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This Is Where It Ends
This Is Where It Ends
This Is Where It Ends
Ebook307 pages4 hours

This Is Where It Ends

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars



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The reviews are in! This Is Where It Ends, the #1 New York Times bestseller and one of the Best Books of the Decade (Buzzfeed, Paste Magazine, BookRiot), "could break you." "I am speechless." "The saddest book I have ever read." "Literally tore my heart out."

Go inside a heartbreaking fictional school shooting, minute-by-terrifying-minute. Everyone has a reason to fear the boy with the gun...

10:00 a.m.: The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.: The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03 a.m.: The auditorium doors won't open.

10:05 a.m.: Someone starts shooting.

Over the course of 54 minutes, four students must confront their greatest hopes, and darkest fears, as they come face-to-face with the boy with the gun. In a world where violence in schools is at an all-time high and school shootings are a horrifyingly common reality for teenagers, This Is Where It Ends is a rallying cry to end the gun violence epidemic for good. 

Praise for This Is Where It Ends:

  • A Buzzfeed Best Young Adult Book of the Decade
  • A Paste Magazine Best Teen Book of the Decade
  • A Book Riot Biggest YA Book of the Decade
  • A Professional Book Nerds Best Book of the Decade
  • A Bustle.com Most-Anticipated YA Novel
  • A Goodreads YA Best Books Pick
  • A Goodreads Choice Award Finalist for Young Adult Fiction
  • Kids Indie Next List Pick

"Marieke Nijkamp's brutal, powerful fictional account of a school shooting is important in its timeliness." —Bustle.com

"A gritty, emotional, and suspenseful read and although fictionalized, it reflects on a problematic and harrowing issue across the nation." —Buzzfeed

"A compelling, brutal story of an unfortunately all-too familiar situation: a school shooting. Nijkamp portrays the events thoughtfully, recounting fifty-four intense minutes of bravery, love, and loss." —BookRiot

Release dateJan 5, 2016
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Marieke Nijkamp

MARIEKE NIJKAMP is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of This Is Where it Ends and Before I Let Go. She is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, has served as an executive member of We Need Diverse Books, and is the founder of DiversifYA. She lives in the Netherlands. Visit her at mariekenijkamp.com.

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Rating: 3.401088929219601 out of 5 stars

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  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I could not put this book down. From the first page to the last it was constantly moving forward. I am impressed with the level of detail Nijkamp was able to delve into throughout this book which, save the epilogue, was only ~1 hour. A lot can happen in one hour, but it is certainly hard to capture that. Even if this was set in the midst of a tragedy, it was wonderful to read a novel that captivated how quickly time moves. I feel like I have so much more to say about this book that I cannot find the words for. I highly recommend it to anybody who is a fan of YA and/or gripping novels.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    So many school shootings, this book is a timely one. The story is narrated by four different students, 3 inside and 1 outside Opportunity High School, all linked in someway to a student that goes on a killing spree at the school. The story is told in flashbacks as well as present time. As they talk us through the event we learn about what is happening at the time and also details of the narrator’s life, family, hopes and dreams. I cared very much about these high school students and their teachers and wanted to get an understanding of how this type of tragedy comes about. What motivates a high school classmate to become a shooter? How does the family feel? How does a student feel when they see a classmate, a teacher, a sibling gunned down. I think the author did a good job of developing the story, but some parts were a little overdone such as the endless talk of love between two 18 year old girls who would willingly give up their own lives to save each other. I don't know how I would react because I have never been involved in a situation such as this. I found this story suspenseful, tension filled, poignant and heartfelt.

    I couldn’t put this book down! I was compelled to keep reading to find out the final outcome. This book is filled with tragedy as well as hope. I really liked the epilogue. It was very emotional and is something I can imagine the seniors doing. I was crying but I was smiling as well. It is well written for the Y.A. audience (14 ) with themes of family, loss and anger. The main characters all have a sense that they are lacking in some way and are letting other people down which is the way many high school ages students feel.

