Sage Czinski is trying really hard to be perfect. If she manages it, people won’t peer beyond the surface, or ask hard questions about her past. She’s learned to substitute causes for relationships, and it’s working just fine… until Shane Cavendish strolls into her math class. He’s a little antisocial, a lot beautiful, and everything she never knew she always wanted.
Shane Cavendish just wants to be left alone to play guitar and work on his music. He’s got heartbreak and loneliness in his rearview mirror, and this new school represents his last chance. He doesn’t expect to be happy; he only wants to graduate and move on. He never counted on a girl like Sage.
But love doesn’t mend all broken things, and sometimes life has to fall apart before it can be put back together again…
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The burners are already asleep, which leaves Shane and me alone for all intents and purposes. He digs into his backpack and produces the pink post-it I left him. I guess he’s heard about the Princess.
“You left me this?” he asks.
I nod, feeling heat wash my cheeks.
“When did you hear me play?” He studies me through those thick, curling lashes, giving me the I-see-you look. I could curl up in that expression like it’s an afghan.
“Just before last period.”
“Explain to me why this was worth a tardy.”
So he knows, then. It sounds stupid when I try to articulate it; my reasons come out in a whispered jumble, about making somebody’s day better when things are total crap. I talk about silver linings and being the queen of bright and shiny things. He’s listening, but I sound crazy. I know I do. It’s pointless, possibly even pretentious, to think I could make a difference. I end my rambling recitation by saying as much.
To my surprise, he shakes his head. “No way. I’m sure there are people who are glad that you pay attention to them, who need to know someone gives a shit.”
“But not you?” I ask softly.
“This is a cake walk compared to what I’m used to dealing with on a daily basis.” The moment the words are out, he looks like he wishes he hadn’t spoken them, but it’s too late.
I’m left wondering what’s so bad at home that being beaten up is a welcome change. His tropical eyes dare me to ask, dare me to pry into his business, but I’m not brave enough. If he wanted me to know more, he’d tell me, right? Otherwise it’s just me being nosy.
“My Aunt Gabby is pretty great,” I say. “But… it was bad before.”
Shane makes a scoffing noise. “What do you know about ‘bad’?”
He sees the image I’ve cultivated for the last three years. I went to therapy; I learned how to be good, how not to be angry. But every day, there’s an underground river inside me, and I’m trying not to drown in it, every second of the day. This smile hides so much. It hides everything.
Part of me wants to tell him the truth. But I don’t. Instead I duck my head, dodging his slow realization that my life hasn’t been sunshine and rainbows. I rarely let anyone see Shadow Sage; I’ve done my best to bury her. Now she’s just a thin hand reaching up from a fresh grave.
“Hey.” He touches my forearm briefly, and in those scant seconds, I register the heat of his fingertips, the calluses on his skin. “I didn’t mean to be a dick. I don’t hold the trademark on crappy deals.”
He’s looking at me that way again, and the pretext of dispassion falls away. We’re twin counterweights on a scale, hanging in a moment of perfect balance. I hardly dare to breathe for fear the air will shift, and the hunger I’m seeing in him will disappear. Though he’s pretending he doesn’t care, he wants somebody to notice him. I recognize it so fast because I’ve been there. Hey world, please acknowledge my existence. Please care. On my end, nobody has ever seen me before. Not like this.
Until this moment, I didn’t realize I was walking around all this time with a Shane-shaped hole inside of me.
The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things is all about the characters. This was a revisit of all things high school with characters living real issues. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book in Sage’s POV. Initially she comes across very light, sweet and grounded. As I read, I saw that was just the surface. There is exceptional depth to Ann Aguirre’s characters and under the carefree portrayal, Sage has a dark history. The way this story unfolds keeps the pages turning. The pacing is smooth and I love how we learn about the different characters.
I’m never going to think of Post-it notes quite the same. And wouldn’t it be great if every school had someone leaving them for fellow students to read.
Ann Aguirre is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author and RITA winner with a degree in English Literature; before she began writing full time, she was a clown, a clerk, a voice actress, and a savior of stray kittens, not necessarily in that order. She grew up in a yellow house across from a cornfield, but now she lives in sunny Mexico with her husband, children, and various pets. Ann likes books, emo music, action movies, and she writes all kinds of genre fiction for adults and teens, published with Harlequin, Macmillan, and Penguin, among others.