Michelle Obama's Becoming editor launched her own imprint — here's a first look at the spring lead title
Molly Stern's Zando Projects is barely a year old and already one of the buzziest companies in publishing. The longtime editor, who is famous for bringing books like Becoming, Gone Girl, and Ready Player One to the masses, landed big names from across the industry and is readying the company's first set of high-profile releases. One of the novels set to hit shelves this spring comes from Steve Almond — better known to his legions of fans as Cheryl Strayed's Dear Sugars host — and EW has the very first look at the tome.
All the Secrets of the World, which is Almond's debut novel (he's gained notoriety from short stories and essays), opens in 1981 Sacramento, where 13-year-olds Lorena and Jenny are preparing for a science fair. The two girls are from starkly different backgrounds yet form an unlikely bond, and soon their friendship causes heavy ripple effects, implicating their families in their dark secrets as Lorena comes into contact with everything from a religious cult to the criminal justice system.
EW is exclusively revealing the book's cover and sharing a first excerpt. Here, in a pivotal scene, we meet Jenny, Lorena, and Lorena's rough-around-the-edges brother Tony. All the Secrets of the World will publish April 19, 2022.
Excerpt from All the Secrets of the World, by Steve Almond
A few days after the Fourth, able to stand it no longer, Lorena called the Stallworths. She got Rosemary, who promised to have Jenny call her back. Lorena knew this would never happen, but the next weekend—under orders, no doubt—Jenny did call. There was her voice, sort of friendly, sort of bored, her inflection soaring at the end of every sentence. Maybe Lo wanted to come over for, like, a swim or whatever. They would have the place to themselves. Lo stared through the window at the blistered paint of the dumpster, the sulfurous spatters of fireworks on the pavement. "Cool," she said.
Tony emerged from the room they had shared, which he had commandeered.
"Who the f--k is that?"
Lo covered the receiver. "None of your business." "I need the phone."
"Who's that?" Jenny said.
"Nobody," Lo said. "My brother."
"The Latin King? I thought he was in the navy."
"He's on leave."
"Does he still look like a chihuahua?" Jenny said.
Tony, now aware he was being talked about, hollered, "Off the phone. Now." "Oooh, an angry chihuahua! I'd spank his little butt if he yapped at me like that." "I'd like to see that," Lorena whispered, curling away from Tony. "Maybe I'll bring him."
Jenny let out a squeal. "I totally dare you."
The line went dead and Lorena turned to find Tony grinning, his thumb on the hook switch. "I warned you."
Lorena went into the bathroom to comb out her hair and put on some makeup but Tony planted himself in the doorframe. "Don't you got work today? Ma doesn't want you skipping work."
"It's my day off."
"Look at you. Putting on your whore paint. You got some kind of hot date? I'm serious, gordita. Where you going?"
"I'm not fucking around."
"To a friend's."
"You don't know her."
"Bullshit. Is it that little Vargas slut. What's her name? Where's she live?" Tony wasn't going to let up until he got an answer. With a pride that was almost vengeance, Lorena murmured, "The Fabulous Forties."
"Bullshit," Tony said. "Seriously? You hanging with some richie rich now? Some guera?"
Lorena knew she was best to ignore Tony, let him work off his tedium. But she kept thinking about how excited Jenny would be to meet Tony, and how small he would seem in the realm of the Stallworths. "You can drive me over if you don't believe me."
"F--k that," he said.
But a few minutes later he was insisting on it. Tony drove the Mercury Bobcat he'd borrowed from one of his burnout friends. It had chrome hubs and a busted muffler that roared.
"Ma says you've been f--king up in school," Tony said.
"You're one to talk."
"Starting to get an attitude, too." Tony had a beer jammed between his legs. His right hand rested lightly atop the steering wheel, which was composed of welded chain links. "Don't f--king smirk."
"I'm not smirking."
"You grew some titties and lost a few pounds and you're big s--t now? A big-s--t ninth grader. Just because mom won't crack down on you don't mean I won't."
"Right," Lo said. "You're in the navy, so you get to be my dad now."
Tony slammed the brakes. Right in the middle of the Alhambra. "What did you just say to me?" He swung just to watch her flinch. "Look at me, gordita."
Tony swiped at his nose then reached down and pulled something out of his waistband and tossed it onto the seat next to her.
She glanced down at a small nicked pistol. "What the hell?"
"Don't back talk me, Lorena. I'll f--king end you."
Lo stared out the window. So Tony was doing coke again. Maybe he'd never stopped. "You're acting crazy," she said quietly. "You're gonna get busted again." Tony snorted. "That's registered. I own that s--t." He gunned the engine.
Lo had messed up. But asking Tony to drop her off on the corner would only infuriate him. He whistled when he caught sight of the mansion. "That's some Masterpiece Theater s--t right there."
Mr. Stallworth's Jeep gleamed in the driveway and Tony's eyes locked onto it.
"Thanks for the ride," she said.
