The Birthday Girl

The Birthday Girl

by Melissa de la Cruz


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In the thrilling, suspenseful new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz, all of Ellie de Florent-Stinson’s secrets come to light in one eventful evening full of twists, turns, and surprises.  
Before she became a glamorous fashion designer, Ellie de Florent-Stinson was a trailer-park teen about to turn sixteen. But a night of birthday celebration doesn’t go exactly as planned and descends into a night she’ll never be able to forget.
Now, on the cusp of her fortieth birthday, it appears Ellie has everything she ever wanted: a handsome husband; an accomplished, college-age stepdaughter; a beautiful ten-year-old girl; adorable and rambunctious six-year-old twin boys; lush, well-appointed homes in Los Angeles, Park City, and Palm Springs; a thriving career; and a dazzling circle of friends.
Except everything is not quite as perfect as it looks on the outside—Ellie is keeping many secrets. And hiding those skeletons has a cost, and it all comes to a head the night of her fabulous birthday party in the desert—where everyone who matters in her life shows up, invited or not. Old and new friends and frenemies, stepdaughters and business partners, ex-wives and ex-husbands congregate, and the glittering facade of Ellie’s life begins to crumble. 
Beautifully paced and full of surprises, The Birthday Girl is an enthralling tale of a life lived in shadow and its unavoidable consequences.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524743772
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/06/2019
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 55,655
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Melissa de la Cruz is the #1 New York TimesUSA Today, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and Publishers Weekly internationally bestselling author of many critically acclaimed novels, including Disney’s Descendants novels, the Blue Bloods series, and the Alex & Eliza trilogy. Witches of East End became an hour-long television drama on the Lifetime network. Her books have sold more than eight million copies worldwide. She lives in Los Angeles with her family and, for many years, owned Lear House in Palm Springs, where she threw many fun events, but never a birthday party.

Read an Excerpt

Bad Girls

October 19

24 years ago

5:00 PM

Leo and Mish. Mish and Leo. They’ve been best friends since Leo came over to Mish’s house and didn’t say anything about how disgusting it was—dozens of unopened bills, yellowing leaflets and magazines piled on the coffee table, along with crusty coffee cups and empty beer cans brimming with cigarette butts, a ziggurat of catalogs and newspapers haphazardly piled against the walls, graveyards of dead potted plants, Mish’s mom sitting on the couch, rolling a cigarette, not giving a shit about any of it. Leo didn’t say a word, and Mish pretended not to care, even if they both knew Leo’s mom would never let something like that stand. Even though they lived right next door in a similarly dilapidated trailer home, Leo’s mom had dreams. Aspirations. She worked as a hostess at the nicer restaurant in the airport Ramada, and in the neighborhood, she was known as the uppity one, the one who acted like she didn’t live there, the one who always left the house in an ironed blouse and her good pumps.

Portland was a pretty sleepy town, and not particularly snobby, but even so, there were people who had living rooms and people who didn’t. No one who lived in Woods Forest Park, which was what the mobile home park was called, was at the living-room level. Leo often wondered what kind of moron came up with a name like Woods Forest anyway. Weren’t they the same thing? The place had a dirty swimming pool, a coin-operated laundry where half the machines never worked, a basketball court where the local drug dealers did business, and a view of the polluted Columbia River. Leo’s mom’s life goal was to get them out of there as soon as possible. Their house was immaculate, even if it didn’t have a living room. Meanwhile, Mish’s mom had multiple tattoos and a rough voice and didn’t own a vacuum.

Leo’s mom had grown up on the bottom rung of the middle class, but her parents had died young, and there hadn’t been enough money for college, plus she’d gotten pregnant in high school, and Leo’s dad was in jail.

The rumor was that Leo’s dad had killed someone with his fist. He’d gotten into an argument with a guy at the bus stop and clocked him good. One punch. Guy went down, hit the sidewalk at an unfortunate angle, and died immediately. It was an accident. Leo’s dad hadn’t meant to kill the guy, just, you know, punch him. Manslaughter. Leo’s dad went away when Leo was a baby; Leo hardly knew him. Her mom had stopped visiting him a long time ago. Her parents might even be divorced, but it wasn’t clear. Her mom didn’t like to talk about him, and Leo learned not to ask too many questions.

It didn’t matter. Mish’s dad had gone to jail too, for dealing drugs, but he was out now. That was another thing they had in common—that their dads were felons.

