The Official YABC Blog
Today we get a sneak peak at an excerpt from The Chosen One by, Echo Brown!
Read on for more about Echo, her book, and a giveaway!
Meet Echo Brown!
Echo Brown is the award-winning author of Black Girl Unlimited: The
Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard, which was named a William C. Morris
Award Finalist, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, a New York
Public Library Best Book of the Year, a CCBC Choice Title, and a Rise: A
Feminist Book Project Selection, among other honors. A performer and
playwright, Echo created the acclaimed one-woman show Black Virgins Are
Not for Hipsters. She is a Dartmouth alumna and the first female college
graduate in her family. Visit her online at echobrown.com.
About This Book: The Chosen One
Echo Brown testifies to the disappointments and triumphs of a Black
first-generation college student in this fearless exploration of the first
There are many watchers and they are always white. That’s the first thing Echo
notices as she settles into Dartmouth College. Despite graduating high school
in Cleveland as valedictorian, Echo immediately struggles to keep up in
demanding classes. Dartmouth made many promises it couldn't keep. The
campus is not a rainbow-colored utopia where education lifts every voice. Nor
is it a paradise of ideas, an incubator of inclusivity, or even an exciting dating
scene. But it might be a portal to different dimensions of time and space—only
accessible if Echo accepts her calling as a Chosen One and takes charge of
her future by healing her past. This remarkable challenge demands
vulnerability, humility, and the conviction to ask for help without sacrificing self-
In mesmerizing personal narrative and magical realism, Echo Brown confronts
mental illness, grief, racism, love, friendship, ambition, self-worth, and
belonging as they steer the fates of first-generation college students on
Dartmouth’s campus. The Chosen One is an unforgettable coming-of-age story
that bravely unpacks the double-edged college transition—as both catalyst for
old wounds and a fresh start.
Click here to Pre-Order!
Echo Brown, The Chosen One
Notice: *Some words have been censored*
Someone is watching me. It’s not my mother’s Jesus, who hangs in blissful peace above the desk in my dorm room, or my roommate, Amanda, aka Mandy, aka Manda Panda, which her closest friends have painfully named her. There are many watchers and they are always white. My mother warned me about “lookin’ a** white people” that follow you in stores and stare at you on the sidewalk when you’re in the wrong neighborhood, attempting to control your entire existence with their eyes. I’ve learned from Children of the Corn, The Hills Have Eyes, and Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th movies that white people are always watching, especially when they are about to kill you. I don’t think anyone’s trying to murder me, but I am concerned.
Dartmouth has more white people than I’ve ever seen in my life. Sometimes I just walk around campus marveling at how many there are. Prior to being here, I thought most of the world was Black, like my neighborhood in Cleveland. I was wrong. The real world is white and they are all watching me. Dean Harrison, the dean for first-year students, who also happens to be Black and talks in riddles and quotes, says everything happens for a reason, but she wasn’t in math class with me last week when I caught a group of students blatantly staring at me. The only possible reason for that is intimidation.
I am sitting in class looking down at the blank piece of paper in front of me, pretending to study, but I’m really doodling, which I regularly do in this class since I never know what Professor Cartwright is talking about. Math is a foreign language. Even though I can speak and comprehend a few phrases, I am nowhere near fluent. I feel so stupid in this class. The stupidest. Professor Cartwright is world-renowned, yet he is a terrible teacher. He lectures like he is bored or can’t be bothered with the words coming out of his mouth. His “simplified” explanations are always complicated and confusing. What’s the point of all that brilliance if you can’t transmit anything to others?
Instead of listening, I draw long curvy lines across the length of the page. On this particular day, I am doodling cheerfully when I feel the familiar chill of watching eyes. I glance up at the clock and notice a group of classmates to my right staring. Their hands are folded on the table in front of them. Their eyes, piercing and calm, land decisively on me. They don’t blink. I look around the room to see if anyone else notices, but everyone is focused on Professor Cartwright. I turn back toward them and shrug my head aggressively in frustration, at which point they look away one by one. I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone. I wonder if this is a bullying tactic against students of color? A way to make us feel unwelcome and out of place? I heard about stuff like that happening from juniors and seniors, but I’m not going to stand for it.
Class ends. I stomp over to the culprits and confront them. “Your intimidation won’t work on me,” I say, inflamed.
“What are you talking about? I don’t even know you,” a long-blond-haired girl responds. They each shuffle out of the room confusedly, whispering among themselves. The resoluteness of her response makes me question myself. Maybe they were looking at something else in my direction. Regardless, it’s strange that they would all be staring at the same time.
