In Billy Taylor’s forthcoming YA novel, Thieving Weasels, Skip O’Rourke has escaped from his family of con-men (and con-women), adopting the squeaky-clean identity of Cameron Smith as he embarks on his new life as a Princeton student. (Oh, and he also stole $100,000 of his family’s money to get him there.)
But soon, his shady “Uncle Wonderful” tracks him down so he can take part in one last con — and promising if he doesn’t, “Cameron Smith” will be exposed as a fraud.
EW is excited to reveal an exclusive first look at Chapters 1 and 2 of Thieving Weasels, in advance of the book’s Aug. 23 release date. Check them out below, and, as the book advises, always remember: “If you don’t know who your mark is… it’s probably you.”
I would have killed to go to Princeton.
Yale, Dartmouth, and Stanford were my top choices, and the universities of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Texas were my backups. They were all great schools, and I would have been happy to attend any one of them. Or at least I would have until I met Claire. Then the only schools I cared about were Princeton, Princeton, and Princeton, though not necessarily in that order.
Pop Quiz: Did you know F. Scott Fitzgerald went to Princeton? And presidents Woodrow Wilson and Grover Cleveland? Even John F. Kennedy went there, but he couldn’t hack it and transferred to some third-rate dump named Harvard. The list of influential Princeton grads is insanely impressive and includes everyone from astronauts and Supreme Court justices to CEOs and Nobel Prize winners. If college was a superhero, Princeton would be Batman. (Sorry, Superman.) If prestige were a sporting event, Princeton would be the Super Bowl. I’m not kidding.
And I’d taken no chances on getting in. I’d read every blog, manual, and how-to guide on the subject, crushed my SATs, and polished my personal essay until it sparkled like a priceless gem. Just as important, I’d made sure my clubs and extracurricular activities were commendable; my sport of choice not-too-obvious or not-too-obscure (lacrosse); and my financial aid form a work of art. In other words, I’d done everything humanly possible to get into Princeton. Then, when there was nothing else left to do, I checked the box for Early Decision, mailed out my application, and waited.
And waited. A n d . . .
W . . . A . . . I . . . T . . . E . . . D . . .
But here’s the thing about applying to a major university. It doesn’t matter if you’re PrinceAlbert orAlbert Einstein— who once taught at Princeton, by the way—nobody in the admissions office will tell you squat, no matter how much you beg, plead, or threaten. Which in the case of early decision applicants like me, meant one-and-a-half months of pure, undiluted torture. My only solace was that I was not alone. Twenty-one of my classmates at Wheaton Preparatory Academy had applied for early decision to their schools, and for the next six weeks we greeted one another with the same anxious words:
“You hear anything yet?”
The answer was always No, and by Thanksgiving we were twenty-two sleep-deprived zombies. The following week, out of a combination of camaraderie and desperation, we began meeting up in the school mail room to watch—in slow motion and extreme close up—as Mrs. Daulton, Wheaton’s million-year-old and molasses-legged mail lady, squinted at each and every piece of mail and slowly, Slowly, SLOWLY, placed it in our slots.
Finally, on December fourteenth, the letters began arriving. There were tears and cheers, hugs and high fives, wishes granted and dreams shattered. But the one thing that didn’t arrive was my acceptance letter. It was excruciating, and I spent countless hours searching for meaning in my predicament. Was my letter’s tardiness a good thing or bad? Did this improve my odds or decimate them? If a Princeton applicant ran into the woods and screamed his head off and nobody heard him, did that make him a complete idiot? I had no idea. All I knew was that by the end of the semester I was the only one left waiting, and I was losing my mind.
I looked up, and Mrs. Daulton was holding something in her hand. It was white and thin and looked like a letter from a major university. I shot across the room and snatched it from her fingers.The return address read Prince- ton University, and I swallowed hard.
“Are you going to open it?” she asked. “I guess I better.”
I tore off the side of the envelope, and the first word I saw was “Congratulations.”
I was in.
“I knew you could do it,” Mrs. Daulton said with a smile. “Thank you.”
I jammed the letter in my backpack and floated out of the mail room on a cloud of victory. All my time, hard work, and anxiety had paid off. Poor, cafeteria-working, trust fund–deprived Cam Smith was going to Princeton, and I didn’t even have to kill anyone to do it.
