Here’s the Thing
by Emily O’Beirne
Genre: YA Contemporary (LGBT)
Release Date: October 19th 2016
It’s only for a year. That’s what sixteen-year-old Zel keeps telling herself after moving to Sydney for her dad’s work. She’ll just wait it out until she gets back to New York and Prim, her epic crush/best friend, and the unfinished subway project. Even if Prim hasn’t spoken to her since that day on Coney Island.
But Zel soon finds life in Sydney won’t let her hide. There’s her art teacher, who keeps forcing her to dig deeper. There’s the band of sweet, strange misfits her cousin has forced her to join for a Drama project. And then there’s the curiosity that is the always-late Stella.
As she waits for Prim to explain her radio silence and she begins to forge new friendships, Zel feels strung between two worlds. Finally, she must figure out how to move on while leaving no one behind.
As soon as she hears the words “New York”, the blonde princess perks up.
“You actually lived there?” Her voice is still measured, but I can hear the hint of intrigue. Suddenly I’m worth something. She straightens her blazer, looking curious and a touch self-conscious. Like the mention of that city has chafed at the all-comforting sense of superiority she held a second ago when she sized up my loose-haired, loose-jeaned, couldn’t-give-a-crap eyeliner look. Now her perfectly braided hair, subtle eye make-up, and her prefect’s badge don’t stand a chance against me (well, New York). It’s like she suddenly feels like the boring provincial cliché she is.
Please don’t think I’m a bitch, describing this girl like that. I’m not a bitch. Really, I’m not. It’s just that you weren’t here ten minutes ago. I swear it was surreal. She was nice as pie when Mum was here, making small talk, telling us about the school excursions and clubs and extra university prep courses they offer. Then, the minute Mum went in to chat with the senior school coordinator, she went on this total backspin from perky polite to general disinterest. All before the office door even closed.
Of course, that was before I uttered the four, golden ‘lived in New York’ words. Now she’s all ears.
So excuse me for judging, but you have to admit it’s kind of deeply shallow on her part. Like something out of a bad teen movie. She’s one of those popular girls, all shiny and judge-y and awaiting her comeuppance, the one who underestimates the new girl at the start. This, of course, casts me as the nerdy but likeable girl. The one who’ll either seek revenge on all the high-definition girls like this evenly tanned overachiever next to me or else become wildly popular by getting a makeover from a gay man, making some excellent quips, and then dating from the girl-clique’s private male gene pool property.
Believe me, people, when I say that NONE of this is going to happen. What will happen, if Mum and Dad magically convince me go to this school, is that I will put my head down and stay as invisible as humanly possible. Because if she is a taster of the school social menu, I plan to officially bow out of all interpersonal efforts.
We’ve already taken the full tour of the school and grounds, led by the blonde, in chirruping prefect mode, and the principal’s assistant. Apparently this school’s so exclusive that potential Golden Ones don’t even get to meet the principal until they’re properly signed on, fees paid. Together they schooled Mum in everything this place has to offer. Because she’ll be the one paying the fees for the Olympic swimming pool and the sky-lit art rooms, right? And while I dragged my feet behind them, I didn’t get a chance to find out if all the other students are carbon, depressing copies of this one either. All the girls (yes, only girls, which you would think would make me happy but it actually doesn’t) were tucked away in the classrooms. But my guess is, given the North Shore location and the amount of zeroes I saw on the fees list, that this sample of blonde wayyy-upper-middle-class Sydney sitting right here is probably representative enough for me to turn and run for the hills. Or at least back to the inner west.
“Like, New York, New York? Not the state,” the girl asks, wrinkling her nose slightly as if she can’t imagine that hallowed city allowing rabble like me in. Which, of course, shows how little she knows about the place. If she thinks I’m rabble, she’s got another thing coming when she and her fake designer suitcase finally make it there. If New York knows how to do anything, it’s how to produce prime rabble. It prides itself on it.
“Yes, the city,” I say patiently instead of sighing the sigh of the withering, which is what I really want to do. If I were Prim, I probably would have. I’m the kind of person who can manage to stay on the right side of polite, but Prim’s got zero tolerance for girls like this. But then, Prim’s got zero tolerance for most people. “We lived in Midtown.”
The girl looks blank.
“It’s the middle of Manhattan, near Times Square,” I explain as two girls in uniform, looking just like this one but brunette and sans prefect badge, peer into the office. One says something, and the other cackles as they pass. I shudder. Get me out of here. Now.
