Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Cover Reveal: HOW YOU RUINED MY LIFE by Jeff Strand

Have you read any Jeff Strand? That’s one of my go to questions for anyone – teen or YA reader – who lament that there are not enough funny books in YA. And I get it, the funny is definitely outnumbered in YA, it truly is. But Jeff Strand is a pretty dependable author when it comes to the funny. He writes with wit, sarcasm and snark, all qualities that I can appreciate. And horror. That’s right, Jeff Strand often combines horror and humor for a winning combination. A BAD DAY FOR VOODOO by Jeff Strand is one of the funniest books I have ever read.

This is one of the funniest, LOL books I have ever read

So I was honored when Sourcebooks Fire reached out to me and asked if I wanted to host a cover reveal for his most recent book, HOW YOU RUINED MY LIFE. Yes! Yes, I do. But first, what is this book about?

Rod’s life doesn’t suck.

If you ask him, it’s pretty awesome. He may not be popular, but he and his best friends play in a band that has a standing gig. Yeah, it’s Monday night and they don’t get paid, but they can crank the volume as loud as they want. And Rod’s girlfriend is hot, smart, and believes in their band—believes in Rod. Aside from a winning lottery ticket, what more could he ask for?

Answer: a different cousin.

When Rod’s scheming, two-faced cousin Blake moves in for the semester, Rod tries to keep calm. Blake seems to have everyone else fooled with his good manners and suave smile, except Rod knows better. Blake is taking over his room, taking over his band, taking over his life! But Rod’s not about to give up without a fight. Game on. May the best prankster win…

And now . . . The Great Cover Reveal (insert drum roll here please)

howyouruinedmylife2

Preorder How You Ruined My Life: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Indiebound

HOW YOU RUINED MY LIFE — EXCERPT

“Thanks for coming out tonight! Are you ready to rock?”

A couple of people in the audience indicate that yes, they are indeed ready to begin the process of rocking. A few others don’t look up from their cell phones, but I’m confident that they’ll discover their readiness to rock as soon as we start playing. The rest of the eleven or so people in the club haven’t bothered to walk over to the dance floor. Presumably, they’re waiting for the headline act before committing to whether or not they’re mentally and physically prepared to rock.

“We’re Fanged Grapefruit,” I say into the microphone. “This first song is an original called, ‘You Can’t Train a Goldfish to Catch Popcorn in Its Mouth, So Don’t Even Try.’ One, two, three, go!”

I can’t remember which of us came up with the name Fanged Grapefruit. I think it was Clarissa, our drummer. I consider myself the creative driving force of the band, but if you see Clarissa, you’ll understand why she doesn’t lose many arguments. She’s at least six foot three (though I’ve never measured her), and you wouldn’t want to arm wrestle her unless you were willing to lose an arm. When she really gets going, her drumsticks become a blur. And when she’s done with a set, the sticks look like they’ve been gnawed on by beavers.

Mel, short for Melvin, is lead guitar and background vocals. I’m lead vocals and rhythm guitar. Ironically, Mel is a worse guitar player and a better singer than me. Not everything we do in Fanged Grapefruit makes sense.

Mel doesn’t look like he should be in a punk rock band. He looks like he should be president of the Chess Club. Which he is, but I assure you, the guy plays chess with attitude. He also gets straight A’s and is likely to be our class valedictorian, and if so, I hope he’ll pause his inspiring commencement speech for a wicked guitar solo.

I’m Rod, short for Rodney. Nice to meet you. I’m pretty much average, I guess.

Other band names we’d brainstormed included Untidy Reptiles, Autocorrected Text Fail, Rod & the Whacknuts, Carnivorous Vegans, Impolite Music for Unruly People, The RMC Experiment, Say Goodbye to Your Ears, Pawn Takes Rook, Crunchy Noise, Crispy Noise, Chicken Fried Noise, (The Parentheticals), Fake News Echo Chamber, Hairnets Gloriously Aflame, Dog Eat Dog Eat Munchkin, The Self- Diagnosing Hypochondriacs, Sequel II, and Sushi Gun.

We play at this club, the Lane, every Monday, which is the only day you can get in if you’re under eighteen. We go onstage around eight, and we’re home by nine fifteen, so all our parents are cool with us being out on a school night. It also helps that they’ve never actually been inside the Lane, which is a bubbling pit of health code violations. If you have to go to the bathroom, hold it. Trust me.

