18.82 Joelle Charbonneau NEED

ISBN 13: 9780544416697

NEED

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9780544416697: NEED

“No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better.”   Teenagers at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences. Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises. In this chilling YA thriller, the author of the best-selling Testing trilogy examines not only the dark side of social media, but the dark side of human nature.

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About the Author:

Joelle Charbonneau began telling stories as an opera singer, but these days she finds her voice through writing. She lives near Chicago with her husband and son, and when she isn’t writing, she works as an acting and vocal coach. Visit Joelle at joellecharbonneau.com, on Twitter at @jcharbonneau, and on Instagram at@joellejcharbonneau. 

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Kaylee
 
    WANT: A DESIRE TO POSSESS OR DO SOMETHING. A WISH.
    NEED: SOMETHING REQUIRED BECAUSE IT IS ESSENTIAL. SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOU CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT.
    WHAT DO YOU NEED?
 
“SEE, KAYLEE. It’s fascinating, right?” Nate swivels in my desk chair and grins, showing off the braces he will finally get removed next week. He lobbied to get the braces off earlier, saying that no sixteen-year-old should have to face girls with metal in his mouth, but his father and the dentist both said no. Personally, I think they make Nate’s blond good looks less perfect, which is not a bad thing. He needs a flaw. Or twelve. Of course, I have enough flaws for both of us. The attention-seeking drama queen and the neglected, nonathletic brother. We’re so different and yet, at the core, we’re the same.
 
“I don’t understand,” I say, and I shift my attention over his shoulder to my Mac. “I thought you said this was the website where Jack got a new iPhone.”
 
Nate’s older brother asked for the newest iPhone for Christmas after breaking his third phone in almost as many months. He pleaded the need to check his email in case colleges sent acceptance letters. The first two times, his mother replaced the phone with a warning, saying she wouldn’t do it again, which no one believed, since Nate’s parents give Jack whatever he wants whenever he wants it. This last time, though, his father denied Jack’s request and held firm. Even Santa and the holiday spirit didn’t budge him. No new iPhone until after first-semester report cards came in and Jack could prove he was responsible in at least one nonsporting aspect of his life. As if that was going to happen. Jack is the king of all things popular because of his athletic ability, but just because his friends like him doesn’t make him smart.
 
“When Dad came home from work and saw Jack with the phone, he was seriously pissed. He figured Mom had gone behind his back, screamed that he was tired of her undermining his authority, and stormed out before she could persuade him she had nothing to do with it.”
 
“Maybe she did.” I take off my glasses and rub my eyes. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time Nate’s mom had caved. In the Weakley house Jack can do no wrong. Must be nice. For Jack.
 
Nate shakes his head. “I thought it was my mom too, but later I heard Jack talking to one of his friends. He said he got the phone from this new social networking site. All he had to do was invite five qualified friends to join. As soon as they accepted the invitations, presto, the phone was his.”
 
“The world doesn’t work that way.” At least, my world doesn’t. “The site must ask for a credit card or something. No one gives out free cell phones for inviting five people to a new social network.”
 
“This one does.” Nate swings back to face the screen. “Trust me, my brother isn’t clever enough to make something like this up. And he’s not the only one who got stuff. Look at this.”
 
Nate clicks the mouse and shifts the laptop so I can see the screen from where I’m standing behind him. Normally, without glasses, I wouldn’t be able to read anything. In this case, I can make out the large red letters in the center of a black box.
 
    NETWORK MEMBERS—48
    NEEDS PENDING—43
    NEEDS FULFILLED—7
 
“So . . .” Nate looks at me with a goofy smile. “What should I ask for? A new bike? A computer?”
 
“You don’t need either of those things.”
 
“What’s your point?” Nate shrugs. “Jack didn’t really need a phone, but he got one.”
 
“Yeah, but . . .” But what? I’m not exactly sure. There’s something about this whole setup that bugs me. Or maybe it’s just the question we’re asked— What do you need? Because I know what need is, and it’s not another phone.
 
Nate gives me an annoyed look and I feel a twinge of guilt. When Nate heard my mom and brother weren’t home, he dropped what he was doing to come over and keep me company. And knowing Nate, he probably had a zillion offers for something more entertaining to do with his night. At some point he’s going to realize that and start accepting those invitations. Then what will I do?
 
So I slide my glasses back on and say, “I guess I’m just surprised your brother sent you an invitation.”
 
“He didn’t.” Nate flashes a wide grin. “He forgot to log out when he left to meet his friends, and I borrowed his computer and sent an invitation to myself.” Nate rolls out his shoulders. “The network assigns a profile name to every user, and as far as I can tell, no one is allowed to say anything on the site that will reveal their identity or to disclose online or in real life whether their need has been fulfilled.” He clicks the mouse several times and then points to the screen as he reads: “Doing so violates the terms of use and voids any possible fulfillment of requests in the future.”
 
“But Jack—”
 
“Yep.” Nate laughs. “Jack already violated the terms. He’s going to be displeased when he tries to get something else and the NEED fairy godmother gives him the finger. I can’t wait.”
 
“You’re assuming the people who operate the system know Jack told his friends,” I say. “The odds of that occurring have to be pretty low.”
 
