Title: Surviving High School by Lele Pons & Melissa de la Cruz
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 272 pages
Vine superstar Lele Pons—“one of the coolest girls on the web” (Teen Vogue)—teams up with #1 New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz (The Isle of the Lost) in this lovable debut novel about the wilds and wonders of high school that’s as laugh-out-loud addictive as Lele’s popular videos.
Ten million followers and I still sit alone at lunch. Lele is a bulls-eye target at her new school in Miami until, overnight, her digital fame catapults the girl with cheerleader looks, a seriously silly personality, and a self-deprecating funny bone into the popular crowd. Now she’s facing a whole new set of challenges—the relentless drama, the ruthless cliques, the unexpected internet celebrity—all while trying to keep her grades up and make her parents proud.
Filled with the zany enthusiasm that has made Lele into Vine’s most viewed star, this charming novel is proof that high school is a trip. From crushing your crushes (what’s up with that hot transfer student Alexei??) to throwing Insta-fake parties with your BFFs and moaning over homework (GAH) with your frenemies, high school is a rollercoaster of exhilarating highs and totally embarrassing lows. Leave it to Lele to reassure us that falling flat on your face is definitely not the end of the world. Fans of Mean Girls will love this fun and heartwarming fish-out-of-water story.
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The Advantages of Being a Boy
Allow me to back up. What is this Vine, you might ask? Well, maybe no one would ask that. But the truth of the matter is, I once did have to ask that. Not only did I used to be “uncool” but I also used to be a social media virgin, long past the time it was normal. Meaning, it was 2011 and I still didn’t have Facebook. Or a phone. At my core I was not a city girl. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t even a Planet Earth girl. Sometimes I still do feel that way, actually. But back to social media: it never made sense to me. It just didn’t seem appealing to collect fake friends like Pokémon cards and listen to everyone brag about the cool things they did over the weekend.
I mean, am I crazy or might there be more to life than that?
Anyway, when Lucy, a BFF from St. Anne’s, showed me her Vine account, I felt an instant connection. It was the first social media platform I had ever encountered that seemed to be about genuine self-expression versus only the blind desperation for social valida- tion. But I mean, it was more than that.
Vine wasn’t just a way to express myself, it was the outlet I had been waiting for my whole life. For as long as I can remember, whenever I struggled with words, I used images to tell a story. I used physical communication. When I discovered Vine, I found the medium through which I would finally be able to communicate fully with the world around me, to share my thoughts and concerns with anyone who might want to listen. I finally had a voice, and I was hooked.
I wasn’t looking to gain a following. Really, I wasn’t! But the girls at St. Anne’s thought my videos were funny and were really support- ive about it right away. I quickly became “Vine famous” within my tiny private school, which means basically I went to school with one thousand kids and all of them followed me! People ask me how this happened, and I want to be clear that it was really never anything fancy at all: people want honesty, and I was not afraid to give it to them. It’s as simple as that.
Cut back to: I’m at Miami High and nobody knows who I am— nobody appreciates my humor and honesty and uniqueness, because I’ve been quickly dismissed as a freak. Would I be so ostracized, so quickly judged, if I were a boy instead?
Don’t get me wrong, I like being a girl. I like my long, thick blond hair and wearing a glamorous dress for a fabulous occasion. But being a girl comes with a price. Well, lots of prices. Being a girl means having to put energy into your looks, having to wear a bra (so uncomfortable), having to pee sitting down (so inconvenient), and ultimately, it means one day having to push a bowling-ball-sized human out of you and call it the miracle of life—if that’s your thing. Miracle shmiracle, that sounds like a straight-up nightmare.
For me, on morning number two as a Miami High outcast, being a girl means having to wake up three hours early to get my look on fleek. In case you don’t speak my language, “on fleek” means “on point.” And “on point” means, like . . . fabulous. So anyway, I set my alarm for five in the morning (brutal!) but I manage to hit snooze a couple hundred times and end up sleeping until about seven thirty, which means I only have thirty minutes to get on fleek and get to school. If you know anything about being on fleek you know that thirty minutes will not do the trick. Or the fleek. Heh.
I slip into my jeans and navy-blue polo shirt hoping to glide through the day unnoticed. A simple pair of white Converse, I figure, are sure to keep me under the radar. Getting dressed goes smoothly enough, but here’s where I run into trouble, here’s where the day first goes off the rails (7:45 a.m. is as good a time as any for the madness to begin): it’s my hair. Oh God, my hair. My hair is long, long, long, long. If it were any longer I would be Rapunzel, I swear. And sure, long blond hair sounds nice, it might even sound enviable, but I am telling you, it is the hair from hell. No matter what I do, I wake up with it in complete disarray, knots and tangles and kinks and frizz. It’s a daily battle, a struggle of good versus evil, me in the bathroom using a comb to wrestle my hair like a dragon (do dragons wrestle? I don’t know). As soon as I get my thousands of hair strands untangled and smoothed out, a bunch of them start popping up again, refusing to stay in place, rejecting the status quo of hair, rebelling against their oppressor, going against the grain like a bunch of whiny hippies. Sometimes I think I should just shave it all off.