I’m sure we’d have a much bigger audience if we could play on a Friday or Saturday night, but Clarissa, Mel, and I are only sixteen, so we’ve got a couple of years to go. (Sorry if it was insulting that I did the math for you.) We hope that by the time we’re old enough to play there on a weekend, we’ll have upgraded to venues where your feet don’t stick to the floor as often.

Anyway, we begin to rock out on our guitars and drums, and select members of the audience begin to move to the music. Well, okay, only two of them. And one is my girlfriend, Audrey. You might say that she doesn’t count, but we got together because I was in a band, so I think she does count, thank you very much.

Audrey runs our merch table. We never sell anything, though she gives away free stickers to people who look like they might be band managers. She’s as tiny as Clarissa is non- tiny. You won’t believe me if I say she’s the most gorgeous girl at our school, so all I’ll say is that if you look at her and look at me, you’d say, “Wow, how did that happen? He must be in a band.”

By the end of our set, three people in the audience are bopping their heads to the music. That’s a fifty percent increase from when we started. Fanged Grapefruit rules!

***

After dropping off Clarissa, Mel, and then Audrey (because I always pick her up first and drop her off last, even though she lives the furthest away), I go home, take a shower, and start packing my lunch for the next day.

“How was your gig?” Mom asks, walking into the kitchen.

“Great! Every show gets a little better.”

“I was going to do that for you,” she says, pointing to the sandwich I’m making.

“I know.” Mom works two jobs, both of which suck, so I’m always happy to make my own lunch. Plus I’m very specific about the spread of my peanut butter. It should be as close to the edge of the bread as possible without spilling over, and the thickness should be consistent. Generally, I’m a pretty casual guy, but not when it comes to peanut butter application. We all have our quirks.

“I’ve got news,” she says.

“Dad got out of prison?” Dad isn’t really in prison. He left us two years ago. We joke about him being in prison as a coping mechanism.

“No.”

“I’m finally going to get a baby sister?”

“Ha. You wish.”

“You got a raise?”

Mom shakes her head. “I did get a five- dollar tip on an eighteen- dollar meal though. That was nice.”

“Wild panthers have run amok in our neighborhood, gobbling up people left and right?”

“Maybe you should stop guessing.”

“Maybe I should. So is this good news or bad news?” I ask.

“Well…”

I set down the butter knife. “That doesn’t sound like a good ‘well…’”

“I wouldn’t necessarily call it bad news,” Mom says. “It’s definitely not the worst news ever. Nobody died or anything.”

“Tell me.”

“You know your aunt Mary and uncle Clark?”

“Of course.” I don’t think I’ve seen Uncle Clark since I was six. We live in Florida, and they live in California. He and Dad never got along, so every couple of years, Aunt Mary would visit us by herself. With Dad out of the picture, I assumed we’d see more of our extended family, but it never really happened.

“Aunt Mary and Uncle Clark are going on a cruise.”

“That’s cool.” I consider that for a moment and then get very excited. “Are they taking us with them?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“It’s one of those around- the- world cruises. Three whole months. Doesn’t that sound fun?”

Did I mention that Aunt Mary and Uncle Clark are rich? You probably picked up on that when Mom said they were going on a three- month- long world cruise.

“Is Blake going with them?” I ask.

“No. He’s not.”

Suddenly, I have an idea where this conversation is headed. It doesn’t make me happy. “Maybe you should spell this out for me,” I say.

“Your cousin Blake is going to live with us for three months. Isn’t that exciting?”

I stare at her for a few hours.

(Possibly, I’m exaggerating.)

“Starting when?” I ask.

“Next week.”

“You mean before the school year ends?”

“Yes. He’s going to transfer to your school.”

“That’s messed up!”

Mom shrugs. “They got a good deal on the cruise.”

“Where’s he going to stay? We don’t have a guest bedroom.”

“Well, I thought…you know…”

“He can’t share my room!” If I wasn’t almost an adult, I would have stomped my foot.

“Honey, it’s only for three months.”

“That’s a quarter of a year! I thought we were broke,” I say. “How are we going to pay for all that extra food?”

“We’re not that broke, and obviously, your aunt and uncle will help pay for groceries.”

“Isn’t he a spoiled brat?”

