Anna Breslaw makes her YA fiction debut later this year with Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here, which follows Scarlett Epstein, a snarky, funny teenager, famous online for her fan fiction, and totally invisible at her high school. But when her favorite TV show (and muse) is canceled, she returns to writing fiction — but instead of TV characters, her subjects are her fellow high school students.
Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here hits shelves April 19 — but EW is thrilled to reveal an exclusive sneak peek at the prologue and first four chapters, below:
This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. After five years, six seasons, ten Emmy nominations, and countless amazing experiences on and off the set with the family I’ve made here, the Lycanthrope High story has come to its conclusion. While I have no control over the decision, I could not be more proud of the extraordinary talent both in front of and behind the cameras who have collectively made this show what it is.
Write to the network if you want, but you know they’re just a bunch of old white dudes in suits, right? All I’m gonna say is that they may or may not have almost fired me for making Connor Korean-American.
But look. You know that from the very beginning, I’ve been thinking about you guys—the superfans, the cosplayers, the people who wrote letters to me saying that Luke’s death helped them with their own grief, or that Gillian and Reginald inspired them to end their abusive relationship, or that Marissa and Connor were the first complex main characters who looked like them that they’d seen on one of their favorite shows. That stuff means more to me than any critic’s opinion.
And in my own bittersweet way, I’m glad to end here, while the characters are beloved and the plot hasn’t jumped the shark. I don’t want the show to overstay its welcome. It’s kind of cool! Like the James Dean of shows, very much including the bisexual experimentation. (Wiki it.)
When you think about it, the ending is somewhat natural— graduation day was near, and then they were gonna go off to college. It’s uncertain, yes, but life is uncertain. (Tangentially related: As most of you read on my blog, I have a new baby, and it turns out babies happen to be relatively high maintenance.)
It’s been an incredible run, more than my seventeen-year- old nerdy self could have hoped for in his wildest dreams, and you guys are to thank for making it happen. I made this show for you. And don’t worry. I’m counting the minutes—perhaps when the kid’s older, anywhere between being a tiny poop monster and a thirty-four-year-old finally moving out of our basement—until I can make another one for you.
Not to get sappy, but all I did was tell people how to hold the camera. It’s you guys who gave it a soul.
Be back soon. Promise.
—John St. Clair, creator of Lycanthrope High
“IT ABSOLUTELY SUCKS,” Avery says, beating out Jeffrey Dahmer for the understatement of the century. (His, after his arrest, was “I really messed up this time.”)
Ave jams an impossible amount of textbooks into her backpack. She’s the only one in the whole hallway who cares that the bell is ringing. It’s kind of her personal brand.
She continues, “It one hundred and fifty percent sucks. But—God, Scarlett, you look awful.”
My eyes are puffy, and my throat’s so sore from crying that I can barely tell her “No s—.” I stayed up all night with the rest of the heartbroken Lycanthrope community, trying to strategize a way to get it back on the air. The first stage is denial, right? That’s half of us, writing passionate letters to the network. The other half—people I used to see on Tumblr every day—are blackballing the show and moving on.
Not only was I one of the more popular fic writers on the board, but I’d livetweet the show every week at eight, amassing a pretty damn big following for a non-famous teenage girl who wasn’t posting butt selfies. Every Monday from eight to nine p.m., I actually mattered. That was like my real life—all the stuff around it was just temporary, unfortunate background noise.
The worst part is, the sixth season finale didn’t wrap anything up—it was some dumb monster-of-the-week about Greg’s robot stepmom. We don’t even know who ends up with whom. Even if John St. Clair tells us at some convention, which is what show runners generally do, it’s not the same. He made the characters so real that it’s simply unfair just to cut us off like this.
“I know you’re bummed, but this means, maybe, just hear me out, that you can . . . invest in real people, not fictional people”—Avery sees what I am about to say and cuts me off— “and not a bunch of randos on a message board who are probably all sketchy old men.”
“You really need to stop DVRing To Catch a Predator.”
Ave should be more supportive, considering we first became friends when she sat behind me in AP English. I worked on Lycanthrope fanfics in my notebook and caught her reading over my shoulder. She reads for fun a lot; she’s maybe the only person at school who does that as much as I do. But other than the architectural skill she displays by managing to fit every math textbook ever written in her book bag, Avery isn’t at all artsy or creative. I think that’s why we get along. Combined, we’d be Supergirl.
