Lea Lane has lived in between all her life.
Part Hawaiian, part Mainlander. Perpetual new girl at school. Hanging in the shadow of her actress mother’s spotlight. And now: new resident of the prominent West family’s guest cottage.
Bracing herself for the embarrassment of being her classmates’ latest charity case, Lea is surprised when she starts becoming friends with Will and Whitney West instead—or in the case of gorgeous, unattainable Will, possibly even more than friends. And despite their differences, Whitney and Lea have a lot in common: both are navigating a tangled web of relationships, past disappointments and future hopes. As things heat up with Will, and her friendship with Whitney deepens, Lea has to decide how much she's willing to change in order to fit into their world.
Lea Lane has lived in between all her life. But it isn’t until her junior year that she learns how to do it on her own terms.
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Kaui Hart Hemmings is the author of House of Thieves, a collection of short stories, and The Descendants, a New York Times bestselling novel and Oscar-winning film for best adapted screenplay. Her most recent novel, The Possibilities, has been optioned for film by Jason Reitman. Kaui lives in Hawaii with her family.
Juniors is her first novel for young adults.
THE PUNAHOU PEER COUNSELORS ARE TRYING TO LEAD a gym full of juniors on a “truth walk.” Our ethics classes merged, so about fifty of us are against the wall of the gym, waiting to do whatever our peers have planned so we can be on our way to fulfilling our Spiritual, Ethical, Community Responsibility requirement for our spring semester. Sheri Ho stands before us in jean shorts that barely pass dress code. She’s a senior, cute and well-liked, but not cool. I think to be cool at Punahou, you have to drink (but not too much) and hook up (but not too much). As a peer counselor who wears a platinum promise ring, she does neither. But maybe I’m wrong about what “cool” is. There are so many variations here. It’s like looking at a menu for shave ice. Countless flavors and colors; even weird-sounding things like pickled mango or green tea can be really good and popular.
My mom and I moved here in December, and I started mid-junior year, which I think is totally rare. So, two months at this place, but it may as well be my first day. I’ve adjusted to some things—the academics, how much harder it is than my last school—the offerings and choices, the campus itself, which is the size of a university. It’s the biggest private school in the US.
I’ve been playing catch-up socially too, scoping things out, getting the lay of the humid Hawaiian land. I feel like a surveyor or a pioneer, trying to know the ground I’m standing on and figure out where to stake my flag and settle. My mother grew up here, so we’ve visited a lot, but being a visitor is very different from living in Hawaii, especially when you’re going to high school.
Sheri whistles, then speaks in a loud, cheerleader-like voice.
“Okay, gang. Settle in, settle down.” Four other counselors stand by her, moving to some kind of imaginary music, but now that the group has quieted down I realize music really is playing. My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.
“Get all the way against the wall,” she yells. “I’m talking to you, Cici; you, Jim; you, Shasha—up against the wall!”
I scan my classmates, the many flavors of them, waiting to begin. I guess in some way this is like any high school in America, little sects in a big congregation—the football players, the drama kids, the ROTCs, the mushers (what skaters and stoners are called here). In Hawaii there are surfers, paddlers, water polo players. At Storey, my school in San Francisco, there were only a few surfers and other groups that were more defined and permanent, like, “we’re the sailor yacht club kids!” People here seem to venture out of their groups.
Pete Weiner (pronounced Whiner not Weener, though I’m not sure what I’d choose between the two) is standing to my right, and I can tell he’s looking at me, waiting for me to acknowledge him. He has a football-shaped head and an expression that makes him look constantly on the verge of a sneeze. He’s in my ethics class, and for some reason he’s always sharing his asides. I figure I’m sort of like a test dummy. If I laugh, great, he’ll shop his joke around. If I don’t laugh, then at least he doesn’t embarrass himself because who cares what Lea Lane thinks? Who’s Lea Lane anyhow? Random-ass transfer student. At least in Hawaii people pronounce my name right—Lea like Lei-a. Not Lee-a.
“This song is so lame,” he says. “‘Her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard’? Sounds like she has a yeast infection.”
“I don’t get it,” I say, hating that this guy feels so comfortable with me.
“Yeah, neither do I,” he says.
I kick the toe of my shoe into the glassy floor, then stop when I remember we aren’t supposed to wear black-soled shoes in the gym. I’ve been hyperalert to the rules, not wanting to draw attention to myself, which is pretty easy in a junior class of four hundred and four, and a school of almost four thousand students. It’s hard to insert yourself so late in the game. I’ve planned to lay low—Lea low—head down, graduate, move on. But these past few weeks, I don’t know, I’m lonely. I want to look around. I want to step more into the radar, get pulled over. Something, anything. In situations like this, or in chapel surrounded by so many students, I feel like if I vanished, if I melted into the floor, no one would notice I was gone. I’m getting bored being so quiet. I was quiet at my last school. Maybe I could reinvent myself, or at least remodel? Take the blank slate and mark it up.
