It's uncharted territory for the New York Times best-selling author behind The Lunar Chronicles. EW has your exclusive preview.

By David Canfield
April 27, 2020 at 11:00 AM EDT
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Connie Riggio

She's written sci-fi and graphic novels, fairy-tale retellings and superhero sagas. And with her next book, Marissa Meyer continues to wade into uncharted territory. In this case: the rom-com.

The New York Times best-selling author behind The Lunar Chronicles and the recently wrapped Renegades trilogy will next publish Instant Karma in the fall. The book, centered  on chronic overachiever Prudence Daniels, is several years in the making: For Meyer, whose romantic story lines are always core to her books, Instant Karma has been bubbling her mind for almost a decade. "Prudence's story is one that's been growing in the back of my mind since I was a teenager, and it was such a joy for me to write," Meyer tells EW. "There are many elements of this book that called to me — environmentalism and sea animal rehabilitation, the gray areas between good deeds and personal motives, and of course, a swoony romance."

Here's the official synopsis of the book: "Prudence Daniels is always quick to cast judgment on the lazy, rude, and arrogant residents of her coastal town. Her dreams of karmic justice are fulfilled when, after a night out with her friends, she wakes up with the sudden ability to cast instant karma on those around her. Pru giddily makes use of the power, punishing everyone from public vandals to mean gossips, but there is one person on whom her powers consistently backfire: Quint Erickson, her slacker of a lab partner. Quint is annoyingly cute and impressively noble, especially when it comes to his work with the rescue center for local sea animals. When Pru resigns herself to working at the rescue center for extra credit, she begins to uncover truths about baby otters, environmental upheaval, and romantic crossed signals―not necessarily in that order."

EW can exclusively reveal the cover for Instant Karma, designed by Rich Deas with art by Vera Brosgol, well as a first excerpt. "I'm a huge fan of Vera Brosgol's work and adore the personality and life she's brought to Prudence and Quint in this art," Meyer says. "I also love that it offers a glimpse of the fictional town of Fortuna Beach, which I hope will provide a fun and heartwarming escape for readers when the book comes out later this year!"

Check out the cover and excerpt below. Instant Karma publishes Nov. 3, and is available for pre-order.

Excerpt from Instant Karma, by Marissa Meyer

Quint Erickson is late.

Again.

I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m not surprised. I’d be more surprised if he was actually on time for once. But really? Today? Of all the days?

I’m simmering in my seat, my fingers drumming against the presentation board that’s folded up on our lab table. My attention is divided between watching the clock over the classroom door and silently repeating the words I’ve been memorizing all week.

Our beaches and coastal waters are home to some remarkable species. Fish and mammals and sea turtles and—

“Sharks,” says Maya Livingstone from the front of the room, “have been severely mistreated by Hollywood over the decades. They are not the monsters that humans have made them out to be!”

“Plus,” adds her lab partner, Ezra Kent, “who’s eating who here? I mean, did you guys know people actually eat shark?”

Maya glances at him, frowning. “Mostly just their fins. To be clear.”

“Right! They make soup out of them,” says Ezra. “Shark fin soup is, like, a super delicacy, because they’re, like, chewy and crunchy at the same time. Wrap your head around that! But I mean, I would totally try it.”

Some of our peers pretend to gag in disgust, even though it’s obvious Ezra is trying to get this exact reaction. Most people call him EZ, which I used to think might be a reference to numerous sexual escapades, but now I think it’s just because he has a reputation for being a jokester. Teachers at our school have learned not to seat him and Quint together.

Anyway,” says Maya, trying to bring their talk back on point. She goes on about the horrible methods by which hunters catch the sharks and cut off their fins, then release them back to the water. Without their fins, they sink to the bottom of the ocean and either suffocate or get eaten alive by other predators.

The whole class grimaces.

“And then they turn them into soup!” Ezra adds, just in case anyone missed that part before.

Another minute goes by. I bite down on the inside of my cheek, trying to calm the nerves twisting inside of me. The same frustrated rant begins to repeat in my head, for the eighth millionth time this year.

Quint. Erickson. Is. The. Worst.

I even reminded him yesterday. Remember, Quint, big presentation tomorrow. You’re bringing the report. You’re supposed to help me with the introduction. So, please, for the love of all things good and righteous in this world, this one time, don’t be late.

His response?

A shrug.

