Debut YA novel on sale July 23rd, Henry Holt Books For Young Readers


Praise for The Spaces Between Us

"Serena is a stunningly realistic and layered protagonist. Her story unfolds in remarkably sharp, vivid prose, and even the least sympathetic characters are rendered with thoughtful complexity. A girl-centered Catcher in the Rye for the 21st century. "—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Readers will be drawn by the plot details of high school life, a desperate road trip, and a tragic ending, while thematic wisdom comes in single lines. . . creating lingering questions and yielding insights that will have readers seeing their own situations differently long after the last page."—The Bulletin

 "Beautiful prose emphasizes complex themes of faith, the class system, and personal responsibility. With its impeccably developed characters and hard-hitting narrative, this is an essential purchase for teen and new adult collections."—School Library Journal, starred review 

From Goodreads


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By Tara · ★★★★★ · March 09, 2019  ... Wow, what a good read! Adults as well as younger versions - crossover read - can connect with the conflict of questioning if a person's made the right choice. We have those people we'd love to save, but really all of us need to save ourselves. ...more

By Kidlitter · ★★★★☆ · June 14, 2019 ...Too often older readers dismiss teen realistic fiction, preferring to indulge in YA dystopia or fantasy. Any novel that tackles class in America deserves attention from a wide readership, especially if the author is not afraid to have her characters face the the burdens that come fro recognizing "the spaces between us." Serena Velasco and Melody Grimshaw are best friends and "a pair of pariahs." The former is too smart and the latter too poor to fit in anywhere in Colchis, the dying mill town in upstate New York, "the burned-over cinder of the American Dream." The town is a hotbed of class anxiety, with young women and men feeling all the disdain, distrust and envy that their parents do. ...more

By Kat · ★★★★☆ · March 16, 2019 ... The story is told from Serena's point of view only, but it is about both young ladies trying in different ways to beat their home life situations. I think from being a parent and librarian myself it is written in a more mature tone. I do like the subject matter it deals with coming from a small town myself in much the same situation that these girls find themselves. I highly recommend this book! It is very realistic and sadly more common than most realize. ...more



Chapter One

IN MY WESTERN CIV CLASS this year, I worked out a concept for a new superhero action figure. I call him Irony Man. He’s a superhero who exists only to help others. Irony Man rescues those in distress—maidens on railroad tracks, cats up trees, victims of natural disasters, hostages—but then he always delivers them to a worse fate than if he just left them alone to begin with and let them figure their problems out themselves. Needless to say, Irony Man doesn’t receive the kind of love he feels entitled to, and this makes him vengeful, and lonely. Sort of like Mr. C., my Western Civ teacher. Because I work on my superhero action figure during class and have to look like I’m paying attention, Mr. C. ends up being the model, and Irony Man comes out balding, with thick black glasses, earlobes that rest on his shoulders, and a big cross banging around his neck. Not the kind of guy you want to see coming at you in a cape and tights.

So on my final exam I sketch him in. Today, it’s my grade that needs rescuing. I need a perfect score on this test to pull my grade out of the deep muck, pass the class, and turn into a senior in high school. Before I begin my quest for perfection, I stand up and look on my best and only friend Melody Grimshaw’s final exam. To see how she’s doing, I have to crane my head around the swollen neck and shoulders of Junior Davis, the alpha male of Colchis High. Junior has worn his football jersey to the final, so he can advertise his IQ in school colors. He has decorated the back of Grimshaw’s head with lilac blossoms and is now keeping himself occupied by wrapping a lock of Grimshaw’s hair around his pen. Aside from lounging in her chair and gazing out the window at a squirrel eating the end of a hot dog bun on a branch of this big pine tree, Grimshaw is hardly a bustle of academic activity. She has long brown hair, which spills down her back and over his desk, so the obvious thing for him to do is to wrap it around his pen.

Grimshaw is bored—by Junior, by the final exam, by history, by life. She wants to go somewhere, but she doesn’t know where, and if she did know, she wouldn’t be able to figure out how to get there. She wants to be a dancer, that’s all she’s ever wanted to be, but she doesn’t know what that means she should do. There are no professional dancers in Colchis, not like the kind she wants to be, anyway, so she can’t ask them what they did to get there. It’s a dream for her, like a god she prays to. Nothing else matters to her. My family used to get her ballet lessons for her birthday down at Monique’s Dance Academy, a Christian dance studio owned by one of my mother’s church friends, on the condition that her family take her to them, but you can’t really count on Grimshaws for anything. Her brothers are numerous, but when you need them they are always ending up in the emergency room, or jail, or needing her to babysit, or their cars have issues. Now my mom buys her subscriptions to dance magazines, which get delivered to our house, so it keeps the dream alive that way.

She doesn’t have anything written on her paper. Mr. C. catches me looking.

“Miss Velasco,” he enunciates.

“I’m not cheating.” I sit back down. “But other people might be.”

He stands up and scans the room, which interrupts these two vicious cheerleaders who are sitting in front of me and passing misinformation back and forth.

The cheerleaders give me dirty looks, and I smile at them. The football player who is playing with Grimshaw’s hair belongs to one of them.

Mr. C.’s gaze comes back to rest on me. His eyes narrow. “Miss Velasco,” he says again, with his usual complement of sarcasm. “I assume you’ve done the math.”


“You need to hand in a perfect exam today if you expect to achieve one of your Ds and come back in the fall as a senior.”

“I know.”

Mr. C. stares out the same window as Grimshaw. “We know you know everything already,” he says, “but what we don’t know is if that’s an asset or a liability.”

