During her first week at coed Quaker prep Foxhall School, sassy Susannah Greenwood, one of two girls who've entered as sophomores, gets pulled into the cool girls' clique. While the school is instructing her in the moral and ethical tenets of the Quaker faith, the cool girls allow her to enter their world beyond the rule bookbut in trying to find a balance between idealistic faith and the reality of a competitive system, Susannah runs afoul of the school's most authoritarian dean and befriends the only other new sophomore, a brainy, socially inept outcast. Then her new friend runs away after being shamed by the dean, and Susannah finds herself caught between the two forces of loyalty and authority: Should she cooperate with the unforgiving, and now vulnerable, dean, who, with her job on the line, is pleading for information from her about her runaway friend? Or should she keep the secret she's sworn to protect?
|Publisher:||She Writes Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
LB Gschwandtner is the author of four adult novels, one middle-grade novel, and one collection of quirky short stories. She has attended numerous fiction writing workshops the Iowa Writers Workshop and others and studied with Wally Lamb, Lary Bloom, and Suzanne Levine in Praiano, Italy and Fred Leebron and Bob Bausch in the US. She has won writing awards Writers Digest and Lorian Hemingway fiction competitions and been published in literary digests and magazines. She lives on a tidal creek in Virginia with her husband of forty-five years, with whom she cofounded the multimedia company Selling Power Inc. LB has been the editor of Selling Power magazine for more than thirty years. She and her husband have three adult daughters and two grandchildren.
Read an Excerpt
Two weeks before her due date, I got this frantic text from my daughter: com rite away labr strtd. So at the last minute I wangled a flight standby from D.C. to San Francisco then took a cab straight to the hospital. Everything was going about as expected, but the baby just could not make the final push and that's when the grueling wait dragged on while hour after hour an increasing dread hung over the birthing room.
After twenty-three hours, I wanted to scream at all those hospital workers in soft-soled shoes solicitously padding around, "For God's sake wheel her to the OR and get the baby out. Can't you see she's in agony?"
But my daughter had insisted on natural childbirth and refused to give up. Being an invited guest I kept silent, even when I held her husband in my arms to keep him from slumping to the floor while he sobbed into my shoulder. After it was all over, a bloodstain the size of a VW Beetle covered the floor under her bed. I never want to go through anything like that again. They named the baby James Joseph after both his grandfathers and we immediately dubbed him JJ.
Finally, with little JJ safely cradled in my exhausted daughter's arms I left, dragging my paltry carry-on, and headed for a nearby hotel. Outside, morning fog hovered over the city creating a powdery gray dawn but it was turning blustery with glints of sunlight just breaking through, a ghostly sort of indecisive morning where passersby appeared out of the mist. And as I walked down one of those steep San Francisco hills there was Daria McQueen, an apparition heading straight toward me, her face half hidden behind a fluttery print scarf. When a burst of wind blew it sideways, wrapping it across her neck like a small sail taking a hard tack, we made eye contact and both of us stopped abruptly. I hadn't seen her or heard anything about her in forty-five years. And then, suddenly there she was.
Even after all the time that had passed, I could tell it was Daria right away but was surprised when she recognized me, too. Later I would have to sort through how I felt about seeing her again and I guess that's why I'm telling this story. But in the moment, what with the night I'd had, I was dazed, not sure how to react. I had never fully come to terms with the event we'd both lived through so many decades before. This chance meeting went way back, to everything that had happened when I first met Daria at Foxhall School.
"Greenwood, is it you?" She peered intently at me in that searching way I remembered.
She'd asked that same question once before, long ago, and the memory of it had stayed with me, popping up in my mind now and again. Daria always called me by my last name back then and it stuck like a tack. For the entire first year, no one called me Susannah, or my mother's pet name for me — Suzi. I learned early on that everyone always fell into line behind Daria. She had some kind of power over us. So, to her, Greenwood it still was, although I'd been married for decades and no one had called me Greenwood since I left Foxhall School.
My teen years had been a mix of wonderful discovery and terrible insecurity. That first semester, when I was a new kid at Foxhall, left me even now wondering if I had done the right thing. Because really, sometimes it's just not clear where the line falls between right and wrong. The decisions that can change the course of a life are like a maze with all possible exits leading to endless paths of uncertainty.
And now, there was Daria again. At sixteen, she was the girl who seemed to have everything we thought worth having. Beauty, brains, a sharp wit, a girl you hoped would like and accept you because just being around her meant you were accepted ... somehow special.
Even though I hadn't thought of myself as Greenwood since those battered years at prep school, I answered, "Yes. It's me," and raised a hand to shield my own face from the wind. Then I said, "Daria. How are you?" because I didn't know what else to say but, after all that time, probably I did want to know. Anyway it was what you said to someone you hadn't seen in a long time, even if just seeing that person disrupted your equilibrium and suddenly made you feel like a child who was not sure how she was supposed to behave around adults. There was nothing I wanted less on that glorious morning than to be pulled backward to a time when I didn't yet know who I really was or what I would become. I had no idea how resilient I was, nor, at the time, even knew what that word meant.
