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These Bodies Between Us

Paperback
$12.00 US
5.54"W x 8.24"H x 0.85"D   (14.1 x 20.9 x 2.2 cm) | 11 oz (323 g) | 24 per carton
On sale Mar 12, 2024 | 336 Pages | 978-0-593-81045-3
Age 12 and up | Grade 7 & Up
Reading Level: Lexile HL700L
Sales rights: World
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A wistful coming-of-age story with a haunting twist about four friends who spend their summer learning to become invisible—but disappearing comes at a cost.

Four girls. Four girls skating home, both sides of the road, fearless. Four girls at the mouth of an infinite ocean, sugared and salted with sand and seawater, the tide licking their sunburned feet.

This summer, they’re going to disappear.

For seventeen-year-old Callie and her best friends Talia and Cleo, every summer in their small North Carolina beach town is as steady as the tides. But this year, Cleo has invited enigmatic new girl Polly to join them, creating waves in their familiar friendship. And Cleo has an idea, gleaned from private YouTube videos and hidden message boards: they’re going to learn how to make themselves invisible.

Callie thinks it’s a ridiculous, impossible plan. But the other girls are intoxicated by the thought of disappearing, even temporarily—from bad boyfriends, from overbearing families, from the confusing, uncomfortable reality of having a body altogether. And, miraculously, it works.

Yet as the girls revel in their reckless new freedom, they realize it’s getting harder to come back to themselves… and do they even want to?
1


The Start of Summer


You can measure the start of summer in a lot of different ways. You could call it the day after the last day of school. You could use Memorial Day, or the solstice, or the first day the temperature tiptoes over a hundred. If you’re in Little Beach, where I’m from, you could say it’s begun when the percentage of people in the grocery store is more tourist than local, or when the skating rink opens for seven-days-a-week service. But for me, the beginning of summer was always the day that Cleo arrived.

That year, it was June 16. School had ended only one day before, and I could taste the emotion of that ending on my tongue--the release, the excitement, the exhilarating knowledge that this was our second-to-last last day ever. My best friend Talia and I were seniors now, if, like us, you thought of the start of the summer as the real start of the next year. We sat at the top of the wooden steps of Cleo’s grandparents’ house, waiting. We could have come over after Cleo arrived, but that would have meant missing ten minutes with her. Like every year, we had skated over as soon as she’d texted us saying their car had passed the exit for Wilmington. Between us were a box of cupcakes (chocolate, melting) and my phone (playing Sylvan Esso, bopping through my earbuds). The left earbud was in my ear. The right was in Talia’s, until she took it out, untangling it from a curl of dark hair.

“I don’t think I get this song,” she said, scrunching up her face.

I was ready for this objection. “Is it the lyrics?” I asked. “Because I know they don’t make sense per se, but--”

“This is just random bleeps and bloops and-- Is that a banjo in the background?”

“No, I think that’s just a different kind of bleep. But it’s great running music. And they actually do get more melodic in the chorus, like, here, listen . . .”

“Okay, but more I’m just saying, like, this is not a pretty song, you know? This is not a song that I enjoy listening to.”

“Not every song has to be--” I started, but then the little green station wagon pulled in, crunching on the gravel, and we both jumped up. Talia started waving her hands, like she was guiding a ship in from sea.

Cleo tumbled out of the car before it had stopped moving and shrieked as she ran up the stairs to us. In the few months since I’d seen her, she’d cut her hair short and she was wearing new clothes--white sandals and a yellow dress that glowed like the sun on her dark brown skin. But as she catapulted herself up the final stair to hug me and Talia, she was the same as ever. Same strong arms, same orange-body-wash smell, same voice in our ears.

“I swear the drive’s never taken so long, there was a crash on highway seventeen, and then we had to stop for Grandpa to use the bathroom-- God, it’s so good to see you.”

“We missed you,” Talia said.

I echoed her. “So much,” I said. “So, so much.”

“I missed you too, I have so many things to-- Oh, where is Polly?” She pulled away from us. I readied myself for our first break from routine. This part--this girl, Polly--was new.

“Polly, where are you?” Cleo called.

