By Alaina Leary
Today we are thrilled to reveal the cover for Love & Other Natural Disasters by Misa Sugiura. Cover art by Hannah Good and design by Alison Klapthor. The book will be released on June 8, 2021, by HarperTeen. Preorder here! Read an exclusive excerpt from the book below.
When Nozomi Nagai pictured the ideal summer romance, a fake one wasn’t what she had in mind.
That was before she met the perfect girl. Willow is gorgeous, glamorous, and…heartbroken? And when she enlists Nozomi to pose as her new girlfriend to make her ex jealous, Nozomi is a willing volunteer.
Because Nozomi has a master plan of her own: one to show Willow she’s better than a stand-in, and turn their fauxmance into something real. But as the lies pile up, it’s not long before Nozomi’s schemes take a turn toward disaster…and maybe a chance at love she didn’t plan for.
If there’s one thing I believe in, it’s love. No matter what the universe throws at you, love will win in the end—as long as you don’t give up. There may be nothing left of your heart but splinters and cracked cement blocks, but you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and rebuild. You can’t quit. You can’t fall into despair. You have to keep going.
For example: Let’s pretend that the girl from your art history elective—we’ll call her Helena—she of the short, sleek, platinum blond hair, hazel eyes, and lips that make your knees go weak, who’s starting Harvard in the fall, and who has kissed you a thousand times at sunset on an imaginary windswept moor—shows up at a party you’re attending. Let’s say that, fortified by three vodka Jell-O shots and end-of-the-school-year elation, you walk up to her and tell her that she’s the most beautiful girl you’ve ever met, and later that night, by some miracle, she finds you under a balcony and kisses you in the shadows until there’s nothing left of you but a cloud of sparkling fairy dust, and in your weakened state, you ask if she wants to hang out next weekend, and her face clouds and she goes, “Ohhh. Um.”
And you go, “Um . . .”
And she says, “Listen, don’t get me wrong, okay? You’re really sweet. But you’re not exactly my type.”
And you say, “Oh, right. Of course. I understand,” even though you don’t. Though, come to think of it, you kind of do. Because she’s gorgeous, sophisticated, wildly talented—all the things you’re not.
When that happens, for example, you can’t give up. You have to give yourself credit because hey—you took a risk! You have to say to yourself, “She kissed me, yay!” and swear to remember tonight not as the night you were rejected by the girl of your dreams, but as the night you were kissed by the girl of your dreams.
And when, even later, you’re encouraging yourself under that same balcony and you hear a voice above you saying, “Wait, who?”
And Helena’s voice says, “From art history. The mousy Asian one with no sense of style.”
“Ohhh, okay. Why, though?” says the first voice.
“Seriously, right? I don’t know, I felt sorry for her, I guess. Whatever. It was fine, actually, but then—get this—she asked me out.”
And her friend shrieks and says, “Oh my god, no! She’s so . . . blah. It would be like dating wallpaper!”
“Beige wallpaper,” Helena says, and laughter spills into the night and drips over you like acid.
Even when that happens, you can’t give up. You can’t go home and crawl into bed and stew in your tears and vow never to leave the house ever again. No. You have to give yourself a mental shake and say, “She’s wrong. I am a fun, fascinating human being who does all kinds of fun, fascinating things.” You have to ignore that little voice in your head that says, “Am I, though?” and “What’s wrong with me?” and “Why am I such a loser?”
Ignore it, I said.
So okay. Maybe it’s been a bit of a struggle. I may have considered locking myself in my room all summer and burying myself in a queue of movies and a barrel of Red Vines.
But! Then! My uncle Stephen called and asked if my older brother, Max, and I wanted to come live and work with him in San Francisco for a few weeks. Stephen is the director of this private art museum, and he lives in a fabulous house with his husband Lance, who is an architect and an amazing cook. So instead of rotting under my covers through a summer of isolation in Glenview, Illinois, I’m sitting on a plane on my way to a summer of fun in San Francisco, California. Which goes to show that you should never give up hope.
