Situations that are destined to fail: number one
The world's most gruesome hangover
A ten-hour-long plane journey
Being five foot eleven
Don't be sick on the children... Don't be sick on the children...
Their little heads bobbed beneath me in the queue to get on the aeroplane. My stomach lurched again and I grabbed it. If I clutched at my guts hard enough, hopefully they'd not empty themselves over the excitable heads of the kids in front.
I couldn't be certain, but vomming over innocent kiddlywinks could possibly jeopardize my acceptance onto a long-haul flight.
Why had I done that last shot last night? Why please? Why? WHY!?
The flight attendant in front checked another ticket and beckoned the passenger past. The line crawled forward under the brutal fluorescent lights of the departure lounge. The aeroplane waited outside the floor-to-ceiling window, looking way too small to carry all these people to America. It was white, like the horse a dashing knight would ride to rescue princesses in a fairytale. But I was no princess, and I could rescue myself thank you very much. All I needed was this aeroplane to put an ocean between me and my evil stepmother.
My stomach lurched again as I remembered how I'd said goodbye...
"Look at the state of her," my stepmother, Penny, said, loud enough for everyone in the security queue to hear. We were at that annoying bit of the airport process where everyone realizes they can't take any liquids with them so decants all their bottles into see-through plastic bags.
"I am here, you know?" I rolled my eyes because I knew it annoyed her and downed the rest of my water bottle.
She ignored me. "They won't let her on the plane."
I looked at Dad desperately for help. He held back a smile.
"Relax, Penny. Think of all the drunken stags they let onto planes to Vegas every day."
"I'm not drunk!" I protested, causing about ten separate clumps of travellers to stop and stare.
Dad laughed and pulled me into a hug. I clung onto him, nestling into his shoulder, inhaling his smell. It helped with the nausea.
"No, you're not drunk, are you, poppet? Just hung over. You had quite the leaving do. Though you do smell drunk." He took a deliberate whiff and pushed me away..."PHEWEE."
"I showered this morning..."
... Which I had. I'd also just happened to sweat out the previous night's sambuca shots on the drive to the airport.
Dad pulled me in for another hug. "In that case, come 'ere."
It would've been a tender moment if Penny wasn't there. But she was obsessed with always being there – like she was terrified if I got one moment alone with Dad, like, ever, that I'd make him realize what a manipulative evil bitch she was. And, to be fair, I would certainly give it a go. Of course, Craig was there too – ruining the moment. Because you can't have a clichéd evil stepmother without the standardised evil stepsibling.
As if on cue, Craig looked me up and down and said, "You smell like your mum."
How dare he HOW DARE HE howdarehehowdarehehowdareHE? The crimson mist he always evokes in me descended through my hangover. I saw spots, and my foot went out instinctively and kicked him hard in the shin.
He yelped and fell down – totally, totally faking.
Penny and Dad went into utter-defence mode and the usual chaos broke out.
"AMBER. YOU SAY SORRY, YOUNG LADY."
"CRAIG, ARE YOU OKAY? DON'T CRY."
"You're crazy, just like she is, too," Craig added from the floor.
Dad held me away from Craig as I launched myself at him again. "Amber, no!"
I strained and struggled against Dad's arms. Penny stood protectively in front of her son – shooting me her demon glare. Like I was just attacking Craig for no reason. Like she hadn't just heard what he'd said.
People were looking. Security staff included. Dad made hush noises into my ear, stroking my hair, while I yelled, "You take that back, you take that back!"
"Amber, come on. Calm down. They really won't let you on the plane..."
I looked around. A uniformed dude was making his way over. Penny clocked him at the same time. I saw the conflict cloud her face – getting me told off versus making a scene... She chose not making a scene.
"Shh," she said – to both of us.
Craig and I glared at each other, but we both straightened up, and acted casual. The security guard stopped, examined us, then walked back to the little booth he'd come from.
I sighed. I felt so sick. And I'd wanted to say goodbye to Dad just us two. I threw my empty plastic bottle into the bin provided and didn't look up.
"You apologize, young lady," Penny demanded.
