In tons of media, senior year of high school is often marked by things like senioritis, class pranks, and finding a date to the prom. But in reality, the pressure can actually be at its absolute highest during this time, when college applications are looming and teens are preparing to be thrust into "the real world." That academic anxiety is exactly what YA author Laura Silverman explores in her upcoming YA novel, You Asked For Perfect, due to hit shelves in March 2019. Bustle has the cover reveal and an exclusive excerpt from the book below!
You Asked For Perfect follows senior Ariel Stone, who is by all accounts the perfect college applicant: first chair violin, dedicated community volunteer, and expected valedictorian. But he works really hard to make his life look effortless — and a failed Calculus quiz is definitely not part of that plan. Figuring a few all-nighters will preserve his class rank, Ariel throws himself into studying. Except Ariel’s grade continues to slide. Reluctantly, he gets a tutor. Amir and Ariel have never gotten along, but Amir excels in Calculus, and Ariel is out of options. Ariel may not like Calc, but he might like Amir. Except adding a new relationship to his long list of commitments may just push him past his limit.
It sounds like Silverman will be continuing the trend she started with her 2017 debut, Girl Out Of Water, combining an unflinching look at the many different hardships of teen life, with a dash of romance and #relatable moments that will keep you turning the pages. And as if you weren't already sold on that synopsis, check out the pitch-perfect cover below!
Silverman's book won't be on shelves for a few more months, but you can pre-order it now. And in the meantime, Bustle's got the entire first chapter of You Asked For Perfect below, so you can start falling in love with these characters ASAP.
My feet pound the ground. Sweat drips down my face. The sun, which was creeping out of darkness when I left home, now lounges low in the sky. Four miles down. One to go. I ease my pace to a comfortable jog and switch from my Crime and Punishment audiobook to The Who.
The neighborhood yawns awake, people walking dogs and piling their kids into cars. I wave, and they wave back. When I make it to my driveway, Mom’s car is gone. She’s a journalist for the Atlanta Standard and was muttering something about a two-faced politician as she rushed to get ready this morning.
Still breathing hard, I massage a stitch in my side and glance at my phone. Nice. A minute faster than average.
I head into the house and find Dad futzing around in the kitchen. My sister is already at elementary school, so we’re the only ones home. He spins to face me. “Morning, Ariel!”
He’s dressed for work, gray slacks and a lavender button-up. His hair, dark and curly like mine, probably should’ve been cut weeks ago. “Eggs? Oatmeal? Smoothie?”
“Smoothie would be awesome,” I say. “Shower. Be back down in a minute.”
“You can take five minutes if you want!” he shouts after me as I climb the stairs two at a time. In my bathroom, I strip then step into the shower. Icy water blasts me before it has a chance to warm. My muscles protest the cold. “Crap, stretches,” I mutter.
I press both palms against the shower wall and stagger my legs, bending my right knee and extending my left calf. The water warms up and cascades over me. I bow my head, taking a few long breaths and stilling for a moment. But then it’s time to switch legs, then time for my quads. I wash quickly after.
A few minutes later, I’m back in the kitchen, a bit uncomfortable in damp jeans, holding my Fleetwood Mac T-shirt so it doesn’t get wet too.
“New look for school?” Dad asks. He slides a berry smoothie across the counter. He’s drinking a kale one. Nasty.
“Yeah, all the cool kids are going shirtless these days,” I say, climbing onto the stool at the breakfast bar. Water from my damp hair drips down my neck. My calculus textbook is on the counter, notebook wedged between the pages. I open it with one hand while checking my phone with the other.
There’s a text from Sook, my best friend: Running five minutes late
I text back: No problem
And it isn’t a problem. She’s always late. I’d only be screwed if she got here on time.
I copy a problem down in my notebook. Usually I do well in math, but there’s a long summer between Calculus AB and BC, so it’s hard remembering old material.
“Any plans for the weekend?” Dad asks.
I register the question in the back of my head as I stare at my notebook. “Um, usual, I guess.”
“We have synagogue tomorrow. And your sister’s soccer game is Sunday. Should we make signs since it’s the first game of the year? Embarrass her a bit?”
My pencil inches down the page. Crap. What’s the next step again? There’s a quiz today. I thought I had this down last night. I glance back at the book, while grabbing my graphing calculator. I already did—
“Ariel, signs? What do you think?”
Dad stares at me like I came from an alien planet and not his own sperm. “You know,” he says, “I read an article that said too much studying is detrimental to learning.”
“I don’t study too much,” I say. “Besides, you were the one up at midnight working last night.”
