Release Date: January 24, 2023
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Young Adult
What starts off as a lighthearted competition to live without modern technology for a year turns into a fight for survival in this unputdownable young adult thriller by New York Times bestselling author Jarrod Shusterman and debut author Sofía Lapuente.
It was never meant to happen this way.
Things were never supposed to get this out of hand.
After a cyberbullying incident at her school goes viral, Luna Iglesias finds herself at the heart of a brewing controversy. When the social media company Limbo—who are also implicated in the scandal—sweeps in with an offer that sounds like an opportunity to turn over a new leaf and receive a scholarship to the college of her dreams, she’s happy to jump on the new trend. It’s called the Retro Challenge, where contestants live without modern technology, wear vintage clothes, party as if the future weren’t already written, and fall in love as if they were living in a movie.
At first, the challenge is fun. But then things get dangerous. Kids start disappearing, including Luna’s friends. There are voices in the woods. Bloodred markings on the trees. And Luna increasingly begins to wonder if all these strange happenings are connected with the Retro Challenge.
Secrets. Lies. Betrayal. The weight of her family on her shoulders. There’s so much on the line for Luna, not to mention she’s falling in love with the last guy she expected. Unless she can figure out the truth behind who’s sabotaging the challenge, the next person to disappear may be Luna herself.
Excerpt: Chapter 1
You don’t know me yet. But here I stand, soaked in mud, blood stained across my diamond disco dress—and I’m not even sure where I am. My heart is splintered glass inside my chest. Un corazón roto.
How I arrived is a story too twisted to believe.
So let me center myself and take in my surroundings. I’m trapped. I was thrown into a sterile white room with no windows, the clos-est thing to a jail cell I have ever seen. And the maddening silence makes me wish this place came with a minibar and a lobotomy pick. Anything to help me escape my current reality.
But isn’t that all the rage these days?
People hide behind an online profile, a facetuned image, or a filter—when, in reality, their face doesn’t need a filter; it needs a double cappuccino. Like my mom always said, La cara es el espejo del alma. And how right she was—no matter how much you try to hide, your eyes will always reflect who you truly are. And in my eyes, they found someone who would never back down. I guess I’m difficult. Which is basically why I’m here.
At least they had the decency to let me keep my Walkman. I
press the headphones tight to my ears. It will help me tell my story.
Let me introduce myself.
My name is Luna, but lately I’ve earned a few others. You might think I’m locked away because I killed someone—or maybe you think I robbed a bank. Assault and battery.
Not quite. But this year we did create a revolution, and I was there on the front page.
Because this year we were invincible. Or so we thought.
Now my heart is burned by the flames.
My friends disappeared, never to be seen again. And the blood is dried on my hands.
My music fades out, and I wipe black tears of mascara from my eyes. I don’t need a mirror to know that I probably look like a hungry, rabid raccoon.The tape has ended, but the story is far from over—so let’s bring it back to the very beginning.
To the first song of the soundtrack of my life.
“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” —Cyndi Lauper
I was innocent. She knew it and decided to bury me anyway— silent as a grave. No matter how harmful we know lies to be, each one of us will tell ten to two hundred of them per day. They come in all shapes and colors, from I love your haircut to I have read and agree to these terms and conditions. Some are white and others stained crimson red. But what they don’t teach you is that the most dangerous lies are the ones you don’t tell.
Or at least that’s what I learned the day I got caught for stealing.
It all went down the last day of summer, on one of those Northern Californian afternoons where clouds threatened darkly overhead. Instead of organizing a funeral for our summer vacation, my friends and I enjoyed one last afternoon of satu- rated fats, inappropriate jokes, and brand-new clothes. It’s not like there was much else to do in our small town anyway.
The Monteverde Mall was always a second home to me, and not just because when I was six I hid in the furniture store until my mom rounded up a mall-cop search party. It was where I
experienced my first true deception and mixed all the Play-Doh colors, expecting to get a rainbow and got caca brown. I even killed my first gaggle of zombies in the arcade. But most impor- tantly, my family ran the little movie theater in the corner of the top floor where I had a lifetime supply of radioactive-yellow popcorn.
My mom had given me the day off, so my friends Samantha and Mimi were pretending to be my personal shoppers, though I didn’t remember hiring them. Samantha had her mind made up that I was a pop star partying in Malibu, and Mimi, like a seagull, was distracted by anything shiny. A match made in department store heaven.
“Luna, you’ll be literally irresistible in this,” Samantha said, holding up a microscopic emerald blouse.
“Thanks, but I think it’ll fit you better . . . it’s too sexy for me,” I told her.
Mimi threw an arm over my shoulder. “Like my mom always says, the sexiest thing you can wear are your values.”
As whacky as Mimi could be, she was always somehow super wise.
“I see how all the guys look at you ever since you got your braces off.” Samantha nudged me. “This year boys are going to be lining up to meet you.”
I smiled. “No blouse, no guy could make me feel luckier than having you two.”
Samantha grabbed my hands teasingly, making me dance with her. “Come on—love and hormones are in the air.”
“Then where’s my gas mask?” I laughed.
“Give it up,” Mimi said. “The last time Luna had a boyfriend,
she was eating sand at playtime, and we all know how that ended.”
