We are so excited to share with you the amazing cover and exclusive excerpt of You Don’t Live Here by Robyn Schneider, out June 2, 2020!
About You Don’t Live Here:
In Southern California, no one lives more than thirty miles from the nearest fault line. Sasha Bloom is standing right on top of one when her world literally crumbles around her.
With her mother dead and father out of the picture, Sasha moves in with her estranged grandparents. Living in her mom’s old bedroom, Sasha has no idea who she is anymore. Her grandparents are far more certain: A lawyer-in-the-making. Ten pounds skinnier. In a socially advantageous relationship with a boy from a good family—like Cole Edwards. And Cole has ideas for who Sasha should be, too. His plus one at lunch. His girlfriend. His.
Sasha tries to make everything work, but that means folding away her love of photography, her grief for her mother, and her growing interest in the magnificently clever Lily Chen. Sasha wants to follow Lily off the beaten path, to discover hidden beaches, secret menus, and the truth about dinosaur pee.
But being friends with Lily might lead somewhere new. Is Sasha willing to stop being the girl everyone expects and start letting the girl hidden beneath the surface break through?
In this timely and authentic bisexual coming-of-age story, Robyn Schneider, author of The Beginning of Everything, delivers a witty and heartbreaking tale of first love, second beginnings, and last chances.
The April that eels started falling from the sky in Alaska—the same April that we Californians hoped for much-needed rain—everyone was looking up. It was like a cosmic magic trick, how we were all gazing in exactly the wrong direction the day it happened.
It had been a brutally hot week, and the heat showed no sign of breaking. The blacktop wavered as I locked my bike outside Randall High, and the tops of cars seemed to sizzle in the dry air.
Even in the air-conditioned gift shop of the Pioneer Museum, the heat snuck in whenever someone opened the door—which was often, since it was the museum’s only exit. I slouched behind the register most afternoons, ignoring the trickle of patrons who were forced to walk past me, most of them ignoring the unappealing carousel racks of stuffed animals on their way to the parking lot. Whoever decided people should exit through the gift shop had probably never worked in one.
It was a decent after-school job, though, working at the Pioneer, which was either California’s forty-ninth best natural history museum, or its second-to-worst, depending on your perspective. Mostly, I babysat the bins of posters that no one ever bought and actually got paid to sit around and read library books. I measured my paychecks in romances and classics, in stories about big cities and boarding schools. There was the week of Meg Wolitzer, and the month of Haruki Murakami. So it was no surprise that I was reading on the day in question.
The museum was crowded, but it was early enough in the evening that most patrons were still loitering in the air-conditioned exhibition halls, pretending to be interested in the displays.
I was absorbed in a biography of Zelda Fitzgerald, reading about Paris in the 1920s, which sounded fabulous, full of flappers and champagne, when the insistent squeak of a postcard rack brought me back to reality.
“Can I help you?” I asked with minimal enthusiasm, glancing up from my book.
Immediately, I knew I shouldn’t have said anything. It was a boy, maybe nine years old, all swagger and basketball shorts. There was a yellow museum pin bunching the center of his T-shirt, which made it look like an invisible hand was grabbing a fistful of fabric.
“No,” he said. And then, without breaking eye contact, he pocketed a dinosaur eraser. “I’m just looking.”
And then he did it again. I watched in despair as more erasers went plonk, plonk, plonk into his pocket.
“Those cost fifty cents each,” I warned, using my babysitter voice.
“I said I’m just looking,” he shot back.
Plonk went another eraser.
It was like he knew I wasn’t going to do anything. Because, honestly, it wasn’t worth the trouble. No one was checking inventory on the eraser bin.
The kid shot me a screw-you grin, this time pocketing a miniature geode.
Six dollars each, my brain supplied automatically. And those would be missed.
“You can’t just take things,” I said.
“Oh yeah? ’Cause my mom will get you fired if you tell,” he threatened.
I suppressed a sigh. Shit like this was always happening to me. It was like the universe had stuck an invisible sign on my back, telling everyone to walk all over me. And the worst part was, he probably could get me fired. I pictured the confrontation, loud and exhausting. The kid crying until his outraged parents took down my name and threatened to write a negative review on TripAdvisor. The way that, somehow—this I knew with total certainty—everything would be my fault.
Or, I could just pretend it had never happened.
