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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2009-08-25
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books

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"When all choice is taken from you, life becomes a game of survival."Five teenagers from different parts of the country. Three girls. Two guys. Four straight. One gay. Some rich. Some poor. Some from great families. Some with no one at all. All living their lives as best they can, but all searching...for freedom, safety, community, family, love. What they don't expect, though, is all that can happen when those powerful little words "I love you" are said for all the wrong reasons. Five moving stories remain separate at first, then interweave to tell a larger, powerful story -- a story about making choices, taking leaps of faith, falling down, and growing up. A story about kids figuring out what sex and love are all about, at all costs, while asking themselves, "Can I ever feel okay about myself?" A brilliant achievement from New York Times best-selling author Ellen Hopkins -- who has been called "the bestselling living poet in the country" by --Tricks is a book that turns you on and repels you at the same time. Just like so much of life.


A Poem by Eden Streit
Eyes Tell Stories

But do they know how
to craft fiction? Do
they know how to spin


His eyes swear forever,
flatter with vows of only
me. But are they empty


I stare into his eyes, as
into a crystal ball, but
I cannot find forever,


movies of yesterday,
a sketchbook of today,
dreams of a shared


His eyes whisper secrets.
But are they truths or fairy tales?
I wonder if even he


Some People

Never find the right kind of love.
You know, the kind that steals

your breath away, like diving into snowmelt.
The kind that jolts your heart,

sets it beating apace, an anxious
hiccuping of hummingbird wings.

The kind that makes every terrible
minute apart feel like hours. Days.

Some people flit from one possibility
to the next, never experiencing the incredible

connection of two people, rocked by destiny.
Never knowing what it means to love

someone else more than themselves.
More than life itself, or the promise

of something better, beyond this world.
More, even (forgive me!) than God.

Lucky me. I found the right kind
of love. With the wrong person.

Not Wrong for Me

No, not at all. Andrew is pretty much
perfect. Not gorgeous, not in a male

model kind of way, but he is really cute,
with crazy hair that sometimes hides

his eyes, dark chocolate eyes that hold
laughter, even when he's deadly serious.

He's not a hunk, but toned, and tall enough
to effortlessly tuck me under his arms,

arms that are gentle but strong from honest
ranch work, arms that make me feel

safe when they gather me in. It's the only
time I really feel wanted, and the absolute

best part of any day is when I manage
to steal cherished time with Andrew.

No, he's not even a little wrong for me
except maybe -- maybe! -- in the eyes

of God. But much, much worse than that,
he's completely wrong for my parents.

See, My Papa

Is a hellfire-and-brimstone-preaching
Assembly of God minister, and Mama

is his not-nearly-as-sweet-as-she-seems
right-hand woman, and by almighty God,

their daughters (that's me, Eden, and my
little sister, Eve -- yeah, no pressure at all)

will toe the Pentecostal line. Sometimes
Eve and I even pretend to talk in tongues,

just to keep them believing we're heavenbound,
despite the fact that we go to public school

(Mama's too lazy to homeschool) and come
face-to-face with the unsaved every day.

But anyway, my father and mother
maintain certain expectations when

it comes to their daughters' all-too-human
future plans and desires.

Papa: Our daughters will find
husbands within their faith.

Mama: Our daughters will not
date until they're ready to marry.

You Get My Dilemma

I'm definitely not ready to marry,
so I can't risk letting them know

I'm already dating, let alone dating
a guy who isn't born-again, and even

worse, doesn't believe he needs to be.
Andrew is spiritual, yes. But religious?

Religion is for followers, he told
me once. Followers and puppets.
At my stricken look, he became not
quite apologetic. Sorry. But I don't
need some money-grubbing preacher
defining my relationship with God.

At the time, I was only half in love
with Andrew and thought I needed

definitions. "What, exactly, is your
relationship with our Heavenly Father?"

He gently touched my cheek, smiled.
First off, I don't think God is a guy.
Some Old Testament-writing fart
made that up to keep his old lady

in line. He paused, then added, Why
would God need a pecker, anyway?

Yes, he enjoyed the horrified look
on my face. More laughter settled

into those amazing eyes, creasing
them at the corners. So sexy!