“You haven’t seen him in ten years,” Mom says.

“Well, ten years ago he was a spoiled brat.” “I’m sure he’s fine now.”

“Doesn’t he have any friends he can stay with in California?”

My mom sighs. “Rodney, he’s family. Family is always welcome in our home.”

I hope I’m not coming off as whiny and selfish. If a hurricane tore the roof off their house and they lost all of their worldly possessions, sure, I’d happily donate half of my room to Cousin Blake while they rebuilt their lives. But asking me to give up my privacy so Aunt Mary and Uncle Clark can go on a luxury cruise seems kind of unreasonable.

However, I’m pretty sure this is a done deal, and my mom has enough stress in her life without me continuing to protest.

“All right,” I say.

“Thank you.” Mom gives me a hug. “I think you’ll enjoy having him here.”

Who knows? Maybe I will. Maybe my cousin is a really cool guy. Maybe he has good taste in music. And maybe he’s witty and entertaining. And maybe he’ll be willing to help with emergency cleanup if we’re having a wild party and Mom calls suddenly to say she’s on her way home early.

We might end up being the best friends that any two cousins could ever be. We’ll giggle and frolic and be inseparable.

But probably not.

I can’t believe I have to share my room.

I return to making my lunch. I’ll try to be optimistic and pretend that these will be the best three months of my life. How bad could it be?

ABOUT Jeff Strand

Jeff Strand has written more than twenty books and is a four-time nominee of the Bram Stoker Award. Three of his young adult novels were Junior Library Guild picks. Publishers Weekly called his work “wickedly funny.” He lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Learn more at JeffStrand.com.

Want to win an advanced reading copy?

Do the Rafflecopter thingy!

 Open to U.S./Canada residents until Midnight on November 1st.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Cover Reveal + Interview: STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO by A. S. King

I believe it is no secret that I am a HUGE fan of the writing and works of A. S. King, so I was honored when her publicist reached out to me and asked if we wanted to do a cover reveal for her Fall 2016 release, STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO. Because YES! I want to do that thing. And as an added bonus, I got to read a super advanced copy of this book, which hit my right in the existential feels and did not in any way disappoint. It’s good, it’s moving, and it’s expertly crafted, which will surprise no one.  I also had the chance to ask A. S. King a few questions, which I appreciated because she is such a passionate advocate for teens and teen issues. Without further adieu, I present to you the cover of STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO . . .

stilllifewithtornado

It’s such a good representation of the theme and mood of the book.

Still Life With Tornado Description

A heartbreaking story of a talented teenage artist’s surreal awakening to the horrifically unoriginal brokenness of her family from critically acclaimed award-winner A.S. King.

Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has “done the art.” She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she explores the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she’s finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can’t quite recall. After decades of staying together “for the kids” and building a family on a foundation of lies and violence, Sarah’s parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original —and yet it still hurts. Insightful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, this is a vivid portrait of everyday abuse and survival that will linger with readers long after the last page.

A Short Interview with Author A. S. King

A.S. King Author Photo

What was the process of coming up with this cover design like for you? And how do you think this cover represents this book and the life of Sarah?

Cover design is something I’m a bit of a nerd about. I started out as a visual artist and the entire process of book design is exciting to me. I’m very fortunate to have a bit of input for most of my covers and in this case, I knew we’d be starting in a good place because my editor, Andrew Karre, knows what I like when it comes to cover art. When he sent the first of the images for Still Life With Tornado it was a pretty powerful WOW moment.

I love this cover so much. I think it fits the book so well. Look at that messy funnel scribble of life! I’m thrilled that we went with something so striking and conceptual. As Samira Iravani worked on the design and added the labels to the tornado, it just got better and better. By the time the cover was done I felt it represented Sarah’s story perfectly.

You obviously are very passionate about the life of teenagers and I think you represent their inner lives really well. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges teens are facing today?

