Read the First Chapter of Sloan Harlow’s Romantic YA Thriller Everything We Never Said

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Read the First Chapter of Sloan Harlow’s Romantic YA Thriller Everything We Never Said

Grief makes people do crazy things. This is the basic premise behind the dark romantic thriller Everything We Never Said, a contemporary YA novel from debut author Sloan Harlow that seems destined for BookTok fame thanks to its twisty narrative, forbidden love story, and propulsive narrative feel. 

Ever since the accident that killed Ella’s best friend, she’s been blaming herself for what happened to Hayley. If she’d done something different, said something different, then her life might not have such a gaping hole in it now. But even the best and most lasting friendships have secrets and as Ella digs into the diary Hayley left behind in order to feel closer to her, she finds more of them than she ever expected—enough to make her question everything she thought she knew about her best friend. 

Described as perfect for fans of Colleen Hoover and Laura Nowlin, Everything We Never Said is a fast-paced thriller that explores complicated feelings of grief and loss, and asks poignant, necessary questions about how much we can ever really know anyone, even the people we care about the most. 

Here’s how the publisher describes the story. 

It’s been months since the accident that killed Ella’s best friend, Hayley, and Ella can’t stop blaming herself. Now Ella is back at school, and everywhere she looks are reminders of her best friend—including Sawyer, Hayley’s boyfriend. Little by little, they grow closer, until Ella realizes something horrifying . . .

She’s in love with her dead best friend’s boyfriend.

Racked with guilt, Ella turns to Hayley’s journal, hoping she’ll find something in the pages that will make her feel better about what’s happening. Instead, she discovers that Sawyer has secrets of his own and that his relationship with Hayley wasn’t as picture-perfect as it seemed.

Ella knows she should stay away but finds herself inextricably drawn to him—and scared of everything she never knew about him. Perhaps it’s his grief. Or maybe his desires, cut short by tragedy. Or could it be something twisted only Hayley knew about?

Everything We Never Said won’t hit shelves until May 28, but we’ve got a preview of the book’s full first chapter for you right now. 

chapter 1


Thick waves of rain assault my bedroom window, the lightning and thunder of a Georgia storm cracking this Monday morning wide open. I’ve been awake for hours, listening to the wind howl, fantasizing that a swirling gale will rip through my wall and sweep me away.

The floor creaks just outside my room. I can see Mom’s shadow shift beneath the door. The wood groans beneath her feet. The sound of indecision. To knock on her daughter’s door or not?

Mom leaves, her footfalls retreating back to her bedroom.

Not, apparently.

A year ago, she would have burst in, and I would have gotten an earful for still being under the covers. A year ago, her silence would have been inconceivable. But a year ago, everything was different. I’ve earned this silence, heavy as a stone around my neck. And with this penance, I throw back the covers and do the impossible:

I get ready for my first day of senior year at North Davis High.

Even though it feels like a different lifetime, I still remember how stressed I was on the first day of eleventh grade. No amount of argan oil could sleek away the Georgia humidity from my frizzy black hair. The cat-eye makeup that had looked so femme fatale the night before now made me look like I wanted to hold Gotham City for ransom with laughing gas.

Panicked, I had texted a selfie to my favorite person in the world with the caption Help.

Hayley’s response had been immediate. Are you kidding? You look hot AF. Just come over real quick, I can help your hair. Georgia summers got nothing on my straightener.

But today?

Today, I put on the first thing my toes touch on the bedroom floor: the same jeans I wore yesterday (and the day before that, and the day before that) and a gray sweatshirt stained with last week’s salsa. I can’t remember the last time I looked in a mirror.

Grief has opened a canyon between me and that stupid girl from a year ago, whose greatest disasters were bad eyeliner and flyaways. How I hate her.

How I long for her.

Walking back into the halls of North Davis High, I feel like I’m not returning as Ella, but as Shadow Ella, the living ghost girl. The thought feels like a paper cut on my heart. I wish I were a ghost. Maybe then I could stretch across the realms and actually still talk to Hayley. Tell her the important things.

Like the fact that Albert Wonsky now has her locker. She’d groan and say something like Please, please rescue my pictures of Pedro Pascal before my husband is drowned in anime porn, and I would laugh and tell her, Sorry, too late.

I’d tell her the dent is still there. The one from when I kicked a locker after getting a B in Latin. And so is the dent she kicked right next to it. “For plausible deniability,” she had said. “Not what that means,” I’d said back.

I’d tell her there’s still pink birthday candle wax smeared in the alcove by the music room. The one where Sawyer Hawkins and I had crouched, grinning madly as we jumped out with balloons and a lit cupcake to scream, “Happy birthday!”


His name feels like a fist twisting my stomach. I can’t think about him today. It’s already too much. If I do, my rib cage will crack all over again.

Which is why this is the exact moment Sawyer walks into view. There he is, at the end of the hall, towering above Mike Lim as they discuss something that has Sawyer’s handsome face breaking out into a crooked grin.

