Congratulations to our winners!! It was a tight race to the finish and we couldn’t be prouder of all our writers!
FIRST PLACE: FORGETTING BILLIONS by Ananya Devarajan
Mentor: Jennifer Camiccia
17-year-old Jasmine Karesh is struggling. Struggling to accept her PTSD after surviving a school shooting. Struggling to maintain her reputation as the perfect Indian daughter she was raised to be. If that wasn’t hard enough, Jasmine finds herself the target of a vengeful killer determined to make sure she never heals. As history repeats itself, Jasmine learns that she can never run from her past. Not when the people she’d risk everything for are much more than the victims– they’re the suspects too.
“HOW DID you feel when you witnessed your uncle’s murder?”
Jasmine laced her hands together in her lap, her eyes focused on the dirt under her nails. The residue traveled further than her cuticles. They stained the crevices of her fingerprint, creating black swirls that she couldn’t scrape out for her life.
“Jasmine? Are you still with me?”
She picked at a reddening hangnail, wincing when she ripped the skin in one swift motion. Jasmine was wasting the hour her mother had paid for by sitting there, but she found comfort in the excuse that it was her first session. Well, the first with her newest psychologist. She seemed to have scared the others away. This one, though, assured her that it was normal to be silent.
Most people weren’t sure of where to start.
Jasmine’s problem was different. She knew how to phrase the tragedy–she’d been doing it perfectly the entire summer–and still, her tongue was tied. Maybe it was because her therapist would never understand what it was like to feel immeasurable grief at the age of sixteen. She would never understand what it was like to watch her classmates mercilessly shot to the ground, their screams forever echoing through her mind.
She would never understand the toll Rahul’s death took on Jasmine.
SECOND PLACE: RAINDROPS ON THE RIVERBED by Tas Mollah
Mentor: Tracy Gold
Declan is missing.
Ruxana is accused of murdering seven children. When Declan wakes up in Ruxana’s body, he must piece his memories together and find Rux—hopefully, in his body—before the town makes them pay for the murders.
The people of Silent Holmes are quiet. They put on their black suits and cry with the sky in the cemetery. They file into the victims’ houses, say their condolences, and light candles as the evening falls. Their memories of the dead burn bright, cutting through the darkness the cloudy night casts over the beach.
At midnight, they load up their shotguns, start their trucks, and chase two teenagers through the forest down to the river. Their guns boom across the air.
Blood splatters, but they don’t see whose. They don’t hear their own guns. When the police knock on their doors in the morning, they only remember having dinner with family, putting their kids to bed, and watching TV with their spouses.
The people of Silent Holmes carry loud memories and even louder guns.
Dec hugs me like I’m liquid, slipping from his grip. His wide arms around me almost crush my ribs. My face is pressed so hard on his chest that there is no room for air. I might suffocate and pass out any moment, but right now, a celebratory hug seems right.
“I’m so fucking proud of you,” Dec says into my hijab.
“Lose the f-word. We still have teachers around. And I don’t wanna die before we get to States.” I gently push him away.
My sweat leaves stains on his tee. Winning basketball County Semifinals requires a lot of sweating, a few bruises, and an uncomfortably long hug from my best friend.
“You know I won’t let you die.”
THIRD PLACE: THRESHOLD CROSSER by Sonia Ballada
Mentor: Lisa Schunemann
When an incident with a lost phone gets her speculating on the possibility of magic, sixteen-year-old Kyra Arora risks the 1600 her college application needs for the fantastical adventure she’s always dreamed of.
I can’t find it!
Between my book and my untouched SAT prep, it’s not there.
“Maḷlī pōyinda?” Amma asks, jutting out her chin. She knows.
I can’t just tell her my phone’s gone. Not fifteen minutes before we’re supposed to board. “Just making sure I have everything.”
I need to throw her off my trail. “I’m going to the restroom.”
The further I am from the gate, the more people I run into, bumbling through the Newark Liberty International Airport. My phone isn’t at the Jersey Mike’s Subs where we picked up food. It’s not in the candy shop I visited with Jahnu. It’s not even in the restroom.
You’re so irresponsible, Kyra Arora. I grip the edge of the sink, staring down my sweaty, brown face. This is it. I have to tell my parents I’ve lost my phone—this’ll be the fourth one I need replaced.
Eyes closed, I focus in on the nothingness until the heat in my face dissipates along with the tension in my muscles. I drop my hands to my side preparing to open my eyes.
I think of the Kyra I could see based on my previous trials of the ‘eye experiment’– coined by yours truly. Once, I imagined myself a Nobel laureate. Another time, a red carpet darling. I’ll never forget the day a crown perched atop my head.