Risk is a jaw-dropping, powerful story of transformation. I raced through it on the first read, stunned by Rachel Hylton’s imagination. The second time I read it slowly, savoring the plot twists and the brilliant language. You’re going to love this one!”
—Laurie Halse Anderson, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author

We, the sophomore girls of Carol Moseley Braun High School, would like to set the record straight. 

We were there for Marnie Vega long before she became a lobster. 

You think that we are interchangeable, that we are two-faced and faceless, that we don’t say what we mean and you can’t understand us anyway. You can’t distinguish what makes a girl in from what makes a girl out. But Marnie was in, okay? She was one of us. We were there for her in seventh grade when her dad kept getting deployed, like, over and over. We would crowd onto her twin bed and play songs from before Taylor Swift got bangs and flip through the book her dad sent her of pictures of Korean shrines, brightly colored against red leaves. “It looks so calm,” Marnie would say to us. “Don’t you think it looks so calm? Don’t you think it’s probably so calm there?” 

And we were there in eighth grade when she got her first period during first period. One of us ran to her locker for gym shorts. One of us handed her tampons under the stall door. One of us sat cross-legged on the counter and coached her—at least until she refused to try, removed the applicator, and pushed it in like an o.b. 

We were at Lara’s birthday party, too, on the night Marnie wasn’t in the group photo. During Ghost in the Graveyard she hid on that side of Lara’s house, the one with all the serial killer bushes, so of course we didn’t search there. Did we realize when we lined up for the photo that we hadn’t found her? Did she realize we hadn’t searched? Does it matter? She probably just hid there for attention. 

If we noticed her slip in, eyes downturned, just in time for cake, we didn’t comment. We forgave her. We reabsorbed her. 

And she didn’t turn into a lobster, no matter what Evan Brockwell says. There was no changing. At the exact moment in Math II when he turned around and said, “Hey Marn, wanna graph my natural log?” Marnie just was a lobster. She held up a huge claw—beetle-black with an iridescent wetness of purple and teal to it, like fresh nail polish. She said, in that dreamy Marnie way, “You want me to what?” and she shut it with a snap.

Nobody was scared—well, Evan went green, but nobody else. The lobster was just so obviously Marnie. After class, we gathered around her in the hall. Her eyes were all pupil; her mouth had no lips, just little arms that clenched and unclenched over a hole. After that first thing she said to Evan, all her words came out in a rattle, not like human speech at all. Marnie, she said. Marnie. Her own name, over and over. She held up her claws and opened and closed them. 

We told her no one would notice. We tried not to look at the stems that held her eyes onto her head.

“Marnie, Marnie Vega.” We parted for Slidell Williams. Sly was basketball All-Conference and baseball All-State and the editor of the paper, all in one. He had a tight Afro and grey eyes, and he was a junior. And Marnie, like the rest of us, had wanted him. And Marnie, like the rest of us, had walked the halls with hair dipping into her face, mouthing Hey, Sly to the floor because she was afraid to say it out loud.

And now, in her worst hour, Sly was saying Marnie, Marnie Vega like he’d always known her name.

One of us stepped forward to head him off. “Marnie’s having a hard time, Sly,” she said, tilting her head, her hand on her hip. “You shouldn’t put this in the paper. I mean, if you want to talk to one of us about it, that’s fine, but Marnie—”

“You’re a lobster,” said Sly, looking past her at Marnie. 

Marnie put up her claws.

It took us a minute to realize she was shrugging. It happens, she said.

“Can—can I have a quote for the Spectator? How do you feel about it?”

About the Spectator?

“About the . . . lobsterness.”

I am luxurious, said Marnie. I am unsettling. 

“Do you mean you feel unsettled?”

Marnie spread her claws again, chattering her legs against the tiled hallway. No.

That’s when we realized the awful truth. Marnie Vega liked being a lobster. 

She admired herself. She spidered sideways, holding each leg up daintily for her own inspection. She examined the white-tipped nubs on the inside edges of her claws, coronated like the top of a conch shell. She twisted her eyestalks and looked down her own hard-plated back.

And okay, we did think she was kind of beautiful, with her shell sometimes blue-green, sometimes black, mottling into purple and tan at the edges. 

What? No, we didn’t.

Like, a little lovely. The interlocking armor of her tail. Its delicate, feather-tipped fan.

But that wasn’t the point. Here we were, the same as always, with our eyebrows too skinny or our ankles too thick or our hair that we had to straighten or steam or curl or relax or highlight or dye or braid or bleach—and Marnie was a lobster. And she didn’t even care

The Spectator published a feature and an editorial. The feature was meant to educate us so we’d know how to relate to her. Her shell was called a carapace. Her mouth-arms were maxillipeds. A group of lobsters was called a risk. It’s rude to ask a lobster why she’s not red, because crustaceans only turn red when you boil them. 

Slidell called the editorial “The Bravery of the Homarine,” and he went on for three hundred words about high school and experimenting and diversity and being yourself. But come on, what was brave about being a giant lobster? It wasn’t like Marnie chose it. And it wasn’t like she could unlobster. She was kind of stuck with it. 

But no, according to Sly, Marnie was different—she wasn’t fake, she was authentic

Her parents, at least, understood the absurdity. One of us was working as an office aide when they came to see Mr. Jeffress. One of us was waiting to be picked up for the dentist. We heard them through the principal’s door. 

“Someone should have stopped this,” her father complained. “This is ridiculous. People should have been informed about this district, about the possibility of turning into a—a—una pinche langosta.” 

Her mother murmured, “Tom, cuida tu lenguaje.” 

“Something is wrong with her. She has whiskers. She has a shell.” 

“Exoskeleton, Tom.” 

Mr. Jeffress had clearly been prepped by the guidance counselor. The school, he said, can’t be held liable for astakosyntosis in individual students. And honestly, shouldn’t the Vegas be relieved? At least she’s not drinking. At least she’s not pregnant. There are worse things to be, after all, than a lobster. She isn’t shooting heroin. She isn’t spreading STDs.

“Isn’t she, though?” one of us said, hearing the story. It was clever; it got repeated. Did you hear about Marnie Vega? She has the worst case of crabs.

We were tired, all right? We were over it. Marnie was a Brave Homarine who didn’t care. She went on scuttling through the school, spraying down her body with salt water during homeroom, hanging out in the bio lab during lunch, writing weird poems that Ms. Ingram called “transcendent.” 


devour myself, I 

armor my own


I bite

So at first it was just YouTube videos. How to prepare a live lobster. The thick knife slicing cleanly through the carapace between those stalky eyes and halving it clear to the maxillipeds. GRAPHIC! 5 Ways to Cook Live Lobsters!!! A risk of them tossed into a giant pot. 

Just at sleepovers—it wasn’t like we were watching them at school. Marnie never came to sleepovers anymore.

Did we ask her?

Well, she couldn’t—she slept—

But we didn’t know that yet. We didn’t know anything about her. 

I mean, we didn’t even know if there was any girl left in her brain. Remember? We all started carrying lobster crackers just, like, out of caution, to protect ourselves

So then there was Jaclyn’s party. We were all running up and down the synthetic wood deck between the pool and the in-ground hot tub, with Jaclyn’s parents somewhere pretending we were wholesome, and Evan tossing a freshman girl into the pool, and seniors intertwined in every corner of the hot tub, and somebody’s mobile speaker playing “Mala Gente,” and Jaclyn dancing salsa by herself with her vodka lemonade, eyes closed, only the occasional look at the guys to see if anyone was buying. And the reach and shush of the waves below on the beach, and the basketball guys playing flip cup on the edge of the wet bar, and the freshman girl crying because her phone was soaked and she couldn’t post anything to her story, and past the pool loungers, Marnie, like Grendel’s mother in that poem, watching from the shadows. 

Of course we were curious. Everyone was curious. Everyone at that party was looking at Marnie, wondering why she was there and whether that would happen—even just a little bit—if she got in the hot tub. Maybe Marnie wondered, too. Maybe she’d been trying to figure out what was her and what was it.

So all we did was ask her to join in—we, her friends. So she wouldn’t be, like, lurking. “C’mon, Marn, don’t you want to get in?” 

We came around behind her (there were no serial killer bushes at Jaclyn’s, only bougainvillea). She turned.

“Lobsters are marine animals, right?” 

“You mean homarine.” The basketball guys were laughing.

Her legs made funny noises on the plastic wood as she backed up. She said nothing—no giggling, no appealing to the guys to save her like any of us would have done. But she couldn’t have been worried—not about us. Not when she was a giant lobster.

