The day my older sister, Claire, left for college she gave me this book.
Excerpted from A Field Guide to High School by Marissa Walsh Copyright © 2007 by Marissa Walsh. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
This is how it happened. When I went outside to get in the car that would bring Claire and her stuff to college, there was a minifridge in my seat. And it wasn’t moving. “It’s either it or me,” I said. My parents looked at each other. My mother gave me money for pizza and said they wouldn’t be home too too late. My father gave me a weak smile. As they pulled away, Claire smirked out the window, then made that stupid Macaulay Culkin Home Alone face at me: a hand on each cheek and her mouth opened wide. I gave her the finger. Then I went back inside–there was no reason to start the day at this ungodly hour. Claire was the crazy one who had insisted on leaving at five-thirty a.m. because she wanted to beat her roommate there so she could get the best side. “Everyone knows that’s how it works,” she had explained. I didn’t think that was the nicest way to start things off, but I didn’t say anything. You couldn’t argue with Claire.
She had signed up for some pre-pre-preorientation college thing so she could “survey the competition, get a jump on everyone else, and hit the ground running.” Part of her motivation for doing this was because she had, according to her, been given the worst incoming first-year student at Yale for a roommate. Someone who had probably only applied there because she wanted to be like Rory on Gilmore Girls. Or First Daughter Barbara Bush. I didn’t think being like Rory was such a bad thing, but I kept my mouth shut. Besides, I secretly thought it was possible Claire had chosen Yale for the same reason.
What had happened was, my sister had sent the nice, summertime hello-I-like-to-sleep-with-the- window-open friendly e-mail to her roommate and received no response. My sister was not used to receiving no response. This was not how one treated my sister.
That girl was toast.
And so was I.
Claire had been like Ms. Plumstead Country Day, which was the stupid name of the stupid high school I’d be going to and she had just graduated from. She was popular, captain of the field hockey team, pretty, and smart. Yes, she was a total high school cliché. They should have shipped her out to Laguna Beach. And now she was going to Yale, where she would probably become a total college cliché. And I was starting at Plumstead, pretty sure no one would ever be crowning me anything except “Claire Petersen’s little (maybe she’s adopted?) sister.”
I hadn’t wanted to go to Plumstead. Claire and I had always gone to public school, but then when it was time for Claire to go to high school she was recruited by Plumstead, and for some reason I still don’t understand my parents agreed to send her there.
It had never occurred to me that I would have to go there, too. I just assumed I would go to the public high school, or to Pope Mother Teresa XXXIII, the Catholic school my best friend, Bess, was going to. But I didn’t even get a choice. As usual, I was paying the price of being related to Claire.
Plumstead hadn’t recruited me–they were just stuck with me because I was related to her. I wasn’t a star like Claire. I got Bs. I was good at soccer but I wasn’t the captain. I never scored. If Bess were here she would point out that that’s because I played defense, which is true. But it is also true that I am just average. My big sister is the most interesting thing about me. As I jumped back into bed, my knee hit something hard. I reached under my blanket: it was a book. But it wasn’t mine and it hadn’t been there when I’d gotten up. Claire. Either she had forgotten it or it was an overdue library book she wanted me to return for her. Typical.
My cell phone rang. It was five-forty-five. Who would be calling?
“Did you find it?”
“The book I left for you?”
“Who is this?”
Claire snorted. “Oh, so you’ve forgotten me already?”
I started to hang up.
“Wait! Andie! Are you in my room?”
I tried to go back to sleep but the book taunted me from the floor. It was as if Claire had never left. And with the new family-plan cell phones she had insisted my parents invest in for college (playing the safety card really works, by the way), she would continue to call me until I had read it and given her an A+. It was either that or change my number.
To be honest, I had nothing better to do. I opened the book, which Claire had modestly titled “A Field Guide to High School.” It looked like she had found an actual old field guide at a used-book store–this one was about poisonous plants and venomous animals–except that she had pasted over the descriptions of poison oak and scorpions. It was one of those Peterson’s guides, which was mildly amusing, because our last name just happens to be Petersen, with an “e.” I guess there was a reason my sister had gotten into Yale–she could be clever when she wanted to be.
From the Hardcover edition.