Just Drop Out
by J. Bree
Book 1 in the Hannaford Prep series
After surviving foster care and a high school that breeds gang members and drug dealers I've finally found my path to freedom: emancipation and a full ride scholarship at the ultra-exclusive Hannaford Prep.
All I have to do is survive.
After attracting the wrong sort of attention from the richest boy in the country, pissing off the hottest guy in school and being humiliated in front of my favorite rock idol I am now the target of the most popular, and cruelest, group in the freshman class.
They want my blood.
They can have it.
I'm stronger than any spoilt rich kid.
But can I survive the game the Juniors have started with me as the goal? Now every boy at Hannaford wants to have me.
All except the three I want.
Ash, Harley, and Blaise don't care about the game, all they care about is destroying me.
After reading J Bree's Bond That Tie series, and LOVING IT, and reading Angel Unseen (the first book in an unfinished series), I told myself I needed to read the rest of her books ... especially after sensing in Angel Unseen that the other books had some significance in that world. I actually picked up this one, thinking it was the first of her books, only to realize that I should have picked up the Butcher of the Bay duology first. Oh well. I will read them next. Or at some point. Let's circle back to Just Drop Out, shall we?
I was a little bit nervous starting out this book. Not because of J Bree's writing. I love her writing style, and her sense of humor, her romances, and she is a skillful writer. I was nervous because of the ages of these characters. Going into these books, knowing that its a reverse harem romance, when I discovered the characters in question were only 15 years old ... well, I was concerned.
But I should have had more faith in J. Bree.
So if you, like me, have been hesitant to start this book because of the nature of this book, and the ages - don't. In fact, the only reason I put this book in the reverse harem and romance genres, was because that is where the series is leading. But Just Drop Out isn't romantic. There are no sex scenes (except for a moment when Lips (short for Eclipse) catches Harley having a moment with another girl in their class at a party. By the end of the book, I actually felt very comfortable with their ages.
That being said, Just Drop Out is dark.
But I mean, of course it is. It's J. Bree.
I'm not usually one for bully romances, but that wasn't bad. I mean, the bullying sucked - it always does - but it wasn't unforgiveable. Was some of the shit going on off-the-wall unrealistic? Of course. But iIt's not cheesy. Just Drop Out hooked me on the overall arc of this story, and these characters, rather quickly. Despite the bullying, despite the darker themes, and unrealistic plot for a fifteen year old cast of characters, J Bree writes a good book here. Lips is layered, secretive, and an overall strong character to read. But the side characters - those who are actively trying to get her to leave - are equally engaging and interesting.
While I don't think this book - or this series - is for everyone, I won't pretend I didn't enjoy it. Despite the age of these characters, this is a new adult book, and as a woman in my thirties, I enjoyed it. The plot was interesting. A little predictable, but interesting. The characters were all well-written. Perhaps a little too alike, but considering their lives, it makes sense. Just Drop Out was a fun read, and I can't wait to start the next one.
He grunts at me, and then grabs my wrist to turn my hand over. My knuckles are red and a little puffy. I must have hit that dickhead harder than I thought.
Harley: “Fighting isn't tolerated on campus,”
he drawls. I give him a look, and he surprises me by grinning. The teacher walks in and starts to take attendance. Harley leans over to whisper in my ear.
Harley: “I would have paid good money to watch you punch that asshole.” Lips: “You expect me to believe you care about my feelings?”
He pauses shoveling his food into his mouth and says,
Harley: “Nah. I just don't find naked photos all that great without consent. I have enough sent to me from willing partners that I don't feel the need to look at yours.”
That's…really decent. Like, a really human and empathetic thing to say. I have to fight back tears. This place is making me soft. I sniff and say,
Lips; “You're not missing much. I'm just a scrawny Mounty.”
He laughs, but it's not as cruel as it usually sounds. I snort and give Harley an incredulous look.
Lips: “You think I want to date anyone at this pompous school? None of you lot know a damn thing about real life. None of you will ever have to live in it! You’ll all graduate and then live in the perfect little worlds your parents have already carved out for you, and then you’ll go on to have kids and set them up into your billion-dollar empires, while I scrape to make sure I can afford to eat and keep the lights on each month. Fuck you and fuck your assumptions. I’m just here to graduate and get scholarships for college.”
He looks at me like I’m a piece of shit, which is so damn confusing.
Harley: “Yeah, well, fuck you and your assumptions about me.” Harley: “Enjoy the show?”
He doesn’t look at me when he says this, and I know it’s on purpose. He’s taking notes for the homework we’re supposed to get done over the break. It takes me a second to remember what I saw last night in the woods. I can’t think about any of it without thinking about Joey’s dick pressing into me and his body pressing me into the bed. My wrist is still aching, and I’m a little worried he’s sprained it.
Lips: “Not particularly. Though if you need my opinion, I’d suggest you start using protection. The girls at this school get around even more than Mountys do, and you don’t want to catch something that makes your dick fall off.” Ash: “What the fuck went down with you two?”
Blaise ignores him, slumping in his chair, and I consider doing the same. Ash throws a pen at me, and I sigh.
Lips: “I informed Blaise that I burned my Vanth shirt because I don’t listen to music written and performed by assholes, and he ran off to tattle to the spawn-of-Satan you shared a womb with, and she destroyed my room to avenge his hurt feelings.”
