Here’s an exclusive excerpt from the contemporary YA novel Thanks, Carissa, for Ruining My Life by Dallas Woodburn, coming February 8 from Immortal Works Publishing.
Thanks, Carissa, for Ruining My Life is a heartfelt YA friends-to-lovers romance described as Brittany Runs a Marathon meets Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me.” Gabi Justice, author of Dog Girl, calls it “a charming slow-burn romance that builds with each page.”
About ‘Thanks, Carissa, for Ruining My life’
The person who ruined their lives just might bring them together…
Brad is ready for a perfect senior year: he has a seat at the popular lunch table, a gig co-hosting the school’s morning announcements, and a gorgeous girlfriend. But when Carissa breaks up with Brad, his carefully constructed life comes crashing down. Convinced everything would be perfect if only Carissa would take him back, Brad creates a “self-improvement plan” and vows to re-win her heart.
Rose wishes she were having a normal senior year like everyone else, but leave it to her twin sister Carissa to butt in and ruin her life. Carissa secretly nominated Rose for the reality TV show Help Me Lose Weight and Live Again—and now Rose is on her way to Texas for three months of calorie-counting, marathon-exercising hell. Rose already felt overshadowed by her “perfect” sister, and collapsing on a treadmill on national TV is not making things any better. Plus, Rose can’t squash feelings for her sister’s boyfriend Brad (even though she knows he would never see her as anything but a friend).
For fans of friends-to-lovers romance comes a heartwarming novel about self-improvement, identity and acceptance in our image-obsessed culture.
“I don’t blame her for breaking up with me,” I tell Leonard. He dragged me out of my house to have lunch at Tony’s Taco Shack, a hole-in-the-wall place by the beach where the cooks always slip an extra taco onto both of our plates because we come here so often.
I haven’t been here since Carissa broke up with me. Five days—pretty much a record for the summertime. Too bad that next week school is starting up again, and I’ll be back to eating soggy PB&J sandwiches for lunch instead of Tony’s carnitas tacos.
“Dude, what are you talking about?” Leonard says. “You’re awesome. Carissa thinks she’s too good for everyone.”
This is why Leonard is such a great friend: he knows when it’s okay to give me a hard time, and he also knows when to just be there for me.
“Thanks, Leo.” I wipe taco sauce from my mouth with the back of my hand. “But seriously, Carissa is too good for me. I’m not the guy she fell for. Not anymore.”
“Listen to yourself, man. She’s really messed you up.”
“But it’s true. She fell for me when we were doing morning announcements last year. Remember? We were so good together. Everyone said so. I made her laugh. I actually studied for my classes, because she always studied in the library after school and I started going there too. I even sold my old Playstation to get money to rent a limo for Prom.”
“See?” Leo says. “You were a great boyfriend. What’s she complaining about?”
“No, but here’s the thing. Once we’d been dating for a while, I got complacent. I started taking her for granted. I’ve become nothing but a slacker wanna-be radio DJ with no money and no future, trying too hard to be funny and looking down on those people who actually care.”
“Whoa, man.” Leonard looks uncomfortable. “You’ve been spending way too much time brooding in your room. Seriously. We need to get you out tonight. There’s a party at Matt’s.”
“I should stay home. Finish that book report.”
“Dude! It’s Friday night! Our last Friday night of summer! You have all weekend to finish that report. Plus, you have a girlfriend to get over.”
“I’m not getting over her, Leo. I’m winning her back.”
“Even better. No one can resist the life of the party!”
I pour salsa onto my taco. “Is she gonna be there, you think?”
“I care. She won’t answer my calls or texts.”
“Do I need to confiscate your phone?” Leo says in a perfect impression of Mrs. Ostertank when she catches someone texting in class.
“I miss her. I know it sounds lame, but I do.”
Leonard sighs. “She’ll probably be there. I’m sure Matt invited her.”
“Does Matt have a thing for her? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?” Picturing Carissa kissing some other guy makes my whole body twitch.
“No—calm down. You know Matt. The guy probably invited our entire class. So, you coming with me tonight or what?”
“Yeah, okay.” I drain the last of my soda. “At least for a little bit.”
“That’s the spirit!” He stands up and claps me on the back.
I follow him to the door, upending my tray into the trash on the way out. The trash can outside is overflowing. Seagulls cluster around it like old ladies at a rummage sale, squawking loudly as they nose through the cardboard containers soggy with salsa.
“I have a good feeling about tonight,” Leonard continues. “It’s gonna be epic!”
I nod along, but to be honest I don’t care that it’s the last Friday night of summer. I don’t care if it goes down as the best party ever. To me, only one thing matters: tonight is The Night I Win Back Carissa Hayward, Just Wait And See.