Leo, everyone called her Leo, short for Eleanor, another of her mother’s pretentions, people said. She was named Eleanor, for Eleanor of Aquitaine and Eleanor Roosevelt, and her mother had wanted people to call her Ella or Eleanor, but her dad called her Leo and it stuck. Leo was sixteen now; it was eight years since she’d gone over to Mish’s house and looked at that disgusting mess of a home and, instead of being grossed out, decided she liked Mish, that they would be friends. Because Mish was cool.

Mish looked the same at sixteen as she did at eight, like a tiny, elfin waif, slightly feral and underweight; she never wore bras underneath her thin tank tops, and her nails were always colored in glitter, like shiny claws. She had her mother’s narrow eyes and full lips, but no tattoos—yet.

In contrast, Leo always felt too big around Mish, like there was too much of her, like her hips were too wide and her hair was too coarse and too thick, even if it was the same exact shade as Mish’s, the same platinum hue from the same cheap bottle. Leo felt like she took up way too much space, whereas Mish was a pixie; she looked like she existed on air and fumes.

School had started a few weeks ago, and they were still enrolled, unlike a few of the other kids who lived nearby. They were only sophomores by then, but already so bored. Leo’s mom wanted Leo to go to college, but Leo’s grades were terrible, so scholarships were out of the question. It was the reason they fought so much lately, with her mom asking her what she would do with her life, what did she think would happen. Leo didn’t know. She thought she might model—don’t laugh—but she’d been approached at the mall. Discovered. The lady had given her a card with a number. Lose twenty pounds and call me, she’d said.

Leo knew all about the “dangers of modeling,” had watched the news shows and read all the warning articles in Seventeen and Cosmo. But this woman was middle-aged, frumpy like a schoolteacher, and firm. She seemed legit. Leo didn’t tell Mish about it. Mish was getting an Icee from the lemonade and hot dog stand, the one where the girls (and it was always girls) wore tight red-white-and-blue striped uniforms with matching hats.

Leo kept the lady’s card in her back pocket, like a talisman, like a lucky penny, like her ticket out. The lady said she was beautiful, but too big, confirming everything Leo worried about privately. Lose the weight and call me. Leo told her mom to stop making so many mashed potatoes that same night.

School was a dead end. But maybe her looks would get her somewhere. If she could lose the weight. She wasn’t at all fat, and was thinner than most girls already. But apparently not thin enough. It was depressing.

The girls were painting their nails together on Mish’s couch. The couch smelled rank (the whole house smelled like unwashed laundry) but Leo didn’t mind; it meant they could spill their Diet Cokes on the couch and no one would yell at them, or if she happened to shake the nail polish brush and a few little hot-pink flecks splattered on the plaid fabric, no one would notice.
Mish was painting her nails black, to match her lipstick. Mish was going through her goth phase. She looked like a dark fairy, with her bright hair against all the black she wore. Her current uniform consisted of a raggedy concert T-shirt and silk harem pants from Goodwill.

Meanwhile, Leo was just starting to get tired of looking like a reject, of wearing her outsider-y status on her sleeve. Her mother had even started buying her chinos from the Gap. Wanted her to look like the rich, preppy girls at school. Leo was starting to cave.

She brushed on the hot-pink polish. “It’s my birthday, I feel festive,” she said, finishing up her pinky toe and waving her feet in her friend’s face.

“Ew!” said Mish, scrunching her nose.

It was Leo’s birthday. Her mom was supposed to get out of work early so they could celebrate. Which meant a cheap Carvel cake and a twenty-five-dollar gift certificate to the Limited. But her mom would probably end up flaking like she always did. She wouldn’t be able to get out early, they’d need her till midnight like always, and Leo would be stuck at home, alone, waiting, like every birthday before then. Leo was turning sixteen and wanted more than that. Just this once. Something to remember, to really mark the occasion, to make the day different from all the other days.

Other girls had Sweet Sixteen parties at the country club. Or at home, if they lived in one of those grand, historic Arlington Heights or Goose Hollow mansions with views of Mount Hood. Parties complete with waiters and DJs and all the popular kids driving their Beemers to the party. Those kids had everything they ever wanted handed to them and they still sucked. They were mean and insecure and stupid.

Leo had Mish.

And Mish was going to rise to the challenge. That’s what friends were for.

The plan was to hit the mall, then . . . do something. Anything. Leo remembered the bottle of vodka that they’d been offered when it was passed around at the Madonna concert the other month. It was from the group in front of them, a couple of girls and a gay guy. The gay guy had really good eyeliner. Leo had never seen a guy wearing makeup before, except people on MTV, like Robert Smith or Boy George, and at first she was a little scared of him. But he seemed harmless enough, and when he offered the vodka bottle, Mish took a slug.

