Real High School Sweethearts Pen YA Love Story

High school crushes have led to some of our most awkward, most embarrassing moments. Authors Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison know that all too well. These real-life high school sweethearts may not have been together forever and lived happily ever after (as so often we think), but they did start a lifelong friendship. And now, that teenage romance has inspired Ellen and Ivison to co-write the laugh-out-loud, totally relatable new YA novel A Totally Awkward Love Story — based on their own high school romance. And in case you're still cringing at your own youthful crushes, Bustle teamed up with Penguin Random House to give you an exclusive excerpt so you can see that you're not alone.

Ivison writes the sections dedicated to her stand-in Hannah. High school senior Hannah is dead-set on finding the love of her life and losing her virginity before she leaves for college. So she feels like all of her plans may be coming true when she meets a cute, funny stranger in the master bathroom of a house party. The only problem? She didn't catch his name and now she only knows him as Toilet Bowl Cinderella. That Toilet Bowl Cinderella is Sam, written by Ellen, who is also concerned that he's going to start college a virgin. He, too, is mesmerized by Hannah, who he knows as just a funny stranger he met at that party.

As we all remember when we have these crushes, things don't exactly go according to how they imagined it. There's raunchy mishaps, total madcap hilarity, and, yes, even some romance. Basically the book will transport you back to your awkward teenage years.

A Totally Awkward Love Story by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison, $10, Amazon

Before you check out the excerpt below, take a look at Ellen and Ivison, then and now, from high school to today and be reminded of how far we've all come. (But of course, we're all still super awkward.)

I know, I know, let's get to the excerpt!:


By midnight, the party had livened up considerably. By one a.m. it was absolutely jammed. You couldn’t move for people dancing and shouting and trying to get off with each other. Me, Robin and Chris were out in the yard, smoking a spliff with Robin’s friend Ben.

Ben is only a few months older than us but he DJ’s in nightclubs, which automatically makes him around sixty percent cooler. Robin pretty much worships the ground he walks on, but me and Chris aren’t totally sure about him. He’s all right, but he sometimes wears a fedora.

“Decent party, isn’t it?” said Ben, gesturing around the crowded garden as some guy nearly broke his neck leaping off the trampoline.

We all nodded in stoned agreement.

“It’s got nothing on The Greatest House Party of All Time, though,” said Robin.

Me and Chris nodded our agreement again.

“When was that?” asked Ben.

“Two summers ago,” I said. “There was a swimming pool in the yard. Chris let Rosie Moss wax his legs and—”

“And I had a threesome, obviously,” Robin interrupted.

Me and Chris groaned.

“You did not have a fucking threesome, Robin.”

Ben looked impressed. “Did you?”

Robin nodded smugly.

“No he didn’t,” said Chris. “He was getting a blow job from Sophie Kendry in one of the bedrooms and some girl interrupted them halfway through to try to find some rolling papers.”

“Exactly,” said Robin. “I was in a room with two girls and there were sexual things going on. That’s a threesome.”

“It is not,” I fired back. “It’s a twosome with someone looking for rolling papers in the corner. Everyone in the room has to be directly involved in the sexual goings-on for it to qualify as a threesome.”

Robin wasn’t backing down. “It was a sexual encounter that featured me and two girls. You do the math.”

“Right,” said Chris, waving his empty wine glass at Robin. “So when my mum burst in on me screwing Laura that time, that was a threesome with my mum, was it?”

“It depends how long she stayed in the room,” said Robin diplomatically. “If she just popped her head in the door and then left immediately, then no—it’s just an embarrassing interruption of a twosome. However, if she stayed in the room for thirty seconds, rifling through your sock drawer while you were fucking, then yes, I’m afraid you were part of an incestuous three-way.”

“You’re a jackass.”

“A jackass who’s had a threesome.”

I handed Chris my beer and stood up. “I’ll leave this debate in your hands. I’m going to take a piss.”

I wound my way through the yard, dodging the bodies flying off the trampoline, and wandered upstairs. The bathroom was locked, so I waited outside. The hallway was lined with black-and-white, professional-looking photos of a middle-aged couple (the owners of the house, I presumed), smiling with their arms around each other. I couldn’t imagine myself being that comfortable with another person.

I thought I heard a female voice from inside the bathroom. I figured I’d be waiting a while—girls always take forever when they’re in the bathroom together.

But when the door finally opened there was only one girl standing there—a pretty blond girl with a slightly panicked look on her face.

“I wasn’t throwing up,” she said.


I can’t believe I said that.

He stood there smiling at me for a second and then said, “Yeah, me neither.”

We both laughed, and I felt a surge of relief as I decided he probably hadn’t been spying through the keyhole at me pressing Stella’s mum’s Tresemme against my cha-cha.

“Good,” I said. “Neither of us has vomited at this party.”

