Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Dear Cassie: booktrailer debut and exclusive excerpt

What if the last place you should fall in love is the first place that you do?
Last year, we introduced you to one of our favorite new authors, Lisa Burstein, and her debut novel, Pretty Amy.  Today, we are pleased to bring you her companion novel, Dear Cassie.  It is our honor to bring you the official book trailer, followed by an excerpt that illustrates how raw, honest and compelling Burstein’s writing can be.  Join us the last week of April for Entangled Teen Week (April 29 – May 4 – we’ll be giving away books!) and our Twitter Book Club chat with Lisa Burstein (@LisaBurstein) on Wednesday, May 1, 8:00 PM E #TLTCassie.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-NlpZapj14]
Read the Excerpt

Day 6 

24 Fucking Days to Go

This morning, we followed Rawe down to the water­front—Nez in front, me in the middle, Troyer in the back. Nez kept turning around and whispering to me about Arm Sleeve Tattoo Guy, making X-rated facial expres­sions and tongue movements like she was having some kind of porno stroke.

I didn’t want to hear about it and tried to ignore her, but that just made her keep going.

“Then he put both hands on my butt,” Nez said, holding her hands up and squeezing.

Rawe twisted around to bust her, but it was like Nez could sense it and she turned away from me, staring straight ahead and marching like she was a model prisoner, before Rawe could say anything. I looked down at my boots, clomping on the dirt path. Even with our short escape the other night, that was still how I felt. Like a prisoner.

Maybe I would have felt that way even if I wasn’t here.

The four of us finally hit the rocky beach. Murky green lake water gurgled with seaweed and foam like cappuccino. The boys were already there, standing in front of three canoes. Weathered Adirondack chairs were in a piled up with a bike lock. The door of a boat house, no bigger than our cabin, banged open and closed in the wind.

“It smells like I’m in a goldfish cemetery,” I said, covering my face.

“You can handle the pit toilets, you can handle this,” Rawe said, spinning her head around, Exorcist-style, to look at me.

I didn’t want to get into the fact that any toilet was really a goldfish cemetery.

“Sweet,” Nez whispered. “Maybe Andre and I can slip away for some afternoon delight.” She licked her lips.

“If it will finally shut your mouth, I hope so,” I murmured.

“How do you make out with your mouth closed?” Nez asked.

“Once I staple yours shut you can figure it out,” I said, not wanting to let Nez get the last word. It was about all I had left.

“Ladies, line up,” Rawe commanded.

We were in a line already, so we all looked at one another. Maybe Rawe was showing off for Square Head—Nerone or whatever. The boys were already in a line, too. Ben turned and waved to Troyer. He mouthed, Hi Laura, before he glued his eyes back on Nerone.

Nez looked at me, her mouth hanging open practically down to her knees.

“We had our own fun while Andre was squeezing your butt,” I said, making the same hand motions Nez had. I bet Ben was probably only being nice to Troyer to piss me off, but if I could piss off Nez in the process, all the better.

“We’re splitting up three-two-two, co-ed,” Nerone yelled. Then he went through some canoe safety tips. Like Rawe or Nerone really gave a crap about our safety.

I looked at the canoes, laying diagonally like huge green bananas on the lakeshore.

“I hope I get three—boy sandwich,” Nez whispered, practi­cally drooling.

“Seriously, Nez, shut the fuck up,” I said.

She turned and stuck her tongue out at me, as opposite a facial expression as any of the ones she made on the walk over here. I was learning that Nez viewed sticking her tongue out like I might view giving someone the finger. And like me, she did it a lot.

“All right, Nez, Wick, Troyer, pick a boat,” Rawe said. She stood next to Nerone, breathing heavily through her nose. She was shorter than he was, skinnier, paler, and unlike him, her head didn’t look like a Rubik’s Cube.

We each walked over to a canoe. I looked inside. Three sandy, wet life jackets lay in the bow. How long had those been in there?

Nerone sent the boys over next. He put Ben with Nez, Troyer with Arm Sleeve Tattoo Guy, and me with Brace Face and Curly.

 “Looks like I’m with your boyfriend,” Nez said to me, shaking her ass as she bent over and picked up a life jacket.

“Looks like Troyer’s with yours,” I sneered. I could have told her that I got the boy sandwich, but thinking of those two in a boy sandwich would put anyone on a hunger strike. I also could have told her Ben wasn’t my boyfriend, and I wondered why that hadn’t been the first thing to come out of my mouth.

