Fan conventions are all about celebrating your interests… so what happens when your friends don’t quite share yours?
That’s what three teenage girls attending three very different fan conventions must deal with in The Pros of Cons when they are forced to share close quarters in their overbooked hotel, which is hosting a taxidermy championship, a drumming competition, and a fanfiction convention.
The book hits shelves in April 2018, and EW can exclusively reveal not only the cover (which you can see below) but also an excerpt from the first chapter of the novel — just in time for convention season.
Excerpt from ‘The Pros of Cons’ by Alison Cherry, Lindsay Ribar and Michelle Schusterman
There were two ostriches, a water buffalo, and a flock of wild turkeys between me and the registration desk.
“Dad, can you scoot the turkeys over a little?” I asked. “We’re blocking the door.” I was careful to keep my voice upbeat and positive, even though I was tired and stiff from the twelve-hour drive to Orlando. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with how that drive had gone, either; instead of talking to me, Dad had spent most of the time making calls about his latest restoration project while I listened to podcasts.
Then again, I hadn’t expected him to invite me to the World Taxidermy Championships at all, and the fact that he’d brought me to this place he loved felt like a step in the right direction. Maybe after we settled in a little, the good memories would kick in and soften him up, and then we could do some real bonding for the first time in forever. We still had five whole days together, and if he was ready and willing to act like a family again, I was on board.
The turkeys stared up at me with their reproachful glass eyes, as if to say Good luck with that. “Shut up,” I murmured to them, then glanced around to make sure nobody had heard. I was not going to become one of those people who talked to dead animals.
My dad pushed the luggage dolly holding the turkeys a little farther into the convention center, but it rolled forward faster than expected, and a guy crossing in front of us had to dodge out of the way. He had a scraggly ponytail and deer tracks tattooed up his forearms, and he was carrying a bundle of blankets with a scaly tail poking out one end and a pair of toothy jaws protruding from the other. “Watch it, buddy!” he snapped.
“Excuse me, I’m so sorry,” my dad said. He peered at the bundle. “Black caiman? That’s a beautiful specimen.”
The guy smiled, and he suddenly looked a lot less menacing. “Yup,” he said. “Good eye. And those are some fine-looking turkeys, man.”
“Thank you,” my dad said, all puffed up with pride. He’d brought an ibex and a pair of cerulean warblers for the competition as well, but the turkeys were his babies.
Caiman Dude reached out a beefy arm and clapped my dad hard on the shoulder. “Good luck,” he said, and he took off.
Two doors down, there was a flurry of excitement—my dad’s archrival, Harley Stuyvesant, had just pushed an enormous musk ox in from the parking lot on a rolling cart. As his fans and colleagues crowded around to admire his new mount, he pulled a comb out of his pocket and started grooming the musk ox’s flanks in this showy way, even though judging didn’t start until tomorrow evening.
I nudged my dad with my elbow. “There’s your favorite person,” I muttered. If there was one thing we could definitely bond over, it was that Harley was a complete douchenozzle. “Remember two years ago when he ran over that woman’s foot with his rhino, and Mom had to drive her to the hospital because—”
“Yes, I remember,” Dad said, but his voice was sharp and final, like that topic was off-limits. I should’ve known better; bringing up Mom was probably the worst thing I could do if I wanted to get on his good side.
“I’ll go get our badges from registration,” I said. “Will you watch my stuff?” I put my purple duffel bag down next to the traveling crates and leather tool bags that held the supplies for my dad’s “Mounting a Strutting Turkey” demonstration.
“Sure,” he said, a little gentler this time. “Thanks, Callie.”
I navigated around an articulated snake skeleton and a flock of penguins and got in line under the welcome banner. The lobby was a sea of camo, denim, fur, and testosterone as far as the eye could see. It was impossible not to think about Mom, even if I wasn’t allowed to talk about her; I’d never been to this convention without her, and she had always made me feel less out of place. While Dad was in his sessions, she and I used to dig through the bins of glass eyes on the trade show floor and people-watch in the lobby, guessing what animal each attendee had brought for judging. Dad would join us when he was done for the day, and we’d all squish together on one of the big hotel beds, watch a dumb comedy, and order burgers from room service.
Of course, that was before Dad started getting really high-profile museum work and he and Mom started screaming at each other every night about how he spent way more time with his dead animals than he did with us.
I heard a high-pitched giggle and turned to see a group of girls my own age. For half a second, I felt a little flare of hope, but it immediately became clear that these girls weren’t here for the taxidermy. Even though it was May, they looked like they were on the way to a Halloween party—one wore a jumpsuit and carried a Chinese parasol, one was in full-body armor, and the third wore wings and a gold spandex bodysuit. Another girl in normal clothes followed several paces behind. When she turned to stare at someone’s leopard, I saw that her shirt said I <3 Harry Potter in yellow puffy paint, and I realized the gold girl was probably supposed to be a Snitch. There must’ve been a different convention going on in another wing.
“Next?” called the woman behind the conference registration table.
I stepped forward and handed her my confirmation email. “Hi. I’m picking up two badges for Hamish Buchannan.”
The woman’s eyes widened. “The turkey man? Oh my god, do you work with him?”