I pulled my rucksack straps tighter to readjust my bag – suddenly really angry. With my headache. With my stupid stepmother. With my stupider stepbrother. With Dad. For not telling Craig off, for never telling Craig off...
"He should apologize too, for what he said!" I burst out.
"I meant it," Craig called from behind Penny. And Dad had to stop me lurching at him again.
"You know what? I can't be arsed with this." I turned and stormed off into the security queue, knowing they couldn't follow.
"Amber? AMBER!" Dad called.
I ignored him and kept walking.
"Amber, come on, say goodbye nicely."
“Goodbye nicely,” I fired back over my shoulder, funnelling into the line, getting my boarding card out ready.
It was the last thing I'd say to him in six weeks.
Don't be sick on the children. Don't be sick on the children.
The two girls in front were blissfully unaware of their vomit-related danger. They swapped pink puppy cards while their parents fussed with passports, checking and re-checking they were still in the same pocket.
I was so mad at Dad. I was so mad at Dad ten million per cent of the time. What was so crappy was that that airport scene wasn't even extraordinary. Just the normal everyday occurrence of me versus Craig, me versus Penny...with Dad set on keeping the peace, rather than keeping on the side of his only daughter. I was so exhausted from fighting. I was so exhausted from feeling left out.
I was so exhausted from missing Mum...
The boarding queue inched forward again and everyone moved along, dragging their bags behind them. My tummy churned, complaining about the rubbery duty-free eggs I'd eaten while crying silently in the harsh neon lighting of the airside restaurant.
If I could just not vomit...
If I could just look normal enough to be let on the plane...
Then this summer could start. I could be with Mum and figure out what went wrong and how to get her to come back and start to feel whole again.
It was the family in front's turn and the girls scurried under their parents’ legs, asking the air hostesses how high the plane went, how fast, if there were Disney films on the flight... Not asking the important question: "Is that sick-looking girl behind us going to blow chunks on our little heads?"
They were nodded through out of splatter range. It was my turn. I took a deep breath, scraped back my bush of hair and stepped forward to give them my passport.
Look presentable. Look presentable. Look presentable.
The air hostess had so much make-up on that I couldn't figure out what she really looked like. I focused on her foundation-caked cheeks as she took my red leather passport. She smiled and her cheek cracked.
"First time flying alone?" She used the same voice she'd used with the children.
I was scared to open my mouth so I just nodded.
"If you need anything from us, please just let me know."
"Thanks," I mumbled.
She peered at me curiously. "Are you okay? You look scared."
I'm scared of flying with the world's worst hangover...
"I'm a little scared of flying..." I came up with a genius idea. "...I get travel sick!"
"You do look peaky."
"I'm sure I'll be okay."
I'd come up with the perfect cover. Thank God.
"Let us know if there's anything we can do. Seventeen is still quite young to be flying alone."
She beamed at me, and I decided it should be illegal to be that happy so early in the morning.
The headache hit just as I'd squeezed myself into my window seat.
"Ouch," I said, out loud, startling the giant man sitting next to me. He'd struggled to fit into his seat and his knees were practically up by his face as he scrunched his legs in. My own long legs already ached in the practically non-existent space. I reached into my bag for an ibuprofen, swallowed it dry, and took out my phone.
I had two messages. One from Lottie, one from Evie. I smiled for the first time that morning.
Lottie: I'M SO SORRY I GOT YOU SO DRUNK. IT WAS ALL AN EVIL PLOY TO GET YOU TO STAY HERE THIS SUMMER. ARE YOU ALIIIIIIIIIIVE?
Evie: Don't leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeave us!!!!!!!
My smile dropped. I was going to miss them so much!
Their messages triggered a flashback to the previous night...
..."I'M GOING TO BE IN THE SKY THIS TIME TOMORROW."
We'd taken a taxi up Dovelands Hill after the pub had kicked us out. It was our hill. We'd all gone up there the night we'd first become friends. I stood up on the bench, tipped my head back and pointed into the inky blackness above me, almost falling over in the process.
Evie grabbed my arm to keep hold of me.
"Amber, get down. I'm far too tiny to catch you."