The boy was watching me. Waiting.
Well? his expression seemed to say.
My shoulders sagged.
“Um, let me know if I can help you find anything,” I mumbled.
The boy smirked, and I forced my eyes back to my book, trying to ignore him. Except I couldn’t concentrate. I was reading the same paragraph for at least the fourth time when the earth shook violently beneath us.
There was a rumble, and a tremendous boom. My chair rattled, and I grabbed onto the counter to keep my balance. I watched in horror as the postcard racks toppled like felled trees, and the shelves shook, their contents cascading to the floor.
“Get under a table!” I yelled, ducking beneath the counter.
It’s just an earthquake, I told myself, trying not to panic.
We’d done earthquake drills in school for as long as I could remember, rolling our eyes each fall as our teachers forced us to squat beneath our desks, heads down, hands protecting the backs of our necks. And every year we brought in personal emergency packs (protein bars, bandages, water pouches) that our homeroom teachers collected, and which we never saw again. Sometimes, I imagined a gigantic room in the school basement with shelves full of the things, rotting away.
Still, all of the earthquakes I’d experienced had been tiny. At worst, a few seconds of swaying, and then it was over. Back to sleep, back to your tests, back to the mile run in gym. But as I ducked under the counter, something told me this was the reason for all those drills. It went on forever, the floor lurching and rolling, and the building groaning in this deep, unsettling way. Inside the museum, I heard people shouting.
And inside the gift shop, the eraser thief let out a terrified wail.
“You okay?” I called.
“Y-y-yeah,” he said shakily.
“It’s going to be fine,” I promised, even though I didn’t know that.
At that exact moment, a light fixture crashed down on top of the cash register. Shards of glass rained to the ground, nipping against my arm. I hadn’t expected an earthquake to hurt. I was so surprised by the pain, and by the very real possibility that it might not be fine, that my head banged against the counter, hard.
The next thing I knew, the earthquake had stopped, and my ears were ringing. No, the museum was ringing. The emergency alarm flashed from the corner, its warning shrill and insistent.
I groaned, pressing the tender place just above my ponytail. My hand came away clean, but my arm was flecked with blood. I had the overwhelming sense that something terrible had happened, but for a moment I couldn’t think what. And then the ground lurched again—an aftershock—and I remembered.
The alarm blared so loudly that I could hardly think. My head throbbed. My arm stung. The whole world seemed thick and slow. Plaster dust swirled through the air, like we were caught inside a snow globe. Not that anyone would want a snow globe of a scene like this. I’d seen the displays fall, but somehow, surveying the aftermath—the ruin—made it horribly real.
I was shaking shards of glass off my backpack when the kid crawled out from under a table with a muffled cough. He was dusted with plaster, his swagger gone. He looked stunned.
“Come on,” I told him. The path to the exit was littered with fallen postcard racks and shattered geodes that were no longer worth stealing. But the neon sign still glowed above the door. Exit through the gift shop, I remembered. This was the only exit.
I started clearing the debris, kicking it aside, making a path. The kid followed behind me like a ghost, silent and trembling.
I got to the door, I pushed against it, hard, but of course it didn’t budge. I strained, pushing harder, and then I snapped at the kid to help me. He did what he was told, which honestly might have been a miracle. And between the two of us, the door popped open, the sunlight dazzling.
Ten hours earlier, it had been just another late-start Wednesday. My high school had them every week, to the delight of no one. Homeroom was cancelled, break was a fond memory, and each period got cut short by five minutes. Our teachers always forgot, their lessons spilling frantically into the passing bell. But the absolute worst part was not getting a bathroom break until lunch. The cafeteria line was nothing compared to the line for the girls’ toilets.
Which is why, when my mom barged into my bedroom far too early that morning, I knew exactly what had gone wrong.
“Sasha!” she yelled. “School!”
“It’s LATE START!” I bellowed miserably.
“Oh no.” She made a face, realizing. “Wednesday.”
“Wednesday,” I confirmed.
“Since you’re up,” she said, opening the curtains with far too much cheer, “how about breakfast at Coffee Bean?”
“Afraid to venture in there without a chaperone?” I teased.
She shot me a look, but she also didn’t deny it.
I had complicated feelings about Coffee Bean. It was the only place in town to get a decent latte, but the college-age barista was completely in love with my mom. And he really wasn’t subtle about it.
