Like Fredericks's The Girl in the Park, here is a page-turner that perfectly captures the world of New York City private schools, as it explores the notion of power among teenage girls. Publisher's Weekly, in a starred review, raves, "Fredericks again proves her gift for conveying the intensity of adolescence, while exploring the ways girls’ sexuality is used against them and asking why 'we all have to be predators and prey.'"
Queen Bee Chloe is going to make Toni suffer for whatever transpired between Toni and Chloe's boyfriend, Oliver, over the summer. From day one of eleventh grade, she has Toni branded as a super slut, and it isn't long before things get so ugly that Toni fears for her safety. What's a scared, powerless, and fed-up teenager to do? Guided by Cassandra—a girl with some serious problems of her own—Toni decides to stop playing the victim and take control. Cassandra has been experimenting with witchcraft, and together they cast a spell on Chloe that may actually cause her death. Could Toni have really made such an awful thing happen?
An Excerpt fromSeason of the Witch
Here’s something I don’t tell most people.
When I was ten, my dad gave me a small green hippo made of glass with ruby eyes. (That’s what I thought at the time. Now I know they’re just crystals.) She sat in the palm of my hand, happy and peaceful. I stroked her broad, smooth back with the tip of my finger and said, “This is the nicest thing in the whole world.” I named her Mimi, which was what I wished my parents had named me instead of Antonia.
Every year after that, I got another animal. Now there are six and they live on my windowsill. There’s Mimi in the center because she was the first. Then Phoebe the unicorn and Dallas the rabbit. Boo Boo is an ape and Gloriana a butterfly. At the very end, Aura the serpent. Aura, I decided long ago, has the most power. I like to keep her a little separate from the others because I’m never quite sure what Aura will do.
The thing I won’t tell people--because it’s childish, lame, and borderline obsessive-compulsive--is that every day before I leave the house, I sit with my animals and arrange them how they need to be. Each of them has a very different personality--basically, different sides of me--and I like to set them up to give me the best shot at a decent day. For example, if I’m feeling a little lonely and out of it, I’ll put shy, awkward Dallas near Gloriana, who’s flirty and gorgeous. Mimi is the core me, and a lot of days, I’ll put her, Boo Boo, and Phoebe together in a tight group, representing humor, strength, and purity. But if it’s going to be one of those “I need you not to mess with me” days, I put Aura in the center. All by herself, because the others are scared of her.
Today is the first day of school. Today Mimi needs her friends around her.
I put her in the center, where the sun can shine on her, put Phoebe and Dallas to her right and left. Boo Boo protects her back; Gloriana is in front to distract her from ugliness.
Aura goes to the corner of the windowsill. I don’t want malevolence anywhere near me today.
When I’m done, I put on my backpack and take a deep breath. Then another.
I can’t actually breathe all that well.
To distract myself, I look around my room. My messy bed with my purple star quilt. My squashy green chair that used to be in my mom’s office. Now Apples, my ancient rag doll, slouches there. On my walls, little promises for the life I want to have someday: a postcard from Venice; a gorgeous black-and-white shot of Dorothy Parker, a sharp-point pen poised at her lips; a shot of people strolling down Fifth Avenue in 1912; Bette Davis, with her sly, knowing look. Someday, I think, I’ll be elegant. Fiercely smart. Strong. But still funny, still nice.
I stand in front of the mirror, check out my back-to-school outfit. Cute plaid skirt, plaid bow in the brown hair that seems to be cooperating. Black top, on the tight side. One time, I was at Sephora looking at eye shadow, and the salesman said, “Baby, you got big eyes, big mouth, and big tatas. Work what the good Lord gave you.” So I do. At least, I try.
Clothes are fine. What’s inside the clothes is a mess. But it’ll have to do.
At the last minute, I take out my phone, hoping, praying, whatevering, there is another message. A different message. One that says, Ha, ha, just kidding!
But there isn’t. Just the one that came last night. The one that says:
Get ready for hell.
Really--what’s the worst that could happen?
This is what I ask myself while I wait for my friend Ella on the corner of Ninety-Fourth and West End.
Get ready for hell.
I try to envision what kind of hell is in store exactly. My mind stretches, tries to feel for the outer reaches of doom. Thick, black, greasy smoke fills my head, seeps down to my stomach until I feel sick.
I won’t die, I remind myself. She will not actually kill me.