Fucking Ben.

Nez snapped her fingers to get Troyer’s attention and mouthed, Touch him and die, making a slicing open her neck motion. I wondered why everyone thought they had to mouth words to Troyer. Even if she didn’t talk, it was obvious she could hear, and it was even more obvious that she’d looked scared even before Nez’s warning. Stravalaci’s hair was as dark as the black tribal tattoos that snaked up his arms. Troyer had heard from Ben why he was here and I was pretty sure she didn’t want to be alone with him on the water, or any­where else. I mean, I could probably handle him, but Troyer was afraid of words.

I waited while Eagan and Leisner walked over to our canoe. At least Leisner had some muscle on him, flabby as it was, but Eagan had arms like pipe cleaners. Unless his braces gave him superpowers, it looked like it was going to be Leisner and me carrying most of the weight.

I put on a lifejacket. I could smell mildew. It had that dis­gusting, cold, wet feeling that only lake water can give.

“Do we get helmets?” Eagan yelled over to Nerone. “There are two-million traumatic brain accidents each year.” He slurped on the saliva that got stuck on the metal attached to his teeth.

This was going to be one long fucking boat ride.

Nerone sighed. “You’re not fighting the rapids, Eagan. It’s a simple trip to the dock at the middle of the lake and back.”

“I’d still prefer a helmet,” Eagan said.

“What you prefer doesn’t matter,” Nerone yelled, his square head turning red, like someone had solved that side of the Rubik’s Cube. “Get in the goddamn boat.”

“You girls got anything you want to whine about?” Rawe yelled. I guess she wanted to make sure Nerone knew that she could be an asshole, too.

None of us spoke. I looked out at the dock we were sup­posed to paddle out to—it didn’t look simple. The lake was huge. To make it to the middle would probably take an hour at least.

With Eagan in my boat, probably longer.

“Hi Cassie,” Leisner said, sidling up next to me, his curly blond afro shining around his head like a pubic hair halo.

“How the hell do you know my name?” I hissed.

Leisner looked at me and smirked. He didn’t need to answer. Ben had told him my name. What the hell else had Ben told him? I watched Nez and Ben take off in their canoe, Ben in back, Nez in front, each paddling on opposite sides, their paddles splashing water.

“Eagan should probably sit in front in case we need his brace-face for radar,” I said, throwing each of them a wet life jacket.

Leisner caught his, but Eagan winced as his hit his chest and fell on the sand.

“Nice catch,” I said.

“Nice throw,” Leisner said. I didn’t think it was possible, [ but he was worse than Ben. It could have been because he didn’t look anything like Ben.

I glanced over at Troyer, who was sitting at the back of her canoe with Stravalaci in the front. Her mouth was closed so tight it looked like it was glued.

“You get in the middle, Cassie,” Leisner said. “Let the guns run the stern.” He made a muscle.

“Your guns look like they’re out of ammo.” I laughed. There was no way I was letting one of them be in charge of steering this thing. If I was forced to go out into the middle of the lake with these two idiots, at least I wanted to know I would be able to steer my way back.

Leisner’s face screwed up as he stepped closer to me. “Maybe I should test them, Cassie.”

Was he starting something? I hoped so. I wanted to punch the curls right out of his hair. “Call me Cassie one more time and it will be your last.”

“Wick,” Rawe yelled.

“Leisner,” Nerone yelled.

I got into the back of the boat before Rawe could say any­thing else. There was no way I was doing push-ups on sand covered with dead fish guts.

“Sorry, Cassie,” Leisner taunted as he got into the middle seat.

I picked up the paddle and ignored him. I knew how to steer a boat. My brother and I used to go fishing on Lake Erie when I was a kid. During the summer we would stay for a week with my dad’s sister who had a beach house that she lived in all year round. It was filled with seashells and too many cats. Every morning, before anyone woke up, my brother and I would sneak out and down the path to the row­boat rocking in the water at the dock. We would row into the middle of the lake to fish while the sun rose, talking about how we could survive on a desert island without anyone in our stupid family.

So yeah, I knew how to steer a fucking boat.

I also knew that once the ’roids were out of Leisner’s system, I could probably lay him out with one punch.

Eagan got his lifejacket on and sat in front of the canoe. With everyone in place, we finally pushed off, gliding on the water, our paddles thrusting us forward.