Marnie edged back, and back, and back. People were laughing and clearing out of the hot tub because oh my god lobster bisque, and then Marnie’s tail touched the surface of the water and curled up fast—so fast that she fell backward, legs scrabbling—splash

Her body thrashing. Her tail pumping, throwing her armor-first into the tub’s wall. Again. Again. Again. Too small. Too steep. Again. Again.

“What the hell?” Sly raced out of the open game room door and plunged into the water. He latched his arms around Marnie, slinging her into the air. Marnie landed on the deck and whirled toward us. Her claws were wide and high and open, her eyes taut and bulging, her mouth-arms outspread in a high, raw, throbbing scream. 

We didn’t move. 

Marnie wheeled and lashed at Evan and wheeled and lashed at someone else, and all the time that scream, like skin burning, like steam.

Marnie, stop.” Sly threw himself into the space between her claws, right at her eyes, and wrapped her around his shoulders with her claws flat against his chest. He ran out of the house lights, over the white-pebbled path and across the sod lawn, straight through the canna lilies toward the beach. 

We streamed after him. Sly took a flying leap down the dune stairs and thudded onto the sand, his legs churning, his hands clamped tight to his chest. And Marnie on his back like a barbed cape, like a dragon taking out a horse, riding him all the way down. 

Sly hit the waves, and his knees buckled, and he dove down, down into the surf under the flat, shimmering track of the moon. We saw his head break black through the silver twenty yards from us. Saw an armored splash and then churning. 

Sly’s voice, carrying over the water, “Are you okay? Are you okay?”

Another splash, the curve of her. 

“Let me take you home.” 

If she replied, we couldn’t hear it, just the wash of Sly treading water and the pulse of the surf.

Finally he stumbled onto the sand, blood and ocean streaming off him—his chest, his neck, his legs. “You almost fucking killed her.”

“Lighten up, Sly,” someone said. “It wasn’t hot enough to hurt her.”

Sly swept his hand across his chest, flinging drops into the sand. “Lobsters drown in fresh water, assholes.”

No one got back into the hot tub after that. 

People clustered on the pool deck.

“She’s, like, not human anymore.”

“I thought she was going to kill everyone.”

We stood with everyone else, but we were watching the water. Sly drove his Denali down onto the beach and sat for an hour on the tailgate, waiting, but Marnie never came out. We didn’t know if she’d swum out to sea or just up the beach. We imagined her crawling out to the road, scuttling along the asphalt, her shadow doubled in the streetlights. Creeping into her own house. Waking her dad with her noise on the stairs. She was still alive, right? She hadn’t been in the hot tub long enough to drown.

On Monday, her mother called the office to say Marnie was sick. Well, anyone in their right mind would be. That scream, the kids watching, Sly bleeding just from holding her.

But then she was sick on Tuesday, too, and someone posted a video of her thrashing in the hot tub and set it to “Rock Lobster” by the B-52s, and someone else turned it into a sex meme, and someone’s parents called to complain that she was a threat to student safety, and someone else’s parents stormed in to demand that the school shut down all this animal porn. 

And all day, Evan kept creeping up behind us, playing audio of the scream, and every time we heard it, the colors of it changed like a bruise: she was angry, she was scared, she was hurt. 

But she hadn’t made us stop pushing her. Her claws had been down, her mouth had been closed. She’d just kept going backward and backward and backward.

When she wasn’t at school on Wednesday, we went to her house. 

“We moved her to the basement,” her father told us. “Careful—the stairs are wet.” We filed past photos of Marnie—Marnie in kindergarten, pink-painted fingernails against her cheeks; Marnie gap-toothed and swim-capped, holding up her wiry bicep to kiss it. Marnie in the cream-and-coral bloom of her quinceañera dress, eyes lowered toward her clasped hands. 

Her door gaped into darkness. We stepped down onto the polished concrete floor.

The twin bed was gone, replaced by a giant tank with a ramp at one end. 

Marnie lay curled on her side with her back to us, her claws limp over her head. 

We gathered around the tank. The dim blue glow of the water reflected on our faces.

“We came to say sorry about the hot tub.”

Marnie didn’t answer, didn’t even move. There was only sand around and underneath her, nothing else. What did we expect? Green and purple pebbles, plastic trees, a castle?

“We didn’t know it would be that dangerous. Sly told us afterward about the fresh water.”

