Hanging by a Thread

Hanging by a Thread

3.6 9
by Sophie Littlefield

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“Dark secrets, a dangerous romance, and a chilling murder mystery I won’t soon forget.” —Stacey Jay, author of Juliet Immortal

In a town where appearance means everything, how deep beneath the surface will Clare dig to uncover a murderer?

Summer is the best part of the year in Winston, California, and…  See more details below


“Dark secrets, a dangerous romance, and a chilling murder mystery I won’t soon forget.” —Stacey Jay, author of Juliet Immortal

In a town where appearance means everything, how deep beneath the surface will Clare dig to uncover a murderer?

Summer is the best part of the year in Winston, California, and the Fourth of July is the highlight of the season. People consider themselves lucky to live in the quaint, serene beachside town, and native Clare Knight, now a city girl, feels doubly lucky to be moving back there a week before the July festivities kick off.
But the perfect town Clare remembers has changed, and everyone is praying that this summer will be different from the last two—that this year’s Fourth of July festival won’t see one of their own vanish without a trace, leaving no leads and no suspects. The media are in a frenzy predicting a third disappearance, but the town depends on tourist dollars, so the residents of Winston are trying desperately to pretend nothing’s wrong.
And they’re not the only ones hiding something.
Clare has been blessed—or perhaps cursed—with a gift: she can see people’s pasts when she touches their clothes. And since she’s a seamstress who redesigns vintage clothing, her visions are frequent—and usually unwanted. When she stumbles across a denim jacket that once belonged to Amanda Stavros, last year’s Fourth of July victim, Clare sees her perfect town begin to come apart at the seams.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Clare Knight recently moved back to Winston, California. She inherited more than a home from her family; she also inherited an affinity for sewing and design as well something darker. A seamstress, she redesigns vintage clothing, and with one touch of a garment, she can see the life of the person who wore it. As she prepares for her junior year in high school, Rachel, an old friend, introduces her to the popular crowd, and Clare finds herself invited to one wild beach party after another. However, behind the carefree life in this seaside town lies a terrible truth; two children have been murdered in as many years and on the same date. Parents fear it will happen again. With Clare's gift comes great responsibility, and the teen finds herself caught up in the mystery of these tragic deaths. The author keeps readers hanging on to each page with a fast-moving plot, but sacrifices fluidity in the process. However, most teens will not mind at all. Littlefield includes just the right amount of conflict, mystery, fashion, teenage mischief, and hot guys to keep readers entertained, and they'll enjoy the ending that ties together all the loose threads.—Mindy Whipple, West Jordan Library, UT
Children's Literature - Bonita Herold
Even though Clare's about to become a high school junior, she already knows what she wants to do with her life: fashion design. She designs her creations from clothing she picks up off the street, at flea markets, and at garage sales. She has got a real eye for what works. There is a downside, though. Clare's been blessed—or cursed, depending on the viewpoint—with being able to "read" the clothing. She "sees" the pasts' of prior owners! With her acquisition of a grungy denim jacket, she discovers a past that literally knocks her out. And the jacket will not leave her alone. She is not at all sure she wants to share this fact with anyone—and particularly not as the new girl on the block. Clare has to do something before another murder takes place, but who can she trust? Her busy, workaholic mom, scared of her own shadow, does not want to hear the truth; even her hippie grandmother told her to look the other way. Jack, a potential boyfriend, is a huge unknown; and Clare knows her best friend, Rachel, is hiding something. With true-to-life characters and a mystery to solve, Hanging by a Thread will keep teen readers hanging by a thread. Knowing how to write a true gem, Littlefield will have readers clamoring for more. Reviewer: Bonita Herold
VOYA - Sara Martin
Two summers ago in the small town of Winston, California, the body of a teenage boy was found. The crime is never solved. The following summer, on the anniversary of his death, a young girl disappeared. Locals fear a serial killer but are putting on a brave face, afraid to drive the tourists away. Clare and her mother have just moved back to Winston. Clare is a fashion designer in the making—turning other people's rejects into fashionable designs. There is just one catch: when she touches fabric, she sees visions of the stories attached to the clothing. When she stumbles upon the jacket of the missing girl, she becomes caught up in the secrets that threaten this unsettled town. Jack (mysterious and simmering) and Rachel (vivacious but troubled) are tangled up in the intrigue—what are they hiding? Can Clare find out before the visions and danger overwhelm her? Hanging By A Thread offers a tension-filled mystery with an extrasensory twist. Although the action does not really take flight until midway through the novel, Littlefield effectively builds suspense throughout, weaving story lines together into a breath-taking climax. Supporting characters are well developed and believable; a related subplot involving Clare's mother and grandmother enhances the overall story. Clare's interest in fashion design is peppered throughout the novel, providing texture and interest without overwhelming the story or slowing the pace. Some swearing and sexual situations make this most appropriate for high school readers. Fans of Lisa Mann's Wake trilogy will surely enjoy this novel. Reviewer: Sara Martin
VOYA - Raluca Topliceanu
Hanging By A Thread is a captivating read. Despite the topic of vintage fashion appearing to overwhelm the better part of the novel, this toned-down thriller makes a comeback in the form of its eventual fast-paced plot, its web of suspense, and its intriguing twists. Although the main character's life begins with mundane descriptions, her voice ultimately becomes more intent and focused, lending a realistic and gripping essence to the book. Reviewer: Raluca Topliceanu, Teen Reviewer
Kirkus Reviews
Clare's paranormal ability to experience the past when she touches clothing involves her in a murder mystery. A serial killer may be stalking Winston, Clare's tiny northern California beach town. A boy may have been murdered during the Fourth of July holiday last year. Now, a girl, Amanda, has disappeared. Clare and her mom have returned to their ancestral home in Winston, where Clare has made one friend. Rachel helps sell the outfits Clare designs from bits of vintage clothing. The more she learns about Rachel, however, the more Clare wonders if the girl is stable. Clare's isolation continues within her own family, as she quarrels with her mom. Meanwhile, other families appear to be breaking up all over town. When Clare acquires a torn jacket, she touches it and has an alarming vision that she's certain will somehow lead her to Amanda. She also falls for Jack, Amanda's old boyfriend, who was accused of the crime at the time. Can she trust him? As Clare delves more deeply into the tangled relationships of the townsfolk, she pieces the mystery together just as she pieces old clothing together, and she thinks she knows whodunit. If she's wrong, though, she may become the next victim. Littlefield writes a nifty little mystery and hits the right buttons for the current paranormal craze. Throwing in fashion design and a hot romance with a hunky bad-boy type also boosts interest, but well-drawn family and friend relationships form the heart of this story. The author plays fair by sprinkling in some teensy but real clues that should steer alert readers toward the solution. Intriguing and entertaining. (Paranormal mystery. 12 & up)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Random House
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt




They say our house is cursed, and maybe it’s true. It’s been in my mom’s family for almost a hundred years. It was a dress and alterations shop until ten years ago, when my mom and dad poured all their money into restorations so we could live in it. As soon as it was finished, they got divorced and we all moved away. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Three weeks ago, my mom and I moved back to town. We were finally getting around to hanging pictures on the walls, and the first one we pulled out of the moving box was of my great-­great-­grandmother Alma. In the old black-­and-­white photograph from the 1920s, she’s standing in front of this same house.

The image is of Alma in her early twenties and very pregnant. She looks pretty in her simple wool serge dress. But she’s overshadowed by the young woman standing next to her, who is wearing a gorgeous wedding gown. Silk voile drapes the bodice and dropped waist, and the Cluny lace veil is accented with small white feather plumes and pearls. If you look carefully, you can detect a darkness, a hint of fear, behind the young woman’s shy smile.

The day after the picture was taken, both Alma and the young bride were dead.


I hung the picture while Mom watched, hands on her hips, directing me to move it a little higher, a little to the left. She’s a perfectionist. I’m the creative type. Needless to say, this caused problems in our relationship, but we were treating each other gingerly. The move had caused enough stress already, and we were one sharp word away from a meltdown.

I wasn’t exactly thrilled about leaving my old high school in the city and coming back to a tiny town where I only had one friend, but I was determined to make the best of it. I’d lived in Winston until I was ten, and I’d kept in touch with my best friend, Rachel, ever since. She’d grown up to be beautiful, popular, and—­thanks to her dad’s involvement in several start-­up companies that had done well—­rich, and she’d promised to get me connected with the in crowd at Winston High.

This was my big chance to finally fit in. Don’t get me wrong—­I’d loved my two years at my private arts high school. It was where I got interested in fashion design, and I’d made some good friends. But I’d had enough of the artistic temperaments competing for attention at the Blake School, enough of the drama and the edginess of the San Francisco art scene. I was tired of sharing a cramped two-­bedroom apartment with my mom. I just wanted to know what normal felt like, and a sleepy little beach town with a population of two thousand people seemed like the perfect place to find out.

My mom wasn’t adapting very well to being back, however. When we’d moved three hours north six years earlier, it was like she decided to put her entire past behind her, not just my dad. She broke contact with all her old friends and threw herself into her new job in the city. As the years passed, she changed. She became more polished, more professional, and more distant.

When my dad lost his job a few months ago and couldn’t keep up with his child support payments, private school was suddenly no longer an option. Then rents went up in our building, and the accounting firm my mom worked for was hit hard by the economy and she lost some important clients. When my dad offered to sign over his share of the house in Winston, she saw a solution to our problems. She bought out a small accounting firm in town from a man who was retiring, the renters moved out of the old dress shop, and we moved back as soon as school was over.

“So sad,” she sighed, once I’d hung the photograph exactly where she wanted it, in the small foyer of our house. “Poor Alma.”

It’s the exact same thing she said when I hung the photo in the San Francisco apartment. I remember because I didn’t know the story back then and I wanted to know what was so sad about it. My mom gave me a watered-­down version, but later I got the whole story from my grandmother.

Back in 1923, Alma was a newlywed herself, excited about the arrival of her first child, planning to quit her job at the dress shop after giving birth. Her last big project was a wedding dress for a beautiful young woman engaged to a violent and jealous man named Forrest Hansen. Hansen had accused his fiancée of secretly seeing another man, an attorney in town, and though she’d denied it, she made the mistake of stopping to talk to the attorney one day when they met in the street. Hansen followed her to the shop that evening, waiting in the shadows outside while Alma made a few final alterations and a photographer took the bridal portrait for the newspaper. After the photographer left, Hansen stormed into the shop, yelling accusations. While the lovers argued, Alma must have tried to intervene, because after shooting his fiancée, Hansen shot Alma too.

She lived long enough for her baby to be taken from her that night. The coroner wrapped the baby in the wed- ding dress, which was lying nearby on the cutting table, to keep her warm. The baby was a healthy girl—­my great-­grandmother Josie—­who would go on to work in this same dress shop when she grew up.

Hansen was caught, tried, and executed. But something else happened that night. Amid the terrible storm of jealousy and rage and violence, Alma’s innocent baby was born with a strange gift, one that she passed along to one of her own daughters—­my Nana—­and eventually, when I was twelve years old, to me.

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Meet the Author

SOPHIE LITTLEFIELD is the Edgar-nominated author of several thrillers for adults. She lives with her family in Northern California.

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