I accomplish the short answer questions in less than ten minutes. Mr. C. is right: since my grade in Western Civ is currently a deep F, I do have to ace this test. Around me, my classmates are sighing while the grinding of the motor in the clock on the wall gets louder and louder. Grimshaw has picked up her exam and is staring at it with profound disinterest. Junior is still keeping busy with tying her hair into little bows. Junior’s cheerleader girlfriend looks pretty upset about all the attention he’s putting into Grimshaw’s hair, but he ignores her.

Mr. C. paces the aisles a few more times, so I try to focus on the essay questions. The directions say to pick three out of five. The sixth, for extra credit, is actually fairly interesting.

“Is democracy a failed experiment? Pick another failed social experiment and compare.”

This one is a soft pitch to me. I start by stating the obvious, which is that to determine whether or not an experiment has failed, you first have to define success. And then I introduce my favorite subject to talk about, which is communism, although I do point out that putting communism next to democracy like that often leads to sloppy thinking because one is an economic system and the other one is political, and they could go together, theoretically. 

And then I get into it. I drop the big names—Lenin, Marx, Mao—although strictly speaking, I don’t know what they did or thought or said. I just know you’re not supposed to like them, and that’s good enough for me. I like how their names sound; they ring with this upsetting clang, like a pot dropped in the kitchen of an upscale restaurant, disturbing the dignity and repose of the capitalists at lunch. Or at least they should. My father was a radical political economics professor and had some theories about oppression and human liberation, which is all I know about him. By the time I’m two pages into my essay, though, it’s not about my father. As I cover page after page, everything else disappears, the noise from the wall clock, the depressed sighs of the other students. One thought leads to the next thought until I’m scrawling down things I didn’t even know I knew. It’s like I’m learning something, maybe from myself.

“Miss Velasco.” Mr. C. is standing next to my desk.

“What?” I look around. The classroom is empty. I’m the only one left. I slam the test down on his desk and run out of the room.

Outside, it’s started to rain.

I thread my way down the stairs in front of the school, through groups of kids standing around in front of the buses on their last day of classes. Nobody says a word to me as I go by. Grimshaw and I are a pair of pariahs, like a virus in a lipid envelope. She’s poor and I’m smart, so between the two of us we’re practically an un-American activity. On the other side of the line of buses, Grimshaw is waiting for me on our bench.

When I sit down next to her, she puts two cigarettes in her mouth, lights both, and hands one to me. Every year at the end of the last day of school, it’s our tradition to smoke a ceremonial cigarette on school property.

“A wet menthol,” I comment. “Yum.”

Today, Grimshaw has an enormous formerly pink suitcase next to her. The suitcase means she had a fight with her mother this morning and is running away to my house. The suitcase has a bumper sticker on it from Niagara Falls, which dates from her parents’ honeymoon.

“We’re free,” I announce, taking my first pull.

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” she sings as she exhales her first drag. Grimshaw speaks mostly in lyrics from prehistoric rock and roll, especially if the song is about getting free. She’s obsessed with getting out of the Minnechaug Valley, which is our very small corner of New York State. She’s never been anywhere else, so she’s sure it’s better there.

“Do you think you passed?” I ask her.

She shrugs. “I didn’t really get the essay questions.”

“Did you write anything?”

“I sure as hell didn’t write a book.”

“As long as you wrote something. It’s not like he gave you much space to fill. I had to use extra paper.”

“I know. You didn’t even look up when I left. What did you write about? The usual?”

“Pretty much.”

“You never learn.”

“Neither do they.”

Grimshaw grinds out her cigarette as she walks toward the bus. “I’m not coming back, anyway,” she says. “I’ll be eighteen. After that, what’s the point?” I pick up her suitcase and follow her. I know what’s in it—her toothbrush, toothpaste, and a set of rose-printed flannel sheets. My mother bought them for Christmas last year, a gesture that offended her mother. Mrs. Grimshaw doesn’t drive, so one of her sons brought her over to our house to return them. 

As a matter of fact, Mrs. Grimshaw hardly ever leaves her house, and so coming over to my house and yelling at my mother was kind of a big outing for her. But of course, the next time Grimshaw spent the night at our house, she picked up the sheets again, so here they are. She walks ahead of me, still humming a tune. Her white T-shirt has fallen off one shoulder, revealing a shiny black bra strap. With her, it looks like an invitation. It’s something about the way she moves. If her big ambition to be a dancer dies, plan B is to be a stripper.

“Slut,” somebody says as we pass by a group of cheerleaders. I turn around. Of course—it was Junior Davis’s girlfriend, no doubt pissed that her boyfriend spent the Western Civ exam playing with Grimshaw’s hair and ignoring the death-looks of his girlfriend.

“Bitch,” I say back, even though they weren’t talking to me. “Cheaters.”

“Like you don’t,” she says to me.

“At least we’ll pass.”

Grimshaw just keeps humming and gets on the bus.

Do you ever notice something, something that nobody else notices, you don’t know why, something just makes you notice it, it catches your attention, it gets on your radar screen, and you pick out this little detail from far away? It doesn’t even register as significant; you don’t even know why you notice it. But you do. This gold Corvette struck me that way, like, why am I noticing that gold Corvette going so slowly down that street? It’s too far away to see who’s driving it, but it catches the afternoon sun and glints before it disappears, so I notice it and watch it move by.

“You coming on?” the bus driver calls down to me, and then I follow Grimshaw onto the bus.