“Yes.” It was true, but it made me a little sad to hear her say it. Even at home, I usually felt more like his assistant than his daughter.
“Tell him how much I love his work, okay? I’m signed up for his seminar on Saturday. Do you think he’d autograph his book for me?”
“I’m sure he’d be glad to.”
“Amazing. I’m so looking forward to it.” The woman beamed as she handed me two badges and registration folders. “Judging begins tomorrow evening at seven o’clock sharp, so be sure to turn in your forms and deliver your competition mounts to the ballroom by six. There’s a schedule and a map in your folder, as well as your drink tickets for the awards banquet on Sunday. I hope you and Hamish have a wonderful time!”
“Thanks,” I said. “I hope so, too.”
I turned to head back to my dad, but I almost tripped over a largemouth bass when I saw who was with him. I hadn’t seen Jeremy Warren in years—he’d been living in London for a while now—but he’d spent countless hours at our house when he’d done his college internship with my dad. Even though I was only a little kid back then, he’d always treated me like a friend. He had even learned all the Pokémon characters so he could discuss their relative merits with me as I helped scoop brains out of deer skulls. My whole family had always loved Jeremy, and the fact that he’d be around for the next five days would definitely put my dad in a better mood.
“Hey!” I called to him. “I didn’t know you were coming to this!”
“Cal! It’s so good to see you!” Jeremy’s smile was blindingly white against the brown of his skin, and he held out his arms for a hug. When I stepped into them, he squeezed me so tightly my feet almost left the ground. “Man, it’s been forever. How have you been?”
That answer to that question was way too complicated to handle, so I just said, “It’s great to see you, too. Are you back in the States for good?”
“No, just for a job. I wasn’t planning on being here, but one of the judges had a family emergency, so they asked me to fill in. I’m doing Waterfowl and Turkeys.” Jeremy lightly punched my dad’s shoulder. “I hear I’ll be judging this old man.”
My dad smiled, and it looked totally genuine, unlike the tight half smiles he’d been giving me all day. “I hope you’ll go easy on your favorite mentor.”
“I’m sure I won’t need to. Your mounts are always flawless, Hamish, and these are no exception.” He gave the turkeys a fond look, like they were long-lost friends.
“Oh god, they’re a mess right now,” my dad said. “No peeking until they’ve been groomed.”
I raised an eyebrow at Jeremy. “He’s been grooming them all day. Every time we hit a rest stop, we had to unwrap these guys and make sure every feather was in place. I bet you can imagine the kinds of looks we got in the McDonald’s parking lot.”
“They probably thought you’d brought your own meat for McNuggets,” Jeremy said, and I snorted, but my dad frowned at me.
“I wasn’t grooming them,” he said. “I was checking for damage.”
“Yeah, checking with a comb,” I said, hoping he’d finally give in and laugh like he used to when I teased him about being a perfectionist. I knew not to try to banter with him while he was working these days—since the divorce, he’d been quiet and focused in the studio, instead of playing music or asking about my day. But I figured things might be different here in the place he liked best. Two Taxidermy Championships ago, he and Mom had made a bet about whether he could go the entire drive without unwrapping his competition animals. He’d lost when she’d caught him peeking at his turkeys at a rest stop in South Carolina, and as her prize she’d made him buy her an ice cream sundae every day of the convention.
But apparently being here now hadn’t lightened his mood at all, because all I got was a look that said Shut up, Callie.
Jeremy must’ve sensed the tension in the air, because he immediately changed the subject. “So, you must be . . . what, a sophomore now?”
“A junior,” I said.
“God, that makes me feel so old. I remember when you used to sit in the corner of the studio in your My Little Pony pajamas and make the stuffed squirrels talk to each other.”
“Yeah, and I remember when you used to bring your laundry to our house because you didn’t know how to use a washing machine,” I said.
He laughed. “Oh man, that’s embarrassing. I’m pretty great at laundry now, I’ll have you know. I use dryer sheets and everything.”
I rolled my eyes. “Congratulations. Your medal’s in the mail.”
“What are you up to these days? You starting to think about colleges?”
I was about to tell him how I wanted to go to Northwestern for communications, but my dad jumped in before I could open my mouth. “She’s been my assistant for a year and a half now,” he said. “You should see the raccoon she mounted a couple of months ago. Very impressive.”
“Good for you, Cal. That’s great. And how’s Regina? Is she here?”
“Regina’s . . . fine.” I braced myself for the part that I knew would come next; seeing that predictable look of pity cross Jeremy’s face would be the absolute worst. But instead my dad said, “She’s out of town right now. For work.”
Well, that was bizarre. Did he always pretend they were still married when he talked to his colleagues?
“Is that Jeremy Warren?” called a voice behind us.
Jeremy turned to wave at a middle-aged guy with a Moses beard. “Hey, I’ve got to go. It’s so awesome to see both of you. We’ll catch up later, okay?”
“Absolutely,” my dad said. “Maybe we should have dinner. I heard you’ve been experimenting with erosion molding. I want to hear all about it.”
I made a face. “Or I could order room service while you two talk about guts and pelts, and then Jeremy and I can have dessert and a normal conversation once you’re done.”
