Thirteen-year-old Violet Windsor is obsessed with the rush and thrill of skateboarding through a dangerous, gang-ridden part of New York City. Certain that her high-society parents wouldn’t approve of the rough-and-tumble sport or the sketchy neighborhood, she and her best friend, Sloane, hide her secret adventures in a thick veil of lies.
When Violet’s neurodiverse brother, Oliver, begins drawing pictures that reveal a mysterious knowledge of her secrets, Violet is rattled to the core. Intrigued by clues in Oliver’s drawings, she follows them down a reckless path toward redemption and truth.
About the Author:
Renée Lichtenhan’s “I Am Girl” novels grew out of years of working with children. Renée loves their open minds, hearts, and souls. She wanted to write engaging books that might encourage faith and virtue to take shape within that openness. She lives with her husband in Mississippi, where they raised their three grown children.
YOU’RE A GIRL?
VIOLET PEEKED THROUGH THE WINDOW at the after-school orchestra practice that had started without her. She cringed at the urgent tap, tap, tapping of Mrs. Archibald’s baton against a metal music stand and watched as she raised her arms to bring the orchestra to attention. If Violet dared to walk in now, Mrs. Archibald’s pursed, wrinkly lips would remind the whole class to always, always be on time. That was the last thing Violet needed after the earful she’d just gotten from Principal Nibley.
The fresh memory of his lecture tied her gut in a knot. Mr. Nibley had scowled over black-rimmed glasses on the tip of his nose and shoved a pile of red-marked exams across his desk at her. “Miss Windsor, may I remind you that you attend the most prestigious middle school in New York City? We require high performance from our students. Your famous, well-connected father might have gotten you into this school, but it’s up to you to earn the privilege to stay.”
Now, she squeezed the handle of her violin case as if she could squeeze the worry out of her mind. She couldn’t imagine going to a different school than her best friend, Sloane.
Hoping to catch Sloane’s attention, Violet stared through the window at her. Sloane sat with perfect poise in the first violin chair, her instrument tucked under her chin. Her face, its skin as smooth and dark as milk chocolate, angled toward the music stand, strained with concentration. Finally, the orchestra stopped for instruction, and her eyes met Violet’s.
Violet gestured down the hall toward the exit and silently mouthed, I’m leaving.
Sloane tossed her mass of long, black braids over her shoulder and gave Violet a mischievous grin as if to say, Go on! Your secret’s safe with me.
Violet glanced at Mrs. Archibald, who was too busy waving her arms at the cello section to notice the exchange. Violet offered her friend a little wave and hurried down the empty hallway toward the girls’ bathroom.
Locking herself into the biggest stall, she shed her blazer, tie, and pleated skirt in favor of an old hoodie and baggy sweatpants. She traded her leather school shoes for a pair of scuffed canvas skateboarding shoes, then swung her backpack onto her shoulders. After tucking her chin-length blonde hair into a baseball cap, she raced down the shiny hallway like an escaped zoo animal. Her rubber soles squeaked against the floor until she burst through the doors onto the manicured lawn.
Crisp autumn air filled her lungs as she dashed across crunchy leaves to the alley behind the school. Her violin case banged hard against her leg as she ran, but she didn’t slow down. She slid to a stop between a dumpster and a whirling air conditioning unit.
For a brief moment, Violet contemplated throwing her violin into the dumpster, but that wouldn’t solve the problem. No doubt her parents would buy her another one and keep her trapped in orchestra forever. She’d already tried to convince them to let her quit. Multiple times, in fact. Violet had even demonstrated the horrific, screeching sound she produced from her violin, but they’d only reminded her that Windsors never quit. Windsors roll up their sleeves and work hard to overcome challenges.
Now Violet sighed, reached behind the air conditioning unit to pull her skateboard from its hiding place, and shoved her violin in there instead.
Free at last, she dropped her skateboard onto the pavement, jumped on, and took off. She tingled with excitement as she wove around joggers and dog walkers on the riverfront greenway that curved along New York’s affluent Upper East Side. A thrilling sense of risk energized Violet, and she sped up. Her parents would ground her for life if they knew she had gone to Harlem by herself. Again.
Every kid in her well-to-do neighborhood knew not to wander certain parts of New York alone, but Violet couldn’t stay away from Harlem. She needed its skate park like a fish needed water. As long as she could keep her nanny, Maria, from finding out, her parents would never know. Now that she was in middle school, they allowed her to walk to and from school with Sloane rather than Maria. She’d have to be careful not to get caught. If she lost that privilege, getting to the skate park would be tricky, but she’d always find a way.
Gliding into the park under the shadows of sprawling yellow and orange trees, Violet steadied herself over a patch of bumpy, cracked pavement, then looked for Trey. She spotted him flying over a ramp on his rickety, hand-me-down bike. Violet zigzagged through a blur of skaters and caught up with him.
Trey’s smile flashed bright against his dark skin. His big, brown eyes full of light beneath his crown of kinky black hair. “Hey, Vy, what’s up?” He raised his hand for a high five, but she caught it and pulled him into a quick hug, with an added thump on his back.
“You’re the only one who calls me Vy, you know that?” Violet laughed good-naturedly. She liked the nickname. It didn’t sound like it belonged to the daughter of Senator and Mrs. Edward Windsor IV. Nobody here, not even Trey, knew Dad’s identity, and she planned to keep it that way.
