Spotlight on Rush (Sara Bennett Wealer), Plus Excerpt & Giveaway!
Today we're spotlighting Sara Bennett Wealer's novel, Rush!
Read on for more about Sara, her novel, plus an excerpt, and giveaway!
Meet Sara Bennett Wealer!
Sara Bennett Wealer lives in Cincinnati with her husband, daughters, and a houseful of pets.
Her first book, RIVAL, is published by HarperTeen.
Maddie dreams of joining Sigma Theta Kappa, Baldwin University's most powerful sorority, and rising above the people who walked all over her in high school--especially her boyfriend-stealing twin sister. Rush is Maddie's chance to become the girl she always knew she could be--if she can survive Sigma's brutal selection process.
Imogen came to Baldwin to escape her wealthy family and launch her dream career as a journalist. But her Sigma legacy might just keep her tied to the past, while her crush on her new editor could upset her plans for the future.
Cass remembers what Sigma was like before her fellow sisters put money and "Must Haves" over true friendship. By the time rush week ends, she'll either save the sorority or quit Greek life--but first she'll have to confront her feelings for her anti-Greek best friend Leo. Does he feel the same? Or will Cass's commitment to Sigma keep them apart?
College is a fresh start--a chance to be your true self and find sisters for life. But rush means making tough decisions and facing rejection along the way. Maddie, Imogen, and Cass have until Bid Day to decide whether they're really meant to "go Greek." The key, each girl will find, is figuring out who her real friends are.
Sorority rush is no place for a lovesick heart. Cass Ryland knew this, yet she couldn’t resist checking her phone while her sorority sisters got into formation for the first party of the first day of recruitment week. The blank screen taunted her from the pocket of her dress: Nothing from Leo.
On the other side of Sigma Theta Kappa’s red front door, rushees were gathering, preparing to make the best possible impression in hopes of being chosen. In the sorority house foyer, the sisters were also assembled, preparing to sort out a new freshman pledge class.
Meanwhile, Cass was preparing herself for Leo to come home. Her best friend—he of the many piercings and brilliant stage designs—had spent the summer hundreds of miles away at Interlochen, helping equally brilliant younger kids hone their dramatic arts skills. And he was returning today—the same day as the start of rush.
Cass had been dreading both.
Because all summer long, looking at photos of Leo having fun with his camp kids and fellow counselors, especially the pretty female counselors with tanned skin and carefree smiles, Cass had tried to convince herself that the gnawing at her heart was just the fact that she and Leo had never been apart for that long before. But as the days wore on, she finally had to admit what she’d known deep down for years: She loved that quirky, hot-tempered too-charming-for-his-own-good guy. She madly, stupidly, cravenly adored him.
Admitting this had felt good at first, and it lit a fire that got more intense once it could burn freely. But Cass knew the flames would eventually scorch her, because Leo almost certainly didn’t feel the same way. As their reunion got closer, his texts stayed as witty and casual as they’d ever been—when they came at all. She hadn’t heard from him all day, not even to let her know when he might get back into town.
“Cassandra, no phones!” snapped Delia Danforth, president of Sigma Theta Kappa. Cass shoved her phone back into her pocket, avoiding Delia’s gray-eyed glare. Here she was, getting ready to meet countless dozens of girls who yearned to be part of something for which Cass had almost completely lost her passion.
Once she’d been in love with Sigma, too. But that was before.
“Does anyone know where my name tag is?” Isla Drew turned in a circle, patting herself. “I took it off for two seconds and put it right here next to the mail tray.”
The sisters around Isla looked beneath their feet and behind the vase, made Isla shake out her skirts, even asked if she was sure she’d actually put it on in the first place. Eventually they shrugged, giving the name tag up for gone, as Isla went to fetch a new one. Things had a way of disappearing around the Sigma house.
Conversations died to a quiet buzz. In the lull, Cass thought she heard footfalls in the hallway above, though no one was supposed to be up there. Another thump, then a faint sound that could have been a chair scraping against floorboards. Cass looked up at the ceiling where it extended from the second landing of the grand staircase to a room nobody used anymore. A few girls in the foyer flashed each other knowing glances. The Sigma sisters had grown used to things going bump around the house. Some of them were freaked out about it, but it gave Cass got an odd sort of comfort.
Apparently, Marianne had returned for rush, too.
“This is the best sorority on campus,” Maddy Christopher told her new roommate, Imogen. The girls stood in front of the white house, with its pillared porch and red front door, waiting along with fifty other freshmen to start their first recruitment party. “Sigma Theta Kappa. Everybody wants to be a Sigma.”
