First Look: Becky Albertalli's Kate in Waiting goes deep inside the world of high-stakes high school theater
The YA universe is still going strong — this spring will not only see the adult debut of YA superstar David Yoon, but Becky Albertalli's first solo project outside of the Simonverse. The Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda author will release Kate in Waiting on April 20, and EW is exclusively revealing the cover and the first look inside the book. The cover was created with artist Pepco Studio.
The novel follows the titular Kate as she navigates her high school's ecosystem: Attempting to break out among their competitive theater program, tolerate her grade's f-boys (yes, that stands for what you think it stands for), and work through the highly unfortunate fact that she and her best friend, Anderson, both have a head-over-heels crush on the new kid, Matt Olsson.
Below, read an excerpt from Scene 1.
Five minutes into junior year, and I’m done. No, seriously. Let’s burn this whole year to the ground.
For one thing, I can barely keep my eyes open. Which doesn’t bode well, seeing as I haven’t even entered the building yet. Or left the school parking lot. Or even unbuckled my seat belt.
And it’s Anderson’s fault.
Because Anderson Walker knows I need seven hours of sleep to not be a zombie demon on Xanax, and yet. And yet!
This mess of a boy let himself into my house, into my room, and turned on my lights at five-thirty a.m. Because he needed my input on his first-day-back cardigan choice. Navy blue with brown buttons, or navy with navy buttons. “Just give me your gut reaction,” he’d said.
My gut reaction was hurling a pillow at his face.
Now, almost three hours later—right on schedule—he’s spiraling again in the parking lot.
“You’re sure the navy’s okay?”
"Andy. It’s fine."
“More than fine. You look perfect.”
And he does. He always does. Anderson’s honestly too cute for this earth. Smooth brown skin, dimples, and a short, tapered Afro, not to mention big brown eyes behind plastic-framed glasses. And he’s got that nautical schoolboy aesthetic down to a science: crisp button-downs and cardigans and rolled-up pants.
He rubs his cheeks. “I just don’t want to look like trash. It’s the first day of—”
But he’s drowned out by trap music blasting out of a Jeep.
Make way for the f--kboys.
Unfortunately, Roswell Hill High School is f--kboy ground zero. Mostly the suburban athletic subtype. F--kboius jockus. No joke. Just stand in the hallway and put your arm out for two seconds, and you’ll hit a fuckboy, right in his mesh athletic shorts. They’re everywhere, armies of them, all in RHHS team gear. So prolific we had to give them a not-so-secret code name. F-boys. Which doesn’t exactly obscure the meaning, but at least it keeps Brandie’s innocent ears from exploding.
I glare at the Jeep through Anderson’s passenger window. The driver keeps cupping his hands around his mouth, megaphone- style, to holler at groups of girls who walk by. The f-boy mating call. But his car door’s flung wide open and is therefore blocking my door.
The sheer audacity of f-boys.
“Kate.” Anderson pokes me with his keys, but I snatch them. I love his Funko Rapunzel keychain so much, it almost makes me want to learn to drive. Almost.
Our phones buzz simultaneously. Text from Raina or Brandie, no doubt.
Andy glances at his screen. “Come on, they’re already down there.”
Okay, that gets me moving. We’ve seen Raina a few times since camp ended, but Brandie left for Mexico the day before we got back. Which means it’s been over six weeks since the full squad’s been together.
Anderson grabs my hand to help me over the gear shift, and then we cut through the parking lot, bypassing the front entrance entirely. Instead, we head for the side door, which has direct access to the theater hall. Straight to Ms. Zhao’s room, where all the usual suspects have gathered.
Honestly, we theater kids are as instantly recognizable as f-boys. Though it’s not so much about the clothes in our case.
It’s more like an aura. My brother said once that theater kids walk around like we’re each under our own tiny spotlight.
Pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment.
It’s true, though. Like, there’s none of that forced nonchalance people have about the first day of school. Instead, we have Margaret Daskin and Emma McLeod near the accessibility elevator, butchering Newsies, and Lindsay Ward gasping into her phone, and Colin Nakamura using Pierra Embry’s head as a drum. And of course, Lana Bennett’s delivering an urgent lecture to Kelly Matthews, who I can only assume made the mistake of referring to the school musical as a play. There is literally nothing Lana Bennett loves more than explaining the difference between musicals and plays to people who . . . clearly know the difference between musicals and plays.
Brandie and Raina are relatively chill, though, just leaning against the back wall, reading their phones. I think it’s generally understood that, out of our squad, they’re the ones who mostly have their lives together. I used to go back and forth in my head about which one of them was the mom friend, but the truth is, they’re both the mom friend. They’re just the mom friend in different ways. Raina’s the bossy mom who makes everyone stay healthy and hydrated and on top of their schoolwork. Brandie’s the soft mom who’ll let you cry all over her cardigan when your crush starts dating an f-girl from the volleyball team.
Today they’re so distracted, we’re practically nose-to-nose before they notice us.