“Yes, but I’m an adult, and my brain is already developed. Can I at least help you out with anything?”
“I’m good, Dad.”
Workaholics shouldn’t try to convince other people to work less. Dad is a civil rights attorney, and he’s been known to disappear until three in the morning to research a new case.
If he can stay up late, so can I. Besides, it’s just sleep. It’s not like I’m taking pills to stay up like some kids at school. That stuff is dangerous.
“Drink your smoothie,” Dad says.
“I am.” I glance at the glass. It’s full.
Dad raises an eyebrow.
I take a sip as my phone buzzes. An email from my safety school. Seems like a mass email, but better safe than sorry. I save it to my college applications folder, then tap my calendar to stare at the only date that really matters. November 1, less than two months from now, when my Harvard application is due.
I take a sip as my phone buzzes. An email from my safety school. Seems like a mass email, but better safe than sorry. I save it to my college applications folder, then tap my calendar to stare at the only date that really matters. November 1, less than two months from now, when my Harvard application is due."
My phone buzzes again.
Sook: I’m here
I slap my textbook closed and shove everything into my bag. “See you tonight,” I tell Dad, sliding off the stool.
“Ariel, smoothie. Please?”
Crap. Forgot. My stomach growls. I pick up the cup, push the straw aside, and chug the whole thing. “Ugh.” I squeeze my eyes shut. “Brain freeze.”
I’m heading out the front door when his voice calls out again. “Ariel. Shirt!”
I glance down at my bare chest. Oops.
“Coffee?” Sook asks, passing me a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts.
“You are”—I crack a giant yawn—“the best.”
“This is true.” She grins at me.
My best friend is beautiful, warm eyes and smooth skin. She’s chubby, her soft white shirt hugging her stomach, and her nails are coated in pink polish. She flips her hair over her shoulder and puts the car into drive.
I groan in comfort as I sink down into her leather bucket seats. Sook’s car costs more than the ones my parents drive combined, and I’m not complaining. She drives me to school every morning since there aren’t enough parking spots for all the students. I open CalcU, an app with practice problems and tutorials. My eyes run over the formulas.
“Test today?” Sook asks.
“Nah, calc quiz,” I say. “What about you?”
“I don’t think so?” She shrugs. “I left my planner at school, so I might be forgetting something.”
Sook and I have been best friends since sixth grade, when we were placed on the same advanced math track. Back then, she went by her full Korean name, Eun-Sook.
We were “precocious little kids” according to my dad (“bratty little shits” if you ask Sook). We bonded over our mutual drive to be the smartest kids in the class, but these days Sook cares more about her band, Dizzy Daisies, than her grades.
“Oh my god,” Sook says, turning up the volume. “You’ve got to listen to this song.”
A gentle acoustic intro builds up to a harder, defiant sound as the drums enter. I nod along. “Pretty good.”
“Pretty good? Try incredible. It’s a band called Carousels, and their lead singer Clarissa is a genius. And also basically the hottest person. Like, absurdly hot. I want to be her, and I want to be with her.”
I laugh. “Good luck with that. Where does she live? How old is she?”
“She’s a freshman at the University of Georgia, so only a couple of hours away. Hey, you never know.” She turns up the sound. “God, her voice is everything.”
“It is,” I agree. Clarissa’s voice is grit and fluidity all at once. I glance back at the CalcU app and pick a walkthrough problem.
“Maybe we could road trip to Athens, go see one of her shows,” Sook says.
I narrow my eyes. But wait, why would the equation…
“What do you think?” Sook asks.
“Yeah,” I say, eyes on my phone. “Maybe.”
Ten minutes later, I’m walking into class.
“Morning, Ariel,” Pari says, as I slide into my seat in the back row. She spins in her desk to talk to me, eyes bright. Her dark hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and she’s wearing leggings and an orchestra T-shirt.
Pari Shah is my sworn enemy. Okay, not really. We’re actually friends. But for years we’ve been competing for both first chair violin and the valedictorian spot. I won the chair, and it looks like I’ll also be valedictorian.
Pari Shah is my sworn enemy. Okay, not really. We’re actually friends. But for years we’ve been competing for both first chair violin and the valedictorian spot. I won the chair, and it looks like I’ll also be valedictorian."
At Etta Fields High School, becoming valedictorian is more complicated than perfect grades. We have weighted GPAs. We earn extra points for AP courses, a 5.0 instead of a 4.0 for an A. So the path to the top depends not only on the grades but also on signing up for the right classes.