Anyway, I relate to God in a very
personal way. Don't need anyone
to tell me how to do it better. I see
His hand everywhere -- in red sunrises
and orange sunsets; in rain, falling
on thirsty fields; in how a newborn
lamb finds his mama in the herd. I thank
God for these things. And for you.

After that, I was a lot more than
halfway in love with Andrew.

The Funny Thing Is

We actually met at a revival, where nearly
everyone was babbling in tongues,

or getting a healthy dose of Holy Spirit
healing. Andrew's sister, Mariah, had

forsaken her Roman Catholic roots
in favor of born-again believing and had

dragged her brother along that night,
hoping he'd find salvation. Instead

he found me, sitting in the very back
row, half grinning at the goings-on.

He slid into an empty seat beside me.
So..., he whispered. Come here often?

I hadn't noticed him come in, and when
I turned to respond, my voice caught

in my throat. Andrew was the best-looking
guy to ever sit next to me,

let alone actually say something to me.
In fact, I didn't know they came that cute

in Idaho. A good ten seconds passed before
I realized he had asked a question.

"I...uh...well, yes, in fact I come here
fairly regularly. See the short guy up there?"

I pointed toward Papa, who kept the crowd
chanting and praying while the visiting evangelist

busily laid on his hands. "He's the regular
preacher and happens to be my father."

Andrew's jaw fell. He looked back and
forth, Papa to me. You're kidding, right?

His consternation surprised me. "No,
not kidding. Why would you think so?"

He measured me again. It's look
so normal, and this...
He shook his head.

I leaned closer to him, and for the first
time inhaled his characteristic scent --

clean and somehow green, like the alfalfa
fields I later learned he helps work for cash.

I dropped my voice very low. "Promise not
to tell, but I know just what you mean."

It Was a Defining Moment

For me, who had never dared confess
that I have questioned church dogma

for quite some time, mostly because I am
highly aware of hypocrisy and notice

it all too often among my father's flock.
I mean, how can you claim to walk

in the light of the Lord when you're
cheating on your husband or stealing

from your best friend/business partner?
Okay, I'm something of a cynic.

But there was more that evening -- instant
connection, to a guy who on the surface

was very different from me. And yet,
we both knew instinctively that we needed

something from each other. Some people might
call it chemistry -- two parts hydrogen,

one part oxygen, voilà! You've got water.
A steady trickle, building to a cascade.

If Andrew

Was the poser type, things would
probably be easier. I mean, if he could

pretend to accept the Lord into his heart,
on my father's strictest of terms, maybe

we could be seen together in public -- not
really dating, of course. Not without a ring.

But Andrew is the most honest person
I've ever met, and deadly honest that night.

Did you have to come to this thing?
It seems kind of, um...theatrical.

We had slipped out the back door,
when everyone's attention turned to

some unbelievable miracle at the front
of the church. I smiled. "Theatrical.

That sums it up pretty well, I guess.
You probably couldn't see it in back, but..."

I glanced around dramatically, whispered,
"Brother Bradley even wears makeup!"

Andrew laughed warmly. So why do
you come, then? Pure entertainment?

I shrugged. "Certain expectations are
attached to the 'pastor's daughter' job

description. Easier just to meet them, or
at least pretend they don't bother you."

It was early November, and the night wore
a chill. I shivered at the nip in the air,

or at the sudden magnetic pull I felt toward
this perfect stranger. Without a second

thought, Andrew took off his leather
jacket, eased it around my shoulders.

Cool tonight, he observed. All
the signs point to a hard winter.

He was standing very close to me.
I sank into that earthy green aura, looked

up into his eyes. "You don't believe in
miracles, but you do believe in signs?"

His eyes didn't stray an inch. Who
says I don't believe in miracles?

They happen every day. And I think
we both knew that one just might have.

It Was Unfamiliar Turf

I mean, of course I'd thought guys were cute
before, and the truth is, I'd even kissed

a few. But they'd all been "kiss and run,"
and none had come sprinting back for seconds.

Probably because most of the guys here
at Boise High know who my father is.

But Andrew went to Borah High, clear
across town, and he graduated last year.

He's a freshman at Boise State, where his mom
teaches feminist theory. Yes, she and his rancher

dad make an odd couple. Love is like that.
Guess where his progressive theories came from.

