Fiercely funny, honest, and poignant, this story of a growth spurt gone wrong is perfect for readers who love Becky Albertalli and Jesse Andrews.
"XL is going to be huge! I loved Will Daughtry at every height. You will too." --Julie Buxbaum, bestselling author of Tell Me Three Things and What to Say Next
WIll Daughtry is a late bloomer--at least, that's what everyone tells him. On his sixteenth birthday, Will is just shy of five feet, and he is bitterly resigned to being tiny forever. His only comforts are his best friend and stepbrother, Drew (6'3"), and their pal Monica (5'10"), the girl Will's been quietly pining for since fifth grade. Everyone else literally overlooks him. But with them, he feels whole. That is, until things take an unexpected turn, and he realizes he's really and truly on his own.
That's when he starts to grow. And grow fast. Astonishingly fast. For the first time, Will's happy with his stature, and the world's at his feet (for a change). People see him differently; more important, he sees himself differently. But the highest heights come with some low, low lows, and his most precious relationships suffer excruciating growing pains. Will has to figure out what to do with himself--and all of this new "himself" he never expected to have.
"Outsized in heart and humanity, XL is destined to become a classic." --GILLIAN FLYNN, bestselling author of Gone Girl and Sharp Objects
An Excerpt fromXL
I woke up to the smell of fear.
You know what fear smells like? When you’re not quite five feet tall? And turning sixteen?
Maybe that’s just me.
For normal people, birthdays--the cake, the singing, another candle every year--signify impending adulthood, which is so exciting, you actually appreciate the lame-assery that comes attached. But for us Smalls, birthdays never lose that paper-hat vibe . . . because that’s all there is to them. Seeing your name in baby-blue frosting, year after year, from the same exact altitude--well, it has a way of shaming your testicles right back to where they descended from. In my crazier moments, I used to think the parties themselves were keeping me small. Which is why I’d come to dread the sound of two little words:
My dad is such an awful actor, it’s almost charming. He’s just too straightforward by nature. His inability to fake anything--it makes him a great dad. Makes him a natural with zoo animals, too--zoo animals like a straight talker--so that works out well for him professionally, as a zookeeper. But it makes him just awful at surprise parties. “Will! Breakfast!” was something my father said precisely once a year. On my birthday. My big day. My big, smoking crater of a day. I woke up, smelled cake, and thought, Oh, God, no.
Which is kind of a shitty thing to think when a cake’s been baked for you.
But consider this: a birthday’s a promise. Something changes today! By birthday the sixteenth, I’d discovered otherwise. Every promise had been broken, five promises running, because biology, God bless, can be a real dick sometimes.
So I stalled in bed. Faked a sleep-in for a precious half hour. Any longer, and masturbation would be suspected. This birthday, like all the rest, just needed to happen as quickly as possible, then vanish again. So I could vanish again.
That was my top-ranked fantasy on the morning of my sixteenth birthday. Invisibility. To be a shadow. He who slips past, unseen. With one (very notable) exception, that was as wild as my dreams got. Slipping Past Unseen was how I planned to get through high school, in the hopes that college would be better. And if it wasn’t? I’d slip past that, too.
There was just one thing I wanted to take with me. Just one person I wanted to be seen by. That Notable Exception.
She’s why I wanted to slip through this day with as little trouble as possible and get to what would happen next, the thing I didn’t even dare name, even though I’d spent the last fortyish nights imagining it.
But first: cake. Should I just rip off the Band-Aid? Or attempt evasive action?
I considered the sycamore outside my window. I could shinny down the trunk in twenty-five seconds, if I had to. Which might’ve been impressive in a dude of normal proportions. When I did it, I looked like a performing lemur. Something you’d reward for the effort with a slice of mango and a pat on the head.
Have I mentioned how deeply, how furiously I hate pats on the head?
Anyway, I got dressed, like a good lemur. A grateful lemur, desirous of cake.
I took a deep breath and padded downstairs, right into the teeth of it: my birthday ambush.
“Birthday ambush!” my dad barked, in a voice usually reserved for lemurs that hopped the fence. He came toastering up from behind the love seat--an impressive, slightly scary, always embarrassing maneuver for a middle-aged man, especially one of above-average height.
My father, Brian Daughtry (6¢1²), the zoo’s chief primate keeper, was the right size for a keeper. He had presence, like a force field that didn’t feel forced. It was just this funny assumption of control--nothing bullying or desperate about it--that calmed nervous animals and also nervous people who were afraid nervous animals might eat them. He oversaw the primate staff, gave presentations to all the bigwigs and VIPs who toured the zoo, and spoke gently and evenly to reporters when the rare animal died on the zoo’s watch. He also had great hair. My stepmother called it That Irish Mane. I called it Humble Hero Hair.
Brian Daughtry presided over things: bad things, good things, anything.
You preside over things, y’know. Not under them. Is my point.
Anyway, as Brian presided, Laura (5¢8²) glided into the living room with a blazing cake and a half-sung “Happy birthday, Will!” and her perfect yogurt-commercial brunette ponytail swinging. Laura advised food shippers on safety and best practices. She believed passionately in safety and best practices, and she had the greatest handle on stepmomming I’ve ever seen in a stepmom. She didn’t try to mom me, for starters, and she didn’t try to friend me, either, or freeze me out. Laura was simply and plausibly Cool, without attempting to be Cool. She was what they call “at home in her skin.”
I appreciate that quality in people. Always been a little low on it myself.
“Happy birthday!” Brian sang horribly. “Happy birthday, baby, oh, I love you so! Six. Teen. Candles!” No oldies, no matter how golden, were safe from Brian Daughtry.
A little behavioral biology for you: when Large Things advance on a Small Thing, singing screamy falsetto and brandishing flaming baked goods, the Small Thing’s natural, paleomammalian reaction is to back up. Which I did--
--and collided with something as solid as a basketball goal.
Something that was, in a sense, a basketball goal.
“Whudup, Willennium. Ready to become a man?”
And there was Drew (5¢113/4²). Number 38. “The Special.” Lewis Keseberg High School junior varsity basketball’s pride and joy. Keseberg varsity basketball’s future. And my almost brother. My near brother, my blood brother.
“What happened to practice?” I asked. Drew, as a rule, did not miss practice. He was grateful for every nanosecond of practice he got, because every nanosecond brought him closer to fulfilling the Plan.
It hadn’t started without a hitch, the Plan. But Drew kept at it.