Imogen lifted her sunglasses and peered underneath them. With her other hand, she pulled a mass of wavy hair away from her face. “Looks stuffy,” she said.
Maddy smiled. She knew for a fact that Imogen hadn’t combed her hair or put on more than a smear of lip gloss after getting out of the shower just ten minutes before the shuttle buses arrived. She, on the other hand, had been up since 4:00, doing her makeup, hair, and nails, making sure every lock and lash looked perfect.
She smoothed her skirt, checked the Alice band that held her own straight bob in place, and then slipped her hand into her purse to finger the schedule folded inside. It listed the twelve parties her recruitment group would attend that day—one for every sorority at Baldwin University. The schedules were put together by the Greek Council to make sure each girl got an equal chance to be seen by every house.
And what was first on Maddy’s list? Sigma Theta Kappa.
It was a sign. Maddy knew from the recruitment handbook and the videos she’d found filled with rush hacks that the first day would be exhausting. But with Sigma first, she’d be fresh. Sparkling. Ready. Because behind that red door lay everything Maddy had wanted for the last four years of her life.
Sigma Theta Kappa, as anybody who knew anything about the Greek system could tell you, was all about excellence. Campus to campus, all over the country, Sigmas were the girls on the dean’s list. They were the Rhodes scholars and the cum laude grads; after graduation they went on to be thought leaders, accomplished businesswomen, and high-ranking government officials. Maddy knew all this because she’d spent a ton of time reading about Sigma online, dreaming of the day when she could go someplace where people valued things like hard work, high standards, and friendships built on more than partying and designer clothes. All anybody seemed to value in her hometown was the ability to hit as many keg parties as possible on Friday and Saturday, then coast through the rest of their days gossiping about whatever drama had been stirred up over the weekend. Scrambling and scraping along the social fringes at Chesterfield High, Maddy had told herself college friendships were the ones that mattered. And when you were chosen for a sorority, you got sisters for life, which Maddy liked the sound of because her real sister, Miranda, left a lot to be desired in the sisterhood department. What kind of sister would hook up with her twin’s boyfriend—especially on the night before said twin was supposed to leave for school two hours away?
Maddy shifted her purse to her other shoulder. She wished she’d brought a pair of sunglasses, like Imogen, so she could check out the other rushees without looking too obvious. In front of her stood a girl in a poufy pink dress. Way too formal. A couple of girls lazed against the trunk of a tree wearing miniskirts and flip-flops. Hopelessly sloppy. Maddy, by contrast, had spent six months’ worth of allowance on her recruitment wardrobe, plus most of her summer wages from her job at Is This Really Yogurt? Her sundress and ballet flats said “Totally Sigma,” and Maddy noted with satisfaction that she looked just as good as—if not better—than the other girls who appeared to be “Totally Sigma,” too. Maddy stood a little straighter. Like it or not, those girls were the competition. Because not only was Sigma Theta Kappa the best house on campus, it also was the hardest to get into.
“It’s hot already,” Imogen complained, fidgeting in her peasant skirt. “How much longer are they going to make us wait out here?”
“They can’t start until seven a.m. exactly,” Maddy answered. “All of the houses have to start right at the same time or it won’t be fair.”
Imogen looked impressed. She pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head. “You know all the rules, don’t you?”
Maddy blushed, because Maddy did. That was the great thing about recruitment; it was all about rules. During rush you got a fresh start. A fair chance. An opportunity to stand on your own merits instead of being judged by people who’d decided back in preschool that you weren’t good enough for their inner circle.
She could already imagine what those people would say:
“Did you hear about Maddy Christopher? She’s a Sigma at Baldwin.”
“No way. Maddy Christopher?”
“Yeah. Who knew?”
“Wake up, everybody!” Alex, their super-peppy recruitment counselor, bounded to the front of the crowd. Clapping her hands, she launched into “The Greek Alphabet Song.” “‘Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta, theta . . .’ Come on, you guys!”
All around, girls started singing, looking grateful for something to focus on. “. . . iota, kappa, lambda, mu, nu, xi, omicron, pi . . .”