I think teens in the early 21st century are facing some interesting challenges and if I went into them all, we’d be here all week. But on a more internal level, I write pretty widely about the underestimation and disrespect of teenagers in our culture and how it’s hurting not just present teenagers, but future adults (who are actually now adults). I love exploring the double-standard psychology of it. The superiority. The lying-to-save-them-from-the-truth. The eye-rolling. The near-instant mistrust and the near-non-existent patience. As humans, our growth doesn’t stop when we fit into adult-sized clothing. Not one person I know would treat a toddler the way they treat a teenager when the child trips over his own shoe or accidentally spills her cup of juice. Or when they cry. There’s a sort of systemic psychological hazing teenagers undergo in our country and it’s not something that’s easy to call out. It’s in the groundwater. It’s in the mindset now—in our DNA. I see college students rolling their eyes at high school students, and graduates of both rolling their eyes at all beneath them. It’s a cycle of condescension and alienation. It didn’t always used to be like this. We’re eating ourselves.

I’m interested in the family unit and what it looks like now compared to just before WWII when my parents grew up. I’m interested in how the family unit has changed and how it relates to the teenage experience I talked about above. I’m interested in why families fall apart and how we might be able to keep them together or if we should, which is what drew me to writing about Sarah and her mother Helen in Still Life With Tornado, I guess. Domestic abuse is still so normalized in our culture that it’s hard to figure out where our priorities really lie when it comes to children. There’s a lot of weird shit in the groundwater, really. And we’re all drinking it. And I don’t think it’s good for any of us.

So I’ve read a few pages of Still Life with Tornado and there is a moving scene where your main character, Sarah, stands before a painting that obviously speaks to her. What painting or artist really speaks to you? What art would you like to share with teens?

I really can’t pick a favorite artist or painting. It’s an impossible task. I can say that if I only have two hours in a large museum I tend to skip to the abstract expressionists, surrealists, and contemporary artists. I can go to the same museum many times and be blown away by a different painting each time. When I walk in I think I’m excited to see, say, the Van Gogh or the Rothko or the O’Keeffe, but then I see a piece by a painter I’ve never heard of before and I can’t breathe it’s so good. That happened to me in St. Louis when I went to see one of the best Max Beckmann collections in the country. I love Beckmann intensely and I was thrilled to see so many of his pieces, but then I got upstairs and this giant triptych by someone I never heard of made me start crying on the spot. I do that in museums, just like Sarah’s mom. Art flips a switch in me.

I wish there were more women represented in museums. I love to see a Grace Hartigan or an Aleksandra Ekster piece in a collection but I still wish there was more representation. There are loads of women painting and they always have been, but in the arts we are often limited to the old standards. So if I was to pick art to share with teens, I’d make it like a treasure hunt. I’d want them to find what they like. Hit the museum first and see what appeals to them, then sit with a computer and find the names they never heard of before. Something that makes them say wow. I recently Googled “female abstract expressionists” and found a whole new world out there.

We have spoken some on Twitter about adult reactions to your work, and as you know I have been asked several times by adults who question whether or not teens understand your work. What would you like to say to those adults?

I suppose I would start with: Please stop underestimating teens, thanks.

TLT TAB member Lexi is a HUGE A. S. King fan

TLT TAB member Lexi is a HUGE A. S. King fan

Karen, you and I both know teens read my work and certainly understand it. Oftentimes I feel like I’m writing in a sort of code—a code that adult readers can enjoy but that teens can enjoy even more because there’s an extra something in there just for them. I’m not sure how to explain it. Some adults can also understand the code. Those who only read the words and see the concepts as challenging or difficult and then ruminate that into an idea that my work is tootoo…difficult for teens need to stop and remember what it was like to be a teenager and be taken seriously by an adult. (Hard to remember? It’s because it doesn’t happen all that much.) Teens read so many great books from all parts of the library, including the adult literary stacks, and we need to remember that. Also, many of them can do calculus while most adults I know forget how to divide fractions.

So I guess the first thing I’d do if I met an adult who thinks this way is give them a worksheet of complex fraction division problems. If they need help, my thirteen-year-old could probably give them a hand.

ABOUT A. S. King

A.S. King is the award-winning author of eight acclaimed YA novels. Her novel Please Ignore Vera Dietz earned a 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor and Ask The Passengers won the 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The New York Times called her “one of the best YA writers working today.” King lives with her family in Pennsylvania, where she returned after living on a farm and teaching adult literacy in Ireland for more than a decade. www.as-king.com

Karen’s Thoughts on STILL LIFE WITH TORNADO by A. S. King

This book hit me in the existential feels; it’s moving and expertly crafted. King continues to use unconventional narratives to explore topics relevant to teens in ways that teens will connect with and feel understood,  respected and valued.