Ave is the only reason I can sit at the lunch table with the Girl Geniuses, a small clique of overachievers who run on Adderall and fear and have gears you can always see turning. No wonder they’re maladjusted; it’s uncomfortable seeing people try that hard, you know? Like, we don’t want to see your gears. Put them away. It’s their parents’ fault for f logging them like the workhorse in Black Beauty. Take the shivering mess of Jessicarose Fallon, for instance. This summer her parents sent her on a “volunteer” trip to Argentina for a cool $5K so she could write a heart-wrenching college essay about how she ran out of Luna bars on day three. They also named her Jessicarose, so it’s hard to fault her for having the eyes of a crazy person. In fact, a lot of the Girl Geniuses have a mash-up of two names, like Tanya-Lynn Gordonov. Perhaps their parents were on Adderall when they named them.
If you were wondering, I have a shining 2.9 GPA out of . . . I guess 4.0? Infinity? Whatever Jessicarose Fallon has.
“Okay, fine,” Ave relents. “But have you considered maybe they’re all just your Tyler Durden?”
I’m about to shoot back some sassy answer when Ave jerks her head in a quick spasm toward the end of the hall, where Gideon Maclaine is leaning against a locker and messing with his iPhone. He’s alone, as usual.
“Look! A f lesh-and-blood human,” Ave says pointedly.
“You’ve been obsessed with him since the second grade!” She grins. “Maybe he can replace Lycanthro—”
“Don’t say it. I can’t even hear the title right now; it’s too hard.”
While the other girls at school threw themselves into boyfriends, I threw myself into shows. I started with the ones that are Taken Very Seriously, starring conf licted antiheroes who cheat on their wives and curse a lot, occasionally at the same time. But the problem was, I never really watched an episode and thought: I want to mess around with these characters, bend their world, go inside their heads. I usually just thought: Sure. I get it. Men do coke and/or have sex with their twentysomething brunette mistresses but still love their kids or whatever. I don’t need to do a deep dive into that guy’s head. I’m not someone that show thinks about.
Then I found Lycanthrope High, and everything totally changed. That sounds melodramatic, because I still have arms and legs, but everything else totally changed. It’s about a boarding school called Pembrooke Academy where the student body is not-so-secretly 50 percent werewolves, and a scholarship student named Gillian finds out she’s a loup-orateur, the only girl in her generation who can settle the war between werewolves and humans. There’s a diverse cast of wisecracking misfits and love triangles and saving the world and all that good stuff.
Most of all, though, it’s obvious—not just on the show, but in interviews and podcasts and at conventions—that John St. Clair thinks about me. Or, you know, girls like me. Amazingly, a straight white dude is designing his show specifically for bored, sexually frustrated high school girls (and some guys) who get straight Cs because their pointlessly large imaginations are uncontrollable tsunamis that wipe out any structure in their paths. For once, we don’t have to adjust our expectations to wedge ourselves into an audience. We are the target audience. I love Lycanthrope and the characters down to my bones, in a way I can’t even articulate, the way you love your family or your best friend.
Avery sat through one episode, one time, and thinks she gets the appeal but it’s “not her style.” Meanwhile, she made me and my mom, Dawn, sit through all thirteen episodes of Cosmos, and we were bored to tears, but on the bright side, we agreed on something for once. Dawn—a person who named her daughter after Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, a person who watches reruns of Sex and the City so religiously that when I was little I used to confuse the theme for the eleven o’clock news—thinks Lycanthrope High is lame.
“I’m just trying to get you to look on the bright side!”
“Did you hit your head? We live in New Jersey. There is no bright side. If you want to use that expression here, you have to say, ‘Look on the smog.’”
Melville, New Jersey, is the perfect place to have a pretty mediocre life for, like, seventy years and then die. In fact, that might be on the Welcome to Melville sign you see when you get off the turnpike at Exit 6A, right above population: 5,500 empty funyuns bags, 1 bored jewish girl.
As for Melville High School, where Ave and I go—it’s pretty much the opposite of magic. The English language isn’t innovative enough to have a word for that, really, other than some four-letter ones I’m not going to deploy because I’m a ~*~LaDy~*~*. MHS is all guys with neck tattoos and girls who post Kim Kardashian quotes on Instagram, and the 60 percent of us who actually graduate end up working at Target or the gas station or something.
No thanks to Mr. Barnhill, our guidance counselor, whose soaring, inspirational college admissions advice is to “be realistic.” (Some real Chariots of Fire stuff right there.) When Mr. Barnhill asked me how my extracurriculars were, I didn’t say anything, because as far as school is concerned, I’m the president of the Misanthrope Society. Also the only member. He told me to consider community college, and I left with a pamphlet about identifying herpes.