“Boo,” I say.
They both look up with a start, and Raina’s eyes go straight to Anderson’s keys in my hand. “Kate, did you drive?”
I laugh, tossing the keys back to Andy. “Yeah, no.”
“Didn’t you say you were going to—”
“Yup. And I will.”
Raina narrows her eyes.
“I will! Really soon.”
I mean, technically, I could take the driver’s test tomorrow—I’ve had my permit for almost a year and a half. But I haven’t taken the plunge. And I’m not exactly dying to, either. At the end of the day, I’m really a passenger seat kind of person.
Brandie hugs me. “Your hair looks so cute!”
So maybe Anderson’s five-thirty wakeup call paid off. Normally, my hair’s a notorious mess. It’s that halfway point between blond and brown, and left to its own devices, it’s almost recklessly wavy. But right now, it’s what Anderson calls white-girl-on-You-Tube wavy. I do think it’s worth the effort every now and then, given that I’m a person whose overall attractiveness is highly hair-correlated. But now I feel like I’m broadcasting to the whole world how hard I’m trying.
“How was Mexico?” I brush the ruffled sleeve of Brandie’s dress. “I love this.”
She smiles. “It was great. Really hot, though. How was camp?”
“I mean, none of our campers died.”
“Well done,” Raina says.
“And.” I press my hand to my heart. “Matt knows our names.”
“Cokehead Matt?” Raina grins.
“Okay, that’s blasphemy.” I scrunch my nose at her. “I’m serious, he’s like an old-timey dreamboat—”
“Which they’d already know if someone was capable of taking group selfies without decapitating people.”
“Um, it’s not my fault Matt’s six feet tall,” I say. “Did I mention he’s six feet tall?”
“Literally ten times,” says Raina.
Anderson turns to Brandie and Raina. “Did I tell you he knew how to pronounce Aeschylus? On the first try?”
“Sounds like boyfriend material,” says Brandie.
“God yes,” says Anderson. “Don’t you want to just, like . . . wear his letterman jacket and let him pin you—”
“—to a bed?” Raina asks.
Anderson bites back a smile, and then shakes his head quickly. “Anyway.” His eyes flick back to Ms. Zhao’s door. “No
“Nothing,” Raina says. “Not even a clue. Harold thinks it’s going to be A Chorus Line.”
Anderson whirls to face her head-on. “Why?”
“Gut feeling?” Raina shrugs. “Ginger intuition?”
“Is ginger intuition a thing?”
“I mean, according to Harold.”
Harold MacCallum: world-class jellybean. Sunshine in boy form. Raina’s boyfriend. They met about a year ago in this online trans support group Raina moderates. Harold’s cis, but his twin sibling is nonbinary, and he actually lives pretty close to us. He’s super shy, and kind of wonderfully awkward. Raina gets this smile in her voice whenever she talks about him.
“Okay, well I have a theory,” Anderson says. “It’s a medieval year.”
“Hear me out. Last year was West Side Story. Freshman year was Into the Woods. And they did Bye Bye Birdie when we were in eighth grade.”
“I don’t get it,” says Brandie.
“I’m just saying. The PTA is super cheap, right? So we’re just cycling through two sets of costumes. We’ve got the fifties costumes and the medieval costumes, and they alternate them so no one catches on. Just watch. Any minute, Zhao’s coming out with the sign-up sheet.” Andy’s enjoying this now—drawing out the info, dimples activating. “And you’ll see. It’s a medieval year. Mark my words. Cinderella, Camelot—”
“Or it’s going to be A Chorus Line,” I say, “and you’re going to feel like such a dumbass.”
“Yeah, but.” He lifts a finger. “A Chorus Line in medieval clothes. Follow the money, Garfield. Follow the money.”
Raina and I snort at the exact same moment. But before either of us can make the requisite wiseass remark, Ms. Zhao’s door creaks open.
And the whole corridor goes silent.
Anderson grabs my hand, and my heart’s in my throat.
Which makes zero sense, since there’s no suspense here. It’s the same every year. Ms. Zhao announces the fall musical on the first day of school. Then I spend a week or two freaking out for no reason, playing the soundtrack on repeat, letting my daydreams run wild. It’s that same nonsensical thought every time. Maybe this is the year. Maybe this is when the switch flips. But the truth is, I always know exactly where I’ll find myself when the cast list gets posted.
Bottom of the page. Nameless part in the ensemble. I’m an absolute legend in the category of Nameless Parts in the Ensemble.
But somehow this moment gets me every time. The way everyone freezes when Ms. Zhao steps out of the theater room. The way she keeps her face impassive and doesn’t make eye contact with anyone until the signup sheet’s officially on the door. At least that’s how it’s supposed to go.
But when the door flings open at last, it isn’t Ms. Zhao there at all.
Excerpted from Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli, on sale April 20, 2021. Copyright © 2021 Becky Albertalli. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins Children’s Books.
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