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Sara Bennett Wealer Goes Gleek (plus 2 RIVAL giveaways!)

Today, we have a guest post from the fabulous Sara Bennett Wealer, whose contemporary debut novel, RIVAL, is getting all kinds of attention -- particularly from a group of superfans affectionately known as "Gleeks".

pssst: there's a giveaway at the bottom of this post!

The Rachel Berry in Me
(or the Road to RIVAL!)
by Sara Bennett Wealer

When people read RIVAL, they invariably pair it up with “Glee.” Competitive singing, choir kids whom the cool kids regard as “freaks, complicated friendships between girls—I totally get the comparison. I remember watching the first episode, thinking it captured a lot of what being a choir kid was like for me in high school, which, of course, is what helped inspire RIVAL.

One character, in particular, brings back memories. Rachel Berryis the super-driven, super-talented diva who manages to getherself into rivalries with prettymuch anyone who crosses her path. There’s a little bit of Rachel in each of RIVAL’s main characters. And there’s a littleRachel in me. While the events in my book are purely fictional, every ensemble and performance contributed to the spark that would one day become RIVAL. So, since YA Highway often focuses on travel, I thought I’d take you on a trip down memory lane to visit some of those key Rachel Berry moments. Ready? Here we go.

Stop #1 – Alice in Wonderland

This is where it all started: the third grade musical. Up to this point, the only real singing I’d done was in my room, wailing along with the “Annie” soundtrack. When it came time to audition for “Alice,” I just knew I could nail it and I did, Rachel Berry-style. Oh my goodness did I love being a star in the pretty blue dress and white pinafore that my grandma made. I didn’t let it go to my head. Not at all!

Stop #2 – The Annual Dance Recital

In my small town, performance opportunities were scarce for younger kids—unless you studied at the local dance studio, which allowed you to strut your stuff at the annual recital. Compare this photo of me all dolled up for a jazz number (how about that show-stopping perm?) with a photo of Rachel Berry as a child. Wonder if my classmates were looking at me the same way…

Stop #3 – The Manhattan High School Chamber Choir

This is the elite chorus at MHS, and I got in as a sophomore, which was a Big Deal. So did two of my other friends, who, at varying times and for varying reasons, would become rivals of mine. This was my first taste of serious singing, and I wouldn’t have dared pull a Rachel, demanding solos and diva-ing out at every opportunity. We worked hard, we competed, and we did it as a team. The Honors Choir in RIVAL is modeled after our Chamber Choir, down to the wine-red dresses.

Stop #4 – The MHS Pops Choir

The Manhattan, Kansas, version of New Directions. Some of us were friends, some of us were rivals, and we spent a lot of time together, which could result in a real pressure cooker. Unlike Mr. Schuester, our director was smart and didn’t program many songs with solos, which meant no Rachel-esque sing-offs. Unfortunately, I don’t have video of any Pops performances—this was the old days, when people couldn’t just whip out their phones and record things. (None of us even had cell phones back then, which tells you just how long ago that was!)

Stop #5 – The Big School Musical

This is when the Rachel came out in all of us. Nobody who had any bit of talent wanted to be left humming along in the chorus—especially not if a friend/rival got a lead role. I always seemed to get cast as the bitch; this photo shows me as Dorothy Brock in “42nd Street.” The summer after graduation I played Grace Farrell in “Annie” (see how things come full circle from third grade?) and it felt odd to take a curtain call with people clapping because they actually liked my character!

Stop #5 – University of Kansas Choruses

I went to college with dreams of becoming an opera star. But just a couple of months in the KU School of Music told me maybe that wasn’t meant to be. I was a little fish in a big pond, singing next to people who had better voices and tons more desire to make careers as professional singers. My inner Rachel was losing faith. Did I really have what it takes to succeed?

Stop #6 – Rock Chalk Revue

KU is famous for its annual Rock Chalk Revue benefiting the United Way, wherein fraternities and sororities pair up, then compete to see whose 20-minute sketch (complete with fully orchestrated original music – this is hard core, people!) will be featured in the spring show. I was WAY into Rock Chalk, writing, directing and starring in two shows that made it to the stage. This video shows me during curtain call of my first one – I’m in the leotard at 4:52. (Disclaimer: All due respect to my fellow 1993 Revue-ers, but this sketch was NOT my favorite. However ,it’s all I could find!)My inner Rachel had begun to realize it was possible to perform just for fun. Not surprisingly, I didn’t have any rivals (that I knew of) in Rock Chalk.

The journey finally ends with me as a young journalist, singing in community choirs and loving it, but never forgetting how it felt to be in constant competition for something that seemed so glamorous and crucial to happiness. I took those memories and wove them into a novel about two girls who find, during one life-changing contest, that someone who seems like an enemy might just turn out to be a wonderful friend. I think Rachel Berry would approve, don’t you?

To celebrate RIVAL, we're giving away two copies!
Giveaway closes Tuesday, March 29th
Winners announced Wednesday, March 30th
  • Fill out the form below to enter.
  • US/Canada Only.
  • You must be a YA Highway follower.
  • Blog/Tweet for an extra entry! (add the #Glee tag if you tweet!)
  • Comment with one of your RIVALS for yet another entry!
Good luck :)

Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. Love the pics! I had a few "mini" rivals through the years. In elementary school, there was a girl I competed with in grades. I fell off with my studiosness in middle school, but she went on to become a doctor. Maybe I can claim our early rivalry inspired her???

