** THE #1 BESTSELLER!** The thrilling sequel to YouTube sensation Oli White's smash-hit debut GENERATION NEXT. *Contains exclusive bonus content, including a Q&A with Oli!* School has finished for good, and Jack and his friends - Ella, Austin, Ava and Sai - are giving their online social media platform, Generation Next, the ultimate relaunch: a stage takeover at the world's biggest music festival. When you're interviewing famous stars and streaming the footage all over the globe, what could possibly go wrong? The takeover is the gang's most epic task yet, and when they meet TV producer Ethan, he seems like the perfect person to help out. Everyone loves Ethan: he's smart, talented and a natural addition to the group. But Jack isn't so sure. Ethan seems to be hiding something... and why can't the rest of GenNext see it? If Jack isn't careful, his dreams for Generation Next - and his relationships with Ella and his closest friends - could be about to go up in smoke...
Release date: April 6, 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Print pages: 304
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Generation Next: The Takeover
And guess what? On that final day of school, my friends and I wanted to celebrate big time – well, you would, wouldn’t you? We were all already eighteen, but now, for the first time, we actually felt like adults, and as far as I was concerned, there was a hell of a lot to look forward to.
Crashing through the front door of my house with what my dad later described as the world’s smuggest grin, I shouted a quick hi to the parents and took the stairs two at a time, eager to get out of my uniform for the very last time.
‘So long, St Joe’s,’ I sang, yanking at my tie and pulling it over my head. ‘It was nice knowing you and all that crap.’
I was just about to kiss said tie goodbye and drop it into the waste-paper bin when some freakish sentimental vibe washed over me, leaving me momentarily confused. There I stood, frowning at the tie – which really had seen better days – before letting out a deep sigh and then folding it, almost lovingly, and putting it gently back into the drawer where it had always lived. I mean, school hadn’t been all that bad, had it? Who knows – I might even miss it after a few weeks.
After a shower, a blast of Right Guard, and an impromptu dance in my pants to a bit of Conor Maynard, I stood at my window for a quiet moment, looking out across the street at the rows of houses, and then into the sky, imagining what amazing things might be waiting out there for me from that day on. So many possibilities, but just as many questions: how long would I stay living at home, for instance? What did the future hold for me and Ella, my girlfriend? What was next for GenNext, the social media platform that my friends and I had literally started from scratch? Sure, it had taken off in a way none of us could have even dreamed about the previous summer, but was that amazing upward trajectory going to continue? Would our beloved GenNext keep on burning bright?
I didn’t have the answer to any of them but there was a little voice in my head – quiet but firm – reminding me of something I already knew. You’ve got to get this right, Jack. It all starts now and you can’t screw it up. Not any of it. And, thinking back to a few of the events of last summer, when I’d made a couple of decisions that weren’t the best or the brightest: Not this time.
I dressed and headed downstairs, ready to give Dad a hand with the mammoth barbecue he was busy preparing. OK, I suppose it was the least I could do, as the long-planned event in our back garden was actually being held in honour of my friends and me: the same friends who’d so been looking forward to that afternoon, to that day, when it was finally all over and done with. School was out … and it was time to party.
Within an hour, the last few stubborn clouds of the morning had lifted. The garden was buzzing with noisy chat and laughter and I was surrounded by almost all of the GenNext crew: my best mate Austin with his girlfriend Jess, his mum and his little brother Miles also in attendance; Sai and his uncle AJ, and Ava, who was debuting a brand-new tattoo – an intricate dragonfly design on the nape of her neck in deep greens and reds, which complemented her freshly dyed bright-red hair perfectly.
‘What’s up, people?’ I shouted as we all congregated by the pear tree. ‘Summer has officially begun and I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be—’
‘Yeah, save the speeches for later, J-boy,’ Austin cut across me. ‘Just shut up and get me something to drink.’
‘Me too,’ Ava laughed. ‘Let’s get this shindig started before I pass out in the heat.’
Some people have absolutely no sense of occasion, you know?
Last to arrive was the fifth member of GenNext, my girlfriend Ella, who threw her arms around my neck and kissed me, causing Ava and Sai to simultaneously stick their fingers in their mouths and fake-barf.
‘Hey, Jack Penman!’ she said, grabbing a drink from the table as she swept past it.
‘Hey, Ella Foster. May I say how particularly amazing you’re looking this afternoon?’ I said, pulling her back towards me. Even though we’d been dating for almost a year, the mere sight of Ella’s smile still made me feel fantastic.
‘You certainly may,’ she laughed, kissing me again.
Cue more fake barfing and cries of ‘Get a room!’ from our so-called friends.
Jess narrowed her eyes and gave Austin a sharp poke in the ribs as he stared downward, immersed in his phone. ‘Austin! How come you’re not as affectionate as Jack? Look how lovely he is to Ella.’
It was becoming a regular thing for Jess, comparing her relationship with Austin with mine and Ella’s. It always made for uncomfortable viewing.
‘I so am lovely,’ Austin protested, an embarrassed look creeping across his face while I blushed like a beetroot. He looked round at the rest of us for help. ‘Aren’t I lovely?’
‘I think you’re lovely, Austin,’ Sai said, laughing.
Jess seemed unconvinced and placed her hands over Austin’s eyes, glancing knowingly at Ava and Ella. ‘Watch this, girls. Austin, what colour dress am I wearing?’
‘Er … it’s pink,’ Austin said with certainty, and everyone lost it as Jess removed her hands, revealing her white T-shirt and denim skirt combo.
‘See what I mean?’ she said. ‘Now if I’d been wearing a MacBook Pro with Retina Display, he’d have nailed the bloody description.’
Everyone cracked up again and I slowly shook my head, feeling kind of bad for Austin.
‘Jess, come on,’ Austin said. He smiled winningly. ‘I think you look gorgeous no matter what you’re wearing.’
‘Whatever.’ The pissed-off expression on Jess’s face wasn’t going anywhere. ‘And on that note, I’m going to put some more suncream on,’ she said, and stalked off towards the house.
Austin shrugged as she disappeared, looking a tad world-weary it must be said. I sent up a silent prayer of thanks that I was dating Ella, who was the total opposite of high-maintenance.
Austin’s mum and Miles were on the other side of the garden chatting to AJ and my parents, so Jess’s exit meant the five GenNext members were alone together for the first time that day. It wasn’t long before we were grinning at one another like idiots. I guessed we were all thinking the same thing.
‘Can you believe we did it?’ Ava said, putting her arm around Sai’s shoulder and hugging him close. ‘We actually got through school. It’s all behind us.’
‘God, didn’t you feel like it would never end?’ Ella said. ‘I did, I can tell you. Those last few weeks and all that cramming was torturous.’
‘I know,’ Ava agreed. ‘I had to promise myself a reward at the end of it all as an incentive. That’s why I dyed my hair red the second I got in from school after my last exam.’
‘That was your reward?’ I said, with a sly grin. ‘Couldn’t you have just had a Magnum Double Caramel instead?’
‘Don’t listen to my smartass boyfriend,’ Ella jumped in. ‘You’re beautiful, Ava, and your hair is sensational, as is the new ink.’
‘Thank you, Ella Foster. That is why you are and always will be my bae,’ Ava said, punching my arm.
‘Anyway, it’s not all over yet,’ Sai – ever the worrier – said ominously. ‘We’ve still got results to go. I’m quite worried about my Psychology, actually.’
‘We’re all quite worried about your psychology, Sai,’ Austin said. ‘Have been for some time.’
Of all of us, Sai was the biggest study-geek and more likely to ace every exam than anyone. That said, Austin seemed pretty confident too, assuring me that he was going to kick my ass in the Computer Science exam.
‘You know I’ve always been the brains of this outfit, Penman,’ he said, gently goading me.
‘Yeah, well, I’m more than happy with being the looks, Slade,’ I said. ‘Look, whatever our results are, guys – and I’m sure they’re going to be everything we want them to be – we’ve got so much to look forward to with GenNext. There’s just so much potential. So much we can achieve now school’s out of the way.’
‘I really hope so,’ Ava said nervously. ‘It’s all been a bit slow-moving recently.’
Ella grabbed my hand and squeezed it hard. ‘Jack’s right, Ava. Look, we’ve pretty much had the brakes on GenNext what with all the exams, but from now on I’m sure there’s going to be a ton of great stuff on the horizon. We’ll make it happen.’
‘More than you even know,’ AJ said, joining us under the shade of the pear tree. ‘Much more.’
Good old AJ. I wondered if he was merely being optimistic or if he had something up the sleeve of his cream linen jacket. To be honest, if it hadn’t been for Sai’s brilliant uncle and his team at Metronome, I’m not sure we’d have kept GenNext from sinking without a trace during the exams. As our manager, he’d properly looked after us, practically running the entire operation while we were beavering away with our revision. The five of us had to pull together the best content we could whenever we could: the occasional vlog or local celebrity interview, plus some re-edits and unseen bonus bits from stuff we’d put up before. It was still quality content, of course it was, but not as great as I knew we could make it if we’d had more free time. The thing was, we’d all decided to be smart and take our foot off the pedal while A levels were looming. We knew it wasn’t going to be forever, and luckily our viewers seemed to be of the loyal variety and didn’t seem to notice the slight lull. In fact, we were still gathering more subscribers by the day.