“Okay, let’s do this!” Sheri yells, and I laugh to myself at her crazed enthusiasm. “Remember. This is a safe zone. Nothing you do or say leaves this room. There are no teachers here, no parents. This is our time to get real.”
“I want to have sex with you, Sheri!” Jim yells. “Honestly. For real!”
All of Jim’s “boys” erupt into laughter, except Mike Matson, who looks like he’s being tethered by his girlfriend, Maile Beaucage. Her name always makes me think of a flower in a handsome jail, and whenever they hold hands, he seems to look at his group of friends longingly, like they’re leaving on a booze cruise without him. Those boys are all dressed in T-shirts with surf logos, baggy shorts, caps worn low or backwards. They make the boys from my old school look like they’re dressed to clock in at Google. I want to be over there, not over here. I want them to see me laughing.
“Okay, boys,” Sheri says. “Settle down ’cause we’re about to get internally rowdy. We’re going to find out what’s inside of us.”
Our regular teacher isn’t here, since we’re about to get internally rowdy, but I wonder if Ms. Wood is hiding under the bleachers, trying to get glimpses into the real lives of teenagers. The peer counselors are giving us a sneak preview of things they do during Camp Paumalu, a four-day lovefest of trust falls and cathartic crying. I hear you do things like write a problem on a slab of wood, then punch through it karate-style while listening to “Eye of the Tiger.”
“There are no winners in this race,” Sheri says. “I’ll be asking questions, and some of you will walk, and some of you won’t. Everyone will get to the other side in the place that matters.” She thumps her chest with a closed fist.
“Now. I want you to take five steps if, within this past month, you’ve made someone feel good!”
I immediately look to the pack of guys, and they’re all smiling as if they’ve done something sexual. Poor Sheri. The land of innuendos is boundless. I’d say mostly the entire group walks—it’s a pretty open-ended question.
“Now. Boo.” Sheri makes an exaggerated sad face with a duck-lipped pout. “Walk if you’ve done something that made someone feel bad. Awesome,” she says, as the bulk of the group takes a timid stroll. “It’s okay. Own those steps. No judgment.”
I walk, only because everyone else is and I don’t want to be left behind.
“Walk if you’ve done something you’re ashamed of.”
“I just sharted,” Jim says. “I’ll take a walk.”
Everyone laughs. I can’t imagine a girl saying that, but if one did, I’m sure I’d like her. I walk, ashamed that girl can’t be me, that I can only be funny on the inside.
“Now walk if you’ve recently said something behind someone’s back,” Sheri says.
Almost everyone walks again—with a collective sensation of relief, I think. This is easy and not too deep, like a trailer for a drama. I stay where I am. I haven’t spoken behind anyone’s back recently, not because I’m above such things, but because I don’t have people to air my gripes to. Besides Danny, I don’t really socialize with anyone. I like girls from my classes, but feel like I have a kind of guest membership with them, and honestly, I like them just because they’re there. They’re the ones I’ve seen so far, but I keep looking for more. My old friends were into debate club, cross-country, and pizza parties. On this campus, I overhear girls walking to classes or at paddling practice—shut up, omg shut up. I know, right? and admit I’ve stood before my bathroom mirror, imitating not just their words, but their inflections. Shawt up, oh ma haw, shawt up. I knew, righta? and not knowing if I’m making fun of them or wanting to be them.
I guess I’m not being very honest with this exercise. While I don’t talk badly about people, I think badly about them. I take five steps.
“Walk if you’ve smoked a cigarette,” one of the other counselors says.
Ross Shetland laughs and runs his five steps. A few others follow suit, but not many. We’re a pot generation. Cigarettes are bad for you.
“Walk if you’ve lied to a friend.”
I’ve lied to friends. In second grade, I told Crystal Watanabe I had a monkey, and to every friend I had in San Francisco I said I was excited to move to Hawaii. I’m sure there have been countless fibs and exaggerations, but too harmless to remember here.
Innocent questions like these keep coming, and then we move to more difficult terrain.
“Walk if your parents are divorced,” Sheri says. She looks like she’s going to break into a sad song.
I walk, then stop myself. My dad left before I was born. My parents were never married, and my mother hardly knew him. I’ve never met him and probably never will. His name is Ray Piston aka Stranger Dad. The story I’ve been told is that he was handsome, arrogant, entitled. This part of my life has become like a fairy tale, something I know by heart and that seems like a fantasy.
My mom was taken with his swagger and young enough to overlook the rest. He was visiting from New York, where he had a job in the hotel industry. He seemingly had very little to do, but made a lot of money doing it. Before him she had been in a quiet relationship—stable, sweet, good, but after she graduated from UCLA and came home to Hawaii, they broke up. She and Ray dated that summer, exclusively on her part, and not so exclusively on his, which she found out later. He did all the things she never thought she wanted or needed—gifts, dinners, trips, jewelry—and his reaction to her getting pregnant?