    I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    "This Is Where It Ends" is a gripping read about a school shooting. Spanning only fifty-four minutes four narrators, whose stories are intertwined, explain in detail what is happening and why. Although a diverse group of students, throughout the book, they each demonstrate bravery, loyalty, the love of family and, in some cases, stupidity and, along the way, the reader also learns about their dreams, hopes and aspirations for the future. "This Is Where It Ends" is not an easy read but I could not put it down. The pacing is excellent, the suspense gripping and the events believable. Unfortunately, the plot is frighteningly real and every parent's worse nightmare. The end is heart-breaking and heart-warming, and finishes with a sense of hope.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    I hate the fact that we live in a world where school shootings happen. I have mixed feelings about the fact that a book like this even exists because I don't want to use a tragedy as entertainment. I have had a review copy of this book for years but never got around to it. My daughter actually encouraged me to read this book because she thought it was well done. I didn't grow up in a world where school shootings happened with alarming regularity but my daughter has and it is something that she thinks about. I found this to be an engaging story and a really quick read.This book is told from multiple points of view while a school shooting is taking place. We see what is going on in the locked auditorium and outside of it as well. This is a tragic story filled with needless death but there is also a bit of hope and a few individuals that prove to be heroes. This book doesn't really get too deep into why the shooting happened but I can't think of a good reason or one that would make sense so I am okay with the decision to focus on the students fighting to survive.The story did have a few problems. Students do call 911 as things start and the police in this little town must have been out having a few doughnuts because it takes them forever to actually get to the school. I had some pretty big issues with that delayed response and I think it made the story very unrealistic. I also never felt like we got to know any of the characters very well. I didn't want any of them to die but I wasn't particularly emotional when it happened either. I did really like the fact that this audiobook was narrated by a full cast. Each point of view had its own narrator which made it very easy to keep track of who the focus was on. I thought that each narrator did a fantastic job with the story. I know that I liked this book a lot more because I decided to listen to the audiobook.I would recommend this book to others. I thought it was a well-told story despite having a few issues. I wouldn't hesitate to read more of this author's work in the future.I received a digital review copy of this book from Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley and borrowed a copy of the audiobook from my local library.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    I feel like I’ve read a lot of school shooting books lately - is this a trend? This one was really amazing though. The bulk of the story (except for the epilogue) took place in about an hour, though it jumped between four different POVs. Very effective, very emotional.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Opportunity, Alabama, even the place name shows the planning by the author. A school shooting is the timely action, but the book is really a character study of those close to the killer. Fascinating.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    For my full review and more, check out Bumble Bee Books!

    This is Where it Ends follows four kids on the morning of their first semester back at school after the holiday. Tomas, Sylv, Claire, and Autumn thinks that today is just any other day. For some of them it is another day of track practice, for some it is another morning being sent to the office for doing something wrong, and some of them it is another boring assembly led by Principal Trenton's famous start of the semester speech. Everything is normal until the assembly is dismissed and the kids try to leave only to realize that the doors of the auditorium are locked from the outside. No one can leave. Thousands of high school kids are stuck in this auditorium looking at their teachers for guidance. Then, one of the doors burst open. A former student yields a gun and begins taking out people one by one. How can this happen to Opportunity High School in small town Opportunity, Alabama where nothing ever happens? How can this be happening to me? That's what every student locked in that auditorium is thinking as they hide for their lives so that they do not become one of the many bodies on the floor.

    This is an important book that I think everyone needs to read. Unfortunately in the world that we live in, school shootings are something that aren't uncommon. Sure, it feels like one of those "that can never happen to me" things, but these things are happening more and more. The way that the author took a fictional story and made it feel like it could be true events is what makes this so important. I read about characters from all walks of life who never though someone that they knew could shoot up their school. I followed these characters through their lives (and in some circumstances, death) and got to know how they are all connected. The author even uses social media (Twitter, blogs) in the book to show how kids that are always connected to their phones and to the world reach out for help.

    I think the most compelling thing about this book is how the entire thing spans over the course of an hour. That's what made it feel real for me, because in a situation like this an hour will feel like an eternity. With all the different POVs and everything happening all around the school, it really makes sense how so much can happen in such little time. For me, it was mesmerizing how so much could happen when only 10 or 15 minutes have passed, but it really brings me back to high school when I could sit in a class for what felt like days and only to have a few minutes tick by.

    I just couldn't put the book down. With every minute that ticks by, there is a chance that a character that you are just learning all about could die. This is truly one of those stories that grabs you by the heart strings and forces you to care. I really hope that once this book is published that it will be in school libraries everywhere because it starts a very important conversation about what to do if something like this should occur. Thank you very much to the author Marieke Nijkamp, the publisher Sourcebooks Fire, and Netgalley for providing be with an advanced copy of this book. This book comes out on the shelves on January 6, 2016, so you definitely want to go ahead and pre-order your copy.

