Have you ever read a novel and thought “OMG this is literally the story of my life”?
…Neither have we.
Which is what makes NOTHING by Annie Barrows EVERYTHING we need in a YA novel right now. It’s taking all the over the top storylines that we know (and let’s admit it, that we love) from our favorite YA novels and calling out just how different they are from real life.
NOTHING is about Frankie and Charlotte, who decide to write a book about what their lives are really like. That means no overly dramatic love triangles, no invasions from supernatural forces, no mysterious and brooding love interests with a secret softer side… just real (boring) life. Except, as they continue writing about their real lives, they realize maybe their lives aren’t so boring after all…
It’s a snarky, sassy read with just enough sincerity to tug at our heart strings and we’ve got a sneak peek at the first four chapters below, so you can start reading NOTHING now!
1. The Beginning of Nothing
“Nothing,” said Charlotte.
“A blank book, you mean?” said Frankie. She stuffed her phone between the couch cushions and rolled over on her back. “Hater. We’re not that lame.”
“No. Not blank. Just, like, boring,” Charlotte said. “If you wrote a book about our real lives, nothing would happen. Ever.” She tossed the book she was reading over the side of the couch and slid down, wedging her feet into Frankie’s armpit.
“Get out,” Frankie said, slapping her foot halfheartedly.
“Shut up.” Charlotte dug her feet deeper into Frankie’s armpit and resumed talking. “In there”—she waved at the book on the floor—“the main girl has red ringlets, like, three feet long—”
“And everyone thinks she’s hot but she doesn’t care, because she has a secret.”
“Ooh-ooh, a secret,” snickered Frankie. “This is why I don’t read.”
“Guess what it is.”
“Get your feet out of my armpit first,” said Frankie.
“Guess,” commanded Charlotte.
“Rape, incest,” said Frankie in a bored voice. “Or oh my god, she’s gay.”
“Oh my god, she’s gay,” said Charlotte. “And then oh my god, there’s a rainstorm and oh my god, she doesn’t have an umbrella, so she runs into a—wait for it—”
“An AA meeting!” yelled Frankie.
“No! A sculpture class!” said Charlotte. “Where she sees a gorgeous Iranian girl with oh my god, scars on her wrists, and they exchange stares of attraction.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Frankie. “Where’s the dead mom?”
“Dead brother. Iranian girl’s.”
“Is there a scene where the main girl runs through a storm to save the Iranian girl from suicide and they touch each other and then have insane sex?”
Charlotte wrinkled her nose. “No storm. There was already a rainstorm when they met. They can’t have two rainstorms.”
“But suicide and insane sex?”
“Yeah. The sex part’s good.” With a grunt, Charlotte propelled herself halfway off the couch to retrieve the book.
“Oh god! Get your gross feet out of my face!” wailed Frankie.
Returning to the couch with a thump, Charlotte flipped through the book. “Here. Page two hundred eleven.” She passed it down the couch.
Frankie read breathily, “ ‘ “No,” I whispered. I meant yes. Yesyesyes. She knew. She knew everything. She knew how to slide her cool hands under me, she knew how to open my legs—’ ” Frankie fell silent, reading. “Whoo-whoo, that is hot.” After a moment, she looked up at Charlotte with shining eyes. “Why aren’t we gay?”
“I know,” said Charlotte. “But we’re not. At least, I’m not. I don’t know about you. You seem a little gay to me.”
“You know what would be really good?” said Frankie dreamily. “If one of us was gay and, like, dying of secret lust for the other. And then there could be a discovery scene. And then insane sex.”
“Sorry,” said Charlotte. “Not going to happen. ’Cause we’re not gay. We like disgusting smelly guys who don’t like us. Like Kellen and Reed. Fuckers.”
“Fuckers,” Frankie agreed.
“And,” continued Charlotte, “even if we were gay, probably no one would like us. Look at Noony. It’s not like she’s having nights of insane sex. She’s having nights of insane homework, same as us.”
“Nights of homework, days of school, weekends of hanging around wishing that something would happen. And sometimes—yay!—babysitting!” Frankie tossed the book back to the floor. “Now I feel all shitty. Reading sucks.”
“We suck,” said Charlotte.
A distant slam. “I’m home!” Heels sounded heavily in the hallway, and Charlotte’s mother thumped into the kitchen. She was much smaller than her footsteps suggested. She looked suspiciously at the girls on the couch. “You haven’t been eating my lettuce, have you?”
“Hi, Charlotte,” said Charlotte. “How was school?”
“You look like you might have been eating my lettuce.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes at Frankie. “Most moms worry that their kids are getting into the liquor cabinet. My mom worries that I ate lettuce.”
“My lettuce,” her mom clarified. “The liquor’s right up there.” She pointed to a high cupboard. “Oh shit. Sorry.” She glanced worriedly at Frankie. “I shouldn’t say stuff like that. Just kidding! Don’t drink, kids!”
“Mom!” groaned Charlotte.
“Okay, okay. I’ll go change,” said her mom. “Don’t do drugs!” She clomped away.
Charlotte winced. “She’s a weirdo.”
Frankie nodded. “But still: the eccentric mother. At least you’ve got that.”
Charlotte laughed. “Nah. Only grandmas get to be eccentric. Moms in books are either dead or drunk.”
“Nuh-uh. I’ve read ones where the mom is all life-forcey and wacky.”
“Those ones die,” Charlotte pointed out.
“Oh yeah. Right.”
“The thing is, real life isn’t about anything. That’s what I meant,” Charlotte said. Frankie looked a question. “You know, when I said that a book about our lives would be about nothing. There wouldn’t be a plot, because we do the same stuff every day.”
“No wild sex, either,” said Frankie glumly.
