Excerpt from My Heart Underwater by Laurel Fantauzzo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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My Heart Underwater

by Laurel Fantauzzo

My Heart Underwater by Laurel Fantauzzo X
My Heart Underwater by Laurel Fantauzzo
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    Oct 2020, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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Part One
Southern California

Thursday, February 5, 2009
Feast of Saint Agatha

The Virgin Mary is giving me the stink eye again. I can feel her watching me as I cross through the courtyard to AP European History. Her open stone hands struggle to make a wagging finger. She wants to chisel a message into me, I know: Don't think about her! Don't you dare! Fight your thoughts! Fight your body! Think of me at your age! Think of how brave and willing I was! Think of the heaviness I bore under my skin! You're not being asked to carry something as huge as the destiny of the Christ child, are you? No! Think of your family duty, like I thought of mine!

I think of you, Mary. I think of my family.

But I also think of Ms. Holden.

I never knew what the word "crush" actually meant—thought it was a stupid, unrealistic word, actually, until January this year, on her first day of school as our long-term substitute, and she wrote her name on the classroom whiteboard for the first time.

When I saw Ms. Holden's hands, the hands mysteriously scarred, the hint of a long, black tree tattoo peeking out toward her wrists, her limbs so imperfectly beautiful and strong, I was sure she could heal broken bones, hold any falling building upright, squeeze all the wrongness out of my life. The feeling suddenly stomped all over my chest, and then I understood. Crush.

Now, a month later, I try to look at just the floor, because I really can't handle looking at her.

In my peripheral vision, I sense Ms. Holden nod at me as I take my seat, surrounded by other girls dressed in green plaid skirts and white blouses. I begin my private daily project: trying to be in the world with everyone else, concerned with the numbers and letters spelling out my future, not just obsessing over my crush.

When Melissa and Rika get their quizzes back and wilt, I prepare for my own wilting. They're headed for famous, one-name schools gathered under the league of a regal-sounding plant, while I have no idea where I'm headed. I've never been remarkable; I can't even keep my homework organized, and there's nothing special about my story that would make an admissions counselor sit up straight and say, "Aha! I choose her!"

Not like Ms. Holden, former Saint Agatha valedictorian. Ms. Holden, semiprofessional surfer, fluent in German, just for fun. Ms. Holden, who finished her undergraduate courses a year early, finished her PhD coursework at age twenty-two, earned every fellowship under the sun, and now writes her dissertation in between teaching a class for her high school alma mater and surfing every day.

Not that I'm keeping track.
She drops my quiz onto my desk.

"You've got a good memory, Tagubio," she says. "Wish I could borrow it."

I stare at the paper.

There is a happy face. There is a 100 percent. A percentage I've never seen during my three years in high school.

The score sweeps away my caution. I look up.

She's got black-rimmed glasses and sun-and-saltwater-mussed blond hair trimmed short, and messy, rough bangs swept to the left side of her forehead. Her dark eyes dance at me. She's a head taller than me, and as she smiles, I instantly memorize all the random tiny gaps in her teeth.

The want springs up before I can tamp it down. I want to put my mouth on the small mole just below her bottom lip.

I've never wanted to put my mouth on another person before.

I don't know where all this want came from.

"I was going to grade the quiz on a curve, since a lot of you seemed to have trouble with it," Ms. Holden says to the class, blessedly turning away from me. "But one of you messed it up by getting all the questions right."

The other girls frown at Melissa and Rika, who frown back at them with equally baffled, blemish-free faces. Ms. Holden winks at me over the quiet commotion. I stare down at my desk again, trying to hide whatever's happening behind my face, and Ms. Holden begins the rest of her lesson.

Excerpted from My Heart Underwater by Laurel Fantauzzo. Copyright © 2020 by Laurel Fantauzzo. Excerpted by permission of Quill Tree Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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