No, okay--realistically, she is not going to kill me. This I know. Or am relatively sure of. I will still be breathing for the next seventy years or so. If I’m not, it won’t be because of Chloe Nachmias.
Chloe Nachmias is not going to kill me for real. She doesn’t have to.
She can just kill me in all the ways that truly matter when you’re starting your junior year of high school.
To distract myself, I look across the street. Two kids standing at the curb. One is maybe my age. He’s wearing a black T‑shirt. The other’s a little younger, like twelve; he’s wearing a red hoodie. The light changes, both of them step off the curb.
I think, If red hoodie makes it across first, today will not be a bad day.
Black T‑shirt darts ahead, gets to the other side in a flash. I sigh, wishing I didn’t believe in signs. But I do, especially when there’s a big bucket of caca hanging over my head.
Well, it’s a nice day, I tell myself. My favorite kind of day. Clear blue sky, a little breeze, the air sharp and fresh. But still warm enough that you can go outside in just jeans and a T‑shirt. Usually, I love the first day of school. I love seeing everyone again, hearing the craziness that went on over the summer. The long, hot months away from school turn twerpy boys into broad-shouldered guys. Girls get curves, rad haircuts. People try things over the summer they would never, ever dare in school. So there’s a lot to talk about. The five Ws of dirt: who did what where, when, and with whom.
I can’t lie. This summer got a little crazy for me. I’d like to say I don’t remember some of the things I did. But I do. And so does everyone else. I will definitely be one of the whos discussed.
I would give a lot of money to have that not be true. To have no story anyone’s dying to hear. No scoop, no dirt.
“Oh, my God, I am so sorry!” Ella is stumbling and tumbling toward me, her backpack askew on her shoulders. She is round in all ways--pudgy, curls, moon face--and bounces chaotically through life. She’s like a hyper puppy: cute, but you worry someone will kick her.
I haven’t seen Ella for two months; she’s been at a . . . well, “fat camp” for lack of a nicer term. The New You Health Center. She wasn’t allowed to have contact with the outside world, in case someone tried to smuggle Snickers bars through the mail. The camp was her parents’ idea; frankly, it sounded kind of cruel. Ella’s not that heavy. But food is her drug of choice. And her parents are super-pure stick figures. Eat only fiber. Drink only water. Run a million miles, then do sit-ups till they vomit. Whenever I eat dinner at their house, I get so stressed out with them watching every bite, I want to go directly to Shake Shack afterward. So I get Ella’s problem.
Nonetheless, I’m all ready to exclaim, “Oh, my God, you look fantastic! I can’t believe how much weight you lost!”
Only Ella looks exactly the same.
She raises her fist ironically. “Six pounds, whoo-hoo!”
“Hey, more than I lost.” Which I guess is true if we’re only talking weight. Looking for something else to compliment, I notice Ella has a new bag. It has an image of The Scream, the Munch painting with the ghostly figure on the bridge holding his face and shrieking.
“Love that,” I say.
“Kind of how I feel, right? The camp put me on this insane diet I’m supposed to stay on for my whole entire life.” She reaches into the bag, takes out a bag of mini Chips Ahoy. “These aren’t exactly on the plan, but hey--first day of school.”
She grins. I grin back. Some kids don’t like Ella because she never stops talking--usually about somebody else. What they did and who they did it with, why, and man, what do you think will happen because oh, my God, this could get really bad. She often communicates with her eyes popped wide open, gasping slightly as if she’s out of breath--it’s that amazing. She lives for what she calls “total drama,” as if other people are one big reality show for her to watch and comment on.
But I too like to talk about people. So do most of us, right? The difference between Ella and most of us is Ella doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. It would not occur to her to be bitchy; she’s so fricking grateful to people for giving her something to talk about, she goes out of her way to be nice about them. Like when Amber Davies showed up for school stoned and it came out that she’d been raiding her parents’ pot supply for breakfast, Ella joked, “Man, I’d like some herbal happiness with my low-fat yogurt.” Or when Paul Jarrett took up a dare to kiss David Horvath at a party and they kind of sort of ended up making out. Everyone else was all whisper whisper because Paul’s a major jock with a girlfriend, and now, oh, my God, he’s a fag. But Ella just said, “Whoa, good for him. I’d totally swap spit with David, he is H.O.T.”
She throws her arms around me. “Oh, my God, so great to see you! Catch me up, I know nothing! What insane naughtiness went on? I must know everything!”
