About the Book
Title: War and Speech
Author: Don Zolidis
Publisher: Little Brown (May 5, 2020)
Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction
Find it on: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Books | Book Depository
Not everyone can be a winner…
Sydney Williams knows this better than anyone. After her white-collar-criminal dad is sent to prison, Sydney fails almost all of her classes and moves into a dingy apartment with her mom, who can barely support them with her minimum-wage job at the mall.
A new school promises a fresh start. Except Eaganville isn’t exactly like other high schools. It’s ruled with an iron fist by a speech team that embodies the most extreme winner-takes-all philosophy.
Sydney is befriended by a group of fellow misfits, each of whom has been personally victimized by the speech team. It turns out Sydney is the perfect plant to take down the speech team from within.
With the help of her co-conspirators, Sydney throws herself into making Nationals in speech, where she will be poised to topple the corrupt regime. But what happens when Sydney realizes she actually has a shot at . . . winning? Sydney lost everything because of her dad’s obsession with being on top. Winning at speech might just be her ticket out of a life of loserdom. Can she really walk away from that?
Thomas leaned on the table and stared at me.
“You seem like a nice person,” he said. “Why would you want to do that?”
“Well, I had a peer counseling session with Logan, and he said I wasn’t hot enough for Speech and Debate, so—”
Lakshmi interrupted me. “Are you fucking kidding?!”
“Yeah, I know.”
“You’re so hot. I would totally do you.”
“Thanks. That means a lot.”
She laughed and raised her Chardonnay tipsily.
“I basically said I was the LeBron James of speech at my last school and that I was joining the team just to piss him off. I’m not gonna do it, guys. It was a joke. I have no idea what speech even is.”
Elijah nodded. “Logan sucks. They all suck. And it’s like—I was on the team, all right, the whole culture is toxic. And Coach Sparks is the worst; he’s like the boss demon in charge of it. He’s practically satanic.”
“Don’t get me started on him,” I said.
“You know him?”
Do I tell them? “I’m aware of his work. I’ve had encounters with him before.”
“Yeah, well, he’s the reason I quit. And he’s the reason I can’t . . .” He trailed off, biting his lip. “He ruins people, all right? I had a scholarship lined up with the U of M for next year—he called them up and they canceled it. He blackballed me.”
“He can do that?” I said.
“He runs the school. He’s more powerful than the principal. And if you cross him . . .”
Lakshmi set her glass down. “My little sister, Rani, is on the team.”
“She’s JV this year, but she’s competitive, so she’s gonna be varsity eventually. And then she’s gonna like . . . turn into one of those sons-of-bitches.”
“The varsity squad,” said Elijah, “is the worst. They’re like seven Voldemorts.”
Thomas objected. “You can’t have seven Voldemorts. That doesn’t make any sense. They’re Death Eaters, at most.”
“They are fucking Voldemorts.”
“The entire term ‘Voldemorts’ is nonsense.”
“What about Andrew?”
“Okay, he’s a Voldemort, and everyone else is a Death Eater.”
“Fine, they’re supervillains, then. Like the Legion of Doom or the Sinister Seven.”
“The Sinister Seven isn’t a thing,” added Thomas.
Lakshmi slammed her fist on the table. “Can you two shut up and stop nerding out for a second? I don’t give a shit who they are, someone needs to take them out.”
Everyone was quiet for a moment.
“Like murder?” asked Elijah, hesitatingly.
“’Cause Sydney’s dad probably knows a guy.”
“My dad’s in prison for tax evasion, he definitely does not know a guy.”
Lakshmi sighed. “No, I mean just—get him fired, destroy their grip on the school . . . something like that.”
“Man,” said Elijah. “I would pay good money to some other speech team to take them down. Just destroy them in open combat. Cheat if they have to. The whole varsity squad and Sparks.”
Silence descended on the table.
I cocked an eyebrow.
One person can ruin a whole team.
“No one can beat them from the outside,” I said. “But what if I could beat them from the inside?”
Lakshmi looked at me. “What are you talking about?”
“There’s no way,” said Elijah. “They’re better than you. Plus, they all do different events. How could you beat all of them?”
“No no no,” said Thomas. “I get it. You don’t have to beat all of them. You could just be the bad apple that spoils the bunch. They wouldn’t even know it was coming from you—the evil is inside the house.”
Tabb arrived at the table. “What’s up, peeps?” he said, and nodded his head ever so slightly. “Just wanted to let you know that I can give you the check at any time, and there’s no rush, but if you guys are done then—”
“We’re not done,” said Lakshmi. “I’m gonna get a bottle of wine.”
Tabb shook his head. “Look, guys, I know you think that you’re cool as hell or whatever—”
Lakshmi narrowed her eyes. “Tabb, I like you. But what if I told you that I was really seventeen and you had mistakenly served me alcohol because you couldn’t tell the difference between two Indian people? And furthermore, what if I went to your manager and said that you had served someone who was underage, even though you’ve been trained explicitly not to do that? How do you think that would reflect on you?”
Tabb’s mouth disappeared into a tiny slit. “What are your demands?” he said.
“First, I’m gonna need you to clear these plates. Then, we need a fresh paper tablecloth and some sharpened crayons. Finally, a dessert menu for everyone and a bottle of your house white.”
He locked eyes with her for a moment. “Very well, Najima.”
About the Author
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Don Zolidis grew up in Wisconsin, went to college in Minnesota, and is mostly known for being a really funny playwright. For the past five years, he’s been the most-produced playwright in American schools. His more than one hundred published plays have been performed tens of thousands of times, and have appeared in sixty-four different countries. He currently splits his time between New York and Texas, and has two adorable boys who will someday read this book and have a lot of questions. He aspires to owning a dog. His first novel was The Seven Torments of Amy and Craig.
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