The only sort of risk 18-year-old Laila Piedra enjoys is the peril she writes for the characters in her stories: epic sci-fi worlds full of quests, forbidden love, and robots. Her creative writing teacher has always told her she has a special talent. But three months before her graduation, he’s suddenly replaced—by Nadiya Nazarenko, a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist who is sadistically critical and perpetually unimpressed.
At first, Nazarenko’s eccentric assignments seem absurd. But before long, Laila grows obsessed with gaining the woman’s approval. Soon Laila is pushing herself far from her comfort zone, discovering the psychedelic highs and perilous lows of nightlife, temporary flings, and instability. Dr. Nazarenko has led Laila to believe that she must choose between perfection and sanity—but rejecting her all-powerful mentor may be the only way for Laila to thrive.
A main character (Laila) identifies as pansexual on-page.
Quotes from Final Draft
“Wow. she is pretty,’ Laila said. Her voice stuttered across the last word. The original thought had been, Wow she is hot, and the sentence had transformed on the way out. Laila couldn’t talk about anybody like that. Not even her celebrity crushes, not even avatar of perfection Samuel Marquez. A barrier of shame as impermeable as plexiglas walled her off from everything sexual, every thought, every action, even something as small as the difference in connotation between ‘pretty’ and ‘hot.’ Hannah had teased her about this once and had stopped when Laila didn’t come close to smiling. Her inexperience didn’t feel charming or virtuous, like she was some good-girl persona from a movie. It felt furious and heated, humiliating and childish, as if physicality were a language she was supposed to have learned, and here she was in senior year, surrounded by a horde of native speakers, unable to translate the most basic concepts.”
“Laila had tried not to think about these things, had tried not to notice. She always tried, and failed, not to notice. Hannah liking girls seemed so certain, so natural, but in Laila’s head the concept was a mess of guilt and confusion. The twins in her fourth-grade Sunday school had whispered about lesbians, gross whenever one girl, April with the overalls, walked by, and in the time between second and sixth grade when Laila had acquired knowledge of every swear word in the world — not that she would ever, she’d promised herself, use them — she’d heard so many different angry words for gay that she couldn’t help but associate it with bullshit, hell, and damnation. So hadn’t she been mentally snapping a rubber band against her wrist whenever she looked at a girl too hard since then?”
“She guessed she was pansexual, a word acquired from the internet, from people who seemed more confident in it than she was: Yes, she still couldn’t say, I could want anyone, any gender, any type. Any person in the universe. Past layer and layer of self-consciousness, she knew it was true. But admitting the want was excruciating. The idea that somebody could look at her and just see it made her want to cry.”
Hardback. Purchased used by the library with founder’s funds.