“I shouldn’t have come back to Miami… I’ve been escaping cops’ notice for a year now-the year since I ran away. I’m no longer Michael Daye, high school athlete with a promising future. Now I look like someone with no future. I look like a carny.”
A year ago, Michael’s life seemed pretty good, at least from a distance. But look closer, and he was a guy on the edge, his stepfather’s violent rages making his world spin out of control. Then, Michael met Kirstie, who offered an escape – a traveling carnival with a “no questions asked” policy. He grabbed it, leaving his old life and his mother behind.
This year, Michael is back in Miami, and his mother is charged with murdering his stepfather. As the day of her trial nears, Michael wonders how much longer he can hide from his past… and his future.
Nothing to Lose—Honors and Awards
- Booklist Top-10 Youth Mysteries
- International Reading Association, Young Adult Choices, 2006
- ALA Best Books for Young Adults, 2005
- ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2005
- New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
- Georgia Peach Award Master List, 2006
- Kentucky Bluegrass Award Master List, 2006
- Michigan Reading Association Thumbs up! list, 2005
- Missouri Gateway Award Master List, 2006-2007
- Rhode Island Teen Book Award Master List, 2006
- South Carolina Young Adult Book Award, 2006-2007
- YASIG (Missouri) Best of the Best list
- Tayshas (Texas) list
- ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, 2006
“arresting . . . Flinn does a masterful job of exploring domestic violence.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Alex Flinn . . . writes vividly, which sets her novel apart from the formula-driven pack.” —Washington Post
“This is a heartrending, unforgettable book.” —School Library Journal
“a fast-paced readable mystery that is rooted in the psychology of battered spouse syndrome and its impact on an entire family.” —Booklist (Michael Cart)
“[Michael’s] anger at his brutal stepfather and frustration with his weak mother are palpably related; the dialogue between Walker and Michael crackles with danger and attitude . . . and the plot contains enough twists and revelations to keep readers riveted.” —Horn Book
“Alternating chapters between the present and the past keep pages quickly turning . . . .” —Suburban Chicago Newspapers
“There’s a tender beauty lurking beneath the skin of this story.” —VOYA
“straight-from-the-headlines impact that keeps even I-hate-to-read teens gripped from Page 1.” —St. Petersburg Times
Excerpt from Nothing to Lose
Michael, who is having some difficulty at home, is persuaded by his friend, Julian Karpe, to go to a local carnival on his sixteenth birthday . . . .
When I was kid, the fair was like magic. Sometimes, I’d go with Mom and whatever guy was trying to impress us. Other times, it was just us. Those were the best, even though we couldn’t afford wristbands that let you on all the rides, and we had to smuggle in our own sandwiches and soda. But with Mom, I could watch the shows and hear the music and not have to worry about owing someone.
“It says here there’s a circus at three-thirty.” Karpe pointed at our complimentary program. “And every hour on the half-hour after that.”
“Negative.” I kicked a half-empty cup of cherry slush in my way. “It’s not a real circus. Just poodles, walking on hind legs and stuff.” Though, even as I said it, I remembered how I’d loved it when I was younger.
“Oh.” Karpe looked at the program again. “How about rides? The Doppel Looping goes upside-down twice.”
“Rides are for kids.”
“We are kids. What’s up your butt?”
I ignored him, watching a guy with an American flag and the words, My Country ~ Love it or Leave It tattooed on his arm. He held a beer bottle, circling the Whack-a-Mole game.
“Easy,” the guy said to his girlfriend. “They gotta give a prize each game.”
“But there’s no one playing,” she said.
“That’s what makes it so easy.”
His girlfriend gave the tattoo a squeeze, and the guy handed a dollar to the girl running the game. She stuck it into her money belt and pulled out an orange balloon. I watched as she fitted it over the nipple of the game and handed the guy a mallet.
“What do you want to do?” Karpe’s voice, always on the verge of it, reached full whine.
“So, start,” the guy commanded the Whack-a-Mole girl.
“I need four players.” The girl held up four fingers. She wore leather bracelets, the kind you get monogrammed at the fair, on each wrist. She yelled to the nearly empty midway, “Three more players. Put the mole in the hole! Prize every time.”
“Want to play?” Karpe said.
“To win a stuffed Clifford the dog? Not likely.” I started to walk away.
“Well, I’m playing.” Karpe walked over to the Whack-a-Mole, waving a dollar, so I had to stay.