"Not a simple question to answer," she said. So like Daria to keep you guessing. People don't change. Some soften. Some harden. But we all come with our pieces pre-arranged. That's not to say bad decisions don't lead to bad outcomes and good ones can't make you relatively happy. Still, we are who we are. Looking back at the choice I made at fifteen, would I do the same today? Probably, but I can't say for sure. That river swept past me long ago and all the possibilities of those years were gone.
Daria suggested we catch up at a Starbucks on the corner. There was always a Starbucks at a nearby corner these days, no matter where you were, even out there where it could just as well have been a Peet's or a Philz, because coffee was common in San Francisco now the way head shops were when Daria and I were young, back in the sixties, the decade of our coming of age. So off we went, propelled by the wind but also by the passage of time that begged to have its blanks filled in like those little ovals on an SAT test.
We ordered — a skinny mocha for her, a chai latte for me — and sat at a small table on not too uncomfortable wood chairs. We dropped our bags and jackets and then, well, it seemed neither of us knew where to start. It would have been an awkward moment except that Daria started to giggle like a girl.
"You know," she said, "I never really believed you told us the whole story."
So there it was. Right at the start. "About what?" I asked but I knew what she meant. It was as if we had leaped back in time, back to Foxhall School and that suspicious, aggrieved time when we didn't fully trust anyone, especially ourselves. I suppose I was testing her, or myself, wary of being too eager to reveal anything that might hurt. But she'd been on my side back then. She hadn't even been upset by what happened. Everyone else had been in shock. But not Daria. She was just as detached as a runway model strutting her stuff.
"About Moll and Miss Bleaker." She said it matter-of-factly, as if she'd been waiting all these years for me to divulge the truth. Before I could consider an answer, she went on.
"Did we ever find out why she was named Moll and not just plain Molly? I mean what a name for a girl. Sounds like some old, black-and-white, B-movie gangster girl." She giggled again.
She's nervous, I thought, and then dismissed it because it seemed inconceivable that anything could ever have made Daria nervous.
"She told me it was a combination of both her grandmother's names," I explained. Why did I remember that? It's mystifying what your mind holds onto as you age. "Mona and Lillian. But I remember telling her that calling herself Molly would make her fit in better. Seems utterly stupid now."
Back then we all operated inside our own little spaces with invisible walls. We only knew what anyone allowed us to know or what we admitted to or shared. We were close in an artificial way because there we were, stuck at Foxhall School, a microcosm with its distinct reality. Over the decades, I'd had to unlearn the unspoken rules that guided us at Foxhall. I'd had to relinquish the cynical elitist attitude I learned there. It was not what the school taught us. In fact, just the opposite. But it was what the situation required. Or at least what we imagined we needed for armor.
"Well maybe that was afterward," she said. "But before, you know, before we even knew who she was, when her name was Moll and she was a nameless, gray girl who melted into the background, you know? I mean you were the only one who ever talked to her. We all called her 'the other new girl.'"
I remembered it all. I never spoke up back then, to tell them not to call her that. Never told them it was cruel not to use her name, even behind her back, because people always found out in some way. If they didn't hear it, they sensed it and that could be even crueler than knowing something for sure. A suspicion could eat away at a young girl. Especially if she was not pretty like the others, and she didn't fit in anywhere.
"I think I became a better person because of Moll. Over the long run anyway," I said.
When she said nothing I asked, "How much of it do you remember?"
"I'm not sure," she sipped at her skinny mocha and it seemed to me she was being evasive about her memories. Or it was possible she really didn't remember. Maybe both.
"Enough. Or maybe not enough. It was all so long ago. It shouldn't really matter anymore. So much else has happened," she said.
It mattered to me. All those years later. I wondered, too, what in her life made her think what happened with Moll was trivial.
"But I mean, really, do you remember what it was all about? The details of it."
She smiled and tilted her head in just the way she used to when she was about to deliver a zinger that made you feel about two inches tall.
"Sex, power, religion. What else is there?"
"What about love?" I must have sounded like a naïve child. And at my age. Well, maybe it was better to get more naïve as you age. Cynicism could weigh you down. I'd learned that at least.
"I wouldn't know," she said. "And I think your old friend Moll wouldn't either. Her reasons would be different from mine, I'd bet. She certainly wanted love. Everyone wants love and some people will do anything to get it. And some people who deny they want it, will do anything to keep others from having it."
She meant Miss Bleaker. I was sure of that. "We were cruel back then." I really meant she could be cruel but I didn't want to say that. And, besides, cruelty was a system that fed on our need to be accepted and we could all be cruel in the teen years.
