University of South Florida

College of Arts & Sciences


High Score book cover

MFA Student Releases Debut Adventure Book

Destiny Howell, an MFA student in the Department of English at the University of South Florida (USF) recently released a debut book titled High Score.

High Score is a heist-style adventure novel for middle-grade youth seeking a page-turning experience. Published by Scholastic Press in June of 2022, High Score tells the story of Darius James—DJ to his friends—who has a head for cons and a heart of gold.

He pulled his last con months ago at his old school. Now safely enrolled in the Fitz (Ella Fitzgerald Middle School) he’s determined to keep his head down and lay low. But when his best friend Conor also gets transferred to the Fitz, DJ knows it’s only a matter of time before his anonymity is up.

Sure enough, Conor runs into some trouble with the biggest bully around and only two weeks to pay up 100,000 arcade tickets – a mission practically impossible to anyone. Luckily for Conor, DJ is the go-to guy for all kinds of tricky problems that need creative solutions. Perfect for fans of Varian Johnson and Gordon Korman, this Ocean’s Eleven goes to the arcade heist adventure will have readers hooked from the first to the last word.

Destiny Howell

Destiny Howell

In describing how the concept of the book came about Howell explained: “Heists are so fun. I remember going to Chuck E. Cheese as much as I could when I was younger, thinking that it was a lot like a casino, but for kids. At some point when I was home after my third year of law school, I was suddenly hit with the idea of combining those two things – a classic casino heist with an arcade setting – and boom. That was the start of High Score.”  

She also reflected on the lack of Black representation of youth in books she read in her childhood, noting “when I was a kid, I always wished there were more books with Black protagonists that weren't just stories about "the struggle". I'm always saying, ‘let Black kids go to Narnia.’ It felt like books with white children got to just be fun and everyone else had to be struggling with poverty or gang violence, or stuff like that if they wanted to be the main character. So, I just wanted to write a book where a Black kid and his friends got to have a fun adventure with no strings attached.”

About the Author

Destiny Howell was born in Florida and decided to become a lawyer to learn all the rules before she quit to pursue writing novels about clever kids who break them. She currently lives in Tampa, Florida where she is pursuing an MFA in creative writing and trying to get together a weekly Dungeons & Dragons group (which is proving much trickier). Learn more by visiting

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About CAS

The College of Arts and Sciences is the intellectual heart of the University of South Florida. We are a community of teachers and scholars united in the belief that broadly educated people are the basis of a just, free, and prosperous society. By focusing on the big questions facing all of humanity, we prepare students for successful, socially responsible personal and professional lives. By conducting innovative, interdisciplinary research and scholarship, we advance knowledge in ways that prepare us to address complex social and scientific problems and enhance the quality of life for people and communities.