behavior—he was actually kind of a stud. He’d had at least seven girlfriends over the course of his high school career and probably twice as many flings. He may have been short, but he carried those five feet and zero inches with Napoleonic confidence.

“Jesus Christ on ice!” said Holden. “Why are there so many fucking people?”

It was a reasonable enough question—if you hadn’t lived your whole life in Carbondale, like Holden and me. If you had, then you knew Carbondale was the self-proclaimed “Solar Eclipse Crossroads of America.” You see, the last total solar eclipse to hit Carbondale was only seven years ago—which sounds like an eternity, until you realize that prior to that, the continental United States hadn’t seen a total solar eclipse since 1979. Which is older than Metallica. So basically, what we were experiencing was an impossible surplus of the rarest celestial event known to the planet Earth. Not to mention, the eclipse of seven years ago reached its “point of greatest duration” in Carbondale—a whopping two minutes and forty seconds. Which was allegedly a big deal. This eclipse business was Carbondale’s entire identity. They closed school for this shit.

But Holden already knew this, so I resolved to change the subject.

“Jesus Christ…on ice,” I mused. “Are you imagining our Lord and Savior as a chilled beverage or a theatrical figure-skating show?”

Holden laughed, rolled his eyes, and punched me in the arm. “Shut up, you atheist schmuck. God knows you need a fucking miracle.”

•    •

My obsession with Imogen ran deep. It all started in elementary school during our fourth-grade production of Romeo and Juliet.

Obviously, it was a kid-friendly version with a dumbed-down script. Also, our fourth-grade drama teacher, Ms. Lopez, resolved that the double suicide was too dark, so she went with an alternative, happily-ever-after ending.

Now don’t get me wrong. Even in fourth grade, I was antisocial as balls. But there was something about playing a role—being someone else—that opened something up inside me. It felt like I was free to say or do whatever I wanted. Which was weird, because I was reading and memorizing a script, so it was kind of the opposite.

Turns out, I was a fourth-grade prodigy at Shakespeare. Even if it was a dumbed-down, alternate-reality, happily-ever-after Shakespeare. It was like a right-brain tsunami, rising to meet the incredible wall of my left-side math brain. I nailed the auditions and was cast as Romeo.

And Juliet was none other than Imogen Klutz.

Imogen was a glutton for drama and theatrics. She was born for the role.

Over the course of that fourth-grade production, I sort of fell in love with Imogen. Even though the only time we talked was when we were reciting lines to each other. But somehow, nine-year-old me was convinced: If I just nailed this performance, Imogen and I would be together.

I know, right? Whatever that’s supposed to mean to a fourth grader. Jesus.

Naturally, I botched it all up.

Act 1, scene 1: Benvolio (Romeo’s cousin) is having a riveting discussion with Lord and Lady Montague (Romeo’s parents) about those motherfucking Capulets (seriously, fuck them), and they are also expressing deep concern over poor, emo Romeo, who has been sulking around among the sycamores lately. As Romeo sulks onto the scene, Benvolio promises to find out the reason for his melancholy.

Spoiler: Romeo is in love with Rosalind. Unfortunately, Rosalind doesn’t reciprocate the feeling. Also, she has sworn herself to a life of chastity. Poor, emo Romeo…

Enter ROMEO.

Benvolio: “Good morrow, cousin!”

And that’s when I forgot all my lines.

Except it was more surreal than that. It was like an out-of-body experience. I literally felt like I was in the audience, and I was watching the Shakespearean Tragedy Formerly Known as Ezra. I watched as he destroyed his acting career, and his future with Imogen, in one fell swoop. His eyes were wide, and his mouth was open, and he looked like he might faint at any moment, or possibly die.

I knew my lines. I knew them! I whispered them to myself from my out-of-body seat in the audience.

Is the day so young?

Is the day so young?!


But the lines never made it to the Ezra onstage.

Benvolio whispered the line to him. Offstage, Ms. Lopez whispered the line to him. Loudly. Loud enough for the first several rows to hear. Finally, in a moment of peak exasperation, she rushed onstage with a full script and attempted to shove it into his limp-noodle hands.

The Ezra onstage looked at the script like it was his own death sentence.

And then he ran offstage.

Out of the school.

I found myself curled up in the parking lot, having an actual mental breakdown.


Ironically, our production of Romeo and Juliet was on the evening of Carbondale’s first total solar eclipse. Ms. Lopez seemed to think it was poetic—being a tale of star-crossed lovers and all. It wasn’t until later that I learned how Romeo and Juliet really ended. It wasn’t a romance. It was a staunch, die-hard tragedy! If that didn’t act as foreshadowing of my future with Imogen, nothing did.

