THE GLASS CEILING
YA Speculative Fiction (2014 YARWA Rosemary Award Finalist)
Published by Midnight Frost Books, December 18, 2015
Pickaxes, grime, and watery oatmeal are all sixteen-year-old Heart has ever known. Growing up in the tunnels, the only breaks in her muscle-aching monotony are the numerous nights spent cramped in a metal box. Stupid runaway mouth. But when strange visions and a hidden map hint there’s more to life than she’s been led to believe — boys being one of them — only one thing weighs on her mind. Escape.
Yet freedom is a tease. Heart merely trades her small prison for a larger one — a transparent dome controlled by the Guardian, an aging leader bent on creating a genetically perfect race. Heart’s birthmark on her shoulder? An abomination that carries a lifetime sentence of slavery for females.
Refusing to let a glass ceiling deter her, Heart searches for a way out of the dome. But unraveling the Guardian’s secrets is a risky endeavor. Human skulls atop crude sticks serve as a warning: treason is punishable by death. When her new friends are captured, and escape is just an arm’s reach away, Heart must decide. Take the freedom she so desperately wants or save her friends’ lives?
Buy THE GLASS CEILING here.
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Excerpt from THE GLASS CEILING
Just as Heart touched the doorknob, muffled voices sounded from the other side. Crap. She looked around her. The closest object was a trash can. She lowered herself behind it, wrinkling her nose at the putrid smell of dirty diapers. The door swung open and the Matriarch stepped out. A messy braid laid over one shoulder.
“We need to locate her. Check the bathroom. Check the tunnels. She couldn’t have gotten far.”
The woman stomped past the trash can without noticing Heart. In one bright flash, all the fluorescents came on. Chills spread through Heart like black oil. They were going to find her.
The dorm mother put one of the older girls in charge and rushed toward the east tunnels. Heart stayed in her kneeling position, frozen to her spot. Think, Heart, think. Going inside her dorm was out of the question. Her only choice was to go west. Her heart sank. The west tunnels were in the opposite direction of the Box. She couldn’t leave 176 behind.
Before she could change her mind, she abandoned her hiding spot and sprinted toward the common area. Luckily, everyone was already in the tunnels and she made it through without being detected.
She neared the Box and moaned. She’d forgotten about the padlock. How was she going to get 176 out? She banged her fist against the thick metal. “176, you in there?”
There was no response. Of course, 176 couldn’t talk. She placed her ear against the door, listening for movement. Three thumps came from within.
“The door is locked and I can’t open it.” Heart banged once more. “I have to go, but I’ll come back for you, okay?” She hesitated. Promises alone wouldn’t help 176 survive the Box. “Just concentrate on the sliver of light. Pretend it’s an angel, wrapping you with her wings. Protecting you. That’s what I do.” She swallowed the ball in her throat. “Stay strong. I know you can do it.”
A thump sounded. Heart sniffled and wiped at her nose. There was nothing more she could say.
With a final glance over her shoulder, she rushed toward the west tunnels, staying close to the walls. She made a note of the small alcoves she passed. If needed, she could easily squeeze into one.
Every couple of minutes, she stopped and listened for voices. Yells and the beating of feet into dirt bounced off the cavern walls. She couldn’t tell if they were ten feet away or a hundred. Adrenaline forced Heart forward and she quickened her pace. If the Matriarch caught her, losing her tongue would be the best scenario she could hope for.
The walls grew narrower and the path more treacherous. She’d never been this far into the tunnels. Looming rock formations snagged at her hair. What if she’d picked the wrong turn? What if it was a dead end?
She turned a corner and her stomach flipped. A wrought iron gate marked the exit, a six inch thick steel bar holding it in place. Beyond the gate, a pinkish purple glow filled the tunnel. Freedom? Heart grasped the cold metal bar. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon! She tugged until her veins threatened to pop out of her forehead.
It didn’t budge. She whipped her head back and forth, searching for something hard. She grabbed a rock and slammed it into the bar. A pinging sound echoed off the walls. She didn’t care that the commotion would attract attention. There was no other escape. No bright arrows pointing the way. Nothing left to do but hit that bar with every bit of strength she could muster.
The footfalls came quicker now. A whistle blew. Heart hit the bar faster. Harder. The sounds were closing in. Every hair on her head could sense her pursuers. And yet she continued. Bang. Bang. Bang.
The bar moved slightly and tears of hope stung her eyes. Please!
Her body jolted as someone grasped her arm. The rock, and her only chance of escape, slipped from her fingertips.
NEW SERIES PROJECT!!!!
YA Magical Realism
Seventeen-year-old Rachel Wong has spent her entire high school career preparing for acceptance into Yale. Good grades? Check. Extra-curricular activities? Check. Charity work? Check. Hot boy who just got out of juvie for stealing a car? Totally not a check. But as fate would have it, “J” struts his way into her life, and his deep brown eyes and laidback attitude have her questioning everything she thought she wanted. To make matters worse, a wingless angel-wannabe named Kelsey keeps harping on her about reincarnation, lost souls, and some Mariotto and Gianozza crap.
