Can two IRL enemies find their happily ever after online?
Stella Greene and Wesley Clarke are Gene Connolly Memorial High School's biggest rivals. While the two have been battling it out for top student, it's a race to the bottom when it comes to snide comments and pulling the dirtiest prank. For years, Stella and Wes have been the villain in each other's story, and now it's all-out war.
And there is no bigger battle than the one for valedictorian, and more specifically, the coveted valedictorian scholarship.
But Stella and Wes have more in common than they think. Both are huge fans of Warship Seven, a popular sci-fi TV drama with a dedicated online following, and the two start chatting under aliases--without a clue that their rival is just beyond the screen. They realize that they're both attending SciCon this year, so they plan to dress in their best cosplay and finally meet IRL.
While tensions at school are rising and SciCon inches closer and closer, the enemy lines between Stella and Wes blur when a class project shows them they might understand one another better than anyone else--and not just in cosplay.
From the author of The Last Confession of Autumn Casterly comes a heartfelt story about rivalry, friendships, and defying preconceived notions--even the ones about yourself.
Release date: May 18, 2021
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Print pages: 368
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There is an orangutan at the Cornerview Zoo that’s infamous for flinging his poop. It’s, like, a thing. Catch Orange the Orangutan mid-throw and post the photo on the zoo’s Facebook page. Sometimes they pick an entry to win a free water bottle or something.
I’m pretty sure a speech from Orange the Orangutan would be more coherent than the crap currently being flung toward me, straight out of Wesley Clarke’s mouth.
Wesley leans against the podium in front of our Public Speaking classroom, wearing a wrinkled green T-shirt. There is literally a giant Charizard on it. “And for my closing arguments, I’d like to reiterate that school uniforms stifle creativity and personal expression. How can I focus on my education when my clothing puts me in a box?” Several people clap their approval; I keep my hands firmly in my lap.
His teammates smirk at the other end of the room, because clearly everyone thinks Wesley Frickin’ Clarke has the argument in the bag, just for being Wesley Frickin’ Clarke. Breaking news: when you’re the heir to a big local candy factory and host parties in your gigantic game room with a Ping-Pong table and old-school Pac-Man arcade machine, everyone basically thinks you’re a god.
“In the same way that every student has the right to be comfortable in their learning environment, every student also has the right to wear what makes them comfortable.” Even Ms. Hatley nods.
“I thought the Geneva Convention outlawed this sort of torture,” I mutter under my breath.
Dahlia snickers beside me. “He’s milking it, too.”
I know Wesley was assigned Team No-Uniforms, but showing up to class in a ripped Pokémon T-shirt and board shorts is pushing it. I cross my arms, leaning back in my chair.
“Your initial argument decimated him,” Dahlia says. “We’ve got this.”
I wish she was right. But everyone knows Team No-Uniforms always wins at public schools. Plus, okay, here’s my deep, dark secret: I suck at public speaking.
“Imagine growing up knowing you can party your way through school and still wind up rich and successful because your last name is Clarke.”
“I don’t know.” Dahlia cocks her head, her dark curls swinging with the movement. “He’s pretty smart.”
“He’s rich and knows how to string a few words together. That doesn’t make him smart.”
“He gave a pretty good presentation in AP Euro last year. He called out some obscure battle stat that Mr. Bridges didn’t even know.”
I pretend to gag. “Okay, he’s good at history. Who cares?” It’s easy to get straight As when you’ve got private SAT-prep classes and don’t have to work at the ice cream parlor after school. “I’m just saying—”
“Girls.” Ms. Hatley shoots us a warning look. She makes the opposing side sit in the front row during the other team’s arguments, but I do not need such a clear view of Wesley’s smug face. I hate how everyone thinks he’s just so hot. Okay, I kind of get it—his cheekbones could basically cut diamonds—but I’d never admit that. I covertly click my phone under the desk—fifteen more minutes of class.