Charlotte shook her head. “Nobody our age actually has wild sex.”
“Aaron Shields does. He says.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “No one he’s doing it with says so. You know Lena? She said never again. So, okay: no plot, no sex, and no character development, because everyone’s exactly the same as they’ve always been.”
“Hey!” Frankie kicked her. “I’ve changed a lot!” She frowned. “Haven’t I?”
Charlotte snorted. “You wish. I’ve known you since you were eight, and you haven’t changed at all.”
“You have. You’re more of a bitch.”
Frankie pulled her phone out from the cushions and looked at it. “Check out my ratio,” she said, holding out her phone.
Charlotte glanced at the phone. “Groovy.” Then came a long period of silence while Frankie liked photos and Charlotte gazed out the window.
“Look—” Frankie held out the phone again. “She’s wearing that V neck you almost got. I hate that color.”
“Yeah.” Charlotte nodded absently. “You know, I’m going to do it.”
“What? The V neck? I don’t—”
“No. The book. I’m going to write a book about what our lives are really like,” said Charlotte. “I’m going to make it my senior project.”
“You’re only a sophomore,” said Frankie.
“I’ll get it done early.”
Frankie screwed up her face. “But nothing ever happens to us.”
“I know!” said Charlotte excitedly. “That’s the point! It’ll be, like, a searing document of today’s youth and how incredibly boring our lives are!”
Frankie paused. “Am I going to be in it?”
“Hello? You’re my best friend. You have to be in it. This is a true story.”
“Can’t you make something happen to me?”
“Nuh-uh! Only the truth!”
Frankie groaned. “Oh my god, I’m bored already.”
“Too bad, Franklin.”
“Fuck me,” said Frankie.
And that was how Nothing began.
“Fuck me,” sighed Frankie.
Frankie is my best friend. People are always saying that they’re best friends or BFFs or mains, and it makes me want to scream because then they turn around and talk shit about each other or say it about someone else or whatever. I hate that.
I bet you think I’m going to follow that up by saying But not me and Frankie. We’re the real deal. We’ve got each other’s back, through thick and thin, fire and rain, blah blah blah.
I mean, I love Frankie, I really do. She’s been my best friend since we were eight, except for a little while in seventh grade when this bitch Ohndie stole her. I’m still mad about that. But Frankie’s funny and smart and she actually listens to other people and thinks about what they say, but no one besides me really knows that because she doesn’t talk much. She can be intense, though. Maybe I really mean determined. She wants to get on with it. Like one time when we were little, Frankie’s dad took us rock climbing—not serious rock climbing, kid rock climbing. Still, I was scared. I got on this ledge and I wanted to stay there until I wasn’t scared anymore. Frankie stayed there next to me, but it made her crazy. She kept saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay. I’ll stay with you,” and then she couldn’t stand it anymore, and she just dang jumped off that ledge. I almost had a heart attack and so did her dad. Why am I telling this story? Oh yeah, to show that Frankie’s intense. She used to be, anyway. Now she spends most of her time on the phone. I’m not blaming her, because I do, too. Everyone does. There’s not that much else to do.
There’s this unspoken—what? Idea, I guess—among all grown-ups that teenagers are bums. That all we care about is social media and it’s giving us brain cancer and making us dumb and we’ll never get jobs and we’ll end up living in our parents’ basements. So we feel guilty every time they see us look at our phones, but the whole thing is fucked up because what else are we supposed to do?
My dad is all, “You should be helping the less fortunate.”
But I do! I’m in Social Action Club at school! We fill grocery bags at the food bank and stuff. They won’t let us actually hand out food to homeless people because of their insurance. I suppose I could go to St. Vincent’s and serve dinner, but I don’t know how I’d get there and I guess I would be kind of scared to go alone. I pick up garbage at the beach three times a year, too.
What else can I do? Get a job? I wish, ’cause I’m broke, but what job? Not even grown-ups can get jobs. Is there a job I can get on Sunday from noon to five? Because that’s all the time I’ve got left over after school and orchestra (which my parents won’t let me quit) and track (which they also won’t let me quit).
My mom thank god doesn’t say things like I should be helping the less fortunate, but I know what she’s thinking. She’s thinking I’m not creative. I know this because every time I happen to mention by mistake that I’m bored, she yells, “Make something! Do something! Be something!”
And I want to yell back (but I don’t) “Like what?” Because realistically, what can I do? Nothing. I’m not allowed to. I can’t drive. I can’t even start learning to drive until I’m fifteen and a half, and even if I could, I couldn’t go anywhere with my friends (you can only drive with grown-ups until you’ve had your license for a year). My parents would never let me go out into nature by myself. They won’t even let me go to the city, unless I tell them exactly where I’m going and I’m home by six. And no matter what, I have to be at school at eight o’clock every morning, so it’s not like can go out and have adventures. What I’d really like to do? Go on a road trip to see this friend of mine named Sid who lives in Oregon. But is that going to happen? No. It isn’t. Because how could it? (And let me just say right now that I’m not going to explain who Sid is. It’s completely ridiculous.)
The reality is, my parents are kind of hypocrites. Not in an evil way—they don’t pretend to be religious and then screw teenagers or anything—but in the way that grown-ups almost always are. They say they want me to do things and be creative, but they really don’t. Or they only want me to do things that are totally safe and not too expensive and don’t mess up the house and don’t interfere with homework and don’t cause me to be late for dinner. Which pretty much reduces my options to zero.
I first noticed this little hypocrisy problem of theirs when I was eight. What happened was, I read this amazing, fantastic book about a kid who spied on all her neighbors, and I was like, Hallelujah! I have found my calling! I’m going to be a spy! I figured I should start training right away, so I got together this whole notebook and special outfit, and I went around my block, spying on people and writing down what they did. Sometimes I even tiptoed down their driveways to see what was happening in their backyards. I found out a bunch of weird stuff, too. Like this old lady neighbor of ours, her house looks fine from the front, but if you go in the backyard—hoarder! But then Totally Uptight Clay caught me in his garage and freaked and told my parents, and they called me into the dining room to have a big Behavior Talk. I was just a little kid, so I cried and promised them I’d never spy again. But the truth is, I got in trouble for being creative.
This is the kind of stuff that turns you cynical.
But I love my parents. I love them like crazy. So I’m a good kid, and I do the things they want me to do, and I don’t mention to them that they’re hypocrites, and everyone’s happy. Except when they say, “Make something! Do something! Be something!” and I get pissed.
But ha! I am realizing right this second that writing a book about Nothing is creative. Take that, Mom! I’m being creative!
I’m probably not going to tell her, though. She’d want to read it.
[Break here because I was checking my phone—so kill me, I had to ask Maia H. if we were supposed to do problems one to twenty or the whole page. My geometry teacher is a complete dick and won’t write the homework on the board or put it up on his site because he says we should be paying attention when he says it. Which I would be if I could hear him, but I can’t because I sit between Worried Alex and Dominic. Worried Alex is always talking to himself because he has anxiety, and Dominic is always talking because he’s an asshole. So I have to ask around, which is a lot harder than you’d think since most people don’t give a shit about me getting the homework. Except Maia H., who’s a really nice girl. A little on the dull side, but nice. And after that, I had a bunch of texts from: Noony, Noony, Gaby, Noony, Sid, Alex (not Worried Alex, a different Alex), Johnny Game (not as cool as he sounds), Noony, Sid, Gaby, Eden, Eden, Frankie (even though she’s here), Alex, Alex, Reed (!) (but it was stupid), Kellen, Kellen, Alex, Noony. Noony has an emoji addiction. Then Frankie showed me this picture she’d just gotten from this guy Soren, which was him without a shirt, and she says Are you actually sending me nudes, you creep? And he says Devon stole his phone and sent the picture to her. And then she says Why are you getting naked with Devon? And then he got really mad and she felt bad. I told her not to send it.]
I don’t know why I put all that in brackets. That’s the Nothing this book is about. I just noticed that I’ve written 1,429 words (yay, Word Count!) and I still haven’t finished what I started to say about Frankie and me.
So. Frankie and me.
Frankie and Me: The Friendship.
Ah, fuck it. You’ll figure it out.
I think I’ll write about how we look instead.
Frankie first. Frankie’s gorgeous. [Shut up, Frankie. You are.] Everyone thinks Frankie’s gorgeous because of her hair—it’s long and super-dark, almost black, and way silky—but if you really look at her, you realize that she’s gorgeous because of how her face and her hair look together. Her skin is really pale and her hair is really dark and the contrast is amazing. She looks like a vampire, in a good way. Sometimes we do her makeup to emphasize that—we darken her brows and put on blood-red lipstick and pull her hair back to show she’s got a heart-shaped face. I think it looks great. She thinks she looks like Morticia, at least that’s what she says, but she puts the pictures up and someone always says Suck mine and then, I meant neck!
I would say—just keeping it real here—that her brows are her worst feature. They’re different shapes. One is kind of weirdly square, and the other is arched. We can make it better, but unlike lashes, you’re really kind of stuck with your brows. Frankie has this friend, Merle—oh my god, I don’t even want to talk about Merle. She’s perfect. Beyond. She has fucking long legs and fucking perfect brows and long curly hair and when I stand next to her, I am a misshapen dwarf.
Anyway, Frankie would say [I know because I just asked her] that her entire body is her worst feature. She’s insane. She’s tall, which I would kill for, and thin, which I would also kill for [pause for an argument about me not being thin] and she’s built like a model.
“Also an ironing board,” yells Frankie. “And a guy. Except that I’m taller than most guys, and no one’s ever going to have sex with me. Put that in.”
And my father walks into the kitchen. “Hi, girls,” he booms.
“Hi, Dad,” I say. Frankie is busy turning red because he might have heard her say the word sex, so she jumps up from the sofa and starts shuffling around with her papers and folders, which are scattered all over the floor. “I should get going,” she says, still red.
“Don’t mind me,” Dad says, frowning. He thinks she’s leaving because he came in.
“Oh no!” Frankie says, trying to sound like she isn’t. “My dad said I had to be home at—whoa!” She’s blinking at her phone. “Five thirty.”
Dad looks at his watch. “It’s six fifteen.”
I stand up, too—Frankie gets in trouble if she’s really late, which this is on the brink of being—and help her get her stuff together. Then we hug and she goes tearing out of the house. Usually I go tearing out with her; [first semicolon! I don’t really understand what they do] sometimes I even go all the way to her house, which is only four blocks away but uphill. Today, though, I don’t. It’s because of Nothing. I’m kind of having fun. Plus, I want to write about how I look.
3. Frankie Tries to Keep Her Parents Happy and Doesn’t Exactly Succeed
Frankie was in the doghouse. It wasn’t the worst place to be—it wasn’t, for instance, like being grounded or defunded (that’s what her parents called no allowance) or having her phone taken away. The doghouse was just a place of disapproval. But disapproval, Frankie knew, could grow into something bigger. Disapproval was a building block of trouble. Right now, at the dinner table, her mom and dad were being overly polite to her. It was a bad sign. She would have to start doing her homework the second she finished dinner—that would soften them up.
“Can I have some more salad?” she asked strategically. Her mom loved her more when she ate vegetables.
“Sure, honeybun,” her mom replied, scraping back her chair.
“She can get it,” said her dad in a friendly yet warning voice.
Frankie took the hint. “Yeah, Mom, I’ll get it.” She took her bowl to the kitchen and filled it with salad.
“So what were you and Char up to this afternoon?” her mom asked as she returned to the dining room.
“That took so long,” added her dad. Her mom shot him a don’t-be-a-hardass look and turned back to Frankie.
“Nothing,” answered Frankie truthfully. She tried to think of something to add. Conversations were the key to parental happiness. For a second, she considered telling them Charlotte’s idea. But no. They’d want to read it. “We did some homework, but I have more. We talked about this dumb book Char read. We looked at some pictures. You know.” This, she could tell from their faces, was not an impressive list. She searched her brainpan for further unclassified information. “Ms. Barbaneri said today that most people in the world think that the United States bombed the two towers itself. You know, the 9/11 towers.”
“That is the most ridiculous misconception ever,” her dad began.
“She wasn’t saying she believed it. She was saying that most of the rest of the world does,” explained Frankie hurriedly. She didn’t want him going off on Ms. Barbaneri, who was nice.
“I know, I know, but it’s a completely skewed vision of the reality of the United States,” her father said, his voice rising. “It’s just that these people have no tradition of democracy or transparency, no government worthy of the name, so this kind of moronic idea gains currency among an uneducated populace.”
“But, you know, it’s sort of, um, a compliment,” Frankie said. “Because it’s like they think we’re, like, evil magicians or something.”
“It’s not a compliment!” her dad said. “Not when they use it as an excuse to kill innocent people!”
“That’s not what I meant,” began Frankie.
But now her mom interrupted. “Tommy. What I think Frankie meant was that it’s a compliment that they think our government is so powerful that it could sustain a conspiracy like that. Is that what you were saying, honey?”
Frankie nodded. Forget it.
There was a silence.
“How was English?” asked her mom. “Did she control the class today?”
Frankie winced. “Sort of.”
“Do you want me to call? I can call.” Her mom looked at her searchingly.
Frankie shrugged. “It’s okay. It was a little better today.” It had, actually, been a nightmare, with Miss Mathers holding her hands over her ears and squeaking, “Ooh, it’s too noisy, ooh, my head.” What a moron. She should just tell Chris and Chris to shut the hell up. Or send them out of the room or something.
Still, she didn’t want her mom to call. Frankie was a hundred percent sure—no matter what anyone said—that Miss Mathers would find out it was her mom who complained. And once she found out, Miss Mathers would start making little comments like, “Frankie, isn’t all this noise terrible?” Or, “Chris, you need to apologize to Frankie for disturbing her.” Because underneath the ooh-ooh squeaking, Miss Mathers hated them all. Hated them, as in would love to kill them with her bare hands. Every day, her class was mayhem. Out of control. No one learned anything. Miss Mathers dealt with that by telling herself it wasn’t her fault—her students were animals; they were unteachable. But if she ever had even the slightest chance of turning the mayhem against someone other than herself, she’d take it. In a heartbeat, even if it was the weirdest, saddest kid in class, like OCD Luis or Raven (also known as Raven Nuts) because at least then, it wouldn’t be her.
Frankie knew she was not a likely candidate for being turned against. She was a little popular, but not so popular that she was secretly resented. Still, even if just a few of them turned against her, it would be bad. Especially if two of the few were Chris and Chris.
“Really, I’d be glad to call,” her mother said again.
“No. Thanks. But no,” Frankie said. She smiled at her mother. “Thanks anyway. I’d better do the rest of my stuff.” She stood.
“What do you have?” her father asked casually.
“Just a little bit of reading and some notes,” she answered, also casually.
“Like, how much reading?”
“Like, a chapter.”
“Like, how long is this chapter?”
“Like, sixteen pages.”
“That’s a lot. Do you really think that spending two-and-a-half hours at Charlotte’s was the best use of your time?”
“Probably not,” answered Frankie.
“So?” asked her father.
“She gets it, hon,” said her mom. “Why don’t we just let her do her work?”
Thank you, Mom, Frankie said silently, moving toward her computer. And thank you, Dad, for pointing out my total irresponsibility, because otherwise I might have thought I was doing something good by starting my homework now. Jesus Christ. A whispered conversation arose behind her. Her mom was trying to defuse her dad. Good luck with that, Mom, thought Frankie.
“Are you sure you’re really learning what you’re supposed to be learning with those headphones on?” her dad asked.
Frankie took the headphones off and continued reading.
“It was a question,” her dad said. “Not an order.”
“Okay. I took them off.”
Her father looked almost helpless for a second. “Okay.” Then he turned and went to sit in front of his own computer, across the room.
Frankie read. Without governments to keep order, Hobbes believed that there would be a war of every man against every man. Hobbes called the agreement by which people gave up individual rights in exchange for law and order, the social contract. “Hobbes,” she wrote, “invented the social contract.” Invented was the wrong word. Oh well. She knew what she meant.
Far off, she could hear her mother doing something quiet in the kitchen. From across the room came the dry tapping of keys.
You want Nothing, Char, come to my house. This house is the capital of Nothing.
It wasn’t like she wanted other parents, Frankie thought. Her parents were fine—her mom was great, and her dad was kind of neurotic but basically a good guy. You average that out and get fine. But it was so quiet.
It was like being an only child.
