Title: The Duke of Bannerman Prep
Author: Katie A. Nelson
Publisher:: Sky Pony Press
Pub. Date: May 9th, 2017
Genre: YA, Retelling, Contemporary
Words are weapons. Facts can be manipulated. And nothing is absolute—especially right and wrong.Tanner McKay is at Bannerman Prep for only one reason: the elite school recruited him after he brought his public school’s debate team to victory last year. Bannerman wants a championship win. Debate is Tanner’s life—his ticket out of his poor-as-dirt life and family drama, straight to a scholarship to Stanford and the start of a new, better future.
But when he’s paired with the Duke, his plans for an easy ride seem as if they’ve hit the rails. The Duke is the quintessential playboy, beloved by everyone for his laissez-faire attitude, crazy parties, and seemingly effortless favors.
And a total no-show when it comes to putting in the work to win.
But as Tanner gets sucked into the Duke’s flashy world, the thrill of the high life and the adrenaline of existing on the edge becomes addictive. A small favor here and there seems like nothing in exchange for getting everything he ever dreamed of.
But the Duke’s castle is built on shady, shaky secrets, and the walls are about to topple down.
A contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby, Katie Nelson’s taut debut is perfect for fans of John Green’s Looking for Alaska, Kate Brian’s Private series, and anyone who’s encountered the cut-throat world of competitive high school.
We’d been at the barbecue for less than two minutes, but several things were clear:
- I was underdressed.
- I had no idea how to pronounce several of the items on the menu.
- I had completely underestimated the length of time a group of moderately intelligent, narcissistic rich kids could hold a grudge.
“Where are the hot dogs?” I said. “And the salmonella-infested potato salad? I thought this was a barbecue.”
Neither Abby nor my mom replied. They stared at the huge white tent set up on the soccer field, at the banks of solar panels just past the grass, at the tablecloths and crystal glasses and real silverware on the tables, at the waiters and the glowing LED lamps and the jazz band.
Then Sam ran into one of the display tables with his cane, scattering picture frames and flowers all over the ground. His face was red, and his shirt was only partially tucked into his pants. He started muttering to himself. Heads turned as his voice got louder and the conversations around us stopped. The spell was broken.
Mom tried to steady him and prevent a meltdown while Abby and I collected the stray flowers and shoved them back into the vases. Some of the stems were broken, and the flowers poked out at weird angles—probably not the look they were going for. I stayed crouched down, trying to hide for just one second more.
So much for blending in.
A waiter rushed over to put everything back, and Abby and I moved out of the way. She laughed, but when she saw how irritated I was, she tried to stifle it with a cough. “Let’s get some food,” she said, elbowing me. “What kind of theme are they going for? Luau? Mardi Gras?”
“Money,” my mom answered, brushing crumbs off Sam’s shirt.
The invitation had said the dress was casual, but clearly that meant something different at Bannerman Prep School. The women wore sundresses and heels that kept sinking into the grass; the men were in khakis and starched shirts. Even the guys I’d passed earlier when I was moving into the dorm had exchanged their T-shirts for polos. I looked down at my flip-flops and thought about running back up to my room to change, but before I could decide, a tan middle-aged man approached.
“You must be Tanner.” He extended his hand, and I shook it. It was sweaty. “The defending California state champion in Policy Debate. I should get your autograph.” The guy laughed. None of the rest of us did. He didn’t seem to notice. “We expect great things from you. I have to tell you, none of the alumni were too thrilled with that loss at state finals last spring. When Watterson suggested we recruit the guy who’d humiliated us, we were all on board. Glad to have the tiger on our side.”
Abby looked at me, eyebrows raised, and mouthed the word tiger? I looked away so I wouldn’t laugh.
The man turned to my mom, who pretended to be interested while gripping Sam’s arm with one hand. “My daughter, Peyton, is on the team. I’ll have to introduce them. She spent the summer in Prague—”
“We’re going to take Sam and get some food,” I said and nudged Abby. She looped her arm through Sam’s and we made our way toward the buffet table.
“Harsh,” Abby said as she grabbed a plate. “Leaving your mom on her own.”
“I’ll throw you under the bus, too, if I have to.”
I stared at the spread of food in front of us, and it hit me for the seventeenth time that day that I did not belong here. There was a sign behind the buffet boasting that the vegetables and herbs were all grown on-site in the school’s organic garden. I’d grown up eating pizza pockets and macaroni and cheese. Somehow, I doubted I’d find any of that under the silver lids arranged on the long table. I shook my head at the pile of greens the server tried to put on my plate. That was supposed to be a salad? It looked like dandelions. Maybe it was. Gourmet dandelions.
I carried Sam’s plate and my own, hoping the food being served tasted better than it looked, while Abby helped Sam navigate the tight space between the buffet and the groups of tables. Plates fully loaded, we surveyed the tent, looking for a place to sit. It seemed that all two hundred students—and their parents—were already seated.