Captain Jill greets me on my lock screen, signature rifle slung over her shoulder. I have a pair of earrings that match the sigil on her jacket, of the Revelry encircled by a four-pointed gold star. I got them at last year’s Sci-Con—which reminds me, I still need to find a pair of Captain Jill’s boots for this year’s cosplay. That Sci-Con ticket basically cost a kidney, my left arm, and the blood of my firstborn, so there’s no way I’m showing up in anything less than prizewinning.
Dahlia casts a glance toward the other side of the room, and a smile twitches across her face; I follow her eyes, landing on Brandon Nguyen, Wesley’s best friend, who smiles back at her. I shift in my seat.
I know it’s cliché, but Dahlia’s been my best friend since kindergarten, when we took gymnastics together and both sucked at it and couldn’t cartwheel straight. Her first crush was on this kid Luke, who got yelled at in fourth grade for making gloves out of the class’s entire stock of rubber cement. Clearly her taste in guys hasn’t improved. Anyone even remotely connected to Wesley Clarke does not get my stamp of approval.
“These are meant to be the best years of our lives—not a military tour,” Wesley continues. Last night, he had the audacity to post on his Instagram story that he was playing board games at Brandon’s house with a bunch of track guys, drinking root-beer floats; meanwhile, I was doing actual work preparing for this debate. It’s kind of insulting that he’s my competition—for this, and for valedictorian.
“Take, for example, Stella Greene.” Wesley gestures at me. I freeze. “Should school really be a place where a person looks that uptight and miserable?” Laughter rings around me. “No. It should not.”
Heat flares through my face. I grit my teeth. He did not.
“All right, all right.” Ms. Hatley shoots a warning glance at Wesley. “Stick to the topic, please.”
“In conclusion, that is why Gene Connolly Memorial High School should not institute a mandatory school uniform policy.” Wesley bows, to cheers and applause from the rest of the class. His eyes meet mine and he winks. I clench my hands in my lap. The absolute nerve.
“All right, settle down.” Ms. Hatley waves her hand. “We’ve got five minutes left. Stella, Wesley, up at the podium for closing remarks.”
I push to my feet, maintaining eye contact with Wesley as I take the front of the room, clenching my index cards so tight they’re creasing. My heart pounds with every step. If I read the cards, I’ll be fine. Maybe the plaid skirt and button-down were overkill, but I needed to show dedication to my assignment. Dahlia nods at me, crossing her fingers.
I shouldn’t care about this project. It won’t affect my GPA. But the thought of losing to Wesley Clarke makes my blood boil. I set my cards down on the opposite podium.
“As entertaining as your argument is, Wesley”—I force the fakest smile I can muster and dart my eyes to my first card—“it’s not logical. Statistics prove that school uniforms foster a more positive, uh . . . learning environment, because they even the playing field. They eliminate some of the barriers created by factors like socioeconomic status.”
Wesley raises an index finger. “But they create barriers by limiting self-expression.”
“If by self-expression you mean the right to show up at school in swim trunks, then sure. Which, by the way, it’s thirty degrees outside.”
A few kids snicker.
“I go by the theory that we’ll be dressing professionally for work for the rest of our lives,” he says. “Why start now, at a time when we should be discovering our identities and expressing ourselves?” Some people nod in agreement.
“Well, I go by the theory that school is our current profession, um, and that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have. So far, you’re doing a great job dressing for life as a bum.”
He leans closer to me. “A bum who has the same GPA as you.”
“You do not have the same GPA as me.”
Ms. Hatley stiffens. “Let’s just—”
“Last time I checked, we were tied for valedictorian, Stells.”
“Well, last time I checked, there were still four months left in the school year, Wes.”
“Maybe you should get off your high horse and let people dress how they want.”
“Maybe you should—”
The bell rings, cutting me off. Everyone rushes to gather their notebooks and jackets.
“Make sure to cast your vote for the winner before you leave,” Ms. Hatley calls out. “Stella, try not to read straight off the cards next time. Great speech, Wesley.”
“Thanks!” he says. “My tutor rehearsed it with me for like an hour last weekend.”
He gets a private tutor? “Seriously?” I hiss.