You’ll want to add this to your TBR list right now. And thank you A. S. King for your time and passion here today at TLT.

October 11th 2016 by Dutton Books for Young Readers (9781101994887)

Cover reveal: Original Fake written by Kirstin Cronn-Mills with art by E. Eero Johnson

We are thrilled to host the cover reveal for Original Fake by Kirstin Cronn-Mills with art by E. Eero Johnson. Original Fake will be available on 4/19/2016 and is published by G.P. PUTNAM’S SONS BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS.

 

ORIGINAL FAKE 2

 

 

Description of the book: 

Introvert Frankie Neumann is not exactly the standout in his family. Between his tutu-wearing nightmare of a sister and his parents, Bridget and Brett—Frank Sinatra and Dr. Frank-N-Furter impersonators, respectively—it’s easy for him to fade into the background. He’s just the guy who makes pizza at Pizza Vendetta, the one nobody ever sees. But Frankie has artistic aspirations that are all his own, and he’s about to get swept up in an art adventure of a lifetime.

After his shift at the pizzeria one night, Frankie’s approached by David and Rory, cousins who are errand runners for the notorious and anonymous street artist Uncle Epic—Frankie’s absolute idol. They have an unbelievable offer for Frankie: to join Epic’s crew. It’s not only a chance for Frankie to flourish as an artist but also to get closer to Rory, the hottest girl in school. But best of all, Epic’s art escapades give Frankie a shot at the ultimate revenge against his insufferable sister for a lifetime of torture. But the lines between art and real life are quickly blurred as street art escalates into an all-out war with consequences no one could see coming.

Told partly in graphic panels, Kirstin Cronn-Mills’ and E. Eero Johnson’s YA novel is funny, daring and fiercely original—a tale for anyone who’s ever felt invisible.

 

meow_mannequin_sequence

A peek at some of the interior pieces of artwork.

 

 

Kirstin Cronn-Mills on how the book came to be:

This book was born from a passing comment made 8+ years ago by my then-agent George Nicholson: “I haven’t seen a good brother-sister book for a while.”  Hmm, I thought.  I have brothers.  I’m a sister.  I can write something like that.  But then I ended up on other writing paths and the idea went by the wayside.  Fast forward to thinking about how sometimes the student upstages the teacher (I was watching Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Exit Through The Gift Shop, the documentary about the street artist Banksy and his student Mr. Brainwash) and how gender expression can be flexible (I was watching Rocky Horror Picture Show), and George’s comment came back to me. WHAM! Somehow all of those connections collided to make this wild, fun, illustrated (!) book.  It was a joy to create, and a dream come true to watch E. bring the text to life.  We hope readers will enjoy the story as much as we do.

 

Cover Reveal: Beast in the Mirror by Laura Bradley Rede

We’re excited to share with you the cover reveal for Beast in the Mirror, Laura Bradley Rede’s forthcoming LGBT fantasy novella. Laura is a Minnesota author who I had the pleasure of meeting this past summer when she came to visit the YA book club I facilitate through the public library. We had a great time talking books and writing with Laura, as well as a bit of a wild (and fun!) time doing a writing prompt exercise. Check out Laura’s website, where you can find information on her other writing, and go follow her on Twitter, too. Laura’s novella will be available soon–we’ll share the release date when it’s out.

 

First, a blurb (isn’t blurb a weird word?):

 

Once upon a time, Bella Ashton was the teenage model to watch . That is, until her anorexia got the better of her and she passed out on the runway. Now, fresh off a year of eating disorder rehab, Bella is eager to get back in the game. But when she and her photographer cousin break into an abandoned Irish manor to stage a photo shoot, Bella finds herself face to face with the house’s owner: a hideous Beast who used to be a girl like her. Taken captive, the terrified Bella will do anything to escape. But as she learns more about the Beast, she discovers they aren’t that different—and that the Beast, in her own way, is a prisoner, too. How far will she go to save the Beast she’s slowly learning to love? And can finding the beauty in someone else help you find it in yourself?

 

Laura Bradley Rede gives the “tale as old as time” a fresh new twist in this queer, feminist reimagining.

 

(Please note:  This story’s intent is to be healing, but it does contains discussion of anorexia that may be triggering for some readers.)