"I don't know about you and the others but I certainly was." So she said it for me anyway, and I did not disagree. "I've paid my dues, though. Maybe not enough to make up for all that ..." she stumbled over the word and then added, "mess."
I was cruel, too, I thought. But not the way she meant. Yes, I did talk to Moll. And yes, I did step outside of our little circle of cool girls. But I did not stop what happened and then someone was dead and someone else was lost forever. Where does blame reside? I don't know the answer to that. Daria called it "that mess." As if you could dismiss life and death as a simple mess.
The Makeup Room
I met Daria McQueen in the first week at Foxhall. She was hard to miss and impossible to ignore in that sequestered community.
Going "away" to boarding school — prep school it was called by those who felt it necessary to designate exactly what rung one belonged on in the social strata — was looked upon by the girls I was leaving behind at my all-girl day school as something of an oddity. We were in eighth grade, a temporary way station between childhood and high school when girls were figuring out what was important to them. Clothes, boys, makeup, in any combination. Why would you want to go away to boarding school, they wondered. At our girls' day school we wore gray uniforms and, when I told the girls I'd be going away to a Quaker school, they asked, "Are you allowed to have zippers in your clothes?"
"That's Puritans," I explained but it didn't stop there. They wanted to know about buttons and if I had to wear black all the time and why would I subject myself to that when I could stay at home and wear whatever I wanted. It would have been useless to point at our uniforms, since the minute the girls were off school grounds they'd change clothes, apply makeup liberally, and meet up with boys. They also wanted to know about Quakers being against procreation. I would sigh and say those were Shakers, not Quakers, but the distinction seemed lost to them and after a while I gave up. When I told them it was a coed school they said, "Oh, well, that's okay then." In those days, only Quaker prep schools were coed except for one progressive school up in Vermont, which my parents considered with suspicion as possibly socialist. Heavens.
Sometimes girls back home went away to "prep" — always to sister schools associated with some elite boys prep school — but none had ever gone to a Quaker school before so I was a trailblazer and an oddity they looked upon with skepticism and confusion. Not a good combination in eighth grade, so I was not unhappy to leave. In truth, I was not doing well at the girls' school and my home life was a mess. My parents wanted to get me into what they called "a better situation." Translation ... I'd better do well at the Quaker school that was billed as a caring, supportive, and family-like environment, or else. This did not address the messy home life for which I was not responsible but that never seemed to come up in any of the conversations around the dinner table about my so-called lackluster grades or behavioral infractions. When I look back now at my school reports, all of which my mother saved, I am amazed that my grades were actually quite good with one glaring lapse in algebra, which to this day makes no sense to me. And my teachers seemed to like me, according to their comments. But nothing I ever did satisfied my mother. So the impression left was of a slacker who was not living up to her potential. How one pre-measures potential was always puzzling.
At Foxhall I took the place of a girl named Ursula who'd been expelled at the end of her freshman year for sneaking a local boy into her room late one night and getting drunk with him. Or maybe they were already drunk before she let him climb the tree outside her room and come in through her open window. It had happened in the spring, the four girls who took me under their collective wing told me on my eighth day at Foxhall.
I'd arrived at Foxhall in a tentative state, my parents having driven me all the way from Connecticut arguing about something trivial that I tried not to listen to by reading in the back seat, which only made me feel queasy. My mother was starting to act weird again and when that happened she would pick on me. My father would defend me and they would go at it, leaving me caught in the middle and left out at the same time. By the time we'd unloaded my stuff and said good-bye so they could get back before dark, I was glad to be on my own, angry that they'd left me to whatever fate was waiting, and terrified I'd be shunned for being new. So when four junior girls took me under their collective wing, I didn't ask questions or try to figure out why. I was happy to be absorbed into their clan, relieved to belong somewhere, especially if it meant being designated a cool girl.
We had all stayed up past lights out and gone to the makeup room behind the auditorium stage. The room was only supposed to be used for dress rehearsals or during plays but girls sometimes snuck in there after lights out to study or just to do what teenage girls do late at night — talk about boys, other girls, hopes and wishes. Once there, we would gaze at ourselves in the long mirror above the makeup table that ran the entire length of the back wall and point out our facial flaws.
Brady's hair was thick and unmanageable. My eyebrows were too low. Poor Jan's mouth curved to one side, especially when she smiled. Faith had not enough of a chin and her palms had a skin condition that flared up when she was stressed. It was nonsense, of course, because we were all pretty. But at our age none of us was thrilled with the images we saw gazing back at us, as if that mirror had been borrowed from a fun house and told only a distortion of truth. All except for Daria. She was gorgeous and everyone, including Daria, knew it. No mirror could dispute it, and the rest of us could only sigh and think how easy it was to be Daria, as if beauty was a key that would open any door.
