Exclusive Excerpt: Serena Kaylor's New YA Novel 'The Calculation of You and Me'

Author Serena Kaylor shares an exclusive excerpt of her upcoming YA novel The Calculation of You and Me with SLJ

SLJ is so excited to share an exclusive excerpt of author Serena Kaylor's upcoming YA novel The Calculation of You and Me, out in June from Wednesday Books.

Kaylor, whose debut Long Story Short received a starred review from SLJ and was named a 2022 YA Best Book, was also interviewed in our 2022 July Stars issue.

In The Calculation of You and Me, math whiz Marlowe enters into a mutually beneficial agreement with classmate Ashton—she'll use her coding skills to help his band go viral if he uses his love-songwriting skills to help her win back her ex—but maybe there isn't a mathmatical solution to love...and maybe it's not her ex she's meant to be with.

Below, read the start of The Calculation of You and Me:



I cannot believe that Joshua Stallings has somehow managed to ruin school supplies for me.

Me, of all people. The girl whose divorced parents draw straws every year over who’s stuck dragging her around for back-to-school shopping. It takes up at least half a day while I float down every single aisle and caress each paper clip and mechanical pencil like a benediction. I have a legitimate sticky-note addiction.

I ask for gel pens in my Christmas stocking. I grab a pack of highlighters like they’re a life raft and squeeze my eyes shut. See? This is still exciting! You can color-code your notes with this pastel multipack and the serotonin from that will practically drown you.

“Momma, Marlowe’s praying to some highlighters!”

Eyes are open and highlighters are back on the shelf before my very Methodist mother can round the corner and see another thing to be concerned about.

“I’m not praying, Blue,” I say, asking God and the pristine shelves of the Super Buy to find me a sliver of patience. “I was just testing something.”

“You are so weird,” she exhales through fourteen years of despair from having been saddled with me as an older sister. She’s recently taken to correcting people with a quick “Marlowe is my half sister,” as if that other set of genes made a world of difference.

“Can’t you just pick some notebooks like a normal person?” Well, that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? At least for Josh.

We’re all just clumps of stars and carbon, but my particular flavor of cosmic particles is not exactly popular. Almost as if there were a few substandard atoms tucked away in the curve of my clavicle, or the shell of my ear. A strangeness that poisons the whole batch.

I smile, my skin stretched so tight I could burst. “Why don’t you just pick some out for me?” The entire experience is already ruined, and I need to pull the lever and eject myself from this day before it takes me down with it.

She perks up, blood in the water. “You’ve never let me do that before.”

I shrug. “Surprise me.” 

She spins, her lime-green bodysuit twinkling. The lighting here would be unflattering on anyone else, but my baby sister shines. Even after an hour of gymnastics practice, she’s glowing, and I have no concerns about her starting her first year of high school with anything less than complete adoration from everyone she meets. She’s every inch our mother’s daughter: a peacock, or a swan, or—a unicorn. Sunny blond hair, a golden Georgia tan, and a wall full of equestrian medals, pageant crowns, and cheerleading trophies. The perfect River Haven girl.

I, on the other hand, am solidly in badger territory. There’s a lot to be said for that, though. I’m smart, efficient, and reliable. Usually solitary but can work with a group in a pinch. The type of River Haven girl who was happily on the sidelines, quietly winning medals in math and spending all her time with her two badger best friends, until another peacock pulled her into the spotlight with him.

Blue grabs notebooks, pressing their covers tightly against her spandex so I can’t see.

“Nothing too crazy,” I tell her, already regretting this but desperate to get out of the store.

She laughs and twists away as I try to take a closer look.

“Not the pink one,” I say, as she reaches for one that loudly declares I LOVE BOYS in a font that makes my skin crawl.

“No peeking!”

“Name two boys I love, and you can get it.”

She scowls, stumped, and I grab my phone like it’s an EpiPen and I need an injection of sanity stat.

I duck behind a pallet of binders while she’s trying to scrounge up a single name and slide boneless to the linoleum. I don’t even breathe until FaceTime connects and their faces fill the screen.

“I thought you were shopping with your mom today,” Odette says, her eyes narrowing. “And where the hell are you? Is something behind you Saran Wrapped?”

“Is this some kind of murder-house-hostage situation?” Poppy asks, eating popcorn way too casually to be contemplating my imminent demise.

“Can’t it be both?” I ask, ducking lower as Blue shouts to the surrounding aisles, “What about this one with two dolphins making out?”

Odette’s eyebrows escape up into her beanie, and I decide silence is golden. “Dolphin erotica aside,” she continues, “are you sure you’re okay?”

My face, haunting this conversation from the upper corner of the screen, is pinched tight. Ghostly white, with auburn hair that topples forward into a red that’s barely believable as natural. A joke, a self-deprecating comment, almost slips through my teeth but I think, Why bother.

“Not great,” I say finally. “Momma’s made me try on four pink dresses so far, as if a few ruffles will have Josh stampeding back to me.”

Poppy coughs, popcorn catching in her throat. “Like you’re a matador? That somehow seeing you in pink for once will whip him into enough of a frenzy to trample you with his love?”

“Nobody said it was a good plan.”

Part of me wants to say that if a dress could put my life back together, I would clutch it with both hands, but it feels pathetic to admit it out loud.

“You are not a ruffled pink dress, Marlowe,” Poppy says, making me suspect she’s better at body language than she pretends to be.

And I know that. I do know that. I still can’t explain it in a way that will make sense to them.

We’d found each other in kindergarten, and that was all she wrote. Gravitated to each other, like magnets who’d finally found a home after years of sliding off the surface of other kids. While our classmates filled recess with screeching and feats of bravery, we’d meticulously excavated a portion of the playground before we were forced to stop, but we walked away with sharp stones, muddy hands, and each other.

Not much has changed. Except I’m now older, none the wiser, and huddled behind school supplies while my kid sister shouts about flirty-poop emoji notebooks.


From The Calculation of You and Me by Serena Kaylor. Copyright © 2024 by the author, and reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group. 

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