Maddy mouthed the words as she gazed at the three Greek letters above the red front door of the sorority house: A sharp-angled sigma next to a perfectly round theta and a smart-looking letter “K.” She had learned to look for those letters on the lavaliere necklaces worn by Baldwin girls whenever she made the drive from Chesterfield to shop at the mall. After her initiation ceremony, when Maddy got her own lavaliere, she would wear it out for coffee when she went home on Christmas break. She would let it dangle from the neckline of her sweater at church. And when her boyfriend Logan saw it (or was he her ex-boyfriend now? Maddy wasn’t exactly sure . . .), he would realize how much better for him she was than Miranda, who’d stayed behind to go to State with all the other Chesterfield people.
But before she was sworn in and could wear the Greek letters, Maddy would wear the Sigma symbol—a silver star given to each new girl on the day she accepted a bid. Maddy practically had that passage memorized from the recruitment handbook: The star of Sigma Theta Kappa stands for the highest standards of service and sisterhood. Like constellations in the night sky, the sisters of Sigma Theta Kappa strive to serve as beacons of excellence and inspiration.
Maddy ached to be a beacon. She knew she had excellence in her. All she needed was the chance to show it.
“All right, it’s almost time!” yelled Alex the counselor, bouncing up and down. “Remember, be yourselves. Let the real you shine!”
Imogen rolled her eyes. She gathered her hair and knotted it sloppily on top of her head. Poor Im. Maddy had liked her immediately the day before, when she’d shown up in their dorm room dragging a huge duffel bag and announced, “There’s no way I can go through with this Greek thing. I forgot my toga!” Maddy had resolved to help Imogen because Imogen was fun and nice and—Maddy had to be honest—because Imogen wasn’t competition. Nobody that clueless about rush could possibly be a threat, which meant they could be friends without the tension of both girls wanting the same thing. Even though she’d known her roommate less than twenty-four hours, Maddy knew she’d miss her when Maddy got her pledge bid and moved into the white-pillared Sigma house.
Which would be soon; she could feel it. In a matter of minutes, the red door would open and the sisters of Sigma Theta Kappa would welcome her in. They would want her and include her the way the others never had.
Maddy Christopher would finally belong.
What am I doing here? Imogen asked herself. At five to seven on a Monday morning, camped out with a bunch of other girls like groupies before a concert? It was insane. Not that Imogen minded waiting for something good. But this wasn’t some amazing new band. This was freaking sorority rush.
Ah, well. When in Rome. Or Greece . . .
Actually, Baldwin University was nothing like Greece, where Imogen had spent her summers for as long as she could remember. And these houses, with their fake pillars and circle drives, were nothing like the villas on Syros. Still, everybody she’d talked to at Baldwin so far raved about “Going Greek.” She’d watched the recruitment counselors get all teary when they talked about sisterhood and friendships for life. She’d listened to Maddy, her roommate at McNally Hall, tell her how the connections they were making now would affect everything they did for the next four years and beyond, and sorry, but the whole thing just sounded crazy. Crazy to think you could pick your new best friends in just five days. Crazy to make a bunch of freshmen show up a week before classes started and go through the stress of rush before they’d figured out if they could handle the stress of college. But most of all, crazy to make them slog through twelve parties in one day.
The parties started at 7:00 in the morning and went until 7:00 at night. It was a marathon of parties, and not the kind where you got buzzed while rocking out to great music. Imogen already knew what kind of parties these were going to be because she’d sat through tons of them during the year of service leading up to her debutante ball: girls in dresses with their legs crossed, drinking iced tea and talking about volunteer work as if they were all perfect angels.
Imogen pushed a sweaty strand of hair from her eyes. Next to her, Maddy looked like she was about to pee herself with excitement. Imogen liked her new roommate but one thing was for sure: Maddy Christopher took this whole sorority recruitment thing way too seriously. With twelve houses on campus, you were sure to find someplace that would take you—unless you were a complete and utter dork. So what was the big deal?
“The big deal, Imogen, is that we have been Sigmas for generations.”
There it was again: the memory of her mother, all haughty-breezy and of-course-you’ll-do-sorority-rush, darling. Imogen could still see Didi Bansford-Ash sipping mimosa in their breakfast room overlooking Central Park. “Your great-great grandmother was a founding member,” she’d said while Imogen poked at her eggs. “Your great-grandmother and Nana were Sigmas, and so was I.”
Poke, poke, poke. There really was nothing left to pulverize, so Imogen had started making tracks through the egg goo with her fork. Her father cleared his throat, and she’d looked up to see him wink at her across the table. She gave him a tiny, grateful smile in return.
“Sigma Theta Kappa helped mold the women of this family into who they are today,” her mother continued. “Nothing would please your Nana more than to see you carry on the family tradition.”
