Alison Cherry Red

ISBN 13: 9781780878904

Red

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9781780878904: Red

“Smart, funny, and full of awesome . . . everything I look for in a book.”
 —Rachel Hawkins, New York Times bestselling author of the Hex Hall series
 
Felicity St. John has it all: loyal best friends, a hot guy, and artistic talent. And she’s right on track to win the Miss Scarlet pageant. Her perfect life is possible because of just one thing: her long, wavy, coppery red hair.
 
Redheads hold all the power in Scarletville—and everybody knows it. That’s why Felicity is scared down to her roots when she receives an anonymous note: I know your secret.
 
Because Felicity is a big fake. Her hair color comes straight out of a bottle. And if anyone discovers the truth, she’ll be a social outcast faster than she can say strawberry blond.
 
Felicity isn’t about to let someone blackmail her life away. But just how far is she willing to go to protect her red cred?
 
“As thought-provoking as it is enchanting.” —Rae Carson, author of the Fire and Thorns trilogy
 
“Clever, wickedly funny, and with so much heart.” —Melina Marchetta, author of Jellicoe Road, a Michael L. Printz award winner

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About the Author:

Unlike Felicity, Alison Cherry is a natural redhead. She is a professional photographer and spent many years working as a lighting designer for theater, dance, and opera productions. She is the author of Red, For Real, Look Both Ways and several books for younger readers. Alison lives in Brooklyn, New York.  Visit her at alisoncherrybooks.com or on Twitter at @alison_cherry.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1

SUNDAY, MAY 2

The banner fluttering in the breeze outside City Hall read SCARLETVILLE, IOWA: NATIONAL REDHEAD SANCTUARY.

Felicity St. John, who had lived in Scarletville all her life, couldn’t even begin to guess how many times she had encountered the phrase “national redhead sanctuary.” It blasted from her clock radio every morning, repeated over and over by the DJs at Scarletville’s classic rock station, KRED. It was printed under the masthead on the town’s newspaper, the Scarletville Gazette. It was etched onto a plaque on the front of Scarletville High School. And Felicity was probably going to hear the clichéd phrase a hundred times more today.

It was Scarlet Sunday, the anniversary of the founding of Scarletville, and the yearly carnival was in full swing. The lampposts in the center of town were festooned with red flowers, and the breeze carried the popcorn-and-fried-dough smell of celebration. The town was turning seventy-five this year, and the mayor’s carnival committee had really outdone itself. Main Street was lined with food vendors, game booths, and displays of local crafts, as it was every May. But this year, the number of rides in the town square had tripled, and they were significantly more terrifying than usual. Felicity couldn’t even look at the paralyzing vortex of doom called Zero Gravity without feeling slightly ill. Her twin half brothers, on the other hand, had no such qualms. From all the way across the plaza, she could hear Andy’s and Tyler’s seven-year-old voices shrieking with joy as the flying swings whipped them around in dizzying circles. Felicity hoped they would keep their cotton candy securely in their stomachs, but judging from past carnivals, it was highly unlikely.

The mayor must have publicized Scarletville’s anniversary quite aggressively this time around--the dinky local press was there, of course, but there were also representatives from neighboring towns, including a reporter from the Des Moines Register. Right now, all the reporters and a sizable portion of the town’s population were gathered in front of the grandstand, where the mayor was holding a press conference. He was just finishing his opening remarks, using the same speech he always gave on Scarlet Sunday. Felicity and her best friends, Haylie and Ivy, had heard it so many times they could recite it along with him.

“Less than four percent of the world’s population is blessed with red hair, and in my grandfather’s day, those redheads were scattered far and wide across the globe!” boomed the mayor. “And to add insult to injury, these poor scattered redheads were often much maligned in their communities, where they were considered oddballs and curiosities. Our priceless recessive genes would have been bred out of existence within fifty years had no one stepped up to prevent it! But my forward-thinking grandfather saw that we should bond together in solidarity, making precious redheaded children and raising them in a safe, supportive environment. Let’s hear it for Scarletville, our nation’s one and only redhead sanctuary!” The crowd applauded wildly, as it always did.

When the mayor finished the Gospel of Scarletville, reporters peppered him with questions about the town’s history and redheadedness in general. A small blond journalist raised her hand high. “Mayor Redding!” she called. “How would you respond to the accusation that Scarletville discriminates against people with other hair colors, particularly among the younger generations? According to my sources, the student council, the Scholastic Bowl, the cheerleading squad, and several of the athletic teams at the high school are composed exclusively of redheads.”

The mayor’s undersized orange mustache twitched like an agitated chipmunk, and Felicity had to work hard not to snicker. “Of course we don’t discriminate against people with other hair colors,” Mayor Redding said. “We love all our children here in Scarletville. But are we really to blame if we’ve created an environment where redheads can blossom and live up to their full potential?” There were shouts of approval. “Besides, nearly seventy-five percent of the students at Scarletville High are redheads. Statistically, it makes sense that most of our highest achievers would have red hair. Redheads are Scarletville’s finest natural resource!” This was another of the mayor’s pet phrases.