Below us, the car doors were opening. I peered down at three figures climbing out: Cleo’s grandmother and grandfather and a thin, pale girl with a low yellow ponytail, large blue eyes, a face like a doll, and no presence whatsoever. Polly. We had met her a handful of times in the background of video chats, grainy and quiet; at the time, I hadn’t understood her appeal. The same was true in person.

She raised a hand. “Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi!” Talia exclaimed, enthusiastic. “It’s so great to meet you for real! Finally! Can I help you with your bags?”

This was why Talia had more friends than I did.

“What are we, chopped liver?” Cleo’s grandma gestured to herself and her husband as we followed Cleo down the stairs to the car.

“It’s nice to see you again, Mrs. Haynes,” I said as she embraced me. “Hi, Mr. Haynes. Thank you for bringing us Cleo.”

“It’s our pleasure,” Mrs. Haynes said. “Without you two there’s no way my granddaughter would visit for the whole summer.”

“We’re too boring,” Mr. Haynes added.

“You’re boring,” his wife corrected. “I’m cool. Now, who is going to carry this luggage upstairs?”

We got everything up in one trip: the bags the girls had checked on the plane from Washington, DC, to Raleigh and their two carry-ons, Polly’s plain black duffel and Cleo’s backpack bursting with rainbow pins and patches. We set them in the guest room with the two twin beds before convening in the kitchen. Cleo started telling a story: “There was this woman on the flight who could not believe that Polly and I were flying alone”--while Mr. Haynes asked Talia how the first week of summer hours at the rink had gone, and Mrs. Haynes bustled around unboxing the cupcakes and setting out glasses of sweet tea.

I sat down at the kitchen table, my back to the windows and the ocean, and let myself settle into the noise and laughter. This was how it always was when Cleo came: the kitchen, the tea, the voices talking over each other. I felt the summer shifting into place.

With one snag. I glanced at Polly, who was sitting to my right.

“So is this your first time ever visiting North Carolina?” I asked as Talia burst into laughter at Cleo’s story.

Polly turned, looking startled as a deer. “What?”

I exhaled. “Nothing.”

Cleo finished her story, sighed happily, and sank into a chair. A lull settled over the room. In the background, the ocean murmured.

Mrs. Haynes broke the silence by asking, “So, girls, what’s your project going to be this summer?”

Cleo’s eyes lit up. “I have something in mind.”

“Really?” Talia leaned in. “You haven’t said anything.”

“It’s a secret,” Cleo said, a smile curving across her face.

Polly was staring out the window, not reacting. She seemed transfixed by the waves. I assumed this was because she was secretly a robot, but Cleo’s grandma must have thought poor Polly was getting left out, because she explained, “These girls always have a project for their summer. I find it quite industrious. All I did in my summer breaks was work and chase after boys, but these girls . . .” She chuckled. “What did you do last summer again?”

“We learned how to make ice cream.” Talia smiled at the memory.

“Goodness me, was that just last summer?” Mr. Haynes exclaimed. “I still think about that cherry chocolate swirl. Best ice cream I’ve ever had.”

Our summer projects have always worked out perfectly. The summer we were thirteen, our goal was to learn to skate, and now we had the best jobs on the island. Two summers ago, when we were fifteen, we got into scrapbooking--which, okay, sounds like an old-lady thing to do, but it was great, going to the drugstore to get pictures printed and then pasting them into books alongside old journal entries and newspaper headlines.

I had an idea for this summer. I hadn’t told Talia because I knew that she wouldn’t like it, but I hoped Cleo might be interested, and Polly was a wild card. My dad had a friend of a friend at the alternative radio station a few towns over, and he’d mentioned they might be looking for DJs for the less popular shifts. No one listened to the radio, but . . . surely some people still listened to the radio, right? We could get in contact with the guy, learn how to work with the software, memorize whatever arcane rules governed radio broadcasting, make playlists. I had a vision of us sitting in a recording booth together as the music that mattered so much to me drifted out over the airwaves to unknown cars and kitchens.