A week later, I’m still bothered. I grab a large bag of Lays potato chips from the secret stash at the bottom of my closet while replaying the incident in my mind. I hope they aren’t all sitting together again today, which makes their group staring more terrifying. I open the chips, inhaling the salty goodness, then, like a character on a soap opera, I emerge from my dorm room, fake smiling for the imaginary camera. I pose dramatically in the doorway before beginning my walk to math class. I take the long route to delay the inevitable.
“The Young, Black, and Restless at Dartmouth College,” I say, giggling. I’ve learned to entertain myself here in the backwoods of New Hampshire. I stop in front of Baker Tower, which is attached to the main library and is prominently featured in all the new student material.
Those brochures made many promises they could not keep. The biggest one being an abundance of rainbow-colored minority students, who are actually very hard to find on campus. We are few and far between, and there definitely was no mention of threatening watchers who intimidate with their eyes. But the white clock tower, stacked on manicured red bricks—a staple of Ivy League architecture—has remained true to its collegiate mythology and is even more stunning in person. I imagined what it would be like to stand before this tower for months, despite my high school guidance counselor Mr. Walsh’s repeated attempts to dissuade me from attending a top ten school. I still remember sitting in his office senior year reading the posters on the wall.
“IF YOU BELIEVE IT, YOU CAN ACHIEVE IT.”
“REACH FOR THE STARS.”
“NO DREAM IS TOO BIG.”
“Why Dartmouth?” he asks.
“It looks nice in the brochure.”
“Well, you know, you really shouldn’t choose colleges based on the pictures in the brochure.”
He reaches into his desk drawer and pulls out several pamphlets: Ohio State, Kenyon College, and Oberlin College.
“All great schools. All local. Perhaps you should consider one of these. I would hate for you to . . .”
He hesitates. I know what the silence between Professor Cartwright’s words mean. “Well, this really isn’t a good way to start the semester,” he continues. He hands me the paper, which has a large red F circled at the top. “I mean, these quizzes won’t be a big percentage of your grade, but . . . I don’t want you to fall further behind. Why don’t you stop by the student center and get a tutor? This kind of math is complex. You really needed to start establishing a solid mathematical foundation in high school, which I bet you didn’t. Real shame so many come here unprepared for the vigor of academic life.” He assumes he knows my story, subtly suggesting I’m not capable given my background. I thought getting into Dartmouth was enough to escape low expectations, but he builds another cage of limitation around me. As if the one Mr. Walsh built wasn’t enough to make me rethink my entire path in life. “Take some time to mull it over,” Mr. Walsh continues. “I want you to be realistic and clear about the odds. That’s my only goal.” I stare up at the posters on his wall again and then back at him, trying to mend the gap. Why did he bother hanging them at all?
* * *
“Fools,” I say while continuing to take in the beauty of the clock tower and munch my chips. “How dare they try and dash the dreams of a savant”—a word I recently learned in Comp Lit—“from the inner city. We are already a rare and endangered species.” I’ll show Professor Cartwright, I say to myself triumphantly before shaking my head in disgust. I often engage in deep conversations with this tower, which briefly makes me feel like I belong here, even though I don’t really feel that way inside and the watching doesn’t help. I hilariously name the tower Matthew McConaughey to further amuse myself and distract from the deep discomfort churning in my core. I chose the whitest and cutest actor I could think of to channel the experience of being on a mostly white campus. I’m trying not to focus so much on race, but it’s hard when I feel so Black and out of place.
“You know what?” I ask Matthew defiantly. “I’m gonna ace all my classes, confront them both, and fling my transcript in their faces. I can’t wait to watch their shocked reactions.” I speak passionately, convincingly, but deep down I wonder if Professor Cartwright and Mr. Walsh are right. It’s still early in the semester, but I’m also struggling in other classes. “Crap,” I say, careening backward down a rabbit hole of self-pity. Will I be among the thirty percent of first-generation college students who flunk out? Why are the voices of the naysayers always the loudest? Why do I never feel good enough no matter how much I achieve? I sulk as students scurry to class all around me, unconcerned about my growing self-doubt and probably consumed by their own.