The rest of our department store experience consisted of Mimi and me pretending that we could afford more than one article of clothing while Samantha spent forever in the dressing room taking selfies in all the clothes. Or at least that’s what we thought she was doing.
As we were wrapping things, up Mimi received a call. She hung up the phone, looking concerned. “I have to go. My cat is fighting my iguana again.”
I would have asked questions but had learned better by this point. Although I did very much care for the well-being of Professor Meowmington and Juanita.
We hugged Mimi goodbye, and she headed for the exit, but not without winking to a guy in the cologne section. Mimi had no problem hitting on anyone at school, not because she was especially confident, but because she lived on her own planet— and it always blew my mind.
Left to our own devices, there was a weird air between Samantha and me.
“I had a lot of fun today,” Samantha said, looking down. “Thanks for inviting me out with you and Mimi . . . you know how my other friends are.”
“Don’t mention it.” I knew exactly what she meant. Saman- tha and I were well aware that we came from entirely different worlds.
She was the popular one.
And let’s just say I was made up of different ingredients. Her life was about beautiful blond hair, social media follow-
ers, and grades so high, they set the curve. She was the “perfect” friend, and it had always been that way, ever since we were kids on the same soccer team. We never hung out together at school, but I was the first one Samantha called when she won class vice president or became a cheerleading captain. When her grandmother passed away. When she needed to relax and have fun. Because with me, for better or worse, she could always be herself. She didn’t have to try to be perfect.
“I have to use the restroom,” Samantha said. “Would you mind holding on to this for me?” She extended her orange back- pack.
“No problem, girl.” I took it and slung it over my shoulder.
While I waited, I flipped through Limbo—the social media app that had devoured all the others. If you didn’t have a Limbo profile, you practically didn’t exist. My friends and I were always coming up with new dances, having fun with trends, or just kill- ing time. One time Mimi went kind of viral with a kitty-face filter, licking her dad’s elbow, which was hilarious.
Anyway, as I stood there in the department store, a scent drifted up my nose. The divine aroma of white chocolate maca- damia, coming from CookieWorld, the bakery just next door. I followed the fragrance, drooling like a bulldog. Samantha seemed a little off, and a surprise cookie would put a smile on her face. But as soon as I crossed the exit, I heard an ear-splitting screech.
The sound of alarms.
I hovered awkwardly, confused, until a hand grasped my shoulder, spinning me around.
Store security—a man dressed in a yellow-and-black uniform, with the weathered demeanor of a retired cop.
“Ma’am. I’ll need you to open the bag,” the guard ordered, pointing with his baton. I had almost forgotten I was still wear- ing Samantha’s backpack. I pulled it off and opened the zipper, finding a cheer team sweatshirt.
“Would you mind showing me what’s underneath?” the security guard added. No longer so tense, I dug a little deeper . . .
Revealing the sparkle of silver.
A snarl of it—a brand-new space-gray phone, an unboxed smartwatch, a pair of designer sunglasses, and necklaces still with the tags on. There I stood, holding up hundreds of dollars of stolen merchandise, struck to the core with panic.
Samantha was going to steal all these things.
I asked myself how over and over again. How the girl who always followed the rules, who never copied homework, was capable of taking so much merchandise—clearly I didn’t know her as well as I thought I did, which freaked me out.
“You’re coming with me,” the security guard growled, block- ing the exit. “It’ll be up to the store manager to decide whether or not you’re going to spend the night behind bars.”
“Jail? I can’t go to jail!” I wailed, pulling away. I was starting to make a scene. Shoppers circled around.
“This isn’t my fault! I didn’t do this!”
The guard raised an eyebrow. “Then who did?”
But I couldn’t open my mouth to utter her name. I couldn’t move. All I could do was stare into her eyes—because Samantha was frozen in place, face blanched, watching the scene unfold from a distance. I waited for her to step forward—for her to take responsibility. But she didn’t.
“If it wasn’t you, then who did?” the security guard repeated.
Samantha. Please say something! I screamed inside my head.
But Samantha said nothing. She was going to let me take the fall for this. Her eyes screamed I’m sorry, and I could see that she’d never intended for me to walk out of the store with that backpack, but everything else about her face told me that this was now my problem. It was her or me, and she chose herself.
About the authors
Sofía Lapuente (she/her) is an author, screenwriter, and avid world traveler who immigrated from Spain to the United States to realize her dream of storytelling. Since then, she has received a master’s degree in fine arts at UCLA, worked as a producer and casting director on an Emmy nominated show, and received coauthor credits in Gleanings, the New York Times bestselling fourth installment of the Arc of a Scythe series, with her partner, Jarrod Shusterman. Together, the couple writes and produces film and television under their production company Dos Lobos Entertainment.
Jarrod Shusterman (he/him) is the New York Times bestselling coauthor of novel Dry, which he is adapting for a major Hollywood film studio with Neal Shusterman. He is also the coauthor of the accoladed novel Roxy. His books have all received critical acclaim and multiple starred reviews. Sofí Lapuente and Jarrod are partners in every sense of the word, with love and multiculturalism as an ethos—living between Madrid, Spain, and Los Angeles, California. If they are not working, it means they’re eating.
For behind-the-scenes author content and stupidly funny videos, follow them on Instagram and TikTok @SofiandJarrod.