I edged out ahead of Pari last year when I discovered I could sign up for online AP computer science. It was a monster of a class, but because my high school counts online course grades into our GPAs, it gave me the extra weight to outstrip Pari. I didn’t tell her about the class until the registration deadline passed. Vicious. But I’m sure she would’ve done the same. We both knew one of us would have to win eventually. I’m not going to apologize for being the one to come out on top.
“How’s it going?” she asks.
I nod. “Pretty good. You?”
“Good! Well, mostly. I forgot about the quiz until this morning.” She laughs. “I guess I have senioritis after all.”
“Hah, yeah,” I say. “It gets to all of us.”
But I eye her with skepticism. There’s this thing some AP kids do. We act like we don’t care, like those perfect grades appear without effort. We pretend to study only in the five minutes before class, and we shrug our shoulders when teachers hand back tests with As scrawled across the top.
But we also make sure to keep those tests flipped up on our desks, so everyone can see how smart we are and just how naturally it comes.
There’s this thing some AP kids do. We act like we don’t care, like those perfect grades appear without effort. We pretend to study only in the five minutes before class, and we shrug our shoulders when teachers hand back tests with As scrawled across the top."
In a way, it started in truth. I used to get good grades with minimal effort. And I bought into the hype, thought I was awesome. But then the AP classes stacked up. And as the work pressed down on me, I saw through my own bullshit. No one just gets As in all their classes. It’s a lie we were telling each other and ourselves.
Pari sneezes, a tiny sneeze. It’s kind of cute. I’ve always thought she was attractive: petite with warm brown skin and quick with a sly comment. But even though I’m attracted to guys and girls, I could never date Pari. She’s too similar to me. Too competitive. Too calculating. And I have zero interest in dating myself.
“Gesundheit,” I say.
She smiles. “Thanks.”
The bell rings. Our teacher Mr. Eller enters the room. Amir Naeem walks in right behind him. Our eyes connect for a second as he heads to the back row and slides into the desk next to mine. I was surprised he picked this spot on the first day of class, but it is the closest to the window.
I’ve known Amir forever. Our little sisters are best friends, so I’ve spent countless family dinners and holidays with him, but we’ve never clicked. When our families have dinner together, he sits in silence, scrolling on his phone. And he carries his camera everywhere, like the world will end if he doesn’t capture a shot of a scavenging bird in the courtyard. Also he only dates older guys. He probably thinks the ones in our grade aren’t cool enough for him.
It’s just hard to relate to someone who works so hard to be unrelatable.
My gaze flicks over his fitted jeans and plain white V-neck before focusing on my desk. It hasn’t escaped my notice that his once-gawky body has filled out with lean muscles.
I shake my head as the second bell rings. “Okay, everyone,” Mr. Eller says. “Phones and books away. Hope you studied!”
Quizzes pass down the aisles. One lands on my desk. “Twenty minutes,” Mr. Eller says.
I scan the page. Only ten problems. My shoulders tense. When it comes to keeping a perfect GPA, less isn’t more. Ten problems mean I can only get one wrong if I want an A.
I want an A.
My pencil wavers above the paper. I take a tight breath and glance around the room. Heads are bent, hands writing. It’s only a quiz…
How much are quizzes worth in this class? I close my eyes and try to visualize the syllabus. Ten percent? Fifteen? Twenty? I can’t remember. Someone coughs in the front of the room.
Okay, I studied. It’s fine.
I start working on the first problem, hesitating a bit at each step, double-checking every number. I’m forgetting something. Am I forgetting something? I rub my eyes. I should’ve slept more.
Pari leans back in her chair. My heart skips a beat. For a moment, I think she’s already finished, but she’s just stretching.
My pulse thuds in my ears. Light yet piercing like the Mozart piece we’re playing in orchestra. All around me, everyone scribbles on the page. Pari stretches again. In the seat next to her, her boyfriend, Isaac, flexes the stress ball he always has out during tests. Amir yawns and scratches his dark stubble.
My pulse thuds in my ears. Light yet piercing like the Mozart piece we’re playing in orchestra. All around me, everyone scribbles on the page. Pari stretches again. In the seat next to her, her boyfriend, Isaac, flexes the stress ball he always has out during tests. Amir yawns and scratches his dark stubble."
I can do this. I have to do this.
I crack my knuckles. I crack my neck.
Then I bring my pencil back to the page and pick up the pace. With each answer, I gain confidence. It was beginning-of-semester nerves, nothing more. I’ve got this. I’ve always got this.