Trey shrugged. “Isn’t Violet some kind of flower? You’re too tough for a flower name.” He made a face like he tasted something nasty.
Violet grinned. She tugged on the arm of his oversized sweatshirt. “C’mon, let’s go. I don’t have much time.”
Trey tightened his helmet and focused on the ramps. “All right, I’m ready.”
Violet warmed up with a few easy drops down small ramps. She kept one eye on Trey, stopping every once in a while to give him a thumbs-up after he did a flip or a spin. She circled the half-pipe a few times, watching other skaters and bikers launching themselves into tricks. On her turn, Violet took the electrifying drop, popping out of the half-pipe with an airborne kick flip. The smack of her wheels hitting the pavement in a perfect landing sent a thrilling explosion through her body.
Trey flashed his winning smile. “Whoa! You’re on fire, man!”
Violet sped off, jumped into an ollie, and did a perfect rail slide. She flew down a ramp at lightning speed. When she turned back toward the half-pipe to take another drop, her heart sank, and she dragged her foot to stop.
Rex Skinner and his pack of BMX bikers rolled into the park, spreading everywhere like a bad disease. Violet counted six of them.
Trey skidded to a stop beside Violet.
“Great,” he muttered.
“Just ignore them. Keep riding.” She couldn’t wait to take that drop again.
Trey side-eyed her. “You lookin’ for trouble, Vy?”
“We were here first,” Violet said. Before Trey could talk her out of it, she raced past a few of Rex’s pack and straight to the half-pipe. The drop flipped her stomach into her hammering heart and charged her with adrenaline.
In a flash faster than her brain could register, Rex tore into her path on his bike, sending her tumbling down the concrete ramp like a rag doll. Violet’s mind whirled to make sense of what was happening as her body banged against the rock-hard ground.
Out of the dazed corner of her eyes, she saw Rex abandon his bike and amble down to where she’d landed. A finger of fear trailed up her spine. What did he want? Why was he walking over to her? She eased into a sitting position, bracing herself. As Violet sat catching her breath, Rex leaned over her, his dirty-blond hair hanging over one eye.
“You stupid or somethin’?” He cracked his knuckles. Was he going to hit her?
Violet sprung to her feet. Realizing her cap had fallen off, she raked her fingers through her hair and looked around for it.
“You’re a girl?” Rex’s dark eyes went wide before narrowing with disgust.
“Got a problem with that?” Trey squared his shoulders and stood toe to toe with Rex. Without breaking eye contact, he handed Violet her cap. Alarm screamed through Violet’s mind. Trey had tried to warn her, and she hadn’t listened. He shouldn’t get mixed up in this. She could stand up to Rex on her own.
Violet took a step toward the boys, but froze at another boy’s voice yelling down at them. “Give her a break, Rex! Her brother’s so dumb he can’t even talk! She’s probably an idiot, too!”
Cold laughter erupted from Rex’s buddies.
Violet whipped her head toward the voice. Who said that? The sun blinded her, and she could only make out dark silhouettes. A fierce protectiveness for her brother, Oliver, lit Violet’s mind with fiery anger. She ran up the ramp but found only the back sides of bikers peeling out of the park.
One of them lagged behind, but when he caught up, the others fist-bumped him or socked him on the shoulder like a champ. That had to be the guy who’d insulted Oliver. He wore a plain, black-knit hat that looked like a million others, but his red jacket had an unusual screen print on the back. Violet shielded her eyes with one hand and squinted to get a better look at it. It was a wolf with its head tilted back, howling at a full moon.
She fumed as she watched them go, clenching her fists. Who was this guy and how did he know Oliver?
“You all right?” Trey asked.
“Yeah.” Violet offered a weak smile, half expecting him to remind her that she’d been warned not to mess with those guys. But, they didn’t own this place! Rex had no reason to cut her off like that.
Trey nodded. “Good. Figures he’d do somethin’ like that.”
“Yeah. Hey… Thanks.” The single word sounded lame to Violet next to what he’d done for her. But if she’d said anything more, he would have shrugged her off and told her to stop being all gushy.
She grabbed her board, and they climbed back up the half-pipe together.
“Did you see who said that?” Violet asked.
Trey peered at her. “Said what?”
“About my brother.” Violet scowled, her thoughts snagging on the ugly comment.
Trey shook his head. “Nah. Kept my eye on Rex. Wasn’t gonna let him take a cheap shot.”
That made sense. What didn’t make sense was her overwhelming need to go home and console Oliver. He hadn’t heard any of it. But Violet had, and she hurt for her brother.
“Hey, I’m gonna go.” She tossed her board onto the pavement.
“Yeah, okay. See ya later.” Trey climbed onto his bike.
Violet hadn’t gotten far before she heard Trey calling after her. She turned to him, shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun. “Yeah?”
Trey regarded her with curiosity. “Is it true?”
“Is what true?” Violet asked.
Trey looked away and rubbed the back of his neck. “What he said. You know, ‘bout your brother.”
Violet paused. She’d made it a rule to keep her real life and skate-park life separate. Her real life felt like a heavy coat she could shed at the skate park. She was never in a hurry to put it back on.
She studied Trey, a loyal friend who had stood up for her, and she broke her rule. “His name is Oliver.” She started to leave, but stopped and added, “You’d like him.”
Would he? If she were being honest, she’d have to admit that not many people liked Oliver. Not many people really knew him.
Not even their own parents.