Read an Excerpt
The Genius of Jinn
By Lori Goldstein
Feiwel and FriendsCopyright © 2016 Lori Goldstein
All rights reserved.
The force makes the walls shake. The force — not of magic — but simply of him.
"Ta-da!" The announcement precedes his leap into the open doorway.
Hairy Larry, arms flung wide and waving his signature jazz hands, lumbers into Farrah's bedroom.
Groans fill the room — from the floorboards under his weight and from the Jinn girls who will one day become my Zar sisters. The five future genies are sitting cross-legged in a circle in front of Farrah's bed. I'm off to the side, shadowed by the palm tree whose ceramic pot I'm leaning against. I brush a low-slung frond aside and smirk at Laila, my ... well, I guess my best friend, as Hairy Larry plants his size-twelve feet directly behind her.
She nonchalantly transfers the throw blanket from her lap to the floor to shroud the oversized book she was reading from.
"Laaaaay-la," Hairy Larry croons as he drops to one knee. "You got me on my knees, Layla." He sticks one jazzy hand under each of her armpits and swoops the petite Laila to her feet. "I'm begging darling please, Layla."
He twirls her around like a rag doll, his mouth hanging open in a goofy grin, before plopping her back onto the ground. Now windblown, her long blond curls have doubled in volume, further dwarfing her. She doesn't bother to smooth them out. Instead, she scooches back next to me and hides behind the protective palm fronds.
"Hana banana!" Hairy Larry cries, moving to the next Jinn girl in the circle. He tousles Hana's tangerine-colored hair with his paw. It's not an actual paw, despite how much it looks like it's covered in coarse brown fur.
Unlike us, Hairy Larry is human. Or so my mother assures me. But he's even taller than she is, and his body is carpeted with dense patches of hair like moss on a tree stump. So, human? I'm still not sure. Unless Sasquatch is human.
And why shouldn't Sasquatch be real?
"Dreama me Mina," he purrs into my next soon-to-be Zar sister's mahogany-colored hair. Mina manages to tuck her round chin to her chest and miss the swipe of his paw, er, hand. "And hey, hey, hey, my Isa's fancy Farrah. Hey, kid."
Farrah, who's normally as jittery as a hula dancer bobblehead, is surprisingly calm in Hairy Larry's presence. She beams at him and her eyebrows rise, disappearing under her growing brown bangs.
Hairy Larry has been Lalla Isa's — sorry, Aunt Isa's — boyfriend for the past six years, since we were all seven. And for all those years, every one of her Zar sisters, which includes my mother, has at some point (and with varying levels of insistence) tried to talk her into ending the relationship. It's not that we can't date humans, it's just that we aren't supposed to become too attached. And despite what I think is a very real fear of choking on a hair ball, Isa's attached, all right.
With a clap and a pivot on one foot, Hairy Larry spins in a circle until he once again faces the doorjamb. And me.
"Oh, didn't see you back there, Azra-cadabra! You hiding, girly girl? Hope not from me."
I wasn't. But I am now.
Hairy Larry forms a gun with his thumb and index finger, points it at me, and winks. He clicks his tongue and swivels. When his gun lands on my last Zar sister, now standing with her hands on her sharp hips, he holsters it at his side. She narrows her dark eyes and tucks a strand of jet-black hair behind her ear.
Hairy Larry slides back into the palm tree. "Yasmin," he says, with the barest of nods.
Though none of us yet have powers like our Jinn mothers, Yasmin doesn't need magic to be intimidating. We've all been around long enough to learn that — even Hairy Larry.
"A pleasure, as always," Yasmin says, her tone heavy with sarcasm. She crosses to the bedroom door and curls her hand around the edge. Her long, skinny fingers drum against the painted white wood.
Hairy Larry shuffles to the door. He runs a furry hand over his, ironically, bald head. "You girls don't do anything I wouldn't do."