You know the kind of person who rolls his or her eyes at a TV show or a book and goes, “That would never happen”? I’m the opposite: I walk around all day waiting for a reason to suspend my disbelief. There’s a ghost in the girls’ locker room? Great; let’s find out if she’s a murdered former prom queen out for revenge. The entire town of Melville, New Jersey, is directly over the Eighth Circle of Hell? Awesome. I shotty the crossbow.
When school lets out, I race back home to check my permanently open Lycanthrope tabs. As I’d feared, the boards have been swarmed with the worst kind of invasive awfulness: TV critics looking to interview “heartbroken cult fans” for articles. (No thanks—I’ve never seen fandom portrayed in any mainstream place as anything other than a weird cult, and fangirls as brainless idiots.) There are also countless culture bloggers shamelessly spamming the board with links to their immediately-churned- out “Best Lycanthrope High Episodes” roundups. Here and there, I do see some fix-its—fanfiction revisions of the end of the series—but none by my friends.
My best friends in the Lycanthrope fandom community are called the BNFs (Big Name Fans), and they’re fic writers too: xLoupxGaroux, DavidaTheDeadly, and WillianShipper2000. Fandom is weird like that, especially on Tumblr. You don’t have to know anyone’s first name, but you’ll be as sad for them when their mom dies as you’d be sad for someone IRL.
I gravitated to them through their super-high-quality fics. They were the top-read Lycanthrope fic writers on the board; their most popular fics had around 10,000 views. xLoupxGaroux appeals to the smart, snarky gay demo who dies for William/ Connor slash with only occasional glimmers of sentimentality. DavidaTheDeadly writes uplifting inner monologues from each character’s perspective, which gives people a break from the frequent super-darkness of the show. And Willian, a high school freshman in Kansas, excels at maybe the toughest and most oversaturated fanfic domain: your typical OTP (one true pairing) hetero romance. She splits her time between Lycanthrope and One Direction fandom, and she sometimes comes off totally basic, but her swoonworthy lines get Tumblr-ed to death. Some Lycanthrope fans can be judgy about mainstream fandoms like 1-D, but I’m not: Anything that could get a sixteen-year-old girl from some sh–ty town a six-figure book deal is something I’d scream proudly about from the rooftops.
xLoupxGaroux: Where have you BEEN.
Scarface: I’m sorry!!
I start crying. I’m not quite sure why. I think I’m afraid this is the last time we’ll all talk or something. Nevertheless, I manage to type:
Scarface: I’m crying, hahaha!
xLoupxGaroux: you are not literally crying.
DavidaTheDeadly: we don’t all have hearts of stone like you, Loup
DavidaTheDeadly: last week I cried every day. moaning myrtle of the ladies’ bathroom at work basically.
Davida and Loup are both older than me and have office jobs, which means they can—and do—Gchat all day but have to be careful with the open browsers.
DavidaTheDeadly: the thing is though…we didn’t know it was ending, and we don’t have source material for fics about the final episodes. oh brb boss is coming
xLoupxGaroux: What is it today? “Ride of the Valkyries”?
DavidaTheDeadly: “Single Ladies.”
Whenever the editor in chief at Davida’s magazine job approaches someone’s cube, Davida hums loudly to warn them to X out of anything inappropriate.
DavidaTheDeadly: haha btw scarface, pls thank your mom for e-mailing her confession and let her know it’ll be in the april issue
The delightful nugget to which she is referring: “I wrote a text to my ex-boyfriend: ‘I’ll pick up some condoms with the bread bowls.’ But I actually sent it to my daughter! Oops! —Dawn E., 35.”
Scarface: I can’t believe we don’t even know if Gillian ends up with William or Connor.
WillianShipper2000: Uhh Willian is obvs the OTP!
Willian’s ride-or-die for that pairing. Her Tumblr background is a shot of the two of them with “Now you have all of me” written on it in cursive, from that episode where William and Gillian had a big fight because he wouldn’t take her to prom. He wanted her to have a nice, normal teenage experience. She started crying and said he was letting the wolf part—the part that didn’t like responsibility—take over. The next day he showed up at her front door with a gift, a German shepherd puppy. “You were right,” he said. “But now you have all of me.”
(Of course, Gillian realizes later on, when William leaves town after prom, that it was the guy part of him that decided to do it, not the wolf part. And the dog, Nina, dies bravely saving Marissa from a possessed frat house in the fourth season finale. I cried for a week straight.)