“Yet,” he said, raising his finger and putting on a mock-stern face. “Neither of us has vomited at this party yet. There’s still plenty of time left. Don’t write us both off so easily.”

We laughed again. You don’t usually laugh two good authentic laughs within a few seconds of meeting someone. I looked at him closely. I had definitely never seen him before. Not at a party, not at school, not on Facebook. Not anywhere.

He was tall, really tall, in fact. He looked as though he hadn’t quite grown into his height. As if he was a bit apologetic about people having to look up to speak to him. He put his hands in his pockets and slouched to try to minimize the issue. He had brown curly hair that fell in front of his brown eyes. I noticed his Vans were really battered and had been bound together with gaffer tape. There was something gentle about him. He looked kind. And cute. Really cute. In a scruffy, cool sort of way.

He nodded toward the bathroom and said, “Well, I guess I should . . . you know.”

I jumped out of the doorway. “Oh yeah, sorry. Of course.”

He smiled at me shyly, then looked down and ruffled his hair. I didn’t want that to be it—I wanted to keep talking to him.

“Watch out . . . it’s quite . . . intense in there,” I said, because it was the only thing I could think of to say.

He stepped inside the bathroom and held the door open as he looked around. “Oh my god. Yeah. Seriously. It’s like a James Bond villain’s toilet.”

He was right. The entire room was painted dark purple, with little flecks of gold dotted here and there, and there was a massive mural of a stag on one of the walls. Stella’s mum got this woman in to paint it specially. The shower in the corner had no curtain or wall around it. You just showered in the room.

“It’s called a wet room,” I said, and blushed because the word “wet” is rude when you say it within five feet of a boy.

“It’s a bit like standing inside a blueberry,” he added.

“Yeah. It’s purple, though, not blue, so it’s more like standing inside a Welch’s bottle.”

“I love grape juice.” He said it like he’d just remembered that grape juice existed.

“Me too,” I said. “Hot grape juice’s even better.”

“Yes!” His eyes widened like he was having a mini-epiphany. “With cloves and cinnamon! Hot spiced grape juice is amazing. I can’t believe I’ve met someone who knows about hot grape juice.”

We grinned at each other, and I felt that warm, tingly feeling you get when you find something in common with someone you like.

Suddenly, there was a roar of laughter and commotion from the backyard. The boy walked over to the bathroom window and, without thinking, I followed him inside, letting the door click shut behind me. I was alone in a wet room with a boy I’d just met. Ordinarily, this kind of situation would have required at least two weeks’ preparation with Stella, Tilly and Grace, planning out exactly what I should wear, what I should say, how I should act. We’d have probably even practiced. Without a dress rehearsal I was feeling slightly panicked.

We stood side by side at the window and peered down at the chaos in Stella’s garden. My arm was inches away from his. Two massive, troll-like boys were having a drinking competition, while everyone around them cheered and chanted.

“Oh my god,” I said, as we watched one of them pour a whole pint of beer into his mouth before putting the glass on his head, burping loudly and getting thumped on the back by all his friends. “That’s insane. I don’t think I could even down a pint of water.”

“It is quite impressive,” the boy agreed. “I’m not sure how that skill could ever come in handy in life, though—being able to drink a lot of liquid very quickly.”

“Maybe if you were drowning in a really small pond?” I suggested, and he laughed.

It was so weird. Even though he was hot and funny—my dream combination—I didn’t seem to need a dress rehearsal.

On the other side of the yard a boy and a girl were greeting each other with a kiss on the cheek. The girl pulled back after one kiss, but the boy leaned in for a second. There was an awkward moment where the boy tried to play off his mistake without the girl noticing.

“Oh, I hate that,” I said, pointing. “When you do one kiss and the other person tries to do two and then you both try to make out that it’s fine. It’s so awkward.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I always manage to get that wrong. I seriously think there should be a law that says once and for all how people should greet each other. We should just decide on one thing and stick to it. I’m sick of going in for a handshake and having the other person go for a hug, or doing two kisses when they’ve already pulled away after one. It makes life unnecessarily complicated.”

I nodded. “You know they do three kisses in Italy?”

He sighed and shook his head. “That’s just fucking with us.”

“And who’s got the time?” We both squinted down at the couple, who were now exchanging cheek kisses with each other’s friends. “I kind of miss the days when we didn’t have to pretend to be adults all the time. It seemed to change so quickly from us being kids and acting stupidly, to kissing each other on the cheek and having to know which clubs are cool.”

This was the type of statement that Stella would never have permitted me to say in front of a boy. She would have died if she knew I’d said something like that. But he didn’t look embarrassed or weirded out in the slightest. He was smiling back at me.