The tank, humming. The water filter, bubbling in the corner of it. 

“Don’t you kind of think that, you know, lobsters shouldn’t be in school? Like, maybe you would be way happier somewhere else. The ocean. Sea World. Something like that.”

The room, breathing. 

“Marnie?” we said. 

I’m not sorry.

She wasn’t sorry what? She wasn’t sorry we’d forced her into the hot tub? She wasn’t sorry for going to school?

I’m not sorry.

The words were like one of those ocean currents, the ones you can’t tell if they’re warm or cold.

Her lower legs rippled. The shell of her back—her carapace—pulled slowly away from her body, like the hood of a car. Underneath we saw the same shape, but different, somehow—soft, like the skin of a dolphin, and darkly freckled under a cloud of membrane. 

She lay still. The tank murmured. The room smelled like iodine and fish and oranges. On Marnie’s desk, a candle glowed.

Marnie’s legs twitched again, and her tail shivered. We could see her side rising, falling. The carapace was still, but her soft new back crept out and out. Tugging itself away from the armor.

She was leaving behind her claws. She was leaving behind her head.

Then, white tissue, something throbbing underneath. Eyes—her eyes, scrabbling on their stems, groping, breaking free. The tissue, floating away in diaphanous wisps. Marnie nodded sharply, dragged her head out of the carapace. Her new antennae, inch by tawny inch. Her maxillipeds, striped and shiny where they pushed through the papery film. 

We pressed up against the glass.

Marnie curled and then yanked, a frantic thrust-thrust-thrust. She paused, her sides swelling and shrinking, swelling and shrinking. We could see her arms trapped under the carapace. 

Would they band her claws when she came back to school—dangerous, aggressive, obscene? 

“Come on, Marnie,” one of us whispered.

The old top half of her body lay motionless, like some strange, dead refraction. She yanked again, then faltered. 

Come on, Marnie. We were all saying it. Go, come on, go. 

Marnie gathered herself, coiling her body from tail to eyes. She unfurled. Membrane ballooned out like smoke and dissolved, and then—faster, faster, coiling and unfurling, out, out, free. Blue elbows, speckled claws, triumphant tips of antennae. Marnie shot backward in a zooming loop. Then she danced, showing us, waving to us with every barbed leg, every claw, every graceful inch of her feelers.

Look, she said, look.

We waved back with fragile fingers, light and dark. We pumped our short arms, our clenched fists.

She’d grown by at least a foot, her claws wider and longer. She was remade. She was newborn. She was soft and hard and strong.

Marnie surveyed her old shell, her locust protein husk, her exoskeleton, Tom. She circled it. Her mouth-arms fastened on to it. 

And oh.


We heard the crunch.




No one turns into a lobster, no matter what Evan Brockwell says.

You simply are.

We were.

We were


by one


Sliding into the water, the cool of it on our plated backs, our fanning tails. Piling into a tangled hug. Saying our names, Sarah, Maeve, Aisha, Alicia. Tasting brine and cold and Marnie. 

We were there for Marnie Vega long before she became a lobster.

We are her risk.

We are our risk.



I am hesitant to say more about either Marnie or her crustaceanaeity. Lobster is as lobster does. If you’re a lobster, you know it. 

But the story of a girl is never just one story about one girl. A girl is an aspen tree—however solitary she appears, she is always linked (through intimacy or jealousy, careless exclusion or intentional expulsion) to her colony.

Outsiders don’t understand this. I, typing this, do not understand it. We tend to depict groups of girls from the outside—as opaque and sexy and shallow and ruthless and all the other things we’ve decided they are. 

Marnie Vega liked being a lobster. As soon as I knew that, I thought of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides, how the neighborhood boys narrate the lives of the Lisbon sisters. We are always watching girls. I wanted “Risk” to feature girls who were not gazed-upon but gazing. Is this possible? I don’t know. But I wanted the feeling of being in the wonderful, fearful, intimate center of a girl group, looking out at the one who isn’t afraid. We will always need that person more than she needs us, and isn’t that frightening?

Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Alan Cumyn’s Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend both gave me further insight into Marnie. Would her metamorphosis set her apart or bring her into community? The answer, I am pleased to report, is yes. 

So this story goes out to the lobsters, the ones who take the risk.

{ Edited by Sharyn November. }
This new voice is sponsored by David Levithan.