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First published in the UK in 2018 by Usborne Publishing Ltd., Usborne House, 83-85 Saffron Hill, London EC1N 8RT, England. www.usborne.com Promotional edition. Not for resale. Slay On Tour © Kim Curran, 2019 The Extinction Trials: Rebel © Susan Wilson, 2019 The Stolen Ones © Vanessa Curtis, 2019 Awake in the World © Jason Gurley, 2019 Beauty Sleep © Kathryn Evans, 2019 Birthday © Produced by Alloy Entertainment, LLC Jemima Small Versus The Universe © Tamsin Winter, 2019 My Secret Lies With You © Faye Bird, 2019 One In A Hundred Thousand © Linn Irene Ingemundsen, 2019 Seafire © by Alloy Entertainment and Natalie C. Parker North Child © Edith Pattou, 2019 Untitled © Holly Bourne, 2019 The right of Kim Curran, Susan Wilson, Vanessa Curtis, Jason Gurley, Kathryn Evans, Tamsin Winter, Faye Bird, Linn Irene Ingemundsen, Natalie C. Parker, Edith Pattou and Holly Bourne to be identified as the authors of these works has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988. The name Usborne and the devices Usborne Publishing Ltd.

are Trade Marks of

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. These are works of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the authors’ imaginations and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


FEATURING: KIM CURRAN S.M. WILSON VANESSA CURTIS JASON GURLEY KATHRYN EVANS MEREDITH RUSSO TAMSIN WINTER FAYE BIRD LINNI INGEMUNDSEN NATALIE C. PARKER EDITH PATTOU HOLLY BOURNE


SLAY ON TOUR KIM CURRAN SLAY are BACK…and this time they’re headed to Tokyo to track down another hellraising demon.

“Gloriously absurd.” The Metro “It’s so much fun!” Patrick Ness, author of the Chaos Walking trilogy “Boys as swoon-worthy as One Direction saving the world from evil? Sign me up!” Amy Alward, author of The Potion Diaries


KIM CURRAN

The prettiest girl in the world “Don’t let her get away!” Neon lights flashed and pachinko machines rang as Slay raced past game arcades and dive bars, closing in on their prey. They’d left the bright lights and bustle of Shinjuku at the last turn and were now weaving their way deeper into the dark heart of Tokyo. Milly was loving every second of it. The twins, Zek and Niv, were behind her, swords sheathed but ready. She heard a thump from above and glanced up to see Connor jump across the small gap between the rooftops, his sai blades glinting in the moonlight. Up ahead, taking the lead, was JD. All of them were dressed in black combats and half-masks, disguising their identities. Milly’s mask was grey, with the jagged mouth of a shark painted on one side. The whole disguise not only hid her identity, but her gender too. When she’d agreed to join Slay, the world’s hottest boy band, there had been one small problem: she wasn’t a boy. However, thanks to clever styling and a tight-fitting sports bra, Milly had become Milo – Slay’s shy new pianist. As soon as she’d pulled on the heavy black boots, picked up the compound bow and slipped a quiver of arrows over her back, she’d felt a change. Not just in how she felt but in how the


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others treated her. They were still protective of her, but only as much as they would be of any of the other boys. They still looked out for Milly, but now they also expected her to look out for them. “Take the next left.” Tom’s soft voice came over the headsets. Tom had been Slay’s pianist, but after a terrible incident in Mexico he’d needed to take some time out – from performing and hunting. So now, he was back at base, guiding them every step of the way. “Left, now.” JD skidded mid-run and slammed into a wall on his left, bouncing off it and vanishing down the alley. “A little more notice next time, Tom,” he panted. Milly heard Tom chuckle over the line. “Keeping you on your toes, JD.” She followed JD around the corner and came face-to-face with a three-metre-high brick wall. It was covered in graffiti of a panda with flames coming from its eyes. “Bu—?” she managed to say before JD jumped, zigzagging from one corner of the wall to the next, grabbing hold of the top and vaulting over. Niv and Zek streaked past her. Niv crouched down and boosted his brother up and over, then leaped as Zek grabbed his hand and pulled him up in one fluid, practised move. Connor skipped over from the rooftops, putting in an unnecessary but undeniably cool flip as he too disappeared


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behind the wall. That just left Milly. “Come on, Mills, you got this,” Tom said in her earpiece, gentle and encouraging. This was exactly the kind of thing she’d been training for over the last month. Scan the environment, find your advantage. She spotted her way over. “The wires!” she said. “That’s my girl,” Tom said. “I mean, not my girl. I meant, like, the girl.” She heard Zek chuckle at Tom over the headsets. “Smooth, Wills. Smooth.” Milly smiled under her half-mask and rubbed her hands against the rough material of her combats. She jumped and grabbed the bundle of wires running from satellite dishes and air-conditioning units, placing her feet either side, and scooted her way up till she was level with the top of wall. She placed her weight on her left side and swung, grabbing the top of the wall and pulling herself up. Her muscles strained, and she knew she’d feel it in the morning, but for now, the adrenaline of the chase was blocking out any pain. She paused at the top of the wall to take a steadying breath, then jumped. As soon as she hit the ground, she dropped into a forward roll, protecting her ankles, and she was up again and on her feet. She glanced back at the wall and grinned. She’d made it over. And without falling


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too far behind. JD and the others were just up ahead. She put on a burst of speed and caught up with them. “Wait,” Tom said. Milly crashed into Zek’s back, and they all came to a sudden halt. “You should be right on top of her.” “There’s nothing here,” JD said, drawing his sword. “Unless she’s transformed into that freaking enormous rat,” Zek said, pointing at a beady-eyed creature scuttling behind a bin. “In which case, I am very much out of here.” “The tracker shows her right there in front of you.” Slay had come to Japan nearly a month ago, under the pretence of a publicity tour that would help them break into the country. But the real reason they’d come had nothing to do with sales figures or juicy deals, and everything to do with a nasty demon that had been terrorizing Tokyo. Gail, the band’s manager – a tall, elegant woman who was just as fierce with contracts as she was demon-hunting – had got a call from a Japanese friend asking for help. And just like always, Slay went wherever they were needed. They’d spent their first weeks in Japan researching: poring over old books, hacking police records, interviewing witnesses, finding out everything they could about the demon. How to track it, how to take it down. And while Milly believed Gail and


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the others when they said this was all a part of the job, she also wondered if it hadn’t also been about giving Milly time to train. And train she had. Every day, for seven hours a day, she’d practised fighting, evading, shooting with her bow. The rest of the hours had been spent sleeping, eating and learning how to play all Slay’s hit songs on the piano. Then tonight, in the middle of Connor showing Milly how to do a one-handed chin-up, an alarm had gone off. One of Niv’s rooftop traps had been triggered – the demon had been found. Gail had winked at Milly, her one good eye flashing as brightly as her diamond-encrusted eyepatch, and said it – the phrase Milly had been desperate to hear for weeks. “Playtime is over, boys. It’s slay time.” And now here she was, standing in a dark alleyway, her heart pounding, hunting demons with four boys who just so happened to be the biggest pop stars in the world. “We’re not seeing anything, Tom,” Milly said, agreeing with the others. Apart from vermin, the alley was empty. Maybe the tracker had stopped working. “Unless…” As one, JD and Milly looked up. Milly just had time to see a cape of black hair and a swirling yellow trench coat as the demon leaped down at them. She reached for an arrow from the quiver on her back, but wasn’t


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fast enough. The demon landed on top of Milly, knocking her to the floor and straddling her. Its face, partially obscured by a surgical mask, pressed itself into Milly’s. “Am I pretty?” A high, scratching voice hissed through the mask, making Milly think of nails on bones. “I…” What Milly could see of the demon’s face was pretty. Beautiful even. She opened her mouth to answer, then she saw JD standing over them. His sword flashed, slicing across the demon’s back. It screeched and spun to its feet, disappearing in a swirl of yellow coat and dark hair, flying away as if carried on the wind. JD reached out a hand and pulled Milly to her feet, before giving her a sturdy push forward. Back into the fight. “Milly!” Tom gasped. “Are you okay?” “Yeah, I’m fine,” she said, willing her legs to keep pumping as she ran. “Are you sure? You don’t have to—” “She’s fine,” JD said. “Stay focused.” Milly couldn’t help but smile at JD defending her. She knew she’d just nearly messed up, but as JD had told her before: we all make mistakes. The important thing was not to make the same mistake twice. And there was no way Milly was going to. She pulled out an arrow and lay it across the string of her bow. That demon wasn’t going to get a second chance.


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“There!” Connor pointed overhead. A shadow passed over the large Tokyo moon. Milly levelled the bow, drew back the string, took aim and let her arrow fly. This demon was known as Kuchisake-onna – the slit-mouthed woman. A demon of legend who had been summoned by a man stupid enough to think he could control her. After dispatching him, the demon had begun stalking the backstreets of Tokyo – approaching people in dark alleys, her face covered by a surgical mask, to ask them a simple question: Am I pretty? If they said no, she would kill them. If they said yes, she would lift her mask to reveal her beautiful face, which had been sliced from the corners of her mouth to her ears, then give her victim the same, gruesome smile. The only way to survive unscathed was not to answer. The demon woman looked back over her shoulder as she flew through the air, black eyes widening as Milly’s arrow headed straight for her forehead. With a soft thunk, it embedded itself between two delicate eyebrows. “Am I pretty?” the demon said, for the last time, before falling to the floor with a heavy, wet thud. They all raced to the landing spot. Connor hooked up a shred of what had been the demon’s bright yellow trench coat with the tip of his sai. A white surgical mask rolled out onto the floor. Both were covered in thick, black blood.


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“Must have possessed that body for centuries,” Connor said, “to disintegrate like that.” “Urgh,” Zek said, stepping away from the growing pool of black ooze. “My boots.” “At least we won’t have to bag-and-frag the body,” JD said. Milly smiled. She’d done it. She’d taken down her first black-eyed scumbag. She looked from boy to boy, drinking in their approval. Connor gave her a high five that shook her bones, Zek winked and gave her a smile and Niv held up two thumbs. There were no smiles or high fives from JD. Just a cool look of admiration. “Good shot,” he said. “Did you get her?” Tom’s tense voice came over the headsets. Milly could imagine him back at the base, his cup of green tea gone cold as he fretted about them all. “Milly did!” Connor said. “Milly!” Tom said. “Have I told you just how amazing you are?” Zek rolled his eyes. “Oh, maybe once.” “Or twice,” Connor added. Niv slashed his thumb through the air, the sign for a thousand. “Shut up, all of you,” Milly said, but she was glad her mask hid her grin. Suddenly she was itching to get back


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to base. To pull her mask and goggles off and see Tom. But they had more business tonight. “We’d better shift,” JD said. “We have to be on air in thirty minutes.” Demon-slaying done. Now it was time to step back into the spotlight.


THE EXTINCTION TRIALS: REBEL

S.M. WILSON The Hunger Games meets Jurassic Park in this wildly popular series filled with action, survival and betrayal.

“An absolute blast - breakneck pace, great characters, loads of fun.” Will Hill, author of After the Fire “Exciting, terrifying, gruesome” Kathy Lindsay, The School Librarian “Wilson writes with such cinematic brilliance it’s hard not to find yourself fully immersed in the world that she has deftly and gloriously created” Storgy Kids blog


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CHAPTER TWO Stormchaser “Shh,” whispered Reban as they crouched in the undergrowth. “Don’t shush me,” Storm replied, her voice barely audible. Reban shot her the glare she had long since become immune to, as the velociraptor continued to perch on its hind legs with its nose in the air. The red crest on its head stood to attention and the fearsome claws on its hind legs were digging into the earth at its feet. It was searching for prey, balancing with its strong tail outstretched as it sniffed for a scent in the air that it had clearly locked on to. They could only hope it wasn’t theirs. Both of their faces were smeared with a strong paste made from the evergreen leaves that surrounded their dwelling. Blaine had assured them it threw the dinosaurs off the human scent. He’d used it on frequent occasions and managed to stay alive on Piloria for more than nine years. Storm pressed her lips together and stared at the trampled earth beneath her feet. On more than one occasion in the last six months she’d wished Blaine were still here. Blaine had been a former Stipulator, abandoned on Piloria


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as punishment after it was discovered he had a family – something forbidden for all Stipulators. He’d been expected to die, but he’d managed to survive on the continent of dinosaurs. However, Piloria had taken a toll on both his physical and mental health. Storm’s father had been one of the Stipulators who agreed to Blaine’s punishment. So it was ironic really that nine years later he’d realized Storm was his daughter and he’d suffered the same fate and been banished to Piloria himself. Blaine had blamed Reban for his years in exile, and the years he’d missed from his children’s lives. They’d hated each other. Even when Blaine had finally been reunited with his daughter, Jesa, things hadn’t gone quite to plan, and when Blaine had died, Jesa had been anxious to head back to Earthasia. She hadn’t had the option to stay with her father on Piloria like Storm had. But Storm often wondered what decision Jesa would have made, given the same choice. The raptor tilted its head back and let out a loud caw. The hairs on the back of Storm’s neck prickled. Her father turned to her with anxious eyes. “We might need to run,” he mouthed to her. “I think they’ve managed to catch our scent.” She swallowed, her mouth instantly dry, and nodded. The last six months living on Piloria had been a steep learning curve. One of survival. Because, on Piloria, survival was all


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that mattered. On her first visit here, they’d suspected the raptors were communicating with each other – something no one had considered before. Dinosaurs were supposed to be mindless monsters, but that wasn’t what she’d seen. It wasn’t what she’d experienced. At times, she’d seen intelligent behaviour. Behaviour that frightened her. Particularly when it came from beasts that hunted humans for prey. But in the last few months, things had been more pronounced. Now, she didn’t just think they might be communicating – she was certain. There was another sound. A returning caw, followed by a more high-pitched squawk. The raptor’s head turned towards the sound. A moment later, it disappeared in the opposite direction from them. Storm was still holding her breath. The raptors looked different too. There was still one that was slightly larger than the rest of the pack. But the first time she’d seen them, the difference between the leader and the rest of the pack had been stark. Now, the rest of the pack seemed larger, stronger, like someone had fed them overnight and they had instantly filled out. Before, the smallest raptor’s hind leg had been about the same width as Reban’s thigh. Now? They looked like they’d all doubled in size.