That makes him nineteen, all the more reason
we have to keep our relationship discreet.

In Idaho, age of consent is eighteen,
and my parents wouldn't even think

twice about locking him up for statutory.
That horrible thought has crossed my mind

more than once in the four months since
Andrew decided to take a chance on me.

Four Months

Of him coming to church with Mariah,
both of us patiently wading through Papa's

sermons, then waiting for post-services coffee
hours to slip separately out the side doors, into

the thick stand of riverside trees for a walk.
Conversation. After a while, we held hands

as we ducked in between the old cottonwoods,
grown skeletal with autumn. We joked about

how soon we'd have to bring our own leaves
for cover. And then one day Andrew stopped.

He pleated me into his arms, burrowed his face
in my hair, inhaled. Smells like rain, he said.

My heart quickstepped. He wanted to kiss
me. That scared me. What if I wasn't good?

His lips brushed my forehead, the pulse
in my right temple. Will I burn if I kiss you?

I was scared, but not of burning, and I wanted
that kiss more than anything I'd ever wanted

in my life. "Probably. And I'll burn with you.
But it will be worth it." I closed my eyes.

It was cold that morning, maybe thirty
degrees. But Andrew's lips were feverish

against mine. It was the kiss in the dream
you never want to wake up from -- sultry,

fueled by desire, and yet somehow innocent,
because brand-new, budding love was the heart

of our passion. Andrew lifted me gently
in his sinewy arms, spun me in small circles,

lips still welded to mine. I'd never known
such joy, and it all flowed from Andrew.

And when we finally stopped, I knew
my life had irrevocably changed.

Day by Day

I've grown to love him more and more.
Now, though I haven't dared confess

it yet, I'm forever and ever in love with
him. After I tell him (if I ever find the nerve),

I'll have to hide it from everyone. Boise,
Idaho, isn't very big. Word gets around.

Can't even tell Eve. She's awful about
keeping secrets. Good thing she goes to

middle school, where she isn't privy
to what happens here at Boise High.

I'm sixteen, a junior. A year and a half,
and I'll be free to do whatever I please.

For now, I'm sneaking off to spend
a few precious minutes with Andrew.

I duck out the exit, run down the steps,
hoping I don't trip. Last thing I need

is an emergency room visit when I'm
supposed to be in study hall. Around one

corner. Two. And there's his Tundra across
the street, idling at the curb. He spots me

and even from here, I can see his face
light up. Glance left. No one I know.

Right. Ditto. No familiar faces or cars.
I don't even wait for the corner,

but jaywalk midblock at a furious
pace, practically dive through the door

and across the seat, barely saying hello
before kissing Andrew like I might

never see him again. Maybe that's because
always, in the back of my mind, I realize

that's a distinct possibility, if we're ever
discovered kissing like this. One other

thought branded into my brain is that maybe
kissing like this will bring God's almighty wrath

crashing down all around us. I swear, God,
it's not just about the delicious electricity

coursing through my veins. It's all about love.
And you are the source of that, right? Amen.

Copyright © 2009 by Ellen Hopkins

A Poem by Seth Parnell

As a child, I was wary,
often felt cornered.
To escape, I regularly
stashed myself

in the closet,

comforted by curtains
of cotton. Silk. Velour.
Avoided wool, which
encouraged my


the ever-present rashes
on my arms, legs. My skin
reacted to secrets, lies,
and taunts by wanting

to break out.

Now I hide behind
a wall of silence, bricked
in by the crushing
desire to confess,

but afraid of

my family's reaction.
Fearful I don't have
the strength to survive

the fallout.

As Far Back

As I can remember,

I have known that
I was different. I think
I was maybe five

when I decided that.

I was the little boy

who liked art projects
and ant farm tending
better than riding bikes

or playing army rangers.

Not easy, coming from

a long line of farmers and
factory workers. Dad's big
dream for his only son has

always been tool and die.

My dream is liberal arts,

a New Agey university.
Berkeley, maybe. Or,
even better, San Francisco.

But that won't happen.

Not with Mom Gone

She was the one who

supported my escape
plan. You reach for your
dreams, she said. Factory

work is killing us all.

