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Tess Goodwin’s life in rural Iowa is sheltered and uncomplicated. Although she chooses to spend most of her free time playing chess with her best friend Zander, the farm-boy from next door, her skills as a bovine midwife and tractor mechanic ensure that she fits in with the other kids at East Chester High. But when her veteran father reenlists in the Army, moving her family halfway across the country to North Carolina, Tess is forced out of her comfort zone into a world she knows nothing about.
Tess approaches the move as she would a new game of chess, plotting her course through the unfamiliar reality of her new life. While heeding Zander’s long-distance advice for making new friends and strategizing a means to endure her dad’s imminent deployment to the Middle East, she quickly discovers how ill-equipped she is to navigate the societal challenges she encounters and becomes convinced she’ll never fit in with the students at her new school.
When Leonetta Jackson is assigned as her mentor, she becomes Tess’s unexpected guide through the winding labyrinth of cultural disparities between them, sparking a tentative friendship and challenging Tess to confront her reluctant nature. As the pieces move across the board of her upended life, will Tess find the acceptance she so desperately desires?
Read an Excerpt
They lead us to where a few guys are leaning against the deck rail. Some are smoking, all of them have beers, and the tallest is well over six and a half feet tall. His features are defined: strong brow, prominent cheekbones, full lips. He’s definitely Calvin.
“S’up, bro,” Kevin says to him, bumping fists and shoulders before pointing to me. “This is Tess. She’s from Iowa. She wanted to come say hi.”
I’m concentrating on making my face look casual, like being at a college basketball player’s party is something I do all the time. I can tell, though, by the smile on Calvin’s face I’m failing miserably. He extends his hand.
“Well, hello there, Tess from Iowa.” His voice is deep and smooth and incredibly sexy. I don’t wonder why Alice is obsessed with him.
“Hey,” I squeak as his hand engulfs mine.
“Been here long?”
“About fifteen minutes.”
He chuckles, giving me a wry smile. “I meant have you been here in Fayetteville long?”
I shake my head, feeling like an idiot. “Oh. Only since the first week in January.”
“Must be some change, Iowa to Fayetteville.”
I nod, unable to summon the power of speech much less a cohesive thought. Suddenly, I remember Alice. I remember I’m supposed to be breaking the ice for her, talking her up so he’ll want to get to know her better. I’m supposed to be playing the matchmaker.
I turn to make the introductions. “These are my friends, Summer and Leonetta and Alice. They’re not from Iowa.”
He nods at them, laughing affably at the stupidity of what I’ve said. Then he says to Alice, “I remember seeing you around Hopkins my senior year. You still there?”
Alice is visibly shivering in her form-fitting dress but manages to respond in the affirmative. Noticing how cold she is, Marcus slips off his own jacket, draping it around her shoulders.
“Thanks,” she says.
There’s an awkward moment of silence between us and everything seems to stop. It reminds me of when I was little, of the quiet numbness associated with slipping my head under the water during a bath. The constant thrum of the bass and the singing and laughter from inside fade away. Now all I can hear is the beating of my own heart.
I can’t believe I’ve just blown it for Alice. Or then again, maybe I can.
“It’s cold so I’m gonna go back inside,” I announce, pulling my sleeves down over my hands. “It’s nice to meet you, Calvin. Thanks for, uh, throwing such a great party.” I pivot on my heel and head straight for the door, convinced Alice, and possibly Summer as well, will never speak to me again.
About the Author:
Amalie Jahn is a USA TODAY bestselling author of more than 8 young adult novels, including The Next To Last Mistake, her latest release (Light Messages Publishing 2019). Amalie is the recipient of the Literary Classics Seal of Approval and the Readers' Favorite Gold Medal for her debut novel, The Clay Lion. She is a contributing blogger with the Huffington Post and Southern Writers Magazine, as well as a TED speaker, human rights advocate, and active promoter of kindness. She lives in the United States with her husband, two children, and three overfed cats.
When she's not at the computer coaxing characters into submission, you can find Amalie swimming laps, cycling, or running on the treadmill, probably training for her next triathlon. She hates pairing socks and loves avocados. She is also very happy time travel does not yet exist. Connect with her right here in the present day at these social media sites:
Websites – http://www.amaliejahn.com and lightmessages.com/amalie-jahn
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Amazon - https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1611532647/ref=as_li_tl
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Kobo – https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-next-to-last-mistake
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