Blondie perks up some more. “That’s where they have the New Year’s parade?”
“Did you go?”
I fight the urge to roll my eyes. I wouldn’t be caught dead there, fighting for a square inch of space with a gazillion tourists and out-of-towners. The parade is what television is made for. It’s for parents and old people and the rest of America to watch while New York goes out. Prim and I had planned to spend New Year’s Eve planning our New World Order. I don’t have time to fill you in on the details right now, but let me tell you this much—this girl here would have trouble surviving once we run the show.
Before I can respond, Mum is finally ejected from the coordinator’s office. I’m so relieved to see her I have to stop myself from jumping up and hugging her. She gives me a thin smile like she, too, has been to private school hell and back.
The coordinator is right behind her. She’s a shaggy middle-aged woman wearing a pastel sweater dress straight out of the eighties. Now I really feel sorry for Mum. Ten minutes in the presence of that outfit is probably pushing at the edges of human endurance.
“I hope to see you next week, Zelda,” the coordinator says to me. “Meaghan will show you back to the gate, won’t you?”
Blondie McPerfect nods enthusiastically and leads us back to the car park full of shiny land cruisers and zippy hatchbacks. She chatters all the way, practically igniting with excitement when she hears Mum’s line of work. I smirk to myself. It must be killing her that two such unimpressive-looking people’s life CVs are impressing her so much.
I tune out and watch the school go by. The playing fields are movie-set green, the sprinklers keeping the summer sun from doing its worst. That’d be right. Last night’s news said parts of the Blue Mountains are ablaze with bushfires, but North Sydney is lush.
As soon as Meaghan leaves us with a wave and a faux-friendly see you next week, I turn to Mum. “I’m not going here. No way.”
I know I know, shut up. I’m fully aware that this has possibly been one of those things, hasn’t it? Where you guys have been sitting back and watching us give each other meaningful looks, just waiting for us to get together already? I know I would have. And yes, the ship has finally sailed. But don’t be smug. It’s totally easy to start, glued to the screen or flipping pages, thinking, “Oh, come on! When are they going to figure it out?” I do it all the time. But you should know it’s also a lot harder to figure this stuff out in real life than it is in books and movies. And maybe I’m a dummy at this, but I figured it out in the end, okay?
LOL! And yes, it does nearly take until the bitter end. 😉 But to be fair, Zel had a whole lot of stuff she had to figure out for herself before then–some relationship-related, some not–and another person to deal with before she could get to this point. Plus, she’s totally right. So even though you’re totally doing everything she accuses you of, you’re really not minding all that much.
This is the second Emily O’Beirne book I’ve read–not only ever, but this week!–and though I really liked the other one ( Points of Departure ), this one just blew it out of the water. Iloved Zelda’s voice and the way she’d talk just to the reader every now and then. I liked that she’d admit when she was wrong, or wrong-ish–not easy for anyone, teen or not–and that she didn’t spend her whole time wallowing in “why me?” angst even though she totally felt it at times. She’s a teen, but she’s working on being well-adjusted. And doing a pretty good job at doing so believably.
And oh my gosh, I just keep picturing her at the back of her drama class group’s improv pieces, being a darn good tree. I feel you, girl. I’d be right back there with you.
So much fun. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more from Ms. O’Beirne!
Rating: 4 1/2 stars / A-
I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.
Pre-Order Link: Ylva
About the Author
Thirteen-year-old Emily woke up one morning with a sudden itch to write her first novel. All day, she sat through her classes, feverishly scribbling away (her rare silence probably a cherished respite for her teachers). And by the time the last bell rang, she had penned fifteen handwritten pages of angsty drivel, replete with blood-red sunsets, moody saxophone music playing somewhere far off in the night, and abandoned whiskey bottles rolling across tables.
Needless to say, that singular literary accomplishment is buried in a box somewhere, ready for her later amusement.
From Melbourne, Australia, Emily was recently granted her PhD. She works part-time in academia, where she hates marking papers but loves working with her students. She also loves where she lives but travels as much as possible and tends to harbour crushes on cities more than on people.
Living in an apartment, Emily sadly does not possess her dream writing room overlooking an idyllic garden of her creation. Instead, she spends a lot of her time staring over the screen of her laptop and out the window at the somewhat less pretty (but highly entertaining) combined kebab stand/carwash across the road. (from the publisher’s website)