    5/5 stars
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Working in a high school, this book really hit me in the gut in a lot of places. Could someone have prevented what happened in that auditorium if they had just paid enough attention early enough? The character development is where I think Nijkamp shines. Her characters are beautifully detailed and will stay with you long after you finish the story. Admittedly, I was able to foresee how the plot was going to turn out about half way into the story which is why I only gave the book 4 stars instead of 5, but that might have been what Nijkamp intended for the readers. In either case, excellent read.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I could not put this book down. From the first page to the last it was constantly moving forward. I am impressed with the level of detail Nijkamp was able to delve into throughout this book which, save the epilogue, was only ~1 hour. A lot can happen in one hour, but it is certainly hard to capture that. Even if this was set in the midst of a tragedy, it was wonderful to read a novel that captivated how quickly time moves. I feel like I have so much more to say about this book that I cannot find the words for. I highly recommend it to anybody who is a fan of YA and/or gripping novels.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Alternate first-person accounts of a school shooting, including the guilt-stricken sister. The shooter holds a group of students captive in the auditorium; he shoots random and then increasingly targeted individuals. We hear from victims, anguished parents via tweets, a blogger, and the news media. The characters seem cliched and stereotypical but the story is timely.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Riveting, intense and heartbreaking. The events of this story take place in one devastating hour, such that the reader is compelled to read straight through. The author does a good job of capturing the feel of what it might be like to be a student in the midst of a school-shooting event. She made the story as authentic as possible and did a decent job of portraying the thoughts, concerns, and emotions of high-school students. Having the four points of view was helpful as well. The reader doesn't really learn anything new, but definitely experiences a frightening, unforgettable perspective.In accordance with FTC guidelines please note I received a free advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for an
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed the book it covered a controversial topic and gave us unique points of view from four different characters. It kept me engrossed through the whole book and feeling for the characters. A recommended read.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I received a digital copy of this title, free, in exchange for my honest opinion. Wow! This book left me breathless and heartbroken, but also hopeful. School shootings is always a scary topic, mainly because they happen way too frequently for comfort and almost everyone has been touched by it in some way. As with suicide, those who are left in the aftermath or who are outsiders to the event, school shootings leaves the world asking questions. The number one question being "Could I have stopped this?"But what Nijkamp shows is that a shooting involves a whole lot more people than just the shooter. A shooter rarely wakes up one morning and decides to bring a gun to school to exact revenge on those around them. There is more to it than that. She was able to show this without really being in the shooter's head at all. That is one thing that I find the most intriquing, very little time (if any) is actually spent inside the shooter's head. What we learn about him comes from the people that interacted with him directly, mostly in some negative way or from what the shooter says to the other characters. We have to assume that the character's perspective and the shooter's dialogues tells us the truth of who he is. But, I kind of hope that they're wrong. If not, than they were all pretty naiive to not expect something like this to happen. And yes, I can say that, because as a reader I know all of the secrets and truths that each character had but chose to keep to themselves. And it's easy to come to this conclusion when you don't already have a gun pointed at you and you have enough information and experience. It's called the outsider's perspectives. Besides getting to know the shooter, we are also given the opportunity to get to know the other characters. And they are a diverse group. Heroism comes in unexpected places. But so does cowardice. Not everyone can be brave. But you would think that someone who is closer to the shooter would be braver, instead I found her to be selfish and a bit of a coward. I don't think that the author intended her to be portrayed this way, but that's the way she came across to me. I was impressed by this book on so many levels. But this one is worth mentioning directly. This is the work of a debut author. This is Nijkamp's first published book. And it is written as though she has been in the game for a while. Well written, authentic characters and engaging plot. Flawless. I have never said all of that about any other debut author's work. And yes, I know that just because it is the first published work does not mean this is the first book she's ever written (for all we know it could be her hundredth attempt at a book, this same story even). But it is the first in what I hope is long long publishing career.
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    It's hard to read about school shootings, whether it's news or novels. Even after all the incidents over the past few years, I don't think you ever quite know how to not feel horrified or sad or furious or just baffled at how whatever is broken inside a kid comes out this way. This is a very dark story and if you've been involved with any sort of violence in school, you should probably skip it. I usually can't rate stories this dark with three stars; I hate leaving a story with these feelings when there are so many possible endings in fiction. This writer's voice got to me, though and I thought she did well dealing with a gritty subject.