Ideal High by Valerie Ipson
Genre: YA contemporary
Published: February 24th, 2015
There’s no way Taryn’s taking Blake’s place as president of the student body. As soon as the memorial for him and six of their friends is over, she’s resigning as VP. Really. Except people say the fire was no accident. (She say it’s way too easy to blame someone who’s dead.) When Taryn reads the writing on the wall, literally, the bathroom wall, she knows what it means. To get to the truth she has to come out from under her paisley comforter. But, seriously, what stage of grief says Taryn has to be the one to fix what’s wrong at Ideal High? Maybe she’s the one who’s broken.
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Whose idea is it to broadcast the super-size faces of those who died to the far reaches of the school’s auditorium? Everybody knows they’re gone. Why emphasize the obvious even for the sake of a memorial? And why no rain on this joyless day? Never a good Texas thunderstorm when you need one.
I force a glance at the pull-down screen behind me, but immediately turn to focus on the line where the ceiling meets the wall at the back of the room. I can’t bear to look into the crowd, but I can’t look at the screen either. A giant reminder that I will never see those faces again. Weeks of grief have left me numb, but I should have worn my hair down to give me something to hide behind. Just in case.
Light pours in through the ribbon of windows high along the back wall. It crisscrosses the podium, making me squint at the sheet of paper in front of me.
It doesn’t matter. I know the list by heart.
I blink through the glare and lean in to the microphone, not sure how loud I need to be. “Ashley Bannister.”
My voice echoes across the vast room. Plenty loud.
All eyes rivet on the screen and a kid from Drama Club tugs the rope of the school bell slowly and deliberately for maximum effect. It must have taken practice to get a perfect mournful clang.
The audience’s collective gaze swings to my right. To Chelsea standing at a matching podium, staring at her own list. She’s leaning heavy on her crutches, and on the podium, too. She needs both to keep her vertical, apparently. I’m just glad I don’t have to share the same half of the stage with her. As always, I need my distance. That hasn’t changed.
“Weston James Brown.” Chelsea’s lips tighten into a thin line. I’m amazed she gets the name out. The bell sounds again, even more slowly than the first time, and a chorus of sniffles and muffled sobs grows slightly louder.
I measure my breathing and tap my fingers along the edge of the sheet of paper in front of me. I have to keep my hands busy, distracted. Maybe if I keep moving I won’t think too hard about the next name.
I switch to rubbing my palms up and down the sides of my pants. I just can’t look at Kayla’s parents who sit with my mom and dad in the front row. I pause too long and the principal clears his throat behind me. Very cliché, Mr. Myers. Doesn’t he get that this is beyond difficult?
“Kayla … Marie … Carter.” I speak her name to the back wall then take up tapping on the podium again. But not so loud anyone can hear. So much for avoiding the faces on the screen. All that loops through my brain is Kayla’s wide smile.
Quit worrying, Taryn. Blake’s not getting back with Chelsea, Kayla had said that night after the party. I’ll go find him for you and you’ll see I’m right. Then she walked right back into the old Gin Co. building.
Why was I forced to do this? I’m not the one who should be speaking the names of the dead in front of all these people. The list reads like the school’s Who’s Who, and I have no business pretending I’m one of them.
Except for him. How many more names until his? I’d scanned both versions as soon as they were held out to us, snatching the one with his name among those highlighted. Chelsea has no right to it, to him. Not like I do. At least that’s what I tell myself.
The light flickers from behind me, so I know they’ve moved on to the next abnormous face. A face that should be in the yearbook, not on a screen at a memorial.
A moan rises from the second row, competing with the plaintive tones of the bell. Plaintive? Where’d that come from? Now I’m conjuring up junior year Vocab?
One of Chelsea’s crutches bangs against her podium. I can’t help shooting her a sideways glance. She’s still hunched forward. Definitely struggling and the service is just getting started.
Thankfully, I don’t have to maneuver crutches and the names in front of me. Still, I will it to be over. My knotted stomach begs for it, and the fetal-position imprint on my bed is only growing colder. Who knows how long Principal Myers will feel obligated to address the assembled after our part is done?
Valerie Ipson loves her family…and reading, writing, genealogy, and Hershey Milk Chocolate Almond & Toffee Nuggets. She lives in Mesa, Arizona, and IDEAL HIGH is her debut novel. Reading has always been a huge love in her life, but she never thought she’d be on the author side of a book. Valerie hopes she can give readers the same experience that she has enjoyed through the years while being curled up with a good book! Blog Goodreads Twitter
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