Leo had shaken her head. She was too scared to drink something a stranger offered. She was wary of alcohol and what it did to her. Mish had raised her eyebrow in disgust. But then, Mish was the bad one. (The “badder” one.) They knew what people thought of them, poor girls from the trailer park; they knew what people expected from girls like them. Nothing. They were bad girls. They looked like bad girls. Maybe they were bad girls.

The group in front of them with the gay guy were friendly and asked if they wanted to go to IHop after, but Leo and Mish didn’t have the money, so they said no. They had enough just to get to the concert; they couldn’t afford to buy a T-shirt or any other souvenirs. The tickets were forty-five dollars each and they’d had to camp out in front of the Ticketmaster booth to get them. But then the gay guy had handed them the vodka bottle and told Leo to keep it, and even though just a tiny sliver of vodka was left, and even though she wouldn’t even have a taste, it still felt like a present.

That’s what Leo wanted tonight, something unexpected. A birthday surprise.

“Sweet sixteen,” warbled Mish, putting away the nail polish bottle. “And never been kissed.”
Leo laughed. “Never!”

“God, can you imagine?” said Mish. “To be so old and never been kissed? Like, what is wrong with you, then? Might as well never been fucked.”

Leo shuddered. “Sad.”

Mish had lost her virginity at thirteen. Mish knew things about boys. Knew how to sneak out of her bedroom window, knew how to give head. She’d shown Leo one day, demonstrating with a carrot. Leo had felt a little sick, watching. But that was Mish. Mish lived up to her reputation.

But then it happened to her too. One afternoon, when her mom was still at work, she lost her virginity, just like that. Leo thought there would be more to it, but it happened so quickly, and so out of the blue, that she almost thought it didn’t count. At first, she didn’t want to tell Mish about it, not at all, but then she freaked out when she didn’t get her period for, like, five weeks, and she was sure she was pregnant and she had to tell someone.

Mish had screamed and hugged her. It was like they had accomplished something together. Maybe they had. What else did they have? They were terrible at everything else: sports, grades, art, whatever else other kids did; they didn’t do those things. They weren’t on a soccer or volleyball team and they weren’t good at studying. This was what they did. They had sex with boys. Like Madonna, whom they adored. She was the best of the bad girls. Like a bad girl saint.

And Leo wasn’t pregnant, she’d just counted wrong, or lost track, or felt guilty about having sex while her mother was at work. But she was okay, she wasn’t pregnant. Phew.

So the plan for Leo’s birthday was to go to the mall and meet up with some guys. Mish had a boyfriend—she always did. She was dating Brooks Overton. Brooks was not goth. He was older, a popular senior, one of the rich kids, one of those boys with the shiny hair and perfect teeth who got up early for practice. Before Brooks and Mish started dating, he had been their joint crush. They shared a lot of things, and from sixth grade on, they’d shared an adoration of Brooks. It was common among the girls in their school. Everyone was in love with Brooks, even the moms. The moms were the worst, actually, making their worship too well known.

“Brooks!” Mrs. Richmond would coo from her Mercedes. “Look at you, you handsome boy, so grown up now!”

The other moms would titter, but it was clear they all got their panties wet for Brooks.
Brooks was Mish’s boyfriend and no one liked it except Brooks and Mish. To their credit, Brooks’s parents were cool about his trailer-park hoochie. They were lawyers, and this was Portland, not Boston. Brooks could date whomever he wanted, and he wanted Mish. Who wouldn’t? The girl knew how to give head.

And if the cheerleaders and the honor students and the rich girls didn’t like it, they didn’t show it. Life wasn’t Pretty in Pink. Maybe they didn’t invite Mish to their parties or sleepovers or campouts. But they didn’t say mean things to her face or make fun of her either. They just ignored her. If Brooks wanted to date her, he dated her alone. Brooks never hung out with his friends and Mish.
When they hung out with Brooks, they hung out with just the three of them, because god knows they didn’t have any other friends at school. So they shared Brooks, even though Mish was the only one fucking him.

But since it was Leo’s birthday, Brooks was going to bring some of his friends to meet them at the mall. To make it special. To make it different from all the other days.

Leo hoped the friends would be cute, even though no one was cuter than Brooks. She blew on her hot-pink nails. They looked good, like a pink Ferrari, flashy and racy. Sweet Sixteen and Never Been . . . what? Never Been Kissed? Nah. Sweet Sixteen and Never Been Loved. Listened to. Appreciated.

