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Cover Reveal: FORGIVE ME NOT by Jennifer Baker

The cover is HERE! Coming in August, 2023, Forgive Me Not by Jennifer Baker is a searing indictment of the juvenile justice system, in which one incarcerated teen weighs what she is willing to endure for forgiveness.

All it took was one night and one bad decision for fifteen-year-old Violetta Chen-Samuels’ life to go off the rails. After driving drunk and causing the accident that kills her little sister, Violetta is incarcerated. Under the juvenile justice system, her fate lies in the hands of those she’s wronged—her family. With their forgiveness, she could go home. But without it? Well . . .

Denied their forgiveness, Violetta is now left with two options, neither good—remain in juvenile detention for an uncertain sentence or participate in the Trials. The Trials are no easy feat, but if she succeeds, she could regain both her freedom and what she wants most of all: her family’s love. In her quest to prove her remorse, Violetta is forced to confront not only her family’s grief, but her own—and the question of whether their forgiveness is more important than forgiving herself.

Preorder your copy here and scroll down to read an excerpt!

Cover illustrator: Michael Mwangi
Jacket Designer: Kaitlin Yang

Right in front of me is a TV with my crying face on it. In the here and now, I’m pretty sure I’m all out of tears. I’m over my eyes itching and having a chapped nose after constantly wiping it with paper towels from the detention center bathroom. (Fingering a tissue, I’d almost forgotten how soft something can be.) I’m dried out, but the me on-screen isn’t. That Violetta’s covered in snot, salty tears, and guilt. I don’t turn away or move. I watch myself on the monitor because my family’s watching me too.

My counselor, Susan, grabs another tissue from the table on her side of the couch. She offers it to me and says under her breath, “If you need a break, I can turn this off for a moment.”

“I wish it were me!” screeches from the video. I force myself to keep my chin up. In the video, I make wishes out loud while more echo in my head: I wish I’d listened. I wish I’d stopped myself. I wish I hadn’t invited Pascal over that night. I wish . . . a lot.

I stop fiddling with the collar of the jumpsuit Corrections gave me. The sports bra underneath pinches, and the pants irritate my skin from the starch. They don’t fold much when I move. I’m hoping I look better now. But for a second, I wonder if I should look like the messy Violetta.

Three weeks earlier my mom and dad stared at me as the ER doctor revealed that their number of kids had gone from three to two. I was okay. Scratches, a sore chest, and a mild concussion were my only injuries from the impact of the steering wheel before the airbag inflated. But my little sister was dead. Because of me.

On the TV, Violetta rubs her sleeve across her eyes, swelling the skin around them even more. My own brown eyes bore into me. She’s sincere. Violetta on-screen clutches her hands together. She, me, asks to be forgiven for everything, not just the night of the accident, but the months before it. I regret my entire freshman year of high school, including the evening I woke up in the hospital. The Violetta in front of me apologizes for all of it.

In a way, this video is me fighting for my place in my family. Do I get to be forgiven and go home without a criminal record? Or do I serve time in confinement or . . . the other option?

Every night that I’ve been at the facility, I had practiced how to explain to my family what had happened. Two weeks ago, a guard sat me down and Counselor Susan explained that this was my last chance to make my case before sentencing. Just me in a room—really, a gray box—begging for forgiveness from the victims of my crime: my family. They would get to see my video, then “bestow judgment”—Counselor Susan’s words, not mine. After explaining, she set up a camera as little as a matchbook and said, “You may begin your plea.”

I was going to be calm in the video. It was time for a plan, not a meltdown. There wasn’t much else to do in detention, so why not mull over and over how to ask your family to forgive you for being a horrible daughter. A couple other detained girls gave me advice during meals: Don’t be too serious, one said. Be super serious, someone else said. Bring up stories to remind your family how much they love you. Show you learned your lesson, that you don’t need to be taught one. Be funny. Be remorseful. No matter what: Don’t lose it!

But as soon as the camera beeped and the blinking light turned solid to record my plea, I dissolved into the screaming girl on display right now.

I can’t take my eyes off the Violetta on-screen. How different she is from me now: She had hope.

“I’m sorry—sorry for everything. And I swear I’ll listen and make better decisions. I promise.” Through the TV, I finish my plea. “Please let me come home” is the last thing I say, through sniffles and more snot.

The screen darkens as the fluorescents come back to life. I blink to adjust to the light.

Penguin Teen