But the glint in Cleo’s eye told a different story. In our phone conversations and texts and postcards over the last few months, she had been unusually quiet about summer plans. I never thought she had forgotten about them, but she had been so excited talking about Polly joining us--showing her the sights of Little Beach, working with her at the rink--that I thought maybe Polly was the project. It seemed I was wrong. That was good, at least.

“Speaking of ice cream,” Mrs. Haynes said, standing up, “anyone hungry for dinner?”

It was only four, but my and Cleo’s hands shot up. I was always hungry. Besides, Talia and I had to be at work in an hour, so it was either dinner now or much later.

“I thought I’d pick up pizza and salad from Island Italian. That sound good to everyone?”

“Yes please,” Cleo said, beaming. “God, Island Italian. My second favorite pizza in the world.”

“Rude,” Talia said.

“Favorite in North Carolina. That’s not nothing.”

“We’ll go pick it up,” Mr. Haynes said. “You girls stay here and get settled in. We’ll be back in half an hour, okay?”

“Thank you,” we chorused.

They got their things and went out the door, and we sat in silence at the kitchen table. Polly kept looking out at the ocean. Talia glanced between me and Cleo. I unwrapped a cupcake and waited for the sound of their car pulling away.

“Now,” said Cleo. She leaned into the light. “Here’s what we’re going to do.”


2


Cleo’s Plan


I can’t remember a time without Talia. I mean that literally: In my earliest memory, she’s there beside me, the two of us digging our pudgy three-year-old hands into the sand. We were each other’s favorite friends in day care; our parents would pass us off on alternating Saturday nights so they could go to Island Italian or to Wilmington for a movie. There are whole photo albums filled with pictures of just us together on the beach, her olive skin and my sunburned freckles, my frizzy brown pigtails and her dark curls. We went to the same elementary, middle, and high schools. Her house was a mile from mine. When I was too serious, she made me laugh; when she cried, I calmed her down. We made each other better. We called each other sisters.

Cleo came to us later. Talia and I met her on the beach a few days before the Fourth of July, the year we were all eleven. We had floated far down the beach on the tide and were walking back. In front of a house the color of orange juice, a short Black girl was building an elaborate sandcastle. It had a moat and a tower almost three feet high. The girl was walking around the edge, placing shells at even intervals on the moat’s wall. Sand covered every inch of her. She had been at it for some time.

As Talia and I drew closer to her, we slowed. Growing up at the beach, I had seen a lot of sandcastles, from the childish to the ambitious, and this was impressive. Still, I probably would’ve kept walking but for Talia, who stepped forward and said, “That’s beautiful.”

“Thanks,” the girl said. She drew a hand across her forehead, leaving a swipe of sand there. “It’s taken me a really long time.”

“Can we help?” Talia asked. We had another hour before we were supposed to be back for lunch.

“I promise we won’t mess anything up,” I added.

The girl looked at us warily. “I have a plan,” she said.

“We’ll follow it,” Talia said.

After a beat, the girl nodded. “Okay. I’m Cleo.”

“I’m Talia.”

“I’m Callie.”

“Nice to meet you.” She crouched by a nearby towel, consulted a sandy notebook, and straightened up again. Her dark brown eyes were alert, excited. “So the next step is to build guard towers. Four of them. Here, I’ll show you . . .”

By lunchtime, we had learned that Cleo lived in Washington, DC; that the little orange house belonged to her grandparents; that she was right smack in the middle of three sisters and three brothers, but she was her grandparents’ favorite; and that she wanted to read one hundred books that year. Her family often spent a week here in July. In her grandparents’ two-bedroom house, it was chaos: seven kids laughing, fighting, playing games, gossiping, crying, scheming. Some of her siblings thought the beach was too boring, too hot, or both.

But Cleo loved it. She loved the mint chip at the ice cream shop, and the colors of the sunset, and playing in the sand. Most of all she liked being in the ocean--the briny scent of it and the endless white noise--and she liked that when she was floating, she couldn’t babysit or be babied. She was just herself, a small creature in a big blue sea.

After the last summer, when her grandfather had told her she could stay longer if she wanted to, she had spent the year begging her parents, who finally acquiesced. She was here for the whole month. And she was already planning her campaign to spend the entire summer at Little Beach--a campaign that would be successful the next year, and the next, and the next.

We hadn’t known we needed Cleo until she arrived. At eleven, we were still children, but we finally had permission to swim by ourselves and walk to the grocery store or the skating rink, as long as we were back for dinner. Left to our own devices, Talia and I would not have taken advantage of this new freedom. Nor would we have fully taken advantage of what we already had. We would’ve read books and watched movies and swam in the ocean, and that would have been enough.

Cleo helped us go further. We ran races from my house to Talia’s and back, built a fort in the abandoned lot behind the rink. We explored the park by the sound, pretending we were witches gathering ingredients for potions, until a couple of older boys started following us around and calling us names that made us uncomfortable. We wrote and illustrated stories in blank books and made covers for them out of wrapping paper, then hid them among the real books on our shelves and waited for our parents to notice. We walked halfway across the bridge to the mainland on the narrow sidewalk, which our parents always said was too dangerous, and watched the sun set on the sound while cars whooshed by just feet behind us. We played hide-and-seek with all the lights turned out. The seeker pretended to be a ghost.
“A lusciously crafted and achingly poignant story about girlhood with a haunting twist that readers will savor. You won’t soon forget it.”—Kathleen Glasgow, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Pieces

"Spellbinding... Readers might be tempted to disappear alongside this kaleidoscopic foursome."—K.L. Walther, New York Times bestselling author of The Summer of Broken Rules

"A gorgeous, wistful meditation on the pleasure and pain of adolescent girlhood, friendship, and the magic of summer."—Dahlia Adler, author of Cool for the Summer

"An absolutely stunning exploration of the invisibility and heartbreak of being a teenage girl. I literally couldn’t put it down."—Nita Tyndall, author of Who I Was with Her

"A suspenseful story of friendship and magic." —Kirkus Reviews

"Haunting." —Publishers Weekly

"[T]his evocative summer novel has precisely the right blend of haunting fantastical elements and down-to-earth realism as Van Name explores body dysmorphia, male-gaze culture, queerness in the South, and the unbreakable bond of teenage friendships." —Booklist
Sarah Van Name grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and now lives and works in Durham with her family and dog. She is the author of two young adult novels, The Goodbye Summer (2019, a Junior Library Guild pick) and Any Place But Here (2021). View titles by Sarah Van Name
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About

A wistful coming-of-age story with a haunting twist about four friends who spend their summer learning to become invisible—but disappearing comes at a cost.

Four girls. Four girls skating home, both sides of the road, fearless. Four girls at the mouth of an infinite ocean, sugared and salted with sand and seawater, the tide licking their sunburned feet.

This summer, they’re going to disappear.

For seventeen-year-old Callie and her best friends Talia and Cleo, every summer in their small North Carolina beach town is as steady as the tides. But this year, Cleo has invited enigmatic new girl Polly to join them, creating waves in their familiar friendship. And Cleo has an idea, gleaned from private YouTube videos and hidden message boards: they’re going to learn how to make themselves invisible.

Callie thinks it’s a ridiculous, impossible plan. But the other girls are intoxicated by the thought of disappearing, even temporarily—from bad boyfriends, from overbearing families, from the confusing, uncomfortable reality of having a body altogether. And, miraculously, it works.

Yet as the girls revel in their reckless new freedom, they realize it’s getting harder to come back to themselves… and do they even want to?

Excerpt

1


The Start of Summer


You can measure the start of summer in a lot of different ways. You could call it the day after the last day of school. You could use Memorial Day, or the solstice, or the first day the temperature tiptoes over a hundred. If you’re in Little Beach, where I’m from, you could say it’s begun when the percentage of people in the grocery store is more tourist than local, or when the skating rink opens for seven-days-a-week service. But for me, the beginning of summer was always the day that Cleo arrived.

That year, it was June 16. School had ended only one day before, and I could taste the emotion of that ending on my tongue--the release, the excitement, the exhilarating knowledge that this was our second-to-last last day ever. My best friend Talia and I were seniors now, if, like us, you thought of the start of the summer as the real start of the next year. We sat at the top of the wooden steps of Cleo’s grandparents’ house, waiting. We could have come over after Cleo arrived, but that would have meant missing ten minutes with her. Like every year, we had skated over as soon as she’d texted us saying their car had passed the exit for Wilmington. Between us were a box of cupcakes (chocolate, melting) and my phone (playing Sylvan Esso, bopping through my earbuds). The left earbud was in my ear. The right was in Talia’s, until she took it out, untangling it from a curl of dark hair.