With her brain pushing her in the direction of Yale, and her heart holding her back with J, Rachel’s got one heck of an internal war going on. And in her case, it’s not just her mind and heart that need saving, but her soul as well.
I am so excited about this new series (The Fatewinder Series). Each book will be independent of each other, but will all include Kelsey, who has to earn her wings by bringing together lost soul mates whose “true love” relationships met tragic ends.
Chapter One Excerpt:
I balanced on the top rung of the rickety ladder, an orange streamer in my hand and a plastic tape dispenser gripped between my teeth.
“Be careful, Rach!” Izzy gaped at me, her blue mermaid locks blending in with the pale blue floor tiles beneath her.
Jenna placed a hand over her eyes. “Oh, I can’t look.”
“Babies. The both of you.” I snapped off a piece of tape and attached it to the end of the streamer. Reaching overhead, I stuck the tape to the side of the bronze fire alarm. Done. I gave the girls a thumbs-up then twisted my body to admire the lobby. Orange and black streamers zig-zagged across the ceiling, accented with bunches of black balloons. What a great idea this had been. A Halloween charity dance to raise money for childhood leukemia. Not to mention how it would plump up my college applications.
Jenna waved her arms at me. “It’s beautiful, Miss Perfect Pants. Now get down from there! You’re making us nervous.”
“Fine. I’m com-” My foot slipped and I tilted forward.
“Oh my God. Rachel!” Izzy shrieked.
My arms windmilled. Visions scrolled through my head. Not of the past like when you’re dying, but of the future. From this height, a broken leg was inevitable. That meant no more soccer. No charity dance. Days missed from school. I needed those days. Or else goodbye perfect attendance record.
I fought to keep my balance, my fingertips spread open like a cat’s toes. Grasping, reaching. Air. The lobby turned sideways and the floor rushed up at me. A scream echoed in my ears. Did it come from me? Oomph.
The scent of leather drifted into my nose, and I swept the hair from my face with trembling fingers. Large brown eyes locked onto mine. In an instant the world blurred away. Ocean waves rushed into my ears, pressure built in my brain. My breath became labored as if I were drowning. Was I dead?
Fingers gripped my arm, nails digging in. “Rachel!” The voice dragged me out of the strong arms cradling my body. “Er…thanks for catching her,” she mumbled.
I double-blinked, bringing the world back into focus again. The strong arms belonged to a boy I’d never seen before. Chin length, brown hair curled around a narrow face that sported full lips and a straight nose. His worn leather jacket and ripped jeans gave him a 90s Abercrombie and Fitch look that had gone out of style–well, in the 90s. But there was something in his eyes. Like soul-sucking quicksand. I imagined myself being pulled in, and sinking slowly, unable to escape.
Izzy’s nails bit in deeper, forcing my gaze from leather guy’s tight butt strutting away to my friends’ wide-eyed faces.
“Who is that?” I asked.
Jenna pushed her hip out, her side-swept blonde bangs falling into her face. “Never mind him. I told you not to climb all the way to the top. You could have died! No more ladders. Do you hear me?”
Izzy continued gripping my arm as if I were still in danger of falling. I gently plucked her fingers off me, and said. “I’m safe now. Everything is fine.” A crowd had formed a circle around us, and I waved them away. “It’s all good.”
“Do you need the nurse?” Izzy asked.
I traced a finger over the moon-shaped indentations she’d left in my skin. “Not unless she can fix the damage you did to my arm.”
Izzy’s cheeks pinkened, turning her blue eyes even brighter. “Sorry about that.”
“S’okay.” My gaze roamed to the top of the ladder and I shuddered, rubbing away the goosebumps on my arms. “So really, who was that guy?”
Jenna waved her hand. “He’s no one.”
“I heard he just got out of juvie.” Izzy bounced on her feet. “He killed someone.”
Jenna smacked Izzy on the back of the head. “I think that blue hair dye is affecting your brain. He didn’t kill anyone. He stole a car. But really, who cares?”
“He stole a car?” I gulped. “What’s his name?”
Jenna wrinkled up the side of her face. “Uh, I repeat. Who cares?”
I shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t know. I was just curious. After all, he caught me. Maybe I want to write a thank you note or something.”
Izzy raised her hand. “Ooh, I know his name. It’s J. Like the letter J. Just the letter. Kind of like Q in James Bond. I wonder if he thinks he’s a spy?” She snorted. “What a coinkydink because I just saw a Bond movie last week. That Q lady is looking pretty old lately. Have you-”
“Thanks, Izzy. I got it.” I said, before Jenna slapped her again.