It hits me so hard; I have to stop walking. I lean against a wall and clutch my books so tightly that the words calculus i will probably be embossed into my sternum for days.

As if he can sense my presence, Sawyer suddenly glances in my direction. I stop breathing. For the first time since the funeral, I’m seeing Sawyer’s soft brown eyes.

Except there’s nothing soft about the look he’s giving me. Sawyer, the only boy I’ve ever known to celebrate month anniversaries with tiny, perfect gifts, who happily supplied us with popcorn and Sprite throughout an entire Twilight marathon when Hayley felt sick, who loved my best friend as much as I did . . .

That Sawyer is currently shooting me a look of such fury that I instantly feel like puking.

I knew it. He blames me.

I should hold his gaze. I should let his judgment sear me. It’s what I deserve, for what I stole from him. From her.

But instead, I whirl around, swallowing a sob, ready to sprint down the hall, out of school, maybe forever. But I end up slamming directly into Mr. Wilkens.

“Oof! Easy, there, tiger!” The school psychologist stumbles back, his hands shooting out to grasp my shoulders and keep me from falling.

“God, I’m so sorry,” I choke out, mortified.

“No, no, Ella, you’re fine. I’m fine.” He ducks his chin, trying to catch my eye. “Hey. Hey. I’m glad we bumped into each other. How are you?” I shrug, not trusting my voice.

“That well, huh?” Mr. Wilkens is usually clean shaven, but he has some scruff along his jaw. His typically bright blue eyes look smudged today, the color of bruises. Maybe he’s one of those counselors who actually cares about his students. Maybe he’s sad this morning too.

It’s a nice thought.

“Ella,” he says, “I know today is hard. And I hope you know I’m here for you.” He looks like he wants to say more, but the bell rings, interrupting his thought. “Ah, saved by the bell.” He laughs. “Don’t be late to class. We’ll talk soon, okay?”

He watches me walk away, concern furrowing his brow. It’s so kind, how he’s worried. How he wants to help. Don’t bother, Mr. Wilkens, I should tell him. Save your effort and time for students who aren’t lost causes. Students who deserve it.

Students who didn’t kill their best friends.

For the entire day, I try to be invisible. I try to ignore the accusing glares and the soft stares of sympathy, eyes full of pity. But it’s impossible. When I walk by a crowd of girls at the water fountain, a hush falls over them. In English, Seema Patel, a girl I haven’t spoken to since elementary school, leans over and offers me a bag of Sour Patch Kids. “Figured you could use it.”

And when I’m standing at my locker before lunch, I’m swarmed by people I’d hoped to avoid all day: the old crew. Well, what’s left of them, anyway. Nia Wiley, Beth Harris, Rachael Evans, and even Scott Logan appear at my shoulder. Sawyer’s absence is notable. But there’s no hole that can compare to the most obvious one, the size of a crater.

These are Hayley’s friends, really. Nia and Beth ran track with her, Beth and Rachael have been dating since freshman year, and Scott is like a barnacle that you can’t scrape off, no matter how hard you try—  half comic relief, half arrogant teenage boy. Hayley brought me into the group, and without her here, the center won’t hold. Another week or so of me avoiding their calls and I’ll be flung off into my own orbit, which will make everyone more comfortable.

For now, though, Beth throws her arms around my neck.

“Ella, where have you been? I was so worried when I didn’t hear from you! I called you, like, every day this summer!”

Nia reaches over to gently pry Beth off me. “And, like I said, I probably wouldn’t have picked up either if you were binge calling me every day.”

Beth pouts, leaning back against Rachael, and Nia shakes her head, shooting me an apologetic look. “We just wanted to see how you were doing, Ella. I mean, other than the obvious.”

“Yeah, we miss you.” Rachael gives me a small smile, Beth nods in agreement. Nia elbows Scott, who’s standing behind them, frowning down at his phone.

“Yes, Ella, ditto, we’re totally here for you.” Scott only looks up from his phone for half a second.

Nia glares at him, then turns to me, her eyes softening. “Girl. How are you?”

Beth and Rachael look nervous. Scott’s not paying attention. I’d take all of that over Nia’s compassionate, too-knowing gaze.

“It’s been tough, but I’m fine. I promise.” I do my best to smile as I close my locker. “You guys don’t have to worry about me. I appreciate it, I do. But I’m good.”

Beth and Rachael look relieved. Nia frowns.

“Ella, you know you can—”

“You heard her,” Scott cuts in as the bell rings. “She’s fine. Her chakras are unblocked, her aura’s good, her Mercury’s in retrograde or whatever. I’m gonna be late to Spanish.”

Nia glares at his retreating form but doesn’t push it. For once, I’m grateful that Scott’s sort of a dick.

It doesn’t end with my old friends. Every teacher wants to check in with me too.