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Told from varying perspectives, this author used this style well. Well written with a superb plot, I liked this book a lot. When the students of Opportunity high school beginning a new semester, they had no idea that within 54 minutes, 39 of them would be killed.Autumn and her brother lost their beloved mother in a car accident. Life hasn't been the same since then. Their father uses his fists to take his angst out on his children. Autumn's brother Ty did not return to school as a student to complete his senior year. Instead, when he came to Opportunity high school that fateful day, it would be with a gun and many rounds of ammunition. As students began to depart after the principals opening speech, shots rang out in the auditorium Systematically picking his targets with those who either actually slighted or with whom Ty held a grude, he called them forth and in cold bloodied fashion shot them. Teachers were also targeted and killed.There were two students who decided to skip the assembly and instead entered the principal's office and searched for their records. When they heard the shots, they understood something bad was happening.Successful at picking the locks and using cutters, these two brave souls silently ushered students out of harms way. This was accomplished because Autumn faced her brother and engaged him in conversation while trying to keep his eyes on her and not out at the crowd.Still, many were shot when it was discovered they were trying to flee. Rage filled and vengeful, Ty sneered and smiled as the bullets hit the bodies of his targets. His sister hopes that being a relative counts for something and that perhaps he will not shoot her as she tries to reason with him.While students realized Ty was an angry bully, no one suspected he would resort to premeditated violence.This book was good for many reasons, some of which were the fact that while there were descriptions of the shooting, the author did not resort to unnecessary descriptive gore. The character development was excellent. This very serious topic was handled well without platitudes and over emotional sentiment.There could be no happy ending, and the author did not try to paint an unrealistic ribbon on the box of difficult situations and emotions.Four Stars. I'll look for more of her writing.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    The format of this book was a little tricky and I never figured out who some of the tweets were from but I got use to it and as tragic as the story is I liked being inside the heads of certain students. It was a good angle. I've avoided books on this topic but this was the recommended book via my library on biglibraryread.com so I joined in. As to be expected reading a book like this is draining but sadly in today's world...current.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    t first a bit disjointed - there's multiple narrators, and while details of their lives are shared, it's a bit confusing at first. But the plot moves forward inexorably ... And in increasingly horrific detail . A young man methodically locks all the auditorium doors, brings weapons and extra ammo and tells the trapped student body and staff that he is in control. The shock is real and as the shooter begins to actually kill students and teachers, the dread and the sense of despair builds along with the claustrophobic atmosphere of the auditorium. The narrators' relationships to the shooter, Tyler Browne, emerges and secrets are revealed. Well written, emotionally wrenching and painful to read for its straight from the headlines plot, this is a compelling read.
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    Really 2 1/2 stars. Very disappointing. With all the positive press surrounding this book. I expected something more gripping. I felt like the author didn't delve deep enough into the characters and it was wayyy too short.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I literally loved this book so much, it was very sad and very touching. Everyone should read this book!!!
  • Rating: 1 out of 5 stars
    I’ve read multiple “school shooting” books and this was by far the worst one. Very one dimensional characters and badly written dialogue. Hard to really connect with the characters. Read Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult or The Competition by Marcia Clark instead.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I found this book to e very moving. I couldn't put it down.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Couldn’t put it down! Simply Amazing from start to finish.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Words cannot discribe how I felt reading this book. The author had me from the start an until the very end you couldn’t see what was coming. The trauma an details were amazing an I cannot wait to read another of her books
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Binge read the whole thing in one go. Only 4 stars because there were some parts I felt unnecessary but I'm just salty about some stuff in the book. Really enjoyed reading it.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Amazing Read!!! So Emotional and Gut-Wrenching Traumedy Loved It So Much!
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    This story, the nightmare of every american youth. Hauntingly powerful.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    I could not put this book down!! This book scared the shit out of me because I have a son in high school and when I read this he was a Freshman…now a senior and it scares me to think that this could happen at his school at any time. Thankfully it hasn’t but when I was done reading this all I could do was hug him and thank the lord he has never had to go through something like this.
  • Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    Attention Spoiler Alert!
    The idea and concept of this book is really moving and suspenseful. Also the writing style and the different point of views were very interesting. The proceedings on the other hand seemed kind of out of order and not comprehensible to me. For example the proceedings of the police and why Tomàs sacrificed himself didn’t seem all that sensible. I would have loved to get to know Tyler’s motivation a little better and for some of the characters to be less stereotypical heroic and more human in their actions. But in the end I do have to say, that I read this book within two day’s due to the nerve racking tension the author built.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    This story is amazing and unique. I am so hooked on the characters. I love the plot and everything about this book. You did well! You can join in the NovelStar writing contest right now until the end of May with a theme Werewolf. You can also publish your stories in NovelStar, just email our editors hardy@novelstar.top, joye@novelstar.top, or lena@novelstar.top.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    Wonderful story. If you have some great stories like this one, you can publish it on Novel Star, just submit your story to hardy@novelstar.top or joye@novelstar.top