Jenna rolled her shoulders. “So can we get back to the dance prep? You know, now that everyone’s feet are safely on the ground?”
“Well, at least the decorations are done.” I picked the tape dispenser up off the floor and grinned.
“Music’s done, too,” Izzy said. “My cousin’s band came through.”
“Awesome. And the food?” Jenna directed her gaze at me. “Are we having another appearance by Martha Stewart tonight?”
“Of course. You can’t have a Halloween dance without Halloween-themed cupcakes. I got these adorable little candy bats and witch hats. Wait till you see them.”
“How about real food?”
I placed a hand on my hip. “Cupcakes are real food. But if you’re talking about the pizza, it’s already been ordered from Anthony’s. And we still have soda and water left over from homecoming. I figure we can charge a dollar across the board for everything. What do you think?”
Izzy pumped her fist. “Yes. No math!”
Jenna and I lifted our eyebrows.
“What? Who does school work after school?”
“Um, we all do.” I said. “It’s called homework.”
“What’s this about homework?” Mr. Rogers strode toward us. The little hair he had left frizzed around his head like a curly halo. He pushed his glasses up his nose with the tip of his finger. “Hope this dance tonight isn’t keeping you from doing yours.”
“It’s Friday!” Izzy’s eyes bulged as if doing homework on a Friday was odder than a duck wearing pajamas.
Mr. Rogers smirked then turned in my direction. “Rachel, I’ve been meaning to speak with you. I have a favor to ask.” He rocked on his heels, his eyes sparkling. “How would my top student like to extend her charity to a fellow student?”
“What do you mean?”
“Tutoring. I have a student in need of getting caught up. I’m booked full and can’t spare the extra one-on-one time, or I’d do it myself.”
School tutor would be a great addition to my college app. Score for me. “Sure. Just let me know when you need me to start.”
I fast-forwarded my brain to Monday’s schedule. After school I had yearbook, soccer practice, my own homework, and practicing the flute. Plus, somewhere in between, I needed to take down the decorations before Principal Mills made a stink. “Um, Monday’s a little packed.” Actually, that was a typical day for me.
“Is your lunch time packed, too?”
He clapped his hands together. “Perfect. Come to my classroom Monday at lunch. You can begin then.”
“Oh, okay.” Lunch was the only time I had open to spend with Izzy and Jenna. It was what we called our “SCO time.” Sisters chilling out.
Mr. Rogers waved to Izzy and Jenna then headed down the eleventh grade hall.
I blew out a puff of air. “Crud.”
“Totes,” Izzy said. “I don’t think I could survive a day without seeing you.”
“Izzy, I’m in your Spanish class, your math class, and your English class. You see me all the time.”
Izzy flapped her arms at her sides. “Yeah, but it’s not the same.”
“At least you’ll see her,” Jenna said. “We don’t share any classes.”
I pulled Izzy and Jenna into a group hug. “Guys, listen. I know this stinks, but it’s a great opportunity for me. Now I can put tutor on my application.”
Jenna snorted and pushed back from the hug. “You’re obsessive. Do you know that? You’re lucky I don’t slap you in the back of the head, too.”
I laughed. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Nope. You’re right. I’ve seen you do Tae Kwon Do. Are you putting that on your college app, too?”
I nodded. “Yup.”
Her face stretched taut. “You’re ridiculous.”
Izzy put her arms around our shoulders. “Let’s play nice, girls, and talk about what’s really important. Costumes.”
Jenna groaned. “Izzy, we already decided. We’re doing the wing theme this year.”
Izzy jutted out her bottom lip. “But I don’t want to be a fairy again. Are you sure I can’t convince you to be Charlie’s Angels? It would be so perfect. Obviously, Rachel would be Lucy Liu, I could be Cameron-”
“Why do I have to be Lucy Liu?” I pulled out from beneath Izzy’s arm and whirled around to look her in the eye.
Izzy scrunched up her face. “Duh. Cause you’re Asian.”
“You know the original Charlie’s Angels didn’t have any Asians, right?”
I growled. “It doesn’t matter. We’re doing the wing theme. And that’s final. You’ve already been outvoted.”
Jenna lifted one of Izzy’s blue braids fastened with a small butterfly clip. “You should be glad. Now your hair coloring will actually make sense. Fairy girl.”
We burst out laughing, and Izzy’s smile slowly peeked out. She could never stay mad longer than ten seconds. We’d actually timed her before.
Yes, I was definitely going to miss our SCO time. But the sacrifice would be worth it if that one extra activity helped get me into Yale. I had to look at the big picture. High school was just a springboard into the pool of success. At least that’s what Dad liked to say. And I was going to get into Yale whether it killed me. Everything else paled in comparison.
Not even strong boys that caught you falling from ladders, whose eyes drew you in like magnets. Nope. Not important at all. As pale as vanilla ice cream.