Now that exams were over it was time for a reboot, and from that day on, we, the team, were poised and ready to get back to some serious business. We’d collectively made the momentous decision to take a year out from job-hunting, uni or anything else to concentrate solely on GenNext. Yes, even Ava, who we all knew was bound for a top university. At our GenNext New Year’s Eve fancy dress party last year she’d semi-drunkenly announced her intention to defer further education and take a gap year, leaving us all speechless.
‘Hey! Oxford University has been there for a few hundred years,’ she said. ‘I’m pretty sure it can wait another one or two for me, don’t you reckon? GenNext needs me.’
OK, so she was swaying a bit at the time, but we’d all stood in awe of her dedication to the cause, staring at the bow and arrow she was brandishing and wondering why she’d decided to come to the party as Robin Hood. In fact, it was only when her outfit lit up with a concealed battery pack at the stroke of midnight that we realised she was supposed to be Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.
For a while I thought Ava might have just been spouting off in the moment, but as time went on she seemed pretty confident that taking a gap year was the right way to go, scary though it was. We all did. That was why AJ’s little tease about there being ‘more than you even know’ on the horizon pricked up my ears. I was intrigued.
Dad bellowed over from the barbecue, sweating from the heat and waving his burger flipper like it was a Jedi light sabre. ‘Sausages and burgers are done, folks. It’s all from the organic butcher in town; no supermarket rubbish. My dear wife has managed to purchase every sauce and relish known to humankind, so go nuts.’
‘I heard that,’ Mum said, emerging through the patio door. She looked happy and relaxed, I noted. Her funky new pixie-crop hairstyle really suited her; it made her look younger. ‘You just keep your eye on the grill and let me worry about the rest, love.’ She popped the cork from a bottle of fizz while Austin’s mum hovered with glasses.
‘Now, it’s not champagne. Just the last few bottles of Prosecco left over from my end-of-chemo celebration a couple of months back.’
An impromptu cheer filled the air, small but heartfelt, and Dad put his arm tight around Mum’s waist as she poured.
‘It’s a nice one, mind you; not too dry,’ Mum went on, clearly embarrassed by the fuss. ‘Just something to toast the end of an era.’
‘Yes, people, the end of exams and the end of school!’ I shouted. ‘Freedom!’
‘Actually, I think we should be toasting the start of a new era today, Mrs Penman,’ AJ said, stepping forward.
‘Well yes, that too, of course,’ Mum said, shoving a foaming glass in his direction.
I’d known AJ long enough that I could read him like a Kindle, especially when he was about to impart some juicy piece of news. His mouth turned up, just on one side, and his eyes widened like a kid watching a magic trick. It was the very look he had at that moment while he sipped his drink.
‘Is there something we should know, AJ?’ I said.
He shrugged and smirked. ‘There might be; you’ll have to wait. Let’s eat first.’
Dad doled out the burgers and sausages and everyone started queuing up for a glass of fizz, including Jess, who’d emerged from the house freshly suncreamed, and Miles, who clearly thought he could sneak a glass while his mum wasn’t looking. While everyone was distracted Ella pulled me aside, behind the tree where we were out of sight, putting her arms around me and nuzzling my neck.
‘It’s so good to be here like this,’ she said. ‘Just having zero pressure for the first time in months. God, I feel like I’ve hardly seen you.’
‘I feel the same,’ I said, ‘but I think we’ll more than make up for it now. You’ll be sick of the sight of me after a couple of weeks of GenNext.’
‘Never,’ she laughed. ‘Seriously, though, do you think Ava’s OK? She seems a bit shaky about the whole thing all of a sudden. Do you think she’s regretting not going straight to uni?’
To be honest, I thought it would be a good thing for Ava to throw herself straight back into GenNext. After breaking up with her girlfriend Suki over the course of the exams, she needed the distraction. It was an amicable enough split and they were still friendly, but the break-up had hit Ava harder than she ever let on – we could all see it.
‘I think she’ll be fine,’ I said. ‘We all will. It’s just such a big thing, isn’t it, all this? Such a massive change. I mean, I was putting my school uniform away today and I actually felt really sad.’
‘Steady on, Jack Penman,’ Ella said, furrowing her brow. ‘It’s the end of school, not the bloody Notebook.’
By the time we were back in the thick of the party, the next-door neighbours and their three badly behaved kids had joined us in the garden, so it was mayhem. Dad could hardly keep up with the demand for his much-heralded organic burgers and sausages, with plates being jammed under his nose every five seconds, while Mum juggled her multitude of condiments and relishes and Austin’s mum doled out piles of unwanted salad.
Meanwhile, Sai was shirtless and telling anyone who’d listen how much he was enjoying being young, free and single. This, apparently, was mainly due to the fact that after six months of Tiger Claw kung fu lessons at the Guan Yu Academy of Martial Arts, he’d really buffed up and was getting plenty of female attention.
‘So that’s why you’ve started taking your T-shirt off at the merest hint of sunshine?’ Ella said. ‘You want to show off your muscles.’