Blaise: “I didn’t fucking tattle! She asked me why I was pissy, and I answered,”
Blaise hisses back at me. Ash’s mouth drops open as he watches us. I snort.
Lips: “So, you’re put out that I don’t fucking worship you like you think you deserve, and in return I lose every single thing I own at the hands of Avery’s minions? Fair trade. Fair fucking trade.”
Ash leans back in his chair, the glee at our spat rising in him quickly.
Ash: “Everything you own is here at Hannaford?”
Lips: “I’m emancipated. Of course it is. No, was. I have nothing now, until the summer break when I can go back to Mounts Bay. Happy now, Morrison? Got your revenge? Great. Show me your assignment and let me fix it so you can tell your billionaire daddy how fucking great you’re doing at this hellhole.” There are things I know better than most about myself and the ways of the world. A night of no sleep won’t kill me. A week without food won’t kill me. Finding my mother's dead body rotting on my kitchen floor won’t kill me. A bullet to the shoulder won’t kill me. The bullying at Hannaford Prep won’t kill me. Lips: “How kind of you to grace us with your presence.”
Sarcasm drips from my words. Blaise ignores me, but Ash chuckles from where his head is still pressed into his palms.
Ash: “He does what he can for his people.”
Blaise: “Yes, yes, you’re both so fucking amusing. I had to re-sit a test for history, because apparently Mr. Smithton gets hard over ruining my life. He called my dad, so now I’m truly fucked. Why can’t I just drop out and make music and fuck groupies and get fucking blind drunk every night? Why do I have to learn inane bullshit about dead people? Why?”
Ash: “Ah, good. The dramatics have started, Mounty, settle in. We’re going to be here for hours while he gets this out of his system.”
Blaise slumps into his chair theatrically, and I scoff at him. He looks like a poor little rock star, forced to be a scholar. He groans and tugs at his hair roughly, so it stands up everywhere. He has sex hair at the best of times, but now it’s bordering on obscene. I can’t tear my eyes away from it no matter how hard I try.
Blaise: “I hate this place and I hate my dad’s business and I hate the expectations he has for me.”
Ash drops his hands and looks over at his friend with fake sympathy, nodding at him.
Ash: “Yes, so unfair to be the sole heir to a billion-dollar empire that your father sold his soul to be able to create. So sad. Do you want a drink, Mounty? May as well drown this tirade out while we have the chance.”
Ash starts snapping his fingers, like a bartender is going to appear out of nowhere. I smoother a laugh in my blazer sleeve. My chest aches at being so close to their friendship and playful banter, my favorite blend of sarcasm and fondness. The world is a cruel place to put this so close to me, but so wildly out of my reach.
Blaise: “You know what, fuck capitalism. If we could be happy with what we have instead of constantly striving to be at the top, I wouldn’t be in this mess. Let’s be fucking hippies instead. Let’s make music and throw away all of our worldly possessions and ask the moon what it thinks about our problems.”
That strikes a familiar chord in my chest. My mom used to get high and talk like that all the time. It’s how I got my name, for god’s sake.
Ash: “No, no, I won’t be growing a beard and smoking joints out of a van like a fucking pedophile. Get it all out, though. Bottling it up will only make it worse.” Lips: “I can organize a cleanup crew if you want to kill him,”
I whisper, a smile playing at the corners of my mouth. Harley smirks at me and straightens.
Harley: “We can talk about how you have access to one of those later, Mounty.” I set my pen down and fold my hands together, letting my face drop into a serene mask before I speak.
Lips: “You’re going to be a man of business someday, Beaumont, and I’m here to help Blaise out with numbers. So, let’s look at some real world facts.”
Ash tilts his head at me and motions me on.
Lips: “I have a full ride scholarship that covers food, shelter, and clothing for thirty-six weeks of my year, which leaves me with sixteen weeks to have to financially provide for myself. I have a hundred grand in the bank. At my current rate of spending, by the time I graduate Hannaford and move on to college, I’ll still have more than seventy grand in the bank. I will get a scholarship for college, full ride just like this one because we all know I’m that good, so that money is going to keep sitting in the bank. When I start out in the career of my choice, I'm going to hit the ground running.”
I pause. Ash is staring at me, rubbing his chin absently, and so I continue.
Lips: “I know that to you that amount of money may sound pathetic, but to me, and to most people, I’m set. Major, catastrophic disasters would have to happen for me to have to touch the money I’ve got. So, I don’t. Want. Your. Fucking. Money.” Avery: “If you're willing to do that for your enemy, then what you do for your friends must be really special.”
It's… a genuinely nice thing to say, and my eyes well up despite it. I’m struck again by how much I wish I had what she has. I wish I had people who love me and watch out for me. I wish I had real friends. I wish my life wasn’t empty.
Lips: “I wouldn't know, I've never really had any.” Lips: “Back to Harley, I’ll pay for a hotel for him for the entire summer break. He’s my responsibility.”
She raises her eyebrows at me with the shadow of a smile on her face.
Avery: “The bill for the hotel he stays at comes in at seventy thousand dollars if he stays for the entire break. Then I give him a credit card with a fifty-thousand-dollar limit, and he uses that to cover food and boy stuff. He usually uses about ten grand of it. Do you have a spare eighty grand lying around to fund his summer holiday?”
Lips: “Fucking rich people. Who spends seventy thousand dollars on a hotel?!”