I’m a busy guy, Prudence. But I’ll do my best.

Right. Because he has so much to do before 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday.

I know I can handle the introduction on my own. I’ve been rehearsing without him, after all. But he’s supposed to bring our papers. The papers that the rest of the class can then stare at while we talk. The papers that will keep their bored, disinterested eyes off me.

The class starts to applaud half-heartedly and I snap back to attention. I bring my hands together for one, two claps, before dropping them to the table. Maya and Ezra gather up their presentation board. I glance at Jude, in the first row, and though I can only see the back of his head, I know his gaze hasn’t left Maya since she stood up, and won’t leave her until she’s sitting back down and he has no choice but to either look away or risk drawing attention to the staring. I love my brother dearly, but his crush on Maya Livingstone has been well-documented since the fifth grade, and—if I’m being honest—has started to seem a little bit hopeless.

He has my sympathy. He really does. She is Maya Livingstone after all. Pretty much the whole sophomore class has a crush on her. But I also know my brother. He will never have the guts to actually ask her out.

Hence, hopeless.

Poor guy.

But, back to poor me. Maya and Ezra are dropping into their seats and there’s still no sign of Quint. No sign of the papers that he was supposed to bring with him.

In an act of desperation, I fish my red lipstick from my bag and quickly apply a new layer, just in case it’s started to wear off since I put it on this morning. I don’t like to wear a lot of makeup, but a bold lipstick is an instant boost to my confidence. It’s my armor. My weapon.

You can do this, I tell myself. You don’t need Quint.

My heart has started to warble inside my chest. My breaths are quickening. I tuck the tube back into my bag and snatch up my index cards. I don’t think I’ll need them. I’ve practiced so many times, I talk about habitats and environmentalism in my sleep. But having them with me will help calm my jittery nerves.

At least, I think they will. I hope they will.

Until I have the sudden fear that my sweating palms might make the ink bleed, rendering it unreadable, and my nerves kick up into high gear again.

“That brings us to our last presentation of the year,” says Mr. Chavez, giving me a look that’s almost sympathetic. “Sorry, Prudence. We’ve delayed as long as we can. Maybe Quint will join us before you’ve finished.”

I force a smile. “No worries. I’d planned on doing most of the talking anyway.”

All the talking, actually. Not that it matters now.

I stand up slowly, tuck the notes into my pocket, and pick up the presentation board and the tote bag I brought full of bonus materials. My hands are shaking. I pause just long enough to fully exhale, to squeeze my eyes tight, to repeat the refrain that I always tell myself when I have to speak or perform in front of people.

It’s just ten minutes of your life, Prudence, and then it will be over and you can move on. Just ten minutes. You can do this.

Opening my eyes, I square my shoulders and make my way to the front of the class.

It’s not that I’m terrible at public speaking. I actually think I’m quite good at it, once I get started. I know how to project my voice so everyone can hear me. I always practice ad nauseum beforehand so I don’t trip over my words, and I work hard to be lively and entertaining.

It’s just the moments before I begin that are dreadful. I’m always convinced that something will go wrong. My mind will go blank and I’ll forget everything. I’ll start to sweat. I’ll turn bright red. I’ll pass out.

But once I get started I’m usually okay. I just have to start . . . and then, before I know it, the whole thing is over. And I’ll hear what I always hear: Wow, Prudence. You seem so natural up there. You’re such a great presenter. Nicely done.

Words to soothe my frantic soul.

At least, my teachers usually say stuff like that. The rest of my fellow students rarely bother to pay much attention.

Which is perfectly fine with me.

It takes me a few seconds to get set up, balancing the presentation board on the whiteboard tray and tucking my surprise bag of goodies off to the side. Then I pull over the small rolling table with the model I brought in before class started, still draped with a blue sheet.

With my index cards in one hand, I grab the stick that Mr. Chavez uses to point out details on his PowerPoint slides with the other.

I smile at my peers.

I try to catch Jude’s eye, but he’s doodling in his sketchbook and not open to incoming messages.

Gee whiz, Bro. Thanks for the support.

The rest of my peers stare back at me, practically comatose with boredom.

My stomach twists.

Just begin.

It’s only ten minutes.

You’re fine.

I take in a breath.