Factory work may

have jump-started it,
but it was cancer that
took my mom, one year

and three months ago.

At least she didn't

have to find out about
me. She loved me, sure,
with all her heart. Wanted

me to be happy, with all her

heart. But when it came to

sex, she was all Catholic
in her thinking. Sex was
for making babies, and only

after marriage. I'll never forget

what she said when my cousin

Liz got pregnant. She was just
sixteen and her boyfriend hauled
his butt out of town, all the way

to an army base in Georgia.

Mom got off the phone with

Aunt Josie, clucking like a hen.
Who would have believed
our pretty little Liz would

grow up to be such a whore?

I thought that was harsh,

and told her so. She said,
flat out, Getting pregnant
without getting married first

makes her a whore in God's eyes.

I knew better than to argue

with Mom, but if she felt
that strongly about unmarried
sex, no way could I ever let

her know about me, suffer

the disgrace that would have

followed. Beyond Mom,
Indiana's holier-than-thou
conservatives hate "fags" almost

as much as those freaks in Kansas

do -- the ones who picket dead

soldiers' funerals, claiming
their fate was God's way of
getting back at gays. How in

the hell are the two things related?

And Anyway

If God were inclined

to punish someone
just for being the way
he created them, it would

be punishment enough

to insert that innocent

soul inside the womb
of a native Indianan.
These cornfields and

gravel roads are no place

for someone like me.

Considering almost every
guy I ever knew growing up
is a total jock, with no plans

for the future but farming

or assembly-line work,

it sure isn't easy to fit in
at school, even without
overtly jumping out of

that frigging closet.

I can't even tell Dad,

though I've come very
close a couple of times,
in response to his totally

cliché homophobic views:

Bible says God made

Adam and Eve, not Adam
and Steve, and no damn
bleeding-heart liberal

gonna tell me different.

Most definitely not this

bleeding-heart liberal.
Of course, Dad has no clue
that's what I am. Or have

become. Because of who

I am, all the way inside,

the biggest part of me,
the part I need to hide.
Wonder what he'd say

if I told him the first person

to recognize what I am

was a priest. Father Howard
knew. Took advantage, too.
Maybe I'll confess it all

to Dad someday. But not

while he's still grieving

over Mom. I am too.
And if I lost my dad
because of any of this, I really

don't know what I'd do.

So I Keep the Real Seth

Mostly hidden away.

It is spring, a time of hope,
locked in the rich loam
we till and plant. Corn.

Maize. The main ingredient

in American ethanol,

the fuel of the future, and
so it fuels our dreams. It's
a cold March day, but the sun

threatens to thaw me,

like it has started to thaw

the ground. The big John
Deere has little trouble
tugging the tiller, turning

the soil, readying it for seed.

I don't mind this work.

There's something satisfying
about the submission, dirt
to churning blades. Submission,

yes, and almost as ancient

as the submission of one

beast, throat up to another.
One human, facedown
to another. And always,

always another, hungering.


Drives the beast, human

or otherwise, and it is
the essence of humanity.
Hunger for food. Power.

Sex. All tangled together.

It was hunger that made

me post a personal ad
on the Internet. Hunger
for something I knew

I could never taste here.

Hunger that put me on

the freeway to Louisville,
far away enough to promise
secrecy unattainable at home.

Hunger that gave me

the courage to knock on

a stranger's door. Looking
back, I realize the danger.
But then I felt invincible.

Or maybe just starved.

I'd Dated Girls, of Course

Trying to convince

myself the attraction
toward guys I'd always felt
was just a passing thing.

Satan, luring me with

the promise of a penis.

I'd even fallen for a female.
Janet Winkler was dream-girl
pretty and sweeter than

just-turned apple cider.

But love and sexual desire

don't always go hand in hand.
Luckily, Janet wasn't looking
to get laid, which worked out

just fine. After a while,

though, I figured I should

be looking to get laid, like
every other guy my age. So
why did the thought of sex

with Janet -- who I believed

I loved, even -- not turn

me on one bit? Worse, why
did the idea of sex with her
Neanderthal jock big brother

turn me on so completely?