I finish the quiz with time to spare, then lean back and exhale. My right hand shakes lightly. I breathe again. Relax. Less than a year to go. Almost there.
Mr. Eller calls, “Time. Pencils down.” I go to pass up my paper, but he turns on an ancient projector. “Switch quizzes with the person next to you.”
Next to me. The two girls on my right switch papers, which means I’m left with Amir. Of course I am.
“Ariel?” My name is smooth between his lips. The proper pronunciation with the hard Ar. Not like The Little Mermaid.
My foot shakes as we switch papers. I look down at his quiz. He uses a pen in math class. The confidence irritates me.
Mr. Eller slides the transparency sheet onto the projector. But the answers don’t look familiar. Is it the wrong slide?
Wait, no. I stare at Amir’s quiz. Every answer matches his neat handwriting.
His answers are right. But I don’t recognize most of the numbers. My pen slips in my damp hand. If his answers are right, and my answers don’t match his…
Amir looks up at me with an unreadable expression. Oh.
“Trade papers back when you’re ready,” Mr. Eller says. “We’ll go over any questions you have so you’re prepared for the test next week.”
Without looking at him, I shove Amir’s paper in his direction, then hold my hand there, waiting for mine. When I get my quiz back, I can’t help but look at the score. Only five out of ten correct. That math I can do. Fifty percent.
I am failing calculus.
Dunkin’ Donuts coffee swirls like acid in my stomach.
I can feel Amir looking at me. But if I look back, this grade becomes real. And it can’t be real because I can’t fail calculus. I can’t even get a C in calculus because I’ll lose the valedictorian spot. And worse, if Harvard defers my decision and puts my application in the regular admission pool, they’ll see my fall semester transcript. They’ll see a bad grade, my dropped GPA, and they’ll reject me.
I can feel Amir looking at me. But if I look back, this grade becomes real. And it can’t be real because I can’t fail calculus. I can’t even get a C in calculus because I’ll lose the valedictorian spot."
The bell rings. Everyone stands and collects their things.
“How’d you do?” Pari asks, turning toward me.
I swallow hard. If she finds out I failed, she’ll know she has a chance again at valedictorian. She’ll bear down, steal my spot. I’ve got to keep this quiet.
“Yeah, how’d you do?” Isaac asks. He’s wearing his football jersey for the game tonight. His white skin is tanned from summer practice.
Amir sits at his desk, messing around on his phone, but I can feel him listening. “I did well,” I lie. “Only missed one. Wasn’t paying much attention. You guys?”
Isaac shrugs. “Nice. Missed two, but I guess I’ll take it.”
“One hundred percent,” Pari says.
“Of course.” Isaac rolls his eyes. “Perfect Pari.”
She lightly punches him in the arm. “Shut up.”
Isaac winks at her, then turns back to me. “Coming, Ariel?”
“You guys go ahead,” I say.
They both leave, and then it’s only Amir and me.
He gathers his things and heads down the aisle. I shuffle behind him, keeping his pace with a few feet of distance. I wait until he turns out of the classroom before dropping off my quiz. Then I speed walk out to the hall in case Mr. Eller sees my grade and asks me to stay after class.
In the hallway, heart pounding, I look left and right, before spotting a glimpse of his medium-brown skin. Amir turns the corner, and I chase after him. I’ve got to ask him to keep this to himself, but if I do it in public, that kind of defeats the purpose. When I’m only steps behind him, I whisper-shout, “Amir!”
He turns, and I point to an empty classroom. “In here,” I say. He raises an eyebrow, and the word “please” escapes my mouth.
No one seems to notice as we slip into the room. I shut the door behind us. For a moment, I’m overwhelmed by his scent. Spearmint and basil. I take a short breath, pulse jumping.
“Ariel?” he asks. “Why are we in an empty classroom?”
“That’s a very good question,” I say.
With the lights off and blinds closed, I’m grateful it’s too dim to read his expression. I’m not sure which would hurt more, a look of annoyance or amusement. Not that I care what he thinks of me.
“I failed the quiz,” I blurt out.
“I know.” He shifts. “Is that it?”
“Please don’t tell anyone.”
“Why would I tell anyone?”
“I don’t know.” I tug at my pockets. “So you won’t? Say anything?”
“No.” The warning bell rings. “I’m going to go now…that okay?”
I clear my throat. “Yeah. Fine. I mean, sure. Thanks.”
Since when do I get tongue-tied around anyone? I guess since when I fail quizzes. I step to the side, and Amir moves past me and opens the door.
Then he’s gone.
I close the door again just so I can bang my head against it.