That was about the time my chronic insomnia became a thing. Although technically, my insomnia also followed a minor car accident from my childhood—one that happened a night or two before Romeo and Juliet. But honestly, I couldn’t remember a damn thing about it. My doctor suggested my insomnia was trauma-related. I suggested it was I-don’t-know-how-to-be-a-human-being-anymore-related. My doctor suggested that maybe that was trauma-related. I suggested that space-time was made out of spirals, known mathematically as the golden ratio, and that this ratio—1.618—was the mathematical constant that governed the universe, but knowing that wasn’t going to help me sleep—if anything, it was doing the opposite—so, like, did he have anything stronger than Ambien or what?

We were at an impasse.

There was a reason Holden and I chose today for my promposal. Because it wasn’t just about prom. It was about fixing me. Because clearly, I was broken. I was psychologically damaged goods.

I only mention any of this because life is a journey of spirals. Repeating patterns.

The past always has a way of catching up to the future.

•    •

Piles Fork High School was desolate—a redbrick, three-story megalith from a forgotten era. Okay, so the forgotten era was last Friday. The grounds were too well kept for this to be some post-apocalyptic setting. The grass was cut, the roses were coming into bloom, and the hedges were crisp, elongated cubes. Even if Piles Fork’s education system was a sham, at least the groundskeeper, Ziggy, kept the shrubbery on point.

As we ascended the front steps and approached the glass doors, Holden pulled a key out of his pocket. It sank flawlessly into the keyhole and clicked as he turned it.

It’s maybe important to know that Holden’s mom was Principal Durden.

Holden stole his mom’s master key. I mean, it was a long time ago, but he did make a copy. Well, two copies. He gave one to me for my sixteenth birthday. Told me to keep it on me at all times. Maybe we’d sneak into school on a Saturday and smoke pot in the teachers’ lounge.

We never did, but it was a noble idea. It’s the thought that counts.

“Let’s split up,” he said.

“What?” I said. “Have you watched any horror movie ever? That’s like the number one no-no.”

“I’m sorry. Is there a homicidal sociopath in this scenario I’m unaware of?”

“Wynonna Jones?” I suggested.

“Wynonna isn’t a homicidal sociopath. Just a regular one.”

“How do you suppose they got in?”

“When it comes to the Jonesy?” said Holden. “Anything’s possible—picking the locks, scaling the wall, quantum teleportation….”

“That’s scientifically impossible, actually.”

“Listen, Stephen Hawking, we’re on a bit of a time crunch, and we still don’t know how to get on the roof. If we’re gonna make this happen, we’re gonna have to split up. Call me if you see the girls or the entrance to the roof, and I’ll do the same. Okay? Okay.”

Without waiting for a response, Holden turned and delved west.

I took a deep breath, flipped on the flashlight on my phone, and ventured east.

I climbed the eastside stairs to the third floor. Listened to the quiet clap of my shoes echo up the stairwell. Once I reached the top, I began scouring the main hall clockwise. Turned into each branching pathway as it came. Checked each room and closet. Kept my eyes on the ceiling, in case there was some sort of…hatch…or whatever.

That’s when I heard it—a small metallic slinking sound. A clatter. A soft thud.

My whole body atrophied. I waited. Realized I wasn’t breathing, at which point I made a conscious effort to keep not breathing.

I heard it again.


This time, I was sure of it.

It was the sound of a vending machine.

And it was coming from the floor below.

I hurried to the nearest stairwell, gripped the handrail, and descended with quiet, anxious steps.

It was either Imogen or Wynonna—one or the other. I doubted it was both because it was impossible for Wynonna not to talk when Imogen was around.

Slink. Clatter. Thunk.

Whoever it was, they were sure stocking up on some serious sustenance.

I slowed my pace near the bottom of the stairs. Lurked cautiously to the corner—knowing full well that the vending machine in question was mere feet away on the other side.

Palms to the wall, I peered around the corner.

It was Imogen Klutz.

You know that scene in high school movies where our protagonist, Awkward Social Outcast, lays eyes on our lead female character, Girl of His Dreams—the first time we, as an audience, meet her—and we see her in slow motion, and her skin glows with ethereal radiance, and her hair flows like a waterfall or something similarly flow-y, and all sound cuts out to an annoying pop song, like the Smash Mouth cover of “I’m a Believer”?

Yeah. That.

Okay, so I kind of had a thing for Imogen. And that thing may have been called “obsession.” She was beautifully lanky with a long, gawky neck; a heart-shaped face with kind eyes; and sheets of sandy-blond hair that kind of frizzed around the ears. She had an affinity for sweaters and often coupled them with colorful, awkwardly fitting jeans and beautifully ugly no-name-brand sneakers.

And the eyebrows. Oh my god. Don’t even get me started on the eyebrows.

Okay, I’ll tell you.