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Reban reached over and grabbed her arm, his eyes scanning the area around them. “They’re communicating. It’s time to get out of here. Wait for my signal, and then we’ll go.” Storm knew he was only looking out for them both, but it grated to be ordered around by him. She still couldn’t get used to the idea that in order to survive on Piloria, she had to work in partnership with the man she’d initially hated. After scanning the trees and bushes for a little while longer, Reban gave her arm a tug. She knew exactly what came next – they’d had to do it more than once. She started sprinting in the opposite direction to the raptors. It was impossible to be quiet as she thrashed bushes and leaves out of her way, thudding through the jungle terrain. Reban’s footsteps were right behind hers. They didn’t speak, didn’t utter a single sound – they were being noisy enough. Her heartbeat started hammering in her ears, her chest tight as she continued to run. It didn’t matter where they explored on the dinosaur continent, they’d learned they always needed to have a plan. Trying not to get eaten was always the first priority. Trying not to get injured came a close second. But things could happen in a split second on Piloria. Dinosaurs could appear in the blink of an eye. On a few occasions they’d had to split up, running in opposite directions,


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not quite sure if they would ever see each other again. The first time it had happened, Storm had ended up in an area she was unfamiliar with. One wrong turn had meant she was lost for three days, with no water and only what she could forage in the forest to eat. When Reban had finally found her, he’d roared at her so much that she’d started to believe he might actually care. Their arrangement was unorthodox. How did you go from finding out someone was your father and hating them, to deciding to stay with them alone on the dinosaur continent? The truth was, her decision hadn’t all been about Reban – Piloria had called to her. This continent was so different. Green, with open spaces and plant life she’d never even seen before. It was so different from the cramped, grey world of Earthasia. From the first second she’d arrived, she’d been fascinated by the dinosaurs, both docile and fierce. She’d never wanted to steal their eggs and try to kill them. This was their continent, not hers, and she was grateful just to be here, learning as much as she could and living with freedom, even if it did mean unavoidable risks and danger. There was a noise behind them; a caw that made her heart stop. The raptors. They’d heard them. Or caught their scent. “Go!” yelled Reban. His hand thumped on her back, urging


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her forward even though the muscles in her thighs were already burning. There was a response to the original caw, followed by loud squawking. Oh no. How many were there? And how close? Reban was almost shoulder to shoulder with her as they powered through the jungle, dodging tree roots and plants, leaping over obstacles in their way. Storm had been here before. She’d been chased by raptors. They could move faster than she’d ever expected. Their strong hind legs could outpace any human. Last time around she’d escaped by climbing a tree, but the raptors’ skill set seemed to improve every day. She’d already seen some make a few attempts at climbing trees with lower branches – so, in order to be safe, Storm and Reban needed to find trees with higher branches only. She scanned around frantically, trying to remember what was at the other side of this jungle. If she could work out what direction they were running in, she might have half a chance. But at this point, she had no clue. Reban grabbed his backpack from his shoulder as they ran, unzipping it and reaching for something inside. Seconds later he pulled out a grappling hook and rope – something they generally used for climbing cliff faces. Storm frowned. “They can climb,” she hissed as she ran.


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Her muscles were on fire. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep up this pace. A squawk behind her spurred her on. It sounded closer. Louder. She could now hear trampling noises in the jungle behind them as well. Another squawk made her start, but this time it was to their right. Reban’s eyes were wide as he shot her a glance. They were being hunted like the prey they were. It put everything into perspective. The fights she’d had with her father since she got here; arguments about food, clothing, weather, and supplies. When there was only one other person to communicate with on an entire continent, it was obvious they would annoy each other. But when that person was her father, and there was a whole load of underlying resentment between them, things came bubbling to the surface much easier. Reban shouldered Storm, pushing her to the left, towards some taller trees. “Move,” he growled. She stumbled, only just managing to stop herself from falling. Fury raced through her. To fall right now would mean death. The few seconds it would take to pick herself up would mean the raptors would be on top of her. Storm opened her mouth to yell, just as Reban threw the


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grappling hook. He yanked her arm as the hook caught in the high branches of a tree above them. “Move!” he screamed again, this time in her ear. There were no low branches on this tree. Nowhere for her to start her climb. For the briefest moment, her brain didn’t function. Reban had the rope in one hand and his other palm bent low, facing upwards. “Now!” he yelled. She finally clicked, and put her foot on his hand, allowing him to boost her upwards on the rope. Her heart was still racing as she struggled to wrap her legs around it. She climbed often now she was living on Piloria, but usually the rope had another anchor point and was against a cliff face, rather than dangling in mid-air. This time it wasn’t even close enough to the tree trunk to give her some purchase. Reban must have noticed her struggle, as suddenly the rope snapped taut, allowing her to steady herself and tighten her grip. Quickly, Storm started to pull herself up, arms first then legs. It should have been easier than this, but the burn in her arms was all-consuming as she pulled up her full body weight time and time again and struggled to keep her legs wrapped around the rope. She stared downwards. Reban was holding the bottom of the rope tightly, giving her the anchor she needed


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to climb, his head scanning in every direction. There was a deafening caw just as her hand reached for the first high treebranch. Terror gripped her heart. She knew exactly what that meant. “Climb!” she screamed. The rope moved beneath her as Reban gripped it, trying to climb. But there was no one to anchor it for him and it swung wildly. She grappled with the tree branch, wrapping her arm around it, and trying to pull her leg up too as she let go of the rope. Her abdominals seemed to object, her legs not quite reaching and floundering in mid-air. The weight on her arms was overwhelming. Storm felt like a dead weight in the air. She took a deep breath as the muscles in her arms screamed at her, and pitched her leg to catch the branch with the side of her foot. This time her boot caught and she hauled herself up, ending up completely horizontal on the branch. Maybe that wasn’t a good idea. Now, she had a completely clear view of the forest floor below. The rope was flailing backwards and forwards, with Reban only part way up as the raptors emerged from the bushes. There were three of them. They barely paused, all crashing towards Reban as he swung on the rope. One of them caught the bottom of his foot with its teeth and Reban let out a roar. “Move!” yelled Storm.


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The only reason he was still down there was because he’d been helping her. It was the second time he’d saved her from the raptors. The first time had been at a watering hole when Leif, Jesa and Lincoln had still been here and they’d been planting the virus – the virus that had been supposed to kill the raptors off. But the raptors had returned unexpectedly and Reban had stayed behind to give Storm a chance to escape. Neither of them had really acknowledged it at the time. Even now, six months later, they hardly seemed ready to talk about their relatively new relationship. But that vision of Reban glancing over his shoulder to let her run, while he stood there, gripping his weapon to try and fight off the raptors, had imprinted on her brain. It had been the first time since he’d arrived on Piloria that she’d witnessed pure and utter fear in his eyes. Now, she could see the muscles of his arms bulging as he tried to climb the rope. The raptors were furious. They crouched on their powerful back legs, leaping wildly in the air to try and catch hold of Reban. Storm couldn’t breathe. She’d been in this position before, with Kronar – a fellow Finalist – on her first trip to Piloria. These creatures were intelligent. Last time around they’d chased her and Kronar up into one of the trees, then they’d actually tried to leap onto the lower branches of the tree. For a


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terrifying time it seemed like they might manage it. Thankfully, they’d tired of her and Kronar after a few hours, and finally left. Reban had picked a tree where there were no lower branches, but it didn’t stop the raptors continuing to jump, as Reban swung just within their reach. From up here, Storm had a bird’s-eye view. She could see the short feathers on their skin and the three claws on each of their forearms. The bright-red crests on their heads were raised as their heads flicked from side to side, their caws and squawks differing in pitch. She could almost swear they were talking right now, trying to decide the best way to capture their prey. But it was the sickleshaped claw on each foot that held the most danger. The largest of the raptors made another leap, higher than before, and this time its curved claw caught on Reban’s back. Reban was tugged sharply down, one hand jerked from the rope. His head flew backwards, his mouth open as he let out a cry of pain. “Hold on!” screamed Storm. Her heart was racing in her chest and tears sprang to her eyes. She wasn’t ready. She wasn’t ready for this. She wasn’t ready to watch her father die before her. She wasn’t ready to be alone on the dinosaur continent. Reban seemed to flounder in the air. She could see blood drip onto the ground. It was almost as if it fired the raptors on.


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Their cawing got louder, their movements more frenetic. She’d heard of sharks sensing blood in water. Were dinosaurs the same? Could their senses be heightened by the smell of blood? Reban’s flailing hand came in contact with the rope again and this time it was as if he’d had a huge shot of adrenaline. His face was clenched and his arms and legs powered upwards, heaving him towards her. She reached out, grabbing at the edge of his vest as he came within reach. Relief was already flooding through her. It didn’t matter that she was stuck up a tree. It didn’t matter that she had no idea how they would get to safety. All that mattered was that she wasn’t alone. Reban’s face was bright red, and the veins on his neck were standing out. He swung one leg up onto the branch next to her and slid himself along, mirroring her position by wrapping his arms around the thick branch as he almost collapsed onto it. For a few seconds, neither of them spoke. The yellow rope swung underneath them. It seemed to taunt the raptors, who continued to jump at it, their cawing high-pitched and angry. Storm watched as a few more drops of blood landed on the ground beneath them. “Let me see,” she said, wondering just how bad his wound was. Reban winced and shook his head. His jaw was tight, as if


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he were attempting to keep all the pain inside. “Don’t move. You’re not anchored. You could slip.” She’d already almost slipped, but he’d missed that. She strengthened her grip on the branch and nodded her head. “Okay. Let’s give them a minute and see if they get bored.” The biggest raptor started clawing at the ground where the blood had landed. She’d seen raptors on a few occasions and been pursued by them a few times, but something felt off. “What do you think?” she asked Reban. Reban let out a long, slow breath. “I think they’re on the move. The raptors seem to be getting closer and closer to our shack. They’re not normally this far from the nest sites.” He wrinkled his nose as he winced again. “And there’s something different about them too. They seem more...” He kept watching as he tried to find the right words. “It’s almost as if their senses have been heightened.” That was it. He’d nailed it. That was exactly what was different. “Well, the virus doesn’t seem to have worked, does it?” Storm kept watching them too. “Apart from that first one we found in the forest, none of the raptors appear to have died. I don’t know. They seem almost…stronger. The big one, the leader, it seemed to jump higher than I remember from before.” She paused. “I thought it was going to get you.”


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Reban’s violet eyes met hers. “Me too.” He pressed his lips together. “Do you think we caused this? Instead of the virus actually killing them, do you think it could be responsible for the changes we’re noticing? Have we made them stronger? Made them into killing machines?” Storm shivered. “Don’t. That’s too terrifying for words.” She took a moment. “They were already killing machines,” she said softly, as memories of previous attacks filled her head. “They’re predators. They just seem to be getting better at it.” Reban shook his head and winced as he shifted on the thick branch. “I don’t like it. We need to face facts. Even though they heard us running at the end, before that? I’m pretty sure they had tracked us. They seemed to be able to smell us, even though we’re covered in this green muck.” He wiped some from his bare arm in disgust. “The evergreen leaves don’t seem to be having the same effect they did before. That’s a definite development since we first met them.” He gestured below. “And look at their reaction to blood. I’ve never seen anything like that before.” Storm nodded in agreement. “The first time they chased Kronar and me, we escaped up a tree. They jumped at the lower branches but that was it.” She met her father’s gaze. “Last time they chased us, they practically scaled up those lower branches. It’s like they’ve learned something new. And


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they keep on learning.” The three raptors were still scraping around the bottom of the tree. They kept cawing – it felt eerily like a conversation – and looking upwards. It lasted for more than hour, longer than Storm had ever seen a raptor communicate before. She could swear there was pure anger and frustration in their eyes and in their squawks. Of course it was wrong to try and project human thoughts and behaviours onto a relatively unknown species, but she couldn’t help the way her brain was working. Storm said the words out loud. “Blaine stayed in the shack for nine years with the evergreen smell protecting him from predators.” Reban rested his face back down on the branch. “And we’ve been here six months and already we’re in trouble.” He was stating the obvious. It was clear he was having the same kind of thoughts as her. He held up his hand. “The only thing that has changed here is what we’ve done. We tried to introduce the virus. It might have worked for the T-rex and the pterosaurs, but something’s gone wrong with the raptors. I don’t think we should hang about here much longer.” Storm let out a wry laugh. “I’m not sure we’re ever getting down from this tree.” He nodded. “We might need to pull the rope up and tie ourselves to the tree for the night.” He frowned. “Well, it seems


we were lucky last time they chased us up a tree – they got distracted by duckbills running past. This time? Who knows? How long were you stuck up the tree with Kronar?” “From afternoon until early evening. They might not seem patient, but they have tenacity. It took them a long time to finally leave.” He ran one hand through his hair. “It’s almost like they were searching for us.” Her heart flipped. She’d noticed things too. Of course she couldn’t say that their brain power had increased, but if the virus had enhanced their bodies, perhaps it had improved their minds and their senses too. Velociraptors had always been skilled predators, had always been a terrifying opponent. But now… Instead of killing them, had the virus done something to make them worse? Storm put her head down on the branch again and shifted her hips. Might as well get comfortable. She could be here for a while…


THE STOLEN ONES VANESSA CURTIS

A powerful historical thriller, for readers of Ruta Sepetys and Elizabeth Wein, from the award-winning author of The Earth is Singing.


VANESSA CURTIS

Chapter One Munich, 1956 The letter arrives on the twenty-eighth of May, four days before my sixteenth birthday. It is lying on our doormat among some early cards in their garish envelopes of pink and green, but this one is a plain cream colour with an unfamiliar name and our address typed onto it in neat black letters. On the back of the envelope is a box containing the name and address of the Red Cross in Bad Arolsen. There is a stamp, so I hold the letter up to the light streaming through the glass of our porch and stare at it more closely. Strangely it is stuck over another which looks far less familiar. I just have time to make out the letter P and the image of a strange man in a wig, before a hand comes from behind me and whips the letter out of my fingers so fast that I am left with a paper cut. “I’ll take that, thank you,” says Mama. “It’s not for your eyes.” She looks out of sorts. Usually Mama is up two hours earlier than the rest of us and I never see the first post, because she sorts and opens it before we even come down for breakfast. But today she has overslept. “Why?” I say. “It’s my birthday soon. It’s probably for me.”


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I say this in the full knowledge that the name on the envelope wasn’t mine. “It’s not your birthday for another four days, Inge,” she says. I watch from the hall as she goes into the study, throws the letter into the drawer at the top of her mahogany desk and turns the tiny gold key in the lock. Mama and Papa each have their own desks. She drops the key down the front of her dress. “There,” she says, patting her bosom. “Not for prying eyes.” There is no point trying to wrestle it off her. My mother is a substantial woman, built like the typical hausfrau. Even in her flat lace-up shoes she towers a good two centimetres over my father and he is not short. Her face is large and square and tends to look stern, but when she smiles the sternness breaks apart and her eyes fill up with mischief. I guess that’s why my father fell for her. Papa comes downstairs and kisses me on the cheek as he passes. I give him my broadest smile. Papa is my best friend. He knows me better than anyone, even Mama. “I will be making you a birthday torte,” Mama is saying. “It contains both coffee and chocolate. Only the best for my Inge.” She’s referring to the chronic shortage of anything good in the shops. It has been like this since the end of the war, almost as long as I can remember. “We’ll have it on your birthday at midday.”


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That’s typical of Mama. She runs everything to a schedule in this house. We live near the centre of Munich in a building full of glass and light and neat angles. I suppose from the outside it looks a lot like a plain box, but inside it is sleek and modern and there’s plenty of space for three people and a cat. Mama doesn’t like to be caged in, or so she’s always telling us. She likes air and space. I’ve noticed that when she’s in crowds of people on the tram going through central Munich, she sucks her breath in tight and focuses her gaze on some point outside the window, as if the people packed in around her are invisible, or maybe as if she is – I can never tell which. Mama chose the house five years ago. Papa just went along with it, as he often does. Mama took one look at the sparse white walls and smooth wooden floorboards and her face broke into that smile. Papa is just the opposite. He likes to be part of a crowd and is often to be found propping up the bar at The Jugged Hare in Munich’s old quarter, regaling anybody who’ll listen with stories about the war. Life in Munich has become more relaxed since the military occupation by America and England finally ended last year. Although there is still not much in the way of luxury food, Mama can buy her beloved strong coffee beans


THE STOLEN ONES

from her favourite shop in town. She is very fussy about coffee. It has to be expensive, hot, black and strong. Anything else sends her into a bad temper. My mother once told me that before the war she had wanted to become a concert pianist. We have a Bechstein concert piano in our living room. But then everything changed and, like so many German housewives, she found herself doing war work and sending parcels out to our soldiers and allowing refugees to shelter in the house. I don’t remember any of this, of course. I wasn’t even five years old when the war finished. I know that Papa fought as a soldier and had to retrain to be an accountant once it was over, but that’s about all I know. It is eleven years since the war ended. I reckon that most Germans now view Hitler’s rule of our country as a disaster, because of the ruined buildings and unemployment levels which haunt the cities. But I still hear people expressing antiSemitic views from time to time and my father even has a painting of Herr Hitler hanging above his writing desk, which sits opposite Mama’s. It’s a small portrait of the Führer with his arms crossed, unsmiling. My mother never mentions the painting. She rarely disturbs my father in his study, but I notice that once a week she flicks a duster over the faded gilt which runs around the edge of that


VANESSA CURTIS

portrait. Sometimes I run my finger over the ornate lumps and bumps of the frame. But Papa frowns when he sees me touching it. “Leave that alone, Inge,” he says. “Show some respect.” “Why?” I say. “Why should I respect him?” Papa removes his glasses and rubs at his eyes. “I meant, show some respect for my belongings,” he says. “Anyway. The war is over now. No need to talk about it at home.” It’s this sort of thing that makes me feel as if there is a large barrier between me and my parents, even though I’m so close to Papa in other ways. From what I’ve learned at school, the war was filthy and bloody and harsh. Although Papa still occasionally seems proud of his role in it, Mama’s eyes are full of a sort of remote untouchable pain, which I guess confirms the fact that ordinary people suffered more than anybody else. The streets of Munich are still peppered with bullet holes and lined with the jagged ruins of bombed-out buildings. Many men of Papa’s age, who otherwise would just resemble workers in grey suits, are given away by a telltale limp or a half-closed eyelid. But I am lucky. Despite the lingering signs of the war, my life, at least, is easy. Our family routine ticks on. Papa eats breakfast with me every morning and then kisses


THE STOLEN ONES

the top of my head before departing for his office. Mama takes care of the house and seeks out bargains at the market to try and make the evening meals more interesting. I go to my school and get a thrill in my stomach every time I lay eyes upon my sweet, gentle boyfriend, Wilf. My life would be pretty much perfect if it wasn’t for one thing. I’m afraid to go to sleep at night.


AWAKE IN THE WORLD JASON GURLEY Vanessa has been reaching for the stars since she was little, and is determined to get into her dream college to study astronomy. Zach’s not even thinking about college. He needs to stay at home and support his family, working on the same oil rig where his dad was killed in an accident. Their futures look poles apart‌but opposites attract. A gorgeous YA romance about love, luck, privilege and fate, perfect for fans of Jennifer Niven and Nicola Yoon.


JASON GURLEY

ZACH She swung her legs over the edge of the deck and rested her head on my shoulder. I could smell her shampoo, feel the warmth radiating from her skin. “You know,” she said. “I missed my father, too. But in a totally different way.” “Different how?” “Different as in I hated him. Hate. Present tense. So… okay, maybe not really the same. More like: I lived through the aftermath. I was never not aware of what he’d done to my mom, or to me. To us.” “Why did he leave?” “I still don’t know.” She sighed. “You know, for a long time, I blamed myself. Mom said it was normal, but then she said he didn’t have to leave. He chose to.” “Your mom sounds killer.” “She is. We were on our own a long time. She wasn’t just my mom. She was, like, my best friend. Sometimes she still got all up in my face, and we had disagreements. Sometimes she was my nemesis, too. But if this were a video game, she’d have been my sidekick, not one of the bosses you have to fight. Not even the weakest one, and definitely not the big, evil ones.” “That’s your dad,” I ventured.


AWAKE IN THE WORLD

“That’s my father,” she corrected. “He’s not my dad.” She pressed her hand against my chest, eased me onto my back. Just like that, we were lying side by side on the deck. She was so close. She lifted my arm and put it around her, then laid her head on my chest. “Um,” I said. She peered up at me. “Why, Zachary, your face is as red as your hair.” “Shut up.” She laughed, and after a moment, she said, “This is nice.” “What is?” “This. Being with you, on this boat. Under these stars.” “You like the stars.” “Mostly. Now and then they remind me of him, and I hate that I love them. He almost ruined the most important thing in the world for me.” She sighed. “They make me feel small. I used to like to feel small. But then he made me feel small, too, and all I wanted after that was to be as big as I could.” “The stars made me feel small, sometimes. Like I didn’t matter.” “Oh, we matter,” she said. Her voice became distant, a little reverent. “We’re exceptional. Cosmic accidents. Even if we aren’t totally alone in the universe, we might as well be. We’re unthinkably far from anything else. We’re on our own.


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Nobody’s going to save us.” “From what?” “From ourselves.” “Oh.” Hesitantly, I touched her hair; she didn’t stop me. In fact, it seemed as if she pushed her head upward, ever so gently, against my hand. “Do…you feel alone?” She didn’t answer right away. “Sometimes. Maybe. Not right now.” Then she added, “I think the stars are what you put into them. An optimist looks at them and feels excitement; they’re only full of possibility. But to a sad person, they can be hypothermic.” I liked listening to her, and I didn’t want to interrupt her flow, but I had to. “Hypothermic?” “You know. Like they just make you feel cold and small and alone. But you know what I think?” she went on. “We’re never really alone. Sometimes I can’t sleep, you know? And I like to imagine that no matter how lost or different or lonely I feel, there’s always at least one other person who feels the same way at the same moment. Someone’s always awake somewhere else in the world.” “Like me.” All those nights I’d come to this very spot. Not realizing she was awake, too. She sat up. “Dude. Have you seen—” “Did you just call me ‘dude’?”


AWAKE IN THE WORLD

“Dude,” she repeated. “Have you ever seen—” “I really don’t think you should call me ‘dude.’” She ignored me. “The greatest photograph ever taken?” “The one with the little girl in the yellow coat, running away from—” “Ha. Not a meme, you jackass. The ultra-deep field photograph.” “I don’t know what that is.” “For kicks, NASA pointed the Hubble – you know what the Hubble is, right?” “Yes, I know what the Hubble is.” “Okay. Well, NASA—” “I chewed it when I was little. Hubble-Bubble.” She thumped me in the chest. “They pointed the telescope at this one small corner of the sky. Just a couple stars there, right? And they left it there for a few months and assembled a sort of picture of what it saw. And they zoomed in on the picture, over and over and over, and every time, the picture revealed thousands upon thousands upon thousands more—” “Bananas,” I suggested. “Galaxies. Some were so old they were around just a few hundred million years after the big bang. They still might be, but we won’t know for a really long time.” “Wow,” I said, filling my voice with awe. “Vanessa, you’re


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a…a nerd.” She punched me this time. “Shut up.” “Also, you punch me a lot. I’m not sure how I feel—” She swung again, but I grabbed her hand and let her momentum pull her close to me. Suddenly her face was near enough that the fog of her breath enveloped us both. She fell quiet, and in that moment I felt every vibrating nerve, every ridge of her fingerprints, like a pattern of glowing coils upon my skin. Her face was in shadow, and the moon turned her hair translucent. I raised my hand to her cheek, expecting cold skin. But it was superheated, flushed beneath my touch. I brushed my thumb over her lower lip; I couldn’t imagine a more intimate thing to have done. “I, uh – should get home,” she said. Softly. Shakily. I didn’t want to let go. But I heard myself reply, just as quietly, “Okay.” She pushed against me and got to her knees, then her feet, and helped me up. Her breath came quick and ragged. I knew how she felt; my heart kicked against my ribs in just the same way.

“New subject,” Vanessa said. Her hand was warm in mine as we walked back. “If you could have lived in any era, when


AWAKE IN THE WORLD

would you have been born?” “You mean, like, do I secretly wish I was a pioneer or something?” “Yeah. Like, sometimes I think I was born too late. Doesn’t everybody?” “Because you wish you were born in the Bronze Age?” “You know what I mean.” “I don’t know. I mean, this era sucks, don’t get me wrong. But it might also be the best our family’s ever had it. Which isn’t saying much. And that’s pretty sad. My great-grandparents came here from…I forget. Cullen? Cullentown? Somewhere in Ireland. We’re Irish, or at least a little bit.” She eyed my hair. “Never would’ve guessed.” “Do you wish you lived in a different era?” “I would’ve been born in the seventies,” she said. “But not before. I’d rather not be burned at the stake just because I know how the solar system works.” “The seventies,” I repeated. “Not to see Star Wars opening day, I’m guessing.” “You know about Voyager, right?” “Satellite,” I said. “Right?” She made a face, and I corrected myself: “Okay. Not a satellite.” “It was a probe. Though I’ll grant you, it does look a bit like a backyard satellite dish with legs. But that was the seventies


JASON GURLEY

for you.” “If you were born in the seventies, you’d still be too young to work on Voyager.” “Oh, no. I was born at the perfect time for a Voyager junkie,” she said. “We’ll be hearing about its discoveries for our whole lives. You know it’s supposed to exit the heliosphere soon?” “The…what?” She let go of my hand, formed a circle with hers. “Pretend there’s a huge bubble around the solar system, right? We’ll never go outside that bubble. At least not in our lifetimes.” She was glowing. “But Voyager will. We have no idea what it’ll see. And – it’s got this thing on board, the—” “Golden Record,” I finished. She stopped walking. “You already know all this.” “Are there people who don’t?” “You’d be surprised.” “I just know what it is,” I said. “Not what you were going to say.” “Well – okay. So Carl Sagan worked on the project, right? He fell in love while he worked on it. With this brilliant woman named Annie. That’s a whole other story. A beautiful one, but not my point. My point: Voyager is going places we might never go. It’s taking our story with it. How is that not romantic?” She studied my face. “You really do know all this already.”


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“Not the falling in love part. I just like to hear you gush about stuff.” “My father was like that,” she said. “Gushy about space things. Except he hated Carl Sagan. And everything he stood for.” “Well, he’s not here, is he.” “Thank god,” she said, and we started walking again. She looped her arm through mine. “I’d be born back then because he taught astronomy at Cornell. I could have studied under him.” “Your father,” I said. “Sagan.” “Oh. Science guy, right?” She took another playful swing at me, and I tickled her, and we staggered onto someone’s lawn, laughing. After I caught my breath, I said, “So you wish you could have learned from him. Like, actually sat in a classroom with him. That’s why Cornell.” “Yes. Exactly that. That’s exactly what I dream of.” “So you’d learn, like, everything you don’t already know—” “There’s a lot I don’t know.” “—from a substitute father figure.” “Ye—” She took a hard step back. “That wasn’t nice.” “I didn’t mean it meanly.” I reached for her hand, but she pulled it away. “No, see, I just meant… No, okay. You’re right.


JASON GURLEY

That was mean. It could only have been mean. I’m sorry.” Vanessa bit her lip. I could see her working over her options: stay or go. In the end, she stayed…but something had changed. Her mood had darkened. Dammit. She walked a few paces behind me for the next block, and then she said, in a much smaller voice, “You’re not wrong, though.” I turned back to face her. “I’d never thought of it…that way.” I wasn’t even certain she was talking to me. “I legitimately hate him,” she said. “I hate him for poisoning the stars. I can’t look at them without thinking of him, even just in the back of my mind, you know? And I hate him for this,” she said, circling her face with her index finger. “You know my mom is part Japanese?” I remembered the night at the football game. Her mother’s face mostly hidden away behind that scarf. “Not that you’d know by looking at me.” She was angry now, but not at me. Angry at someone who wasn’t even here. I knew how that felt. That kind of anger always just beneath the surface, never predictable. Just coming out when you didn’t want it to. Like now. She raged on: “I have her hair, see? But plenty of white girls have dark hair. The rest of me, all this –”


AWAKE IN THE WORLD

that finger around her face again – “it’s him. His eyes, his mouth. He had a stupid baby tooth, too. All these stupid reminders of him, and almost nothing from my mom. She’s the one who stayed. He was the one who didn’t even want…” She trailed off, stopped walking. I reached for her hand, and this time she let me. “I’d go all the way back,” I said. “If I could.” She looked at me, still lost in her frustration. “What?” “If I could have been born sometime else. I’d go right back to the beginning.” She blinked, not understanding. “To the…big bang? I mean…you’d just die. Instantly.” “No,” I said. “To my all-the-way-back.” She saw it then. “Your dad.” “I wouldn’t be born in a different era,” I said. “I’d keep this one. I’d relive every single day, if I could, right up until the day he left us for that last shift. Then I’d go back again. Start again.” “A time loop.” “Over and over again. Forever.” “There would be consequences,” she said. “Everything you want to do with your life, it wouldn’t matter. College, if you want that. Raising your sisters. You’d cut it all off every time you rewound to the beginning. Time would lose meaning each time you reset.”


JASON GURLEY

“Yeah,” I said. “But…” “But your dad.” “Yeah.” She put her head on my shoulder, and I draped my arm around her shoulders. When we arrived home again, I could see Derek through the window, washing dishes. Leah sat on the counter beside him. As I watched, my brother leaned towards her, rested his head on her shoulder. The water kept running. I was torn between admiring the sweetness of the moment and rapping on the window to tell him to shut the water off. Vanessa stopped me before we reached the door. “What?” “We’re bound to screw this up,” she said. I knew what she meant: the way she’d blundered into Mama’s room, the stupid comment I’d made about father figures. “But promise me something.” “What?” “That you won’t just quit.” She drew a deep breath, as if it had taken effort to say that. “Like, tell me when I screw up. And I’ll tell you. But don’t just…quit.” She hesitated, then added, “It’s dumb, but I don’t think I’d handle that very well.” I caught movement in my peripheral vision, a glimpse of Derek disappearing from the window. He knew we were back, but the front door remained shut.