Jeremy laughed again. “You were always so funny, Cal. I’m glad to see you haven’t changed.” He gave my dad a little salute as he walked away.
“Come on,” Dad said. “We need to get all this stuff upstairs. I don’t want to leave the ibex and the warblers in the van too long.”
“Okay, sure.” I crouched down and stuffed our registration folders and judging forms into my backpack. “The walkway to the hotel is over—”
There was a deafening crash, and one of the supply boxes on my dolly lurched sideways and hit me in the ribs. I threw my arm up and managed to catch the box with my elbow before it fell, and pain shot up my arm. That would definitely leave a bruise, but it was better than the alternative. My dad would murder me if anything happened to the turkey armature inside.
“God, Brian, watch where you’re going!” a guy shouted.
“I can’t see anything behind all this stuff! You were supposed to be steering!”
“What’s wrong with you? You ran someone over!” A girl’s freckled face peered at me over the supply boxes. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” I scrambled to my feet to see what had happened—if anyone’s animals were damaged, I was really in trouble—but instead, I saw drums and cymbals lying all over the carpet. A rack of chimes had fallen on top of a gong, and one of those giant xylophone things had slid halfway off a hotel luggage rack. As I watched, a drum rolled lazily toward the registration table, narrowly missing a rack of deer heads.
“I’m really sorry,” the girl said.
“It’s okay.” I retrieved the leather bag that held my dad’s sculpting tools from where it had landed near the gong. I glanced over at him, wondering if he was going to help me clean up, but he was completely focused on his turkeys, making sure the nearby crash hadn’t ruffled any feathers.
“I told you it was going to fall,” snapped one of the guys.
“Just get everything back on the cart! We’re already late!”
As the girl righted the chimes, a guy with a red buzz cut moved one of my dad’s boxes so he could retrieve a bunch of fuzzy mallets. “Man, this is heavy. What’s in here?”
“A turkey carcass.”
He stared at me. “Like, to eat?”
“No, to study. This is a taxidermy convention.”
“That’s a thing?” I pointed at the giant banner that said Welcome to the World Taxidermy & Fish Carving Championships!, and the guy said, “Huh. What’s fish carving?”
“Brian, come on!”
The drummers heaped their stuff precariously back onto the luggage rack and started wheeling it toward the next wing of the convention center. “Sorry again!” the girl called to me. It was only after they were out of sight that I wondered what they were here for. Maybe they were some sort of Harry Potter band?
I opened the box that had fallen to check on the turkey armature and was relieved to see that nothing was broken. “Everything looks fine,” I told my dad, angling for a little gratitude—I had made a pretty excellent catch, after all. But he just sighed and started wheeling the turkeys toward the elevators in silence, so I gathered the rest of our stuff and followed.
Neither of us said anything else until the elevator doors closed behind us, but the second we were alone, my dad turned on me. “Callie, if you’re going to be here, I really need you to act professional.”
If I was going to be here? The words made my stomach hurt. We’d been in Orlando all of fifteen minutes; had he already changed his mind about bringing me?
“It’s not my fault those drummers knocked me over,” I said. “And I caught the box. I told you nothing’s damaged. I even—”
“I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the way you mocked me in front of a judge.”
I blinked at him. “A judge? I didn’t . . . Wait, you mean Jeremy? He’s our friend! We were just messing around. You two used to make fun of each other all the time.”
“It doesn’t matter which judge it was. That was still out of line.”
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” I said. “I was just kidding.”
My dad sighed. “Cal, you’re here in a professional capacity. You’re not a child anymore—you’re my assistant, and everything you do for the next five days reflects on me and my business. You can say whatever you want when we get home, but for now I need you to think before you talk and try to control yourself. All right?”
This was not how this trip was supposed to go. I came here to reconnect with him, to remind him that he could actually have a good time hanging out with his only daughter. We were supposed to bond. And right now, all he saw when he looked at me was an assistant who wasn’t living up to his rigorous standards.
Then again, maybe I should try to cut him some slack until we settled in. Travel days were always stressful. He and I hadn’t taken a trip together since Mom left, and maybe falling back into our old patterns would take some time.
“All right, Callie?” Dad said again.
I swallowed hard. “Yes. All right.”
The elevator stopped, and the doors dinged open. “Good. Now, help me get the turkeys into your room.”
We unloaded the birds near the mini-fridge, then headed back downstairs to retrieve the ibex and the warblers from the van. (Thank god we weren’t sharing a room this year—there’s no way Dad and I would’ve fit in one with all those animals, boxes, and suitcases.) As we passed through the hotel lobby, I scoped out the scene and considered possible plans for the rest of the evening. The Mexican restaurant looked pretty good, and there was a sports bar—maybe there would be a decent baseball game on. Maybe Jeremy would be free for dinner tonight; I’d have to be super careful about how I talked to him, but it would still be nice to hang out. Or Dad and I could just people-watch in the lobby and play the guess-which-guy-brought-which-animal game, then resurrect our room-service-and-movie tradition.
We always used to have fun together at these conventions. Maybe if I tried hard enough, we still could, even without Mom.