Book preview

This Is Where It Ends - Marieke Nijkamp


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Copyright © 2016 by Marieke Nijkamp

Cover and internal design © 2016 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover design © Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover image © Mark Watson (kalimistuk) / Getty Images

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Fire, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567–4410

(630) 961–3900

Fax: (630) 961–2168


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Nijkamp, Marieke.

This is where it ends / Marieke Nijkamp.

pages cm

Summary: Minutes after the principal of Opportunity High School in Alabama finishes her speech welcoming the student body to a new semester, they discover that the auditorium doors will not open and someone starts shooting as four teens, each with a personal reason to fear the shooter, tell the tale from separate perspectives.

(alk. paper)

[1. School shootings--Fiction. 2. High schools--Fiction. 3. Schools--Fiction. 4. Interpersonal relations--Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.1.N55Thi 2016




Front Cover

Title Page


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six


Exclusive Content

A Letter from the Author


Bonus Chapter

Discussion Questions

A Conversation with the Author



A Preview of Even If We Break

About the Author

Back Cover

To my mom, with love.

Chapter One

10:01–10:02 A.M.


The starter gun shatters the silence, releasing the runners from their blocks.

Track season starts in a couple weeks, but no one has told Coach Lindt about winter. He’s convinced that the only way to get us into shape is to practice—even when my breath freezes right in front of me.

This is Opportunity, Alabama. Sane people don’t leave their homes when it’s white and frosty outside. We stock up on canned food, drink hot chocolate until we succumb to sugar comas, and pray to be saved from the cold.

Still, Coach Lindt’s start-of-season training beats Principal Trenton’s long and arduous start-of-semester speech—virtue, hard work, and the proper behavior of young ladies and gentlemen. After almost four years at Opportunity High, I can recite her words from memory, which is exactly what I did for Matt at breakfast this morning—responsibility, opportunity (no pun intended), and her favorite, our school motto: We Shape the Future.

It sounds glorious, but with months left until graduation, I have no clue what the future looks like. If Opportunity shaped me, I didn’t notice. Running, I know. This track, I know. One step after another after another. It doesn’t matter what comes next as long as I keep moving forward.

My foot slips, and I stumble.

From his position on the field, Coach curses. Claire, attention! One misstep’s the difference between success and failure.

Straightening, I refocus.

A familiar laugh colors the still morning. Did you freeze up over holiday break, Sarge? A snail could catch up with you floundering like that. On the straightaway of the track, Chris falls into step with me.

I suck in a breath before I answer him. Oh, shut up.

My best friend only laughs louder. The even rhythm of his footsteps and his breathing challenge me to find my pace. His presence steadies me like it always does. At six-foot-five and with sun-touched hair and blue eyes, Chris is not just our best runner but also Opportunity’s poster-boy athlete. On uniform days, the freshman girls fawn over him.

With Chris by my side, my stride shortens. The other two runners on our varsity team are far behind us, on the other side of the field. Chris and I move in perfect synchrony, and the very air parts before us.

Nothing can touch us. Not snow. Not even time.

• • •


Time’s up. The small clock on the bookshelf strikes ten with an annoying little tune, and I thumb through the tabs in front of me at supersonic speed. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.