Sweet Sixteen and Never Been Fucked? Or Never Been Fucked Over?

“Stop with that thinking face,” said Mish, who removed a Polaroid camera from her purse and waved it around. “To remember tonight forever!” She took a quick photo of Leo with her tongue sticking out.

“Ugh,” said Leo. “I hate pictures!”

Mish ignored her as she put the photograph and her camera away. “Let’s get to the mall. We need to celebrate!”

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The Birthday Girl 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous 9 days ago
Ellie is a wealthy woman and is having the birthday party to end all birthday parties for her 40th. She wants to showcase her wealth and have amenities that everyone else will envy. During the party, she receives a phone call that makes her remember her humble roots. The book goes back and forth from the present to the past showing her relationship with her best friend and critical moments in her past. She is worried now that the past might just come back to haunt her after all. Ellie was a pretty unlikable, manipulative character, but I found uniqueness in her story and the characters were well written. Thanks for the ARC, Net Galley
kmjessica 16 days ago
Sometimes I choose to read a book just by the cover alone. This book was one of those times. I was a little nervous after reading the first chapter, I thought i wasn't going to get into the story. But I really liked this book.It turned out to be very intriguing I like how the book went from present day to 24 years ago almost every other chapter. What a fantastic way to keep the story interesting. The story about a women who turned 40 and threw herself a birthday party. And then she would remember her past, that's when the book would go back 24 years.. Chapter by chapter you learned more about her and how she grew up and how she got to where she was. I don't want to write any spoilers so I'm keeping it vague. There is so much more to this story. I didn't want this book to end. I wished it would have been longer. There are some stories and characters that I think about long after I finish a book and this is one of those stories.
Becka 28 days ago
Thanks go to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I had high hopes for this book based on the description, but sadly it didn’t live up to expectations. The book has a rather slow start, and when it did pick up, the plot twists were too far-fetched. Add in the fact that the characters are hard to connect to, and that leaves a book that is a miss for me.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Ellie has bought a $2M home in Palm Springs that she calls Gulf House. Today she is having a party to celebrate her 40th birthday. It’s a 3-day celebration. Ellie and her husband, Todd, have 4 children blended from their previous marriages. Todd has working in television, but his job became stale and he is now without work. Ellie has had a successful line of women’s clothes, but right now it appears on the verge of collapse. She is hoping to hear from a Korean buyer for an offer to purchase her line. At the party, there are lots of famous people and lots of name dropping as well. It appears that everyone is sleeping with everyone else’s spouse. Busy people! The story switches back and from the time with Leo and her friend, Mish, who were young teens from poor families looking to be noticed and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. The night of Leo’s sixteenth birthday was spent with Mish and Mish’s boyfriend, followed by going to a club. But something dreadful happened that will always make Mish sad. This is a very strange book. It’s not until the end that all of the pieces come together. However, I certainly don’t consider it to be a thriller. Sometimes, bad things happen to people and you have to learn to go on with your own life trying to learn from what happened in your past. Copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
KarenfromDothan 3 months ago
Ellie De Florent-Stinson is a successful businesswoman who seems to have it all. As she celebrates a milestone birthday in Palm Springs her past and present will collide in unexpected ways. Leo and Mish are best friends from a Portland trailer park. It’s Leo’s sixteenth birthday, and Mish is determined to make it a special one. The story flip flops between the two birthday celebrations - Ellie’s 40th over the top blow out and Leo’s far simpler 16th. With a sophisticated plot and nice tension, I was always on edge waiting for the next big revelation. And, what a revelation it was. It totally took me by surprise. This absorbing rags to riches tale is all about the secrets, of which there are many, but there is one really big deeply buried shocking secret to be revealed. A very good read. 4.5 stars
LizzyB27 3 months ago
It’s Ellie’s birthday. It’s her 40th birthday, so she is throwing herself a huge party in her new house. There will be a nine course dinner and two after parties, one of which is drag queen bingo. She’s married with kids and her daughter decides to go to her during her party to inform her that she is probably going to be kicked out of school for plagiarizing. She goes to Stanford, so of course Ellie is really upset. But, that’s ok, she knows people, and they know people. She will help get this straightened out. We bounce back and forth between this birthday and a sixteen year olds birthday. That sixteen year old spent hers getting high, drinking, going to a club, and another girl’s sixteenth birthday party. We learn so much about these girls by getting a glimpse into their birthdays. Too bad one of them ends up dead, and so does someone else, but who? This story is quite the ride. So, buckle up and get your party hats on! I really enjoyed this party.
