Here’s this week’s Editor’s Choice YA contemporary to help get you over the midweek hump!
I Wanna Be Different by Connie Ann Michael
Title: I Wanna Be Different
Author: Connie Ann Michael
Genre: YA Contemporary
Format: Paperback and eBook
At the beginning of Lee Diaz’s senior year, her grandmother dies, leaving her and her twin brother without a guardian. And to make matters worse, Lee’s abusive mother waltzes back into their lives, making the final stretch to graduation an impossible goal.
Jolin Daniel leads a charmed life, with the head cheerleader on his arm and leading the league in touchdowns. College scouts are knocking on his door. But his popularity comes crashing to an end when he receives a career-ending concussion at a pre-season game.
For both Lee and Jolin, it only takes a single moment for their dreams to shatter. A greedy jock and a manipulative girl thrust these two broken people into a conspiracy that could ruin both their lives. Together, they must learn to accept the fate they’ve been given and have faith in God’s plan to come out on the other side.
Check out I Wanna Be Different by Connie Ann Michael!
The squeaking of rubber-soled shoes grated on Lee’s nerves. The nurses hovered outside the room, waiting for goodbyes to be said so the orderlies could wrap the body in a sheet and take Grandma to the morgue. But Lee was going to take every last minute she wanted, and the staff would just have to wait.
Lee glanced over at where Mo had stationed himself against the wall, toe-tapping a never-ending beat to some song in his head, refusing to look at the lifeless body of the only adult who’d ever cared. Mo had stayed at the hospital longer than she’d expected. He usually buried himself in some video game or online chat room to avoid reality. Even though his name, Amoré, meant “love,” he didn’t do emotions. Lee wasn’t so “Lovely,” either, so it’s not like she matched her hippie given name.
Lee rubbed her thumb across the back of Grandma’s cool hand before resting her forehead on the edge of the mattress. She wanted to cry, but the lump building in her chest was so much bigger than crying could ever release. Grandma had saved her, saved Mo, pulled her out of the darkness Mom had put them in. Sitting beside the lifeless body of her grandma, she felt the blackness close in again. She and Mo were in trouble, and there was nothing she could do about it.
“What happens now?” Mo pushed off the wall, ran a hand through his long hair. The athletic code stated hair needed to be above the collar. Lee helped him trim it at the beginning of the season, but his bangs hung into his eyes. Mo was handsome. Really, really handsome. The dark skin of their anonymous father and the paleness of their mom left them both with a year-round glow of a tan. But where she had pale hair naturally, his was almost black.
Lee looked up. She didn’t have an answer for him. They were seventeen and alone.
Wetness pooled around the edges of Mo’s eyes. He would go straight to his buddy’s house to drown himself in some violent video game to blow this awful day away. It was his way of dealing.
“Don’t you dare leave me to deal with this alone.” Lee’s voice cracked.
The expression on his face broke what little of her heart was still intact.
“Please, Mo,” she whispered. They were twins, but other than being born minutes apart, they had little in common.
Mo ran his hands over his face. “Lee. I can’t do this.”
He shook his head; then his jaw clenched. The roller coaster of emotions warring through him showed on his face, none of which would lead him to stay and help her with the details of their grandmother’s death. No matter how hard he tried to be tough, he wore his heart on his sleeve.
“Lee?” he pleaded, a tear sliding down his cheek.
With a nod, she said, “Go. I’ve got this.” She’d taken care of everything in the past. She’d take care of everything now.
* * * *
Lee swallowed, trying to push the bile back down her throat. The last thing she wanted was to hurl in the middle of the cemetery. She and Mo stood beside the grave, with the rest of the funeral attendees behind them, and somewhere near the back, Mom barreled her way forward through the crowd.
“What’s she doing here?” Mo asked. “Why did you invite her?”
“What?” Lee looked up from the casket. She couldn’t believe Grandma died. She couldn’t believe she was so close to graduation. She couldn’t believe, in one day, her life had turned to nothing. Most of all, she couldn’t believe her mother had shown up. “Are you kidding me? I didn’t even know she was in town.”
Lee, a very tired Mo, and the pastor watched as Mom wobbled and stumbled down the path to the graveside in bright red heels. As soon as she reached the hole Grandma waited to be dropped in, Mom snorted and sniffled, continually running her hand under her nose to wipe up a stream of snot. She wailed through the short service. Static had bunched up Mom’s dress around her knees, and her hair was all askew, even though it was obvious she’d tried to do something with it. Her current boyfriend stood close by in a wrinkled dress shirt, jeans, and boots, rubbing her back as if a soft touch could console her.
Why the heck was Mom even here? The woman hated their grandmother, and Lee hated her mother with every cell of her body.
