Journalist Hayley Krischer’s debut novel is a crucial read in the #MeToo era, exploring the aftermath of a sexual assault at a high school party. Titled Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf, it follows two teen girls: one who is the survivor of the assault, and the other who the is the attacker’s best friend. The result promises to be a timely Young Adult novel told from two compelling perspectives.
Here’s the book description from the publisher:
Ali Greenleaf and Blythe Jensen couldn’t be more different. Ali is sweet, bitingly funny and just a little naive. Blythe is beautiful, terrifying and the most popular girl in school. They’ve never even talked to each other, until a party when Ali decides she’ll finally make her move on Sean Nessel, her longtime crush and the soccer team’s superstar. But Sean pushes Ali farther than she wants to go. When she resists—he rapes her.
Blythe sees Ali when she runs from the party, everyone sees her. And Blythe knows something happened with Sean, she knows how he treats girls. Even so, she’s his best friend, his confidant. When he begs her to help him, she can’t resist.
So Blythe befriends Ali in her attempt to make things right with Sean, bringing Ali into a circle of ruthless popular girls, and sharing her own dark secrets. Despite the betrayal at the heart of their relationship, they see each other in a way no one ever has before.
Razorbill will release Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf on October 6th, but you can get a first look at the cover and read an exclusive excerpt today!
Cover illustration by Monica Loya
“I had started writing Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf over 20 years ago,” Krischer tells Paste. “It began as a short story about a girl who was raped by the most popular boy in school. It took me years to realize that this story was an outlet for my own experiences that were too difficult to talk about or too painful to understand. I wrote this book long before #MeToo, long before the Kavanaugh hearings, long before our collective rage as women bubbled up to the surface and became a widespread conversation. And it’s because of those events, because of the brave women who came forward first, that I’ve been able to tell this story on such a large platform as well as find an audience who wants to listen.”
You can pre-order the novel here. But before you do—and before you check out the excerpt below—please be mindful of this content warning:
This book contains intense scenes depicting sexual assault and drug abuse.
“Heyyyyy, Greenleaf,” Sean Nessel says, with a drawl. He might be drunk. “I want to show you something.” He leads me into the kitchen. His hand is softer than I had imagined and moist.
“So what kind of last name is Greenleaf?”
I tell Sean Nessel the whole story about my grandfather coming over from Germany to Ellis Island and how the immigration officer couldn’t pronounce Grunblatt—he had trouble with the “u” inflection. “Greenleaf” is the English translation for Grunblatt. My grandfather really didn’t want to be called Greenleaf because that didn’t seem like a real American last name, but that’s where he ended up.
I completely overtalk it. I can’t shut up. Shut up, Ali. Shut up.
Sean Nessel just stares at me like I’m insane.
“I used to get teased as a kid about my last name too. You know, Nessel. People called me Nestle chocolate. Hershey’s kisses. Nestle chocolate face.”
“Wait, you got teased?”
“Yeah. Doesn’t everyone get teased about something?”
“I can’t see you getting teased about anything,” I say. My heart eyes are about to explode, and I realize I’m not wearing a T-shirt bra, as in the padded kind. My headlights are about to blind Sean Nessel. I cross my arms over my breasts.
He arranges a row of three small vodka bottles on the counter, the kind you get on an airplane. I really don’t need to drink. I finished a beer and am already feeling silly and surly. But he opens the first one, takes a sip, and hands it to me.
“So cute,” I say. “Little bottles. Just tiny things.”
“You’re like the Mad Hatter,” I tease. “‘Drink it. This one will make you big.’”
“Isn’t that what you want? To be big?”
“I want to get buzzed.”
Did I just say that? I’m being too forward. Too cocky. Anyway, I’m already buzzed. What am I doing?
“Well, I don’t mean buzzed,” I say. But these are never the kinds of declarations you can take back.
“Nah, it’s okay,” he says, laughing. “You’re funny.” But I don’t feel funny. I feel too grown up. My hair is down and long. It’s wild from the fall winds. I shake it around, getting it to hang over one eye. And then I do what any sensible person would do in the presence of a god like Sean Nessel. I take a hearty sip.
My mouth is on fire. I choke in a coughing fit.
“Take another sip. It’ll take the edge off the first one,” he says.
“It’s supposed to.”
I sip again, and the vodka gushes into my mouth. I glimpse Sammi and Raj still comfy with their beers sitting with some other friends. Finally, my dream is here, but I feel out of control, too hurried, like one of those weird car commercials where the lights are streaking through a dark desert road.
He hands me a hard seltzer and tells me to drink it as a chaser. One at a time. Small and easy, he says. So I listen because I am drinking vodka with Sean Nessel. If nothing else happens to me this year, this moment sipping vodka from small airplane bottles will be enough.
His hand is at the back of my head now, and he rustles my hair. “What a cute girl you are, Ali,” he says. “I like the way you look at me in the hall. You have cute hair. I’m so glad you came here tonight. That’s why I’m here, you know?”
My eyes widen and I smile. My hands shake. I’m breathless. My mouth is numb when he slips his tongue inside it. I want to kiss him back, but my head is hot and his tongue is so big in my mouth, all I can do is move my neck. It doesn’t take long for my mouth to feel raw from kissing and for my face to get sweaty. I’m fuzzy, probably need to sit down, but when Sean Nessel asks me to go upstairs, I say yes.
I know what upstairs means. Upstairs means clothes off.
Cherie is sitting on the couch ledge right behind me. She doesn’t notice me until I poke her.
“Oh, Blythe. Heyyy,” she says.
Cherie used to be one of the most popular girls in school until she became a raging feminist when she was a senior. Just dumped all her friends. Wouldn’t talk to anyone except two girls from the drama club who are here at this party.
“Your girl has disappeared into the smoky den of iniquity,” I say. I’m so happy to torment Cherie.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she says. “What girl?”
“Ali Greenleaf,” I say. “She’s your girl, isn’t she?”
“More like my sister’s girl.”
I shrug. I’m now drinking Jack and Coke, courtesy of Donnie. It burns as it goes down. Donnie locks her arm in mine.
“These boys take what they want, you know that,” Donnie says to Cherie.
Cherie looks away, her face in a worried pinch.
I’ve lost track of time. I finish my Jack and Coke. It’s time to go. I kiss Dev and stroke his neck. I want to go back to his house. His mother will make us grilled cheese sandwiches. Because Dev’s mother is one of those mothers who grills you a sandwich at midnight. Dev’s mother makes him her priority. My mother is incapable of functioning the same way. This is what happens when you have a mother with bipolar. You don’t get sandwiches at midnight. You get worry instead.
I shake it from my mind and think about Dev’s mom and how she’ll linger in the kitchen. How I’ll sit on his lap sipping whole milk as she asks us about the party. How she’ll call me sweetheart. That look of his that he’ll give me. Those eyes holding on to me like that. Squeezing me. We’ll go back in his room and get naked in his bed.
“Let’s go,” I say, and nibble on his ear.
“Nessel,” he says. “We have to wait for Nessel.”