A toxic friendship takes a dangerous turn in this riveting novel from the author of Where It Began.
Emma is tired of being good. Always the perfect daughter to an overprotective father, she moves to Los Angeles dying to reinvent herself. This is why meeting Siobhan is the best thing that ever happened to her. And the most dangerous. Because Siobhan is fun and alluring and experienced and lives on the edge—and she wants Emma to come with her.
And it may be more than Emma can handle.
Their high-stakes pacts are spinning out of control. Loyalties and boundaries are blurred. And it all comes to a head at the infamous Afterparty, where an intense, inescapable confrontation ends in a plummet from the rooftop…
How many lies can you tell your father, your best friend, your boyfriend, and yourself before everything falls apart?
It is not the ending I expected. The free fall from the roof and the torn green awnings. Her body landing in a heap at the foot of a hydrangea bush. The hedges lit with pink Malibu lights that glint off the sequined skirt, the blouse half open, and her pale hair.
The thud, the doorman running down the sidewalk, and then sirens and more rain.
Siobhan the Wild and Emma the Good.
I was the good one . . . maybe not so much.
She could batter mean girls with a field hockey stick and make it seem accidental. She could break your heart and make it seem accidental.
And then she couldn’t. Then she was gone.
Maybe she is only temporarily asleep—but more likely, she is only temporarily alive.
Hanging on by her fingernails is what they say.
The wild one is gone and the good one . . . isn’t good. Because good girls don’t usually wear long sleeves to cover where their best friend’s fingernails scored their forearms. Good girls don’t usually slip out their bedroom window in a silver dress and taxi to the Camden Hotel late at night.
1. The author frames her novel with nearly identical lines: “It isn’t the ending I expected.” In what ways do expectation and reality clash through the novel? How do Emma’s expectations for the future shape her present actions? Can you point to specific examples where the two contradict?
2. Emma’s life seems to be dictated by extremes: her father on one side and Siobhan on the other. What are the positives of each of those two characters’ outlooks? Can you imagine a more middle-of-the-road path for Emma in between the two poles?
3. Consider the dichotomy between fate and choice. Does Emma choose to be good or was she born to be bad?
4. Megan and Siobhan represent two sides of Emma. Do you agree with that statement? Which specific instances support why you believe it to be true or false?
5. The concept of “space”—that is, physical distance—plays an important role in how characters think and act throughout the novel. For example, think of Emma’s father moving away from his family or Dylan moving far away to college, or even times when Emma is stuck in her house away from friends. How can distance change a person’s feelings or actions?
6. How do Emma’s genes affect her? How does that conflict with how she is being raised by her father?
7. All the characters in the book communicate via a variety of methods, including texting, talking, phone calls, Facebook, as well as in different languages, such as French. How do the modes of communication impact what people say? Can the way someone says something affect the meaning of what is said?
8. Consider what Rabbi Pam says about Judaism: “I choose it for myself every day.” How does that statement reconcile with the outlook of Emma’s Canadian family who considers her a shiksa? Can you choose your religion and who you are, or are you born a certain way?
9. When Dylan tells Emma that she “can’t fix” Siobhan, Arif maintains that “it’s the right thing to do.” Is it Emma’s responsibility to help Siobhan? Can someone ever “fix” another person?
10. Can you point to instances in the novel when Emma means to say one thing, but says another? How do these examples shape the character for you, the reader? Do they make you like her more or less? Do they allow you to trust her or do they ever make you suspect?
11. Emma often refers to her “moral compass,” and throughout the book you’re asked to consider the push and pull between “good” and “bad.” Do you agree that one can do something “bad,” but still be “good” at the core? Or are there any actions that are fully “bad,” and perhaps unforgivable?
12. Consider what Dylan says: “Listen, Emma, high school is about to be over. You might have to hang up your learner’s permit and get a license. This is what people do.” Is high school just preparation for college? Is college just preparation for adult life? Does one step just lead to the next or do you believe in something more permanent?
13. Parents in the novel fall all across the map from responsible to irresponsible, from admirable to objectionable, with the same person wavering from good to bad themselves at times. Think about the various parents in the book: How do they compare? Who would be most desirable as a parent and why? Does s/he have any flaws?
14. What do you think happened on the roof between Emma and Siobhan? How does the text support your argument? Is it possible there is more than one version of the truth?
15. How does the city of Los Angeles impact this story? Could it take place somewhere else? What might be different about it there?
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Ann Redisch Stampler is the author of the young adult novels Afterparty and Where It Began as well as half a dozen picture books. Her work has garnered an Aesop accolade, the National Jewish Book Award, Sydney Taylor honors, the Middle East Book Award, and Bank Street Best Books of the Year mentions. She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband, Rick.
"A gripping and sometimes downright scary look at friendship and manipulation."
– Kirkus Reviews
"In Stampler's unflinching look at wealthy, decadent youth and complicated relationships, there are no easy answers. Realistic characters with tight dialogue add to the tension--and there's plenty of it."
"Readers will root for Emma as she negotiates difficult choices and a first romance, and grapples with finding her moral compass. But in her heartbreaking portrayal of Siobhan, a young woman spinning out of control with no one able to catch her—not even her best friend—author Ann Redisch Stampler reminds us that losing a friendship can be just as painful as a failed romance."