“Yeah. What a bummer.” Nate lets out a dramatic sigh. “Still, there’s always a chance someone will learn about Jack breaking the rules, which is good. It gives me something to dream about when he’s being a jerk.”
 
“So, basically, you’ll be dreaming about it a lot.” I laugh.
 
“A guy has to have a hobby. We can’t all have brothers we actually like and get along with.” I see Nate’s eyes shift to the framed photograph on my desk of me, Mom, and DJ from this summer. DJ’s blond hair shines in the sunlight. His face is filled with delight. Mom and I look happy too, but our brown hair makes us look less bright. Or maybe it’s just that I know how much we both wish we were more like DJ.
 
“Have you heard anything?” Nate asks.
 
I bite my bottom lip, pull my phone out of my back pocket, and check to make sure I didn’t miss a message. Nothing. “Mom took DJ to the ER at All Saints Hospital, and her phone doesn’t always get the best reception there. I’m sure she’ll update me soon.” The tests won’t say he’s had a relapse. They just can’t. He deserves better than that. He deserves better than everything he’s gotten up to now. Karma owes him. I’d be there with him now if I’d been allowed to go. Instead, my mother insisted I stay here. Out of the way. Alone.
 
Nate reaches out and I step toward him. He takes my hand and webs his fingers through mine. No. Not alone. Behind him, I can read the word NEED shining in large red block letters at the top of the computer screen, which is appropriate. Because in my life, Nate is someone I need. Without him, I’m not sure how I would get through nights like this. If he ever finds a serious girlfriend, I’ll be sunk.
 
“So . . .” Nate’s voice is once again filled with mischief as he lets go of my hand and swivels toward the desk. “Back to the really important stuff. What should I ask the great and powerful NEED network for? A car would be nice.”
 
“You live two blocks from school,” I say. “You don’t need a car. Not to mention that you’d have to get a job to pay for gas and insurance.”
 
“Sad but true. And since I’m not interested in hard labor, I’ll have to ask for something else.” Nate tilts his head to the side. His expression turns serious. “You know what I really need? A B on my physics final. Before break, Mr. Lott told me I have to get at least an eighty percent on that test or I’ll fail the class and end up in summer school.”
 
“I don’t think the people running NEED can take your final for you.”
 
“No, but whoever created this thing must have skills. He might be able to hack into the system and change my grade. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?” Nate types An A on my physics final into the box and hits Enter. The message in the box changes. Now it reads: NEED REQUEST BEING VERIFIED. PLEASE STAND BY. The image of a clock appears.
 
“I thought you said you needed a B.”
 
“Why settle?” Nate taps his fingers on the wood of my desk as the second hand of the clock on the NEED site travels from twelve to one. Then two. As it travels to the number three, I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. My stomach lurches. My legs are unsteady as I stand and pull out the phone.
 
“What does it say?” Nate asks.
 
I try to breathe, but I can’t as I click the Talk button, praying that DJ is okay. Thankfully, my mother doesn’t draw things out and tells me in the first sentence that he is. No relapse. He’s still sick, but it isn’t worse. With every relapse it can get so much worse. So this is good. Still, my voice shakes when I put down the phone and say, “The doctor is going to run one more test, but they think a virus caused the fever. Everything else is stable.” For now.
 
“That’s a relief. Hey, I haven’t asked in the last week, but your father . . .”
 
I shake my head. “I still haven’t been able to find him. The Christmas card he sent had a Kenosha return address and postmark, but when I called the apartment complex they said they’d never heard of him.”
 
“You’ll find him, Kaylee.” Nate gets up and puts his arms around me. “If not, we’ll convince more people around here to get tested. Someone will step up and help.”
 
I lean into Nate and close my eyes. “I hope so.” I used to think so. Then I learned the truth. People say they care, but they just don’t give a damn. Not my father. Not the people in this town. Not the school psychologist my mother insists I see to deal with my “issues.” No one. Opening my eyes, I see the screen behind Nate change and am grateful for the distraction. “The clock on the site stopped ticking.”
 
Nate’s face lights up. He gives me one final squeeze before sliding into the chair in front of the computer screen. “Score. My request has been processed. Now, according to this, I just have to invite six qualified friends to the site and my need will be met. That’s easy enough.” Nate types my name and email address and hits Send before I can object. He then types five more addresses.
 
“Who did you just invite?”
 
“I’m not telling. Unlike Jack, I plan on following the rules.” After hitting Log Out, Nate shoves back the chair and stands. “Now, did your mom say when they’ll be home?”
 
“No.” The last time I went with DJ and Mom to the ER, it took hours before DJ was discharged. It’s like clocks stop working when you step into a hospital. “I doubt it will be any time soon.”
 
“Good.” Nate grabs my arm and pulls me toward the door. “That means we still have time to raid the fridge and watch a scary movie before they get back.”
 
“Does it have to be a horror film?” I ask, even though I know the answer. “Can’t we watch Lord of the Rings for the hundredth time? I won’t complain when you say all the dialogue and reenact the fight scenes.”
 
“Tempting, but no.” He laughs. “You have to do something nice for me because I came over, and I have my heart set on hearing you shriek like a girl.”
 
“In case you haven’t noticed, I am a girl.”
 
“And I’ve been working hard for the last seven years to not hold it against you.” Nate turns and winks. “You get the popcorn. I’ll get the soda. It’s time to have some fun.”
 

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