"AMERICA, HERE I COME!!!"
Lottie was dancing to no music on the sloped grass beneath us – spinning with her arms wide out.
"Amber, I'm going to miss you so much! Can I fold myself into your suitcase and come with you?" she asked, going spin, spin, spin until she fell over with a thump onto the grass and started laughing.
"Help!" Evie said. "You are both too wasted for just me to look after. Amber, take my freaking hand."
I looked up at the sky once more, then stumbled into her arms and let her guide me onto the grass. I fell next to where Lottie was lying face-up on the ground. Evie sighed and got down next to us. All our heads were together, and we all looked up.
The stars were spinning.
"One of us better not have nits," Evie said.
"Only you would think of that," Lottie replied... Which was true.
I laughed, and stared upwards, watching the universe above me turn and turn and turn...
"I can't wait to see my mum," I said, quietly. Feeling just so...good in my stomach. "It's going to be so brilliant."
"How long has it been?" Lottie asked.
Spin spin spin spin spin.
I pushed thoughts out of my head. Thoughts like, she didn't even invite you to her wedding and you were the one who asked to go this summer, not the other way around and why did she have to leave you to get healthy?
The alcohol, as always, helped me do this.
"We have six whole weeks together," I told the sky. "Six perfect weeks..."
"Careful," Evie said, her hair tickling my face. "Nothing is ever perfect."
"Especially if you're working in a summer camp surrounded by hyper American children," Lottie added.
"Quiet time now, oh negative ones," I said, closing my eyes, smiling as I pictured how Mum's face would look when we met at the airport...
The seatbelt-fasten sign wasn't even on yet, so I figured it was safe to message them back before take-off.
I'm so hungover!! What am I doing on an aeroplane?! Help me! My head hurts so much!
I closed my eyes and listened to the aeroplane noises – the intermittent beeping, the low roar of the air-conditioning, and people politely-but-not-politely organizing each other's luggage in the overhead compartments. All these people, sharing a journey with me. We'd be marooned together in a tin can flying through the sky for ten hours, then never see each other again.
Flying was weird.
My head hurt.
What would it be like seeing Mum again?
Was she going to, like, explain?
My head hurt.
My phone beeped. Twice.
Lottie: I can't believe you're going to be in charge of actual children! American ones too. Will they be called things like Hank?
Evie: You'll be fine! Just think, any story worth hearing starts with someone our age getting on an aeroplane.
I didn't want a story worth hearing though – I just wanted time with my mum...
I also wanted to ignore the nagging voice in my head, crowing that nothing is ever that simple when it comes to Her.
Amber, Evie and Lottie: three girls facing down tough issues with the combined powers of friendship, feminism and cheesy snacks. Both hilarious and heart-rending, this is Amber’s story of how painful – and exhilarating – love can be, following on from Evie’s story in Am I Normal Yet?
All Amber wants is a little bit of love. Her mum has never been the caring type, even before she moved to California, got remarried and had a personality transplant. But Amber's hoping that spending the summer with her can change all that.
And then there's prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Can he really be interested in anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie's advice, there's no escaping the fact: love is hard.
Perfect for fans of Rainbow Rowell, Caitlin Moran and Louise O’Neill.
Listen to Holly Bourne talk fun and feminism in the Spinster Club
“I'm a big Holly Bourne fan and this is my favourite yet.”
Fiona Noble, The Bookseller
“Finally, an author who GETS it.”
Emma Blackery, YouTuber
“Bourne’s books stand out in the word of young adult fiction.”
“I'm a big Holly Bourne fan and this is my favourite yet. She writes with such humour and great honesty, with wonderfully relatable characters. It's also refreshing to see feminism highlighted in such a positive and relevant way for teenagers.”
Fiona Noble, The Bookseller
“Bourne talks about feminism so openly and truthfully in her books and if you ever doubted the intelligence, ability or passion of teenage girls read her books and you never will again.”
Muchbooks reader review on Guardian Children's Books
“Written with humour and warmth, Amber's story perfectly captures the emotional rollercoaster that is love: embracing all its joy and pain, whether it be for family, friends or a gorgeous boy. A really satisfying page turner.”