Tradition. Ugh. Imogen had had tradition drilled into her since she was old enough to sit up in the family pew at church. Tradition had molded her Nana into a relic as stiff as her drinks, and Didi didn’t have far to go before she ended up the same way. Tradition had stuck Imogen with the same deadly dull people from pre-K through prep school, and it had driven her best friend, Tippy Sinclair, off the deep end.
“I can’t breathe around these people,” Tippy had told her one night after downing four vodka-cranberries and snorting more coke than Imogen had ever seen her do before. She’d stretched across a chaise lounge on the balcony of the new club-of-the-moment and put her head in Imogen’s lap. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but sometimes I think I’d rather get it over with right now instead of letting them kill me slowly.”
Tippy had disappeared not long after that—walked right out of their straitlaced world and into one from which photos would sometimes emerge of her stoned to oblivion in dark, dirty rooms. Every now and then a snap would arrive on Imogen’s phone, showing her friend dancing wildly somewhere, her face a pharmaceutically induced blank.
Unlike Tippy, Imogen figured there had to be a way to give tradition the slip without frying her brain. It was a big reason why she’d chosen a state school instead of an Ivy. Baldwin University had the best journalism program in the country, plus an alumni network to rival Harvard’s or Brown’s or any of the arguably more prestigious schools Imogen could have gone to. Baldwin was where her mentor and idol, the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Dorothy Graham, had recommended she go.
“The Baldwin Beacon does hard-core investigative work,” Dot had said while taking refuge from one of Didi’s cocktail parties in Imogen’s room. “If you can survive there, you can survive any war zone, and I’m only half joking when I say that.” Since Dot had just gotten back from dodging genocidal warlords in a remote African province, Imogen figured she knew what she was talking about.
Plus, Imogen liked the whole midwestern thing: Cornfields and casseroles, big stretches of open sky, people who said hi to you as they passed by.
As soon as her mom found out Baldwin had a Sigma chapter, though, Imogen was toast.
“Give it the old college try,” her dad had said from across the breakfast table. “Pledge Sigma, and if you don’t like it after a semester, then you don’t have to go active. Just try it out and make your mother happy.”
He’d grinned his I’m on your side grin, and Imogen had given in. She would have done anything for him. But God. This was ridiculous.
“Okay, so educate me,” she said to Maddy. She pulled out her schedule and squinted at it. “This sort of looks like a sports bracket. Is every day an elimination round or something?”
“Pretty much,” Maddy answered. “Today we go to all of the houses, then they decide who they want to invite back for tomorrow. It goes like that for the next three days. The houses can cut you and you can cut them if there are any you don’t like. It all gets narrowed down until Pref Day, when you go to your three favorite houses—the ones you’re the most serious about pledging. Recruitment ends on Bid Day. That’s when the houses that want you send a formal invitation. If you’re lucky, you get to choose which one to pledge.”
“What if none of them invite you?”
Maddy blinked. “I don’t know, and I’m not planning on finding out.”
Sighing, Imogen put her schedule away. Rush hadn’t even officially started, and already she could tell it was going to be dull, dull, dull.
“So I heard this house is haunted,” a girl behind her said.
Imogen’s ears perked up. Now this wasn’t dull. She glanced over at Maddy, who raised an eyebrow.
“I heard it, too,” said somebody else in their group. “Some girl fell out a window.”
“Are you talking about Bloody Mary?” This came from yet another girl. “She didn’t fall; she jumped. My brother’s an Alpha Rho Tau, and he was a freshman when it happened. He said the room where she jumped is sealed off. But supposedly you can still see her in the window.”
“Hey!” Alex, their recruitment counselor, appeared, almost like a ghost herself. “I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but that’s probably not a topic you want to bring up. Keep the conversation on positive topics. Chat about your summer jobs or your charity work!”
Imogen peered over Alex’s head at a window on the third floor of the sorority. She let her gaze travel down the front of the house to the steps and the sidewalk beneath their feet. She had a vision of a girl lying there, the blood from her body matching the red of the door.
Imogen looked up again, just in time to catch what looked like a flash in the window. It was probably just the sun glinting on the glass, but she could have sworn, if only for a second, that she saw a girl in white gazing down on them as they got ready to start the first party of rush.
By: Sara Bennett Wealer
Release Date: November 15, 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury Spark
Four winners will receive a ebook copy of Rush!
*Click the Rafflecopter link below to enter the giveaway*