I gaze down at green hills and rivers, at the endless patchwork of fields punctuated by farmhouses and tiny towns far, far below, and shake off the memories of that disastrous party. I picture myself strolling on the Embarcadero, or maybe sipping a latte and reading a book in a hip café, or . . . Oh, I know—nibbling on a crusty sourdough roll from some trendy new bakery as I sit on the front stoop of one of those fancy Victorian houses. I’ll be with Stephen and Lance, and—no, wait. I’ll be with my girlfriend. Yes, that’s it. My brand-new, stunning, glamorous . . . I don’t care if it’s unlikely. It’s my fantasy, and I may as well have a girlfriend in it.
I imagine the photos I’ll post and the regret that Helena will feel when she sees them. (She doesn’t follow me, but you never know. It could happen.) I doze off to pleasant visions of me with a faceless (but gorgeous and glamorous) girlfriend, holding hands and laughing on a trolley at the crest of a hill, the Golden Gate Bridge gleaming in the background—and Helena back in boring Glenview, lamenting through her tears, “Look at her. Why did I let her go? How could I have misjudged her so?”
I wake up with a tiny snort when the plane touches down in San Francisco; Max, thank goodness, is absorbed in conversation with the girl on his other side, and doesn’t hear me. I watch as the girl (pale, blond, doe-eyed, named Chloë, probably) giggles and coyly tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear, then taps her phone as he gives her his phone number. I want to tell her not to waste her time, but I don’t. She’ll find out soon enough when Max ghosts her.
Max is a junior at University of Michigan. He’s tall for an Asian guy, and muscular, with big shoulders and casually messy hair held in place by some über-masculine product that comes in a matte black tube. He spent a lot of time before he left for college trying to convince me that his effortless cool actually came from following some very basic rules that I, too, could learn (running shoes are for nerds; you can do better than jeans and a school-issue hoodie; don’t read while you walk), but it seems I was born with an impermeable coating of cool-repellent, and he finally gave up on me as hopeless.
“Why do you keep leading women on like that?” I ask once we’re off the plane and out of Chloë’s earshot.
“I don’t lead them on.”
“You gave that girl your phone number. You’re leading her to believe you’re interested in a relationship when you’re not. Hence, leading her on.”
“What am I supposed to say? No, you can’t have my number, I’m not interested in a relationship? And what makes you think she’s interested in a relationship?”
“What makes you think she’s not? My point is, it’s not fair to make her expect something and then not follow through.”
“Depends on how you define following through.” He leers at me.
“You could be passing up your soul mate is what I mean, you disgusting slimeball.”
“Right, whatever, Anne of the Gables.”
“Anne of Green Gables,” I correct him.
“Whatever,” he says again. “That show that you always used to make us watch about the nerdy ginger who thought everything was so romantic.”
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting things to be romantic,” I protest.
“Hm.” He stares at me appraisingly. Then he shrugs and says, “Figures,” and strides ahead.
“Hey! What? What figures? Hey, wait up!” I call after him, hurrying to catch up.
“Your obsession with romance,” he answers without breaking stride.
“My what? Why? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you’re a loser with no life who’s never had a girlfriend, so it figures that you’d be obsessed with romance,” he says, and I want to kick myself for not seeing this coming. He gives me a smile. “It’s okay, though. I still love you.”
“Yeah, well you’re an arrogant asshole who will never find true love,” I retort, but he only shrugs.
Ughhhh. “I feel sorry for you, you know that?” I say. “You’re going to die sad and alone with no one to mourn your passing.”
Max just laughs, like this is the funniest thing anyone has ever said to him. “Okay,” he says, and pats me on the head and keeps walking. He’s such an asshole.
While Max and I have been bickering, my phone has been buzzing nonstop with seventeen thousand delayed texts from Dad. I check them to find a thread of what he probably thinks are useful tips and reminders, the last of which is Remember to call when you land!
“Hey, did Dad text you a million times while we were on the plane?” I ask Max.
“Nope. I’m guessing he texted you?” In response, I hold up my phone, and he lets loose a bark of laughter.
I’ve always been a daddy’s girl, but when Mom moved out this spring, he went from Dad: Warm and Nurturing Ally, to Dad: Maudlin and Overprotective Worrywart. “It’s just you and me now, Zozo,” he kept saying, I guess since Max was at school. And despite my guilt about leaving Dad alone this summer, I’ve been looking forward to not having to see him mope around the house, or listen to him telling me how it is important to support each other through this time of emotional crisis, or sit with him and watch Love Actually while he weeps silently and says, “It’s okay to feel sad, sweetheart,” and, “I know it didn’t work out with your mom and me, but I don’t want you to give up on love.”
