YA Novel ‘Love & Resistance’ A Thought-Provoking Story Of Freedom, Friendship And Love

The following is an excerpt from Kara H.L. Chen’s new YA novel ‘Love & Resistance’ (Quill Tree Books, July 4). Independence Day is a time to celebrate the United States, and one of the best ways we can do that is by seeking to improve ourselves as a nation. This July, one teen does just that by fighting back against a racist school bully in this thought-provoking story about freedom, friendship and love.

Olivia Chang is on her fourth school in seven years, and she’s learned to navigate all this change through her own system: self-imposed isolation. Sure, she might be a little lonely, but she’s safe. Her usual plan to fly under the radar fails at Plainstown High, however, when popular mean girl Mitzi Clarke makes a pointed racist comment in class. Tired of letting it go, Olivia stands up for herself, effectively making herself highly visible.

Before long, Olivia has teamed up with the Nerd Net, a secret society intent on ending Mitzi’s reign of terror over the school. As a group, they plan to unite the school as one to make a lasting positive change in the school. But if Olivia’s going to commit, she’s going to have to do something that scares her more than leading a resistance movement: trusting other people. If she can manage it, she might even make friends – assuming Mitzi doesn’t destroy her first.


Welcome to Painstown

SURVIVING HIGH SCHOOL is all about strategy.

Your goal this day, as it is every day, is endurance. To do that, you must become invisible. Do not go to the cafeteria. Do not go to the science wing, where social media supernova Mitzi

Clarke has a Monopoly-type reign over the real estate. 


If you are on the fringes, like me, you go to the bathroom first. You stay there until the pre-homeroom bell, and then you walk to your locker (briskly, but not running, as running will bring you attention, and attention is bad). Grab your books, then slide into your homeroom without making eye contact. The last is very important. Go from class to class, do not volunteer unless called on, and wait for the sweet final bell. Then you start all over again.

I know this because my mom’s in the military. I’ve gone to four different schools in four different states. Trust me: in order to avoid long days of torment, you’ve got to be tactical. I’ve never been popular, but I’ve never had food chucked at me, either. I’m good at being stealthy. At one of my schools, I’m not even sure anyone knew my name; I was just The New Girl. I consider that one of my biggest successes. (Sometimes they called me The Asian Girl, which was obviously horrible, but c’est la vie.)

School number four, the predictably named Plainstown High School of Plainstown, Ohio, was . . . well, you know. Plain. I was both new and a junior, which was a terrible combination. Even worse, Plainstown had a closed lunch period, which meant that I was basically trapped on a battlefield, armed with nothing but overly preserved meats and small containers of nearly expired milk.


Getting through lunch now would take savvy, sophistication, brains. It was not for the amateur, or the weak. Luckily, I was neither.

The first objective: examine the terrain. Plainstown’s lunchroom also doubled as its small assembly room, so it was filled with those long faux-wood lunch tables with the parallel fixed benches. Excellent.

The key to this sort of setup is the end seats. Never, ever sit in the center if you are trying to be invisible. First, you’ll have to do that awkward leg swing over the fixed bench and will inevitably trip and land on your face. Second, you will be surrounded by people, most likely popular people, who will immediately notice you. That’s no good. The most successful outsiders are those who can keep their exposed sides minimized and protected, kind of like countries in the middle of a land war.

Look here—you can see some kids have already caught on. I recognized a red-haired guy from my English class, an overly passionate defender of poetry, eating by himself at one of the ends. A few tables over, a quiet guy from my French class also secured an edge.

And then: problem. The rest of the safe spaces were occupied, which meant I would have to ask someone to scoot over so I could sit down. Crap.

Lightning decision: Who to ask? I scanned the seats: Poet Guy, French Guy, giggling BFFs (no), lovey couple (no)—gah, this was taking too long. Poet Guy or French Guy? French Guy didn’t speak much, so he was less likely to tell me off.

Fine. Bonjour, mon nouveau ami.

I took my tray (school purchased lunch, perfectly average) and made my approach.

“Do you mind if I—?” I said.

French Guy was clearly startled that someone was speaking to him. He scooted to the left (no protest, good choice, Olivia!). And then we proceeded to eat our lunch in silence, side by


By the end of the week, I no longer had to ask. French Guy (who I learned in class was named Monsieur Griffin, first name unknown) would silently scoot, we would silently eat our delicious school lunches, and then, at the bell, we would silently get up and go to our separate lockers. 

I began to notice stuff about French Guy, since, well, I was smushed up against him for half an hour per day. One: he always wore a tiny pin on his backpack, a shiny red circle. I was dying to ask what it was for, but that would mean, you know, actually conversing, so no. Two: Monsieur Griffin was quiet, but he was expressive. Like when he saw Mitzi Clarke cut in line during lunch, he unleashed the most eloquent eye roll I had ever seen. He also had expressions for Seriously? (when the cafeteria posted a list of terrible cheese puns on Mac N’ Cheese Day; he gave me a little smile when he caught me making a face at “Have a gouda day!”). A subtle smirk when he was amused (when I got overly excited about my french fries two days ago), and a blank expression for when he was trying to be invisible.

The last I couldn’t quite get. Monsieur Griffin was handsome—not in a flashy kind of way, but he had a certain je ne sais quoi. He wasn’t tall, but he was far from the shortest in the class; he was smart, but not a show-off; he wasn’t exceptionally athletic, but he wasn’t completely uncoordinated, either. He liked to wear these dark red Chucks and indie band T-shirts, which was interesting, but not particularly unusual.

I didn’t understand what set him apart from everyone else, but it was clear he welcomed the distance. Some girls in class tried to speak to him, only to be politely, but firmly, rebuffed. In fact, the only person he seemed to converse with—and I use the term loosely, as scooting over on a cafeteria bench once a day was not really conversing—was me.

It kind of became my personal challenge, to make Monsieur Griffin communicate with me, even if it was non-verbal. It violated my rules against personal interaction, but I couldn’t help myself.

I should have stuck to the rules.

Author Kara HL Chen

Kara H.L. Chen grew up near Cleveland, Ohio, where she once had to shovel snow off her car with a plastic trashcan. She now lives on the West Coast with her husband and daughters, and is learning how to use an Instapot. She has undergraduate degrees in English and economics, a J.D., and an MFA in fiction. You can see more of her work on her website, and follow her on Instagram.

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