“You know drowning is the fifth highest cause of accidental death,” Eagan said.

“So is talking too fucking much,” I yelled up to the front of the boat. My voice echoed off the metal of the canoe and the water below us.

“Ben said you were feisty.” Leisner said. I could hear the smirk in his voice.

Feisty? I’d been called a lot of things in my time, but feisty was not one of them.

“Ben’s an asshole,” I said, staring at the back of Leisner’s curly blond head and picturing myself drop kicking it.

“He said you’d say that,” Leisner added.

“Can we please stop talking about Ben?” I kept paddling. My arms already ached, water splashing underneath us as the canoe moved forward.

“Who’s talking about Ben?” Leisner joked.

I pulled my paddle out of the water and soaked him with it.

“You’re lucky you’re a girl,” he said.

“You’re lucky you’re not,” I said.

 “Be careful, you guys,” Eagan said. “I’m fairly sure this boat is at least twenty years old. Do you know what happens to metal as it ages?”

“Maybe Ben will come save you, Cassie.” Leisner laughed.

I felt fear splash up from my stomach to my chest. Leisner bothered me in a way I recognized, which meant I was screwed. As much as I wanted to deny it, annoyance was not at all what I felt for Ben.

I looked out at the lake. Ben and Nez were in the lead, the sun making them seem like shadows of themselves. I needed to stay the hell away from him.

“It’s a long row to the dock,” Leisner said. “What do you want to talk about, Cassie?”

“I don’t,” I said, paddling so hard my hands burned.

“We could sing,” Eagan said. I could hear the saliva flying out of his mouth as he said it.

“Start singing and I drown you,” I said.

“You don’t have it in you,” Leisner said.

“Well, maybe not when it comes to him,” I said, flicking my chin up at Eagan, “but you’re a different story.”

“I’m right here,” he said, stopping mid-row to turn to me.

I allowed the anger to build—fire starting in my chest, flames licking out to my arms and hands. I wanted to take my paddle and whack his knowing smile so hard that it landed in Ben and Nez’s boat.

I had managed to keep myself in check the whole time I’d been here, but Leisner was different. I deserved my fist in my stomach as a painful and constant tattoo needle, but he de­served my fist in his face because he was an ass-clown.

“I knew it.” Leisner laughed and turned back around.

I paddled harder, picturing the water as his stupid jock face. I was annihilating it in my mind, splitting his skull, breaking his nose, cracking his teeth.

“Let’s sing the name song, Eagan,” Leisner cooed. “I’ll start. Cassie, Cassie bo-bassie, banana-fana-fo-fassie, all talk no action-assie, Cassie. One more time . . .”

“Shut your blow-hole, or I’ll shut it for you.” The fire moved into my eyes. That’s how it feels. I think it’s why people call anger blind. You can’t see anything but red cov­ering your target. You can’t feel anything but searing force pushing you.

“I think we all know, including Ben,” Leisner said, indicating him out in his boat with Nez, “that you won’t do anything.”

I stood up. Leisner didn’t notice, he was still singing—still mocking me—his blond-curled head bobbing up and down like someone juggling a soccer ball on their knees.

The canoe teetered as I edged toward him. He was so high on himself, he didn’t even notice me standing behind him, breathing, waiting, trying to decide what to do. I tapped him on the shoulder, still unsure. I waited. It would all depend on what he said when he turned around.

“Look, Eagan, I caught a Cassie with my song,” Leisner said, his smile greasy. “I figured she was easy, but—”

“I asked you to shut up,” I said quietly. That’s another thing about anger; it makes you calm when you let yourself do something about it.

“Sit down! You’re going to capsize the boat!” Eagan screamed.

“She’ll sit,” Leisner said. “She wouldn’t want to do anything she’d regret.”

I already had too much I regretted to let this one go.

I don’t feel anything when I grab for someone, just a rush of relief, like when you are desert-thirsty and take that first drink. So at first I didn’t even notice that I’d pushed Leisner— that I’d launched him airborne—until he reached out to steady himself and we both fell into the water.

It was so cold when I hit, it felt like twenty thousand self-induced punches to my stomach with an icicle.

“Boy and girl overboard,” Eagan yelled.

I was in the water, bobbing, trying to keep it out of my mouth.

“You are so dead,” Leisner said, water bubbling up around his head.