Boys don’t have this problem. Boys run one hand through their hair and they’re good to go. That’s why they’re the enemy. Their life is way too easy.
Downstairs Mom and Dad have made me my favorite breakfast: Eggo waffles and Vermont natural maple syrup. Okay, so it sounds basic, but I don’t even care, there’s really nothing better. I know I complain about my parents, but the truth is they’re not the worst. How bad could they be, when they’ve been consistently making me Eggo waffles every morning since I was five? Legend has it, when we first moved from Venezuela I was so homesick that all that could cheer me up were these frozen waffles, so it became a daily morn- ing tradition. Okay, so it’s not the most interesting legend in the world, but it’s mine, so leave me alone.
“You look different today, sweetheart,” Dad says as I sit down and take a bite of my syrup-drenched Eggo.
“I’m not dressed like a pirate today,” I say, mouth half full. “Oh, maybe that’s it.” “You look lovely,” Mom says, filling my glass with orange juice. “I liked your outfit yesterday,” Dad interjects rather uselessly. “It
was creative. Unique. I hope you’re not going to let this new school squash your individuality.”
“Well, if it does squash my individuality it will be your fault, as you are the one who sent me there.”
They give each other the famous look that says, “Well, that’s our Lele,” and that is the end of that.
A miracle in first-period English: Mr. Contreras presents us with Alexei Kuyper, transfer student. There’s really only one way to say this: Alexei is hot. Blue eyes, blond hair pushed playfully off his brilliant forehead, abs loosely defined behind his white T-shirt. He’s James Dean for the modern schoolgirl. A dream. Mr. Contreras asks him to tell us about himself, just like I had to on the first day, and he does so effortlessly, unlike me, who, um, just stood there turning red.
“Hi, I’m Alexei, I just moved with my family to Florida.” “Where are you from, Alexei?” someone asks eagerly. “I’m from Belgium. We moved a few weeks ago. I’m happy to be
here. Any other questions?” The class laughs with him, he’s won them over. Lucky bastard. His smile is winning. Swoon!
“Lele is also new,” Mr. Contreras says, and my ears get instantly hot. “You can sit next to her. Lele, raise your hand please for Mr. Kuyper.” I raise my hand, certain I look like an outright baboon, and gorgeous Alexei finds me right away. He must be super smart.
“Hey,” I say, “nice to meet you.” “You too.”
“Are the waffles really good?” I ask. “What?” He doesn’t get it. Oh God, oh God. “In Belgium. You know, Belgian waffles? Aren’t the waffles sup-
posed to be really good there? I’m really into waffles.” I’m really into waffles? Oh, Lele.
“Yeah, actually”—he laughs, flashes that winning grin—“they’re supposed to be the best, but I don’t really get waffles, to be honest. I’m more of a pancake guy.”
“You don’t get waffles? Are you psycho?” “Are YOU psycho?” “A little.” “Me too,” he says, and then you’ll never guess what happened:
HE WINKED AT ME! We both smile and my heart feels like it’s going to jump out through my throat.
Leaving class, I trip over a backpack and crash straight into him, bumping my lip on his shoulder. His T-shirt gets caught in my braces and untangling it becomes this whole thing. So much for that romantic and flirty moment. He’s nice about it, helps me get to my feet and all, but not soon enough to prevent everyone from noticing.
“L-O-L,” one girl says to another. “That new girl is sooooo clumsy.”
“Oh, I know,” says the second girl. “Awk-ward.”
When I arrive at my locker after school I find that it has been spray- painted with red letters that spell out: fresh meat.
“Are you kidding me?” I say out loud to no one in particular. I’m so shocked, I don’t know whether to be scared or to laugh. This sort of thing gets people suspended now. We’ve all seen the It Gets Better ads, right? Out of the corner of my eye I can see a group of guys and girls snickering and pointing.
“Welcome to Miami High, fresh meat!” one girl with buoyantly curly hair calls out with a mean-intentioned laugh. The way she says it makes it sound like a warning, like this won’t be the last of my metaphorical beating. Like I better watch out. Who the hell are these kids and why don’t they have anything better to do? I guess I always thought high school bullying was a fiction created for 1980s rom coms, I didn’t realize kids could actually be that petty in real life. Sure, kids at St. Anne’s weren’t perfect, but they weren’t ever this outwardly mean. Normally I’m a big fan of crying, but I can’t let these idiots see that they’ve gotten to me, so I fight back the tears and frustration, and stand up extra tall like I can’t see or hear them.
Alexei walks up as I’m struggling to cram all my books into my vandalized locker. One falls out and he grabs it for me. What a gentleman.
“Thanks,” I say. “Hey, did they do this to you too?” I show him the front of the locker.
“Um, no, that’s pretty brutal.” “I don’t get it! You’re new too, why aren’t you getting picked on?” “I’m normal; I fit in. Kids are insecure and they lash out at who-
ever is the most different.” He shrugs. “It’s not fair.” “Are you saying you prefer that I get picked on?” “No—I just don’t know what it is about me. I guess I never
thought of myself as that different. And I guess I’d prefer not to go through it alone.”