It only took superglue—strategically squirted on the desk drawers of my favorite Spanish teacher, Mr. Look-At-Me-Strutting-My-Stuff-Like-A-Walking-Midlife-Crisis—for Far and me to find our way to the administrative office. But it took both our student IDs before we managed to jiggle the lock on Principal Trenton’s door. And it’ll all be for nothing if I can’t find the file I’m looking for. I scan the folders in the filing cabinet. When an elbow pokes my side, I startle. Dammit, Far. What the hell?

Fareed rolls his eyes and gestures for me to keep quiet. Someone’s in the hallway, he mouths. He tiptoes back to the door.


How do I explain this? No, ma’am, I’m not doing anything, just breaking into school records?

Whatever. I’m sure I have a legal right to see my own permanent record, so I can always use that as my excuse. The fact that these folders just happened to be Last Names, A–C instead of Last Names, M–N is nothing more than a coincidence. No one knows whose file I’m looking for, except Far. And even he doesn’t know the whole reason.

If anything, I can always find Al-Sahar, Fareed as a cover. The school administration can’t even file his name right.


A door opens and closes. A lock clicks.

Footsteps squeak on the linoleum outside the administrative office.

Footsteps that pause before the principal’s door—our door.

I quietly push the file drawer shut. Better not to stir up trouble—more trouble—if I get caught red-handed.

Far and I both hold our breath.

After what feels like forever, the footsteps move on. Whomever it was, they’re not out to get us. Not today.

• • •


"…it’s all a matter of the decisions you make, today and every day. Your behavior reflects not only on yourself but also on your parents, your family, and your school.

"Here at Opportunity, we pride ourselves on shaping the doctors, lawyers, and politicians of tomorrow. And it’s the choices you make now that will determine your future. You have to ask yourself how you can become the best you can be. Ask not what your school can do for you but what you can do for you."

Trenton holds the microphone loosely while she scans the crowd, as if memorizing every single face. So many students come and go, leaving nothing but the faintest impression, names scratched into desks and graffitied onto bathroom stalls, yet she knows us all.

All our hopes. All our heartbreaks. All our sleepless nights.

Her eyes linger on me, and my neck burns. I reach for the chair to my right, but it remains as it was when the assembly started. Empty.

To my left, Sylv groans. After all these years, you’d think she’d come up with something more original.

Don’t you want to be the best you can be? The words come out harsher than I intend.

She grumbles.

In truth, Sylv will have plenty of colleges to choose from. She’s a shoo-in for all her dream schools. And I should be happy for her. I am happy for her.

But for me, college is the only way out of this misery, and Dad sure as hell isn’t going to pay my ride. Not to study dance. Look what happened to your mother, he’d say, as if I haven’t counted the days, hours, minutes since Mom’s accident. Dance took everything from her. No daughter of mine is going into that business. Not if I can stop it.

So he tries to stop me—every day. And with Mom gone, there’s no one to stop him. Not from drinking. Not from hitting me. There’s no one to keep our family from falling apart.

I grip my crumpled coffee cup, grab the threadbare denim messenger bag from under my seat, and block out Ty’s voice in the back of my mind. My brother would tell me that Principal Trenton’s words are truer than I think, that the world is at my fingertips and it’s up to me to make my future the best it can be.

I tried that and I lost. Now I’d rather escape.

• • •


I sink deep into my seat and glance at the empty place next to Autumn. He’s not coming after all. He’d have been here by now. He won’t come. I’m safe here.

He won’t come.

The knot in my stomach unfurls and recoils with every twist and turn of my mind. I could ask Autumn about Tyler, but she’s lost in memories. Today is two years since the accident. She refuses to share her grief with me—or anyone. Even when she smiles, she isn’t the girl she used to be.

And I miss her.

Some days, when she thinks no one is watching, she still moves across the floor as if she’s flying. La golondrina, Mamá used to call her. The swallow. All grace and beauty. When Autumn dances, all her worry falls away and she shines.

I wish she could dance forever.

Madre de Dios, how I wish I could watch her dance forever.

Instead, it is another Monday. Life goes on. The assembly is over, and Autumn holds herself ramrod straight. I’m the only one who knows she’ll fly out of this cage and leave us all behind as soon as she can.

Meanwhile, next period is the last review for my AP U.S. History midterm, and I haven’t even touched my books. Mamá had another one of her bad spells over break. We were supposed to go into town together last Saturday, but when Abuelo brought the car around, she barely recognized him. She didn’t want to leave the house. She didn’t understand where we were going. I sat with her for hours, talked to her—listen, Mamá—told her the stories that wove our family around her. She was disoriented for days afterward, and I can’t shake the feeling that with every day that passes, she slips away like starlight at dawn.

