Diversity in Young Adult fiction has been at the forefront of the genre for the past few years. Where once it was considered a deterrent to sales to put people of color and larger sized women on the covers of books, we have slowly seen that change for the better. What’s more is that we now have the room to tell stories previously considered not marketable for young readers. One of the books doing that is To Be Honest by author Maggie Ann Martin.
Savannah is dreading being home alone with her overbearing mother after her big sister―and best friend―goes off to college. But if she can just get through senior year, she’ll be able to escape to college, too. What she doesn’t count on is that her mother’s obsession with weight has only grown deeper since her appearance on an extreme weight-loss show, and now Savvy’s mom is pressuring her even harder to be constantly mindful of what she eats.
Between her mom’s diet-helicoptering, missing her sister, and worrying about her collegiate future, Savvy has enough to worry about. And then she meets George, the cute new kid at school who has insecurities of his own. As Savvy and George grow closer, they help each other discover how to live in the moment and enjoy the here and now before it disappears.
To Be Honest is another sharp, witty novel from Maggie Ann Martin, about a spunky heroine who is dealing with very real issues―body image, parental pressure, loneliness, first love, and finding your way―with heart and humor.
Swoon Reads, the imprint behind To Be Honest was gracious enough to let us share an excerpt of the upcoming book with our lovely Mary Sue readers.
It had been exactly two days, thirteen hours, and thirty- four minutes since we left Ashley at Indiana State, and I was itching to get out of the house and away from my mom’s sole attention. We’d already prepared healthy prep meals that we could freeze and eat for the next month, and if I had to dice one more carrot or make one more pot of rice, I would most definitely scream.
Thankfully, I’d already made plans with my best friend, Grace, to go to her family’s summer cookout slash family field day in the park. Each year, the Morenos from around the Midwest came and joined for this day of fun (and sibling rivalry). I was mostly there for a chance to see her cousin Mateo . . . and hang out with Grace, of course.
Fiyero the poodle monster rested his chin on the side of my bed, growling a low, guttural growl, alerting me it was time to get up and play with him. I groaned as I rolled over and grabbed his fluffy face between my hands.
“Now that Ashley isn’t here you have to resort to me, huh?” I asked.
Fiyero cocked his head like he was trying to understand me. His tongue, which was always a little too big for his mouth, flopped to the side and I barked out an early-morning laugh.
“You’re lucky you’re cute,” I said.
As I stood up, Fiyero started bouncing around the room excitedly and then raced down the hallway and down the stairs. Much to my surprise, I heard Mom yelp “Fiyero!” from the bottom of the stairs. Usually Mom sleeps in until noon on the weekends, but today she was already up and stretching in the living room. Her hands contorted in weird angles behind her back and she listened to the soft hum of Lady Gaga, her workout music of choice.
“Want to join me and Fiyero on a run this morning?” she asked without turning around. My tiptoeing obviously failed me.
“As fun as that sounds . . .” I trailed off.
“The first step to a healthier life is making a commitment,” she rattled off. I kept a mental tally of the thinspiration mantras she preached to me throughout the day. This one was at about two times a day.
“I inherited my commitment issues from Dad, obviously,” I said.
I regretted saying it as soon as it came out. We tried not to talk about the Dad Debacle of Sophomore Year when he cheated on Mom with one of her friends. Should friends be in quotation marks in that context? Yes. Her “friend” slept with my dad for about a year before he slipped up, leaving his phone charging on the kitchen counter and leaving message previews open for a naive sophomore me to find. Adult sexting is disgusting.
“Oh, Savannah,” she said, shaking her head with both of her hands firmly on her hips. It was a posed reserved for her times of greatest disappointment.
“Sorry, Mom,” I said. “I have to head over to Grace’s. She’s having the Moreno family reunion thing this afternoon. Um, did you want to come, too?”
She shook her head. “No, thanks, sweetie. I’m heading over to the gym this afternoon. You have fun, though. Be sure to tell Maria thank you.”
Her statement felt a little like a judgment. Like, You have fun while I improve my mind, body, and spirit at the gym without you. Most things out of her mouth sounded like a personal attack on me, lately.
“I will. See you tonight,” I said, heading into the kitchen.
“Do you want to heat up one of our frozen meals before you go? You don’t need all the extra carbs that come with the grill-out food, especially the buns,” she said.
My whole body flushed red like it did every time she tried to restrict my food. I remembered Ashley’s plea to keep the peace while she was gone, and swallowed the anger that bubbled up inside of me.
“I’ll be sure to heat one up before I leave, Mom,” I lied. “Have fun at the gym.”
Normally on Sunday mornings, Ashley would be up and making breakfast. She’d make secret pancakes and bacon before Mom could wake up and tell us how many calories we were wasting on breakfast. We’d lounge on the couch and watch episodes of whatever show we were bingeing and practically become one with the couch before Mom woke up at noon. Maybe Mom woke up early so that I wouldn’t feel so alone. Even though it made me feel a little better, the giant hole in our home dynamic expanded two sizes.