It’s probably not fair of me to be so annoyed with him; he didn’t want the divorce, so of course it’s wrecked him. Honestly, I was kind of shocked when my parents announced in May that they were getting divorced and Mom was moving out. They had never been what I would have called the ideal couple—but I guess I just assumed that was normal. Or a version of normal. Dad used to come to my room after they fought sometimes and apologize and tell me not to worry, that he and Mom loved each other and that everything would be okay, and I chose to believe him. (“Like a chump,” Max said to me when I called him the night they announced their divorce; he’d been predicting it for years, but I’d always dismissed him as hateful, spiteful, and chronically pessimistic. Which, to be fair, he is.) But if Max and I can accept the fact that our family has crumbled into oblivion, you’d think Dad could at least stop acting like the living embodiment of the sad trombone.
Anyway, I’m not the kind of person who looks at my parents’ failed marriage and decides that all love is in vain. They’re not me, I’m not them. And if you can’t believe in love, then what can you believe in? What even is the point?
With a sigh, I call Dad. He picks up on the first ring.
“Zozo! How are you? How was your flight?”
“Fine. Crowded. We’re on our way to baggage claim.”
“Oh, good. And how’s Max?”
“I miss you already,” he says. “How am I going to make it through the summer without you?” He laughs, but I feel like he might not be completely joking.
“You’re flying out in a few weeks, Dad.”
“And I can’t wait. Mom’s here picking up a few things, by the way. Do you want to say hi?”
“Not really.” Mom’s always been the one who’s pushed me to take risks, spread my wings, all that stuff—she even lobbied (unsuccessfully) for Dad to let me fly out in time for Pride Week. (He refused because he thought Stephen and Lance would be too busy partying to “make sure I stayed safe”—as if I need babysitting.) I know that living with Dad when he was in worrywart mode was tough for her. On the other hand, she’s the one who left, who refused to go to marriage counseling when Dad asked her to, and who recently started dating (*shudder*) my tenth-grade English teacher, Mr. Jensen. And since she left, she’s tried to reinvent herself as Fun Single Gal Pal Mom, which . . . the less said about that, the better. All things considered, it’s been easier for me not to talk to her.
Dad sighs, and I hear him call out to Mom, “Nozomi and Max say hi!” And then to me again, “You didn’t leave anything behind, right? You remembered to double-check under your seat before you got off the plane?”
“And you’ve got Stephen’s number in case he’s late?”
I see an escalator ahead with a sign above it proclaiming Baggage Claim. “Hey, Dad, I’m gonna hang up now. I’m almost at baggage claim,” I say.
“Do you see Stephen? Is he there waiting for you?”
“I don’t know, Dad, we’re not there yet,” I say impatiently, and as I step onto the escalator, I hear Mom in the background shouting, “Give her some space! She’s seventeen, for god’s sake!”
Dad responds with something about trying to be an engaged parent! and then they’re fighting, which gives me a great excuse to hang up.
I couldn’t have designed a more picture-perfect welcome to San Francisco than my dapper, handsome Asian uncles. (Stephen is Japanese American, duh, and Lance is Filipino American.) Stephen is trim and elegantly casual in dark blue pressed jeans and an artfully untucked pink floral-print button-down, his salt-and-pepper hair styled in a sleek undercut and swept away from his face; Lance is shorter, buffer, and more conservative in slim-fitting khakis and a crisp white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to reveal strong brown forearms. They’re waving and calling, “Nozomi! Max! Over here!” like our own personal fan club.
I forget all about Dad and Mom and walk gratefully into Stephen’s outstretched arms. “Welcome to San Francisco, honey,” he says. “You’re going to have the best summer ever.”
Stephen and Lance live in Nob Hill. Their house is sleek and modern, all whites and blacks and muted grays with the occasional pop of color: bright red chairs in the kitchen, a cerulean blue accent wall in the living room. The walls are hung with paintings and photographs that I’m sure cost a fortune, and they have their own lighting like in museums, so you know that you’re supposed to admire them. Equally fancy sculptures shine on special tables under their own spotlights. If people were houses, this is the house I would want to be.