I treaded as best I could. I was so angry, I’d forgotten I couldn’t swim very well—that I should not have been pushing people around on a canoe. That without my brother, there was no one to be sure I made it back to shore safely. My life jacket was holding me up okay, but it was clear that it had a shelf life and mine was expiring. I reached for Leisner. I didn’t know what else to do.

“You look like a wet dog,” he said, his smile bobbing on the water. “A wet bitch.”

“You look like a naked, upside-down female synchro­nized swimmer in need of a wax,” I spit through the water. “Desperately.”

“You’re on your own now, tough girl,” Leisner said, swim­ming past me and pulling himself back into the canoe.

Eagan was reaching his paddle out to me, but I was too far away to grab it. I looked at the shore—the water fishy, muddy in my mouth, starting to fill my ears. Rawe and Nerone stood there. They hadn’t moved, hadn’t even yelled. I was surprised one of them hadn’t jumped in.

Of course, I hadn’t yelled help yet, either. I didn’t know if I could. Was I really stubborn enough to let myself drown rather than admit I needed it?

I felt arms surround me, pulling me up, my mouth free of the water.


“What the hell are you doing?” I asked, but I didn’t fight him even though he was touching me again, all of me, and was still technically male.

“Saving you,” he said, droplets of water sticking to his eye­lashes. “You looked like you were drowning.”

“I’m wearing a life jacket, moron,” I said, but I still didn’t struggle away from him. It was just like Leisner said: Ben had come to save me. Could everyone see something between us? Something I was trying so hard to contain?

Never again.

I heard another splash—Nez jumping in. She flailed, but it was clear she was faking, at least to me.

“Looks like you have a real damsel in distress,” I said.

“She told me she was on her school swim team,” Ben said, squinting in the sunlight.

“She’s probably just trying to get your attention,” I said, watching her swim closer to us even as she pretended to struggle, her black hair whipping and splashing like a fish flip­ping on a line.

“You weren’t?” he asked, his arms still tight around me, the kind of tight that makes it hard to breathe but has nothing to do with being held and everything to do with who you are being held by.

“I fell in,” I said. His body still stuck to mine in the way only bodies can stick.

“Do you want me to let you go?” he asked.

I wanted to say Yes, say, Never touch me again, say, Why do you have to be the kind of guy who jumps into Port-O-Potty-colored lake water to save me? but I couldn’t. I leaned into him, letting his strength keep us afloat, letting myself stop fighting him for just that second, knowing that once I was out of the water, I could pretend I hadn’t wanted any of it.

“First you, then Nez,” he said, pulling me over to the boat. He secured me with one arm, swam with the other, my mouth on his shoulder, on his wet hair.

“I think you lost something,” Ben said to Leisner, treading on the side of our canoe, one of his arms still around me.

“Nope, we’re all set on skanks,” Leisner said.

“Fuck you,” I spit, the red filling my vision again.

“Are you okay?” Eagan asked.

“I will be when I get back in this fucking boat,” I said, pulling myself up, the water splashing behind me.

“Next time you try to drown someone you should probably make sure you can swim first.” Leisner laughed.

“I’d be scared for next time,” I said, picturing it: my fist, his face, the brittle crunch of cartilage.

I sat in my seat, wet and cold, Ben’s eyes on me.

Nez started to scream for him, to flail more forcefully, but Ben didn’t move.

“She’s going to forget she’s supposed to be drowning if don’t get her soon,” I said, anything so he would stop staring, anything so he would go away and I wouldn’t be tempted to jump back in.

“I guess I’ll get my thank-you later,” Ben said, swimming toward Nez, to someone who could definitely admit she wanted his arms around her.

I shivered and looked out at the water. The sun sparkled on it like millions of paparazzi snapping flashbulbs. Taking pic­tures of me, the outside of me. The part I couldn’t hide.

The only part I know I can ever let Ben see, no matter how he makes me feel. 

Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein, published March 5, 2013 by Entangled Teen. ISBN: 9781620612545

Check out more from Lisa Burstein on TLT, we love her, the way she writes, and the fact that she stands up for authentic storytelling:
Pretty Amy Book Review
What if Amy wasn’t Pretty; a tale of censorship
Amy speaks; Pretty Amy’s censorship uncensored
Let’s talk access! Any why libraries are radically unsafe places, and that’s a good thing




Lisa Burstein is a tea seller by day and a writer by night. She received her MFA in Fiction from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. She lives in Portland, OR, with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats. Dear Cassie is her second novel.


Speak Your Mind