Sure enough, when we appeared that morning, in desperate need of caffeine, Barista lit up the moment he spotted us. He lifted a hand self-consciously to his messy man-bun.
I rolled my eyes. My mom was thirty-seven and unfairly gorgeous; with long dark hair and exactly the kind of tall, thin frame that was made for vintage Levi’s and gauzy blouses. Trust me, Todd wasn’t the first chambray-wearing hipster to notice.
“Morning, Alice. Mini-Alice.” He beamed, leaning across the counter. “What can I do you for?”
My mom reeled off our usual order with a smile.
“Awesome, I’ll get started on that dirty chai,” he purred, making it sound like she’d ordered a porno instead of an extra shot of espresso.
“You really need a new coffee order,” I observed as we sat down at the table in the front window.
“Next time I’ll order Kopi Luwak,” she promised.
The fact that the world’s most expensive cup of coffee was brewed from beans pooped by a weird tree cat never ceased to amaze me.
Not like our town was the kind of place that served rare imported coffee beans. It was the kind of place where tourists driving past on their way to Palm Springs stopped to pee.
The worst part was, we weren’t even the most popular bathroom pit-stop town between Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley. That honor went to Cabazon, which boasted a casino, a luxury outlet mall, and enormous concrete dinosaurs that loomed over the highway. We weren’t anything—just box stores and tract homes and the occasional tumbleweed blowing through. Drive a little farther north and you’d hit the resort town of Big Bear. A little farther south and you’d pick up California’s historic Mission Trail.
We’d moved here before I was old enough to remember living any place else. Back when my dad was still in the picture. Before he had a bullshit existential crisis and took off with his guitar and the car he was always tinkering with in the garage. The car had seemed like another of his selfish, expensive hobbies. We’d never imagined he was building an escape vehicle.
After he left, my mom and I had stayed. She said it was because she was a hairdresser and couldn’t leave her clients. But really, I think the idea of starting over somewhere else scared her, even though my mom was the bravest person I knew. So we were stuck here, together, in a fractured version of what once was.
Barista Todd slid over our drinks with a dimpled smile.
“How come you ladies always order to-go?” he teased. “My company that bad?”
“Actually,” I mumbled, and my mom elbowed me.
“You know what they say about too much of a good thing,” she replied airily.
“I’m a good thing?” Barista Todd looked hopeful.
“I meant coffee,” my mom explained, her grin dazzling. Barista Todd’s man-bun actually seemed to deflate, just for a second.
We took our breakfast outside and parted ways, me to school and my mom to the salon. She called over her shoulder that she’d pick up a veggie pizza for dinner.
“Game of Thrones,” I yelled back, since we had a rule that if one of us picked the pizza toppings, the other chose the entertainment.
That was the last conversation we ever had, by the way. The last time I saw her, vibrant and alive and wearing her favorite boots from that weird vintage store in Joshua Tree.
What else should I tell you? I spent lunch in the library at one of the tutoring tables, helping freshmen with their Romeo and Juliet essays. The yearbook crowd had waved me over, like they always did, but I’d pretended to misunderstand and just waved back without stopping. I always felt nervous sitting with them, like no one actually liked me, and they only tolerated my presence because we had the same sixth period. Like they were secretly relieved on the days when I didn’t show up.
That afternoon, in yearbook, I put on my headphones and sat at the back table in the computer lab, editing the pictures I’d taken for the class superlatives.
I don’t even know why we had sophomore superlatives. It wasn’t like, years later, anyone would reminisce about the time they got voted most athletic tenth grader. At least, I hoped not.
The list was full of the same kids who always seemed to win things, who would probably win the same awards again next year. I wondered idly if I could make everyone redo the same poses, lining the identical pictures up on the yearbook pages when we were seniors, showing how nothing had changed.
Shana Diaz and Sean Howell would always be the cutest couple. Tyrone Thompson, the star athlete. Jason Worth, the perpetual class clown. I was editing his picture, which he’d wanted to do with his eyes closed and mouth open, as though caught in mid-sneeze.
I applied a layer mask, making the midtones pop. This was why I loved photography. Because with the right angle and the right light, you could capture people exactly how they wanted to be seen instead of how they truly were. Their ugliness or sadness could be hidden, swept out of frame, until you’d never know they were anything other than the class clown or the cutest couple.