Scarface: Have you guys read any of the fix-its?
xLoupxGaroux: Some—none are particularly satisfying.
We agree that none of us want to give up writing Lycanthrope fic and that even though the finale sucked, moving forward we’ll stick with the canon storyline. We all promise to think on it, and nobody will jump ship until we’ve got some ideas.
“My children,” I begin solemnly at the head of the Parkers’ dinner table.
The first time I had dinner at Avery’s house, in sixth grade, her parents asked me to say grace in earnest. But after I fumbled secularly through it, the BS “grace” became a recurring joke.
I clear my throat. “I dreamed I was walking on the beach side by side with the Lord. When I looked back, there were two sets of footprints, but other times there was just one.”
Ashley, Avery’s sister and the bane of my existence, rolls her eyes. I ignore her.
“I asked the Lord why this would be. He replied, ‘During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I drop-kicked you.’”
The tops of Avery’s parents bowed heads shake with silent laughter.
“Carried you. Carried you, is what I meant. Amen.” “Amen,” Avery and her parents say. Ave’s mom looks at Ashley expectantly, and she reluctantly mutters it too.
Ashley’s a popular senior at MHS. She and her friends have spent the last nine years making fun of me for wearing thrift- store clothes (they weren’t cool yet), bringing weird wholesale Sam’s Club chocolate milk to lunch unlike everybody else’s normal Nesquiks, and the million other tiny indicators kids can sniff out poorness with. The most glaring example of this was in second grade, when all the popular girls had Double Stuf and I had some cheaper fake-Oreo brand; I’d scrape all the cream off one cookie and put it in another, then throw out the dry, empty cookie and eat the homemade Double Stuf one. One day, Natalia and Ashley sat across from me and stared as Ashley whispered unnecessary narration into Natalia’s ear like I was a nature documentary. Look, then she scrapes the cream off, then she puts it in the other cookie, then she throws the first cookie out, then . . .
Since I became friends with Avery and close with her parents, the teasing has been like a long game of chicken: Was I going to rat on her, or was she going to stop siccing her Ugg- booted henchwomen on me? So far, neither has happened. Ave just stays out of it.
Even after nine years of torture, though, Ashley’s prettiness still stuns me like a manta ray. She looks like a Disney princess, pale with fiery red hair and a perfect ski jump nose, and stops just short of being too beautiful, as if God designed her to provide a believable photo for catfishing people. Ave is pretty too, but she’s like a wilted version of Ashley with braces and slightly duller hair. If they had been fetal twins, Ashley definitely would’ve consumed Avery for nutrients, and all that’d be left of Ave would be a tumor with a few teeth in it.
Ave’s mom gets up with some plates. “Salmon, anybody?” She explains to me, “We’re doing the Grain Brain diet, but I think I have some spelt crackers in the cupboard if you want.”
“Thanks, I’m okay.”
“Have you read about that? Wheat, carbs, and sugar destroy brain cells. Even quinoa,” she says, glancing at Avery’s dad quickly to make sure she recited it correctly. Professor Parker teaches a graduate class on nutrition at Princeton. The only noise at the table is the oppressive clinking of silverware. They’re the total opposite of me and Dawn—we’re either screaming at each other or laughing hysterically, big emotions that ricochet off the walls of our apartment.
“Little late for me, I think,” I reply.
“Scarlett, you know you’re very bright,” Professor Parker says brusquely, which is how he says most things, even compliments.
Ashley lets out a sharp breath of air from her nose, a mean, soundless laugh. Her mom gives her a warning glare.
“Listen, I understand that you don’t care about doing well in school right now, but there are a handful of colleges known especially for their exemplary creative-writing programs. Just get that GPA up, and your writing will speak for itself. You’re very talented,” he continues.
I feel my face burning, especially considering I haven’t really written since the show went off the air. The Parkers make everything sound so purposeful, as if I set out To Write, or to Be a Writer. Writing is just the only thing that makes me feel like a real person, not the tap-dancing ref lection of myself that I am around other people. Until Lycanthrope High ended, I’d find ways to write all day at school, like on the backs of handouts in class or hidden in the stacks of the school library between American History (a–p) and American History (p–z). It didn’t seem odd or unique to me that by the time sophomore year was over, I’d written a novel-length fic.