  2. It's kind of difficult to pick out "rivals," because all of my current "competition" is from my own studio and we're supposed to get along. For the most part we do, and I always feel awful for the the mean little competitive thoughts I have sometimes.

    There was a rivalry my freshman year in high school though - there was a senior who really wasn't that into music, but she'd been there for 4 years so she felt she deserved the top spot and got really, really angry when I almost beat her to it (the only reason I didn't was cause our director weighted the scores so she wouldn't lose to me). She spent the whole year tormenting me, because she didn't want to practice hard enough to beat me fairly.

  3. This book sound so fun. Love Glee. I'm not that competitive so I've never really considered anyone a rival, but I do like to sing and in freshman choir I thought I had the best voice and I enjoyed that status.

  4. middle school I had a mini-rivalry with this girl named Kristen, who looked just like me.

  5. I can't wait to read this book.

    For my "rival" my BFF in elementry school was a bonafied child star. She was in a TV pilot that was never actually aired on TV, lots of commercials, and a gazzillion plays. I was so jealous, but saddly tone deaf. So when I tried to get up on stage and belt my heart out people just covered their ears and ran away screaming.

  6. My rival was a girl I had known forever and reconnected with when we started going to the same school. At first, we were friends but then she lost a lot of weight and her personality changed. I also found out she was friends with me b/c she was interested in my brother. Also, a guy I liked was more interested in her.

  7. What a fun post! I guess my rivals are just competition in the music world. But I'd rather not think of them as rivals because it gets me too fired up.

  8. I don't believe I've ever had a serious rival before. But my friend and I always make up friendly competitions to try to best each other. So I guess I would say she is my rival.

  9. Nice touch with the photos on the post. Can't wait to read the book.

  10. Thank you so much for having me, Kirsten - I love reading everybody's rivalry stories!


  12. as a recovering rachel berry myself, i can't wait to read this book. i never had any choral rivals, but i had a serious rivalry all thru middle and high school with another trombone nerd.

  13. I never really had a "rival". I did have a friend who would try to steal boyfriends though. I wouldn't retaliate though.

  14. My rival would be a guy in class whom I compete with grade-wise. It's funny because we're friends, too. So I wouldn't call him a reallll rival...

  15. Growing up, my biggest rival was actually my little sister. We were so much alike (we had the same interests, same friends, and even looked like twins).
    (By the way, I am a total GLEEK!!)
    lexie.bookbug at gmail dot com

  16. My main rival in life is this other girl in my local community theatre who always gets the roles I wants. We look really similar (same weight, height, hair colour, voice range) but she always gets the leads. Ugh.

  17. I've never really had any rivals. I do have a job where our stats are important. So I guess there is a competition in that.

  18. Awesome giveaway! GLee FTW!!!!!
    I don't really have any rivals, being tone-deaf and in a school without so much competition.
    Does this still count?

  19. Ooh, a book with music in it! I love to sing. My best rival in music is my middle sister--I have a half-practiced little wannabe Celtic Woman voice, and she can belt like an American Idol winner. :)

  20. I've been wanting to read this book for the longest. :) Okay, I know I'm going to sound uber lame, but my biggest rival has always been me. *cue the violins* But seriously, it took me a while to get confident about a lot of things--and it's still a struggle for me to accept a compliment.

  21. I've had a LOT of rivals, I suppose. When I started high school, I got on the varsity cheer team and the captain of the cheer team was my rival. I didn't like, she didn't like me. I wanted to be the better cheerleader, but funny thing? During our cheer competition, I got a concussion and vomited in her shoes. Yeah, that was hilarious. ;D

  22. Great post! Thank you for the giveaway!

    My rival in high school was a fellow drama nerd. We were good friends as freshman and sophomores, but once we were juniors and seniors we began competing for lead roles (and sometimes the leading guys!)

    Can't wait to read this book!

    Erin @ Quitting My Day Job

  23. My rival is one of those girls who just thinks she is better than everyone else

  24. My rival in elementary school was my best friend--we competed over who could read the most books and get the most stickers on the reading chart in 3rd grade. We were sooooo cool. We'd have all-weekend sleepovers and do nothing but read on her canopy bed the whole weekend. Ahh, those were the days.

  25. I'm not the one wanting the rivalry but there is a teacher that I work with that has to one up everyone and make sure we all know that the students always say they like him best. Pretty annoying!

  26. I don't ahve any serious rivals but in high school I used to compete with my friend to see who would do better on French vocab quizzes. It was all in fun to see who would do better.

  27. I had a rival in elementary school. Her name was Mary and she always sat with Ethan the boy I liked. I used to plan nasty things to do to her to get her to leave him alone ;)

  28. One rival I had was in elementary school. There was this one girl who would always compare marks with me. Even for one project she took the topic I wanted. (Which ticked me off a great deal) So I ended up choosing a different topic. The weird thing is... my mom is still friends with her mom!

  29. One of the rivals I've had recently was in one of my philosophy classes. I didn't like the way she answered questions and viewed life. I was always trying to do better than her.


    Val at Truthbetold004 at


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Item Reviewed: Sara Bennett Wealer Goes Gleek (plus 2 RIVAL giveaways!) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard