When Mimi Went Missing: Excerpt and Cover Reveal!

Suja Sukumar

The following is an exclusive excerpt from When Mimi Went Missing, the debut novel by Suja Sukumar, forthcoming from Soho Teen in November of this year. In the following passage, a young girl faces bullying from her peers, cruelly taunting her about her mother's violent history. She finds protection from her beloved cousin Mimi—at least, until Mimi is stolen away to become part of their school's popular clique...

I am eight years old.

The bullies are waiting for me outside the girls’ bathroom.

I race down the school hall as fast as my young legs can carry me, but the bullies are faster. They pounce, pushing me down, and I hit the floor hard, the air slamming out of my lungs.

You’re a killer. A boy yells. Like your mom.

Killer, killer.

I tell myself not to look at them. That gloating stretch of their mouths.

The shadows lengthening over me.

The front door bursts open, and Mimi appears, her eyes spitting black fire. My cousin, only a year older, but her rage fills the hall.

The bullies scatter like frantic ants, but this time, she is faster. A well-aimed punch and the leader flees, his nose bloodied. She helps me up and hugs me tightly. If anyone ever tries to hurt you again, let me know and I’ll destroy them.

She promises me.

Don’t worry, Tanvi. I’ll always watch out for you.

She promises me that, too.

Back then, I didn’t know promises were just words. As lightweight as ash scattered by the wind.

Brittle like shattered glass.

Excerpt continues below cover reveal.

Even after summer break, Orin High still smells of damp clothes left too long in the washer. The sweat from so many fourteen to eighteen year olds must be baked into the hundred year old brick building and its many moldy crevices and dusty corners. But mixing with that musty cloth smell is the scent of softeners, of sloppy joes and baked cinnamon bread, of conversations and laughter, of rushing footsteps and slamming locker doors.

So it’s not all bad. At least that’s what I tell myself. And as I take in the quiet of the last week of summer vacation, I can almost believe it. Stillness pervades every hallway, every bathroom, every classroom and even the desks and chairs quiet, holding their breaths.

It’s the last day to register for junior year and I managed to make it. Barely. The office secretary wasn’t too happy, judging from her frequent glances at the clock, whose minute hand hovered at three minutes to three. But I came in right before the office closed for a reason. All the registrants were done and gone.

I take a deep breath and start toward the exit to the parking lot.

It wasn’t always like this. I never dread the start of school year. True, elementary school was hell—kids could be particularly brutal to newly minted orphans adopted and brought to Orin by their aunts. But the bullying subsided in middle school after I ceased to remain interesting, when I displayed none of the characteristics of what they thought a killer’s daughter should have, when I faded into the grimy school walls and became invisible. By the time high school came around, my latent nerdiness had kicked in and I fell in love with organic chemistry and calculus, much to my cousin and fellow nerd Mimi’s joy, and my best friend Krista’s annoyance.

But things changed last fall, the start of my sophomore year, when the invisibility cloak fell off and I was recognized again. And the shadows returned, solidifying into a new threat, a new bully.

I shake off that familiar prickling of dread and push open the front doors to walk onto the school’s sprawling portico, where the soft glow of the midafternoon August sun turns the tiles a sparkling white. The oaks and maples scattered around the schoolyard have taken on shades of orange and red and form a startling contrast against a backdrop of green lawn and smooth blue cloudless expanse of sky.

Fall is on its way to southeastern Michigan. It’s my cousin Mimi’s favorite season and therefore mine, too. My fingers tingle, anticipating the feel of the smooth, velvety leaves turned crinkly and multicolored by a lack of chlorophyll. I imagine the satisfying bounce of throwing myself into a pile of dead foliage, scattering it, creating chaos. Of laughing with Mimi for hours over cider and Bollywood gossip.

But this fall will be different. Because she, my once best friend, my rock, the reason I could outrun the shadows from my past, has betrayed me to those shadows instead.

I spot her leaning against an oak, her pink halter top and faded denim shorts visible all the way across the parking lot. Looking at us, no one would think we’re related. Her skin is several shades lighter than my dark brown, and her features, her aquiline nose and wide forehead, take after her white dad. Her thick black hair and dark eyes though are as Indian as mine.

Those eyes fall on me and she straightens. I start to lift my hand, hoping to wave, hoping she’ll wave back. Hoping the widening distance between us in the last several months suddenly vanishes, like her coldness was nothing but my imagination.