 

And now for the stunning cover, designed by Damon Za

 

 

An excerpt from Beast in the Mirror:

“Teach me the bottom-hand part,” I say.

She looks at me doubtfully. “You play?”

“Not a note, but you can teach me, right? Just that one part.”

“Fine.” With her human hand, she arranges my fingers on the keys. “First this.”

I play a hesitant chord.

“And then like so.” She rearranges my fingers slightly. Her hand is very warm. Does she get hot under all that fur? My own hand trembles on the keys as she teaches me the rest of the phrase.

“Are you cold?” It sounds like an accusation. She frowns at me. Concern and annoyance look identical on her inhuman face, and I can’t tell which one she is feeling.

I shrug. “I’m always cold.”

“Why?” It’s not polite curiosity. The Beast just demands.

I almost say, None of your business, but I tend to talk when I’m nervous. I can’t help it. “When I was thin—”

“You are thin.”

“When I was thinner, it screwed up my thyroid or something. Or maybe it was just that I didn’t have any fat to burn for warmth, or for insulation or whatever. I felt cold all the time.”

The Beast frowns. “That sounds unpleasant.”

“It was painful, really.  I would wake up in the night with numb feet. My toes hurt if I touched them, like I had frostbite.” I should stop talking, but I can’t. “Once a doctor told me I should watch out for numbness in my arms—because it’s a heart attack symptom, you know? And my body had started eating my heart muscle? He was like, ‘Tell me right away if your arm goes numb,’ and I was like, ‘My arm has been numb for a month.'”

I’m kind of trying to be funny, but the Beast doesn’t get it. I think her scowl is a look of concern. “That sounds like torture.”

I play a wistful little tune on the piano. “I liked it, actually, at the time. Shivering burns calories. I’d drink a big glass of ice water and wrap up in a blanket and shake.”

The Beast stares at me for a long moment. “You’re a very unusual person.”

I laugh. “You’re calling me unusual?”

“I am.” Those eyes. So serious.

“Well, I’m not really unusual. I’m just a little further up the spectrum than some people. They’re like here.” I plunk a note towards the middle of the piano. I have to reach across The Beast to do it, which feels bold. “And I’m more like here.” I reach even farther past her, my arm brushing against her warm fur, and plink the third to highest note. Even as I do it, I wish I could be the highest.

I pull my hand back, self-consciously.

“And where am I?” The Beast asks, “Here?” She reaches around behind me with her bird claw and thuds the very lowest note. It echoes her deep, growling voice.

I laugh. “Something like that.”

The Beast leaves her arm around me for a heartbeat. At least, I think it would be a heartbeat. My own heart seems to be frozen in my chest.

Then she lets her arm drop. She puts her hands back on the piano. There’s an itchy little silence.

“Here, you said?” She plinks that third-highest note and a little chill goes through me, like she just ran her finger down my spine.

“And here, right?” I sound the lowest note. Its so deep, I feel the vibration in my core.

Her hand feels too far away from mine now. How many keys are there on a piano? Eighty-eight? So that means we’re…My mind won’t do simple math. I’m too distracted.

I trip my fingers back towards hers, hitting random notes along the way. She slides her hand back to meet me. Our fingers brush somewhere just south of the note I called “normal.”

“Can we play that piece of a song now?” I ask.

“If you haven’t forgotten it.” Her facial expressions are still too hard to read, but I’m starting to recognize a little glint in her eyes that means she’s joking.

“Of course not!” I say, and then realize I could have faked forgetting it and she would have shown me again, with her hand over mine.  But that would be lame, right?

“Then we can play,” she says, “But only if you stop shaking. I’m starting to think you’re afraid of me.”

“Not in the least.” I smile up at her. I know what I’m saying isn’t entirely true. On the scale of “fear” to “not fear,” I am still a middle note.

“Then you have to warm up,” she says. With her bird-claw hand, she pulls the edge of her curtain cape around me, resting her claws on my shoulders.

I stiffen. The bird hand is so strange, the talons so curved and sharp.

But I don’t let myself flinch away. I let myself feel it, warm and dry, the skin like scales. This must be what it feels like to touch a dragon.

“Ready?”

I nod. Together, we play: me haltingly thumping the chords, her patiently picking out the notes. It’s timed all wrong, the notes banging up against each other, like knocking teeth on a first kiss.