What the h**** am I doing? This place is going to eat me alive. I concede my defeat. Then, Hark! The Defiance emerges. I knew they would come. They always show up when I doubt myself or am about to make a bad decision. They are my inner voice manifested as dramatic one-dimensional characters, reminding me of my own greatness. They are called the Defiance because they oppose all the negative messaging that has been programmed into my mind. Every Black girl needs a team of inner cheerleaders who can lift her spirits when the world tries to come for her.
There are three of them: Shaquanda, who wears dark blond wigs and looks like Lil’ Kim; Damon, who is bald and wears glasses and blue jean overalls with tan Timberland boots; and Terrell, who is suave and cool and sounds like the fourth member of Boyz II Men who talks but doesn’t sing. Shaquanda always punctuates her statements with “b****” and claps when she speaks, for emphasis. Sometimes she claps so hard her electric-pink press‑on nails come flying off. Damon usually pulls out a microphone as if he is about to give a speech to a large audience and finishes all his sentences with “you feel me.” Terrell sounds like a Black preacher with his deep baritone voice and his constant “hah” between words.
When they finally reach me, I tell Matthew to prepare for a show. They form a circle around me and all speak at once, their voices a chorus of validation: Do you know who the h**** you are, b****?!— You da best dat ever did it! Don’t let small minds dim ya light, you feel me? Mr. Walsh and Professor Cartwright cannot see you. How dey gon’ know what you capable of, you feel me? B****, you ain’t neva met an obstacle you couldn’t overcome. F*** da bullsh**! Yo mother’s God, hah, is sittin’ right over dere on dat big-a** mountain, hah, waitin’ to pounce on dese hatin’ nonbelievers, hah. You gon’ win, my n****, you feel me? All we do is win, b****, despite the challenges. Keep ya head up, ma.
I cheer quietly to myself, but loud enough for others in my immediate vicinity to hear, while pumping my fists. “That’s right! I’m gon’ win! They don’t know me. Who gon’ stop me, haah?!”
I continue hyping myself up with the Defiance until I hear someone behind me interrupt, “What in the Boyz‑N‑Da‑Hood is going on here? Have you forgotten where you are, Negro Brown? Talking to yourself like that in the middle of this snow-white campus? Now I’ve seen it all.” I know who it is, but I don’t turn around. Instead, I roll my eyes and take a deep breath in preparation for dealing with the force of life that is Earnell Jackson. When I finally find the strength to face him, I see that he’s with Kelicia, Keli for short, another close friend. Earnell is a “loud, animated negro” (we playfully call each other negroes to remember our roots) from Atlanta, and Keli is a short, brown-skinned negro from Chicago. We all have similar backgrounds: poor and the first in their family to go to college. We met during first-year orientation. The entire incoming class can probably recognize Earnell’s outrageous laugh, which rang out boisterously across the auditorium as various speakers told jokes while welcoming us. Numerous heads around the room pivoted angrily in our direction—watching—while Earnell unapologetically waved as if he were the president driving down Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day.
Earnell’s lively spirit is infectious. Keli has more of a brooding nature, similar to mine, but Earnell is always positive, upbeat, and outgoing despite the many obstacles in front of us. If you didn’t know him well you might never be able to tell that he comes from such impoverished and bleak conditions. Keli, Earnell, and I were all-stars in high school but are struggling to catch up here at Dartmouth.
Earnell and I were both valedictorians and Keli was third in her class, which Earnell relentlessly teases her about. “We can’t all be number one,” he says, after out- arguing her over something unimportant.
Our high school ranks don’t matter here, however. Now all of our classes are “introductory preparation” courses, which is just a fancy term for remedial. We are competing against students who come from schools with unlimited resources. Catching up is not easy. I’m taking Introductory Calculus, Comprehensive Literature (Comp Lit), Sociology, and American Government as well as a History of Film class.
“I call them the dream team,” Earnell says about the roster of tutors and study groups he uses. “Helping negroes advance since America decided nothing will ever be truly just and equal. I’m not ashamed in the least and you shouldn’t be either. The system that failed us created this situation. Do you really think we’d be behind if we had grown up next door to Becky and Ken?” Earnell shakes his head in disapproval. “I think you should call Baker Tower
Jim Crow instead of Matthew McConaughey. It’s a better fit,” he says. Earnell’s focus on race is next level. He is deeply suspicious of white people after having grown up in a racist town in the South and he lets it be known now that he’s in the “free North.”
“And another thing,” Earnell continues, “I really think you should liberate yourself from the toxic myth of minority exceptionalism. We are only an endangered species, as you say, because of extraordinary oppression. Not because there aren’t literally thousands of people just like us out there in the trenches unable to excel due to systematic obstacles. Sorry to break it to you, but you ain’t that special, dear, and you shouldn’t turn away from all the resources at our disposal here. It’s foolish.”