“Emotive and thought provoking this searingly honest book deals with the biggest life lesson of all - nobody's perfect.”
South Wales Daily Post
“I love that moment when you read a book and you keep glancing at the clock, seeing how many more pages it’s possible to squeeze in because you love it so much and can’t bear to stop reading it.”
Lucy the Reader
“Equal parts hilarious and heart-wrenching... I cannot get over how many times I snorted out loud whilst reading this book. You’ll have to read it to see for yourself.”
Fable & Table
“[Holly Bourne’s] writing style keeps me hooked, makes me feel things and genuinely makes me think hard about important issues. I cannot recommend her novels highly enough and I am on a mission to read them all!”
Adventures of a Teenage Bookworm
“Holly Bourne really understands life, insecurities and opinions for teens and I think her writing is some of the best portrayals of it I’ve ever read.”
Miriam is Reading
“I’m obsessed with this book. It’s so, SO brilliant... Holly Bourne is one of the most talented UKYA writers at the moment. Her books are phenomenal.”
Lucy the Reader
“I’m forever going to cheer Holly on when it comes to her books because they really are as addictive as people say. From her interesting chapters to her unique storylines, there’s everything for everyone in her books.”
Owls and Stags
“Blazing a feminist trail for UK YA... [a] funny novel about feminism, friendship and falling for really hot boys.”
“This books melts me. It’s so funny and sweet. Absolutely loved it! Holly Bourne truly is the Queen of YA!”
Humaira Kauser, age 17, for LoveReading4Kids
“Holly Bourne is hugely popular with the young adult audience. The second instalment in her Normal series tells Amber's story of first love, friendship and addiction.”
The Sunday Express
“Holly Bourne’s new novel demonstrates that with the right female friends, and a decent supply of cheesy snacks, a girl can get through anything... Well-written and thoughtful, this has a thoroughly authentic twenty-first century teen voice and lightens serious issues with humour.”
“When I received this book I let out a squeal... I really love this series.”
Lucy the Reader
“A powerful, feminist read which will have you laughing out loud as tears slowly fall down your face. Absolutely brilliant.”
Susie Holm, age 15, for LoveReading4Kids
“As soon as I picked this book up I was instantly hooked! I njoyed it so much, that I couldn’t put it down!”
Tani Johnson, for LoveReading4Kids
“This book is a very easy read, filled with a great love story, and great character development. Really enjoyed this book and really interested in reading more by Holly Bourne.”
Farah Alam, for LoveReading4Kids
“Holly Bourne’s distinctive achievement is that she manages the quick-fire narrative and dialogue so attractive to YA fiction readers, yet also... interweaves the complexity of a first relationship, with all its self doubts, unexpected passions and revelations.”
Books for Keeps
“This book was absolutely amazing! I could not put it down. I loved how it showed the story of The Spinster Club from Amber's point of view.”
Megan Chambers, age 14, for LoveReading4Kids
“I absolutely loved this book, it did exactly what a book should; make you feel a different emotion with every page... I would rate this book 10/10.”
“From the very first page I fell in love with this novel. It was funny, full of drama and at times it was an emotional rollercoaster.”
Destiny Maraj, age 14, for LoveReading4Kids
“I could not put this book down, I wanted to hug Amber so often as her pain practically bled off the page.”
Edel Waugh, for LoveReading4Kids
“What could possibly go wrong with; meeting your mother you haven't seen in years, who ditched you for America and an emotional reunion when neither of you can deal with emotions?”
Imogen Breaks, age 13, for LoveReading4Kids
“Extremely funny, heart-warming and very relatable.”
Jodi Coffman, age 14, for LoveReading4Kids
“Holly Bourne is one of my most favourite authors out there- she writes brutally honest, funny and relatable novels that capture what being a teenager is like.”
Izzy Read, age 15, for LoveReading4Kids
“This is the next part of the trilogy which started with ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ Each book tells the story of one of the three girls of the ‘The Spinster Club’ and this time it’s Amber’s turn.”
Daisy Holt, for LoveReading4Kids