Chapters 1–5

This harrowing novel provides a minute-by-minute account of a school shooting.
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Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. succumb
    give in or consent reluctantly
    We stock up on canned food, drink hot chocolate until we succumb to sugar comas, and pray to be saved from the cold.
  2. arduous
    characterized by effort to the point of exhaustion
    Still, Coach Lindt’s start-of-season training beats Principal Trenton’s long and arduous start-of-semester speech—virtue, hard work, and the proper behavior of young ladies and gentlemen.
  3. flounder
    walk with great difficulty
    “Did you freeze up over holiday break, Sarge? A snail could catch up with you floundering like that.”
  4. fawn
    try to gain favor through flattery or deferential behavior
    At six-foot-five and with sun-touched hair and blue eyes, Chris is not just our best runner but also Opportunity’s poster-boy athlete. On uniform days, the freshman girls fawn over him.
  5. unfurl
    unroll, unfold, or spread out
    The knot in my stomach unfurls and recoils with every twist and turn of my mind.
  6. muse
    reflect deeply on a subject
    “I look so young and innocent in this picture,” Fareed muses, staring at his cover sheet.
  7. contempt
    lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
    Browne, Tyler. Gelled blond hair, pale eyes, and an oh-so-familiar blank look. The one time his eyes weren’t glossed over with contempt was when I slammed his head into a locker.
  8. bravado
    a swaggering show of courage
    Huh. A closet genius.
    Maybe that explains why, despite his bravado, Tyler never made good on any of his threats.
  9. ebb
    fall away or decline
    The voices ebb and flow around us as students climb the raked aisles between the four blocks of seating.
  10. quirk
    twist or curve abruptly
    Under strands of rainbow-colored hair, her mouth quirks up in a half smile.
  11. philistine
    a person who is uninterested in intellectual pursuits
    “Midterms aren’t until next week. And I had better things to do than study over break.”
    Philistine.”
  12. salacious
    suggestive of or tending to moral looseness
    It’s not salacious news, so I expect Asha to be disappointed, but she leans in closer.
  13. brood
    think moodily or anxiously about something
    I have enough on my mind without the frost.
    I glance sideways to find Chris grinning at me. “What?”
    “You’re brooding.”
  14. resilient
    recovering readily from adversity, depression, or the like
    If only I could be like Tracy, who is everything I want to be, everything I should be—brave, resilient, certain of herself.
  15. bleak
    offering little or no hope
    It’s like the two of them are in their own universe, where everything around them glistens with the possibility of creation. And I’m left with bleak Opportunity and nothing more.
  16. sober
    cause to become more serious
    She sobers. “Have you heard from Brown yet?”
  17. fleeting
    lasting for a markedly brief time
    The green paint on the mask has faded and the edges are worn off, but the familiar shapes are soothing and help me find my balance. It’s fleeting.
  18. cadence
    a recurrent rhythmical series
    Everything disappears but the cadence of my feet and the cold air on my cheeks.
  19. guise
    an artful or simulated semblance
    I drop the role of protective brother and shrug back into my guise as Opportunity High’s most infamous student. It fits me like a well-worn glove.
  20. dubious
    open to doubt or suspicion
    This year, we share that dubious honor, and only Far knows I’ve been tiptoeing the lines.
  21. methodical
    characterized by orderliness
    Teachers standing near the doors try to approach Tyler, but he picks them off methodically, like everyone who gets too close.
  22. clamber
    climb awkwardly, as if by scrambling
    Students clamber to the other doors, pushing forward, but no one is leaving.
  23. splay
    turned outward in an ungainly manner
    Two students—a boy and a girl, both from one of the outer towns—are splayed across the chairs in front of Tyler. The boy still has his bag half slung over his shoulder as his blood mixes with hers.
  24. erratic
    liable to sudden unpredictable change
    Another shot. More shots. My heart beats to match their erratic rhythm.
  25. avail
    a means of serving
    He rattles the handles to no avail, kicks against the door, and I’m not sure if his anger is pain or desperation.
  26. throng
    a large gathering of people
    Students mass together to get away from Tyler. They climb over the seats to get to the far side of the auditorium, where the throng is just as heavy.
  27. beeline
    the most direct route
    The chorus members who made a beeline backstage have not reappeared, but few would risk running out in the open to cross the elevated stage.
  28. obscure
    make unclear or less visible
    From between the seats, I can see the body of one of our classmates. Her face is obscured by someone’s book bag, and blood pools on the floor.
  29. delicacy
    lightness in movement or manner
    She throws herself in a leap—a grand jeté—and I can see myself dance like her. She moves with delicacy.
  30. articulate
    speak, pronounce, or utter in a certain way
    He sounds so calm. The Fareed I know, with his steadily teasing smile, has disappeared. I’ve never met this Fareed. He articulates with care so his Afghan accent isn’t as pronounced.
  31. mirth
    great merriment
    I smile without mirth.
  32. subtle
    working or spreading in a hidden and usually injurious way
    I walked toward the edge of the cotton field, but Tyler followed me. He wasn’t even subtle about it. He whistled some happy tune while his footsteps crossed my shadow and his breath tickled the back of my neck.
  33. vehement
    marked by extreme intensity of emotions or convictions
    He told me he wasn’t supposed to let students in his car because it could be seen as inappropriate. But he smiled before he protested, and it didn’t sound very vehement.
  34. precarious
    not secure; beset with difficulties
    After Matt was released from the hospital, he gave me one of his figurines to give to Jonah. It found a place of pride on his dashboard, and I found a place to get away to think—away from Matt’s precarious health and my sister’s deployment, away from Chris, away from all the expectations.
  35. haphazardly
    in a random manner
    A second car is parked haphazardly across three parking spaces.
  36. inadvertently
    without knowledge or intention
    I walk toward him and kick a shoe. I’ve inadvertently kicked my teammates’ shoes all the time during warm-ups, so I don’t even look down—not immediately.
  37. stifle
    smother or suppress
    I stifle a scream.
  38. belie
    be in contradiction with
    His smile belies his gun, and we’re all enthralled by it.
  39. enthrall
    hold spellbound
    His smile belies his gun, and we’re all enthralled by it. Despite being a thousand against one, we are powerless.
  40. brazen
    unrestrained by convention or propriety
    Dancing teaches you how to read people from the way they hold themselves, the way their hands clench when they’re scared, the grand motions they make when they’re excited. The threats and yearning in a stolen glance and the brazen gestures of fear and fight and despair.
Created on March 20, 2020 (updated March 24, 2020)

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