by Selma Soren Tibermont (@selma_soren)
Editor: Tiffany Grimes (@theqtiffany)
YA romantic thriller
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Eighteen-year-old Cara Stone has three goals for her first semester at Harvard:
- Don’t throw up during lab dissections.
- Suppress any and all memories of Evil Ex-Boyfriend Extraordinaire.
- Take revenge on Tri-Alpha, the frat house of said ex-boyfriend.
When secret society president Ashton Porter ropes her into a plan to steal the famous Camden Cup from his frat-boy brother, Cara sees it as the perfect opportunity to cross off goal number three.
What she wasn’t counting on was the trophy going missing the night of the heist. To get revenge once and for all, she and Ashton must embark on a whirlwind treasure hunt against the other members of the Ivy League. These students are cunning, ruthless, and powerful—and they’ll stop at nothing to get to the prize first.
Now, Cara must solve a series of riddles scattered throughout New England, lead a vigilante girl gang, and try not to throw her newfound partner in crime/crush into the Charles River. Winning would give her everything: money for school, power on campus, and the revenge she’s been craving. Losing would mean a target on her back for the rest of her college career.
Well, it can’t be harder than calculus—right?
An Education in Ruin meets American Panda, THE LADY’S GUIDE TO CONQUERING THE UNIVERSE is a 94k YA romantic thriller featuring a biracial main character of North African descent and mental health representation.
I am a neuroscience student from Chicago and a winner of the 2021 RevPit contest.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
First Five Pages
PART 1—CHAPTER 1
I sit in the back row of the auditorium, hiding from my orientation group and the gaggle of soon-to-be-popular freshman girls. The hood of my jacket is up, despite the heat—another stupid decision in the long list of stupid decisions I’ve made in the past year—and I hope the orientation leader won’t notice me.
She probably will, though, if my previous attempts are anything to go by. The upperclassmen here have eyes like an eagle and a swiftness to match.
This is technically the second day of a two-day orientation program. It’s blazing in Massachusetts, like summer has decided to go out with a bang. Yesterday, day one, was worse. Not only because it was even hotter than it is today, but because of all the activities we had to do. It started with a meeting in Sever, one of the smaller quads on campus, and doing introductions with our orientation group. I am not a talkative person on the best of days, so forcing myself to act upbeat and cheery when I felt more like melting into the ground was difficult, to say the least. It’s not even a problem of being shy… It’s just a general “I’d-rather-be-anywhere-than-here-right-now” sort of thing.
And they say humans are social creatures.
When it was my turn to say something about myself, I did so with very little preamble: “Hi, I’m Cara, I’m eighteen and I’m a biology major.”
I expected a chorus of, “Hi, Cara,” like in those group counseling sessions I used to do back in high school. Instead, I was met with polite smiles and literal cricket chirps.
“I’m Geneva,” the girl next to me said in a sing-songy voice when the silence grew too thick.
“You have such a pretty name,” said another girl across our circle.
“Thank you. It’s the name of a city, you know. In Switzerland. Have you ever been?” she asked, turning to look at me.
“No, I haven’t,” I replied blandly. I wish.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” she said with a polite, pitying smile, flicking one perfectly-curled strawberry blonde lock over her shoulder with a manicured nail. “My parents and I always summer there, but next year we’re going to Tunisia because it’s more enriching.”
I—like Switzerland—don’t condone violence, but for Geneva? I’d make an exception.
A guy with canary-yellow glasses walks by and slows down at my row, like he’s questioning whether or not he should sit here. My answer, of course, would be don’t. Because if he does, he’ll try and strike up a conversation with me, and I’ve had enough of men for a lifetime.
“Anyone sitting there?” he asks, pointing to the seat beside me. The auditorium is still empty—he could have chosen to sit anywhere else.
“Nope, all yours.” I scrunch my legs back enough for him to move by and he plops down in the seat. Don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me, don’t talk to me.