The girl took the money, barely glancing up. “Two more players! We’re looking for terminators,” she purred. “Whack-a-Mole exterminators!”
“Ain’t no one here.” The tattooed guy took a swig of beer.
“Sorry, sir. I’m not allowed to start with less than four players.” She pointed to a sign that said that.
Something about her voice—or maybe the sir— caught my attention. I looked at her.
Because, you know, I hadn’t before. Not really. I thought I knew what to expect. I’d been to enough fairs to know what a Whack-a-Mole girl looked like.
I was wrong.
First, she had no visible tattoos, scars, or body piercings. No scabs either. Nothing, in short, to i.d. her body if it was found in a canal. And she was young, nineteen or twenty. And pretty. Not the carnival kind of pretty — just regular pretty. I felt like I’d seen her before. She repeated the balloon process. This time, it was a green balloon. As she concentrated, a half inch of pink tongue slid out between her teeth. Her dark hair fell over her eyes so I couldn’t see them. What I could see, at least if I walked closer, was the view down her green T-shirt.
I walked closer.
She finished the green balloon and stepped back. She pushed the hair from her eyes.
They met mine. They were brown. She held my gaze a moment, then looked away.
“Two more players!” she called. “Two more!”
“Start the game!” Tattooed man snarled. “There’s no one else going to play.”
“Maybe the lady wants to play?”
“I ain’t paying twice for a shot at one prize.”
“Pretty good shot, I’d say.” The girl glanced at Karpe, who held his mallet like it might bend over and take a bite of his arm.
The guy grumbled but tossed her another dollar. He yanked his girlfriend toward him. “Now, start!”
The girl turned and yelled into her microphone, “One more player for a chance at the prize. Second win gets you a big prize.”
This time, the balloon was yellow. But her eyes were still brown, the T-shirt still green. Unbelievable, how everything in the world, everything in your head can evaporate in a second over a hot girl in a green T-shirt.
I stepped closer.
The guy slammed the bottle on the counter. Beer splashed up onto his girlfriend.
“She needs another player, Les,” his girlfriend said.
“Who asked you?” The guy raised his hand. The girlfriend flinched. Then, fast as it had happened, he turned back to the Whack-a-Mole girl. “Start the game now.”
I was in this now. My fist was clenched, my heart racing. I hated bullies. Neither the guy’s girlfriend nor the Whack-a-Mole girl seemed to mind, but I did. Beating the guy senseless — my first instinct — wasn’t really an option, considering he was twice my size and twice my mean. If there was one thing I’d learned in sixteen years, it was that mean people always won.
“One more player! One more!”
“I’ll play,” I said.
I expected her to look grateful or something, but she didn’t. I nudged Karpe to give her a dollar. She took it.
She gestured that I should stand by a station that already had a balloon attached. A purple one. She started the game.
I raised my mallet and began pounding, pounding, pounding. In front of me, it was this little mole, trying to pop out of its mole hole to safety. But in my head, it was everything else. Mom, sitting with her hand on the telephone, afraid to pick it up. Boom! People at school, who used to be my friends, but now they crapped on me. Bam! Dutton, holding his fingers up in the shape of an L. Boom, bam! Karpe, pathetically begging me to come here, and me going. Boom! Boom! Boom! Walker, hitting my mother. Bam! Me, never doing anything about it.
And I was still pounding, pounding, pounding. And someone touched my wrist.
A few more bashes.
I stopped. I stopped and looked into the eyes of the Whack-a-Mole girl.
“Hey. You won.”
Below, the mole had gone into his hole forever.
“You won,” the girl whispered again.
And the warmth of her hand, the intensity of her gaze, it startled me.
Karpe clapped me on the shoulder.
“Michael — Michael Row the Boat Ashore.” Clap, clap, clap. “You won.”
But I just saw the girl. “It’s my birthday,” I said.
Why’d I say that?
But she seemed to know. One hand, the hand not on my wrist, came up and grazed my cheek. Then, she pulled me toward her, my mouth toward her mouth. And, around us, there was nothing. No shards of purple balloon, no spilled beer. No Karpe. No moles. Only her, her face, her lips, the feel and smell, the taste of her.
“Happy birthday, Michael.” I watched her lips form the words. “Sweet sixteen?”
“And been kissed?”
“Yeah . . . thank you.”
And, stupidly, I added, “My name’s Michael.”
“Kirstie.” Then, “My break’s at six. You could come back then if you wanted.”
Not really a question. I nodded.
I let Karpe have the stuffed dog.