18-year-old Laila Piedra doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, and doesn't sneak into the over-21s club on Canal Street. The only sort of risk Laila enjoys is the peril she writes for the characters in her stories: epic sci-fi worlds full of quests, forbidden love, and robots. Her creative writing teacher has always told her she has a special talent. But three months before her graduation, he dies suddenly - and is replaced by Nadiya Nazarenko, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who sees nothing at all special about Laila's writing. Sadistically critical and perpetually unimpressed, Dr. Nazarenko thinks that to write anything worthwhile requires suffering. At first, Nazarenko's eccentric assignments seem absurd. But before long, Laila grows obsessed with gaining the woman's approval. She walks the extra mile in every assignment until at last Nazarenko notices her. Soon Laila is hiking through the Catskills during a thunderstorm in March; she's discovering the psychedelic highs and perilous lows of nightlife, and the beauty of temporary flings and instability. Dr. Nazarenko has led Laila to believe that she must choose between perfection and sanity--that enduring the unendurable is the way to greatness. But happiness is its own herculean task with its own rewards...and rejecting her all-powerful mentor may be the only way for Laila to thrive.