Stella is leader of the maliciously exclusive elite at Temperley High; new girl Caitlin has lived a quiet New York life. Not everyone’s happy to be under Hamilton rule, but if Caitlin puts a foot wrong, it's a long way down…


1. Prologue

Everyone wants to hear a story about an underdog, don’t they? A kid with a stammer getting a recording contract; an ex-con winning the lottery. The public’s sympathy might always lie with the underdog rather than the deserving winner, but, even so, I won’t try to deceive you. I’m not an underdog. Far from it.

Our English teacher, who preferred dreary Jane Eyre to the more interesting Holden Caulfield, told us that the best narrators are trustworthy and easy to empathize with. Luckily for you, reader, he and I never saw eye to eye on that concept. As a narrator, Jane Eyre I’m not. In fact, rather than trying to win you over, I’m immediately going to alienate you, and here’s why.

I have everything. If this were fiction, I couldn’t be the heroine, because with no obstacles for me to overcome there would be no plot. I’d be underused as a secondary character; the cheerleader who briefly makes life miserable for the rightful heroine. I wouldn’t even get to die at the end. I’d instead become comically overweight, be (deservedly) cheated on by my footballer boyfriend or fail my exams. But my life, needless to say, isn’t fiction.

The first thing you should know is that I’m seventeen. See, you’re already alienated. You think I’ve got the best years of my life ahead of me; that none of my problems could possibly be worth reading about. You know what? You’re probably right.

I’m blonde, of course. Blondes evoke less sympathy and have shorter shelf lives than brunettes. If you don’t believe me, think about it. It was Jo March we cared about, not vain little Amy; Elizabeth Bennet, not sensible Jane; Laura Ingalls, not pious Mary. I have long hair, which I can straighten or leave to dry curly, and my eyes are blue and abnormally large. They are widely considered to be my best feature; in fact they leave such an impression that I have to go light on the mascara, and eyeliner wouldn’t make me popular with other girls at all. I’m extremely petite – and I don’t expect to grow any more – and effortlessly thin. My teeth are straight, without the train-track hell from which some kids my age have yet to emerge. I have a great dress sense, and everything suits me; so much so that shopping doesn’t interest me. Well, not very much.

Have I lost you to a fit of envy? I imagine not. Looks are one thing, and brains are another entirely. People are usually forgiving of one or the other. But, aside from my physical attributes, you should know that I’m clever. Exceptionally so. This isn’t ghostwritten, let’s make that clear.

I’m also popular, partly because I’m good at sport. This is important: I’m not sure why, but I’m glad I struck lucky because PE is actually a form of organized bullying. At my school everyone has to take part in Sports Day every summer, even if they’re fat, or unpopular, or uncoordinated. There isn’t a corresponding event in Physics where you get booed if you can’t do kinematic equations, but that’s only one reason why being a geek doesn’t pay.

I attend boarding school, and home life seems some distance away from my existence at Temperley High. School is an ecosystem all of its own, where outside rules just aren’t relevant. As a Sixth Former I have my own room, which is a relief as my girlfriends – there are six of us, and we’re called the Stars, for obvious reasons – often bore me rigid. The dormitories the younger students share are supposed to help homesick people settle in: some kids cry about being away from home, which is a strange reaction. It may not be Malory Towers, but it’s not a workhouse either. You can get away with murder if you know how to play it, and I do.

You won’t be surprised to hear that boys love me, and as my school is mixed there are plenty of them around. Boys have noticed me for a while now, and continue to do so whether I invite their attention or not. And don’t start thinking I could have any boy except the one I really want or anything lame like that, because there are no exceptions.

You’ve met someone like me before. If you’re at school, I’m making your life hell. If you have a job, I’ve got the promotion you deserved. If you have a boyfriend, he’s wishing you looked like me. You may hate me, but surely you know by now that life isn’t fair. I can’t help being perfect any more than you can help being, well, flawed.

Can you trust me? Maybe not. And can you empathize with me? I doubt it. But, even so, have I lost you to a story about an underprivileged child who becomes a concert pianist? Of course not. People love stories about the underdog, and, despite everything I’ve said, you still think that’s what I am. Poor little rich girl, you think, as if I’m hiding deep-rooted insecurities or the scars of a difficult childhood. Perhaps I’m about to tell a story of growth and redemption in which I lose my good looks and channel my inner beauty to become a better person. Every story needs a character arc, after all. Is mine going to be painful? That’ll show me, you think.

Don’t count on it.

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