At least history suits me. You already know if those stories will end happily.

CJ Johnson


Sleeeeeeeeepy #OHS

10:01 AM

Jay Eyck


@CadetCJJ #snodaylikeasnowday

10:01 AM

CJ Johnson


@JEyck32 Bailing on assembly to sleep?

>_> #morelikehungoverday

10:01 AM

CJ Johnson


@Claire_Morgan Can I order one of the freshmen to bring me coffee?

10:02 AM

Chapter Two

10:02–10:04 A.M.


I reach for the bowl on top of the desk and pop a few mints into my mouth. Far peeks around the principal’s door. When he gives the all clear, I open the filing cabinet again. I haven’t lost much work. Just time.

Principal Trenton may still live in the pre-digital era, but she’s like a cyborg. She always speaks until ten sharp, leaving five minutes for announcements before the bell. By the end of the assembly, everyone has to run to make it to class on time for third period. Well, in theory. The teachers and other personnel are in the auditorium too, and they don’t run.

So everyone pushes to leave, then strolls, dawdles, sneaks out for a smoke and some air (the two aren’t mutually exclusive, thank you very much). After all, even nicotine and tar smell better than what my sis once described as our odor-torium, a unique blend of testosterone, sweat, and burned coffee.

But we’re cutting it far too close. I hate paperwork.

Maybe you should stay on the farm then, Fareed drawls. Honest work and hard labor don’t require brains.

You’re hilarious. My fingers skim his file, and I pull it out of the drawer. D’you want to see the letter of recommendation Mr. O’Brian wrote for your college applications?

He holds out his hands, and I toss him the file. A few sheets flutter from the folder before Far catches it.


I snort. Sorry. Not sorry.

I look so young and innocent in this picture, Fareed muses, staring at his cover sheet. For most of our class, the picture used by the administration is three years old, taken when we enrolled as freshmen. In his case, however—

That was taken last year!

How you’ve corrupted me. Without your brilliant ideas, I’d have been a straight-A student, never in trouble with the law, girls following me everywhere.

Sure. I pull another folder out of the filing cabinet. Keep telling yourself that.

Fareed makes another comment, but I’m not paying attention. A familiar picture stares at me from the cover sheet.


Browne, Tyler. Gelled blond hair, pale eyes, and an oh-so-familiar blank look. The one time his eyes weren’t glossed over with contempt was when I slammed his head into a locker. My fingers itch to do it again.

Does the administration note criminal charges in student records? Probably not when the files are this easy to access. Definitely not when said student dropped out at the end of last year. Besides, I don’t even know if he has a criminal record. According to his grades, he was a perfectly respectable C student. Three years at Opportunity and Tyler coasted through all his classes.

He only—spectacularly—failed Humanity 101.

The latest note in his file is unmistakable though: Reenrolling. Effective immediately.

Sylvia mentioned it this weekend. It was the first time she’s confided in me in months. She looked ready to puke her guts out, she was so scared, but she refused to tell me why. So here I am, breaking into school records. To make sure she’s safe. Twin-brother privileges.

Not that I’ll ever admit to that or even hint that I care. Twin-brother reputation.

I lean against the principal’s desk and read.

Date of birth, address—boring. Emergency contact information for father, mother deceased. Last school, date of admission—nothing I don’t already know. Present class: not applicable. Not yet.

SAT score: 2140.

Huh. A closet genius.

Maybe that explains why, despite his bravado, Tyler never made good on any of his threats. He may be a maggot, but he’s the smartest kind: a harmless one.

• • •


My back aches. I roll my shoulders to loosen the knotted muscles. Sylv lingers instead of rejoining the rest of her class. She cracks her knuckles with sharp snaps. Are you okay?

I… I hesitate.

I woke up drenched in sweat last night, expecting a knock at the door like two years ago. But this morning was breakfast as usual. Ty was nowhere to be found, and after this weekend, I didn’t mind. Figures. Dad didn’t bother to get up. He started—or never stopped—drinking last night. These days, he doesn’t even try to hide it. When Mom was still alive, he only drank when she was away and only during the darkest times. He still knew how to smile then, and he could make both Ty and me laugh.

