“Fans know what to expect from Cooney… bullet-train pacing and entertaining prose.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Cooney remains a master.” —Publishers Weekly
The moment Nicoletta lays eyes on him, she knows he’s different. Nicoletta meets the newcomer in art appreciation class. Jethro is brooding, mysterious, and dangerously attractive. She’s so mesmerized by him, she follows him home that afternoon. Or rather, home is where she thinks he’s going—until he walks past the edge of town and slips into the forest. In the safety of the woods, Jethro’s power seems to surge: It’s as if the trees and boulders of the forest rise up to greet him. He’s so different, so beautiful, and so . . . inhuman. Before long, Jethro becomes her deadly obsession. The truth about Jethro is terrifying, and Nicoletta is already in too deep. Much too deep . . .
It was cold in the music room. Somebody had cracked the windows to freshen the stale school air. But Nicoletta had not expected her entire life to be chilled by the drafts of January.
"Nickie," said the music teacher, smiling a bright, false smile. Nicoletta hated nicknames but she smiled back anyway. "I called you in separately because this may be a blow. I want you to learn the news here, and not in the hallway in front of the others."
Nicoletta could not imagine what Ms. Quincy was talking about. Yesterday, tryouts for Madrigal Singers had been completed. Ms. Quincy required the members to audition every September and January, even though there was no question as to which sixteen would be chosen. Nicoletta, of course, as she had been for two years, would be one of the four sopranos.
So her first thought was that somebody was hurt, and Ms. Quincy was breaking it to her. In a childlike gesture of which she was unaware, Nicoletta's hand caught the left side of her hair and wound it around her throat. The thick, shining gold turned into a comforting rope.
"The new girl," said Ms. Quincy. "Anne-Louise." Ms. Quincy looked at the chalkboard on which a music staff had been drawn. "She's wonderful," said Ms. Quincy. "I'm putting her in Madrigals. You have a good voice, and you're a solid singer, Nickie. Certainly a joy to have in any group. But ... Anne-Louise has had voice lessons for years."
Nicoletta came close to strangling herself with the rope of her own yellow hair. Madrigals? The chorus into which she had poured her life? The chorus that toured the state, whose concerts were standing room only? The sixteen who were best friends? Who partied and carpooled and studied together as well as sang?
"I'm sorry," said Ms. Quincy. She looked sorry, too. She looked, to use an old and stupid phrase, as if this hurt her more than it hurt Nicoletta. "Since each part is limited to four singers, I cannot have both of you. Anne-Louise will take your place."
The wind of January crept through the one-inch window opening and iced her life. How could she could go on with high school if she were dropped from Madrigals? She had no activity but singing. Her only friends were in Madrigals.
I'll be alone, thought Nicoletta.
A flotilla of lonely places appeared in her mind: cafeteria, bus, hallway, student center.
Her body humiliated her. She became a prickly mass of perspiration: Sweaty hands, lumpy throat, tearful eyes. "Doesn't it count," she said desperately, trying to marshal intelligent arguments, "that I have never missed a rehearsal? I've never been late? I've been in charge of refreshments? I'm the one who finds ushers for the concerts and the one who checks the spelling in the programs?"
"And we'd love to have you keep doing that," said Ms. Quincy. Her smile opened again like a zipper separating her face halves.
For two years Nicoletta had idolized Ms. Quincy. Now an ugly puff of hatred filled her heart instead. "I'm not good enough to sing with you," she cried out, "but you'd love to have me do the secretarial work? I'm sure Anne-Louise has had lessons in that, too. Thanks for nothing, Ms. Quincy!"
Nicoletta ran out of the music room before she broke down into sobbing and had the ultimate humiliation of being comforted by the very woman who was kicking her out. There had been no witnesses yet, but in a few minutes everybody she cared about would know. She, Nicoletta, was not good enough anymore. The standards had been raised.
Nicoletta was just another ordinary soprano.
Nicoletta was out.