Frankie was not an only child. Put everyone together, and she was the youngest of five. Putting everyone together had been a big problem, though. Frankie’s mother and father had been married to other people when they fell in love. In fact—this part had been completely breezed over when Frankie was little—they had been neighbors. The two families had been close friends: Frankie’s mom, Sharon, and her first husband, Jasper, along with their two daughters, Lucy and Cate, had had barbeques and picnics and birthday parties with their neighbors, Tom and Bix, and their two boys, Leland and Max. Frankie had first gotten wind of this aspect of her parents’ life during a major blowup between Leland and her dad when she was about seven. She couldn’t remember what they’d been arguing about, but she remembered Leland screaming, “You want me to spell it out for you, Dad? Here you go: B-E-T-R-A-Y-A-L! Got that? Betrayal.” Frankie, two rooms away at her little art table, carefully wrote out the letters. Cate, sitting beside her at the table, glanced over at Frankie’s paper.
“You wanna know what it means, Love Child?” Love Child was something Cate called her when her parents weren’t around.
“Shut up, Cate,” said Lucy, doing homework at the counter.
“Shut up yourself,” snapped Cate. “She’s going to find out sometime.”
Lucy sighed. “Don’t be mean about it, though, okay? It’s not her fault.” Lucy was always nice. Weirdly Christian, but nice.
“I’ll be a lot nicer about it than Lee would be,” said Cate. Which was almost certainly true. Leland was scary-nervy. Sometimes he was fun, but you could never tell when he’d go too far, laugh too loud, do something too crazy. He said things that everyone pretended he hadn’t.
“He’s just angry, honey,” Frankie’s mom had said once.
“But I didn’t do anything,” moaned Frankie, still crying. He’d made fun of her ballerina costume—he’d called her the capitalist fairy Fuckall in the Ballet of the First-World Pigs.
“No, you didn’t,” her mom agreed. “I did.”
Everyone was relieved when Leland left for college, and even though he didn’t stay in College #1 or College #2, he didn’t come back home, either. Frankie was glad. But then Lucy went away to college, and Frankie wasn’t glad about that. She missed Lucy’s niceness, the way she did Frankie’s hair in French braids, the way she patiently led her through cat’s cradle and origami and other mysteries. But the main reason Frankie missed Lucy was that she was left alone with Cate, the Queen of Mean, and Silent Max.
Cate wasn’t like Leland. She didn’t yell or laugh too loud or get wild. She just waited. She waited until you were weak, or you had made a mistake, or you had claimed too much—and then she pounced on you and ripped you apart. Mostly, she pounced on Frankie’s mom. Sometimes on Frankie’s dad. As often as she could, on Frankie. Almost never, on Silent Max.
When she was younger, Frankie thought Cate left Max alone because she liked him best, but later, she decided it was because there wasn’t enough to pounce on. He never claimed anything, and if he made a mistake, he was so calm about it that Cate was left without any pain to make worse. One time he had been carrying a full pot of hot coffee through the kitchen when Frankie’s aunt Grace had opened the refrigerator door right in front of him. He had tripped over her and broken the coffeepot inside the refrigerator, so that hot coffee flooded over everything. He stood there, dripping coffee and blood (he’d cut himself on the coffeepot), and all he said was, “Whoa. What a mess. Sorry.” Then he’d calmly wrapped up his hand and cleaned the inside of the refrigerator, while everyone else screamed and ran around. When he was done, he unwrapped his hand and said, “Uh. I think I might need stitches.” Twelve, to be exact. And he wasn’t trying to keep calm. He just was calm.
He’d been the last to go, right when Frankie was about to start high school. She hadn’t really expected to miss him, because he was, after all, Silent Max. He didn’t say much or, as far as she could see, do much. But once she was at Arteaga High, she found out that he’d had a secret life. He wasn’t one of the popular kids, but people had liked him. Of course, they weren’t her crew; they were weirdos and music nerds, but even a few cool kids had acknowledged her because of Max. “You’re McCullough’s sister?” a hot junior had said, first week of her freshman year. He wiggled his eyebrows. “Not bad.” Frankie had practically fainted. He’d never said anything to her again, but it had been a nice ten seconds.
And at home, at least there had been someone else around, another kid. Sometimes they’d made faces at each other when Dad was freaking, quick little oh-my-god faces. She missed it.
It was strange, too, how much quieter the house was without Silent Max. For two people who’d been so overwhelmed with passion that they’d destroyed six entire lives to be together, her mom and dad were incredibly dull. It wasn’t that they didn’t love each other anymore—Frankie caught them smooching all the time, which was kind of gross but reassuring. It was more like they had had enough excitement for a lifetime. Frankie snuck a glance at her father, bathed in blue computer light. He seemed mesmerized by the Excel worksheet on his screen. This is what he likes, Frankie thought. This is his big reward for all that craziness: control and quiet and everything being the same all the time.
She turned back to her textbook and tried to focus. The philosopher John Locke maintained a more positive view of human nature, believing that people could learn from experience and improve themselves. You go, John. Frankie underlined learn from experience and improve themselves. More optimistic than whatsisname. Frankie looked at the previous paragraph—Hobbes. Hey! Calvin and Hobbes! Whoops. Concentration breakdown. Frankie pressed her hands on either side of her head to hold the information in. Hobbes: people are so shitty they shouldn’t be allowed to make their own decisions. Locke: people can get less shitty, so they should be allowed to make decisions. Got it. She decided she was a Lockean. Lockite? She liked the positive attitude: People can get less shitty. Heck—she thought of school—they’d better get less shitty. Frankie looked down at herself. I’d better get less shitty, too. Change? Gladly. Bring on those learning experiences. Bring on that self-improvement. Yeah, right. She had to bring them on herself. She looked at her textbook without seeing it. Tomorrow, she resolved. Tomorrow I’ll talk to Kellen instead of being a tongue-tied lame-o freak when he’s around. Ta-da! I will be less shitty, starting tomorrow! Pleased with herself, she looked over at her father and his glowing worksheet. Okay, so she’d die of boredom if she were him, but at least he had gone for it once. He and her mom both. They could have stayed married to Jasper and Bix, but they’d taken the nuclear option, and now they had the incredibly boring lives they’d always dreamed of. Maybe not so hot for Jasper and Bix. But for Frankie’s parents, it had been good. They’d taken action and improved their lives. They’d done something.
