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500 Words or Less

“Compelling.” —School Library Journal
“Moving.” —Publishers Weekly
“Poignant.” —Kirkus Reviews


A high school senior attempts to salvage her reputation among her Ivy League–obsessed classmates by writing their college admissions essays and in the process learns big truths about herself in this mesmerizing debut novel-in-verse, perfect for fans of Gayle Forman and Elizabeth Acevedo.

Nic Chen refuses to spend her senior year branded as the girl who cheated on her charismatic and lovable boyfriend. To redefine her reputation among her Ivy League–obsessed classmates, Nic begins writing their college admissions essays.

But the more essays Nic writes for other people, the less sure she becomes of herself, the kind of person she is, and whether her moral compass even points north anymore.

Provocative, brilliant, and achingly honest, 500 Words or Less explores the heartbreak and hope that marks the search for your truest self.

500 Words or Less This was senior year
Someone had written WHORE

in bright orange lipstick

on my locker.

It was waiting for me

after third period,

like an old friend

hanging

around after class.

For the past three weeks,

I have filed down these halls,

opened this locker,

stuffed textbooks

and slightly damp rain jackets inside.

I’ve regurgitated facts,

aced exams,

daydreamed about life

at an Ivy like Princeton,

and sometimes I’ve thought

about Ben.

It was life in a holding pattern,

circling around an airport

where you can’t yet land.

I glanced over to Jordan’s locker

and saw its pristine state.

No bright orange lipstick.

Was there even a male equivalent

to the word “whore”?

There were words,

but none that carried

the same weight.

Maybe I would have cried

if I were

a different girl.

But this was senior year,

and my life was more than

a series of letters

scrawled on a locker, vying

to break me.
Photograph copyright (c) 2018 by Flor Blake

Juleah del Rosario is Chamorro and Filipina, and lives in Colorado where she works as a librarian. She is the author of 500 Words or Less and Turtle under Ice. Her favorite animal is and always has been a turtle.

“This compelling novel in verse encourages deep thought and conversation. Fans of Perfect by Ellen Hopkins will devour this timely and addictive read.” School Library Journal

“Del Rosario’s poems are accessible, and Nic proves herself a keen observer of the world around her, an adept interrogator of her own self, and a philosopher who considers how and why life happens the way it does.” Publishers Weekly

“Thoughtfully introspective.” Booklist

“In poignant verse, the moments of anguish, loneliness, and hope ring true.” Kirkus Reviews

  • TAYSHAS Reading List (TX)
  • Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title
  • Colorado Book Award

More books from this author: Juleah del Rosario