Yasmin raises her upper lip in what I think is an attempted fake smile but that doesn't make it past a snarl. "Uh-huh." With a jab of her heel, she slams the door in Hairy Larry's face. "What he wouldn't do? Like be so ignorant as to shack up with a member of another species?" She snorts. "Not likely."
"Watch it, Yas," Mina says. She wraps a protective arm around Farrah, who, as usual, is a pace or two behind.
This time, I'm glad. She doesn't need Yasmin's insults in her head. She genuinely likes Hairy Larry. And despite his quirkiness and tendency to shed, it must be nice to have someone else around even part of the time.
The rest of us just have our moms. Our families, including the fathers we've never met, don't live here in the human world. They don't live with us. They never have.
"Well," Laila says, drawing out the word with her high-pitched voice. "Where were we?"
She lifts the blanket off the large tome she was reading from when Hairy Larry made his jazzy entrance. Spinning the book around, she opens to a handwritten chart that runs across the top of the page.
"See," Laila says, tapping the yellowed parchment, "right here it says that the term genii is the plural form of the Latin word genius."
Already Mina's back to jabbing her fingertips against the phone half wedged under her butt, and Farrah's eyes are glazing over as she hums a mind-numbing but catchy refrain.
Hana slips on the eyeglasses she doesn't actually need and leans forward to recite what's written on the page of Laila's family cantamen. Spell book, rule book, history book, and memoir all rolled into one, cantamens are unique to each Jinn family. We don't normally claim them as our own until we turn sixteen. That's when we receive the spelled bangle that will activate our Jinn ancestry and the magic that lives inside us.
Three more years. We have three more years. For Hana, for Laila, for the rest of my Zar sisters, becoming Jinn can't come soon enough. But my wish, if we Jinn were able to have our wishes granted, is that it'd never come.
Hana sits back on her heels and trails her finger along the swirly writing. "'Ancient Romans believed in spirits that watched over every man. Spirits called genii. A 'genius,' then, was a spirit responsible for shaping a man's character and for guiding his every action. Believed to be present at birth, a genius eventually came to be thought of as a great inborn ability.'"
"Fascinating, isn't it?" Laila says. "It's exactly like who we are. What we can do."
Mina clucks her tongue, and Farrah sways to the music inside her head. Yasmin doesn't respond. She drifts toward the alcove where the door to Farrah's bathroom lies. Thanks to their magic, our Jinn mothers act as architect, contractor, and designer all in one when outfitting our homes.
Hana pushes her glasses up into her red hair and continues. "'Some Romans also believed in a spirit, called an evil genius, that fought the good genius for control of a man's fate.'"
An evil genius. Exactly who Yasmin is.
She opens the door to the bathroom and disappears inside.
Unable to contain her excitement, Laila lugs the cantamen into her lap and reads, "'Many cultures in the Middle East and North Africa still believe in similar spirits today. They call them djinn.'" Laila meets my eye. "With a d."
Hana nods. "I've heard of that."
Of course she has. Hana's the complete package: pretty, stylish, and, as my fellow Massachusetts citizens like to say, wicked smart.
Excitement sparkles in Laila's pale blue eyes. A contrast to Mina, whose eyes are locked on her phone, and Farrah, whose eyes are closed. Laila slams — which for Laila is a firm pat — her hand against the book. "Guys, this is important. It's our history! How can we become who we are meant to be if we don't know who we were?"
But this isn't who we were. This is lore. There's so much genie lore, from the carpets we've never flown on, to the lamps and bottles we've never been trapped in, to the three wishes we don't actually grant.
Mina slides her phone under her cutoffs. "Sorry, Lai." She flicks the top of Farrah's head. "Listen up, Farrah."
Farrah's eyes snap open. "I am. But maybe you could, like, skip all the boring parts?"
Though this might discourage most, most are not Laila. "Well, do you think spirits are boring?"
"How about summoning spirits?" Hana adds.
Mina raises an eyebrow. "Now we're talking. Go on."
As Laila starts explaining that even today there are true believers in many cultures who insist djinn are spirits that can be called upon to do things like heal the sick or chase away bad luck, I duck out from under a palm frond to reach for my backpack.
In all the Hairy Larry commotion, it got pushed under the bright yellow dust ruffle of Farrah's twin bed.
As I inch over, Laila continues reading the cantamen. "'Many consider djinn to be one part of a community of orishas, which are intermediary spirits that run the world. Each has a specific function and dominion —'"
"Like angels?" Farrah says.
We all look at Farrah in surprise, and I stop my stealthy slide toward my backpack and the Choose Your Own Adventure waiting inside. I was kind of obsessed with the series a couple of years ago.
When I was helping (being forced to help) my mother clean out the shelves in our living room to make room for another set of Moroccan teacups, I saved a couple of books from their fate — a cardboard box destined for the garage — and snuck them to my room. Though I'm older, I can't deny that my heart still pounds with anticipation as I debate each alternative: "If you decide to enter the dark cave immediately, turn to page 85; if you decide to search for a weapon first, turn to page 93." I remember one book that supposedly had sixty-eight possible endings. Hard as I tried, I never could find them all. The series had been a favorite of my mother's when she was a kid. When they were reissued, she bought every single one for me.
I thought it'd help pass the time today if Laila and I read one together like we used to. And maybe, this time, Laila wouldn't force me to make all the choices.
"Angels, nice call, Farrah," Mina says, tousling her best friend's hair. Though Farrah can recite the liner notes of every boy band's latest album and tell you where and when everyone from the Beatles to Wham! played their farewell concert, scholarly studies that don't come with a musical note are not her strong suit.
I nab my backpack and try to blend into the alcove. As I begin to read, my hand reaches for the pendant around my neck. The cursive A engraved on the front stands for the first letter of the name I share with my grandmother on my mother's side. Another family member I've never met. The necklace used to belong to her. Maybe that's why it's always calmed me. I've worn it nearly every day of my life; I don't remember a time when it wasn't looped around my neck.
I return to my book, ready to quietly thumb through an adventure on the high seas. I'm deciding whether to slip on my scuba gear or stay on the boat when muffled voices float out from under the bathroom door.
"Shh!" Yasmin cries. "They'll hear you!"
What? Is she talking to me?
A second voice, muffled by the closed bathroom door, says something I can't make out. I wasn't yet that engrossed in my adventure, but still I lift my head to check on my other Zar sisters, confirming that none of them made it by me unnoticed; they're all sitting on the floor by the bed, just as I thought. So who could Yasmin be talking to? I lean against the door, straining to catch a word.
But before I can, the door opens and I'm falling onto the tile floor. Right next to Yasmin's tapping bronze ballet flat.
"Well, well, well, look who's turned into a little spy." Yasmin wraps her hand around my forearm and the gems on her three stacked bracelets dig into my skin as she drags me into the bathroom and closes the door.
"Now what?" Yasmin says.
But not to me.
Towering above me next to Yasmin is a statuesque figure in a long, sapphire-blue cloak with gold embroidery lining the edges. I survey the rest of her: bronze skin deeper than from the sun, ash-brown hair trailing down her back in luscious waves, eyelashes as long as whiskers surrounding a pair of gold eyes.
Gold eyes like those of all our mothers. Gold eyes like those of fully matured Jinn. Gold eyes like the ones that will replace my own hazel ones in three years.
"But you're a Jinn," I say, clutching the knob on the vanity to help pull me to my feet.
Yasmin grunts. "As are you, Azra. So much for all that genius they're talking about out there."
Heat rises to my cheeks. It's not like Yasmin hasn't said similar, or worse, things before, but this time ... in front of this stranger ... this Jinn stranger ... the flush stems not from embarrassment but from anger.
"What I mean is ..." I clench my fists, but words escape me. Because what exactly do I mean? We don't see Jinn outside our circle of Zar sisters. Our mothers occasionally interact with or attend gatherings of multiple Zars, but even that's rare, especially recently.