The saying is true: everything does seem bigger in Texas. The sky stretches high overhead, and the horizon wavers blurrily in the distance. I walk slowly past the common room, past our cabins, down the long dirt road that leads out of camp. No one comes after me. No cameras follow me, unless they are hidden somewhere in the silent trees lining the path. I squint up at the leaves, but I don’t see anything.
August in Texas is hot. Very hot. Outside of the air-conditioned gym, the air is heavy and oppressive. My double layer of T-shirts, already soaked through from sweating on the Treadmill of Hell, stick to my back and shoulders. My hair is knotty and damp. I want to cut it all off. I want to collapse into a giant pool of ice-cold water. I want to drive to the ocean and jump in the waves with all my clothes on. Back home, we live only ten minutes from the beach, but I can’t remember the last time I went there.
Actually, I do remember. In eighth grade, my school held Beach Day for the entire graduating class. I didn’t want to go. All the awkwardness that is an unavoidable part of middle school was magnified and compounded by my weight, which felt like an inescapable part of my identity. Maybe not to my inner self, but to how other people saw me.
I didn’t want to go to Beach Day, but I knew I had to. Because if I didn’t go, Holly would be alone. I tried convincing her to skip with me, but Holly is the type of person who gets anxious riding the school bus because there are no seatbelts. For her, skipping a mandatory school event was out of the question. So we went to Beach Day. I kept my T-shirt and shorts on the whole time.
Holly and I actually had fun, at first. We built an enormous sand castle and splashed in the waves while the rest of the girls in our class sunbathed and played volleyball in their tiny bikinis. Carissa wore a purple-and-white polka-dot bikini that had cost her two months of babysitting money. Even in middle school, I was saving all my money for college. My dream is to study Broadcast Journalism at UCLA, work super hard and land a bunch of internships at different stations in Los Angeles, and then graduate with honors and get a job I love. I want to host my own radio show—interviewing people, offering advice, talking about issues of the day.
Brad is the only one who knows about my radio career ambitions. It slipped out one day after he showed me and Carissa a video of his latest stand-up comedy routine. He films them and posts them on YouTube. In the middle of it, Carissa’s cell phone buzzed with a call from one of her friends, and she fled to the kitchen to talk. Through the wall, we could occasionally hear her exclamations of “No way!” and high shrieks of laughter.
Brad told me that after he graduates from high school, he’s planning to take his clips to a local radio show producer and maybe get his own show lined up, even for one of the late-late-late or early-early-early time slots.
“I don’t care when it is,” he said. “I just want to be on the air! It would be so cool.”
“Tell me about it!” I said. “If you have a radio show, it means you have a voice. You say things and people actually listen.”
“Exactly! That’s why I want to get into the business. To connect with people. To change the world.” He sighed. “Carissa thinks I’m naïve.”
“Well, Carissa thinks I’m nothing but a boring fat girl.” As soon as the words left my mouth, a warm blush flamed across my cheeks. Why had I said that to Brad, of all people? I didn’t even talk to Holly about my relationship with Carissa. The only place I felt comfortable being so painfully honest was in the pages of my journal, late at night. I didn’t dare look at Brad.
He cleared his throat. “Well,” he said, “Carissa doesn’t always know what she’s talking about, does she?”
And then, to dissipate the awkwardness, he showed me a YouTube video of his impression of Mrs. Ostertank, the terrible junior and senior English teacher who perpetually sucks on cough drops and hands out detention slips like they’re raffle tickets. Brad is awesome at impressions. Before long, I was laughing so hard my eyes watered.
Later, right before he left, Brad came into the kitchen where I was doing homework. “Hey, Rose?” he said.
I looked up from my math homework, surprised to see him there in the doorway. “Yeah?”
“I think you’d make a great radio host,” he said.
“Thanks, Brad. You too.”
“Hey, maybe someday we’ll have a show together. Brad and Rose Take Over the Airwaves.”
“The Brosie Showsie.”
I smiled. “That’d be great.”
He smiled back, said goodbye, and left. I had trouble concentrating on my math homework the rest of the night.
I stop to rest, leaning against a tree beside the path. Its leaves rustle slightly in the breeze. I close my eyes. I don’t feel as awful physically as I did when I first left the gym—my breathing is coming easier, my heartbeat has slowed to almost normal, and the sweat is cooling on my back in an almost-pleasant way. But I feel awful inside. What will my parents say when they watch me quit the workout and storm out of the gym? What will Scotty think? And Carissa?
I wipe my face with my T-shirt sleeve. Then I take a deep breath, turn around, and make my way slowly back up the dirt road to the gym.