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“I promise.” I pulled her in tight and rested my cheek against her hair. She sighed, and I said, “You know, if I could go back – all the way back, like that – then this never would have happened.” Her cheeks were pink. She rose onto her toes and pressed her lips to the tip of my nose. Her dark eyes danced. Softly, she said, “Happy birthday…dude.”


BEAUTY SLEEP KATHRYN EVANS Laura is dying. Her last desperate hope is to be frozen until she can be cured. But what happens when you wake up one day and the world has moved on forty years?

“A fantastic story which reads like a feature length episode of Black Mirror.� S.M. Wilson, author of The Extinction Trials


KATHRYN EVANS

Laura When I woke, I felt like I’d necked a few pints of snakebite. Snakebite and black: half-and-half lager and cider with blackcurrant. Turns your vomit purple when you puke it up. Which you will. I tried to catch the thread of memory, but whatever it was, it danced out of my reach. I blinked. Everything was soft with light. A shadowy figure swam in front of me. “Welcome back.” I tried to speak and a dry whisper came out: “Where…?” “You’ve been through a bit of a rough time, I’m afraid. Your name is Laura Henley. You’ve been very unwell but you’re okay now. You’ve been asleep for quite a while. There’s nothing to worry about. You’re at Blackhurst Clinic and we’re taking care of you.” I tried to reach towards the voice but my limbs were too heavy – lifting an arm was beyond me. I said, “I can’t see you.” “Well, I’m not much to look at, to be honest.” Someone laughed at that. It sounded nice. He said, “My name is Benjie Bautista, I’m the doctor in charge of your care here.”


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Pain gnawed through my brain. “Head…” I managed to say. “Hurting?” he asked. I gave the tiniest nod. “Mariya, can you increase drug release?” Someone did something and the pain in my body eased, leaving behind a vague feeling of something forgotten. Something important – but what? Thinking was…hard. The voice said, “What can you remember, Laura? Can you tell me your full name?” Name. My name. He had said it earlier, what was it? “Laura…Henley?” I whispered, searching my empty brain for some hint as to who Laura Henley was. “Good, good. Do you know where you are?” What had he said? “Clinic?” It came out in a muffled lisp, my mouth too dry and sore to form the word properly. Someone poked a wet stick in my mouth and swabbed it round my lips. I spat it out but my mouth felt better after. I tried to touch my lips. It was a monumental effort to move my arm and it was so heavy that I dropped it, like a fleshy lump, and smacked myself in the face. The man lifted my hand gently and put it back by my side.


KATHRYN EVANS

I blinked, trying to clear the film over my eyes. “Can’t see.” “Try not to worry, there’s technically nothing wrong with your eyes, they’re just not used to being used. It’s been a while.” “Why…?” “You’ve been very ill.” I tried to remember something. Anything. “Punched me…in chest.” A woman laughed again, soft and gentle and very amused. The man, the doctor, Benjie, said, “We didn’t punch you, Laura. I’m sorry to say your heart stopped beating – we had to restart it.” “That’s bad.” The laugh again. I liked it, it sounded…kind. “Pretty bad,” said Benjie, “but it’s a lot better now.” In those first few days, I didn’t much care who Laura Henley was. I didn’t much care about anything. Heat and pain cycled through my chemical-soaked body and it was all I could do to just keep breathing. I woke and slept and woke and slept for what seemed like for ever. But eventually things began to change. One afternoon Benjie came in with a group of people. I’d just woken up and, as I blinked myself properly awake, I realized I could see his face more clearly.


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“Your eyes are crinkly.” He laughed and they crinkled up even more. “They are, and they’re going to stay that way. I like my crinkles.” He turned to the group of people and I guess he smiled at them too because they all smiled and nodded back and I could see them. My heart swelled a little bit. “I can see you. I can see all of you.” “What perfect timing,” Benjie said, “because I think you’re ready to properly meet your recovery team. It’s still early days but your test results are looking good, which means it’s time to start some serious work.” “Work?” How could I work? I could hardly move. “Don’t panic,” Benjie said. “We’ll be with you every step of the way, but we need to step things up if we’re going to maximize your recovery. You know Mariya…” She was my day nurse. “And Stephen, who’s catching up on his beauty sleep. They’re your dedicated nursing team, but we need a bit more expertise to get you fully back to normal. Edna will be heading up your physiotherapy and nutrition and Vera your psychiatric rehabilitation.” He indicated two interchangeable square women with matching cropped blonde hair and white tunics. I said, “Hello.” They smiled at me encouragingly. Their teeth were dazzlingly white. Weirdly white. Like light-pinging-off-them


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white. I was staring at that when Benjie said, “And this” – he stepped back with a flourish – “is Miss Lilly.” A woman with a razor-sharp black bob stepped daintily forward. She had huge violet eyes, pale pink glossy lipstick and skin like a china doll. She was absolutely stunning and…I know this is going to sound weird…but she smelled incredible. It was like a warm hug of scented air: orange and wood and a hint of black pepper, fresh and warm and spicy. She smiled at me and something in me melted. “Laura. It is so lovely to see you wide awake and back with us properly.” She held a hand out to me, careful to help as she took mine – she must have known I could still barely lift my arms. Her fingers were cool and delicate and held mine like she didn’t want to let me go and then she did and I felt cut adrift. I wanted her to take my hand again - so much so, I tried to reach out. It was ridiculous. I didn’t even know her. Or did I? The thought came with a grip of panic, both scary and embarrassing: should I know her? That’s the weird thing about forgetting everything – it’s strangely calm, like sitting in the eye of a storm, in the empty spot where nothing hurts you. Until the storm touches you, with all its infinite ways of causing harm.


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Meeting Miss Lilly was the first brush of the storm, the first lurch of need. A real, deep down, desperate need to know. Who was she? Why did I feel a connection to her? I looked at Benjie and then back at her. “Do I know you?” She leaned forward, placing the backs of her fingers against my cheek. That scent enveloped me again and I pressed my face towards her hand. “One thing at a time, sweetheart, let’s get you better. You have the best people I could gather to look after you. They assure me your memory will come back, but it has to be taken gently, okay?” I nodded and someone took a photograph of us. Benjie said, “And that’s Giles, head of media, but you don’t need to worry about him for a while.” Miss Lilly took her hand away, leaving the faintest trace of perfume on my skin and a yearning in my heart. She said, “Okay team, over to you. This young woman means everything to me, I want one hundred per cent from all of you. Understood?” They all nodded crisply in reply and she left, taking the sunshine with her. I made myself concentrate on Benjie as he said, “Physio starts tomorrow, Laura, but today we’re going to start weaning


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you off that drip and onto these delicious milkshakes!” He gestured to a trolley Mariya had with her. It carried a single metal beaker with a fat glass straw in it. Unfortunately, my brain had gone out of the door with my mystery visitor. I said, “Who was that?” Benjie said, “That was Miss Lilly, head of the world’s most famous skincare company and owner of this clinic. Now, let’s see if we can sit you up.” Edna or Vera, one of them – it must have been Edna, as she was in charge of physio – went around the other side of my bed. Between her and Benjie, they tried to get me into a sitting position while I carried on asking questions. “Why is she helping me? Do I know her?” I slumped sideways, so feeble I couldn’t even hold my own weight. They sat me back, moving some pillows so I was more supported. I was distracted for a minute, because for the first time I could see out of the window opposite my bed. The sky was blue and the tops of trees were visible in the distance. It looked like the clinic was sat in an enormous park. Did Miss Lilly own the park too? “What is this place? Is she my mum?” I said. Benjie sat on my bed. “Okay, let’s take it one part at a time. Firstly, Blackhurst Clinic is famous for providing anything from beauty treatments and relaxation to cosmetic augmentation


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and addiction rehabilitation. Historically, it’s also been at the forefront of some very innovative clinical research. That’s why you’re here. Secondly, Miss Lilly doesn’t have any children. She is the very famous, very wealthy face of Miss Lilly skincare. She has the money to help you and a generous heart. That’s as much as I can tell you. I’m sorry, Laura. When you’ve started to remember, we’ll do everything we can to accelerate that, but right now, we need to let your brain rewire itself without too much interference from us.” Something deflated inside me, just a little bit. If she wasn’t my mum, who was I? I could be anyone: a serial killer or a spy; a princess or a pauper. I had no idea and, for the sake of my own brain, no one was going to tell me. Benjie said, “Now then, aren’t you desperate to try Edna’s delicious milkshake?” I smiled. “Actually, yes, I think I am.” All I’d had since I’d woken up was water and whatever came through the drip in my arm. Benjie stepped out of the way and Edna picked up the metal beaker and held the straw against my mouth. Some muscle memory told me what to do and I sucked. And sucked. And nothing came up the tube. “Come on,” Edna said, “you’re nearly there.” I tried again and a dollop of cold, tasteless gloop plopped


KATHRYN EVANS

onto my tongue and slithered down my throat. I gagged on it, turning my head away, and a memory bowled into me so hard that it knocked the breath from my lungs. Feeding a little boy with a head full of brown curls. His face turning this way and that, smearing his skin with the white goo on the spoon as he shouted, “No, Lulu. No!” I clutched the sheets. Sweat chilled my skin. I looked desperately at Benjie. He said, “What is it? Pain?” I shook my head, shivering as I whispered, “A little boy.” “A memory?” “He called me Lulu. Who is he, Benjie? I think I’m going to be…” Benjie whipped a cardboard dish in front of me as the gloop came back up. I knew then that I’d forgotten something important, so terribly important, to do with that little boy. I was sure of it and it frightened me. I clutched at Benjie, trembling. “Who is he, Benjie? I should know, I can feel it!” But Benjie couldn’t help, or wouldn’t. He just gently patted my shoulder until I fell into an exhausted sleep. When I woke up, Vera was sitting by my bed. I pretended I was still asleep.


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“I saw you open your eyes,” she said. “I’ll still be here when you want to speak to me.” With a sigh, I looked at her. “Who is he, Vera?” “I think you are on your way to remembering that yourself. Be patient.” That single snapshot of memory had ripped my heart out and put it back in sideways. It scared me. I was comfortable in the clinic, cared for - it felt like remembering threatened that. I wanted to know and I didn’t. I said, “Can I have a drink of water?” Vera went to the sink. The sky was pink outside. I said, “Is it morning or evening?” Vera said, ”Evening. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I watched her fill a glass from the single high tap. It curved over the sink like a swan’s neck. Another memory slammed into me. A damp day walking by a pond. My hand inside a larger hand. Two swans circling each other on the water, their heads bowed together, forming a heart. I twirled under the person’s arm, dancing with them as they laughed. I tried to grasp the loose thread of memory but it snapped like rotten cotton. As my brain chased after it, I realized something that filled me with sadness. “Vera,” I said, “why does no one ever come to see me?”


BIRTHDAY MEREDITH RUSSO Meet Morgan and Eric: born on the same day, at the same time and bonded for life. A moving YA LGBTQA+ One Day. A love story for fans of Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli, from the author of If I Was Your Girl .


MEREDITH RUSSO

MORGAN I’m holding my breath, hovering between wavering sunlight and deep, dark blue, arms twirling while my feet kick up and down, slow as tides. I’m not ready to go back up; too much waits for me above the surface. But I know I can’t just float forever. Life always forces you to move, one way or the other, whether you’re bursting into sunlight or swimming down. The pressure in my chest is soon too much to bear. I hold my arms close and wriggle my whole body, shooting out of the water like a mermaid. “A minute and a half!” Eric hollers, splashing me in his excitement. I can barely make out his grin as I wipe water from my eyes. “Told you!” I say. I can see him clearly now. He’s small, a few inches shorter than me, with smart, quick green eyes, shoulder length blond hair, and a narrow, angled face that swoops down to a point at his chin. “You still wanna take a turn, or do you just give up?” “Never!” Eric says. He gulps in as much air as he can, holds his nose, and disappears under the water. I focus on counting out the seconds, lightheaded even though I’ve finally caught my breath. My heart is hammering. I’m gonna tell him when he comes back up. Ten seconds. I’m


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gonna tell him I’m supposed to be a girl, that I can’t stand being a boy any more, that I feel like I’m dying a little bit more every day. Twenty seconds. A girl a few years older than me in a red bikini strides by the pool, heading for some distant part of the water park. I catch myself staring at her body, at the shape of it, at how it moves. I realize I’ve pressed my forearms over my chest and force them back down. There’s nothing to cover. Thirty seconds. Eric’s parents and my dad wave from their table near the pool and I wave back. I’m gonna tell Eric, and if he takes it well, I’ll tell Dad. It’s not that I want to. I have nightmares about making things weird with Eric or adding more stress to Dad’s life after everything that’s happened, but more and more it feels like I’m gonna explode. I’ve tried holding it in. Every day I feel a little more numb, a little more monstrous, more afraid I’ll look in the mirror and find myself twisting into a tall, hairy man who never gets to turn back. I’ve been thinking things that scare me – about not wanting to be alive any more – and I need help. Maybe that help is my best friend, sitting calmly and letting me talk and telling me the way I feel is actually normal, that he’s going through it too, that it’s part of growing up and we’ll pass through it together. Maybe that’s my dad finding someone I can talk to, a therapist or something. I don’t know, but whatever it is has to happen soon


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– I’m thirteen, and the bone-twisting terrors of puberty feel close. Forty seconds. How do you tell someone a secret like this? How do you put it into words? Fifty seconds, and Eric splashes back into view, arms flailing. “How’d I do?” he rasps. “Terrible,” I say. He splashes in my general direction – he’s practically blind without glasses – and I laugh. “How long was I under?” “Not even a full minute,” I say, splashing him back. “Whatever,” he says, rolling his eyes. “We don’t all have your natural talent.” “I run every morning,” I say in a singsong voice. I’d hoped exercising would stop being a part of my life once I quit youth league football, but when your dad’s a coach and a P.E. teacher, it turns out you’re stuck. “Work as hard as me and you’ll be as good as me, scrub.” I float on my back, closing my eyes as the sun warms my face and stomach. I take a deep breath. It’s easier to imagine saying something when I can’t see him. “Hey, Eric?” “Yeah?” “If I tell you something,” I say, “will you promise to keep it a secret?”