I added Jason’s photo to the layout, then clicked to the next page. Immediately, I wished I hadn’t. Best Personality: Tara Angel stared up at me. I wished it were a joke, but I’d long ago learned that the universe didn’t have a sense of humor.
Tara and I used to be friends. We used to have sleepovers and marathon The Vampire Diaries, shrieking so loudly when Stefan took his shirt off that her mom would rush in to see what was the matter. And then, in the seventh grade, catastrophe struck.
That year, I was the first girl in our group to get a boyfriend. We were twelve, so it was adorably tame. Notes tucked into my locker. Plans to attend the Valentine’s Day dance together. And then one morning I saw Tara talking to him.
He wouldn’t look at me in the hall that day, and I had no idea why. “I broke up with him for you,” she explained at lunch. “And now that you don’t have a boyfriend anymore, sorry, but you’re not cool enough to sit with us.”
My friends abandoned me there, next to the vending machine, laughing like it was a silly prank. I’d stared at my reflection in the glass, trying not to cry. I couldn’t tell anyone. What would I say? It was the perfect crime.
But Tara kept going. She made up rumors about me to anyone who would listen. Once, when she couldn’t find her glue stick, because it had rolled onto the floor: “Sasha probably took it to get high.” Another time, when I made the mistake of wearing purple socks: “You know that wearing purple means you’re gay, right?” she’d said loudly, leaning across the aisle in homeroom. “Do you want everyone to know you’re gay, Sasha?”
I never wore purple again. I tried to blend in. To camouflage. But Tara’s campaign to take me down was a resounding success. Partnering up in class was a nightmare. Girls scooted away from me in the locker room. Offensive notes constantly turned up in my locker.
But middle school is terrible for everyone. At least, that’s what my mom said when she realized I wasn’t sleeping over at Tara’s anymore. I didn’t tell her the truth about what my former friends were doing. It was too humiliating. And anyway, it wasn’t fixable.
In high school, I found ways to fake a social life. I learned photography off YouTube and volunteered to take the photos for the yearbook. That way I was always attending school events, and it didn’t matter that I had no one to go with. I stood off to the side, with my camera, documenting.
Enough time passed that everyone mostly forgot about middle school. But still, whenever I saw Tara in the halls, my stomach twisted, and I found myself terrified that it could all start up again.
And I’d rather be invisible than find myself a continued target. Especially since Tara had come so close to getting a bull’s-eye. So I made myself forgettable. I held the yearbook camera from an unimportant corner of the gym. I captured my classmates’ best angles, their perfect moments. And in a way, their moments became mine, too: photos by Sasha Bloom, the captions read in six-point font.
I stared down at the quarter page of our yearbook celebrating how well liked and popular Tara was. If the headline were accurate it would read, Worst Personality: Tara Angel.
Actually . . . I clicked the little text box. And then, my heart pounding, I changed it. I added her picture, and for one glorious moment, everything was perfect. The caption revealed her. Her eyes seemed mean, and her smile fake in a way that it hadn’t before.
There was a chance no one would catch it. And if they did, they’d never know it was me. Still, the stress of doing something wrong made me feel dizzy. I didn’t upset the status quo—I tiptoed around it. By the time the bell rang, I’d put everything back to the way it was supposed to be.
Still, I biked to the museum that afternoon thinking about alternate captions for the yearbook, ones that exposed a truth far deeper than best hair or most class spirit. Mentally, I sorted through my classmates, choosing who would win worst lab partner, or dirtiest gym clothes, or most desperate for Instagram likes.
I spent my afternoon sitting in the museum gift shop, reading about Zelda Fitzgerald and trying to stop eraser thieves and forget about Tara Angel.
And then, miles away, deep beneath the ground, the and with it, my entire life crumbled to pieces.
About the Author:
Robyn Schneider is the bestselling author of The Beginning of Everything, Extraordinary Means, and Invisible Ghosts, which have earned numerous starred reviews, appear on many state reading lists, and are published in over a dozen countries. Her next book, You Don’t Live Here, comes out in June from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. Robyn is a graduate of Columbia University, where she studied creative writing, and the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, where she earned a Masters of Bioethics. She lives in Los Angeles, California. Find her here: https://www.robynschneider.com and @robynschneider on Instagram