“I was going to have supplementary materials for you guys to look at,” I start. My voice pitches high and I pause to clear my throat before continuing, “So you could follow along with the presentation. But Quint was supposed to bring them and . . . he’s not here.” My teeth grind. I want to point out the unfairness of this. Everyone else’s partner showed up! But mine simply couldn’t be bothered.

“Oh well,” I continue, swiping the stick dramatically through the air. “Here we go anyway.”

I pace in front of the presentation board and exhale a clipped breath.

Just begin.

Beaming, I launch into my prepared introduction.

“One thing we’ve learned in regards to marine biology, thanks to the exceptional tutelage of Mr. Chavez. . .”—I pause to point enthusiastically at our teacher. He points back at me, with markedly less emotion—“is that we are so lucky here in Fortuna Beach to have access to such thriving marine life. Our beaches and coastal waters are home to many remarkable species. Fish and mammals and sea turtles and sharks—”

“Sharks are fish!” Maya yells out.

I tense and shoot her a glare. Nothing can throw off a well-rehearsed presentation like an unnecessary interruption.

Interruptions are the enemy.

I reaffix my smile. I’m tempted to start over, but I force myself to get back on track. Fish and mammals and sea turtles and sharks . . . “Straight down to the rich ecosystems of plankton and plant-life found in Orange Bay. These resources are a gift, and it is our responsibility not only to enjoy them, but to protect them. Which is why, for our semester project, Quint and I decided to focus our efforts on. . .”—I pause for dramatic effect—“marine conservation by way of ecotourism!”

With a flourish, I take hold of the blue fabric and whisk it off the display, revealing my handcrafted model of Main Street, Fortuna Beach’s tourism hotspot that runs parallel to the beach and boardwalk.

I can’t resist glancing around to see my classmates’ reactions. A few in the front rows are craning their heads to see the model, but a fair number are staring blankly out the sun-streaming windows or trying to discreetly text with their phones hidden beneath the lab tables.

Jude, at least, has looked up, knowing firsthand the long, tireless hours I’ve put into putting together this presentation. He catches my eye and gives a subtle yet encouraging thumbs-up.

Mr. Chavez, at least, looks intrigued as he studies the model.

I move behind the table so I can stand over the diorama and point out the most notable features. My adrenaline has kicked in and I no longer feel like I’m going to crumple into a ball of panic. Now I’m energized. “Our new central tourism hub will be the Orange Bay Resort and Spa, which will cater to high-end clientele. Visitors who appreciate luxury, yearn for adventure, but—gosh darn it!”—I cheekily snap my fingers—“also care about protecting our environment.” I tap the stick against the high-rise building. “Featuring recycled building materials and numerous water-conservation and energy-saving features, this resort will be the talk of the town. But our tourists don’t just come here to sleep. They come here to explore. Which is why Fortuna Beach needs new electric bike rental stations positioned at both ends of the boardwalk. . .”—I thunk the stick down on the little bike stands—“and electric boat rentals that jet off right from the resort’s private dock.” Thunk. “But what’s really going to draw in the clientele, what’s really going to set Fortuna Beach apart as a must-see destination for our eco-conscious travelers—”

The classroom door swings open, banging hard against the wall.

I jump.

“Sorry, Mr. C!” comes a voice that makes the hair prickle on the back of my neck. My surprise vanishes, replaced with barely-restrained rage.

My knuckles clench around the pointer as I slide my gaze toward Quint Erickson. He strolls between the tables and accepts a high five from Ezra, their usual daily greeting.

Part of me wishes he would have stopped by the front first and offered me a high five in greeting. It would have been a perfect opportunity to smack him with the stick.

I grit my teeth, scowling at the back of his head as he reaches our shared lab table in the back row and drops his backpack on top of it. The zipper is as loud as a jet engine. He starts to whistle—whistle—as he digs through the chaos of papers and books and pens and nine months of accumulated junk he keeps in that thing.

I wait. Someone in the class coughs. From the corner of my eye, I can see Jude beginning to fidget, uncomfortable on my behalf. Except, for some reason, I’m not uncomfortable. Normally an interruption as enormous as this would turn me into a flustered mess, but right now I’m too busy strangling the pointer stick and pretending it’s Quint’s neck instead. I could stand here all day, awkward silence or not, waiting for Quint to realize what a disruption he’s caused.

But, to my endless frustration, Quint seems blissfully unaware. Of my annoyance. Of stopping me right in the middle of our report. Of the awkward silence. I’m not sure he even knows what awkward means.