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“Dude,” Eric says, sounding almost hurt, “like you even need to ask.” “Good,” I say. I open my mouth to tell him. My heart hammers. I glance to the side and find my best friend, a person I’ve known since the day I was born, watching me with open, curious eyes. Staring into them for too long makes my stomach tight in a way I don’t like, so I swallow and look back up at the sky. If my life were a movie, the characters always know what to say and the boring, disgusting, embarrassing parts would be cut away in the blink of an eye. Indiana Jones would never need to have this conversation, and Godzilla doesn’t have a gender – it just stomped on cars and blew up buildings with nuclear fire. What a charmed life. “So?” Eric says. He falls back into the water and rises, blinking his eyes dry. Then he flips his hair out of his face and smooths it back. My stomach dips. I sink until I’m submerged up to my nose. “So what is it?” I blow a stream of bubbles and look away. He wades over and dips his face, smiling and handsome (shut up shut up shut up shut up) into my field of vision. When he sees my face, his smile shifts the tiniest bit, showing confusion and frustration. “I feel like I’m supposed to be a girl.” I say it under the


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water, the sound coming up garbled. Did Eric make it out? He rolls his eyes. “Fine, don’t tell me, weirdo.” He didn’t hear. I feel sick. Weirdo. Eric swims away, clambers over the edge of the pool, and stands, looking down at me as I follow slowly. Our parents call us over and I imagine saying now: I’m really a girl. It sounds ridiculous. It sounds weird. We run to meet our parents, our wet footprints quickly drying on the hot pavement. Carson, Eric’s dad, is wearing a “Big Kahuna” T-Shirt and long black swim trunks. He’s imposing, over six feet tall, with Eric’s same blond hair cut short and sharp green eyes that always seem angry. He used to like me, back when I played football. I even thought of him like an uncle. But ever since I quit, he barely says anything to me, even when I sleep over at their house. I’ve always thought Eric’s mom, Jenny, looked classic, like a starlet from a black and white movie. She makes me feel welcome at Eric’s house, making sure I have a home cooked meal whenever I’m over there. My dad, all rangy limbs and a deep farmer’s tan from running around on the football field, gives me a tired smile and slouches back in his chair. Our parents have known one another for as long as Eric and I have been alive. They met at


BIRTHDAY

the hospital when we were born, trapped during a freak blizzard – the only September blizzard in Tennessee’s history, apparently. During those three autumn days, Eric and I came into the world, and our parents – our families – became friends for life. Since then, we’ve done everything together. A shared birthday eventually became a shared everything. For a long time our families were closer with each other than we were with our own uncles, aunts, and cousins. Then Mom died and, not too much later, I quit the football team. At least we still do our birthday together. “You boys ready for lunch?” Jenny asks, lifting her oval sunglasses with a smile. I flinch at her casual use of the word “boys” but try to hide it. It wasn’t always like this. It used to be a dull pain, the ache of a bruise, a faint confusion when school activities split us into boys and girls – but in the last year it’s grown unbearable. I might have said something sooner, vaguely remember wanting to say something sooner, but I actually used to like football, and I knew instinctively that two kinds of kids weren’t allowed to play: girls and sissies. I didn’t want to give up something I liked, and I didn’t want to be made fun of. Back then, stamping


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down my confusion was easier, but over time it’s turned into something like you’d see in a cartoon, where a character plugs a leak with their finger only for two more leaks to pop out in its place. Feels like it’s only a matter of time before the dam bursts right in my face. “Not yet,” Eric says to his mom as he twists out his hair. “I want to hit the Vortex.” Our white and blue birthday cake sits at the centre of the table. It says Happy birthday, boys! in red icing, so even if grocery store cakes didn’t taste like trash compared to Mom’s baking, I still wouldn’t want to eat it. I nod along with Eric and try to look like I’m excited about the Vortex, too. “Okay,” Dad says, starting to rise. “I’ll come with you.” “Hey, hey, Tyler. They’re thirteen now,” Carson says, leaning back and sipping his Coke. “Maybe it’s time to let out the reins a little bit.” “Maybe you’re right,” Dad says, scratching his cheek. He looks at me, giving me an are you okay? expression. Dad used to let me run around like a crazy person, used to say it was good for boys to scuff their knees. But then Mom got sick, and then she got sicker, and a year ago she was gone, and ever since it feels like he’s either always on the football field, gone, or trying to put a leash around my neck. It’s like we’re both treading water around each other, unsure of how to act


BIRTHDAY

without her. I let my hair fall into my face. It’s always easier to view the world through the veil of my hair. I turn, and with my eyes locked on Eric we jog away from the pool toward the main walkway, closer to the looming shadow of the Vortex. “You okay?” Eric asks as we get in line and start to mount the wrought-iron stairs. “I’m fine,” I say. I have to tell him. I have to tell him. “Is it because you’re scared of heights?” Eric asks. I look around and we’re almost to the top now. A breeze whips Eric’s hair. A cloud of starlings wheels above the park like a school of fish. “I’m not scared of heights,” I say, rolling my eyes. “I’m not scared of anything.” What a lie. “Then why are you acting weird?” “I’m not,” I say. I look down at my feet and at the dizzying vista visible through the gaps in the wrought iron. Eric gives me a look like he doesn’t believe me, but before he can say anything else, we’re on the top platform with the dark, open mouth of the waterslide beckoning. An attendant guides us to a small, yellow inflatable raft and instructs us to hold onto the handles, not to stand up, not to leave the raft, not


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to do any of the stupid things teenage boys apparently do, which reminds me for the millionth time: I’m a teenage boy now. It’s official. I feel sick. “Ready?” the attendant asks us. I nod. Eric shoots his arms in the air and hollers. The attendant laughs, nudges the raft with a sandaled foot, and suddenly we’re wrapped up in dark, screaming motion. The raft careens through the tube, riding so high on the walls whenever we turn that it feels like we might go flying. Eric laughs manically, shielding his face with his arms as water sprays us. I laugh too. The excitement builds and builds, eclipsing every other emotion, until finally I yell into the darkness: “Eric! I want to be a girl!” “All right!” Eric shouts. And I can’t believe it. All right? All right. He said all right. I just let my body laugh, let the laughter twist and erupt out of me like poison flowing out of a wound, and suddenly I feel weightless. A circle of light appears, blinding at first, expanding at the speed of sound, and then we’re bathed in sunshine, tumbling, flipping over the raft into the pool below. I’m the first to the surface. I tread in place for a moment, ignoring the rushing water, the screaming children, the music blaring over the park’s PA. I told him. I told him. It’s all right.


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Eric comes up a moment later, flailing and gasping for air, his eyes hidden behind a wet sheet of curly hair. I grab his arm and drag him to shallow water, sputtering and laughing at the same time. “That was rad!” “It was awesome!” I say, splashing as my arms fly into the air. All right. All right. He said all right. “What’d you say in there?” he asks me, panting. “I couldn’t hear.” “Oh,” I say, my insides tightening up. He didn’t hear. He doesn’t know. I’d had a vision as I’d gone down the waterslide, or a cloud of competing visions, all paradise in their way: Eric telling me I’m normal, Eric telling me I’m not normal, but he understands and he’ll still talk to me and keep my secret, and, distantly, but shining gold and warm, a vision of myself as a girl, walking happily next to him at school as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. The visions flicker out like heat ripples on pavement. My stomach keeps twisting, but it’s useless to try to stop it. I slowly wade my way out of the pool. Everything’s spinning. I run to the nearest trash can, brace my hands on the rim, and throw up.


 


MY SECRET LIES WITH YOU FAYE BIRD Alys appeared last summer. She came for one day, and then she left. Ifan fell in love with her. Hannah hated her. And Marko regrets what they did.

A darkly emotional and atmospheric summer thriller. Intense, compelling, heart-breaking. Perfect for fans of Sue Wallman, Karen M McManus, E Lockhart.


FAYE BIRD

Alys When I first saw you all sitting, talking, laughing, by the lifeguard hut on the beach, you all looked so happy. It was kind of intoxicating. I watched you for a little while, and then I kept on watching. I couldn’t stop. All I wanted was to have what you all had. And as I watched I only had one thought – I want to be a part of that. The day we spent together at the lake was one of the best. If I hadn’t seen you that day, spent it with you, I’m not sure I would have ever done what I did. So I want to say thank you. And I hope that if you feel what I have done is wrong, you will find a way to forgive me, and if you don’t understand why I am doing what I’m doing now, this letter will in some way help you try. Cait The cove was a tiny horseshoe of a beach tucked into craggy grey rocks. As soon as we got to the edge of the final field and clambered down the sloping slates onto the sand, Marko started to walk a little faster, ahead of me, looking around. There must have been about twenty or so people there. I guessed he was looking for someone he knew, and I suddenly felt like a complete oddball, a stranger, and I wished I hadn’t


MY SECRET LIES WITH YOU

come. It was intimidating seeing all these people I didn’t know, standing or sitting in groups, their bags dumped down around them, surrounded by food and drink, chatting, building fires for a barbecue, playing music. “Come on, let’s head over this way,” Marko said suddenly, and he started to stride towards two people who’d got a fire going a little away from everyone else, on the far side of the cove. “Hey!” Marko called out as we got closer. I followed and smiled at a boy, and then a girl, who both looked up at the sound of Marko’s voice, and jumped to their feet to greet him, the girl throwing her arms around his neck. “Alright?” she said, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek, before stepping back. It was then that I recognized her – the girl from the deli; the ridiculously pretty girl I hadn’t been able to stop looking at, who’d served me my ice cream. “Alright, Marko,” said the boy, shaking Marko’s hand in this really formal way and then sitting back down on the sand by the fire. I wondered if Marko was going to introduce me, but he didn’t, and as he sat down on the sand I decided to just sit down next to him. The boy looked up at me, expectantly. “Hi,” I said. “I’m Cait.” “Ifan,” he said, and I nodded, and I looked up at the girl,


FAYE BIRD

who was still standing in the space where she and Marko had been hugging just a moment ago. She paused for a minute, looking at me, and then came and sat down next to Ifan. “I’m Hannah,” she said and she gave me a quick smile that wasn’t really a smile at all. “Hannah works in the deli,” Marko said, “where they sell the amazing ice cream. Did you go, by the way?” “Yeah, I did. I saw you today actually…” I said now looking at Hannah. “You served me, you probably don’t remember—” “Today?” Hannah said, and she looked directly at me again. “No, sorry. I don’t remember you.” She smiled at Marko, and then laughed. “I mean, I’m not being rude or anything, but I don’t remember you at all.” And somehow in the way she said it, she sounded really rude. I wondered for a moment how she’d done that. Said one thing, but totally implied another. “So…” Hannah said, looking at Marko now, and then looking at me, “Cait is…?” “Sorry – yeah,” Marko said. “Cait is staying in the cottage next to Dad’s. She arrived yesterday.” “You on holiday?” Ifan said. I nodded. Ifan and Hannah had pretty strong Welsh accents. It made me realize that Marko didn’t have an accent at all. I hadn’t really noticed that until now.


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“Where you from? London by any chance?” Ifan said. “Yup, London,” I said. “I love London,” Hannah said. “I’ve only been once, mind you.” “It’s where I’ve always lived, so I guess I’m lucky, really,” I said. Hannah nodded. “You are. I’d like to live there. So much going on. Not like here.” I wondered where Marko was from. I hadn’t asked him before. Ifan looked up. “You think you’d like it busy all the time, Hannah, but I reckon you wouldn’t. All those cars, all those people. I reckon you like the idea of London more than the reality.” “Yeah, maybe. I didn’t like the tube much,” Hannah said. “It stunk.” “Not many people like the tube,” I said, “even Londoners.” Hannah smiled and it felt like in some small way I might have slightly won her over, and it pleased me, because I really felt like I needed to win her over somehow. “So are there lots of people here you all know?” I asked, glancing around us at everyone gathered in their groups in the cove. “Some from sixth form,” Ifan said. “But we don’t hang


FAYE BIRD

around with them all that much. It’s hard not to all end up in the same place when word of a beach party gets out. You know, small place, small school, and all that.” I knew what Ifan meant. Mia and Jade and I were a three, we were solid, friends since Year Seven, but we were looking forward to breaking away from everyone else and going to a new sixth form, meeting some new people next year. Easier to do that in a bigger place like London. But I didn’t say anything and there was silence, and suddenly it felt kind of awkward. “Which is why it’s nice that we’ve met you, Cait,” Marko said, filling the silence, and I nodded, embarrassed that he was making me the centre of attention somehow, and because Ifan and Hannah were both looking at me. “Someone new to hang out with,” he said. “Yeah,” I said, and I smiled. “Like Alys,” Ifan said, and I looked over at him as he said it and saw Hannah and Marko share a look between them. “Alys?” I said. It felt like the whole atmosphere had suddenly changed. Ifan took a swig of his beer, and then jammed the bottle in the sand between his feet, looking down. “So who’s Alys?” I asked, because seriously, no one had replied. “Just some girl we met last summer,” Hannah said. “She


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hung out with us for a bit.” I nodded and looked at Marko, but he was looking across at Hannah now, like he was trying to reassure her or something. Ifan was swirling his beer bottle around, making circles on circles in the sand. “Kind of like you’re doing now,” Ifan said, looking up for a moment. “Joining our gang. Except Alys was different.” “Different how?” I said. Ifan didn’t reply. It felt kind of awkward again. But I didn’t know what he meant. Did he mean that she was differentgood? And I was different-bad? It felt that way. It felt like Ifan had given me a little jab, a little punch to the stomach. It didn’t seem to matter that Marko had invited me here – in about three minutes flat Hannah had been kind of rude and Ifan had made me feel like a complete hanger-on. “So, is she coming tonight?” I asked, for something to say rather than anything else. And because I wondered whether maybe I’d like Alys more than I liked Ifan and Hannah right now. Maybe Alys would be more my sort of person. More like me. “No,” Hannah said. “Or at least, not as far as we know, but we really don’t know that much.” ‘Right,” I said, not really understanding why this all seemed to be so torturous.


FAYE BIRD

“She left kind of suddenly,” Ifan said, carrying on playing with his bottle in the sand. “Last summer.” “So what happened?” I said, because clearly there was something going on, but no one was really saying what it was, and I really wanted to know now. “Just forget it,” Hannah said. “Ifan should never have mentioned it.”


JEMIMA SMALL VERSUS THE UNIVERSE TAMSIN WINTER Jemima Small knows everything there is to know about the universe - she has the test scores to prove it - but there’s one thing holding her back from competing on her favourite TV show, and that’s her fear of taking up space. A brilliantly funny and touching new novel about body confidence and learning how to be happy with who you are. Perfect for fans of Judy Blume, Lisa Williamson and Holly Smale, Tamsin Winter is the big sister every reader on the cusp of her teenage years needs.