I listened to the soft rhythm of Mom’s feet hitting the floor as she did her warm-up routine. I’d become accustomed to this sound over the past year. After Mom and Dad’s divorce, Mom tailspinned into a shame spiral. She started making changes to every aspect of her life—anything to get her out of the “rut” she’d been in all those years with Dad. One night, she saw a call for audition tapes for the weight-loss reality TV show Shake the Weight and conned Ashley into helping her film a tape. Thinking nothing would come of it and being willing to do anything to make Mom happy in those months, Ashley helped her out.
About a month later, on Mother’s Day, Mom got a call that she’d need to fly out to LA for a screen test with other potential contestants. Two weeks later, she was packing a bag to move out to LA and we were packing our bags to stay with Dad and Sheri for the next two months.
Each Wednesday night we would sit in front of the TV and watch this woman who was once our mother fight with other contestants, puke on camera, and shed a definitely unhealthy amount of weight in a few short months. She started praising the woman who barked orders at her, pushed her until she passed out, and caused her emotional damage she couldn’t see happening to her. There is a reason people on these shows aren’t allowed to call their family members while they’re filming. Everyone would convince them to run from that place as fast as they could.
Now Mom inhabited a new, smaller body, after rigorous exercise and plastic surgery to remove some excess skin. I knew she was the same woman, could recognize her voice and her eyes, but everything else about her had changed. She had a one-track mind to count calories, follow to-do lists, and repeat the mantras that had been ingrained in her on Shake the Weight. She fixated not only on every little thing that crossed her lips but mine as well.
I snuck back up the stairs as Mom did arm circles to “Applause.” The weather was sweltering. The Morenos always managed to host their family day on the stickiest day of the year. Thankfully, Mr. Moreno usually brought a sprinkler so that we could all cool down when it became unbearable.
The yellow-and-blue polka-dotted swimsuit sat snugly on my hips, and I instantly regretted opting out of swimsuit shopping this year. I figured I’d managed to squeeze into the same one for three years, what could possibly change in one more? Oh, right, everything. I flung on a T-shirt from Adventure World and slipped into my favorite flip-flops, on the verge of ripping in two. You can’t beat a really nice pair of broken-in flip-flops.
When I came back downstairs, Mom and Fiyero had left for their run. I grabbed the keys to my new, inherited car. Ashley always had the touch with Norma (a very normal car name for a Nissan), but I absolutely despised driving. Thankfully Sandcastle Park was only a few-minutes drive away. If I could make it there with only a few bumps along the way, I would consider it a successful trip.
Sandcastle Park came into my view after a particularly violent curb check. I parked a block away and could still hear Mrs. Moreno greeting everyone as they showed up. She had the biggest heart and the loudest voice to match. I once said that if I had to take one person with me on a deserted island, I’d take Mrs. Moreno, because she could calm me down, cook some bomb food, and use her loud voice to track down civilization from miles away.
“Savannah! Savannah, over here Savannah!” she called to me from across the street. I waved sheepishly as all of Grace’s extended family turned to look at me.
“Hey, Mrs. M,” I yelled back.
From the corner of my eye, I saw my best friend running my way. She wrapped me up in a hug, knocking the wind from me, in typical Grace fashion. When she pulled away, she held me by the shoulders and looked me up and down. “How are you doing? Don’t lie,” she added, holding up an accusatory finger.
I sighed. “I’ve been better. But we’re not here to have a pity party. We’re here to have a fun day!”
“I signed us up for a three-legged race,” she said, cringing as she waited for my response.
“You what?” I asked, knowing full well what I heard. Knowing full well that Grace knew that I refused to participate in this event every year since third grade, when I watched Andrew Adams break his leg while he was in a three-legged race with Cody Grant.
“You can’t let the ghost of Andrew’s broken-leg past haunt you forever. It’s the only event I’ve never won. Come on, this is our year. I’ll even get Mateo in on a conversation with you if that sweetens the deal,” she said, wiggling her eyebrows.
“I feel really uncomfortable with you bribing me romantically with your family members,” I said.
“Ugh, you wouldn’t have cared if I didn’t mention the three-legged race! What else do you want? I’ll do anything,” she said. When competitive Grace came out, you didn’t want to get in her way. She wasn’t above bribery if it meant she had the opportunity to win something.
“Do my laundry for the next month?” I offered.
“You know how much I despise laundry,” she said.
“Take it or leave it, Moreno,” I said.
She held out her hand for a binding handshake. “Deal.”
Maggie Ann Martin, author of The Big F and To Be Honest, hails from Des Moines, Iowa but moonlights as a New Yorker. She earned her BA in English and Journalism from the University of Iowa, the most welcoming literary community in the world. When she is not writing, you can find her binge-watching TV shows or passionately fangirling over fictional characters on the Internet.
To Be Honest comes out August 21st, 2018.
(image: Swoon Reads)
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