I couldn’t wait to call Claire and tell her the news.
My shift at the cafeteria had ended early, and when I checked the time on my phone I saw there were five minutes left before her parents were due to pick her up. That was all the time I needed, and I broke into a sprint.Twenty-four hours earlier, I would have crashed into a dozen students wearing Wheaton blazers as I raced across campus, but fi were over, and my classmates were winging their way to Aspen, Taos, and the Caribbean for the holidays. I was spending Christmas in the comfort and splendor of my dorm room, but that hardly mattered because in a few short months I’d be going to Princeton.With Claire.
Or at least I would be if Claire completed her application. She had been putting off writing her personal essay for weeks, and her lack of anxiety about it was giving me anxiety. Not that she had anything to worry about. As a third-generation Princeton legacy with a 3.95 GPA and outstanding SATs, Claire Benson was as close to a slam dunk as there was. Still, legacy or not, all applications had to be postmarked by January first. No exceptions.
I was obsessing over this when I approached the dorms and spotted Claire standing in the parking lot surrounded by suitcases. As a young girl Claire had studied ballet, and with her dancer’s poise and brown hair pulled back tight she still resembled the ballerina she’d wanted to be in grade school. God, she was beautiful. And smart. And rich. What she was doing with a scholarship student like me, I had no idea. But I wasn’t complaining. Well, except for her not finishing her essay. Otherwise, she was like one of those flawless and dazzling specters you met on the highest level of a video game.
I vaulted over a hedge and was about a hundred yards away from her when the biggest Mercedes I’d ever seen glided into the parking lot, and Ken and Barbie hopped out. Okay, so maybe Claire’s parents weren’t really named Ken and Barbie, but that’s who they looked like—only older and with better skin.
Claire claimed her parents wanted to meet me, but one look at their car, clothes, and diamond-crusted accessories, and I was so intimidated I hid behind an azalea bush. Yes, I know this was 110 percent pathetic, but I’d spent zero time around people like the Bensons, and something told me they would not be impressed by my floppy hair, chipped- tooth smile, and JCPenney attire. Not to mention that at five foot nine, Claire was an inch taller than me—three if she wore heels. Claire swore this wasn’t a big deal, but I knew it was the first thing people noticed when they saw us together. I kept hoping her parents would dash off for a quick game of tennis and give Claire and me some time alone, but this did not happen. Instead, they loaded up their Mercedes and drove off without so much as a glance in my direction.
Embarrassed at myself and despondent, I climbed out from behind the azalea bush and watched as their taillights grew smaller in the distance. By the time they disappeared, my heart had turned to Jell-O, and there was nothing left to do but trudge back to my room and endure the pass- ing hours until classes resumed in January. I counted every crack in the tiles as I moped down the hallways and every step on the stairs as I climbed to my floor. I was so caught up in my misery I failed to notice that the door to my room was open.
Then I did and froze.
I was certain I had locked it that morning, and there was no reason for someone from Student Services to be inside. But someone was inside, and I looked around for a weapon. My only options were a pizza box and an old brass fire extinguisher. Neither would help if the person inside had a gun, and I figured my best bet was the element of surprise. I decided to kick open the door, grab my lacrosse stick, and impale whoever was in there.
It was an excellent plan, and would have worked if my lacrosse stick had been where I’d left it. Unfortunately, it was not, and before I could think of a Plan B, my legs were knocked out from under me, and I landed on my back with a thud.
I looked up, and Uncle Wonderful was standing over me with my lacrosse stick in his hands.
“What’s this thing?” he asked, pressing the business end of the stick against my throat.
“It’s a lacrosse stick,” I sputtered.
“What’s that? Some fancy new game rich kids play?” “Lacrosse is actually the oldest team sport played in America. The Plains Indians invented it to prepare for battle.”
Uncle Wonderful looked at the stick with newfound respect. “No shit?”
“But enough of a history lesson,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
“Taking you home.”
I shook my head. “No way. This is my home now.” “Save it. Your mother wants me to bring you back, so I’m bringing you back.”
“Why didn’t she come herself?” I asked.
“Because she’s in Shady Oaks.”
“What’s that? A retirement home for convicted felons?”
“No, smart guy, it’s a mental institution. Your mother tried to kill herself last week.”