TAMSIN WINTER

This book is dedicated to anyone who has looked in the mirror and felt like nothing. I hope this story reminds you that you are everything. And to my niece, Lucia, for whom my love will always be bigger than the universe. 1. Space I’m going to tell you the word that ruined my entire life: Big. Jemima Big. Jemima Big. Jemima Big. Jemima’s as big as a whale! Which is completely stupid. Even the smallest species of whale is 2.7 metres long and weighs 127 kilograms. But it’s pointless telling anyone that. People at my school don’t care about facts. They still say I look like one. They still call me Jemima Big when my name is Jemima Small. It’s typical of my life that I look like the exact opposite of my own name. And you can’t change your name when you’re twelve because the government doesn’t let you. Not without your parents’ permission anyway. And considering I haven’t seen my mum since I was six, and my dad never lets me do anything good, it’s not going to happen. Begging doesn’t work with my dad, and neither does emotional blackmail. He’s


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unsympathetic to my problems, mainly because he doesn’t believe I have any. Even though she left me, I wish I had my mum’s surname. Jemima Bouviere sounds a million times better than Small. Adjectives as surnames should not be allowed. I used to think being big didn’t matter that much. When I was younger, I thought being the biggest girl in my class was the same as being the tallest, or having the longest hair, or being double-jointed like Izzy Newman, who could bend her thumbs all the way back so they touched her wrists. I thought my size was just a simple fact of nature, like the freckles on my forearms and Izzy Newman bending her fingers into weird shapes at break-time. Then there was this day at the beach when I figured out I was wrong. Like, majorly wrong. It happened during the summer holidays, a few months before I turned eight. Nana was staying at ours and Dad suggested we all go to the beach. We’d gone to the beach almost every day of the holidays anyway. It’s like, 0.4 miles from our house. So close you can hear the sea from my bedroom. Which might sound good, but it’s the reason we never go on a proper holiday abroad. Dad thinks sitting on a pebble beach and putting 2ps in the coin-pusher game at the arcade counts as a summer holiday. It doesn’t. It’s technically staying closer to my house than going school.


TAMSIN WINTER

The first thing that day was when I came downstairs in my bikini. The straps were digging in, so I went to show Dad the red marks under my armpits. As I walked into the living room, Dad gave Nana this look I hadn’t seen before. It was probably the exact same look the commander of the Apollo 13 space mission had on his face when he found out their oxygen tank had exploded. Like: “Nana, we have a problem.” Dad took me to Dolphin Bay Beachwear, this swimsuit shop on the promenade. Dolphin Bay’s the name of the beach. It’s kind of false advertising, because you never see any dolphins there. My brother, Jasper, said he saw some through his binoculars once, but he could have been lying. It’s the type of thing he does. Dad said dolphins sometimes come here to mate, so actually I’m glad I’ve never seen any. The lady in Dolphin Bay Beachwear had pencilled-on eyebrows – I know because one of them was slightly smudged and she raised them as soon as we walked in. She looked down at my tummy and declared, “You’re very round!” in a voice that made it sound like a compliment. But when I looked up at Dad, he was smiling at her apologetically, as though the shape of my tummy was something he should be sorry about. He was standing right next to me with his hand resting on my shoulder, but suddenly I felt like he was galaxies away. “Puppy fat!” he said eventually, and rubbed his beard, like


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he always does when he doesn’t know the answer to something. The lady said to me, “Never mind, dear. I have some swimsuits that will help disguise it a little.” My cheeks burned because I felt intensely stupid, like that time in Year 4 when Miss Reed got really over-excited when she discovered I could do long multiplications in my head. She made me stand at the front of the class and asked me what was 391 x 39. But I got the answer wrong because this boy Dylan Taylor was making stupid faces at me and I forgot to add on one of the carried-over numbers. Miss Reed probably felt a bit stupid that day too. She’d got a new motivational poster for our classroom saying: A diamond is a chunk of coal that did well under pressure! and I informed her that it had no factual basis because diamonds aren’t even formed from coal. She said, “Motivational posters don’t always need a factual basis, Jemima!” Which probably tells you everything you need to know about Miss Reed. Anyway, luckily for her, a question about diamond formation didn’t come up in our SATs. But knowing how diamonds are formed and doing long multiplication in my head didn’t help me at Dolphin Bay beachwear. I folded my arms over my stomach and followed the smudged-eyebrow lady to a rail of swimsuits, wondering why no one had told me before that I was supposed to disguise


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my stomach. And feeling utterly brainless that I hadn’t figured it out by myself. She picked up a black swimsuit, but Dad pretended to faint when he saw the price tag, and told me to choose something from the sale rack. Maybe because he didn’t think I’d been humiliated enough already. When we finally got to the beach, I walked down to the Plank with Jasper. It’s this wooden platform that juts out above the sea. No one knows who built it. It’s been there for years apparently. My dad remembers it from his childhood, so it could have been there for centuries. It was busy because of all the tourists, so we had to queue up. The wooden steps were wet because of the sea spray, so I walked slowly so I didn’t slip. The proper word for sea spray is spindrift, but if you call it that people look at you weird. Jasper ran all the way along the platform and dived in. He always dives in. He says the Plank is seven metres high, but Jasper exaggerates everything. The sea below is about seven metres deep; the Plank’s about four metres above it. It still feels like a big jump though. I walked carefully to the end of the platform and curled my toes over the edge. I heard the crash of Jasper hitting the water, then watched his head emerge from the waves. He shook the water out of his ears and shouted, “SHARK!” I ignored him. He says that every single time so I knew he


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was joking. The only sharks around here are basking sharks and they don’t even attack humans, so it was a doubly stupid thing to say. My brother saying stupid stuff is kind of his thing. I took a deep breath, pinched my nose and peered down at the water. Then behind me I heard, “A whale more like.” Someone sniggered and said, “Yeah, watch out for the tidal wave!” I wanted to tell them that tidal waves are caused by gravity, not by someone jumping off the Plank. And not even a real whale could cause one. That it was an idiotic thing to say. But they looked older than me. And I was worried about my new swimsuit not disguising my stomach properly. Plus, from the way they were laughing, I could tell they didn’t care about being factually correct. I tugged at the edges of my swimsuit, trying to cover an extra centimetre of flesh. Then I heard something else. It was only just louder than a whisper. “She’s grotesque.” But it wasn’t someone young this time. It was a woman about my dad’s age. Her wet hair was swept back and her swimsuit had shapes cut out of the sides, revealing a tummy that looked flat, not round like mine. She glanced at my stomach for a split-second then shook her head and looked away. And my brain stopped thinking about whales and tidal waves, because I could feel her disapproval surrounding me, like water vapour condensing into tiny droplets and forming a


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dense fog. It clung to my skin and suddenly I understood the look Dad had given Nana that morning, and why I needed a swimsuit with brand new tummy-shaping, silhouette-flattering technology. I jumped into the ocean and swam back to shore without stopping. Jasper called me a few times to come back, but I carried on, even though I was almost out of breath. When Nana asked why I was crying, I told her someone had called me a whale. She said, “Oh, sweetheart, it’s because whales are strong swimmers!” But I knew she was lying. She gave me a soft mint and Dad sighed extra loudly and looked at her the same way he had that morning about my bikini, so I didn’t tell them anything else. Maybe you think people can’t weigh you with their eyes, but they can. Maybe you think people who love you don’t lie, but they do. For the rest of that day, I sat on one of Nana’s beach mats with a towel wrapped around me watching people walk past. I listened to their feet sinking into the pebbles, and felt the tiny crystals of sea salt on my skin. And this is what I figured out: there are good-shaped bodies, and bad-shaped bodies, and mine was one of the bad ones. It’s called having a moment of realisation. Like when Isaac Newton saw an apple fall from a tree and discovered gravity.


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Well, I discovered I sucked. And once you’ve figured out something like that, it stays lodged in the frontal lobe of your brain. And each time you look in the mirror, or get changed for P.E., or stand up in class, or feel your stomach roll over your jeans, or notice someone giving you a second look, you get reminded. The frontal lobe is kind of annoying like that. I didn’t move from the beach that whole day. I didn’t go swimming or push Nana along the promenade in her chair, or go to the arcade, or for an ice cream. I just stayed there trying to figure out a way I could hide my body from everyone. Including myself. But it was impossible. How can you hide from your own body? Especially when you’re wearing a neon yellow swimsuit with a picture of a flamingo on it. Almost every night after that, before I went to sleep, I wished on the stars to have a body like the other girls in my class. To be the right shape, like them. I used to wish for my mum to come back too. Because when your dad thinks your body is the equivalent of a spacecraft emergency, and complete strangers find you grotesque, you kind of need her. According to my Auntie Luna, when you wish on the stars, it gets beamed out into the universe. She says if you keep wishing, eventually the universe will listen and it will come true. But, when it’s the first full moon of the year, Auntie Luna strips totally naked and bathes in the moonlight to capture its


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cosmic energy. So, she’s not exactly a reliable source of information. But, no matter how much wishing I did, my body stayed the same shape, and my mum didn’t reappear either. She was probably like the stars: too far away to hear my wishes. I tried not to think about her. But I could feel this empty space in my heart where she was supposed to be. The human heart is only nine centimetres wide, but the empty space inside mine felt bigger than the universe sometimes. I was kind of immune to the name-calling after my first year at Clifton Academy. I’d been called Jemima Big so many times, maybe my heart had been developing antibodies or something, like my blood cells did after the flu jab. But it still didn’t protect me from feeling bad sometimes. Which is probably why hearing stuff like this whispered about me during the end-of-year Awards Assembly kind of hurt: Jemima Big knows so much about space because she takes up so much of it. Jemima Big should do some exercise instead of reading so many books. Jemima Big can solve maths problems but not her weight problem. Being clever when you look like me isn’t a formula for


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success. My achievements just meant everyone gawping at me like they’d never seen someone my size holding a certificate before. And instead of feeling proud, I felt disapproval clinging to my skin each time I went up. So when Ada MacAvoy in Year 9 tripped over a chair walking up to the front, I did feel bad for her. But mostly I felt grateful no one was looking at me anymore. And she knocked into this annoying boy in my class called Caleb Humphries, which was an added bonus. I didn’t think Year 8 would be as bad. I knew I’d still be called Jemima Big, but I thought I’d get used to it. Like Dylan Taylor’s voice shouting ‘sumo’ at break-times eventually fading into the background. And there were good things to look forward to. Like I’d be turning thirteen in October, which meant I’d be a teenager and Dad would finally have to raise my pocket money. It would still be way below the minimum wage, but unfortunately my dad thinks doing household chores doesn’t count as exploitation. But I was still dreading the first day back. I knew people would look to see if I’d had some kind of dramatic transformation over the summer. Well, I hadn’t. I was still Jemima Big. And stupidly, I thought that would be the worst thing. But it’s like when you look up at the night sky, what you see isn’t the whole picture. And it wasn’t long before I started wishing that the entire universe had an escape hatch.


ONE IN A HUNDRED THOUSAND LINNI INGEMUNDSEN Approximately one in a hundred thousand people has the rare physical condition Silver-Russell Syndrome. Sander is one of them. This is his coming-of-age story.

A wry and quirky coming-of-age story about friendship by the author of The Unpredictabilty of Being Human, this is R J Palacio’s Wonder with the misfit cast of Stranger Things.


LINNI INGEMUNDSEN

I failed another test. It must have been the third one in four weeks. I didn’t fail because of my condition. It didn’t happen because I’m dumb. Failing on purpose is actually not as easy as it sounds. You need to make sure you miss over ninety-five per cent of the test without making it obvious. So you can’t put down any ridiculous answers or anything. If you can’t think of something that could be right, but isn’t, it’s better to just leave it blank or put down a question mark. Okay, it actually is pretty easy. I’m not sure if the fact that I have been doing this on purpose makes it better or worse. There was a plan behind it. Not a very good one I suppose, but there was a plan. Apart from my recent underachieving at school I’m pretty much just like everyone else. At the same time I’m not. I like gaming, hanging out with my friends and reading comics. And I like taking pictures, but I don’t know if I’m good at it. I only have about a hundred and fifty followers on Instagram. But maybe that just mean that I’m not very popular. I have two brothers. Jakob is seventeen, two years older than me. He drives a moped and has loads of friends. And girls love him. My younger brother, Adrian, is fourteen. He is stronger than me and faster than me. And just like everyone else on the planet he is also taller than me.


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My dad died when I was six years old. He was a fisherman. He had broad shoulders and big arms. One day he went out to sea. And he didn’t come back. My brothers both look a lot like him. I don’t. I have narrow shoulders and scrawny arms and a tiny waist. My right arm is two centimetres longer than my left arm and it makes me look like a freak. I am fifteen years old and 153 centimetres. For someone with my condition I am considered tall. To everyone else, I’m not. The average height for an adult male in Norway is 179.7 centimetres. I’m not anywhere near average. I was sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for my mom to come home from work. For a while I had been expecting the school to contact her and ask for a meeting or something. I wasn’t really sure how these things work because I hadn’t been in trouble before. It’s not like I am a star student or anything, but I always get by. I jumped at the sound of someone at the door even though I was expecting it. I sat up in my chair and prepared myself for the upcoming talk. Then my mom walked in carrying a grocery bag in each hand. I looked at her, but her facial expression didn’t reveal anything. She didn’t look super happy, but she didn’t look mad either. She just looked normal. “Oh, hey,” she said when she noticed me. Her voice sounded


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normal too. I watched her put away the groceries. She placed two packets of chicken fillets on the counter, which I guessed meant we’d be having them for dinner. With a hundred per cent certainty I knew the chicken would be organic, because we can’t eat chicken unless it is organic. That would just be insane. I wasn’t sure if the reason she didn’t say anything was because she hadn’t heard anything from the school yet, or if she was just torturing me. I couldn’t take the suspense any longer, I had to know. So I said, “How was your day?” She looked up and paused for a minute, “It was fine.” Then she looked at me like I had announced that I was dropping out of school to join the circus or something. “Why do you ask?” I shrugged. “Do I need a reason?” She lowered her shoulders and smiled. “No of course not. It was very nice of you to ask. How was your day?” “Fine.” “Did something happen?” “Nope.” I got up from my chair, “I’ve got homework.” “Okay,” she said. “Dinner will be ready in about an hour.” I went upstairs to my room and started on my homework. I could hear music playing from the next room, which meant that Adrian was home. Not that this was a surprise to me or anything because most of the time he wouldn’t be out


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somewhere without me knowing where he was. I know this is going to sound really, really lame but my younger brother is actually my best friend. There were no sounds coming from Jakob’s room, which made sense as it was Tuesday and he would be at handball practice. For Norwegian class I had to read a poem by Rolf Jacobsen and answer questions about it. It was something about machines eating trees and how this was some sort of hell for wise pelicans. It didn’t make much sense to me. There were five questions connected to the poem and I didn’t really have to do much faking when answering them poorly. I finished my work and then Mom called us down for dinner. I closed my notebook and ran downstairs two steps at the time. When I reached the bottom of the stairs I heard Adrian opening the door to his room. In my mind we had a race and I won. If he had been aware of the race he would have beaten me, so it was better that he didn’t know. I walked into the kitchen and took a seat at the table opposite Mom. Shortly after Adrian came in and sat down next to me. No matter if we are all home or not we always sit in the same places.