So how is Yasmin here, hiding out with a Jinn outside our circle? Maybe the better question is why?
The Jinn's high cheekbones flirt with her temples as she forms a smile with her heart-shaped lips. "Pleased to meet you, Azra," she says with an accent I can't quite place.
"Who are you ..." I start. "Where did you come from?"
She pushes the round, gold toggle through the loop at the neckline of her cloak. "I am Tayma. As for your second question ..."
She reaches for my hand and then ... my insides whirl like fruit in a smoothie blender. My stomach plummets all the way to my heels, which are perched on either side of a funky-shaped toilet.
But not the toilet in Farrah's bathroom. The Jinn — Tayma — who's standing in front of me with her other hand still in Yasmin's, has just apported us.
She teleported us from one bathroom to another? Seriously? Intentionally? Perhaps she's a distant relative of Farrah and Lalla Isa's. Lack of magical talent tends to run in families.
Yasmin shakes off Tayma's hand and pushes open the stall door. "You didn't just do that."
Tayma unbuttons her cloak. "Do what?"
"Yasmin, she is your sister."
"But this was my idea, and —"
Tayma shrugs off her cloak and uses her magic to catch the silken fabric before it drops to the dirty bathroom floor.
I follow them out into the larger antechamber, a mix of quaint — the checkerboard black-and-white tile on the wall — and dingy — the ancient yellowed and chipped sink.
"Bring her where?" I say, looking around. Nothing, not the toilet flusher, the soap dispenser, or the hand dryer, is automatic. And then it clicks. Tayma's accent, the black-and-white tile, the funny-shaped toilet. I know where we are.
Home to the best ice cream shop in the world, or so my mother promises. She's apped me here at least half a dozen times.
Well, not here, here.
Dingy bathrooms aren't exactly my mother's apporting style.
"Welcome to my home, Azra," Tayma says. She conjures a Kermit-the-frog-green leather tote bag, into which she settles her folded cloak.
"You live here?" I say.
"Ma chérie, not here in la toilette," Tayma says, hooking her arm through mine and guiding me out of the women's room. "But, oui. I live here in the most beautiful city in the world."
She magically swings open the door, and before us is a sight that, even though I've seen it before, defies the ability of my eyes to take it all in and my brain to believe it's real and not something out of a fairy tale or Camelot.
Those two medieval towers on either side that stretch to the sky. That perfect row of vibrant stained-glass windows shining in the sun like kaleidoscopes. The symmetrical pointed arches in which live doorways fit for giants. And of course, the posse of gargoyles that guard it all. The statues keep watch as we venture closer to the cathedral of Notre-Dame.
"A masterpiece, no?" Tayma says. "More than seven hundred years old. Must have been one talented Jinn to help get this built, oui?"
Questions whiz around my mind of what we're doing here and how Yasmin and Tayma know one another and why I was brought along, but Tayma doesn't leave me an opening to ask any of them. Still latched onto my arm, she sways her hips, gently bumping into mine, guiding me down the path toward the cathedral.
Mere minutes ago, I was in Farrah's bathroom, and now, here I am, strolling down the Île de la Cité with the sun warming my face, surrounded by the energy of tourists and Parisians alike, listening to Tayma recite the history of this Gothic cathedral. The only question that matters is how long before Yasmin ruins it.
"We don't have time for a history lesson, Tayma." Yasmin blows past and whirls around directly in front of us.
The answer to my question is approximately one minute, thirty seconds.
Sharp as fangs, Yasmin's tone doesn't invite contradiction. Or even conversation.
I slacken my arm that's entwined with Tayma's, but she tightens her grip and pulls me even closer. She smells like lilacs. Like the ones that bloom on the bush under my window at home during the spring. I wonder if my mother's magic can make them bloom for longer.
Excerpted from The Genius of Jinn by Lori Goldstein. Copyright © 2016 Lori Goldstein. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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