‘No, I just get hot, that’s all,’ Sai said. ‘I can’t help it if women are drawn to an athletic physique, can I?’
‘Yeah, but you’re still short,’ Austin said. ‘And let’s not forget that the last girl you went out with dumped you mid-date when she found you looking for Pokémon outside the women’s toilet of the restaurant.’
A few feet away, Ava was trying to prise information out of AJ. ‘Come on, spill the beans. You’re being very cagey about something. What’s going on?’
I grabbed AJ’s free arm. ‘Yeah, what Ava said. What’s all this about toasting the start of a new era?’
I was speaking too loudly, and by this time everyone in the garden was staring at AJ, holding their glasses aloft and ready to drink to something else. He really had no choice but to come clean.
‘Well, I wanted to save this news till later, but—’
‘Yeah, whatever,’ Austin said. ‘Just tell us!’
‘Total Festival,’ he said firmly. ‘One of the biggest and best music and arts festivals in America … in the world.’
‘What about it? Apart from the fact that it’s supposed to be amazing?’ I said.
‘Even I’ve heard of that one,’ I heard Mum mutter to Dad.
‘Well, would you like to do it?’ AJ said.
‘“Do it” how?’ Ava said.
‘It’s not set in stone, but the idea being tossed around is something along the lines of a complete GenNext takeover of the Total Youth stage.’
‘The what stage?’ Ella said, screwing up her face in disbelief.
‘Total Youth. It’s the third biggest of all the festival performance spaces, and one of the highlights of last year by all accounts,’ AJ said.
‘And what would a GenNext takeover mean exactly?’ I said, my excitement mounting.
‘All sorts,’ AJ said. ‘Introducing the acts, interviewing them before and after their performances, and on top of that live-streaming the whole thing through the GenNext channel. Well, that’s what I’m pushing for if it comes off.’
‘Are you frickin’ kidding?’ Austin said, his mouth falling open to the size of a small cave.
‘I am not kidding,’ AJ said. He was loving all this, I could tell.
‘So we’d get to, like, curate our own festival stage … at Total. Is that what you’re saying?’ Ella said.
‘In conjunction with the festival organisers, yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Any questions?’
Aside from Meghan Trainor drifting out of the Sonos on the patio, there was silence for a moment while we all took this piece of news in. The Total Festival was immense. Huge. It was fast becoming known worldwide as the summer event to be at if you were a lover of music, great spectacle, and life in general. And what? GenNext were going to be presenting their very own stage there! It was too much to take in, what with the end of school and everything …
Eventually Sai broke the silence. ‘That’s held somewhere up north, isn’t it? Just outside Leicester.’
Everyone looked blankly at him for a second.
‘No, dear nephew, it’s in California,’ AJ said calmly, and we all cracked up laughing.
Within a few seconds the laughter had turned to cheering, cries of ‘GET IN!’ and general pandemonium. Dad made a sterling effort to distribute a few more of his organic sausages, but everyone was too busy jumping up and down and screaming to fill their faces.
I turned to a satisfied-looking AJ, raising my voice over the noise of the others. ‘It’s a bit close to the knuckle isn’t it, AJ? I thought these things were planned a year in advance.’
‘You’re right, Jack,’ he said. ‘The team originally hosting the Total Youth stage had to pull out at the last minute. The festival organisers weren’t happy about it, but …’
‘Their loss is our gain?’ I said, noticing that everyone had stopped leaping about like idiots and was now paying attention.
‘Exactly,’ AJ nodded. ‘The organisers want the Total Youth stage to be about young people communicating with an audience their own age, with younger acts and DJs and a fresh, raw approach to the presentation. They think GenNext is the perfect fit. We’d have a lot of work to do, but it’s an amazing opportunity. Do you think we’re up to it?’
My mind was racing like Bradley Wiggins round a velodrome. We were the perfect fit, and this could be the thing to propel GenNext back into the stratosphere. Sure, I’d always known we’d find something decent to mark our relaunch, but even I couldn’t have dreamed up this project.
‘We’re up to it, right, guys?’ I said, raising my glass.
There was a rousing cry in the affirmative, followed by the now customary group huddle. In a few short minutes we’d gone from celebrating the last day of school and wondering what the hell was going to happen next to being handed the most fantastic opportunity; something that could splash GenNext across the map internationally. I had a really good feeling about what was about to happen …
Things aren’t always as easy as you think they’re going to be, are they? Far from it. The next couple of weeks were a whirlwind that swept me up and carried me along, my feet barely touching the ground. Down at our freshly spruced-up and whitewashed HQ – Austin’s mum’s converted basement – the GenNext team beavered away like crazy: designing, discussing and planning into the late hours. We’d suddenly gone from being students, snowed under with essays a. . .
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