I look out my bedroom window, which has a view of the fog sweeping through the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge to the north. It’s that time of day when the sun has set but it’s still light out, and the air is made of gold and silver. A couple hurries down the sidewalk, a light flicks on in a room across the street . . . it’s like watching the opening scene of a movie where you get an aerial view of the city and then close in on the individual stories on the verge of unfolding. I snap a photo and post it with the caption, “SF here I come!”
I throw my clothes into the dresser, shove my suitcase into the closet, and step into Max’s room on my way down to the kitchen. He’s unpacking in the most Max way possible—shaking out each item of clothing, carefully refolding it, and placing everything neatly in drawers.
“Hey,” I say. Something’s been weighing on me since the airport, and now that we’re really here, now that our summer is really starting, I can’t carry it anymore.
“What do you want?” He starts arranging pairs of meticulously rolled up socks in rows.
“Do you really think I’m a loser?”
Sigh. “No, seriously. Am I a loser?” I hate how much I need to hear him deny it—I’m seventeen years old, after all, and he’s just my asshole brother who’s been insulting me all my life, so why should I care what he says? But I do.
“What?” He straightens, sock arranging momentarily forgotten. “What are you talking about?” Then comprehension dawns on his face and he goes, “Wait a minute. Is this about what I said at the airport? That was a joke, Zo. I was just teasing you. I thought you knew that.”
“Yeah, well. It’s just that some other people seem to think it for real, so. And now that we’re here . . .” I gesture around me. “I don’t know if I . . .” Apparently his assurance that he was joking wasn’t enough. What if I am a loser? What if everyone I meet this summer sees me the way Helena did? Before I know it, I’ve told Max the whole sad story.
He groans. “Ughhhh, high school girls. Why do you care what she thinks? Fuck her.”
“I know, but . . .” I do know. But it still hurts. She’s everything I want in a girlfriend (apart from the bitchiness), and if everything I want in a girlfriend doesn’t want me back, where does that leave me? I know it shouldn’t matter, but I can’t help how I feel.
“Listen,” he says. “Don’t go around trying to be something you’re not, just because some girl said something shitty about you. Just be who you are.”
“Oh, okay. That’s not the biggest cliché ever.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Don’t be who you are. Bad idea.”
“Whatever. You get my point,” he says. He goes back to sorting his socks, clearly over our little sibling bonding moment, so I leave.
I’m halfway down the hallway when he sticks his head out the door and says, “Hey.”
“What?” I turn.
“I’m sorry I hurt your feelings earlier. I don’t think you’re a loser.”
“Oh.” It’s ridiculous how much better that makes me feel. “That’s okay. Thanks.”
“I mean, let’s not kid ourselves, the odds are definitely against you. But there is hope. No one’s met you yet, right?”
“Fuck you, Max.”
I go down the stairs, pausing at the bottom in front of a mirror to gaze at my reflection. I know Max was joking, but the reality is, he’s right. The odds are against me. On the other hand, it dawns on me, he’s also right about no one having met me. I could be—could become—anyone. Nozomi Nagai, Beige Wallpaper, who fades passively into the background until she blurts out her feelings in a drunken rush, is a thing of the past. This summer, I will take charge of my fate. I will make things happen, live my best life, and—yes, own it, Nozomi!—have the summer romance of my dreams. I will become Nozomi Nagai . . . whatever the opposite of beige wallpaper is. A cerulean blue accent wall? A sculpture with its own spotlight? Anyway. My point is that I can become whatever I want. By the end of the summer, I will be completely transformed.
Misa Sugiura is the author of two critically acclaimed and award-winning young adult novels, IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SECRET and THIS TIME WILL BE DIFFERENT, as well as a short story in the soon-to-be-released anthology COME ON IN: 15 STORIES ABOUT IMMIGRATION AND FINDING HOME (October 12, 2020). She usually gets her ideas from real life, but LOVE & OTHER NATURAL DISASTERS, was inspired by Shakespeare, Hollywood romantic comedies, and one moment from the Broadway play Kinky Boots.
Alaina (Lavoie) is the communications manager of We Need Diverse Books. She also teaches in the graduate department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College and is a book reviewer for Booklist. She received a 2017 Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her work in the publishing industry. Her writing has been published in New York Times, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Allure, Healthline, Glamour, The Oprah Magazine, and more. She currently lives in Boston with her wife and their two literary cats. Follow her @AlainasKeys on Instagram and Twitter.