“Do you think Redding can possibly be his original family name?” Ivy whispered. “His grandfather must have changed it back in the day, right? Don’t you think it’s just a little too convenient?”

Felicity shook her head, and her long, sideswept bangs fell into her eyes. “There’s just something about that mustache. I can’t get over it.”

Haylie smacked her on the shoulder. “Don’t bash Mayor Redding. I think he’s adorable.” One of the news vans on the corner crept a little closer, and Haylie eyed it with excitement. “Hey, do you think we’ll be on the news?”

“You won’t, shorty,” Ivy snorted. “All the cameras will be able to see are two little red buns with butterfly barrettes.”

Haylie looked outraged. “Look who’s talking! You’re half an inch taller than me, if that!”

Felicity always felt like a giant next to her best friends. She was only five seven, but she had a good five inches on both of them.

“The difference is that I don’t want to be on the news,” Ivy said.

“Want me to carry you on my shoulders, Hays?” Felicity offered. “You weigh about forty-five pounds. Hop on.”

“I’m such a shrimp. I’m never going to win the Miss Scarlet Pageant with stumpy legs like these.”

Haylie was a ballerina and had an appropriately tiny frame, but she was anything but stumpy. “Haylie, short people win pageants all the time,” Ivy said. “Don’t you ever think about anything besides the stupid Miss Scarlet Pageant? Why do you care so much?”

“It’s not stupid! And how could you not care? They’re announcing the competitors as soon as the press conference is over!”

“I don’t care because I didn’t enter. Which part of me says ‘pageant girl’ to you? Is it my flowing tresses? Or perhaps my bodacious bosoms?” Ivy gestured to her rust-colored hair, which was cropped in a messy pixie cut, and her virtually nonexistent boobs. Today she was dressed in her swim team T-shirt, a fleece vest, cargo pants, and flip-flops. Ivy in a ball gown made about as much sense as Mayor Redding in pink footie pajamas.

To be honest, Felicity didn’t see herself as a beauty queen, either. Haylie was the one who had always loved the town’s pageants. But Felicity had done them both with her: Little Miss Scarlet when she was eight, Miss Ruby Red at twelve. And now here she was, a junior in high school, waiting to see if she had been chosen to compete for the all-important title of Miss Scarlet. Countless times, she had considered backing out and saying she just wasn’t interested in pageants.

But there was no chance of that. Not when her mom was the one who ran them.

Ginger St. John had been crowned Miss Scarlet the year the town turned fifty, and from the moment that crown landed on her head, the pageant was the love of her heart. She had been grooming her daughter to follow in her footsteps since Felicity had been two years old. Felicity suspected her mom had gotten pregnant at twenty-five on purpose, just so her daughter would be the right age to compete in Scarletville’s seventy-fifth-anniversary pageant.

And so far, Felicity had done everything right. She had been born a girl. She had dutifully played with the other little girls Ginger considered potential stars. At her mother’s urging, she had learned to pose, answer interview questions, and strut down catwalks. To be a better pageant contestant, she had taken tap, jazz, and ballet with Haylie instead of the art classes she’d really wanted. And although she didn’t enjoy competing, she had grown quite good at it--her fear of disappointing her mom had always motivated her to work hard. She hadn’t won anything so far, but she had been first runner-up in the Miss Ruby Red Pageant, to Ginger’s unending delight.

Miss Scarlet was Felicity’s final pageant, but it was also the most important one. It was her last chance to become the winner her mom expected her to be. And the prize money that came with the title would be a huge help to her family. As Ginger constantly reminded Felicity, fifteen years of costumes and dance classes didn’t come cheap.

The mayor concluded his remarks, and Felicity’s mom approached the podium. The whole town grew quiet as Ginger adjusted the microphone. Haylie forgot about her argument with Ivy and grabbed both her friends’ hands for moral support. Her grip was so tight that her nails carved little crescents into Felicity’s skin.

“Hi, everyone!” Felicity’s mom beamed at the crowd. “My name is Ginger St. John, and I’m the director of the Scarletville Pageant Committee! I’m here to announce the competitors for this year’s Miss Scarlet Pageant!” The crowd roared its approval. “There are seventy-eight eleventh-grade girls this year, all of whom are eligible for the competition, and sixty-four of those young ladies chose to enter. Our competitors were selected based on their photos, their accomplishments, and their essays about how holding the title of Miss Scarlet would help them achieve their personal goals. I just want everyone to know what a tough decision we had this year. All you girls are spectacular, and I wish we could have taken everyone. But as always, there are only twelve slots in the competition.” She made an exaggerated sad face, and Felicity sighed. She hated it when her mom slipped into beauty queen mode and mugged for the crowd.