“I don’t think I get this song,” she said, scrunching up her face.

I was ready for this objection. “Is it the lyrics?” I asked. “Because I know they don’t make sense per se, but--”

“This is just random bleeps and bloops and-- Is that a banjo in the background?”

“No, I think that’s just a different kind of bleep. But it’s great running music. And they actually do get more melodic in the chorus, like, here, listen . . .”

“Okay, but more I’m just saying, like, this is not a pretty song, you know? This is not a song that I enjoy listening to.”

“Not every song has to be--” I started, but then the little green station wagon pulled in, crunching on the gravel, and we both jumped up. Talia started waving her hands, like she was guiding a ship in from sea.

Cleo tumbled out of the car before it had stopped moving and shrieked as she ran up the stairs to us. In the few months since I’d seen her, she’d cut her hair short and she was wearing new clothes--white sandals and a yellow dress that glowed like the sun on her dark brown skin. But as she catapulted herself up the final stair to hug me and Talia, she was the same as ever. Same strong arms, same orange-body-wash smell, same voice in our ears.

“I swear the drive’s never taken so long, there was a crash on highway seventeen, and then we had to stop for Grandpa to use the bathroom-- God, it’s so good to see you.”

“We missed you,” Talia said.

I echoed her. “So much,” I said. “So, so much.”

“I missed you too, I have so many things to-- Oh, where is Polly?” She pulled away from us. I readied myself for our first break from routine. This part--this girl, Polly--was new.

“Polly, where are you?” Cleo called.

Below us, the car doors were opening. I peered down at three figures climbing out: Cleo’s grandmother and grandfather and a thin, pale girl with a low yellow ponytail, large blue eyes, a face like a doll, and no presence whatsoever. Polly. We had met her a handful of times in the background of video chats, grainy and quiet; at the time, I hadn’t understood her appeal. The same was true in person.

She raised a hand. “Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi!” Talia exclaimed, enthusiastic. “It’s so great to meet you for real! Finally! Can I help you with your bags?”

This was why Talia had more friends than I did.

“What are we, chopped liver?” Cleo’s grandma gestured to herself and her husband as we followed Cleo down the stairs to the car.

“It’s nice to see you again, Mrs. Haynes,” I said as she embraced me. “Hi, Mr. Haynes. Thank you for bringing us Cleo.”

“It’s our pleasure,” Mrs. Haynes said. “Without you two there’s no way my granddaughter would visit for the whole summer.”

“We’re too boring,” Mr. Haynes added.

“You’re boring,” his wife corrected. “I’m cool. Now, who is going to carry this luggage upstairs?”

We got everything up in one trip: the bags the girls had checked on the plane from Washington, DC, to Raleigh and their two carry-ons, Polly’s plain black duffel and Cleo’s backpack bursting with rainbow pins and patches. We set them in the guest room with the two twin beds before convening in the kitchen. Cleo started telling a story: “There was this woman on the flight who could not believe that Polly and I were flying alone”--while Mr. Haynes asked Talia how the first week of summer hours at the rink had gone, and Mrs. Haynes bustled around unboxing the cupcakes and setting out glasses of sweet tea.

I sat down at the kitchen table, my back to the windows and the ocean, and let myself settle into the noise and laughter. This was how it always was when Cleo came: the kitchen, the tea, the voices talking over each other. I felt the summer shifting into place.

With one snag. I glanced at Polly, who was sitting to my right.

“So is this your first time ever visiting North Carolina?” I asked as Talia burst into laughter at Cleo’s story.

Polly turned, looking startled as a deer. “What?”

I exhaled. “Nothing.”

Cleo finished her story, sighed happily, and sank into a chair. A lull settled over the room. In the background, the ocean murmured.

Mrs. Haynes broke the silence by asking, “So, girls, what’s your project going to be this summer?”

Cleo’s eyes lit up. “I have something in mind.”

“Really?” Talia leaned in. “You haven’t said anything.”

“It’s a secret,” Cleo said, a smile curving across her face.

Polly was staring out the window, not reacting. She seemed transfixed by the waves. I assumed this was because she was secretly a robot, but Cleo’s grandma must have thought poor Polly was getting left out, because she explained, “These girls always have a project for their summer. I find it quite industrious. All I did in my summer breaks was work and chase after boys, but these girls . . .” She chuckled. “What did you do last summer again?”

“We learned how to make ice cream.” Talia smiled at the memory.

“Goodness me, was that just last summer?” Mr. Haynes exclaimed. “I still think about that cherry chocolate swirl. Best ice cream I’ve ever had.”

Our summer projects have always worked out perfectly. The summer we were thirteen, our goal was to learn to skate, and now we had the best jobs on the island. Two summers ago, when we were fifteen, we got into scrapbooking--which, okay, sounds like an old-lady thing to do, but it was great, going to the drugstore to get pictures printed and then pasting them into books alongside old journal entries and newspaper headlines.

I had an idea for this summer. I hadn’t told Talia because I knew that she wouldn’t like it, but I hoped Cleo might be interested, and Polly was a wild card. My dad had a friend of a friend at the alternative radio station a few towns over, and he’d mentioned they might be looking for DJs for the less popular shifts. No one listened to the radio, but . . . surely some people still listened to the radio, right? We could get in contact with the guy, learn how to work with the software, memorize whatever arcane rules governed radio broadcasting, make playlists. I had a vision of us sitting in a recording booth together as the music that mattered so much to me drifted out over the airwaves to unknown cars and kitchens.

But the glint in Cleo’s eye told a different story. In our phone conversations and texts and postcards over the last few months, she had been unusually quiet about summer plans. I never thought she had forgotten about them, but she had been so excited talking about Polly joining us--showing her the sights of Little Beach, working with her at the rink--that I thought maybe Polly was the project. It seemed I was wrong. That was good, at least.

“Speaking of ice cream,” Mrs. Haynes said, standing up, “anyone hungry for dinner?”

It was only four, but my and Cleo’s hands shot up. I was always hungry. Besides, Talia and I had to be at work in an hour, so it was either dinner now or much later.

“I thought I’d pick up pizza and salad from Island Italian. That sound good to everyone?”

“Yes please,” Cleo said, beaming. “God, Island Italian. My second favorite pizza in the world.”

“Rude,” Talia said.

“Favorite in North Carolina. That’s not nothing.”

“We’ll go pick it up,” Mr. Haynes said. “You girls stay here and get settled in. We’ll be back in half an hour, okay?”

“Thank you,” we chorused.

They got their things and went out the door, and we sat in silence at the kitchen table. Polly kept looking out at the ocean. Talia glanced between me and Cleo. I unwrapped a cupcake and waited for the sound of their car pulling away.

“Now,” said Cleo. She leaned into the light. “Here’s what we’re going to do.”


2


Cleo’s Plan


I can’t remember a time without Talia. I mean that literally: In my earliest memory, she’s there beside me, the two of us digging our pudgy three-year-old hands into the sand. We were each other’s favorite friends in day care; our parents would pass us off on alternating Saturday nights so they could go to Island Italian or to Wilmington for a movie. There are whole photo albums filled with pictures of just us together on the beach, her olive skin and my sunburned freckles, my frizzy brown pigtails and her dark curls. We went to the same elementary, middle, and high schools. Her house was a mile from mine. When I was too serious, she made me laugh; when she cried, I calmed her down. We made each other better. We called each other sisters.

Cleo came to us later. Talia and I met her on the beach a few days before the Fourth of July, the year we were all eleven. We had floated far down the beach on the tide and were walking back. In front of a house the color of orange juice, a short Black girl was building an elaborate sandcastle. It had a moat and a tower almost three feet high. The girl was walking around the edge, placing shells at even intervals on the moat’s wall. Sand covered every inch of her. She had been at it for some time.