Earnell doesn’t want to see me fail, so he is always hard on me. He and Keli are less stubborn about asking for help. Maybe they don’t have a Mr. Walsh they are trying to prove wrong. Maybe their egos aren’t easily bruised like mine. I don’t know why, but they see our predicaments much differently than me. I’m too embarrassed to get a tutor, but Earnell and Keli have completely thrown the lid off the “do it yourself” mentality that got us here, while my pride keeps me suffering in isolation.
“Earnell’s a straight‑up fool,” Keli says, “but he’s right. This sh** is not a game. I’m headed to meet my tutor now. Tryin’ to get these grades locked down. We’re not in Compton anymore. You can’t soar here without their help.”
“But you’re from Chicago,” Earnell interjects. “And we’re”— pointing dramatically to him and me—“not from Cali either so do better with your idioms. Again, we can’t all be—”
“Shut up, fool,” Keli responds. “You know what I meant. I gotta run. I’ll catch y’all on the flipside.” Keli sprints off, leaving me to reconsider my entire approach since I’m definitely not soaring in Matthew McConaughey’s paradise.
“Don’t look now,” Earnell says, suddenly stiffening and blocking me with his body, “but that Christian white boy you like is walking this way. Alert, alert. Nazarene is approaching.” The good thing about a small campus is that if you stand in the middle long enough, you’ll run into everyone you know. My body freezes as Bryson Parker, a junior I met during orientation week, walks toward us. Bryce, which is what everyone calls him, is a tall, soft-spoken, curly-haired white boy with the jawline of a superhero. He’s so good looking, I can barely meet his eyes for more than a few seconds. He’s devoutly Christian, regularly attending the Servants for Jesus prayer group, and he also participates in some of the diversity programs the college offers. “Sooner or later, he’s going to figure out you’re actually a pagan and leave you by the side of the road with the rest of us sinners,” Earnell whispers into my ear just as Bryce joins us.
“Do you know when it was built?” Bryce asks, referring to Matthew. Earnell rolls his eyes and I respond, “No clue.”
Bryce smiles with the radiance of a thousand suns. “Me neither. I just know it was before 1928 since that’s when it opened. Pretty cool, huh?”
“What’s cool about that?” Earnell snarks.
“This is my friend Earnell,” I say, before he has a chance to further interrogate Bryce.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Bryce says enthusiastically while extending his hand.
“Super rad to finally meet you.” Earnell stares at Bryce’s hand for several seconds until I smack him on the shoulder. He reluctantly reaches his arm forward and simply responds “hmph” while sizing him up and awkwardly shaking his hand.
“So this is—”
“The guy that does diversity stuff,” I say, cutting off Earnell before he has a chance to do more damage.
“Hmph,” Earnell says again, unimpressed. “Can you explain to me your interest in helping negroes and other people of color? Now that’s something I’m very curious about.” I choke on my potato chips. Bryce chokes on air.
“I know,” Earnell continues woefully, “the tension is thick when the descendants of slaves and slave owners have difficult conversations in liberal bastions of freedom such as this.” He spins around like Mary Poppins. “Well, guess I better get going. Don’t want to be late for class.”
Bryce and I watch as Earnell sprints off, leaving us to climb the mountain of discomfort he has erected. Just like Earnell to stir the pot and then book it. I shake my head in shame.
“He—” I start, unable to finish.
“I—” Bryce begins, also unable to find more words.
“Are you going to see the hypnotist tonight?” Bryce asks after several seconds of silence.
“No, I’m not interested in mind games.”
“It’s actually really amazing. And trust me, you won’t ever forget seeing some of your peers doing absolutely ridiculous things. One of my friends, Connor Raskins, got hypnotized our freshman year and will still cluck like a chicken if you clap your hands quickly three times. Hypnotist Jerry has been coming for fifteen years and it’s always an amazing show.”
When I don’t respond, Bryce playfully nudges me with his elbow. His gentle touch, however slight, awakens something in me and now I’m the one smiling with the radiance of a thousand suns.
“OK,” I reply finally. “I’ll go. What time are you getting there?”
“ ’Round seven,” he says. “Cool. It’s a date.”
Book’s Title: The Chosen One
Author/Illustrator: Echo Brown
Release Date: 1/4/22
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Contemporary
Age Range: 14 and up
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