But then her gaze shifts to something behind me.

My spine stiffens with the instinctive reaction of a hunted animal. I made a mistake; the school wasn’t as empty as I thought. And I know who it is before I turn and meet baby blue eyes narrowing with derision, the minuscule curl of lips painted a deep scarlet.

Beth Grant. She’s a senior and Mimi’s classmate and the unquestioned leader of Orin High’s popular clique. I chose the last possible minute before registration closed so I could avoid her, and yet she still managed to find me.

She allows the large front doors to swing shut behind her and strolls across the portico. Each click of her heels tightens the vise around my chest, my heart thudding with the same question I’ve asked myself a gazillion times. Why the hell did she target me? She displaced me as Mimi’s best friend last year and decided to scorch the earth behind me, judging from the way Mimi froze me out. She’s not just a frontrunner in the race for Mimi’s affections, she’s won the damn thing, and should fear no competition from me.

I edge toward the banister, creating a wide berth for her to pass, and lower my eyes, shame burning fire across my cheekbones, hating my fear. My breath hitches, counting the seconds as she lingers beside me. Then she swishes past, leaving the air scented with vanilla but not enough to muffle the tinge of something sharp and metallic.

I look up. Sunlight glints gold on her hair, turning blonde strands into a fiery tiara. Turning her into a queen. She has everything: a castle for a home, reigning power at school—and my cousin’s undivided devotion, judging from the way Mimi hurries toward her.

I bet it’ll be fun to be Beth Grant, Mimi told me months before she slid into Beth’s circle. To be taken care of and waited on hand and foot. To have all the money in the world and never have to worry about stuff like college and a job and shit.

I’ll take care of you, I tried telling Mimi, but she already had that look in her eye. That determined look she gets before a track competition she desperately wants to win.

Beth’s footsteps change from the clicking of heels on concrete to the muffled scrape on grass. Then they fade into the parking lot and the roar of an engine.

I stare after her blue Porsche with a bitter rage that’s as intense as it’s helpless. I know bullies and I know what it feels like to be bullied. After all, I was exposed to my first dose at the age of eight. They punched me, knocked me down, called me a freak and a psycho.

But what Beth did destroyed me. When she lit my mom’s candles—the candles that destroyed my life—and made me eight again, watching my mom turn into a monster.

Dark wisps of smoke creep into the corners of my vision, veiling the sunlight, filling my nose with an acrid scent. And above it rises the sound of Beth laughing as she recorded my meltdown on her phone, while Mimi stood by, watching me throw up all over the pristine white carpet in Beth’s house.

Killer, killer.

I shake off the memory, but the fact lingers, making my head spin: Beth has that video. It’s all she needs to remind everyone of who I am, who my mother was—the killer who took her husband’s life. Then it’ll be back to square one. It’ll be like when I was in elementary school.

But Mimi won’t be there to fight for me this time.

She betrayed my secrets to Beth. She stole my mom’s candles and showed them to her new best friend.

Why did you do that? I screamed at her after waking up in a pool of my own vomit. You knew what I went through. You promised you’d protect me! But she didn’t care. Like she didn’t care when she got into Beth’s car just now and drove away without another glance at me.

The grass blurs under my feet, changes to tar, and then I’m on my bike, my face wet with tears.

I try to tell myself I’m paranoid, but the words fall flat. What else did Mimi tell Beth about me, about my past, that made Beth decide to come after me? And what if she doesn’t stop?

Why would Beth record me if she wasn’t going to show someone—everyone?

I can’t leave Orin and run away. Where can I go? My house in Detroit, once filled with Mom and Dad’s laughter, is now an empty shell, occupied by strangers. The only family I have left is my aunt and cousin.


She has stayed by my side for eight years, cried with me when the nightmares came, held my hand through every therapy session, “You’re my daughter, honey, just like Mimi. We’re your family, and we’ll always be there for you.”

I can’t leave her. I can’t lose her.

I blink hard, then wipe my face on my sleeve. For Mimi, always is over. If Beth wants to ruin my life, Mimi won’t do anything to stop her.


Excerpt from When Mimi Went Missing © 2024 Suja Sukumar, published by Soho Teen. Cover art by Colin Verdi and cover design by Janine Agro.

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