Everything, I think. That’s a lot.
I nod sideways. Let’s walk. It’s twelve blocks to school. Twelve blocks of safety before the hell.
I decide to start with the most important news. I say lightly, “Well, you know Chloe, right?”
“Super-scary diva bitch Chloe who speaks fluent French and has the wardrobe of life,” says Ella promptly. She has everyone at school catalogued in her brain, everything they’ve ever done and said.
I nod. “And of course Oliver . . .”
“Chloe’s super-sweet, brainy boyfriend and you kind of don’t get it, but you think, Okay, he’s kinky for cruel.”
I nod again. “Well, they had this fight over the summer. . . .”
Ella stops dead. She’s been friends with me long enough to know where this is going. She mouths “Oh. My. God.”
“Yeah,” I say unhappily. “A little bit. But it’s over, they’re back together.”
“Is everything cool?”
I can say a lot of things in my defense. Yes, Chloe and Oliver have been an official School Super Couple since last winter. But supposedly they were on some kind of sex break, because Chloe’d had this pregnancy scare and wanted to cool it. That was in June. Then in July, Oliver was like, Okay, this has gone on for a while, I’m starting to take it personally, and Chloe was like, Maybe it is personal, I don’t know.
He asked, Do you want to break up?
She said, I don’t know.
And that’s how it was in August when Oliver walked me home from Erica Mittendorf ’s party. When a guy walks three miles with you on a hot, humid night and you’re both making jokes about taking off your clothes and just walking naked and a certain amount of beer has been consumed--
Afterward, we had breakfast at dawn at a diner on Ninety-First Street. I said, “Look, I know you’re with Chloe, and my lips are sealed, I promise. I don’t want to screw you guys up.”
Oliver was quiet for a long time. Then he said, “Actually, I don’t know if I am with Chloe.”
To which I said, “Oh.”
“It seems like we’re kind of taking a break this summer.”
I waited. “But you don’t know.”
He looked sad; I felt sad for him. Chloe was Oliver’s first girlfriend; everyone knew she had him under her thumb.
Still, I had to ask. “Do you know if the break includes other people?”
He looked at me and we laughed and said at the same time, “No.” And I swear, I do not know if we meant no, he didn’t know, or no, it didn’t include other people.
I said, “This is getting very confused.”
“It is,” agreed Oliver, and pressed his knee between my legs.
I let it stay confused for about two weeks. But then Lulu Zindel saw us being confused outside a movie theater. That’s when it got nasty.
The next day, Oliver called me and said, “Chloe found out. She’s pretty upset.”
Well, I thought, now we know how Chloe feels about the break-including-other-people question.
“I can imagine,” I said. And waited.
Oliver said, “I’m not really sure what to do.”
“What do you want to do?” I asked.
And of course he said, “I don’t know.”
I said, “You should deal with Chloe before anything else happens with us. I think that’s fair.”
“Probably,” said Oliver. “Sorry, this kind of sucks for you.”
“Eh,” I said lightly, “I’ll deal.”
And I would have--because I have been through this before. I have deeply weird boyfriend karma. Every guy I’ve gotten together with has either just broken up with someone or is obsessing about someone else. In eighth grade, Daniel Schrodinger French-kissed me at Carrie Nussbaum’s party--not, as it turned out, because he liked me but because he wanted to make Saskia Phelps jealous. I had a total nervous breakdown. Oh, my God, I thought he liked me and he totally used me--waahhh.
Same thing in ninth grade when James Olmstead asked me to go out with him the day after Ramona Digby dumped him--and then dumped me two weeks later when Ramona took him back. Tears, tears, tears. Many phone calls to many people. Sob, sob.
But by tenth grade, I knew the score. In tenth grade, when Enzo Carmichal asked me out, I was like, “You and Jane have that whole bestie thing going on. I’m not getting in the middle of that.” He was like, “Platonic, dude, platonic.”
Now, I knew Jane didn’t feel the same way, even though she had never said anything. But I also thought, Well, you know, maybe she needs a push to let him know.
The push worked. About a month after Enzo and I started, Jane got tipsy at a party and tearfully confessed that she was insane about him. Enzo and Jane are still together. She gives me the stink eye whenever I come near them, which is odd, but whatever.
Bottom line: I’ve learned that freaking gets you nowhere. Stay cool and everybody has more fun.