“But enough suspense! Let’s get to it! Georgia, may I have the envelope, please?”

Georgia Kellerman, the reigning Miss Scarlet, left her seat near the podium and strutted across the stage. There was a storm of screams and whistles from the candy apple booth, where the cheerleaders were assembled--Georgia was their captain and queen. Today she was wearing her Miss Scarlet sash and crown over her cheerleading uniform, which should have looked ridiculous but somehow came off as chic. Her curled red hair hung loose to the center of her back and bounced as she walked. Had she been auditioning for a shampoo commercial, she would have booked the job for sure. When she reached the podium, she did a little spin, then presented Felicity’s mom with a large red envelope.

“Thanks, Georgia! Before I read the names, I just want to assure everyone that I did not help choose the contestants this year. That wouldn’t have been fair, since my Felicity’s in the running.” Ginger blew a kiss to Felicity, who blushed and wished she had something larger than her garden-gnome-sized best friends to hide behind.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. This year’s Miss Scarlet contestants are . . .”

Felicity’s heart started hammering, and she squeezed Haylie’s hand tightly. If she wasn’t chosen, her mom might never recover. She was Ginger’s only daughter, her one and only chance to relive the most glorious experience of her life. If Felicity failed her now, seventeen years of careful planning would crumble to nothing. The weight of responsibility pressed down on Felicity until she felt like someone had piled several boulders on her lungs.

Ginger pulled a piece of paper out of the envelope and unfolded it. Felicity searched for a telltale facial twitch indicating whether her name was on the list, but her mom’s expression didn’t change at all. “Madison Banks!” she called with a smile.

Madison was next in line to be cheerleading captain, and there was another round of screaming from the candy apple booth. She had won the Miss Ruby Red Pageant in seventh grade, so it was no surprise that she would be competing again. Her perky red ponytail bounced wildly as she jumped up and down and hugged her teammates. Felicity and Ivy made gagging gestures at each other, but Haylie seemed too nervous to notice anything except that the first name hadn’t been hers.

“Lorelei Griffin!”

Again, this was no surprise. Lorelei had been the star of last fall’s production of Little Shop of Horrors and had played the lead in Annie the year before. It was a good day for the Griffin family. Earlier that morning, Lorelei’s mother had won the Magnificent Mommy award for having produced seven redheaded children, the highest number in the community. It was a good thing the award came with a hefty check, as she was rumored to be pregnant again.

“Haylie Adams!”

Felicity barely had time to brace herself before Haylie came flying into her arms. “I made it I made it I made it!” her friend shrieked at the top of her lungs, drowning out the crowd’s applause. Ivy squeezed both of them, forming a Haylie sandwich, and Felicity struggled to stay on her feet. She was happy for Haylie, but that was three names down already--there were only nine slots left. What if she didn’t make the cut?

Haylie clambered back down to the ground as Ginger called Cassie Brynne’s name. “Don’t worry,” she said, reading Felicity’s mind. “You’re definitely going to make it.”

“You don’t know that for sure.”

Haylie rolled her eyes. “Um, hel-lo, you have the reddest hair in the whole school. I wish I had your color.” Her hair was lighter than Felicity’s, closer to carrot than copper. “And you’re the best artist, and you’re smart, and you’re so pretty. And everyone loves you. And, um, your mom runs the freaking pageant.”

“That doesn’t help. My mom didn’t get to vote,” Felicity said, but she felt buoyed by her friend’s compliments. There were still eight names to go. Maybe everything would be fine.

“Ariel Scott!” called her mom, and a small group of strawberry-blond girls near the edge of the grandstand shrieked with joy. Ariel was so overwhelmed that she started to cry.

“Ariel? Seriously?” scoffed Haylie. “Her hair’s hardly even red!”

“They always put one strawbie in the pageant,” Ivy said. “It looks bad if they don’t. Especially after the mayor’s whole speech about ‘loving all our children regardless of their hair color.’ ” She twitched her upper lip in an imitation of Mayor Redding, and Felicity giggled despite her nerves.

“But, I mean, it’s called the Miss Scarlet Pageant for a reason,” Haylie said. “It should really be for redheads only, don’t you think?”

Felicity had just opened her mouth to respond when her mom called, “Ivy Locklear!”

Ivy’s eyes widened until they were dangerously close to popping out of their sockets. “What?” she gasped as Haylie jumped up and down, squealing and clapping. “But I-- How did this-- I didn’t--”

“I did your application for you, doofus. I wrote your essay about how you wanted to assert your feminine side because people see you as such a jock.”

“Are you kidding me? How could the committee possibly have believed that?”

“It’s exactly what they want to hear! There’s nothing they like better than a reformed girl who’s seen the light and realized how important pageants are.” Haylie beamed. “Don’t be mad, Ives. I just wanted the three of us to do this together, like we always used to dream about when we were little! Don’t you remember how we played Miss Scarlet every day at recess?”
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