So will I.
Take that, Char. You Nothing-ist.
“Wow,” murmured her father, staring in fascination at his worksheet.
So I never got around to saying what I look like because right after Frankie left, Maia H. got back to me and fuck me, it was the whole page we were supposed to do for math. So I got on that, and I swear to God I’d understand a lot more if I sat somewhere else. I had to call Maia H. halfway through, but like I said, she’s really nice and she didn’t mind.
“Look,” she says, super-patiently, “look at the formula ABC equals b times h times one-half. Okay?”
“Yeah,” I say, but not like I mean it.
“Do it. While I’m here. Plug in the numbers and tell me what you get.” God, she’s a saint.
I plug in some numbers. “Six?”
“Right,” she says. “Now put that in c over 2r equals h over a.”
Ohhh. Oh, I get it. I say this.
“Put the numbers in,” she says. “I’ll wait.”
I put the numbers in. “A equals eighteen?”
“But you gotta divide it, remember? ’Cause you divided out the two from 2r.”
“Aah, right. Nine.”
“Oh my god, you’re a saint, Maia. Thank you so much, thank you—”
She’s such a saint that she doesn’t even want to hear about how great she is. “Call me if you need more help,” she says, and hangs up.
Maybe she’s religious or something. Maybe she’s helping the meek—that would be me—because god told her to. Whatever. I love you, Maia.
After that I had to be Dad’s servant while he made dinner. Dad likes cooking, but what he really likes is telling other people to bring him the lemons and chop those onions and wash off this spatula while he stands at the stove and stirs stuff. Am I making him sound like a dick? He’s not. He’s actually kind of noble because he’s a lawyer for juvenile offenders, which means he spends most of his time with complete assholes, trying to save their asshole lives. He doesn’t talk about it much because he’s not allowed to, but every once in a while, he says something like “Do you know a kid named Brendan Scofield?” I say yeah, and he says, “Don’t ever eat anything he gives you.” And then, for the rest of my life, I can’t stop staring at Brendan, wondering, What the hell did you do?
Dinner was Dad’s famous fart pasta with broccoli and garbanzo beans, which I can’t believe I eat even knowing what happens. My brother, Ollie—twelve, disgusting—eats tons of it on purpose. He starts farting right at the table, which is so gross I can’t even stand it. “Why didn’t you stop after me, Mom?” I moan. “Why didn’t you quit while you were ahead?”
“I was talked into it,” she says. “Your father dazzled me with his charm, and I lost my mind.”
My dad farts.
“Possibly I was gassed,” she says. Ollie farts some more, grinning. “In any case, it was a terrible mistake.”
My mom is a little bit strange. Actually, I don’t think she’s strange. I think she’s funny, but I realize that most people think she’s weird. People my age, I mean. Even Frankie thinks some of the things she says are awful. Like if I repeated that thing about Ollie being a terrible mistake, Frankie’d freak. She’d think Ollie was going to be scarred for life or something. But Ollie knows Mom’s joking. We all do. I used to try to tell my friends the things my parents say that crack me up, but I don’t anymore. It doesn’t translate.
Then after dinner, I was involved in major group-chat drama about this girl named Lisette who is, well, let’s just say legend for getting wrecked and doing guys in weird places, for example under the bleachers during a soccer tournament. Go team. Anyway, everyone was piling on her for hooking up with this guy, Marin, who’s supposed to be dating Serena Fong. Everyone was all, what a bitch, what a slut, what a ho. And so on. So I say, Why is no one blaming Marin, why is the girl a ho and the guy fine? You sexists. And then—oh, yay—132 texts denying that they’re sexist, while still being sexist. I hate group chats.
Plus I still had reading to do.
Plus Sid usually texts me at around nine thirty.
Plus all the regular stuff like figuring out what to wear tomorrow and getting my backpack together and showering and zit control and my fucking teeth, which I’m not even going to talk about.
Here is Friday morning:
7:05: Hey can you bring my plant shirt?
7:06: Yag cu [Yag means yes. Inside joke.]
7:07–7:46: many boring things, including me walking to school
7:47–8:00: Frankie, red-faced from running, throws her backpack on the ground next to my feet. “Hi,” she pants. “Is it in here?” She’s rooting around in my backpack.
“Oh my GOD, don’t mess everything up!” I yell, slapping at her. She keeps on messing everything up, so I yank my backpack away from her.
Except she won’t let go, and she bonks me with her hip to knock me over.
“Here! Here!” I yell, holding out her shirt. “Jesus, you’re such a bitch!”
She grabs it. “Thanks, sistah” and runs off to the bathroom to change, yelling, “Watch my stuff,” over her shoulder. She almost runs into one of the Chrises, but doesn’t at the last second, turns around to make a face at me about that, and actually does run into a guy named Dagoberto—not kidding—and practically kills him because he’s like the size of a ten-year-old. And he gets all mad and starts screaming at her and she’s apologizing but she’s still running, too, because she’s only got eight minutes before the bell rings.
And then Noony comes and she’s having drama about her pants, which is like a daily occurrence because Noony’s mom won’t let her wear leggings to school. “She’s all, No daughter of mine is going to leave this house looking like a slut, and I’m all, Mom, please, I’m gay, and she’s all, I don’t care, and then I say, You don’t care ’cause you think it’s a phase but it’s not. I’m into girls, Mom. I want to make out with girls, Mom,” she says, and I start laughing. [I wonder what it would be like to make out with Noony. Can’t picture it. No, wait, I can. Bleee-yah. Besides, that would ruin my book.] Here comes Gaby. I give her a hug. And here’s Eden, who’s always a little bit out of it.
“Hey Eden, what’s happening?”
“What?” That’s how she answers everything. She’s pretty, with far-apart eyes like a kitten. There’s some weirdness about her family, but I don’t know exactly what it is. I don’t know that much about her at all, really. I always thought she was Gaby’s best friend, but one time when I was having a sleepover with Gaby, I said that, and Gaby said she didn’t know what I was talking about. She said she never hung out with Eden alone. I guess no one does.
And then Frankie came running back in her plant shirt. “Yeah?” she asked, modeling for me.
“Tuck it in.”
She tucked it in.
“No, untuck it.”
She untucked it.
“Hair up or down?”
“Down, down, completely down.”
Then this girl I can’t stand named Cora came over. She’s so fake. I don’t know why she has any friends at all. She’s always doing this thing that drives me crazy, putting up super-posed pictures of herself standing at, like, the beach in a tiny bikini, with captions like, “Lil nature fairy—had to take a mental health day, had to see the sky. . . .” Shut the fuck up.
She’s all fake-smiling at me. “Your jacket is so cute, I love it!” Then she puts her arm around me and takes a selfie, with peace sign, of course. And I have to pretend I’m so happy that she likes my jacket. Like I care.
Then that asshole Kellen comes over and starts leaning all over Cora, right in front of Frankie. What the fuck? He doesn’t know Frankie likes him? He’s a dick. And Cora’s squealing, “Get away, get awaaaay.”
Meanwhile Eden is staring into space. Gaby’s texting Alex, who’s late. Noony’s doing math problems. Frankie’s standing to one side, and then she gives me this little smile and mutters, “In one of those teen books, that would be a plot twist.” She sort of nods at Cora and Kellen.
I look at them—Kellen leaning and Cora fake-squealing at him—and say, “In a teen book, some up-till-now-unnoticed guy would spill coffee on you right this second, and it would be the beginning of a huge thing.”
And damn us, we can’t help it. We look around for a guy with a coffee cup. Nothing. Nada. Bupkis. Real life doesn’t have plot twists.
“Did anyone figure out the answer to number sixteen?” asks Noony.
8:01: The bell rings.
Let the Excitement Begin
Frankie was trying, sincerely trying, not to look at the clock. 3:04. Come on, baby, she begged it. Shake your ass.
“I don’t really get it,” Davindra was saying to Miss Mathers. Which was all he ever said.
“Don’t be la-aame, Daveeeendra,” one of the Chrises yelled across the room.
Miss Mathers whirled around, her face pink. “I will not have anyone making fun of names in my class!”
“What? Whose name?” said the Chris, holding up his hands like he didn’t understand what she was talking about. “What?”
“Who would like to explain to Chris what I mean?” she said. Oh god help us all, thought Frankie wearily. No one’s going to say anything.
No one said anything.
“Well, then, you’ll just stay right in your seats until someone can give Chris an explanation,” said Miss Mathers in a satisfied voice.
“But the bell’s about to ring,” complained Marco.
“I have to go!” yelled Chloe. “I have a doctor’s appointment!”
The other Chris said softly, “Aw, who’s the father?”
“What? What?” “Nobody leaves until both of you apologize!” “I gotta go!” “Sorry, Miss Mathers, coach said!” “What? I don’t get it!” “Shut up.” “Shut up.” “Shut up.”
And then they were all getting up, shoving books in their backpacks, putting jackets on, taking out phones. Frankie, Josh, Luis, and Tara kept sitting, to make Miss Mathers feel better. Tara even said, “What’s the homework again, Miss Mathers?” like nothing was happening. Miss Mathers jumped at the chance, too, and started gabbing about the homework, so that some of the leavers stopped leaving and listened, even though most didn’t. Miss Mathers pretended like she hadn’t told them to stay, and they pretended like she hadn’t been disobeyed, and Frankie was only a couple minutes late to meet Charlotte.
“Thank GOD,” Frankie said, leaping on her.
“Lester!” Charlotte caught her, and they whirled around, hugging. “It’s Friday! It’s Friday!” she sang.
“Shut up, shut up,” Frankie sang back.
“Ow,” Charlotte dropped her. “My back. Noony had to go help her grandma with something, but she said we should text her what we’re doing and maybe she can meet up.”
“What are we doing?” asked Frankie. Because it was December and therefore between cross-country and track seasons and therefore winter conditioning and therefore they didn’t have practice on Friday, they could do whatever they wanted. Which was what?
A backpack came flying over Charlotte’s head. “So—what are we doing?” It was Gaby.
They counted their money and waited around for Alex and then smoked Alex’s weed and then waited around some more for Reed and then tried to decide between bubble tea and pizza and coffee and yogurt and burritos. Alex and Reed wanted burritos, so they walked to the burrito place, which was close to the bubble tea place, but Gaby wanted a chai, so they went to get that and then Noony texted, where u?, so they went up to Canyon, which was not a canyon but a rock, a big one, and sat around until Noony showed up.
Even though it was cold—California cold, not really cold—they stayed there until the sun set. Frankie leaned back against the granite, shivering a little in her hoodie. She envied Gaby, wrapped in Alex’s arms. Though she herself would never in a million years date Alex. He was kind of dumb. She knew for a fact he’d thought Africa was a country until last year. She glanced over at Reed, who was pretending he was about to pour his Arizona on Charlotte. They had hooked up once at the beginning of the year, and he knew she liked him, so he was sort of flirting, and Charlotte was sort of halfheartedly squealing. Maybe she was over it. Frankie hoped so; they were never going to be a thing. And neither were she and Kellen—she admitted it. Her be-the-change-you-want-to-see resolution looked pretty worthless now. Kellen could get girls like Cora, and Frankie wasn’t that. She took a quick look at herself in her camera and wished her boobs were bigger or the rest of her was smaller. Sometimes she thought she was pretty and sometimes she thought she was gross and sometimes—a lot of times—she just didn’t know. Today she didn’t know.
If she was being honest, Kellen was kind of dumb, too. He got good grades, but he had no idea what was going on. He was like, Syria? What about Syria? Jesus. And he had really bad taste in music. He liked Five Seconds of Summer. Charlotte had almost killed him when she found that out—she was all, “Only thirteen-year-old girls like 5-SOS, Kel. You can’t like them.” But he did anyway. At the time, Frankie had thought it was nice that he was so loyal, but now she thought maybe he just didn’t know the names of any other bands.
Charlotte plopped down next to her. “Jesus Christ,” she said under her breath, and Frankie knew she was talking about Reed.
“Not worth it,” said Frankie.
“No shit,” said Charlotte, burrowing close so that Frankie put her arm around her. “But look at Gaby and Alex. They’re ruining my life.”
“They hate each other. They told me,” Frankie said, and Charlotte snickered.
“What are you guys doing?” It was Noony, sitting down behind them. “Let me in.” They cuddled together, watching the sun set on the bay.
“Hey!” Reed turned on his little rock outcropping. “What the fuck? Everyone’s hooking up but me! Gimme some!”
“Dream on,” Noony muttered into Charlotte’s neck.
“Dream on!” screeched Frankie and Charlotte in unison. They had an Aerosmith thing. Noony groaned. “Dream on! Sing with me, sing for the years!”
“Shut up!” Gaby yelled. “Oh my god, it’s all your fault, Noony! Somebody stop them!”
“Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears!”
“Shut the fuck up!” yelled someone farther up the rock.
“Dream on!” screamed Frankie and Charlotte. But they were laughing too hard to sing more.
And then the sun set.
“Okay, sweetie, Daddy and I are going to bed,” said Frankie’s mom, brushing her hand through Frankie’s hair.
Frankie almost fell off her stool. “Jesus! Heart attack! Mom!” She took her earbuds out.
Her mom rolled her eyes. “I was just saying good night. Dad and I are going to bed.”
“Oh. Okay. G’night!” Frankie glanced at her phone. “It’s only nine thirty.”
“We’re tired,” her mom said. She yawned to prove it.
“Can we practice driving during Christmas break?”
Her mother sighed deeply. “I don’t know. Ask Dad.”
Now it was Frankie’s turn to sigh. “Okay.” She paused. “He just gets so uptight about it.”
“I know,” her mom said. “I’ll see if I can stand it.” She glanced at Frankie’s phone. “You texting Charlotte?”
“Why don’t you just hang out together?”
“If I could drive, I would. But right now, I don’t feel like walking home in the cold at eleven thirty at night.” Her mother smiled and turned to go. “Hey, Mom?” Her mother turned back. “When you were my age, did you have a boyfriend?”
“I knew it!” said Frankie. “I’m a loser.”
“You are not!” Her mom leaped to her defense. “You’re absolutely not. If all you wanted was just any boyfriend, you’d have one. You want a boyfriend you like.”
Frankie shrugged. “The ones I like don’t like me.”
“Then they’re idiots and they don’t deserve you.”
“Said my mom.”
“Well, it’s true! You might just have to wait until the guys are older and smarter.”
“Great.” Frankie sighed. “How old was the boyfriend you had when you were my age?”
“Oh my god! You went out with a senior?”
Her mom nodded.
“No senior would ever ask me out.”
“That’s crazy,” her mother said. “I don’t get that. When I was in high school, it was standard operating procedure for senior guys to go out with sophomore girls.”
“Not now,” said Frankie. “I guess it happens, but not a ton.”
Her mom gave her a sly look. “After we broke up, when I was sixteen, I went out with a twenty-two-year-old.”
“You did not!”
“I did. He was incredibly cute.”
“You wild thing! Didn’t Grandma freak?”
Her mom giggled. “She didn’t know.”
“You sneaked?” asked Frankie. “Mom!”
Her mom sat down on the next stool. “It wasn’t exactly sneaking. Grandma knew where I was. She just didn’t know he was there, too. It didn’t last long anyway.”
“Your life was way more exciting than mine is,” Frankie said glumly.
“Eh.” Her mom shrugged. “It wasn’t that exciting. He was cute, but not much else. I just went out with him to prove I could.”
“Prove to who?”
“To me. You know, to prove I could get him.”
“And you did.”
“But then we didn’t have anything to talk about. Anyway, it wasn’t much fun after the first part.”
“Still,” Frankie said. She waved a hand toward the empty kitchen. “Probably more fun than this.”
Her mother patted her cheek. “You know what? You’re going to have as many boyfriends as you want pretty soon, and trust me, you won’t want most of them.” She yawned and stood. “I’m going to bed.” She kissed Frankie. “G’night, sweetie.”
Alone again, Frankie looked down at her phone.
Lester? Charlotte had texted four minutes before. You still there?
still here, Frankie texted back. we should try older guys
all the guys we know are assholes
and your point?
older ones are probs better
doubt it. how old?
U r insane. seniors won’t look at us
pervy old men? great
yeah right, you gler. Anyway college guys are probs assholes too plus your mom wouldn’t let you
U r so negative
so realistic u mean
Such a downer I mean
Low expectations = key to happiness
U r depressing. Gtg. Love you
Love you too
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