As Talia and I drew closer to her, we slowed. Growing up at the beach, I had seen a lot of sandcastles, from the childish to the ambitious, and this was impressive. Still, I probably would’ve kept walking but for Talia, who stepped forward and said, “That’s beautiful.”

“Thanks,” the girl said. She drew a hand across her forehead, leaving a swipe of sand there. “It’s taken me a really long time.”

“Can we help?” Talia asked. We had another hour before we were supposed to be back for lunch.

“I promise we won’t mess anything up,” I added.

The girl looked at us warily. “I have a plan,” she said.

“We’ll follow it,” Talia said.

After a beat, the girl nodded. “Okay. I’m Cleo.”

“I’m Talia.”

“I’m Callie.”

“Nice to meet you.” She crouched by a nearby towel, consulted a sandy notebook, and straightened up again. Her dark brown eyes were alert, excited. “So the next step is to build guard towers. Four of them. Here, I’ll show you . . .”

By lunchtime, we had learned that Cleo lived in Washington, DC; that the little orange house belonged to her grandparents; that she was right smack in the middle of three sisters and three brothers, but she was her grandparents’ favorite; and that she wanted to read one hundred books that year. Her family often spent a week here in July. In her grandparents’ two-bedroom house, it was chaos: seven kids laughing, fighting, playing games, gossiping, crying, scheming. Some of her siblings thought the beach was too boring, too hot, or both.

But Cleo loved it. She loved the mint chip at the ice cream shop, and the colors of the sunset, and playing in the sand. Most of all she liked being in the ocean--the briny scent of it and the endless white noise--and she liked that when she was floating, she couldn’t babysit or be babied. She was just herself, a small creature in a big blue sea.

After the last summer, when her grandfather had told her she could stay longer if she wanted to, she had spent the year begging her parents, who finally acquiesced. She was here for the whole month. And she was already planning her campaign to spend the entire summer at Little Beach--a campaign that would be successful the next year, and the next, and the next.

We hadn’t known we needed Cleo until she arrived. At eleven, we were still children, but we finally had permission to swim by ourselves and walk to the grocery store or the skating rink, as long as we were back for dinner. Left to our own devices, Talia and I would not have taken advantage of this new freedom. Nor would we have fully taken advantage of what we already had. We would’ve read books and watched movies and swam in the ocean, and that would have been enough.

Cleo helped us go further. We ran races from my house to Talia’s and back, built a fort in the abandoned lot behind the rink. We explored the park by the sound, pretending we were witches gathering ingredients for potions, until a couple of older boys started following us around and calling us names that made us uncomfortable. We wrote and illustrated stories in blank books and made covers for them out of wrapping paper, then hid them among the real books on our shelves and waited for our parents to notice. We walked halfway across the bridge to the mainland on the narrow sidewalk, which our parents always said was too dangerous, and watched the sun set on the sound while cars whooshed by just feet behind us. We played hide-and-seek with all the lights turned out. The seeker pretended to be a ghost.

Praise

“A lusciously crafted and achingly poignant story about girlhood with a haunting twist that readers will savor. You won’t soon forget it.”—Kathleen Glasgow, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Pieces

"Spellbinding... Readers might be tempted to disappear alongside this kaleidoscopic foursome."—K.L. Walther, New York Times bestselling author of The Summer of Broken Rules

"A gorgeous, wistful meditation on the pleasure and pain of adolescent girlhood, friendship, and the magic of summer."—Dahlia Adler, author of Cool for the Summer

"An absolutely stunning exploration of the invisibility and heartbreak of being a teenage girl. I literally couldn’t put it down."—Nita Tyndall, author of Who I Was with Her

"A suspenseful story of friendship and magic." —Kirkus Reviews

"Haunting." —Publishers Weekly

"[T]his evocative summer novel has precisely the right blend of haunting fantastical elements and down-to-earth realism as Van Name explores body dysmorphia, male-gaze culture, queerness in the South, and the unbreakable bond of teenage friendships." —Booklist

Author

Sarah Van Name grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and now lives and works in Durham with her family and dog. She is the author of two young adult novels, The Goodbye Summer (2019, a Junior Library Guild pick) and Any Place But Here (2021). View titles by Sarah Van Name

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