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Then we ate our organic chicken with steamed vegetables and brown rice. No one was really talking, because everyone was busy on their phones. Shortly after we could hear someone opening and closing the front door, which was soon followed by a loud thud. That would be Jakob dumping his gym bag on the floor. Next we could hear the sound of his shoes hitting the wall as he kicked them off. My mom hates when he does that, but she didn’t say anything as he walked into the kitchen. She just said hi hardly looking up from her phone. Jakob’s cheeks were red and he smelled like the wind. “Hey,” he said and sat down next to mom opposite Adrian. He helped himself to the food but skipped the rice. Carbs are apparently very bad for you if you want to make it as a handball player. Me, I eat all the carbs I can get. My mom put away her phone and asked Jakob how his practice went. For a while we talked about how many goals he had scored and then we talked about how Adrian finally managed to do this bike trick he has been working on. No one talked about me failing my maths test, because apparently my school is really slow at picking up on these things. You would think they’d pay extra attention to someone like me, right? This is what Google has to say about Silver-Russell


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Syndrome: It is one of many growth disorders. It is characterised by slow growth, starting even before the baby is born. Many children have a poor appetite and often experience learning disabilities, speech problems and an overall delayed development. Some of the most common features for people with this disorder are an asymmetric body and a triangular face. The head has a normal size, but compared to the short body it appears big. What Google doesn’t tell you is what it feels like to be the shortest boy in your class. Or how it feels to know that this isn’t going to change. Or that by the time you start your second year of lower secondary school you will also most likely be shorter than most of the girls in your class who all seemed to have had a growth spurt the summer before. Even though you’re having treatment. Approximately one in a hundred thousand people has Silver-Russell Syndrome. My name is Sander Dalen. I am one in a hundred thousand.


SEAFIRE NATALIE C.PARKER A rollicking high seas adventure. The first in this epic seafaring sisterhood trilogy. “Smart, ferocious, and uncompromising.” Kiersten White, author of And I Darken “A gutsy tale of sisterhood, courage, and unshakable trust. You don’t want to miss this book!” Julie Murphy, author of Dumplin’ “In these turbulent times, Seafire gives teens just what they need: A reminder that with unity and courage, they can rise up and ultimately change the world.” Dhonielle Clayton, author of The Belles and the Tiny Pretty Things series


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Caledonia stretched along the prow of the Ghost as the ship sliced through black water. At night, the ocean offered only a dark reflection of the sky above, and the promise of a cold grave below. Her mother, Rhona, crouched near, a rifle balanced on her knees, eyes surveying the sea road ahead. “Our way forward is marred. Do you see?” she said. Caledonia studied the eddies in the water, searching for the signs that meant there were rocks ahead, or a sunken ship, unusual swirls, or a sudden chop of waves. Rhona was always the first to spot them, but Caledonia was getting better. “Rocks,” Caledonia said, and without waiting for permission, she turned and called to her father where he stood on the bridge. “Three degrees port!” The Ghost nosed south to avoid the sharp danger. On either side, familiar outlines of small islands rose around the ship. These were the waters of the Bone Mouth, a series of islands and rocky protrusions that offered flimsy sanctuary to anyone brave enough to sail them. They were treacherous in daylight, and nearly impassable at night, except by Caledonia’s mother, Rhona Styx, captain of the Ghost. Under her command, they sailed as smoothly as if on open blue waters. Years ago, Rhona liked to remind her daughter, they wouldn’t have needed such stealth. When Rhona was a girl, she


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sailed from the colder northern currents, past the towering Rock Isles, all the way down to the Bone Mouth without any more danger than the occasional storm. Then, so gradually few noticed until it was too late, a man named Aric Athair had grown a fleet of ships armed and armored for taking and killing. His fleet of Bullet ships stretched in a violent chain across the only way in or out of these expansive waters. Anyone on the wrong side of his notorious Net found themselves bent under the pressure of his thumb. Now, after years of dodging Aric Athair and his Bullets, and facing dwindling resources, Rhona had decided the time had come for their small band to punch through the Net. For months, they’d searched for the best way. They’d studied the Bullet ships from a distance and determined the weakest point was at the tip of the Bone Mouth, where even Aric’s ships were loath to sail. The Ghost could make it, but first they needed food—fruit, nuts, and meat if they could get it—to supplement their stores for the unknown waters beyond. Tonight, they resupplied. But tomorrow night, they ran for the very last time. “You and your brother prep for the shore run.” Rhona’s red hair rolled behind her, battling with the wind. A small thrill straightened Caledonia’s spine. From the age of six, she’d campaigned for the responsibility of shore runs to


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be hers. Only in the last year had her mother finally conceded and assigned her the task. But as much as Caledonia cherished the trust her mother placed in her on those occasions, she knew her little brother hated those long dark rides to shore. He would spend the entire night terrified of being so far from the safety of their ship. “Let me take Pisces.” Caledonia climbed to her feet and followed her mother. “We’re a good team. Besides, Donnally’s too young for shore runs. He’s only twelve turns, you know.” Rhona laughed her grizzly laugh. “You know this from all your experience?” Caledonia pictured Donnally’s eyes tight with fear, his mouth pressed into a stoic line as he struggled not to disappoint their mother. “I do,” she answered. “Cala, the only way your brother will learn is by your side,” Rhona said with a sigh, but there was no fight in her words. Mother and daughter skirted the bridge, then took turns sliding down the companionway ladder to the deck below. Even in the moonless dark, they knew their way easily around the Ghost. The ship had become a refuge for families looking to escape Aric’s rule. As their numbers grew, every inch of the ship was transformed to meet a variety of needs—masts supported sails and laundry lines, the galley was transformed daily from a mess hall to a bunk room, even the deck was host to stacked


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garden beds and two goat pens. While more than a dozen men and women were still topside at this hour, most of the crew was asleep in the small cabins below. There were lookouts posted forward and stern and up in the nest, but here in the Bone Mouth, the Ghost had never come across one of Aric’s Bullet ships at night. Bullets were vicious and bold, but most lacked Rhona’s seafaring skill. Caledonia spied her brother crouched behind one of the four mast blocks studding the centerline of the ship, an overlarge jacket hulking around him like a gray cloud. He had their father’s dark hair, their mother’s fair complexion, and a nose that curled up at the tip, giving him a look of perpetual surprise. The lines of a blunted arrowhead tattoo half-filled with black ink peeked out from beneath his curls. A matching one was drawn on her own temple. It was custom on the Ghost for parents to mark their children with unique sigils in case of capture. The mark would give those children the chance to find their family again someday. “I’ll take him next time.” Guilt nudged at Caledonia. Her mother was right. The only way to prepare Donnally for the world was to take him into it, but sometimes she feared for her little brother. The gentle pinch in her mother’s eyes said she did, too.


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“Donnally!” Rhona called. “Hoist your eyes, son!” Donnally started, rocketing awkwardly to his feet before he managed to spot his mother and sister. He trudged across the deck at a reluctant pace, dark hair flopping in his eyes. He schooled his features when he asked, “Shore run?” But the note of tension in his voice gave him away. “Yes, but not for you. Cala’s taking Pi, which means I want you and Ares on watch. Clear?” Rhona pointed toward the nest. Donnally nodded eagerly. “Clear,” he said, giving Caledonia a grateful smile. Rhona pulled her daughter into her arms, planting a kiss on her head. “Get the job done.” “And get back to the ship,” Caledonia finished. By the time they dropped anchor near an island they called the Gem, Caledonia and Pisces were prepped and ready to go. They climbed into the bow boat harnessed against the hull of the Ghost and lowered it to the water as they’d done a dozen times before. With quick strokes of the oars they covered the distance between their ship and the island. Recently, Pisces had grown several inches. She’d outgrown her little brother, Ares, and shot straight past Caledonia, and her height seemed to make her fearless. Pisces’s shoulders were broad and strong, her skin a


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warm, pale brown, and she wore her hair in four long braids. As they rowed, her eyes were full of excitement, focused on the island and its bounty, while Caledonia kept one eye on the black ocean. “It’s too quiet. I don’t like it,” Caledonia said. Pisces pulled in a deep breath and tilted a ready smile toward her friend. “It’s peaceful, like being so far underwater you can’t see the surface.” “That’s called drowning. Only you would find that peaceful.” Pisces laughed quietly to avoid unsettling Caledonia further. Together they moored their boat in a sheltered cove, securing it in a thicket of tall grass. The girls split up to make their work faster, agreeing to meet back at the cove when their sacks were full. The path down the shore was narrow, the ocean as dark as the night sky and nearly as flat. Caledonia moved along the rocky tree line, stuffing fallen coconuts and bananas and jackfruit into the canvas sacks draped across her shoulders. There was enough that she could afford to be picky, though the more she gathered, the longer they’d be able to sail. No one knew what to expect when they broke through the Net. They might need to sail for days or months, and they needed to be


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prepared for both. People once said that beyond the Net were wide-open seas and towns where children weren’t forced into the service of a tyrant, but it was a world Caledonia could not quite imagine. The tide was low and the waves sluggish, burbling and hissing as they surged and receded. In their wake, the sand glittered with the pearlescent shells of burrowing crabs and the slick backs of beached jellyfish. From the dense forest came the looping songs of insects and tree frogs. Perhaps she would return with meat after all. Footsteps, hurried and heavy, sounded behind her. Caledonia’s heart tripped, her hands stuttered on the strap of her canvas bag, and she instinctively slipped through a fall of vines. There had been no other ships in sight for miles. These footsteps must belong to Pisces. They had to. Still, the cadence of the steps refused to conjure the image of Pisces running, long black braids flying behind her. Even away from the Ghost, the rules of the ship still applied. Number one: Never be seen. Caledonia stilled her breathing, adjusted her feet, and disentangled herself from the bag full of fruit. She would be ready to run. She would be ready to fight. The steps grew louder and slower. A dark figure appeared: tall, muscled, male. Instead of racing past as Caledonia hoped he would, the boy stopped a few feet from her hiding place. His


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skin was suntanned and slick with sweat, his vest and pants lined with guns and clips of ammo. His bicep was marked by a single scarred line that even in the dark was bright orange, saturated with the Silt in his blood. He was a Bullet, a soldier from Aric Athair’s army. Aric conscripted children, dismantling families in order to build his empire. Rogue families like Caledonia’s had taken to the water rather than see their children stolen and transformed into soldiers. But because they’d run, if they were ever captured, none would be spared. Not even the children. People more readily offered their children up as payment when they knew the only alternative was death for all. This Bullet couldn’t be much older than Caledonia, seventeen at the most, but the mark on his bicep meant he’d already killed in service to Aric. She smelled the salt of his sweat and the sharp pinch of gunpowder and something unrecognizable and sweet. Caledonia shivered. The boy didn’t look at her, didn’t seem to be aware she crouched so near, her fingers inching her pistol from its holster. Instead, he began to do exactly what she’d been doing. He bent down and collected fruit. She’d never seen a Bullet this close; her parents did their best to keep the Ghost as far from Aric’s fleet as possible. Over


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the years they’d outrun dozens of Bullet ships and collected as many families from other ships and outlying settlements, all while staying out of sight. Rule number two: Shoot first. Her pistol was in her hand, finger curled around the trigger. When the boy turned his back and kneeled to inspect a coconut, Caledonia had the perfect advantage. She would only need one bullet. She raised her pistol and stepped quietly out of her hiding place. The boy froze, dropping the coconut as he raised his hands. “Whoever you are, you have me,” he said. Caledonia didn’t respond, her throat tight as she considered pulling the trigger. “Would it make a difference if I asked you not to shoot?” the boy asked, face forward and eyes on the ocean. “If I begged for mercy?” “Killing you would be a mercy,” she told the Bullet. “Maybe so,” he said, voice at once piteous and resigned. “At least, if you’re going to kill me, let me see your face?” Caledonia’s pulse quickened. There was no time for this. Where there was one Bullet, there were a dozen or more. She needed to find Pisces and get back to the boat, and she needed to do it now. Shoot, her mother’s voice urged, but this was one


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rule Caledonia had never had to follow. Sensing her hesitation, the boy shifted on his knees, spinning to face her. His hands remained steady in the air, but now he watched her. Alarmed, Caledonia took an involuntary step back. “Move again and I’ll shoot.” She raised her aim to his head. He nodded, star-pale eyes fixed on the barrel of her pistol. He had a long face with a jaw that looked sharp enough to be a weapon on its own. Blond hair, thick with sea wind and salt, framed his forehead like a crown. One ear stuck out a little farther than the other, but the effect was endearing. She counted two guns strapped to each of his thighs, which likely meant there were at least two others she couldn’t see. For the moment, she was the one in power, but she knew just how quickly that might change. “At least if I’m to die, it’ll be at the hands of someone lovely.” His eyes charted a slow course across her face. Warmth crept into Caledonia’s cheeks. “Where’s your crew? Your clip?” “I—Can I point?” When Caledonia nodded, he did, back in the direction he’d come from. “Ship’s anchored off the northern tip of the island. Stopped for food.” “One ship?” Caledonia asked. “One ship,” he answered. “We were headed to the Net and


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moored here for the night. It’s a bad moon for traveling.” He could be lying—he was probably lying—but this far from the Holster it could also be the truth. One ship on the opposite side of the island was survivable. As long as she and Pisces returned to the Ghost quickly. But something had to be done about this Bullet. “What’s your name?” she asked. The boy seemed to grow smaller under the weight of that question. “What does it matter if you’re going to kill me?” “It doesn’t.” Caledonia’s finger found the trigger again, and again it stuck there. A sad smile twisted his lips. “Lir. I’m called Lir. And I expect you’ll be the last to know it.” He was so ready to die, and so young. Was he young enough to be saved? They said it didn’t take long for the children Aric took to succumb to the dreamy pull of Silt. Addiction made Bullets both loyal and mean. But they also said an encounter with a Bullet always, always ended in one of two ways: either you died, or he did. Shoot, my brave girl, she heard her mother’s voice whisper. “I’m . . . I’m sorry,” she said, preparing to fire. Her fingers trembled. Now his eyes grew wide, his hands stiff and splayed in the air. “Please,” he said, “please, show me the mercy the Father


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never does. Take me with you. Whatever life you have, it’s got to be better than the one he forces on us. Please, help me.” This was precisely why the rule was shoot first and not shoot as soon as possible or shoot when you feel ready. But she’d broken the rule and now this wasn’t a Bullet, it was Lir. Lir, who desperately wanted a way out. Lir, who hadn’t hurt her. Lir, who might be someone’s brother. If it were Donnally on some other beach with some other girl’s gun to his head, wouldn’t Caledonia want that girl to help him? “Stand up,” she said, lowering her aim to his chest. Lir complied, and his expression softened when Caledonia moved in and pulled six guns and two knives from holsters on his thighs, calves, and back. Up close, he smelled even more like the ammunition he carried, but with a pinch of something too sweet. He kept his hands up as she worked, eyes marking every place she touched him. “Please,” he repeated. “I’ll never have a chance like this again. Please, help me.” The ocean rushed toward them and away, the waves quickening as the tide began to roll in. It was the same tide that would carry all the families aboard the Ghost far away from this terrible life that turned children into warriors, that made


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Lir plead for his life on an empty beach in the middle of a moonless night. She could help him. And she wanted to, but it went against everything her mother had taught her. Shaking her head, she pressed the muzzle of her gun into Lir’s chest. Desperation surfaced in the tremulous bend of his mouth. “What’s your name?” It wasn’t a secret, yet she frowned, refusing to give it up. His smile turned mournful. “How about I call you Bale Blossom, then? It seems fitting.” His eyes raised to trace the frame of her hair. The smile on her own lips surprised her. It wasn’t the first time her hair had been likened to the deep orange of the baleflower, but it was the first time the comparison felt like a compliment. “Call me whatever you like,” she answered. “I still won’t give you my name.” “You don’t trust me. There’s no reason you should, but I’m going to show you why you can.” Caledonia’s finger tightened on the trigger as he slipped one hand into his vest and produced a push dagger she’d missed. The handle was small enough to fit inside his grip completely while the black blade protruded between his first and middle fingers. He held it out hilt-first in the narrow space between them.