Great. I want to say, Nice to meet you, past tense of “draw.” Instead, I nod and say, “Cara.”
He laughs and runs a slender bronze finger over his chin like he’s analyzing me. “‘Cara’? I’ve never met a brown girl named Cara before.”
“Well, it’s not like it’s the twenty-first century or anything,” I reply. People always find ways to make subtle digs at my name. Because, as much as it pains me to admit it, I’ve never met or heard of a mixed girl named Cara, either. It’s very Irish, like my dad’s ancestors.
“Damn. What’s up with you?” Drew says, his laugh turning into a short little scoff.
I glance over at him—at his yellow glasses and his chunky blue Nike sneakers and his “Dark Side of the Moon” t-shirt with Pink Freud written across the bottom. How is he already trying to get to know me? We’ve been sitting here for thirty seconds.
“Nothing.” I drum my fingers—calloused and dry from shifts at the bakery—against the armrest. “I just think this whole orientation thing is weird. The games, the icebreakers—in a semester, none of us will even remember it. I probably won’t even know anyone here.”
“Hmm, you’re right. Not like that, you aren’t.”
Seriously? It’s enough coming from my parents and my sister, but him, too? Orientation is too early to be making enemies. “Sorry. I’ve had a… long summer.”
“I feel you,” he says with a sigh as he looks at the crowd of students entering the stuffy auditorium. “‘Best years of our lives,’ huh?”
“But what’s up? Did your parents kick you out or something?”
My fingers freeze on the armrest, clutching it for support. Drew’s a social butterfly, but I can’t just tell a stranger about my life. As friendly as they may be.
“Nothing,” I tell him. “Just dating stuff.”
The auditorium grows darker, and one of the orientation leaders prepares a short clip for us to watch.
Drew must have seen the hesitation on my face, because his voice turns to a whisper as the video begins. “Let me guess, he used to go here so you applied and got in, but he dumped you after graduation because ‘new changes,’ and ‘it just wasn’t meant to be,’ and ‘I think you need someone your own age,’ even though he waited until your eighteenth birthday to bring you back to his dorm after a celebratory drive-through dinner, huh?”
Something bitter sits on my tongue, and I slouch down in my seat.
Harvard has a six percent acceptance rate. That means there are currently ninety-four percent of the thousands of applicants out there from this last admission cycle who wish they could have my spot.
And I don’t even want to be here.
This single thought constantly whirs at the back of my mind in a low hum, like one of those news tickers on the TV. Everyone here seems to have it all figured out. They interned at Google when they were, like, fourteen, and are studying applied mathematics in the hopes of becoming a backend software engineer for a mega start-up. Or their parents both won the Pulitzer Prize (different categories and years, obviously) but they’ve always had a passion for the ancient Greek language and are now pursuing a major in the classics.
I mean, how the hell am I supposed to compete with these people? They all know what they want. The only reason I applied in the first place is, just as Drew guessed it, because of Matthew. Because he went here and because I literally live in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, area code 02139, United States of America. Not applying to Harvard would be like choosing not to fill up my empty tank even though my car is in the parking lot of a gas station. It’s just stupid, period. And if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s stupid. Dumb, yes. Incredibly weird, absolutely. Stubborn and sleep deprived and prone to horrible circumstances to the point of actual concern on the part of any adult who’s ever had the unfortunate task of meeting me? Ding, ding, ding. Right again.
But I am not stupid.
Drew smiles when I don’t reply. “Yep. That’s why you never date college men.” At my soured expression, he adds, a little remorsefully, “But don’t worry, girl. These guys aren’t worth your peace.”
Someone sitting a row ahead turns back and shushes us, and I sink into my seat even more. Maybe friendships don’t last here. Or maybe people are driven closer together. Whichever it is, Drew’s right—I need to focus on myself. Find some peace, even if the memories of these last few years are threatening to shred whatever semblance I cling to now.
What’s Harvard’s motto again?