“Definitely,” he said. “I remember the exact moment it all changed. I went away on vacation the summer I was thirteen, and when I came back all my friends were kissing girls on the cheek. That was it—we were all suddenly grown-ups. I remember going to a party and everyone messing with me because I tried to high-five one of my girl friends.”

“I actually really like a high five,” I said. “It’s friendly and informal but there’s also not much risk of embarrassment. Unless your hand–eye coordination is really bad, and you slap the other person in the face or something.”

“OK, well, that settles it,” he said. “The new law will decree that everyone must greet each other with a high five. No hugs or handshakes or multiple cheek-kissing.”

“Sounds good.”

“Or,” he said, “if it’s a really important occasion—like two prime ministers meeting or something—a high ten is acceptable.”

“Agreed,” I said.

“Shall we high-ten on it? I think this qualifies as an important occasion.”


We slapped hands. In Stella’s bathroom. With the door shut. For just a couple of seconds we stood there, grinning at each other.

Then I heard footsteps outside in the corridor and someone knocked on the door.

“Hello? Excuse me? Is anyone in there?”

Grace’s voice. I love how Grace is polite even when she’s drunk.

“Yeah, Grace, it’s me,” I called back through the door.

“Oh my god! I’ve been looking everywhere for you! Is everything OK?” Then she affected a sort of preschool stage whisper. “It’s not your vaj again, is it? A bikini wax can’t be that bad. Do you want me to come in and check it out?”

A wave of utter mortification shot through me. The boy slapped his hand over his mouth to suppress a laugh before giving me a sideways this-is-unbelievably-awkward-isn’t-it? sort of smirk.

Before Grace could divulge any more highly personal, cha-cha-based information, I quickly yelled back, “No! Grace, please . . . I’m fine. I’ll be out in a sec. Are you all right?”

“Yeah, fine, but you need to come downstairs now. Freddie’s here! He’s asking where you are.”

Freddie. I’d totally forgotten about him. I’d been thinking about him all night, but he’d completely disappeared from my thoughts since I opened the bathroom door. At the mention of Freddie, the boy’s embarrassed grin dissolved and he just blinked and looked down at the floor. I tried to think of something to say, but nothing came.

“Come on, come on! It’s time for you and Freddie to get jiggy with it!” Grace finally lost all patience and rattled the door handle. It swung open and she gasped as if she’d found me with a hippopotamus.

“Erm . . . hello,” she said to the Toilet Boy.

“Hello,” replied the Toilet Boy.

“Sorry, I . . . thought it was locked. I didn’t realize there was . . . anyone else in here.” She said that to me rather than him. “It’s just that . . . someone’s downstairs waiting for you, that’s all.” Her eyes were bulging like a lunatic.

“OK,” I said slowly. “Cool.” I turned to the Toilet Boy. “Sorry, I’m supposed to . . . I said I’d . . .” No real sentences were forming, so I left it at, “I’d better go.”

He nodded and put his hands back in his pockets. “Cool. See you.”

As we marched down the corridor, leaving Toilet Boy in the bathroom behind us, Grace reached down and held my hand. “Oh my god. I am so sorry,” she hissed. “Who is he?”


Freddie. Of course there was a Freddie. There’s always a fucking Freddie.

In films and books you’re allowed to meet pretty girls in bathrooms without any Freddies popping up to ruin it, but in real life, you always get Freddied. Or, at least, I do.

She—the Grape Girl—just muttered something about having to go, and then walked straight out the door. I didn’t even get the chance to introduce myself—Samuel or otherwise.

I listened to her friend whisper excitedly to her as they disappeared down the hallway. I just stood there, staring at that stupid fucking stag painting on the wall, and wondering what had just happened.

Nothing had happened, really. Not in a tangible, something-I-could-brag-about-to-Robin-and-Chris kind of way. All their stories with girls involved actual physical activities—kisses, bra removals, hand jobs or threesomes that were technically not threesomes. They certainly didn’t involve high tens and discussions about hot spiced Welch’s.

All that had happened was that I’d had a conversation with a girl in a bathroom. Why did that feel like a big thing when, in Robin’s eyes, it wouldn’t even have warranted a text message?

Maybe because it was all so . . . easy. Talking to girls is usually a nightmare—trying to find the perfect balance between saying things they want to hear and saying things that don’t make you come across as an utter dumbass. There was none of that with the Grape Girl. It just . . . flowed.

My not-particularly-productive train of thought was finally interrupted by the door being thumped open by a dude in a gray hoodie swaying drunkenly in the doorway.

“Oh, sorry, man,” he mumbled, looking slightly confused to find me standing in the middle of the bathroom and staring intently at the wall. “Are you finished in here? Because we’re not allowed to piss in the rosebushes anymore, apparently.”

Get your own time-machine back to high school by reading A Totally Awkward Love story, out May 3, 2016.

Click here to buy.

Images: Courtesy of Penguin Random House