SEAFIRE

She snatched it, noting how his body had warmed the metal, and tucked it into her belt. “How’s that for trust, Bale Blossom?” Caledonia wished desperately for her mother’s wisdom. Rhona would know what to do in this situation. She would know how to do the right thing even if it was a dangerous thing. But Caledonia had only herself. “No one trusts a Bullet,” she answered. “But maybe I can help.” “Are you going to take me to your crew?” Lir smiled sadly, seeming to know the answer before Caledonia had given it. Rule number three: Never reveal the ship. “No,” she said, resolute. “But I’m not going to shoot you.” Lir nodded, the bravery on his face haunted by disappointment. Even in the dark of the night she could see his jaw was carved with dirt and old scars. His eyes glittered dimly, and his mouth settled into a hard line. The flash of hope Caledonia had seen a moment before had been swept away by resignation. When he spoke next, his voice was hollow. “You should leave. Go back to your ship. Get out of here. I’ll hide or I’ll die, but I’ll do it under my own sail.” She glanced in the direction of the Ghost, wishing it was as simple as taking Lir with her.


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Lir followed her gaze, and before her eyes, he became as steady and as cool as the gun in her hand. He asked, “Do you know what we call this moon?” “There is no moon tonight,” Caledonia answered. “It’s the Nascent Moon,” he said after a quiet moment, all trace of that sad resignation gone. “It’s a time of potential and growth. A promise for things to come.” He touched her cheek, and Caledonia gasped, her arm lowering. She felt his hand slide into her hair, felt a spike of delicious heat follow his grazing fingers. “It’s the moon of beginnings and endings.” His voice found a malicious edge. Too late, she realized if she’d missed one dagger she might have missed another. His fingers tightened in her hair. A slaked smile surfaced on his lips. And the blade sank into her gut. Lir gripped the back of her head. As hot blood spread across her stomach, he held her close. Her knees buckled and her gun hit the ground with a thud. “Thank you for your mercy, Bale Blossom,” he whispered, lowering her almost gently to the sand. Nauseating pain burned through her body. “And thank you for your ship.” Caledonia screamed, fighting to stay conscious. If they


SEAFIRE

heard her, they might escape. She clutched at her wound and felt sand against her face, rough against her lips. She knew there was pain, but all she felt was panic. She had to get up, find Pisces, warn the ship. She screamed again. Footsteps. This time, she knew them to be Lir’s as he raced away, toward the Bullet clip that would soon find her family. She fumbled in the sand for her gun and fired three shots. It was still deadly dark, but she thought she saw him falter. Even if those three bullets had missed their mark, everyone near the island would have heard the shots. Her family would have warning. They could escape, and as long as they followed the rules, they would. Her nausea eased into a strange numbness. The blade, she realized, was still in her gut. A parting gift, and one that might just save her. Holding the knife in place to stanch the bleeding, she got slowly to her feet and began to stagger toward her cove and the bow boat, the only thought in her mind to see the Ghost safely on its way. “Cala!” Pisces burst from the trees, her long braids swinging around her like ropes. “Oh, spirits, Cala!” “Bullets.” Caledonia barely managed the word before falling again to her knees. “We have to hurry.” Pisces nodded grimly and ripped a long strip of material from her shirt. The blade hurt even more coming out. Pisces


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worked quickly, binding the wound tightly before tucking her head beneath Caledonia’s arm and lifting her friend to her feet. Together, the girls stumbled through the woods, taking the shortest possible path to where their little boat waited. Caledonia tried to run. With each step her legs felt weaker, her lungs more shallow. Her gut burned as she moved. Thorny plants clawed at their legs and arms, leaving small trails of blood on their skin. Thick vines slowed their progress even more. Before the ocean was visible again through the trees, the sound of gunfire ripped through the air. Neither girl spoke until they’d returned to the cove. The boat they’d used to come ashore was still there, bobbing as the tide came in. But now, out where their family’s ship lay at anchor, a Bullet ship approached, flared with light. It was an assault ship with a sharp nose and grooves along the hull where Bullets waited with magnetized bombs. The Ghost fought to weigh its anchor and gain speed, but the assault ship was already upon it. Bombs soared across the narrowing channel of water. A boom rent the air as the missiles exploded against the Ghost, ripping open the ship and knocking the breath from Caledonia’s lungs. Flames spilled from a hole in the side of the hull. It was everything the girls had been taught to fear, to avoid, everything their parents had spent a lifetime protecting them from. And


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Caledonia had brought it right to their feet. Screams replaced the sound of gunfire. Caledonia lurched, pushing past the pain and into the shallow water. She surged forward once, determined to swim, but her body faltered and she cried out in defeat. Her feet sank into sand, salt burned in her gut, and Pisces gripped her shoulders to pull her back to shore. “Caledonia, no!” she cried. The two girls could do nothing but witness. No one would be spared. It lasted less than fifteen minutes. The sun rose higher. Screams and gunfire waned. Then the Bullets began their gruesome work of dragging the dead to their ship and hoisting the bodies of the slain on the metal pikes studding their rail. One body, placed at the very front of the Bullet ship, wore an overly large coat that puffed in the air like a gray cloud. The feet dangled in the wind, and Caledonia choked on the memory of leaving Donnally behind just a few short hours ago. Caledonia shivered in the warm night. Blood seeped down her body, but the pain in her gut was nothing compared to the pain in her chest. “How?” Pisces whispered. Caledonia slumped to her knees. She shook her head, unable to confess the truth to her friend. She’d failed her entire


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family; she couldn’t fail Pisces, too. So she pushed the truth deep down, beneath her grief and her guilt and her anger. “What do we do?” Pisces asked, her brown face bright with tears. “Cala, what do we do?” Caledonia fixed her gaze on the Bullet ship, her ears on the final screams of her family. Fire reflected angrily across the black surface of the ocean. For all its darkness, it had failed to keep her family a secret. But so had she. Her heart hardened over the memory of Lir. He had taken her mercy and turned it red. Now she and Pisces were all that remained. Taking her friend’s cold hand in her bloody one, she gave the only answer she could find. “I don’t know.”  


NORTH CHILD EDITH PATTOU Rose was born into the world facing north, and as a north child, superstition says that she will be a wanderer, travelling far from home.

Epic and lyrical telling of the Norwegian folktale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, this is an enchanting YA fairytale with a beating feminist heart.


EDITH PATTOU

FATHER Ebba Rose was the name of our last-born child. Except it was a lie. Her name should have been Nyamh Rose. But everyone called her Rose rather than Ebba, so the lie didn’t matter. At least, that is what I told myself. The Rose part of her name came from the symbol that lies at the centre of the wind rose – which is fitting because she was lodged at the very centre of my heart. I loved each of her seven brothers and sisters, but I will admit there was always something that set Rose apart from the others. And it wasn’t just the way she looked. She was the hardest to know of my children, and that was because she would not stay still. Every time I held her as a babe, she would look up at me, intent, smiling with her bright purple eyes. But soon, and always, those eyes would stray past my shoulder, seeking the window and what lay b­ eyond. Rose’s first gift was a small pair of soft boots made of reindeer hide. They were brought by Torsk, a neighbour, and as he fastened them on Rose’s tiny feet with his large calloused hands, I saw my wife, Eugenia, frown. She tried to hide it, turning her face away. Torsk did not see the frown but looked up at us, beaming.


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He was a widower with grown sons and a gift for leatherwork. Eager to show off his handiwork and unmindful of the difficult circumstances of Eugenia’s recent birthing, he had been the first to show up on our doorstep. Most of our neighbours were well aware of how superstitious Eugenia was. They also knew that a baby’s first gift was laden with meaning. But cheerful, large-­handed Torsk paid no heed to this. He just gazed down at the small soft boots on Rose’s feet and looked ready to burst with pride. “The fit is good,” he observed with a wide smile. I nodded and then said, with a vague thought of warning him, “’Tis Rose’s first gift.” His smile grew even wider. “Ah, this is good.” Then a thought penetrated his head. “She will be a traveller, an explorer!” he said with enthusiasm. So he did know of the first­ gift superstition after all. This time Eugenia did not attempt to hide the frown that creased her face, and I tensed, fearing what she might say. Instead she reached down and straightened one of the boot ties. “Thank you, neighbour Torsk,” she said through stiff lips. Her voice was cold, and a puzzled look passed over the big man’s face. I stepped forwards and, muttering something about Eugenia still being weak, ushered Torsk to the door.


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“Was there something wrong with the boots?” he asked, bewildered. “No, no,” I reassured him. “They are wonderful. Eugenia is tired, that is all. And you know mothers – they like to keep their babes close. She’s not quite ready for the notion of little Rose wandering the countryside.” Nor would she ever be. Though I did not say that to neighbour Torsk. That night after we had pried Neddy from Rose’s basket and gotten all the children to sleep, Eugenia said to me, “Didn’t Widow Hautzig bring over a crock of butter for the baby?” “She was only returning what you loaned her,” I said. “No, it was for Ebba Rose. Her first gift, I’m quite sure.” Her voice was definite. Eugenia did like to keep her children close, but it turned out she wanted to keep Rose closest of all. And that had everything to do with the circumstances of Rose’s birth.

NEDDY Our family wasn’t always poor. My grandfather Esbjorn Lavrans had a well-respected mapmaking business, and my father’s father was a prosperous farmer. But Father had a


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falling-out with his family when he went to Bergen to be an apprentice to the mapmaker Esbjorn. My mother, Eugenia, was Esbjorn’s daughter, which is how Father met her. Father and Mother had eight children. Rose was the last­ born and I was second to last, four years old when they brought Rose home from Askoy Forest. Some would say four is too young to remember, but I definitely have memories. Lots of them. I remember her smell, like warm milk and soft green moss. I remember the noises she’d make – gurgling like the creek we later took to calling Rosie’s Creek because she fell into it so often; the clicking she made with her tongue, like a wren pecking at our chimney; the howls of frustration when she kept ­toppling over while learning to walk. Not that it took her long. She was running around on her short legs at just five months. I also remember clearly the evening Mother and Father came home from an afternoon of herb hunting, and instead of herbs they were carrying a lumpy bundle that made funny noises. My older brothers and sisters had been worried about Mother and Father because there had been a storm and they were much later than usual returning. I told everyone not to worry, that they had gone out to bring home the baby and that’s why they were so late getting home. My older sister Selme laughed. “Mother is still more than a


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month away from her lying in time,” she said. “And besides, everyone knows you can’t just go pluck babies out of Askoy Forest,” she added with a superior look. But it turned out I was right after all. When they finally came through the door, Mother looked very pale and sat down as soon as she could, holding the noisy thing on her lap. The others crowded around, but I hung back, waiting. When they’d all looked long enough, Father led me to Mother’s side. When I gazed at the little scrunched­up face, I felt a peculiar glow of pride. Like I’d done something good. I knew it was Mother who’d brought this baby into the world (and she certainly looked worn out from doing it), but from that moment I felt like the wild little brown-­haired baby was my very own gift – and that it would be my job to watch over her. If I had known just how wild a thing she would turn out to be, I might have thought twice about taking her on. It’s a funny thing. I think it was Mother and I who had the hardest time with Rose’s wandering ways. But we both had different ways of living with it. Mother tried always to reel her in. To keep her close by. But for me, I knew it couldn’t be done, so I just ached and felt sorry for myself when she’d disappear. That’s the trouble with loving a wild thing: you’re always left watching the door.


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But you also get kind of used to it. ROSE I could say that I felt guilty and ashamed about the trouble I was always getting into when I was a child, driving my mother to her wit’s end on a daily basis. But the truth is I never did feel either of those things. I don’t think it’s because I was selfish or unfeeling. I just couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. What was a little spilled blood or a broken bone now and then? I never set out to be disobedient. I just couldn’t keep my thoughts, and then my feet, still. I’d see something – the azure flash of a butterfly’s wing, a formation of clouds like a ship’s mast and sails, a ripe yellow apple perched high in a tree – and I’d be off after it without a second thought. Exploring ran in my blood. My grandfather Esbjorn was a mapmaker as well as an explorer. And my great­ -great­ grandfather was one of the first Njordens to travel to Constantinople. The only thing that gave me the slightest twinge of sadness was Neddy, with his exasperated, sorry­-for­-himself look when he found me after yet another time I’d run off without telling anyone. “But I saw this rabbit with a tail so white it glowed,” I’d try


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to explain (when I was old enough to put words to my feelings). Neddy would just sigh and say that Mother wanted me in the kitchen straight away. “I’m sorry, Neddy,” I’d say, wrapping my arms around his legs, watching the corners of his mouth for the smile I always managed to squeeze out of him. And then I’d go to the kitchen and Mother would scold me yet again.


BRAND NEW HOLLY BOURNE “Girls cry on park benches. Girls cry in train waiting rooms. They cry on the dancefloor of clubs. Girls cry at the bus stop. Girls cry at the back of lessons. They sit on the pavement and cry on cold tarmac at 2am, their shoes off and held in their hands. Girls cry in school bathrooms. Girls cry on bridges. They cry on the stairs of house parties. This is the story of one.” A razor-sharp and timely novel exploring what love is and isn’t. Empowering, honest, moving and insightful, this book is about finding the courage to move on, from bestselling YA author Holly Bourne.

TITLE TO BE ANNOUNCED IN 2019...


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Usborne 2019 YA fiction sampler  

A sampler of brand new Young Adult fiction from Usborne, coming out in 2019. Includes new titles by Kim Curran, S.M. Wilson, Vanessa Curtis,...

Usborne 2019 YA fiction sampler  

A sampler of brand new Young Adult fiction from Usborne, coming out in 2019. Includes new titles by Kim Curran, S.M. Wilson, Vanessa Curtis,...

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