Mo put an arm around Lee’s shoulder and pulled her under his oversize umbrella. She had yet to cry—she’d run out of tears years ago. Lee wouldn’t give Mom any of her tears again.
“Lovely, would you like to say anything?” asked the pastor.
Lee looked over in his direction, taking a moment to focus. Mo nudged her with his shoulder. She shook her head. “It’s Lee, and no. Thank you.”
The pastor nodded and wrapped up the service. Mo turned and led Lee back toward the parking lot.
Mom stumbled through the wet grass after them. “Lovely?”
Lee closed her eyes and took a deep breath before turning around to face her.
“Lovely,” Mom repeated, losing her balance and falling forward. Mo reached out, took her by the shoulders, and steadied her.
Mom reached toward Lee’s rainbow-colored hair, ignoring her correction. “Lovely. What have you done to your beautiful hair?”
“You lost the right to comment on my appearance when you gave up parental rights.”
Mom wiped her eyes. “We only have each other now. Your grandmother let you run the streets, doing whatever you wanted. I’m back now. You need to get that washed out of your hair. Things are going to change.”
“Mo, get me out of here.” Lee turned, stepping on Mo’s feet in retreat.
Mom’s hand shot out, and long fingers wrapped around her arm. “We’re going to be a family again. I’m moving into the house today. I will not put up with your disrespect. No matter what some paper says, I am your mother.”
Lee took a deep breath. “It isn’t your house, and you are my mother in DNA alone.”
“She was my mother. I’m in charge of the estate, and the house was hers,” Mom said.
“We rent the house. So feel free to start paying rent,” Lee shot back.
“C’mon, Mel. Let’s go—it’s been an emotional day. I got you.” Mom’s stupid boyfriend took her shoulders and pulled her away at the same time Mo pulled Lee to the car.
Their mother called back, holding her palm to her forehead. “I’ll see you at home. I’ll see you at our home.”
“I hate her.” Lee gritted her teeth, fists balled at her sides.
Mo didn’t say anything as they walked to the car. The rain cooled Lee’s anger, but it wouldn’t last. Her mother was back, and apparently, they didn’t have a say in it. Lee got in the car and dropped her head into her hands.
Mo stared silently into the windshield before starting the car and pulling out of the parking lot.
“I just want to forget about this day,” he said.
* * * *
Mom had arrived at the house in record time after the funeral, moved into Grams’s room, and her campaign for Mom of the Year began. This wasn’t the first time she’d shown up and tried being a mom. The revolving door of her dysfunctional life was the norm until she gave up custody years ago.
“Lovely!” Mom’s singsong voice came through the bedroom door.
Lee buried her head under the flowered pillow. The room didn’t reflect Lee’s personality at all. Pink wallpaper, flowered sheets—all purchased by a grandma who wished for her little granddaughter to find peace.
“It’s a school day. You need to get up and off to school.” Mom banged her fist against the thin wood and rattled the doorknob. “I told you to take the lock off.”
Lee rolled over. Her aching brain throbbed with even the slightest movement. Mom lost her perfect mom persona and started swearing and kicking at the door. When it didn’t give her the desired result, she moved on and called for Mo.
“I’ll be downstairs. Get your butt out of bed!” Mo yelled through her door a few minutes later.
Lee ran her hand over her eyes and tried to press away the throbbing. Two days ago, she’d buried Grams, and she’d been off the rails ever since, the most recent breakdown being an evening of raging anger at her brother that ended in crying for hours on Brock’s shoulder, a boy she didn’t even like. If Lee wished hard enough, maybe she could disappear.
Unfortunately, wishes were wasted energy.
Lee slowly lifted herself onto her elbows, letting her body adjust to the movement. She had to get up. She had to get to school, then work and make some money. Grams’s checks would stop, and Mom had a history of being full of a lot of empty promises. If Lee missed a shift at the coffee shop, they’d be hard pressed to make the rent.
Lee sat up and ran a hand through her hair, letting the colorful ends graze her fingertips. She didn’t care what her mom said—she wasn’t changing it. She’d saved for weeks to dye four stripes of bright pink, green, blue, and yellow across the bottom of her normally light blonde hair.
It made her happy, and little did these days.
Even if Lee wanted to follow Mom’s directive and change it, she didn’t have the money. Memories of the last few days seeped into the edges of her brain the longer she remained upright. Late nights and little sleep. She ran her hand over her mouth, regretting the memory of Brock’s lips against hers… and the taste of minty gum lingering. She pulled her hair tight against her skull and growled. Maybe she was more like her mom than she thought. The past days had been a blur of spending precious time with a boy she didn’t like just so she felt like she mattered.
Lee rubbed her eyes once more; she was as alone as she felt.