On the surface, Imogen’s eyebrows were big, bad, and beautiful. Unplucked and unashamed. Some might go so far as to call them “colossal” or “gargantuan.” That wasn’t an exaggeration. Deep down, however, Imogen’s eyebrows were an enigma. Beneath the planes of their vast, follicular arcs, they contained the secrets of the universe. And the darkness! They were sooooo dark—practically black against the sandy blond of her hair—drawing you in like gravitational singularities. Resistance was futile. Think Labyrinth-era Jennifer Connelly and you’re on the right track. Add a dash of black magic and a pinch of metaphysical transcendence, and SHAZAM.

Those were Imogen’s eyebrows.

Of course, when I told Holden this, he told me I had a troubling eyebrow fetish, and I should probably seek psychiatric help.

Anyway, as I witnessed all of this in slow motion, with Smash Mouth singing in the background, and—slink, clatter, thunk—the last bag of pork rinds fell into the dispenser hatch of the vending machine, there was a hazy moment when I apparently wandered out from behind the corner of the stairwell. But I didn’t say anything. Lest anyone forget, my role in this movie was Awkward Social Outcast, and it was a comedy at my expense.

Imogen turned her head slowly—suddenly noticing the human-shaped figure…

…standing six feet away from her…

…in a dark, empty hallway…

…watching her.

She screamed and threw her arms in the air—along with all the snacks she was carrying—chips, candy bars, pork rinds, and a pair of Dr Peppers. One of the Dr Peppers landed in such a way that it cracked and spewed pressurized soda like a punctured vein in a splatter film. The other Dr Pepper landed uncracked, although it caught a backspin and rolled beneath her foot—right as she took a frantic step backward. The sole of her shoe landed on the center of the can, wobbled unsteadily, and the rest was poetry in motion. That is to say, Imogen’s leg shot up in an elegant high kick, the can of Dr Pepper launched like a ballistic missile, her entire body swung like a catapult, and she landed flat on her back.

“Shit,” I said.

I immediately swooped to Imogen’s aid—only to hover over her body, mirroring her paralysis.

“Oh my god,” I said. My hands floundered aimlessly. “I am so sorry. Imogen, are you okay?”

There was a long moment when Imogen’s eyes were like marbles—glassy orbs disconnected from sentient thought. She was dead. I killed her. I ogled Imogen to death. Death by ogling in the first degree.

Then she blinked, and there was life. Her eyes focused on me, and she smiled.

“Oh, hey, Ezra,” she said. Then she winced. “Ouch.”

“Where does it hurt?” I asked.

Imogen made a vague, wibbly-wobbly gesture with her hands that seemed to encompass her entire body.

“I’m gonna call nine-one-one,” I said.

“No!” said Imogen. She immediately attempted to sit up. “No, no, no. I’m good. I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“In a breaking-and-entering situation?” said Imogen. “Ten minutes before the eclipse? I am so sure. Wynonna would kill—”

“Slevin, you little shit!” said the last voice in the world I wanted to hear. “What the hell sort of perverted things are you doing to my best friend?”

I whipped around, and there she was—Wynonna fucking Jones—strolling onto the scene like some sort of deus ex machina. But, like, the opposite. A sort of anti–deus ex machina who fucked things up right when you thought everything would be okay.

Wynonna’s style could best be described as “military hippie-core” or maybe “’80s vomit-punk.” All I could tell you was that she had electric-blue hair and was currently wearing combat boots, a pair of very distressed jeans—shredded, bleached, and pegged to a fault—a bomber jacket covered in patches, tied snugly around her waist, some sort of boho-crochet top, and bracelets. Lots of bracelets. Like, way too many bracelets for any one human being. And yet, there they were—bold, overbearing, and predominantly neon. She had a pair of tattoos on her inner forearms. On her left arm was the word “dharma.” On the right, mirroring the other, was “karma.”

Ironically, it was the karma hand (rocking electric-blue nails to match her hair) that shoved me square in the chest. I staggered backward—almost tripped and fell—but landed against the wall of lockers behind me.

“Did he hurt you?” said Wynonna.

“No, no, I’m fine,” said Imogen, crawling to her feet—although this was followed by an invalidating wince.

“Was he trying to put his creepy moves on you?”

I felt myself flush red.

“What? No!” said Imogen, appalled.

“Did he try to bank-rob your virginity?” said Wynonna.

Okay, now I was fuchsia, swiftly encroaching on magenta.

“Wynonna!” said Imogen, wide-eyed. “Can we not talk about my virginity?”

But Wynonna was already bored with Imogen and set her predatory sights on me. I still had my back to the lockers, but Wynonna’s presence was reverse-magnetic, pressing me flat against the cold blue metal.


  • "Ezra's narrational voice is well-crafted and witty, and the characters are layered and complex... The book deftly explores the fluidity of gender and sexuality without moralizing or oversimplifying... An entertaining queer romance."—Kirkus Reviews

On Sale
Jul 14, 2020
Page Count
416 pages