Excerpted from "The Other New Girl"
Copyright © 2017 L B Gschwandtner.
Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Other New Girl is a story that will lead you through an ongoing empathetic moral journey, as you travel back in time with Susannah, a new grandmother who runs into a figure from the past that brings up one that she'd tried to push away for a long time. As a teenager, Susannah was trying to form her own moral identity, all while attempting to fit in with her peers, more as a survival method, and follow a path of higher moral and ethical standards as she uncovers her ongoing Quaker faith. Unfortunately, she is destined to get wrapped up in very unfortunate and sad tragedy as the moral/ethical boundaries and peer-pressure collide. Following her through this backwards journey was very emotionally challenging, but I found it to be an enjoyable read.
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (2/18) “The Other New Girl” by LB Gschwandtner stars Susannah Greenwood, a 15-year-old who is resistant when her parents decide to ship her off to a Quaker boarding school as she’s about to start 10th grade. Upon arrival, she is quickly accepted into a clique of popular girls, while the “other” new girl, Moll, gets lost in the background. Where Susannah is sassy and clever, Moll is fearful and insecure. Yet Susannah finds that the two are some kind of kindred spirits. While they never develop an inseparable bond, Susannah takes it upon herself to take Moll under her wing when possible and help the skittish young girl to become more confident in herself and her abilities. “The Other New Girl” is a thrill ride from beginning to end, because the pace of the book and the new questions posed with each passing chapter make it hard to put the book down. Susannah is an incredibly strong narrator whose voice pulls a reader through the story effortlessly as she lives through her sophomore year of high school in this strange place. This book falls well into the category of young adult fiction, though it seems that anyone with a penchant for mystery would enjoy the plot. Gschwandtner gives you just enough bait to keep you turning the pages while still leaving enough on the table to have surprises turn up around every corner. One thing I did notice was that while there was an air of suspense throughout the novel, sometimes emotions seemed to fall a little flat. This may partially be a purposeful literary device, as it is made obvious that our protagonist’s mother suffers from some type of personality disorder. Emotions are something that are made to seem a bit scary, which to a 15-year-old, in general, is quite true. In all, the tone of the story captures that atmosphere of high school wonderfully. Despite taking place some sixty years ago, it is apparent that while technology has evolved and new trends have emerged, teenagers have always been teenagers, and something this book seems to portray is that everyone at some point in their life went through some sort of high school trauma. This was a book that was easy to relate to. “The Other New Girl” brings a new kind of tension to young adult literature that can often be missing many stories. While I am undoubtedly a huge fan of the traditional young adult romantic comedy type stories, there is something really special about young adult literature that is powerful enough to influence a young person’s thinking. That is what I like most about young adult literature which, unfortunately, often gets overlooked simply due to the name of the genre: it deals with the most fundamental emotional and psychological troubles that we all face in life. Books like “The Other New Girl” are important to the genre and to the world of literature in general because they have real life lessons to offer readers of all ages. Make Comments on the Blog
I know what you are thinking... Another GIRL book? With the popularity of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and The Girl Who series, this wonderfully insightful novel might get lumped into the same pile but it deserves to stand apart... it needs to stand TALL. Part coming-of-age story and part suspense novel, this narrative of Susannah Greenwood's sophomore semester at a Quaker prep school will keep you riveted until the very end. Touching on subjects such as choices and consequences, the abuse of religious power, trust, spiritual awakening, teen angst, continuity of life, personal growth, peer pressure, bullying, and more, this book will have you pondering your own teen years and the secrets you may have held close. It has been two days since I finished reading and I still have a sense of unease. My own teen years were anxiety filled and Susannah's relationship with her mother touched a bit too close to home. I could weep for her... and myself. This is a story I will chew on for quite awhile. In the author's acknowledgements, she thanks Wally Lamb for being a mentor and model. I laughed and blurted out "Ah HA!" This is same feeling I had after reading She's Come Undone in my 20's. I would also compare my residual emotions to those I had after finishing Heidi Durrow's A Girl That Fell From The Sky... yet another GIRL book that I have carried in my heart for years. The Other New Girl is a finalist in the USA BEST BOOK AWARDS for 2017. Grab a copy for yourself and see why. As always, I leave you with a quote (or two) and thoughts to ponder... "... we carry with us the composite of all the relationships we've ever had. We can no more rid ourselves of them than we can harness the glow of the moon. If it's true that the spirit is within each of us, maybe God resides in all the bits and pieces of others that we've incorporated into ourselves." - The Other New Girl: A Novel by L.B. Gschwandtner "You don't see crazy in animals or insects or birds. They do their thing -- eat, bathe, drink, procreate, care for their young. When it's time to die, they go quietly." - The Other New Girl: A Novel by L.B. Gschwandtner