“Aha!” he announces victoriously, pulling a neon-green folder from the bag. Even from here I can see that one corner is bent. He opens it and starts taking out the reports. I can’t tell how many pages. Three or four, probably double-sided, because who wastes paper on a report about environmentalism?

At least, he’d better have made it double-sided.

Quint hands out the reports—stapled pages for our classmates, and a three-ring binder to Mr. Chavez. He doesn’t do the efficient take-one-and-pass-it-on method that I would have done, possibly because he’s the most inefficient human being on the planet. No, he walks up and down the aisles, handing them out one by one. Grinning. Being grinned at. He could be a politician, wooing the masses with that casual saunter, that laid-back smile. One of the girls even flutters her lashes at him as she takes the report, mumbling a flirtatious Thanks, Quint.

My knuckles have gone white around the stick. I imagine Quint stubbing his toe on one of the table legs. Slipping on spilled lab chemicals and twisting an ankle. Or no—even better—I imagine that in his tardiness and haste, he grabbed the wrong folder and has just passed out thirty-two copies of an impassioned love letter he wrote to our principal, Mrs. Jenkins. Even he couldn’t be immune to that sort of embarrassment, could he?

None of this happens, of course, but my nerves have calmed somewhat by the time Quint makes his way to the front of the classroom and finally deigns to look at me. The change is instant, the defensiveness that comes over him, the lifting of his chin, the darkening of his eyes as we prepare for battle. Something tells me he’s been bracing himself for this moment since he entered the room. No wonder he took his sweet time handing out the papers.

I try to smile, but it feels more like a snarl. “So glad you could join us. Partner.”

His jaw twitches. “Wouldn’t miss it. Your Majesty.” His eyes swoop toward the model and, for a moment, there’s a hint of surprise on his face. He might even be impressed.

As he well should be. Impressed, and also ashamed that this is the first time he’s seeing it.

“Nice model,” he mutters, taking his place on the opposite side of my miniature Main Street. “I see you’ve left out the rehabilitation center I suggested, but—”

“Maybe if I’d had more help, I could have catered to gratuitous requests.”

He lets out a low groan. “Caring for the animals who get injured as a result of tourism and consumerism isn’t—”

Mr. Chavez loudly coughs into his fist, interrupting the spat. He gives us both a weary look. “Two more days, guys. You have to suffer each other’s company literally for just two more days. Can we please get through this presentation without any bloodshed?”

“Of course, Mr. Chavez,” I say, in unison with Quint’s “Sorry, Mr. C.”

I glance at him. “Shall I continue, or do you have something to contribute?”

Quint feigns a bow, flourishing one hand in my direction. “The stage is yours,” he says, before adding under his breath, “Not that you’d share it anyway.”

A few of our classmates in the front row hear him and snicker. Oh yes, he’s hysterical. Next time, you try working with him and see how funny he is.

I bare my teeth again.

But when I turn back to the presentation board, my mind goes blank.

Where was I?

Oh no. Oh no.

This is it. My worst nightmare. I knew this would happen. I knew I would forget.

And I know it’s all Quint’s fault.

Panic floods my system as I pull out the notecards and fumble with them single-handed. Resort and spa . . . electric bike rentals . . . A few cards slip to the floor. My face is suddenly as hot as a stove top burner.

Quint stoops down and picks up the dropped cards. I grab them away from him, my heart racing. I can feel the class’s eyes boring into me.

I hate Quint. His complete disregard for anyone but himself. His refusal to ever show up on time. His inability to do anything useful.

“I could also say something?” says Quint.

“I’ve got this!” I snap back at him.

“All right, fine.” He lifts his hands protectively. “Just saying. This is my presentation, too, you know.”

Right. Because he did so much to help us prepare for it.

“What’s really going to set Fortuna Beach apart?” Jude whispers. I go still and look at him, as grateful for him as I am irritated with Quint. Jude flashes me another thumbs-up, and maybe our twin-telepathy is working today, because I’m sure I can hear his encouraging words. You’ve got this, Pru. Just relax.

My anxiety ebbs. For the millionth time I wonder why Mr. Chavez had to torture us with assigned lab partners when Jude and I would have been such an awesome team. Sophomore year would have been a walk in the park if it hadn’t been for marine biology and Quint Erickson.

**

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