There was a narrow turn of hall between the music rooms and the lobby. Nicoletta stood in the dark silence of that space, trying to control her emotions. She could hear familiar laughter—Madrigal friends coming to read the list of the chosen. She thought suddenly of her costume: the lovely crimson gown with the tight waist and the white lace high at the throat, the tiny crown that sat in her yellow hair. People said that the medieval look suited her, that she was beautiful in red. And beautiful she always felt, spun gold, with an angel's voice.
Ms. Quincy followed her into the safety zone of the dark little hall. "Go down to Guidance, now, Nickie," she said in a teachery voice. "Sign up for something else in the Madrigal time slot."
I'll sign up for Bomb-Making, thought Nicoletta. Or Arson.
She did not look at Ms. Quincy again. She walked in the opposite direction from the known voices, taking the long way around the school to Guidance. In this immense high school, with its student body of over two thousand, she was among strangers. You had to find your place in such a vast school, and her place had been Madrigals. With whom would she stand now? With whom would she laugh and eat and gossip?
Of course in the Guidance office they pretended to be busy and Nicoletta had to sit forty minutes until they could fit her in. The chair was orange plastic, hideous and cold, the same color as the repulsive orange kitchen counters in Nicoletta's repulsive new house.
Her parents had gotten in too deep financially. Last autumn, amid tears and recrimination, the Storms family had had to sell the wonderful huge house on Fairest Hill. Oh, how Nicoletta had loved that house! Immense rooms, expanses of windows, layers of decks, acres of closets! She and her mother had poured themselves into decorating it, occupying every shopping hour with the joys of wallpaper, curtains, and accessories.
Now they were in a tiny ranch with ugly, crowded rooms, and Nicoletta was sharing a bedroom with her eleven-year-old sister, Jamie.
In their old house, Jamie had had her own bedroom and bath; Jamie had had three closets just for herself; Jamie had had her own television and two extra beds, so she could have sleepovers every weekend.
The ranch house had only two bedrooms, so now Jamie slept exactly six feet from Nicoletta. The seventy-two most annoying inches in the world. Nicoletta had actually liked her sister when they lived in the big house. Now the girls could do nothing except bicker, bait, and fight.
Nicoletta always thought the name came from the fairy tale of Snow White:Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?
And in those pretty woods, on top of that gentle sloping hill in that lovely house, she, Nicoletta, had been the fairest of them all.
Now she could not even sing soprano.
It was difficult to know who made her maddest—her parents, for poor planning; the economy, for making it worse; Ms. Quincy, for being rotten, mean, and cruel; or Anne-Louise, for moving here.
Within a few minutes, however, it was the guidance counselor making her maddest. "Let's see," said Mr. Parsons. "The available half-year classes, Nicoletta, are Art Appreciation, Study Skills, Current Events, and Oceanography." He skimmed through her academic files. "I certainly recommend Study Skills," he said severely.
She hated him. I'm not taking Current Events, she thought, because I sit through television news every night from five to seven as it is. I'm not taking Oceanography because deep water is the scariest thing on earth. I'm not taking Study Skills just because he thinks I should. Which leaves Art Appreciation. Art for the nonartistic. Art for the pathetic and left-behind.
"I'm signing you up for Study Skills," said Mr. Parsons.
"No. Art Appreciation."
"If you insist," said Mr. Parsons.
That night, as a break in the fighting with Jamie, Nicoletta received three phone calls from other Madrigal singers.
Rachel, her sidekick, the other first soprano next to whom she had stood for two lovely years was crying. "This is so awful!" she sobbed. "Doesn't Ms. Quincy understand friendship? Or loyalty? Or anything?"
Cathy, an alto so low she sometimes sang tenor, was furious. "I'm in favor of boycotting Madrigals," said Cathy. "That will teach Ms. Quincy a thing or two."
Christo, the lowest bass, and handsomest boy, also phoned.
Everybody, at one time or another, had had a crush on Christopher Hannon. Christopher had grown earlier than most boys: At fifteen he had looked twenty, and now at seventeen he looked twenty-five. He was broad-shouldered and tall and could have grown a beard to his chest had he wanted to. Nicoletta was always surprised that she and Christo were the exact same age.
"Nickie," said Christo, "this is terrible. We've all argued with Ms. Quincy. She's sick, that's what I say. Demented."
Nicoletta felt marginally better. At least her friends had stood by her and perhaps would get Ms. Quincy to change her mind and dump this horrible Anne-Louise.
"I have to take Art Appreciation instead," she said glumly.
Christo moaned. "Duds," he told her.
"Be brave. We'll rescue you. This Anne-Louise cannot possibly sing like you, Nickie."
She entered the Art Appreciation room the following day feeling quite removed from the pathetic specimens supposed to be her classmates. Christo, Cathy, Rachel, and her other friends would turn this nightmare around. In a day or so she'd be back rehearsing like always, with a cowed and apologetic Ms. Quincy.
Without interest, Nicoletta took her new text and its companion workbook and sat where she was told, in the center of the room.
A quick survey of the other students told her she had laid eyes on none of these kids before. It was not a large class, perhaps twenty, half boys, which surprised her a little. Did they really want to appreciate art, or were they, too, refusing to take Study Skills?
The teacher, a Mr. Marisson, of whom she had never even heard let alone met, showed slides. Nicoletta prepared to go to sleep, which was her usual response to slides.
But as the room went dark, and the kids around her became shadows of themselves, her eye was caught not by the van Gogh or the Monet painting on the screen but by the profile of the boy in front of her, one row to her left.
He had the most mobile face she had ever seen. Even in the dusk of the quiet classroom, she could see him shift his jaw, lower and lift his eyes, tighten and relax his lips. Several times he lifted a hand to touch his cheek, and he touched it in a most peculiar fashion—as if he were exploring it. As if it belonged to somebody else, or as if he had not known, until this very second, that he even had a cheek.
She was so fascinated she could hardly wait for the slide show to end.
"Well, that's the end of today's lecture," said Mr. Marisson, flipping the lights back on.
The boy remained strangely dark. It was as if he cast his own shadow in his own space. His eyelashes seemed to shade his cheeks, and his cheeks seemed full of hollows. His hair was thick and fell onto his face, sheltering him from stares.
Nicoletta, who had never had an art-type thought in her life, wanted to paint him.
How weird! she thought. Maybe Mr. Marisson put him in the class just to inspire us. Perhaps this is how van Gogh and Monet got started, emotionally moved by a stranger's beautiful profile.
Never had the word stranger seemed so apt. There was something genuinely strange about the boy. Essentially different. But what was it?
Nicoletta could not see straight into his eyes. He kept them lowered. Not as if he were shy but as if he had other things to look at than his surroundings.
Nicoletta watched the boy. He did not look her way nor anybody else's. He did not seem aware of anyone. He left the room with a lightness of step that did not fit his body: His body was more like Christo's, yet his walk might have been a dancer's.
Nicoletta rarely initiated friendships. She tended to let friendship come to her, and it always had: through classmates or seatmates, through group lessons or neighbors. But she wanted to look into this boy's eyes, and unless she spoke to him she would not have the privilege.
Privilege? she thought. What a strange word to use! What do I mean by that? "Hi," she said to his departing back. "I'm Nicoletta."
The boy did not register her voice. He did not turn. He might have been deaf. Perhaps he was deaf. Perhaps that was his mystery; his closure from the rest. Perhaps he really was hidden away inside his silent mind.
She stopped walking but he did not.
In a few moments he vanished from sight, blending with crowds and corridors.
After school, Nicoletta saw Christo, Cathy, Rachel, and several of the others. She ran up to them. They would have spoken to Ms. Quincy again. She could hardly wait for their report.
"Hey, Nickie," said Christo. He rubbed her shoulders and kissed her hair. Affection came easily to Christo. He distributed it to all the girls and they in turn were never without a smile or a kiss for him. But that was all there was. Christo never offered more, and never took more.
Nor did he say a word about the first Madrigal rehearsal in which Anne-Louise, and not Nicoletta, sang soprano.
"So?" said Nicoletta teasingly, keeping her voice light. She was mostly talking to Rachel, her sidekick. Her fellow sufferer in soprano jokes. (Question: A hundred dollars is lying on the ground. Who takes it—the dumb soprano or the smart soprano? Answer: The dumb soprano, of course. There's no such thing as a smart soprano.)
Rachel looked uncomfortable.
Cathy looked embarrassed.
Even Christo, who was never nervous, looked nervous.
Finally Rachel made a confused gesture with her hands, like birds fluttering. Awkwardly, she mumbled, "Anne-Louise is really terrific, Nicoletta. She has the best voice of any of us. She is—well—she's—" Rachel seemed unable to think of what else Anne-Louise might be.
"She's Olympic material," said Christo.
Rachel managed giggles. "There's no soprano division in the Olympics, Christo."
But it was very clear. Anne-Louise was miles better than Nicoletta. Nicoletta was not going to get back in. She was not going to be a Madrigal again. Her friends had put no arguments before Ms. Quincy.
"But come with us to Keyboard, Nickie," said Rachel quickly. "There's so much to talk about. You have to tell us about Art Appreciation. I mean, is it wall-to-wall duds, or what?"
Keyboard was the city's only ice-cream parlor with a piano. Perhaps the world's only ice-cream parlor with a piano. For years and years, before Nicoletta was even born, the high school Madrigals had hung out there, singing whenever they felt like it. They sang current hits and ancient tunes, they sang Christmas carols and kindergarten rounds, they sang rock or country or sixteenth-century love songs. In between, they had sundaes, milk shakes, or Cokes, and stuck quarters in the old-fashioned jukebox with its glittering lights and dated music.
Okay, thought Nicoletta, trying to breathe, trying to accept the slap in the face of Anne-Louise's superiority. We're still friends, I can still—
Anne-Louise joined the group.
She was an ordinary-looking girl, with dull brown hair and small brown eyes. But the other singers did not look at her as if they saw anything ordinary. They were full of admiration.
She'll wear my crimson gown, thought Nicoletta. She'll put my sparkling crown in her plain hair. She'll sing my part.
Christo rubbed Anne-Louise's shoulders and kissed her hair exactly as he had Nicoletta's.' Anne-Louise bit her lip with embarrassment and pleasure, and said, "Are you sure you want me along?"
"Of course we do!" the rest chorused. "You're a Madrigal now."
And I'm not, thought Nicoletta.
Rachel and Cathy protested, but Nicoletta did not go to Keyboard with them. She claimed she had to help her mother at home. They knew it was a lie, but it certainly made things easier for everybody. With visible gratitude, the new arrangement of Madrigals left in their new lineup.
Nicoletta headed for the school bus, which she rarely took. Christo had a van and usually ferried Madrigals wherever he went. But she did not get on the bus after all.
Walking purposefully down the road, knowing his destination, was the dark and silent boy from Art Appreciation.
The high school was not located for walking home. It had been built a decade ago in a rural area, so that it could be wrapped in playing fields of the most impressive kind. No student lived within walking distance. Yellow buses awaiting their loads snaked around two roads, slowly filling with kids from every corner of the city.
Yet the boy walked.
And Nicoletta, because she was lost, followed him.
Excerpted from The Stranger by Caroline B. Cooney. Copyright © 1993 Caroline B. Cooney. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Caroline B. Cooney (b. 1947) is the author of nearly a hundred books, including the famed young adult thriller The Face on the Milk Carton, an international bestseller. Cooney’s books have been translated into several languages, and have received multiple honors and awards, including an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults award and a nomination for the Edgar Award. She is best known for her popular teen horror thrillers and romance novels. Her fast-paced, plot-driven work often explores themes of good and evil, love and hatred, right and wrong, and moral ambiguity. Born in Geneva, New York, Cooney grew up in Connecticut, and often sets her novels in dramatic New England landscapes. She has three children and four grandchildren and currently lives in South Carolina.
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I read this book for the first time in like 1997. I loved it at the time, but didn't reread it because it was too sad. Last month I just remembered this story, and the powerful emotional response I had to reading it. I thought, "I must've been overreacting to the book." Because I was like 8, lol. I wanted to find it and see if my memory of the book was deserved or too enthusiastic. I couldn't remember the title or author, only the name of the main character Nicolette. With the power of google I located it. I have to say, after reading The Stranger again, as a grown-a** woman, I enjoyed it even more than I did the first time! Even if you've read it before, I recommend reading it slowly and I dare you not to cry. I was crying through the second half, equally from sadness and from the beauty of the message. I know it's for "young adults," but I would recommend this story to anyone who loves a good romantic story with hints of fairy-tale, a gritty, modern-day Beauty and the Beast. I don't like cheesy romantic comedies, and I don't like angsty gothic romance either...this story falls somewhere between those two, and was truly a jackpot, an unforgettable story for me. This is something you would put on your personal bookshelf along with your other guilty pleasure "kid's" books you've loved your whole life.
Its easy to get involved with the wrong crowd when your closest friends leave you, but usually its a crowd, and its human. When Nicoletta's world starts to fall apart she gets involved with a person who attracts her attention because of his ovbious lonliness. But is her lonliness quite like his? And more importantly, is he really human? There is something strange about him and before she realizes it Nicoletta becomes obsessed with something she can hardly face. He might be human on the inside but he takes the shape of a monster too often for her to know. Then things start spinning out of control. As she tries to keep him a secret from her friends they are slowly learning the truth and the boy who loves begins to make plans to kill this monster. Only nicoletta knows the truth about the cave this 'strager' lives in and to tell could be fatal to all the people she loves. Can she stop them before its too late?
This book was recommended for me by my teacher, she's re-read it five times, and so have I, i loved this book! I would give this to my friends and have them read it, after they've read it we cant stop talking about it! I HIGHLY recommend this book!
this book was amazing! it's the book that got me to love Caroline B. Cooney. (: best book i've ever read, and i've read a lot.
This book was AMAZING. I loved every part of it. I read it in 2 hours it was so awsome. It's got everything, mystry, romance, and horror. You have to read this book
I thought this was a great book, i loved every part of it and i just couldnt put the book down i finished this book in 2 days! And i just wanted to read more! I loved the romantic parts and i almost cried in the end. i want tell u what the end was about, but im telling u all to read it!!!!!!!!! :]! Trust me ull love it!
i luved dis book! it was outrageous! i loved the romantic parts, and the regular parts! especially the end (wont tell u wat it is), an the way...ooo!! read it!!!! :)
I loved this book! It was fun to read, but also taught me a valuable lesson! It was kinda strange though...
i love this book becomes it makes u think of how love will feel and it shows people just how strong love could really be. this book is really great
It is a nice book to read. Easy to read. Wanting to read it more and more. A good book to read if you want to read about something that you might think thats scary, but it is really a nice, sad, romantic book.
A freaky book with an unexpected twist.
THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I EVER READ!!!! i started to read it in the middle of the night and I didn't put my book down unitl I finished it...It took me only 3 hours....the book is exelent...but it is very very sad...but i recomnd this book to anyone that believes that true love exists
I didn't think this looked like a very good book, because the cover has a pretty gross picture on it. I decided to try it anyway, because Caroline B. Cooney is my favorite author. This is my favorite book by her! It is so sad though!
I have read The Stranger a million times, and I love it more and more. The first time I read it, I had tears in my ears. I recommend this to anyone who believes in true love.
This was a good book, it has a very sad ending at least I thought it was really said. It is definitely recommended.
I Couldn't put the book down! It was soooooo good!