Now he’s angry at the entire world, at anything that reminds him of Mom.

At me.

I don’t know how to put all that into words. I’m not okay. I haven’t been okay in a long time. It isn’t just Mom’s death. Dad—sometimes I’m afraid.

And Ty… I’m afraid I’ll lose Ty too.

But Sylv and Ty hate each other. How can I begin to make her understand?

She places her hand on my arm, then remembers where we are and nervously tucks a long, black curl behind her ears. Her bright-blue top matches her eyeliner, which makes her eyes sparkle. At Opportunity, where so many of us prefer to stay hidden, she’s the brightest spotlight on the darkest stage. She looks at me expectantly. It’s understandable, you know. Anniversaries can be difficult. You can be sad. No one will judge you, least of all me.

I nod, but the words still won’t form. The voices ebb and flow around us as students climb the raked aisles between the four blocks of seating. Sylv’s eyes flick to the other side of the auditorium, where some of the football players are getting loud.

I shrug. It’s fine. I’m fine.

She’d never understand. No one does.

I’m counting down the minutes to seventh period, when the music room behind the stage is dark and deserted. In the shadows, I’ll be alone.

I’ll be safe.

Sylv opens her mouth, but before she can say anything, a girl from her class appears at her elbow—Asha, I think. She used to get into arguments with my brother before he dropped out. I can’t—I don’t want to keep up with all of them. They will only bind me to this place, and it hurts so much to care.

Asha clings to her AP U.S. History textbook. Under strands of rainbow-colored hair, her mouth quirks up in a half smile. She whispers something. Sylv tenses before she laughs, her voice rising above the crowd. Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not looking forward to midterms.

Asha rolls her eyes. "You have nothing to worry about."

Sylv blushes, but Asha’s right: Sylv’s a straight-A student. The teachers adore her. She couldn’t flunk an exam if she tried.

Asha turns to me, and that’s my cue. I plaster on a fake smile. Midterms aren’t until next week. And I had better things to do than study over break.

Philistine. Sylv sighs. How do I put up with you?

Because I’m yours.

The buttons on Asha’s bag clink against each other. She flicks a purple lock of hair out of her face. No stress? Lucky you.

Lucky me. Before I can say anything, Sylv beats me to it.

"So what did you do?"


Around us, the drone of voices becomes louder, more agitated. The first few moments after Trenton’s speeches are always a mess, with everyone tumbling over each other trying to get out, but this is far more chaotic than usual.

A teacher pushes through. Probably to see what the holdup is.

Asha grins. All of break? Absolutely nothing? C’mon, spill.

Sylv’s eyes are soft and questioning, and I nibble on my lip. I don’t want to let her down. "I found an old video recording of my mother’s first Swan Lake in the attic this weekend. It was her audition for the Royal Ballet. She wasn’t much older than me."

It’s not salacious news, so I expect Asha to be disappointed, but she leans in closer. Was it good?

This surprises a smile out of me.

Opportunity High is a county high school, with students from all the small surrounding towns. Asha isn’t one of us. She isn’t Opportunity, where everyone knows everything about Mom and me. She isn’t part of our home turf of familiar street names, churches, and shared secrets.

In Opportunity, everyone knows Mom danced around the world at every great company: London, Moscow, New York. She saw more countries than all of us combined. She told me about her travels and made me restless. For how much that memory of her hurts, watching her dance never does. "She was amazing."

Sylv’s shoulder touches mine. Her warm smile anchors me. It’s as if all of Opportunity falls away. We’re lost between making a home and escaping one. It won’t be long before our secrets choke us, before she finally realizes I don’t deserve her and she leaves me too.

• • •


After another lap, the crisp air becomes refreshing, though I’d never admit that to Coach. Winter ought to stick to December, to Christmas, and leave us be. We need as many hours as we can find to prepare for our next meet if we want to keep up our winning streak.

My JROTC drill team will start practice again soon too. It’s only the youngest cadets’ second year of training, and they’re still finding their stride. I have enough on my mind without the frost.

I glance sideways to find Chris grinning at me. What?

You’re brooding.

Am not.

He snorts.

How was your break? We ask the same question at the same time, and I laugh.

It was weird not having Trace home for Matt’s birthday, even though he’s, quote, a high school student and all grown up, so why do we worry so much? My baby brother tries not to show how much this cold weather is hurting his joints or how much he misses

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