He grabbed her arm. "Hold up. Don't just f--king jump out of the car." The car's idling felt out of place, lewd.
The front door opened and Jenny stepped onto the porch in a leopard print one-piece that rode up her slender hips. She looked down at the rumbling car and waved.
"Let go of me," Lo muttered to Tony.
"You're not going to introduce me to your little friend?"
He released her arm and snatched up the gun and tucked it into his waistband.
Then he got out of the car and waved at Jenny, who was still squinting. "She's a pretty little flaca, ain't she?"
Lo got out of the car and walked around to where Tony was. "Please," she said again, and her voice was quavering.
"Okay. Calm down. I'm not going to mess with your rich b---h friend. She's a f--king little kid. No tits and braces on her teeth. S--t." Tony snapped into his military posture and swung his boots together so they smacked. He had tucked in his shirt and now offered a crisp salute to Jenny, who had ventured down the stairs to investigate. She stood canted against the railing, her legs radiant with tanning oil.
"Hey," she sang out to Lo.
"Hey," Lo said, then, to Tony, "Thanks again." "Are you Lo's brother?" Jenny called out.
"You're in the navy?"
"Lo told me about you."
"Don't believe everything you hear." He glanced at Lorena. "You going to introduce us?"
"This is my brother, Tony."
Jenny descended to the sidewalk. She was trying to figure out if she should shake hands with Tony, what it would mean if she touched him. He wasn't tall or handsome or rich or suave. He was nineteen, though.
"You're, like, launching missiles from a submarine." "Not quite. Advanced munitions."
"How old are you?" Jenny said.
"How old are you?"
"Old enough." She folded her arms across her chest. "And you're back on leave or whatever."
"What are you doing hanging around with my sister?" Tony said.
Jenny smiled carefully to avoid showing her braces. "Did you go to Sac High? Maybe you knew my brother, Glen?"
Tony shook his head like it didn't really matter. "You shouldn't be walking around in a bathing suit."
"You got neighbors. They might talk."
"It's summer," Jenny said. "We have a pool."
All three of them were sweating. Lo had moved to the steps. She feared Tony would walk up on Jenny, the way he did with the younger girls in their building. But the neighborhood held him in check, the size of the homes, the grand trees and lawns shimmering with money. Next door, some old lady was watering her roses.
"You're welcome to come inside if you want to cool off," Jenny said.
Tony took a few seconds to mull this offer over. Then he glanced at Mr. Stallworth's Jeep, the rear door of which was ajar. He strolled over and leaned against it in a way that showed the faint outline of his pistol. "Nice ride."
"That's my dad's."
"I thought he was at work," Lo said.
"What do you care?" Jenny said. She was playing to Tony now.
"He wouldn't want some stranger touching his car," Lo said softly.
Tony laughed. "Some stranger. Lorena. Always the good girl." He ran his finger along the roll bar, like the supermodel in the TV commercial, and recited taglines in a mocking falsetto: Going off-road turns me on. Why drive when you can Jeep? Danger is my compass.
Jenny laughed like it wasn't that funny but whatever.
The old lady from next door was watching them now, her eyes shifting apprehensively from Tony to the exhaust belching from the Bobcat's tail pipe.
"What's that in your belt?" Jenny said.
"Listen to that mouth. What do you know about bulges?"
"More than you think."
"That so?" Tony let his eyes roam over her body and Jenny reddened. An awkward desire jellied the air between them—sudden, racking, almost hostile.
Then the front door swung open and Mr. Stallworth appeared at the top of the stairs. An oversized backpack hung from one thick arm. He looked down the stairs at his daughter, half naked, then spotted Lo on the curb and his face took on an agitation that made her take a step backwards. She had come over hoping to see him. In a way, his reaction confirmed this; he had been waiting for her, too.
"Get some clothes on," he snapped at Jenny.
Mr. Stallworth couldn't see Tony, who was off to his left in the driveway. But Tony saw him and sauntered back toward his car.
Mr. Stallworth's eyes shifted from his daughter to Lo to the rattling car parked in front of his house. Then he spotted the young man—a Mexican, he assumed, by the looks of him, with sweat glazing his forehead—and hurried down the steps.
"Have fun with your little guera," Tony muttered to Lo. He swung into the driver's seat and slammed the door and gunned the engine.
Mr. Stallworth arrived at the bottom of the stairs just as Tony peeled away from the curb. He was darker than the last time Lorena had seen him. Golden hairs shone on his forearms and the backs of his hands. "Who the hell was that?"
"Lo's brother," Jenny chirped. "He's in the navy."
Mr. Stallworth wheeled around and ordered his daughter inside, then trained his gaze on the skid marks Tony had left on the street. "What kind of person drives like that? Is he training to be a getaway driver?"
Lo stared miserably at the chipped remnants of her first and only pedicure. "He was just dropping me off. I'm sorry."
Mr. Stallworth stalked toward his Jeep, then turned and waited for Lo to look him in the eye. She could feel the heat of his scorn, his disappointment. "Tell your brother to show some respect."