Just like Mr. Wilkens, they take me gently by the elbow, their voices low, and ask me how I’m doing. What do they expect me to tell them? What are any of them expecting me to tell them during the three minutes between classes? All the things that I haven’t been able to tell my parents or the parade of mental health professionals in the four months Hayley has been gone? I give them the only answer I can, the only answer they want to hear: “Fine. I’m doing fine.”

By some miracle, time keeps moving, bringing me closer and closer to the end of the day. Even so, it feels like I’m in a rowboat, the wooden sides filled with leaking holes, each one a memory— the now-empty desk in third period, the lunch table we’d sat at for three years taken over by freshman. The ocean is churning, and I’m fighting to plug up each leak, to keep the rushing waters at bay. The waves crash and I nearly capsize, but I manage to stay afloat.

At three fifteen p.m., the bell rings.


I’m sprinting toward the front doors when a voice stops me.

“Ms. Graham! I’ve been looking for you.” Ms. Langley, the pottery teacher, is beckoning to me from the doorway of the art room. I glance longingly at the double doors at the end of the hall, at the flickering exit sign, then walk over to her.

“Hi, Ms. Langley,” I say, readjusting the bag of books at my shoulder, every one of my polite Southern instincts at war with my desperation to leave.

“I just wanted to give you something real quick.” She holds up a finger, and then reappears a moment later with a small cardboard box in her hands. On the side, handwritten in Sharpie, are the words ella and hayley. Inside are two handmade ceramic mugs.

And just like that, the tiny rowboat that I’d managed to keep upright all day starts to go under.

“I thought you might want these,” Ms. Langley whispers, sounding nearly as sad as I feel. “They didn’t get fired in the kiln until after . . . Well, I’ve been holding on to them for you.”

“Um,” I say, blinking down into the box.

It had been Hayley’s idea to make mugs for each other. Coffee cups for when we roomed together at the University of Georgia. Hayley had been so proud when she’d shown me her design, a mug with an ornate D stamped into the side. D as i n . . . denture. When I’d protested that I was not going to be drinking out of a denture mug, she’d held up a hand.

“Wait, listen. This is a mug you’ll use for life. I’m just preparing for the best phase of our friendship: when we’re old and senile. Think of how fun that’ll be.” Hayley’s eyes had flashed their green mischief. “Every time we see each other, we’ll be new best friends all over again.” She’d shrugged. “And you’ll have a place to keep your dentures.”

Both mugs had turned out beautifully.

I barely register saying goodbye to Ms. Langley. I exit the school in a daze, unable to stop looking down at the mugs, clinking against each other in the cardboard box. I’d like to look away. 

I want to, I do. I want to chuck them into a ravine, but I know it would be like pulling out an organ and stomping on it. I somehow need these mugs to keep going.

I run my hand over the one Hayley made. There’s an indent on the bottom, one she forgot to smooth. I peer closer and see little swirling lines, a pattern.

Hayley’s fingerprint.

Distantly, I register that there is a world around me. Maybe some grass, a sky. Raised voices from far away.

But right now, all I can focus on is pressing my finger into that little indent.

It all happens so fast.

One moment, there are headlights in front of me, a bus barreling at my face. There are screams, the bellowing of a horn like a great dragon. My heart is in my throat, my last thought, Protect the mugs, and then I’m flying backward.

I don’t die.

I slam back into something solid. My brain thinks, ridiculously, of a brick wall, but this wall is warm and has a heartbeat. Someone pulled me out of the way. Someone saved me.

I tilt my chin up to find myself looking into the wide, panicked eyes of Sawyer Hawkins.

“Sawyer!” I gasp, stumbling out of his arms to face him. My book bag has spilled onto the school lawn, but I’m still clutching the card-board box, mugs miraculously unbroken.

“Ella.” Sawyer’s panting, his face slack with shock, one hand on his chest, the other pulling at the roots of his thick hair. He takes a few steadying breaths, closes his eyes. When he opens them once more, they’re blazing with anger.

“Ella,” he growls, “what the hell were you thinking? You could have died. Like, literally died. If I hadn’t been here, if I hadn’t been watching? Christ.”

“Why were you?” It takes me a minute to realize I’ve said this out loud.

“What?” He stops short, confused.

“Watching me? In fact”—I swallow—“why even save me?” Horribly, my eyes spill over. I can’t pretend I’m fine anymore.

Color drains from Sawyer’s face. The anger in his features evaporates, and if it’s at all possible, he seems more stricken by my words than by my near miss. He licks his lips, mouth dropping open, but nothing comes out.

I want to hear his answer. A microscopic diamond of hope embedded in my stomach is begging me to stay, to listen to what he has to say.

But I don’t. I can’t.

I know the answer. And anything kind out of his mouth would be pity, or a mercy I don’t deserve. I whirl around and walk away.

He doesn’t call after me. That tiny prick of hope wants me to look over my shoulder, just once. But I don’t.

And I vow to never speak to Sawyer again.

Everything We Never Said will be released on May 28, but you can pre-order it right now. 

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB

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