Title: Dead Parents Camp
Entry Nickname: The Half-Orphan's Handbook
Word count: 62K
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
After her father’s suicide, Lila Cunningham writes a two-rule handbook to protect herself from experiencing any more pain. One: Love no one. Two: Avoid liars like her dad. Lila’s solution: barricade herself from all relationships – romantic, friendly, or otherwise. Easy enough, until her mother forgets Lila’s sixteenth birthday and over-compensates for it in a major way. Lila’s unwanted gift is a summer away at Camp Bonaventure, a grief camp founded after 9/11. A place where self-isolation equals impossible.
The last thing Lila wants to do is bunk with a handful of other half-orphans tucked far from cell phone service in the woods of Maine. Then, a friendly hazing incident leaves Lila clad in a soaking wet camp-legacy leotard just in time for a meeting with the gorgeous “other new kid” at camp – Noah Kitteridge. To her surprise, someplace between swimming and s’mores, Lila discovers Noah understands her pain. She risks her handbook’s number-one rule and opens up to Noah, sharing intimate details of her father’s lifetime of family deceit. For the first time since death darkened her world, Lila feels lighter – especially once she ditches her weighty handbook and lets herself fall for Noah.
But then Noah vanishes from camp without word, ripping Lila from the tenuous emotional balance she’s struck. Frantic, Lila searches for him – and what she finds crumbles the remnants of the protective wall she’s built. Noah’s not at camp for the same reason Lila is. He’s not even half-orphaned. He’s a liar. Now, Lila must decide between the lesser of two evils: forgive Noah’s deception and risk vulnerability for a chance to experience happiness, or return to the rules and close herself off from everyone again.
My mother would have spent less money on my sixteenth birthday present if she had remembered the occasion in the first place. It wasn’t her fault, though. My birthday came and went on June 1st, when the air was hot and green-smelling, the sun was strong, and my father had been dead exactly one month.
Since Dad chose to check out of Hotel Life on a permanent basis, Mom had been preoccupied with the whole widowhood thing. So she flipped over her calendar page one day late. And cried.
Because she missed my birthday, that “mom guilt” she always wrote about for online magazines compelled her to call my school counselor Dr. Barbash (whom my entire family referred to as Call-Me-Connie). That was how I came home from school on June 2nd, dumped my bag on the counter, and discovered Call-Me-Connie blabbed to my mother about Camp Bonaventure.
And — with a pause for emphasis — my mother was going to spring for it as a belated birthday present.
“I’m not going,” I said, opening the kitchen cabinet.
The hope on her face fizzled. “Call-Me-Connie says it’s amazing, Lila.”
My familiar friend, Panic, stomped into my chest, settling her curvaceous hips into my sternum. “She also says Madonna is talentless. Plus, Call-Me-Connie is a close talker.” My mother would consider the Madonna statement blasphemy, and close talkers skeeve her out.
“Call-Me-Connie’s lack of musical taste — and social violation of personal space — hardly affect her ability to judge what might help you.”
~ VERSUS ~
Title: Paper Seeds
Entry Nickname: Book Boys Gone Wild!
Word count: 109k
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy
When seventeen-year-old Harlow Jackson gets dumped at her grandma Minny's wake, she's devastated, pissed as hell, and without an escort for the debutante season starting the very next day. But then Harlow finds something Minny left her: paper seeds. Minny always told her that if you place a magical paper seed in a book, and plant it in the ground, you can grow anything you desire from its pages.
In a fit of desperation, revenge, and, okay fine, a little too much funeral punch, Harlow grows teenage versions of Mr. Knightley, Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray, and Dracula (Drake), to be her and her friends' debutante escorts. Because everyone knows there's only one thing better than a handsome, well-groomed, drawling Southern beau... an English gentleman. Harlow is tired of feeling second rate in her small, Southern town, and vows to use the boys to beat her ex, and the mean-girl debutantes, at their own game. Frankly, she'd love to burn their perfect curls off their pretty little heads, but that would just be gravy. Instead, she'll settle for winning the debutante crown and the accompanying cash scholarship prize, which she badly needs.
Harlow passes the boys off as four rather eccentric foreign exchange students, and everything goes according to plan until the book-boys discover their own origins and run amok. At the same time, the town witch, Madame LeRoux, comes after Harlow for the paper seeds, claiming that planting them will have dark consequences for Harlow and the people she loves. Harlow must uncover the origin and twisted history of the paper seeds to discover a way to undo what she's grown. But as generations of town secrets and lies begin to unravel, Harlow discovers someone she loves has been hiding the biggest, ugliest secret of them all.
If I hadn’t been standing in the middle of my grandmother Minny's wake, I would have whacked that boy in the man parts so hard, people would be looking at pictures of his children in years to come and say—see the funny ear that kid has? Harlow Jackson did that.
But Jonathan took my hand and squeezed it, like he was bestowing some sort of warm comfort on me. He wore the gray shirt I'd saved up a week's wages for, the one that was the exact color of his eyes.
Now, I wanted to rip it off him.
And not in a good way.
I took a deep breath and tried to be civil. “Your parents will get used to the idea of us. I have a way of winning people over, you know.” I smiled my most becoming smile and flashed my dimple. Jonathan loved my dimple. Everyone loved my dimple.
He closed his eyes. “It’s not that, Harlow.”
“Then what is it?” I said, too loud.
Madison Pace cocked her ear in our direction as she scooped bean dip onto her plate at the food table. Nosey was not an adjective in this town, it was a given.
I tugged Jonathan’s hand, and he followed me out onto the front porch. The sky was gray, just waiting to burst open, the air heavy and thick. October in Georgia was not a cool, crisp autumn. It was more like standing over a pot of boiling pasta. Or maybe it was more like being the pasta.