marongm8 3 months ago
This book was received as an ARC from PENGUIN GROUP Dutton in exchange for an honest review. Opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are completely my own. This book was the ultimate explosion of a perfect situation turned terribly wrong. I am a huge fan of Melissa's work and this book did not disappoint. I loved the she focused on how great of a life Ellie had living in Palm Springs, with a loving husband, a ten year old daughter, twin boys and a college aged step=daughter living happily. She has her fortieth birthday party but can't enjoy it due to her 16th birthday with it being such a disaster and her life came crumbling down all in one night. With past experiences coming to haunt her, dark secrets are uncovered and her life is starting to fall apart. This is a prime example that nothing in life is perfect and no matter what you have and how you are, there will always be bumps in the road, but it's how you handle them that makes all the difference. We will consider adding this title to our Fiction collection at our library. That is why we give this book 5 stars.
BarbTRC 3 months ago
The Birthday Girl by Melissa de la Cruz is a standalone suspense novel revolving around a woman celebrating her 40’th birthday, and another birthday celebration when she was 16 years old. This is a story of secrets that come back to haunt her, as her life in the present slowly begins to crumble. Ellie de Florent-Stinson, our heroine, is celebrating her fortieth birthday with an exclusive birthday party in her new house in Palm Springs. Ellie invites everyone who is anyone to her party and is determined to make it perfect. She seems to have it all, money, successful business, happy marriage, famous friends, glitzy life, but not is all as it seems. Things continually go wrong, such as the flowers wilting, her suspicion that her husband is having an affair, her step daughter has a secret and a major business deal could cause bankruptcy, etc. Ellie also receives a text from someone in her past, which worries her, as this person says they will come to her party, and she does not recognize the number. Who is it? We follow the two POV’s that continuously go back and forth between the present day birthday party and the same day (24 years ago) birthday celebration when she was a teenager. In the past, the story revolves around two best friends, Leo and Mish, who not only are close, but have the same negative issues with their parent, especially the fathers. Mish takes Leo out to meet friends to celebrate her birthday, and along the way they get drunk, try drugs, and crash another party. All does not end well on this birthday party fun. I will not give spoilers, so you will need to read this book to understand what happens on that day years before. This is part of the surprise twist at the end, both in the past and present. The Birthday Girl was well written by Melissa de la Cruz, but I did have some mixed feelings. It was interesting, and kept my attention; but I frankly did not care for Ellie. I found her to be not really likeable, self-centered and superficial. As for Leo and Mish, I did like their friendship, until jealousy changed everything. The ending came out of nowhere, as well as a total surprise. Overall, The Birthday Girl was a good story.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Thank you to Dutton and NetGalley for granting my request and giving me a chance to read this eArc. Told in the present with flashbacks to the past, Ellie de Florent-Stinson is throwing herself a glitzy fortieth birthday party. She is superficial, with mostly superficial friends. Ellie reminds me of a Real Housewives’ character, but she would be the one who thinks being a Real Housewives’ is tacky. She’s desperate to rub elbows with the ultra-rich and be with the “in” crowd. Ellie is living a lie and trying to impress her millionaire and billionaire so-called friends even if she goes broke doing it. I felt sorry for her…sometimes. Ellie may not be very likable, but she has some qualities that made me respect her. She is definitely committed to being The Birthday Girl. She will throw this party come hell or high water. Ellie is ambitious and she clawed her way out of her past and into the life she made for herself. Also, she does love her children and that’s a plus. She’s the kind of woman who will get things done, and I like that. Everything isn’t going the way she’s planned but it’s not going to stop Ellie from celebrating. Her sad and shocking past comes back to haunt her but it’s something she has to face in order to move forward into her uncertain future. If anything, facing her past made Ellie look closely at her present and future. The party gave her a chance to reflect on her life, the things she had or didn’t have…and I will say I did a lot of that when I approached and then turned forty last year. What is it with forty?! Mid-life crisis, indeed! Nah, I’m okay, I had fun on my fortieth birthday. ❤️ The story unfolds fairly quickly and there is a twist in this delicious tale. It was something I wasn’t expecting. It was kind of sad actually but it makes you look at Ellie differently in the end. I mean, she’s still superficial but it adds a little depth to her motivations. I felt like I was watching reality tv and I got addicted to this story. I know Melissa De La Cruz is known more for young adult books but I really enjoyed this adult fiction from her. I hope she writes more in this genre. I couldn’t put this one down.