Not that Leon Winkler

is particularly special.
Not good-looking. Definitely
not the brightest bulb in the

socket. What he does have

going on is a fullback's

physique. Pure muscle.
(That includes inside his
two-inch-thick skull.) I'd catch

myself watching his butt,

thinking it was perfect.

Something not exactly
hetero about that. Weird
thing was, that didn't

bother me. Well, except for

the idea someone might

notice how my eyes often
fell toward the rhythm
of his exit. I never once

lusted for Janet like that.

I tried to let her down

easy. Gave her the ol'
"It's not you, it's me"
routine. But breaking up

is never an easy thing.

Not Easy for Janet

Who never saw it coming.

When I told her, she looked
as if she'd been run over
by a bulldozer. But you

told me you love me.

"I do love you," I said.

"But things are, well...
confusing right now. You
know my mom is sick...."

Can't believe I used

her cancer as an excuse

to try and smooth things
over. And it worked, to
a point, anyway. At least

it gave Janet something

to hold on to. I know, Seth.

But don't you think you
need someone to...?

The denial in my eyes

spoke clearly. She tried

another tactic, sliding

her arms around my neck,
seeking to comfort me. Then
she kissed me, and it was

a different kind of kiss

than any we'd shared

before. Swollen with desire.
Demanding. Lips still locked
to mine, she murmured, What

if I give you this...?

Her hand found my own,

urged it along her body's
contours, all the way to
the place between her legs,

the one I had never asked for.

To be honest, I thought

about doing it. What if it
cured my confusion after all?
In the heat of the moment,

I even got hard, especially

when Janet touched me,

dropped onto her knees,
lowered my zipper, started
to do what I never suspected

she knew how to do. Yes...

No! Shouldn't...How...?

The haze in my brain
cleared instantly, and I pushed
her away. "No. I can't,"

was all I could say.

All Janet Could Say

Before she stalked off

was, Up yours! What are
you, anyway? Gay?
really expecting a response,

she pivoted sharply, went

in search of moral support.

So she never heard me say,
way under my breath, "Maybe
I am gay." It was time, maybe

past, to find out for sure.

But not in Perry County,

Indiana, where if you're
not related to someone,
you know someone who

is. All fact here is rooted

in gossip, and gossip can

prove deadly. Like last year,
little Billy Caldwell told Nate
Fisher that he saw Nate's mom

kissing some guy out back

of a tavern. Total lie, but

that didn't help Nate's mom
when Nate's dad went looking
for her, with a loaded shotgun.

Caught up to her after Mass

Sunday morning, and when

he was done, that church
parking lot looked like a street
in Baghdad. After, Billy felt

kind of bad. But he blamed

Nate's dad one hundred percent.

Not Nate, who took out
his grief on Billy's hunting
dog. That hound isn't much

good for hunting now, not

with an eye missing. Since

I'd really like to hang on
to both of my eyes and all
of my limbs, I figured I'd

better find my true self

somewhere other than Perry

County. Best way I could
think of was through the
"be anyone you choose to be"

possibilities of online dating.

Granted, One Possibility

Was hooking up with a creep --

a pervert, looking to spread
some incurable disease to some
poor, horny idiot. I met more

than one pervert, but I never

let them do me. Nope, horny

or not, I wasn't an idiot. No
homosexual yokel, anxious
enough to get laid to let any

guy who swung the correct

direction into my jeans.

I wanted my first real sex
to be with the right guy. Someone
experienced enough to teach

me, but not humiliate me.

Someone good-looking.

Young. Educated. A good
talker, yes, but a good listener,
too. Someone maybe even

hoping to fall in love.


Unimaginably, Loren turned

out to be all those things,
and I found him in Louisville!
He opened my eyes to a wider

world, introduced me to the

avant-garde -- performance art,

nude theater, alternative
lit. He gave me a taste
for caviar, pâté, excellent

California cabernet. After

years of fried chicken and

Pabst Blue Ribbon, such
adjustments could only be
born of love. Truthfully,

love was unexpected. I've

said it before, and I'll repeat,

I didn't fall out of the tree
yesterday. But that first day,
when Loren opened his door,

I took one look and fell

flat on my face. Figuratively,

of course. I barely stumbled
as I crossed the threshold --
into his apartment, and into

the certainty of who I am.

Copyright © 2009 by Ellen Hopkins

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