Besides the BNFs, Avery was the only person I told, and she talked me into letting her read it. Of course she told Professor Parker, and then he read it, and I was super-embarrassed and mad at Ave because it had all kinds of teenage hedonism in it and what have you. And when he finished, he called Dawn and told her that I had an immense talent and there were creative arts high schools specifically for students like me and he’d send over some pamphlets. Dawn was so pissed—she said he was trying to give me “champagne taste on a beer budget.”
The truth is, part of why I started writing is that it’s one of the few activities that doesn’t require any expensive helmets or gear or pay-by-the-hour instructors. And Dawn’s right, we can’t afford any of those schools Professor Parker mentioned, but I can’t say stuff like that to the Parkers, because underneath this conversation, they know it, and they know I know it, and articulating it would just make things weird. I already think sometimes that I perform for them a little too much, constantly trying to be funny and charming, like I’m singing for my supper or something.
Instead, I try to stop blushing and shrug like zero s—s given.
“Frankly, I think MHS is a bad fit for both of you,” says Mrs. Parker, and she gives Avery a pointed look. Freshman year, Avery’s parents made her go to a fancy, expensive boarding school in Massachusetts. She hated it there, but they refused to let her come home until she resorted to drastic measures: A few days before summer break, she tagged along with some girls in her hall to get their belly buttons pierced. One not-so-accidental crop top later, Avery was matriculated at MHS for sophomore year.
As Ave’s parents start grilling her about SAT prep, Ashley’s phone chimes with a text, and she snatches it off the table.
Kevin Rice, Avery mouths at me. That would be Ashley’s latest conquest, who graduated MHS last year but eschewed college in favor of landing a record deal with his screamo band. I forget the name. It’s like Burgermaggot, or Juicewater, or some other two-word gibberish that sounds like you’re having a stroke when you say it.
Ashley beams as she reads the text message. You can practically hear the cartoon bluebirds chirping around her head. He wears eyeliner, for God’s sake.
“Light of my life. Fire of my loins,” I say quietly, and watch Avery snort gratifyingly into her salmon. Professor Parker stif les a laugh, but Ashley sees his eyes are squinty and smiling.
“Dad, you’re being annoying.”
He straightens himself out.
“It’s not even him anyway,” says Ashley, then a little quieter: “You assholes.”
“Language, Ashley Nicole,” Mrs. Parker says on autopilot. “Buttholes,” she says, then gets up and storms to her room.
If Kevin’s out, that means she has someone else in rotation. Ashley, as everyone at MHS knows, has a pattern. She goes out with a different guy every other week, and every time it ends, it’s The Most Dramatic Thing That’s Ever Happened. She winds up in the girls’ bathroom crying, smoking a wrinkled Virginia Slim she stole from her mom’s purse, then covering it up by spraying enough Gap Dream to choke livestock. Ave once went in right after her, and she almost had an asthma attack.
Ashley, Avery says, then swears to Never Love Again (she’s one of those every-first-letter-capitalized kinds of feelings-havers) and Focus on School and Cheerleading and How Hashtag-Blessed She Is until some other boy who has a car asks her if she wants to “chill.” Then they make out in the back row of The Even Faster & Even Furiouser and she comes home with her shirt on inside out, In Love Again.
After Avery and I help clear the table, we go to her room so she can “tutor me in math,” otherwise known as “read Rookie and play F-Marry-Kill while drinking seven hundred Diet Cokes from the mini-fridge.”
As we pass Ashley’s closed door, we hear a pealing laugh. Even her laugh is perfect.
“Who’s the new dude?” I ask.
“I have no idea, Scarlett,” Ave informs me in the sweetly patient tone she always uses when I’m looking for Ashley intel, like how you might talk to a three-year-old. “I’m not on whatever review board she presents her biweekly meat to.”
“You know who your sister reminds me of?”
Ave nods, waiting.
“Patience. Hot, popular valedictorian. Secretly a three-thousand-year-old demon bent on world destruction.”
That’s one of the things I liked most about the Lycanthrope universe: Everyone who is beloved here, you can bet they’re evil there. That works in reverse too. John took trope-y archetypes and turned them upside down; nobody’s ever what you’d expect them to be.
Ave humors me. “What happens to her?”
“She gets beheaded by a giant pair of ancient scissors.”
“Yeah, they’re the only thing that can—just forget it, okay?”
As close as Ave and I are in some ways, there’s a layer of our friendship way underneath where we split apart. She lives inside rules, angles she can draw with a protractor or determine with her graphing calculator. Sometimes I miss having a best friend who totally gets me.