“You’re not that different; you’re just a free spirit. You don’t care as much about what people think, and that makes them nervous. And you’re not going through it alone; I’m here. I got your back.”
“Oh.” I try to keep from blushing but I can’t help it. “Thank you.”
“Where do you live?” he asks. “I was thinking I could walk you home.” What is this, 1952? Romance central? Where am I? Who am I? Why can’t I feel my face? (But I love it!)
“On Romero Street, it would be like a twenty-minute walk.” “I could use a bit of a tour—we just moved here.” His voice is husky and exotic; it has the sound of a tropical breeze, you know, if tropical breezes had a sound. He can speak English perfectly but he’s got that offbeat rhythm that comes from being foreign, that hint of insecurity that comes off as sexy.
“Yes, you definitely need a tour. We can walk, you seem like you’re in good enough shape. I mean good shape. I mean, you look like a twenty-minute walk wouldn’t kill you. I didn’t mean to say that you’re hot.” I once read an article in Cosmopolitan about how to flirt; somehow I don’t think I’ve mastered the art.
“So you don’t think I’m hot?” he asked. Uh-oh. “Um, no, it’s not that I don’t think you’re hot. I think you’re . . .
I mean, are you nice-looking? Sure. You don’t look bad. I mean—” “I’m just messing with you, weirdo. Let’s go, yeah?” He smiled. Weirdo. He already has a pet name for me! Heart-eyes emoji, heart- eyes emoji. Is this really happening? I am being walked home by a boy. On
my second day of school. Maybe I’m not such a loser after all. I bet stupid Yvette Amparo didn’t get walked home by a boy today.
We have the best conversation on the way home, him with his sexy foreign accent and me with my garbled Venezuelan under- tones. We talk about really deep stuff, like last week’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance and the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones. He so obviously gets me. He asks me about my hopes and dreams, and I tell him all about how I want to be a famous actress but the idea of auditioning in front of producers gives me panic at- tacks. I ask him about his hopes and dreams, and he tells me about how he wants to be a model or professional surfer, and maybe an actor too, but if that doesn’t work out then maybe a doctor.
The whole thing is beyond perfect except: I have to pee so badly. Why did I drink that liter of Coke during sixth period? Every caffeine rush has its price to pay, lesson learned. Ten minutes until I’m home, only ten minutes. You can do it, Lele, you’re almost there. I try to tell myself these things but I can feel my bladder stretching like a water balloon. Alexei is talking about how much he misses Belgium, and how he wonders if he’ll ever get to go back, but all I can think of is getting to a toilet, so I’m just nodding and saying mhm-mhm like a moron. He probably thinks I’m a total idiot. Or a bitch. I keep smiling and fluttering my eyelids like the Cosmo article said to do, but I think I just ended up looking deranged. Deranged and agonized. Not sexy.
Did it just get hotter? Yes, it definitely did. A cloud has shifted and the sun is now beating down on us. I can feel beads of sweat gathering under my bra, I worry my boobs might be in danger of drowning.
“Wow, it’s hot out today,” Alexei says.
“Oh, is it? Yeah, I guess so.” I shrug, easy breezy, all the while inside I am dying. Then, because this Belgian boy is evil and wants to torture me, he actually takes off his shirt. This is cruel for two reasons: (1) I am about to die of heatstroke and can’t do anything about it, and (2) his abs are so marvelously defined he could be a statue. A bronze, brilliantly beautiful statue. I try not to look directly at them, for fear they might blind me. To add insult to injury, Alexei taps my shoulder and says, “Be right back, I have to pee,” then saunters off behind a nearby tree to relieve himself.
First of all, rude. Doesn’t he know he’s in the presence of a premium woman? Second of all, not fair! I’m honestly seconds away from bursting and this guy can pee as soon as he feels the urge. This is what I’m talking about with boys. They have it so much easier. They’ll never know the true meaning of discomfort; they’ll never know how we suffer.
When he comes back all shirtless and relieved, practically glow- ing, the guy has the nerve to try and give me a high five! What do I do? Well, I’ll tell you. I punched him in the balls like he deserved!
Just kidding, I didn’t leave him hanging. After all, his greatest crime is also part of why I already like him so much: he’s a boy.
Lele Pons was born in Caracas, Venezuela and moved with her family to Miami when she was five years old. She got her start when she created a page on the video-sharing app Vine in December 2013. Originally intended as a fun outlet to showcase her creativity, her vines evolved into comedic sketches and pulling practical jokes on family and friends. Her following grew from five thousand local followers to more than ten million by November 2015.
Today she is one of the most recognizable names on social media, and has been featured in Vanity Fair, The New York Times, Teen Vogue, Time, and more. Lele has been nominated for three Teen Choice Awards, a People’s Choice Award, and a Streamy Award. In 2015, she was invited to the White House by First Lady Michelle Obama to help launch her campaign for disadvantaged kids to go to college. Lele graduated from high school in 2015 and currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.
Melissa de la Cruz is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of books for readers of all ages, including the Witches of East End, Blue Bloods, and Descendants series.
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