“Excuse me.” Wesley clears his throat, still at the front of the room, and most people stop rustling to look at him. “I’d like to thank Stella for being such admirable competition.” His voice is thick with sarcasm. “When I become valedictorian and get my Porsche, I’d like to take Stella out for a celebratory hot beverage—you know, to melt off the scowl that’s permanently frozen on her face.”
“Mmm, tempting, but I’ll be clipping my toenails that day, sorry.”
“Her argument today was just . . . well, it was something. Friday night!” He raises his voice. “My place. Hot tub and Ping-Pong, who’s in?” Several people rush toward him, already claiming first round with the Ping-Pong table.
“My argument was what?” I slam my index cards onto my desk. “Well researched? The product of actual work, rather than a few pull quotes you yanked off Wikipedia five minutes before class?” I grab my pen and make a big show of checking off Pro-Uniform on my ballot.
“Yes, Stella Greene, everyone.” He gestures toward me, ticking off Anti-Uniform on his own sheet. “Always the smartest person in the room.”
“When you’re in the room, yes.”
I flip him off before grabbing my stuff and plowing out the door.
“Can you believe I was alone for Valentine’s Day again?” Dahlia asks on our way to her car. Our school runs on the “early bird gets the parking space” system, and since Dahlia is usually lucky to squeak in before the bell, that means a hike to reach her little Honda. I would bitch about the uphill trek in the snow, but to be honest I’m grateful Dahlia drives me home, since my alternative is the bus.
“I mean, my only date this weekend was with our English essay, so”—my breath clouds in the air—“you can be my Galentine.”
“Well, yeah. But that’s not the point.” Dahlia’s puffy white Michael Kors winter coat blends into the snow piled on the side of the road. I can’t help fidgeting, too aware that my pink jacket came from the clearance rack at Walmart three years ago. You know those Hallmark movies where the pretty girl has the quirky, awkward, and sarcastic best-friend-slash-sidekick? Yeah. That’s me.
“I actually forgot yesterday was Valentine’s Day.” I did, however, remember that today marks an important date—it’s exactly three months until this year’s Sci-Con, which means I’m running out of time on my cosplay. I force my frozen fingers to pound out a reminder in my phone before burying them back in my jacket pockets. “Why, did you have something special in mind?”
Dahlia sighs. “No. Not really.”
“Trust me, having a boyfriend—or girlfriend, person, whatever—for Valentine’s is overrated.” I hold up a finger. “First of all, the societal pressure of needing to have one, ick. Secondly”—I hold up another one—“it distracts from the real holiday today, which is half-off candy at CVS.”
She rolls her eyes, fishing through her purse for her car keys. “Always the romantic.”
“It’s just not my priority right now.”
There are three guys who could make me reconsider: (1) Sergeant Aaron Lewis, who is, unfortunately, fictional; (2) Ethan Martone, who plays Sergeant Aaron Lewis, and is, unfortunately, married; and (3) Kyle Nielsen, who, unfortunately, doesn’t even know I exist, despite sitting two rows over from me in AP Bio.
But with valedictorian on the line, I can’t lose focus. In a few months I’ll be at MIT with a bunch of hot engineering majors, and it will all be paid for by a big fat scholarship that I earned by working my ass off for the past eternity.
Dahlia’s mitten-clad fingers fumble with the unlock button, and we quickly climb in. New Hampshire’s seasons are basically colors: fall is orange, summer is green, and we’re currently in the middle of gray, which means we shiver in our seats while the heater decides whether to kick into gear.
“I don’t really care or anything, but . . . I don’t know.” She flicks on the radio, keeping her eyes on the console. “I guess part of me was hoping this one guy would ask me out.”
I set my backpack down at my feet. “Does his name start with B and rhyme with Schmandon?”
Dahlia looks like I just correctly guessed a number she was thinking between one and a bazillion. “How did you know?”
Because I can imagine her face becoming one of those memes—find someone who looks at you the way Dahlia Johnston looks at Brandon Nguyen. “Lucky guess? Why don’t you just ask him?”
“I would, but—I don’t know. I don’t care.” She shrugs it off a little too quickly. “I’d rather be single when I start college anyway.”
I don’t buy that for a second. But I don’t argue, either. “That’s the spirit.”
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