“Fabulous,” he had said. “Now this is getting fun.”
And then he left when my mom was six months pregnant, and she hasn’t seen him since. What a guy.
He lives in Paris now. Done. For a long time I wanted to know him, to know my roots, but the more my mom told me, the less interested I became. At the Outrigger Canoe Club, where they hung out, he made the waitresses bring his meals over to him on the beach where he sunbathed by a canoe. Now when I think of him, I imagine a man dallying about Paris, making waitresses schlep up the Eiffel Tower to serve him croissants.
I’ve Googled him, of course, read his business profile, articles about legal battles with his properties. I’ve seen pictures of him at various charity events, posing with the same expression—like he’s about to call out across the room to a pal. He looks handsome, smart, both careful and careless. His connection to me seems unreal, like I’m looking at a celebrity. I’m not his, and he’s not mine. I kind of hate him.
“Walk if you’ve been cruel to someone you love,” Sheri says.
Everyone walks; most heads are down. Pete Weiner has a little psycho smirk on his face. Mike Matson looks contemplative. I walk too. I’ve been mean to my mom and to Lo, my best friend in San Francisco. Sometimes you’re just mean to the people you love the most. You know you’ll get a pass.
“Walk if someone you love has been cruel to you.”
I walk. My San Francisco friends left my good-bye sushi dinner after an hour so they could go to Fletcher Ronson Jr.’s party. I saw the Instagram posts the next day in Honolulu. Girls are the cruelest.
“Walk if you’ve ever felt neglected,” Sheri says in a solemn voice.
I walk into the pity party. I’ve been neglected my whole life, even though my dad never seemed real enough to be able to neglect me. Oddly, I feel more neglected by my mother, who is always there. I can’t pinpoint why I feel this way. Sometimes I interpret it not as neglect, but as too much trust in me, which I’ve come to dislike.
We moved because my mom got a part in a TV drama being shot here. No Borders, it’s called, and the pilot airs in three weeks, right after spring break. She plays a surgeon, Samantha Lovejoy, who has come with a group of doctors whose mission is to help people on a remote island. They fight, fall in love, doctor, and have lots of downtime to do montaged activities and enact overly complicated methods of revenge. My mom has a leading role, which is many steps up from her prior gigs, mainly nonrecurring parts in sitcoms and minor roles in movies—very minor—not even the best friend, but the acquaintance or the quirky secretary or a shop owner. She’s done tons of commercials, both as an actor and a voice (chicken wings, deodorant, car insurance, Quilted Northern). I know I’m lucky. She could be insecure and envious, tormented, egotistical, like so many people in her business. Instead she’s just happy for work.
Yes, I feel neglect, I feel it by looking around the room. I’m neglected by people who don’t know they’re wanted in the first place, by people who don’t know my name, who possibly never will, even though I know all of theirs—first and last. But whose fault is that? It’s my own. I’m getting closer to the middle now, to Sheri and the other counselors.
This question of neglect and the tougher ones that follow are making people look straight ahead, their faces dulling a bit. Walk if you are afraid. Walk if you think people don’t really know who you are. Walk if you love someone who doesn’t love you back. Walk if you’ve been used or humiliated. Everyone looks at Mia and Pua, two of the many girls whose Snapchat nude pictures were traded by boys who called themselves the Pokemon Trading Club. The boys were all expelled the second week I got here.
Walk if you feel that you’ll never have enough. Walk if you do things to feel good that aren’t good for you. Walk if these things make you feel worse. These questions resonate inside us, triggering our brains to remember things specific or vague, which can be harder—not having a thing to stick a pin into.
Ross and Jim aren’t making jokes after every question anymore, and the cluster of girls has been separated by their differing answers. The majority of the group is well ahead of me, which makes me feel boring. I need to steal, cheat, gossip, do drugs, text someone pictures of my boobs. Beside and behind me are the people I expect to see: Mark Lam, Mark Lum, Geoff Davenport, Sylvia Moncrief, the ballerinas, but then I see someone only a few steps ahead whose presence surprises me: Whitney. Beautiful, blessed Whitney West, daughter of a hotelier; she’s like Hawaii’s Paris Hilton. I make eye contact with her. She has never spoken to me before, even though our mothers are friends and my mom and her dad both went to Punahou.
Mom and the Wests have kept in touch, though it seems that Melanie’s fondness for my mom is proportionate to my mom’s success. A stint in a sitcom: Melanie West calls. A commercial for Crest Whitening Strips: not so much.
Now, for example, with a show set in Hawaii on the brink of its debut, Melanie is a close, close, super-close friend.
When my mom and I visited my grandparents—who passed away four and seven years a...
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