“You pick,” Abby said. “All I see are a bunch of dillholes with trust funds.”
Sam pointed his cane at a table full of girls. “Check out the babes,” he said, way too loudly. His deep voice, nurtured in speech therapy for years, was another of the contradictions that made up his life. Sure, he loved playing with trucks and ardently believed in Santa Claus, but get him around a group of pretty girls and he turned into a total horndog, like the thirteen-year-old he was.
Abby elbowed him. “Sam, you don’t want one of these babes. Way too high maintenance.”
We found a half-empty table a few feet away. I was about to set our plates down when one of the girls jumped up. “You can’t sit there. These are reserved.”
As we turned and looked around, her friend asked, “Is that him?”
“Yeah. He thinks he can just take anybody’s seat. Could he be any cockier?”
A guy bumped into my shoulder as he walked by, and I almost dropped our dinner. He sat down with the gossipy girls, his back to me. “He’ll be kicked out by Thanksgiving,” the guy said, loud enough so I’d be sure to hear. “The only reason he won at State was because he cheated.”
I recognized the voice. My old team had defeated him in finals. His name was Tran, but my partner and I had called him Mr. Irons-His-Underwear. It still fit.
I turned, still holding our plates. “I’m not a cheater. But go ahead and tell yourself that if it makes you feel better.”
Tran didn’t turn around, but one of the girls rolled her eyes. “Whatever. We’re trying to eat.”
Abby pulled at my sleeve and pointed to a table in the back. “How about there?”
I recognized someone seated alone. He was watching something on his phone. I couldn’t remember his name, but I remembered his Afro. It looked different—shorter, maybe—than the last time I’d seen him. He probably hated me, too, but the other tables were filling up and we were running out of options.
“Anyone sitting here?” Afro-guy shook his head, so I set our plates down. “I’m Tanner and this is my cousin, Abby, and my brother, Sam.”
He nodded. “Jason.”
He didn’t say a lot, but as we ate, we found out that Jason was from Berkeley, also a junior, and, tragically, a vegetarian—thereby forced to eat the salad made from yard waste.
“Berkeley,” Abby said. “That’s not that far. Do you live at home?”
Jason shook his head. “No. Commuting is a pain. Some people do it, but I don’t have a car.”
“Berkeley is a cool city,” I said.
He shrugged, then went back to his salad. I couldn’t tell if he was just quiet or still pissed off about losing to me. I told myself it didn’t matter. I tried not to think about Tran and what he was telling everyone. I tried to pretend I didn’t hear my name. I ate, just to have something to do, but I didn’t taste the food.
Sam nearly spilled his water and he dropped his fork three times. I wiped his face as discreetly as possible, but he still ended up with sauce all over his shirt.
When the waiters brought dessert trays around, we were joined at the table by two other guys. One looked like the evil blond dude from Harry Potter. The other looked like a young Enrique Iglesias.
I didn’t even have time to take a bite of my gluten-free chocolate zucchini cake before Enrique started hitting on Abby. “You must be new. I know I’d remember your face.”
“I’m sure I’d forget yours,” Abby said, and kicked me under the table.
Sam laughed. Even he could appreciate a good burn.
All eyes were on Sam, in that it’s-rude-to-look-but-I-just-can’t-help-myself way, and I knew what they were thinking. They wanted to know what was wrong with him.
Abby, who’d shared the job of looking out for Sam since we were kids, turned her attention on Jason. Running her finger around the rim of her crystal glass, she asked, “So, smooth jazz and chicken kabobs. You Bannerman boys really know how to party.”
The blond guy had a huge grin on his face. “Oh, we know how to party. This is for the parents. Let them believe what they want to believe. Once the Duke gets back, he’ll throw a real party. The Duke’s parties are epic. The stuff of legends. Life-changing.”
“The what?” I asked.
“Andrew Tate,” said the Enrique look-alike. “Everyone calls him the Duke. His stepdad is some kind of billionaire, like thirty-second-in-line for the British throne.”
A skinny blonde girl from the table next to us chimed in. “That’s not why he’s rich. The Duke was a soap-opera star in Brazil when he was twelve. He made all kinds of money. He was already loaded before his mom got remarried.”
Jason rolled his eyes. “That’s a rumor. But he is some kind of statistics whiz or something. Makes a lot of money at the casinos, if you know what I mean.”
They all started talking at once, each with a more outlandish story. The Duke was friends with Bill Gates. He’d invested in that indie movie that won all the Oscars. He’d saved the governor’s life when he was on vacation with his family. I elbowed Abby, and when she looked at me, she was wearing the same expression of disbelief I knew was on my face. The blond guy must have seen it, too.
“He has this house out on the coast, and his parents are never there. The parties are legendary. You’ll see.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Katie Nelson has always loved words and stories. Formerly a high school English and Debate teacher, she now lives in Northern California with her husband, four children, and hyperactive dog.CONTACT: