The Steps Across the Water

Overview


Rose lives in New York, the city of bright lights and excitement-where extraordinary things happen every day. But Rose wasn't born in New York; she was adopted and arrived there at age two; and though Rose loves her home and her adopted family, sometimes she can't help but feel different, like she's meant to be somewhere else.

Then one day in Central Park, Rose sees something truly extraordinary: a crystal staircase rising out of the lake, and two small figures climbing the ...

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Overview


Rose lives in New York, the city of bright lights and excitement-where extraordinary things happen every day. But Rose wasn't born in New York; she was adopted and arrived there at age two; and though Rose loves her home and her adopted family, sometimes she can't help but feel different, like she's meant to be somewhere else.

Then one day in Central Park, Rose sees something truly extraordinary: a crystal staircase rising out of the lake, and two small figures climbing the shimmering steps before vanishing like a mirage. Only it isn't a mirage. Rose is being watched-by representatives of U Nork, a hidden city far more spectacular than its sister city, New York. In U Nork, dirigibles and zeppelins skirt dazzling skyscrapers that would dwarf the Chrysler Building. Impeccably dressed U Norkers glide along the sidewalks on roller skates. Rose can hardly take it all in.

And then she learns the most astonishing thing about U Nork: its citizens are in danger, and only Rose can help them.

In this masterful new fantasy, best-selling author Adam Gopnik joins with legendary illustrator Bruce McCall to explore powerful themes of identity and the meaning of home.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rose is adopted and suffers from a speech impediment (she reverses initial consonants), diagnosed as trauma from her years in a Russian orphanage. Strolling through Central Park, she sees a crystal staircase arising out of the turtle pond that leads to U Nork, a mirror city where the pigeons are large enough to ride and the skyscrapers take eight hours to ascend. Mixing in allusions to Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and The Snow Queen, Gopnik's narrative strains under the weight of his hyperbolic imagination. Still, this fantasy, rich in comic detail, is more accessible than his The King in the Window (2005), which featured the same family. Perhaps best suited to those familiar both with New York and the New Yorker, where Gopnik is a staff writer (one character is clearly modeled on Joseph Mitchell, the New Yorker writer who legendarily didn't produce a single story for 30 years), this will appeal to kids who already think Central Park is pretty magical. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–up. (Nov.)
Jamie McGee
Rose lives in New York with her brother Oliver and her adoptive parents. One day in Central Park, Rose notices an arch of steps over the park's water with small people walking on them. A friend from school introduces her to the magical city of U Nork that exists inside a snow globe and can be reached from New York by the steps across the water. Rose is called upon to rescue the city from an Ice Queen who seeks its destruction. Using the magic tricks she learned from her brother and by thinking fast, Rose combats the Ice Queen and her minions and learns that her family history is closely connected to U Nork. She discovers that although she is small and U Nork is simply part of a snow globe, her mission and the lives of the U Norkers are important, too. Reviewer: Jamie McGee
School Library Journal
Gr 5–7—Rose has an embarrassing speech impediment. Sometimes she switches around the beginnings of words, for example, calling her home, New York City, "U Nork" instead. During a trip to Central Park with her father and her brother, Oliver, from The King in the Window (Hyperion, 2005), she sees mysterious steps across the lake, but no one believes her. Soon after, classmate Ethan, now Louis, reveals to Rose that the steps are real and lead to U Nork, a flip-side New York City where, believe it or not, the pace is even faster and the people are ruder. Its citizens are in trouble, and it's Rose's face they've been seeing in the sky as the only one who can save them. The rip-roaring plot is laced with original and fantastical characters who fully enjoy 20-second lunches shot into their mouths with small cannons and use giant pigeons as taxis. Gopnik's writing is sharp and smart, and U Nork is an exciting place. Readers will cheer for Rose and her friends and have more than an occasional chuckle along the way. McCall's glossy, full-color, full-page illustrations are beautiful in their simplicity and help create the feel of a modern fairy tale.—Mandy Lawrence, Fowler Middle School, Frisco, TX
Kirkus Reviews

A little girl learns the meaning of family in this fantasy adventure loosely based on Andersen's "Snow Queen" and set in both New York City and a parallel metropolis called U Nork. Adopted from Russia, Rose is presciently attracted to snow globes and stories about snow princesses. Her urban-kid routine is shattered on an outing to the Empire State Building, where a diminutive spy from U Nork invites her to ascend a glass stairway across the water in Central Park to find the "biggest and grandest city in the solar system." Awed by the enormous buildings and bizarre customs, Rose discovers that U Nork is really hidden inside a snow globe and depends on her to save it from the demonic Ice Queen. With an assist from family and friends from both cities, spunky Rose faces some hard choices as she confronts the powerful Ice Queen—who just happens to be her real mother. While the highly original New York/U Nork construct proves fascinating, readers may find the overt "Snow Queen" correspondences intrusive, bewildering and misguided. (Fantasy. 8-12)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781423112136
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
  • Publication date: 11/23/2010
  • Pages: 304
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 810L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Montreal. He is best known as a staff writer for The New Yorker, and as the author Paris to the Moon, an account of five years he and his family spent in the French capital. He is also author of the children's book The King in the Window.

Bruce McCall (www.brucemccall.com) is a Canadian author and illustrator best known for his contributions to The New Yorker. He has also written sketches for Saturday Night Live. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Across the Bridge

 
 
If Rose had been looking the other way when Oliver was talking to their father, she might never have seen the crystal staircase suddenly arch over the Central Park lake, and the two small figures looking carefully at Rose before skipping over the steps.
 
“Look!” she called out.
 
But by the time anyone did, the steps had already begun to recede, noiselessly, into the lake, shimmering for a moment, like an image going out of focus on a television set.
 
It wasn’t exactly a lake—just a pond, really—but it was right in the middle of Manhattan, the densest and most crowded borough in the city of New York.
 
Rose was trailing behind her brother, Oliver, and their father as they tossed a football back and forth on the great oval lawn.
 
It was a perfect fall Sunday in the park, high October, and a cool breeze cut through the sunny afternoon. Leaves and litter skimmed across the lawn. Gusts of wind caught Rose’s dress and teased it slightly upward, clutching it to her around the knees as she tramped through the leaves.
 
The sun cast long, golden, slanting shadows along the edge of the grass. Gone were the shouting summer crowds of softball players and barefoot Frisbee catchers. Only old couples sitting on park benches were left, and harried-looking students turning the pages of their books, which the wind tipped over. A few dogs pulled at their leashes on the walk that encircled the lawn, but their owners didn’t let them wander onto the grass.
 
Rose sighed. She wanted a dog so badly. But she could never have one, because her mother was allergic to dog dander. Even when they went to a pet store, her mom wept and sneezed.
 
Oliver and her dad threw passes back and forth in the long shadows, and encouraged each other with congratulations and shouts. A single pink helium balloon from a child’s birthday party floated away in the sky overhead.
 
All around the park the great towers of Manhattan loomed, crowding around as though they were giants on tiptoe, struggling to look down at the people at play. Looking east, Rose could even see the twelve stories of the apartment building where she lived. Looking south, she could see Belvedere Castle and the mysterious hills and paths of the Ramble that lay behind.
 
And that was when she saw it—a glass staircase sweeping up as suddenly as a rainbow, arcing across the lake at the end of the lawn. On the steps, two tiny figures in long overcoats, with one wreath of smoke around their heads, raced up and across the steps, taking quick, frightened looks backward.
 
“Look—there are steps across the water!” Rose exclaimed, pointing toward the lake.
 
Oliver and their father stopped playing catch.
 
“Where?” asked Oliver.
 
“Right there! Look! Right there!”
 
But the steps were gone by the time they turned around.
 
“That’s very nice, sweetie,” her dad said. Rose could tell by his tone of voice that he didn’t believe her.
 
“Dad!” she said. “I really saw something—glass steps going out across the water. And two children running across them.”
 
Rose. You’re just looking for attention,” Oliver said.
 
“I am not. I saw them. They were real.”
 
Rose,” Oliver said.
 
“Don’t ‘Rose’ me,” Rose said.
 
“Well then, stop making things up.”
 
“I didn’t!” Her bottom lip began to quiver.
 
“Oh, toughen up a bit, kiddo,” Oliver said.
 
Rose turned and started running away back down the path toward the park gate. They always treated her as if she was . . . little. Even a baby. Oliver teased her about being young, and small, and though she knew he didn’t really mean it in a cruel way, it was still incredibly annoying.
 
“Oliver!” warned their Dad, running after her. He tried to scoop her up. She resisted.
 
“Baby, Ollie didn’t mean . . .”
 
She looked out longingly at the people who were walking their dogs at the edge of the lawn. There were big dogs and little dogs, snarly dogs and yappy dogs, ugly dogs with long snouts and sharp ears, and beautiful dogs with soft ears and fluffy coats. Every dog had an owner at the end of its leash. It was as if there was a magical connection between them, Rose thought: each person would never be lonely as long as they had their dog, and each dog knew that he could never be lonely as long as he had his owner. . . . If she had a dog, at least he would believe her about the steps.
 
Now Oliver was there, too. He put his arm around her and drew her close and kissed her still plum and blooming cheek.
 
“Hey, I’m sorry, Miss Tubs,” he said. He was really very fond of his little sister. Rose pulled away a little bit. But only a little.
 
Suddenly, a loud flutter of wings rose from the other end of the Great Lawn. They all turned. A flock of gray pigeons, hundreds of them, was flying from the trees on the east side of the Great Lawn, toward the West Side.
 
“What’s making them do that?” their father asked.
 
“There must be something chasing them!” Oliver answered. Rose couldn’t help but look up, too. She saw a single red-tailed hawk swooping down toward the terrified pigeons.
 
“It’s the hawk! It’s Pale Male!” Oliver said.
 
Rose remembered having read once about Pale Male, the famous hawk in New York City that lived high up on the balcony of an apartment building on expensive Fifth Avenue. For a while, the rich people who lived there tried to get rid of him: some people said it was because he was a nuisance, and others because he wasn’t paying any rent. But lots of children and other sane people signed a petition to let him stay in his nest, and he did. This was good for everyone but the pigeons in Central Park.
 
Oliver laughed. “Go, Pale Male!” he shouted.
 
The pigeons seemed to make it safely into the leaves. The hawk hovered above the lawn, circling it, and then suddenly zoomed right out of the sky toward the western trees. The terrified pigeons, with the same clatter and coo, all flew in a dark gray cloud back across the lawn.
 
“Go, pigeons!” Rose whispered to herself. Her heart held tight as she watched them all make it safely across the way.
 
“What happens to the baby pigeons? I’ve always wondered,” Rose asked their father, after she was sure the gray city birds were hidden in the trees.
 
Rose, don’t you know that’s the oldest question in the book?” Oliver said, laughing. “The answer is . . .”
 
Their father’s cell phone sang out, and he picked it up. He seemed to spend half his life on his cell phone.
 
“Just a second, baby,” he said. “I’ll get right off.”
 
“Hey, Rosie,” Oliver said suddenly. “Look what I found.” And he pointed to a small dead mouse.
 
Rose made a face.
 
“No, it’s good for the hawk!” Oliver said gently. “Hawks are always hungry. And this one doesn’t have a mother to find him delicious tidbits. I read all about it. He’s a motherless hawk.”
 
“I don’t exactly feel sorry for him,” Rose said. “I mean, it’s sad when anyone doesn’t have a mother. But he’s making a lot of motherless pigeons.”
 
Oliver ignored her. “He’s hungry. We have to take care of him. Look—we just have to put it on something bright that he can see from high above so that he’ll notice the scrumptious smelly dead mouse carcass.”
 
Rose knew that he was trying to make her shudder, so she ignored him.
 
“I know!” he said. “My sock!” And without another word he untied one of his sneakers, pulled off his bright red athletic sock, and carefully laid the dead mouse upon it.
 
“Mom will be furious at you for using your sock as a mouse plate,” Rose whispered.
 
“I’ll tell her you took it to make a puppet with,” he said. She must’ve looked worried, because he added, “No, not really. I’ll think of something. But how can Pale Male miss that?” he said, pointing at the sock. “A delicious mouse on a red platter. Mmmmm!”
 
Rose still felt queasy, and she didn’t want to look at the dead mouse, of course; but she was impressed, as she often was, by her brother’s practical mind. For, only moments later, Pale Male the hawk did come swooping down, grabbed the mouse in his ferocious talons, and then flew away again, as Oliver jumped with pleasure. She did, too, though she looked as she jumped, to see if the steps across the water had reappeared.
 
 
“I did see something, Oliver,” she hissed a few minutes later, as they turned down a crowded street, the empty park and their lagging father behind them.
 
“Hey, Rosie, if you say you saw it, you saw it,” he said calmly. But Rose knew that he meant just the opposite.
 
“I did see it,” she said. “It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in U Nork!” Her heart fell in her chest as she said it. Now he would really tease her.
 
She had meant to say “New York.” But Rose had a mild speech impediment, and often when she was excited, she switched around the first sounds of words. When she meant to say “good news,” it would come out as “nood gews.” And sometimes when she was trying to say “nice time,” it would come out as “tice nime.” And sometimes when she told people where she came from, instead of saying “New York,” she would say “U Nork.” This kind of thing seems very cute to older people when you are small, but becomes very annoying as you grow up. Her parents had taken her to the First Expert, who gave her exercises like saying sentences very slowly—but it would still happen. When the Second Expert’s exercises didn’t work either, he had taken her parents aside and whispered something about “speech impediments” and “traces of early trauma.”
 
That’s when they told the Expert that Rose was adopted. Her parents, who had wanted a little sister for Oliver, had gone to Russia and found Rose in an orphanage. They brought her home with them when she was barely two. Rose could just recall the orphanage in Russia—a big white room with a cold breeze blowing through it, and many warm hands picking her up and putting her down, and another little boy . . . but Rose couldn’t remember anything more.
 
For the rest of the walk home from the park, Rose thought about being adopted. Something about the wind in the park, and the teasing, and the steps across the water made her feel the longing that came to her at times to know who her real parents were, and what strange things might be found outside her little world. She loved Oliver and her parents . . . but Oliver was always busy with his own friends, and her parents, well, they were parents.
 
Rose was lonely, and she wished she wasn’t.
 
Even at school, though she tried hard to be a good friend, she often had the feeling that no one at school really liked her. Except maybe little Ethan, and he was so moist-eyed and solemn that it was almost the same as not having a friend. Actually, little Ethan was kind of like a puppy, she thought, and the thought made her smile in a sad kind of way.
 
She didn’t say another word on the way home, even when Oliver grabbed her and kissed the top of her head and tried to get her to say “U Nork” again.
 
* * *
 
Rose was still very quiet later that evening when her family took the subway to Chinatown for dinner. It was Sunday night, and on Sundays they went down to Chinatown for Italian food. New York was like that: a Thai restaurant in a Dominican neighborhood, and Jewish pastrami sliced by Cambodian pastrami slicers.
 
Tonight, though, they had to wait in a long line outside The Arcade. While they waited, Oliver made Rose let him practice the “watch steal” on her. Oliver loved magic tricks. He was trying to learn how to do a watch steal—taking a watch from someone’s wrist without the person noticing. The trick was to hold both wrists and sort of dance with them, so that the person was distracted, then slip the watchband off. But since Rose knew exactly what Oliver was going to do when he grasped her wrists, it was hard for her to feign distraction and surprise when Oliver stole her watch.
 
Their father sighed. He hated waiting in lines outside restaurants. “It’s all the B and T people.”
 
“He means ‘bridge and tunnel’ people,” their mother explained to Rose. “All the out-of-town people who come into the city over bridges and through tunnels on a Sunday night.”
 
“Oliver, now you have to teach me a magic trick. Remember?” Rose said. Oliver always promised that if she let him do the watch steal, and pretended to be distracted, he would teach her something.
 
“Okay,” Oliver said. “I’ll teach you how to do a Mercury fold.” He always kept a deck of cards in the pocket of his leather jacket. (Rose wanted a leather jacket, too, but her mother said that it was too “tough girl,” and that she looked pretty in her violet wool coat.) And he showed her a very complicated way of secretly folding up a single card on the bottom of the deck with one hand, while clutching the rest of the deck with the other.
 
“See? That way, you can slip the folded card under somebody’s watch, or into someone’s pocket or something,” Oliver explained, “and they’ll be amazed.”
 
Rose tried practicing the Mercury fold while they waited in line. But the cards kept slipping from her hands. Folding the card secretly was too hard for her small fingers.
 
“It’s just practice, Rosie,” Oliver said kindly. “Okay, now let me try the watch-steal again. . . .” And she had to let him grab her wrists and pretend to be surprised when he undid the clasp of her Swatch watch and slipped it off.
 
“If you live in New York, the prices we pay, you should go right to the front of the line,” her father said moodily.
 
Rose knew that her father didn’t really mean this, but that he sort of meant it, and that it was also part of his slightly misguided sense of humor. He was always complaining about how expensive New York was to raise children in and how easy it’d be to move to the suburbs. Though her mother always objected, and she knew her father was only joking, it still made Rose’s heart jump with worry.
 
After dinner, which was delicious—Rose got to order her favorite, penne amatriciana—they decided to treat themselves to a taxi ride home, and that made Rose glad. Often the most intimate times her family had together in New York were when everyone piled into a taxi.
 
“Isn’t it funny,” Rose’s mother said, “that you never ever ride with the same taxi driver twice in New York? At least, I never have.”
 
Rose looked up as they crossed Twenty-third Street at First Avenue. The avenues of New York are straight, endless streets that run for hundreds of blocks, uptown and downtown, without a single swerve or curve or change. Every avenue was lined with brightly lit, two-story shops. Crossing Twenty-third Street, she saw a gym bright as day on the second floor of a building lined with wide glass windows. She could see all the grown-ups panting and pressing and sweating on their stationary bikes and treadmills, even though it was ten thirty at night. They looked as if they were on stage, although, given that they were all a bit chubby and perspiring, it couldn’t have been a very good play.
 
“Dad,” she asked, “why are they exercising? I mean, in the middle of the night and everything?”
 
Their father shrugged. “I suppose they’re exercising in order to stay in good shape,” he said.
 
“What will they be able do when they’re in better shape?” she asked.
 
“More exercise,” her mother answered dryly. Oliver snickered.
 
“It’s weird to keep doing the same thing over and over forever with no real point,” Rose said decisively.
 
“What do you mean? Why do you think I married your mother?” he said.
 
No one laughed. That misguided sense of humor of her dad’s involved a lot of woeful puns and old jokes that hadn’t really been funny the first time you heard them. But their mother smiled at them. She was the only one who did.
 
“But if everyone is exercising—why don’t they look wonderfully fit?” their mother said suddenly. She was the sort of woman who would be serenely quiet for a long time and then suddenly burst out with a loud idea. “Do you see people looking wonderfully fit? I don’t. It’s the same question I have about clothes. Everywhere you look.” She gestured at the avenue as the cab sped along and the cabdriver spoke in guttural language on his cell phone, laughing every few moments as though he and the person at the other end were exchanging very short, funny jokes. “Everywhere you look there are clothing stores selling beautiful clothes. But do you see everyone looking incredibly well dressed? Where are the people who wear all the beautiful clothes?”
 
Rose knew what was coming next, and she and Oliver both tightened up a little inside waiting for it.
 
You’re beautifully fit and beautifully dressed,” their father said. “You take up all the space for it. The only one in New York who is.”
 
Rose couldn’t see her mother, but she knew that she was pleased. She and Oliver made faces at each other. It’s nice when your parents flirt with each other, but not too much.
 
“As to why,” their father said moodily, “you never get the same taxi driver twice in New York, I’ve got a theory about that. . . .”
 
As he spoke, Rose saw a long, gleaming, pink limousine pull up beside them, going north on Park Avenue. Car headlights momentarily lit up the limo’s inside, right through its tinted windows. In the backseat Rose could make out a white fur collar and a pair of blazing amber eyes—like cat’s eyes—with diamond-shaped irises.
 
“Rich people,” Oliver said shortly. The pink limo had caught his eye, too. “Or prep school kids going to clubs. They’re the only ones with limousines.” But Rose didn’t think those eyes belonged to rich people. Or to prep school kids, either.
 
 
Later that evening, Rose watched as Oliver did his homework. He was studying astronomy in school and learning how, when a star dies, it becomes the most powerful radio transmitter in the universe, and also how, if it’s big enough to collapse in on itself, it can become as dense and hard as a giant diamond.
 
“There’s a white dwarf star in the constellation of Centaurus, next to the Southern Cross,” Oliver said, “with a diamond at its core that weighs five million trillion trillion pounds.”
 
Rose couldn’t believe it. The idea of a diamond as big as a planet thrilled her. If she had a diamond that size she could—well, she would be rich. She could buy anything she wanted. Even a house to keep a dog of her own in.
 
When Rose was safe in bed, her father came in to tell her a bedtime story. Usually he told her a long story about the King of Central Park, an imaginary character he had made up. But tonight Rose wanted to hear another story.
 
“Tell me about the Princess of the Northern Snows,” she said.
 
Her father looked surprised. “I haven’t told you that one in a long time,” he said.
 
“Please? I want to hear it tonight,” Rose said simply.
 
So her father began telling her the long story that he had made up. “You were born far from us Rose, dropped accidentally in the snows of Russia. But we knew that you belonged here in New York with us, so Mother and I made a long journey to the snow lands to find you. We searched and searched through the wastes and wind until we came upon a house made of ice. And inside was the most beautiful baby girl that had ever been seen. And we said, ‘You are the child of the winter star, and you have been misplaced. Come home with us!’ And the beautiful baby nodded her head to mean yes, and that’s how the Princess of the Northern Snows came home with us to New York City.”
 
Rose nodded sleepily. She knew it wasn’t the exact truth—she had been adopted in Russia, and she could just barely remember the orphanage—but she loved the story. The Princess of the Winter Stars comes home. . . .
 
“Dad,” she said suddenly, “I really did see steps across the water today in the park.”
 
“I know you did, darling,” he said. But she knew from the calm and detached way he said it that he didn’t believe her.
 
Rose pretended to fall asleep, turning to the wall, breathing deeply and slowly in order to make her father feel that he had at last lulled her into slumber with his story. He couldn’t see that her eyes stayed open. She tried to be sensitive to his feelings.
 
But the truth was, Rose was frightened. She often had strange, scary dreams. She sometimes had a nightmare where she was falling, falling from a high place. And sometimes she had nightmares about Rumpelstiltskin, the evil dwarf who taunted the young queen. But tonight she thought mostly of the steps across the water, about how strange and beautiful they had seemed, and how quickly they had come and gone. For comfort, she looked at the bulletin board on the wall by her bed, where she’d tacked up photographs of dogs she wished she owned. But even thinking about a dog didn’t cheer Rose up.
 
She got out of bed and tiptoed to her window. Oliver had told her of his own adventures once with a strange figure who appeared in the window. But tonight there was nothing there.
 
Had Rose looked more closely, though—had she leaned right over the sill and looked down six stories to the street—she would have seen the four tiny figures, no bigger than kindergartners, talking in deep, gravelly, rumbling voices and looking up at her window.
 
She would have seen the pink limousine pull up, too—one of the long, extended kind, as long as two regular cars—and the four figures, glancing all around, walk hurriedly away, in different directions across the city.
 
Although Rose couldn’t see these things, something inside told her something strange was happening. She could feel it. The October wind, which had begun to quicken in the park as evening fell, was wild now and whistling through the windows.
 
Rose ran down the hall clutching her blanket. Her parents’ door was shut tight, and she couldn’t get in. She thought of pounding on the door but then thought better of it.
 
Instead she crept into Oliver’s room and made herself a bed on the floor out of covers and her pillow. Oliver didn’t notice. Once he was asleep, he was really asleep. The music he listened to, to help him fall asleep, was still playing. Rose lay awake, her large eyes wide open, and waited for morning. Who am I, she whispered into the surroundings, and where do I really come from? If I knew where I came from, I’d know who I am. And if I had a dog, I wouldn’t be lonely.
 
And what did I really see in the park today?
 
But no one answered. Or even barked. At least, not yet.

From the Hardcover edition.

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